The City of Chichester: Constitutional history

Pages 90-96

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


With regard to the CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY of Chichester, Domesday affords no information, and the reference we have to the writ or charter of Henry I carries us no farther. Stephen's charter, probably of 1135, is addressed to the Bishop of Chichester and the reeves (prepositis), and confirms all rights of a borough and gild merchant as they were held in the time of his grandfather, William I, and his uncles, William II and Henry I, and in the time of Earl Roger de Montgomery. (fn. 1) We have further reference to the reeve of Chichester in the grant of a fair to the Bishop of Chichester in 1107–8. (fn. 2) The two charters of Henry II are addressed generally to the sheriff and justices, and were both probably granted in 1155. (fn. 3) The one confirms to the citizens their customs and liberties within the city and without, which they held in the time of Henry I, including liberties in the ports of Wittering and Horemouth (at the mouth of the Chichester Channel), and ordained that no one should buy or sell in Chichester otherwise than was accustomed in the time of Henry I, nor should anyone carry his merchandise out of the main roads of the city to avoid the customs. The other charter gave to the citizens of Chichester, who were of the gild merchant, all the liberties and free customs within the borough and without, which they had had in the time of Henry I, and ordered that no one should sell cloth retail unless he was a member of the gild merchant, as Henry I commanded by his writ. Probably from a time before the Conquest, the city had been governed by one or more reeves or portreeves. Thurstan the reeve is mentioned in the 12th century. (fn. 4) In the 13th century there seem to have been two and possibly three reeves. (fn. 5) They collected the gavel (gabulum), a tax payable to the overlord, and paid it into the Royal Exchequer; and were apparently appointed by the overlord. (fn. 6)

From entries on the Pipe Rolls during the last decade of the 12th century we find that the 'reeves' of the city made return of 20s. owing for false measures, and from other entries on the same accounts the 'citizens' also owed 20s. for the like fault. (fn. 7) We have, therefore, evidence here that the citizens were represented by the reeves. (fn. 8)

Under the charter of Stephen, the burgesses were granted the rights of a borough and gild merchant, (fn. 9) which are coupled together and must have been closely related. The burgesses were to hold their rights as they did in the time of William I and later sovereigns, which gives the Chichester gild merchant a strong claim to be the oldest in the country. Here we have the ancient government under the reeves with the burgesses having their gild merchant for the organisation of trade and the social and spiritual welfare of its members. The gild merchant became a select and close body claiming for its members privileges of exclusive trading.

The great change in the government of the city came in the first quarter of the 13th century. In 1226 the citizens of Chichester obtained, so far as we have any record, the first of the grants to them of the custody of the city at farm, (fn. 10) although, as already stated, they owed for the farm of 1224. (fn. 11) It is at about this time that we find that the reeves (fn. 12) give place to the bailiffs in writs and mandates, (fn. 13) and although the earliest incidental mention of a mayor occurs in 1239, it seems probable that the introduction of a new constitution of a popularly elected mayor and his council coincided with the grant of the city at farm to the citizens. We find a similar development in London. The bailiffs at Chichester, two in number, (fn. 14) still represented the authority of the Crown or overlord, as is shown in a plea of 1250 by William Marshal, bailiff of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, (fn. 15) and in 1279 by the claim of the Earl of Cornwall that he and his bailiffs had the return of writs. (fn. 16)

Under the Earls of Cornwall the citizens seem to have continued to hold the city at farm, (fn. 17) and in 1304 Edward I, while the city was in his hands, acknowledged the position of the mayor by addressing a mandate to him and the bailiffs as to staying the export of wools. (fn. 18) After the murder of Gaveston in 1312, Edward II granted the custody of the city during pleasure direct to the mayor and citizens, (fn. 19) and in 1316 he further granted it to the citizens in perpetuity. (fn. 20) Thus the mayoralty was not only fully acknowledged, but under the terms of Edward's second charter the citizens acquired an accession of power and independence. It is, however, some 20 years before the mayor regularly takes the first place in the style of the city, which then appears as the mayor, bailiffs and citizens. The earliest mayor of whom we have reference is Emery de Rouen, who is thus described in 1239. (fn. 21) He is no doubt the same as Emery de Rouen mentioned in 1226, (fn. 22) but there were a father and son of the same name. (fn. 23)

The following is a list of mayors whose names have been gathered from various sources down to 1530, when a complete list compiled by Hay begins. (fn. 24)

1239, Emery de Rouen
1242–46, Roger Pluket (fn. 25)
1249, William le Taverner*
1250, Roger Pluket (fn. 26)
1251, Roger Germayn (fn. 27)
c. 1255, Geffrey de Westrate (fn. 28)
1262, Henry Kitelbere (fn. 29)
tpe. Henry III, Henry de Selda*
1279, Henry Prikelowe (fn. 30)
1284, Robert Pluket*
1287, Richard Danyel (fn. 31)
1290, William or Walter de Eartham (fn. 32)
c. 1300, William de Whitsond (fn. 33)
1340, John Stubbe (fn. 34)
1348, John de Boxgrove (fn. 35)
1378, Walter Oving (fn. 36)
1378–9, John Hebbe*
1382–3, John Wyn*
1383–4, John Hebbe*
1384–5, John Hebbe*
1386–7, Adam Enghere*
1394, William Neel (fn. 37)
1396, John Hebbe (fn. 38)
1408, Thomas Pacching (fn. 39)
1408–9, John Hay*
1409–10, John Mumford*
1411, John Smolyng (fn. 40)
1418, William Farnhurst (fn. 41)
c. 1425, Thomas Pole (fn. 42)
1426–7, Henry Grenlef*
1435–6, John Smoling*
1437–8, John Sherer*
1440–1, William Hore*
1452, John Hilly*
1452–3, Simon Dyere*
1455–6, Simon White*
1459–60, Simon White*
1479, William Jacob (fn. 43)
1486–7, John Exton*
1493–4, William Heth* (fn. 44)
1495, Richard Exton (fn. 45)
1496–7, William Feythfull*
1502–3, Thomas Woolger*
1505–6, John Cresweller*
1512–13, Richard Exton*
1519, Thomas Wulgar (fn. 46)
1522, John Adyson (fn. 47)
1523, John Hardham (fn. 48)
1524, John Cresweller (fn. 49)
1530, Willian Broadbridge (fn. 50)

It is interesting to compare these names with the lists of members of Parliament for the city.

It would seem that the Gildhall of the gild merchant was near the north-east corner of the Precinct over the early 13th-century undercroft of the Vicars' Hall. The names William de la Gildenhall in 1263 and Richard Attegildenehall in 1290 probably refer to this hall. (fn. 51) Towards the end of the 13th century we find the Grele family, of the manor of Cremesham in Pagham, held a rent of £1 a year issuing apparently from this hall, as in 1288 Henry, son of William Grele, agreed to grant this rent to John de Pecche and Margaret, his wife, as dower of Margaret. The rent was paid yearly by Master Robert de Evesham and his heirs from a tenement which he held in Chichester called 'Gyldeneshalle.' (fn. 52) It is clear that Margaret, as the widow of William de Grele, had married John de Pecche, a man of importance in the county and a Justice of gaol delivery. (fn. 53) From his title of 'Master,' Robert de Evesham was evidently a clerk in holy orders and possibly warden or chaplain of the gild, in whom its property was vested. The tenure to him and 'his heirs' at this date does not preclude the use of the word 'heirs' for 'successors.' (fn. 54) In 1394 Robert Blundell, chaplain, son of Robert Blundell, citizen of Chichester, perhaps warden of the gild, conveyed to King Richard II the tenement called the 'Gildenhalle' between the cathedral churchyard on the north and a tenement, late of Robert Sexteyn, on the south. The conveyance, which was evidently made for assurance of title, was sealed with the common seal of the citizens and witnessed by William Neel, mayor, the two reeves and others. (fn. 55) On 10 August following the king granted the above premises to the Bishop of Chichester for the use of the vicars of the cathedral church, (fn. 56) and it became the hall and residence of the vicars of the cathedral.

The sale of its hall did not mean the extinguishing of the gild merchant, which appears to have become associated with the gild of St. George, a religious body, whose constitutions were duly recorded in 1368. (fn. 57) The only known evidence of this fact is a sentence in Selden's Titles of Honour in which, after discussing the acceptance of St. George as patron of England, he quotes the following :—

'In Dei nomine Amen. die sabbati in festo sancti Bartholomaei Apostoli contingente (so are the words of the Preamble of those Constitutions which I have) in Anno Domini MCCCLXVIII indictione viii Pontificatus sanctissimi in Christo Patris et Domini nostri Urbani divina providentia Papae V anno xvii, (fn. 58) mensis Augusti die xxiv, ad honorem S. Trinitatis suique Gloriosi Martyris Georgii Anglorum Protectoris et Patroni, Quidam de Westrata Cicestr' devoti ad ipsum sanctum summa devotione excitati imaginem ipsius in Ecclesia Cicestr' honorifice erexerunt fraternitatem quandam inter eosdem statuentes, etc.' (fn. 59)

The existence of this MS., which Selden (who was educated at the Prebendal School in West Street, Chichester) apparently had in his possession, is not now known; to judge from its dating it was probably drawn up by a notary acting for the bishop or the dean. As early as 1247 it had been declared that fraternities of the common people were not to be set up, unless in certain form, and for a worthy cause, to which matters the dean and chapter should attend. (fn. 60) It is not clear why the gild was founded by 'Certain of the West Street.' It was not mentioned when the Gildhall was made over to the vicars in 1394–96, but its continued existence is attested by a bequest from William Neel in 1418. (fn. 61)

In 1446 the gild of St. George was entirely remodelled, apparently at the instigation of the members of the gild merchant. In the preamble to the patent the king refers to the charter of Henry II granted to the gild merchant and to the liberties enjoyed by that gild under Henry I. (fn. 62) It seems probable that the gild of St. George represented the religious aspect of the organisation of the merchant gild. By the reorganisation of 1446 the gild of St. George was to continue the custom of government by a master and four wardens, who were annually elected by the brothers and sisters of the gild, and under the new charter (fn. 63) it was empowered to acquire land to the value of £10 a year, and was given definite religious duties. The lands were held for the maintenance of a chaplain to say Mass daily in the chapel of St. George within the cathedral. The most important part of the new foundation was, however, the provision that the mayor of Chichester was always to be the master of the gild of St. George. This indicates perhaps the absorption of the gild merchant in the municipality. The gild, which held its festival annually on St. George's Day, in 1534 received from Bishop Sherburne a bequest of land to the value of 20s. annually, to be expended in wine, for consumption by the brethren and sisters of the gild, and by the general public, after the 'customary honest merriment' round the city cross. (fn. 64)

The gild was dissolved under the Act of 1 Edward VI, and its charitable revenues were confiscated by the Crown, unless the partial endowment of the mayor's chaplain possibly represents part of these funds. (fn. 65) The city paid £100 into the Court of Augmentations for lands of the late fraternity of St. George, to the annual value of £11, including a fulling rack, and all the lands in 'Portefield' and 'Gyldenfild.' (fn. 66)

In 1622 a gild of merchants was incorporated and in its indenture (fn. 67) reference is made to the ancient privileges of the gild merchant, especially in excluding strangers from selling in the city such goods as mercery and grocery: after lamenting the decay of apprenticeship and the influx of strangers, a gild of merchants who were mercers was set up, with an entry fee of £100, or 10s. only to apprentices. It was apparently to this gild that freemen were admitted down to the Municipal Reform Act of 1834. (fn. 68) The right of the corporation to elect freemen is said to have been confirmed by the King's Bench in 1782, (fn. 69) and freemen voted down to the election of 1868.

There has been some confusion with regard to another Gildhall in or adjoining North Street. It would seem that when the mayoralty was established the mayor and citizens required a hall of their own for their courts and meetings. The position of that hall is disclosed by the description in 1304 of the church of St. Peter the Great, now known as St. Peter the Less, which is called St. Peter by the Gildhall in North Street, (fn. 70) and continues to be described as St. Peter by the Gildhall in 1347, 1366, 1395, 1396, 1399, 1403, (fn. 71) 1411, (fn. 72) and 1553. (fn. 73) During the same period it was frequently also called St. Peter the Great and St. Peter in North Street. It is evident from these entries that there was a city or town hall near this church, probably in North Street, in the early part of the 14th century, which continued the name Gildhall after the hall of the gild merchant had ceased to be the administrative centre of the city. The North Street hall survived until 1541 when the corporation acquired the Greyfriars church, the chancel of which was used as their place of assembly and also became known as the Gildhall.

The question as to class of persons in whom the municipal elections lay arose as early as 1408, when, proclamations having been made for the election of the mayor by the citizens and burgesses only at the Gildhall, a great number of servants, craftsmen, workmen and labourers dwelling in the city, who were not citizens or burgesses, assembled at the instigation of the mayor and threatened the freemen, so that they dared not proceed to the election. (fn. 74)

There were two coroners, one of whom was appointed by the overlord and took cognisance of the amendment of the assize of bread and ale and other matters pertaining to the Crown, except pleas of felony. (fn. 75) The coroner is now elected by the mayor and common council.

It seems probable that the clerk of Chichester may be one of the earliest officials of this title anywhere recorded. (fn. 76) About 1240–50 Richard de Newbury was a witness to two deeds and is described as 'clerk of the commonalty of Chichester.' (fn. 77) In 1283 Archbishop Peckham complained to the dean about Peter de Boseham, clerk of the bailiff of Chichester, for seizing the goods of the rector of Pagham. (fn. 78) Peter's status is not very clear, as Peckham was obliged to appeal to the Earl of Cornwall, and describes the offender as Peter de Boseham, 'representing himself as your bailiff of Chichester' and again 'who says he is your bailiff of Chichester.' Simon le Tonclerk occurs in 1297, (fn. 79) and William Luyde, 'tounclerk,' in 1420. (fn. 80) In 1564 William Appleton of Chichester, yeoman, citizen and 'toune clarke,' admitted having forged the seal of the dean and chapter. (fn. 81) In 1660 Thomas Collins, who had himself been town clerk and had been trained by his predecessor in the office, Mr. Williams, referred to 'an auncient book' containing the accounts of the city officers, which was in the hands of the town clerk. (fn. 82)

The common seal of the city is mentioned as early as 1220–26, (fn. 83) and was perhaps first used when the city acquired the mayoralty. The earliest extant impression appears to date from 1270. (fn. 84) It is a pointed oval, 2½ in. by 1½ in. The device is a swan with raised wings holding a fleur-de-lis in its beak, and looking backwards at the sun. The legend is SIGILLVM . CIVIVM . CICESTRIE. The 17th-century seal of the city is circular, 3¼ in. in diameter. The device is a castle with three towers, the crenellations of the wall being charged with a cross, a rose, a fleur-de-lis, and a leopard's head. Similar devices appear on the face of the wall and the battlements of the towers. The portal has an embattled wall, and the portcullis is down. Above the portcullis is a shield of the arms of the city—Argent sprinkled with drops sable and a chief indented gules charged with a leopard of England. The legend is SIGILLVM COMMVNE CIVITATIS CICESTRIÆ.

Although Chichester is not named as a Staple port until 1353, it is possible that it had been acting as one since 1313. A mayor and two constables of the Staple were elected annually from 1353 down to the reign of Henry VIII. (fn. 85)

Early Seal of the City of Chichester

The complete absence of customaries makes it difficult to deduce the custom of the city, though there are occasional hints and statements. The use of judicial combat evidently continued as late as 1288, when a remarkable story (fn. 86) is told of the theft of three or four sheepskins in which the parties charged, Robert and John, refused to agree on the question of sale or theft, and offered to prove it upon their bodies by 'duel.' The bailiffs and commonalty of the city agreed to this 'in full court,' and the duel took place; John was defeated by Robert and hanged; Robert was remitted to prison, and at the Gaol Delivery he confessed himself also a thief and was hanged.

The mayor and bailiffs and commonalty, being interrogated as to their warrant for holding a plea of 'duel' in the city, replied that they had done so from of old and without any other warrant; whereupon it was asserted that they ought not to have granted a duel only 'pro verba vendicionis,' and not at the suit of anyone by whom a combat between them might have been adjudged; it was declared that henceforth they should not enjoy the liberty of holding a 'placitum duelli,' and they were amerced.

A few details are available as regards the typical borough privilege of free devise. It would appear to have applied only to 'acquired' tenements, and not to the inherited burgage. (fn. 87) In 1278 a case between Walter le Fevere and William and Nicholas le Fevere, (fn. 88) concerning a messuage in Chichester which Walter claimed as heir, turned upon the question whether Walter's father had not bequeathed in his last will that half of the messuage which was the forge (fabrica) to his wife Juliana, who was in seisin. Juliana bequeathed it to Henry her son, who bequeathed it to the above William and Nicholas, his brothers. Inquest was made in the form of the Grand Assize, and judgment given in favour of William and Nicholas 'according to the custom of the aforesaid town.' The other half of the messuage was claimed on the same grounds of bequest.

In another case (32–35 Edw. I) William de Shoreham (fn. 89) is said to have removed a certain oven (fornasium) from the kitchen of the tenement of Isabella, daughter of Bartholomew le Taverner, which she had received as a bequest from her father. William had done this on behalf of Richard, Bartholomew's heir, for whom it was intended to be the 'principal' according to the custom of the town. A later case occurred in 1400 when William Bageley left a workshop in Chichester to his son Thomas, a clerk, with remainder to Michael, another son. Thomas was convicted of heresy and lollardy and was burnt in 1431, when seisin was given to Michael according to the custom of the city of devising tenements by will. (fn. 90)


We know very little about the early COURTS at Chichester. There seems to be evidence, already referred to, of two administrations; the court of the one, called the Hundred Court, was held by the reeves and later the bailiffs until the citizens had the farm of the city early in the 13th century. It was at this court that deeds were executed, witnessed and sealed with the common seal of the city. (fn. 91) This court must not be confused with the courts of the Hundreds outside the city. The other court was apparently held by the citizens and may possibly have evolved, as a court of justice, out of the gild merchant. (fn. 92)

By the charter of Henry VI, dated 3 September 1451, there was confirmed to the citizens a court-leet and view of frankpledge, authority to hear and determine by the mayor all matters pertaining to the justices of the peace and of labourers and to bind over misdemeanants, as the county justices could do. (fn. 93) This grant apparently confirmed to the citizens the courts which developed later into the quarter sessions and petty sessions of the justices of the peace. Besides these courts there was the Court of Record held on every Monday before the mayor or his deputy which dealt with all manner of pleas but principally those of debts; the bailiff's court, held on alternate Mondays, had fallen into desuetude by 1835 and its purpose was not then known.

The earliest continuous record we have of the Chichester courts is a large paper book with parchment covers, in the city archives, which contains the proceedings of the views of frankpledge from 1491 (7 Henry VII). It presents the usual picture of the minor social offences of the citizens, but is particularly valuable as almost the only evidence available of the topography and the economic progress of the city at that date. Besides the usual divisions of the streets and wards, some additional names may be discovered. The highway between 'Grete Oak and Stoney Cross' was founderous by default of the farmer of the Broyle. 'Swyncheping' is an alternative for 'Hoggemarket.' Deeping Cross and le Dell, Penyacre, Horsedown, 'Galofurland,' 'le Swilge,' and 'Snegghegg' all appear in connexion with North Street or North Gate; 'Litellondon,' Crane Lane, the pond outside the South Gate belonging to the mayor and citizens, 'Gywegaysmyll,' 'Toundiche filde' are other names occurring from time to time. On folio 13, in another hand, is entered the heading 'Curia intrinsica placit' fori tenta ibidem' 1491–2 (7 Hen. VII); this court dealt with the assize of bread. The next entry is headed merely 'Curia,' and in 1535–6 (27 Hen. VIII), there was held 'Curia de placitis realibus et personalibus in le Guildhall,' before William Lane, mayor. The volume ends with a full record of the weekly courts of 1536–7 (28 Hen. VIII).

The business dealt with at the views was mainly of economic interest; in East Street alone six men brewed against the assize, while others were tapsters and sold beer by unsealed measures; obstruction of the highway was common, by throwing out water, or leaving dung lying about; dead bodies of animals were thrown out from East Gate into the highway or 'juxta Busshopps-Garden'; an occasional assault or theft was presented, as when John the Pewterer stole a pot of pewter, or when William Lane, clerk, trespassed, and then assaulted his sister with his first, who raised the hue and cry, and declared that he had broken into his sister's house and close and carried away a piece of linen worth 20s.; Robert Warren would not keep his dog in his house, and Thomas Myll obstructed the course of the Lavant in harvest time, to the hurt of his neighbours; another man lived a suspect life. Millers took excessive tolls; the bakers, shoemakers, butchers and whitetawyers all needed to be presented; part of Crane Lane was blocked with 'rubysc' and with the malting apparatus of the Prior of Shulbrede.

In the 'Curia Intrinsica' of 8 January 1492 (7 Hen. VII) the dean and chapter came and made fine for the suit which they owed to this court; then a case arose in which the defendant was ordered to wage his law three-handed. These details are in themselves unimportant, but they constitute almost the only available evidence of the working of the city courts during the 16th century. It is not quite clear why the view was able to deal with a case of regrating in the Pallant, of salt from a ship called the 'Christopher'; probably it was encroachments of this kind which led to the agreement of 1524 for cooperation between the archbishop's serjeant and the mayor. (fn. 94)

There are some records of the courts for the 17th century, but they usually contain little detail. A volume covered with a double folio taken from a medieval MS. (possibly a treatise on John Damascenus) contains records of the 'Court of the Liberty,' i.e. the court-leet for 1623 and 1624, at which were present the mayor, aldermen and common council, held before John Palmer, bailiff of the Liberty, in the Guildhall. This is probably a record of the proceedings at the bailiff's court above referred to. The presentments by wards, through the sub-constables, are noted with the utmost brevity. (fn. 95) For 1630–31 the record is headed 'Civitas Cicester, Curia de Recordo domini Regis tenta in Guildhall'; again there is very little that is not purely formal. The citizens still 'waged their law.' The indenture of James I with the mercers has been used as a cover for these documents. From 1621 to 1640 a careful record was kept of all the parties to the pleas held by the city court, but for the most part it is merely a list, invaluable for names, or for genealogical purposes, but throwing little light on the condition of the city. A roll of paper sheets for 1625–26 gives the usual list of cases with marginal notes. (fn. 96) One or two cases deal with wills and intestacy.

A set of presentments by the grand jury for 1659 (fn. 97) contains entries as to selling beer without licence, keeping a common slaughter-house within the city, not repairing the stage of the whipping-post, and forestalling the market.

Records of the city sessions, from Christmas 1753 to Midsummer 1774 are valuable. (fn. 98) The general quarter sessions of 17 January 1754 showed Richard Buckner, mayor, sitting with four aldermen and justices, with the recorder, Thomas Steele, the coroner and steward of the leet; the bailiff appearing by his serjeant; two high constables, eleven petty constables, and a jury (nineteen sworn). The work of the sessions (save that the administration of the Poor Law had been added) had changed little since the end of the 15th century. The highways were obstructed sometimes with wagons left in North Street, foul water was coming from the malthouse in Crane Lane, an idle and disorderly apprentice, often in liquor, was fined 2s. 6d. and finally discharged from his apprenticeship to a joiner. A citizen had carried away the common pump in West Street, covering up the well. (fn. 99) In 1770 another pump had been carried away, and in the rebuilding of the older houses encroachments had evidently been made on the highways. Complaints were made of two persons for erecting a 'certain edifice called a Porch' in the king's highway; of others for building out 16 steps of stone, brick and mortar in the Pallant, also for erecting posts and palisades; and for obstructing the highway with cellar windows and waterspouts. There are a few cases of barbarous punishments, transportations, whipping at the cart's tail, but they are comparatively few. Lists of witnesses are given to the taking of the Sacrament (under the Test Act) in 1770.

The Easter sessions of the city court in 1832 throw a little light on social conditions. The offences include stealing 'a check' of the value of £14, by a clerk, assaulting one of the watchmen, stealing 2s., and keeping a ruinous roof in South Street, so that the tiles and mortar fell on the passers-by. Details of payments made to the gaol at Petworth (for there was no city gaol at this time) show some gleams of humanity. Allowances for soap, shaving, extra laundry expenses on doctor's orders, warm baths, clean second-hand clothes, straw for beds, washing blankets, coal for prisoners to the value of £5, with salts and brimstone and treacle by doctor's orders, are all duly noted in the accounts, and betoken some traces of humanitarian reform.

Although not a court of the city, the county court brought trade and importance. Chichester, Lewes and Shoreham all laid claim to be the place for holding this court until Edward III decided on Chichester as the most convenient place for it. (fn. 100) In 1377 complaint was made to the king in parliament by the inhabitants of Surrey and Sussex that Richard, Earl of Arundel, to whom had been granted the sheriffs' tourns of the Rapes of Chichester and Arundel, had commenced a new court called 'shire-court' at Arundel, and caused it to be held every three weeks. At this court all the pleas which used to be pleaded in the county court of the king at Chichester for the said rapes were determined. (fn. 101)

The charters already referred to were confirmed by Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. They were further confirmed by Henry VI in 1441, but in 1451 he granted a new charter (fn. 102) to guard against some intrusion of the clerk of the market of the king's household. This charter began by asserting that the city of Chichester was the principal town in the county, and the place in which the county court was to be held; (fn. 103) it goes on to state that the mayor and citizens had held the city at fee-farm from time immemorial and recites their privileges of a merchant gild, view of frankpledge, assize of bread, wine and ale, correction of weights, measures, and forestalling and regrating. The charter then recites the intrusion of the royal officer, regrants the incorporation of the mayor and citizens with power of oyer and terminer, and all the powers of a justice of the peace and of labourers; it further exempts them from acting as collectors of taxes or subsidies without the city.

Edward IV confirmed both the charters of Henry VI; (fn. 104) Henry VII in 1500 (fn. 105) defined the judicial powers of the mayor and citizens more closely, causing the mayor to take the oath of escheator, and giving him cognizance of all kinds of pleas, touching lands and hereditaments of freehold tenure, which could be held before the Justices of the King's Bench, and Common Pleas or Justices in Eyre, with power to hold a court for them. His charter also grants to the mayor and citizens a weekly court in their Gildhall on Mondays. From this time onwards the charters are merely confirmatory, until the Stuart period.

The constitutional position of Chichester suffered many vicissitudes during the 17th century. Queen Elizabeth had confirmed previous charters, but made no changes. James I, however, in 1618 granted to the citizens a charter which possibly created new offices, or perhaps merely sanctioned and named offices that had grown up by custom; all who had served the office of mayor were to be aldermen of the city, and the offices of bailiff, port-reeve and customer are mentioned. (fn. 106) In 1622 James granted another charter, whereby the precinct of the Close was transferred to the jurisdiction of the city, thus superseding the bishop's and dean's jurisdictions. Hence in January 1636 both the sheriff of the county and the mayor of the city levied ship-money on the Close. After application to the Privy Council, an inquiry was made, the moneys returned and a fresh levy made. (fn. 107) The king ordered the last charter to be surrendered, promising a new one in which the exemption of the Cathedral and Close should be made explicit. The charter of 1622 was given up, but no new charter was granted, and the city therefore reverted to the status of 1618. In 1685 James II granted a charter (fn. 108) defining the constitution of the city in great detail; this is the charter at present in force, subject to the modifications imposed by the Municipal Corporations Acts of 1835 and 1882.

The charter of 1685 ordained that the style of the city should be the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Chichester, who should have a common seal; that there should be a high steward, a mayor, a bailiff, portreeves, customers, a recorder and his deputy, and a town clerk who should form part of the common council; that the common council should have power to make laws and statutes and dispose of lands and possessions and impose fines, punish and imprison offenders; that the common council should assemble in the Gildhall on Monday before the feast of St. Michael and elect a mayor and bailiff; and further, it should nominate the recorder and town clerk, and the mayor should choose fit men to serve the offices of portreeve and customer; that the last mayor and three senior aldermen should be nominated by the common council as justices of the peace in the city and precincts, and that the justices of the peace for the county should not intermeddle in the city of Chichester; that the mayor should be escheator; and that Thomas Bury and eight others should be citizens and aldermen, and Charles, Duke of Somerset, and thirtynine others, the portreeves, and William Floid, customer, should be citizens of the common council; that there should be a serjeant-at-mace appointed by the mayor; that the mayor, aldermen and citizens might have a court-leet, law days and view of frankpledge; that they might hold their market on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and a fair on the feast of St. George and two days following, with a court of pie powder; that no common vintner, innkeeper, aleseller or baker should be chosen mayor or justice of the peace; that the mayor should be clerk of the market; that the coroners, constables, chamberlains and other officers of the city should be chosen as hitherto; that there should be confirmed to the mayor, aldermen and citizens the manors, lands, merchant and other gilds, the ports of Wittering (Undering) and Horemouth and all fares, tolls, petty customs, anchorage, etc., which they had heretofore held by charter of James I or any late kings or queens. Provided that the mayor, aldermen, justices, and officers should in no way exercise any authority within the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity of Chichester nor within the Close of the said church.


  • 1. See facsimile of original charter.
  • 2. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. xxix; Lib. B, fol. viii d; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Var. Coll.), i, 181.
  • 3. Cal. Pat. R. 1374–7, p. 289; Ballard, op. cit. p. 19.
  • 4. a Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. lxxxv.
  • 5. S.A.C. li, 62, 64.
  • 6. Bk. of Fees (P.R.O.), p. 73.
  • 7. Pipe R. Soc. (N.S.), ii, p. 59; iii, p. 151; v, p. 227; vi, p. 239; vii, p. 82; viii, p. 220.
  • 8. Hay (Hist. of Chich. p. 232) and Mason (Guide to Chich. p. 51) refer to a charter granted by King John in 1213 whereby the citizens were to be governed by a mayor, recorder, etc. There seems, however, to be no evidence of this charter and its terms are very unlikely.
  • 9. This charter is preserved in the city Archives. Cf. Ballard, op. cit. pp. 18, 87; Ballard, Borough Charters, p. 4.
  • 10. Cal. Pat. R. 1377–81, p. 297; Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, p. 314.
  • 11. Pipe R. Soc. (N.S.), iv, p. 327.
  • 12. The reeves were the chief officers in 1212 and probably later (Bk. of Fees (P.R.O.), 73). The bailiffs seem to have been occasionally described as reeves (Cal. Close R. 1392–96, p. 357).
  • 13. Rot. Litt. Pat. (Rec. Com.), 121, 149, 168; Cal. Pat. R. 1216–25, p. 445; 1247–58, p. 368; Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 203.
  • 14. Assize R. no. 921, m. 27 d; no. 923, m. 43 d. The number had been reduced to one by 1685 (Hay, op. cit. 583).
  • 15. Assize R. no. 911, m. 12.
  • 16. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 761.
  • 17. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 203.
  • 18. Cal. Close R. 1302–7, p. 123.
  • 19. Abbrev. Rot. Orig. (Rec. Com.), i, 186.
  • 20. Ibid. 235.
  • 21. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. cxv d; cf. Univ. Coll. Oxf. MS. 148, fols. 13, 28. Judging from the numerous grants to St. Mary's Hospital to which 'Hemeric' was witness (S.A.C. li, 43–59), he was probably mayor for several years.
  • 22. Cal. Pat. R. 1225–32, p. 46.
  • 23. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. cxxii.
  • 24. Hay, op. cit. 569. Those names with an asterisk after them are taken from Dallaway, Hist. of Suss. i, p. 155. They are given, as Dallaway states, on the authority of 'various deeds still preserved' for which, however, no reference is shown.
  • 25. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. xc d. He was described at an earlier date as 'man' of Emery.
  • 26. S.A.C. li, 57.
  • 27. Univ. Coll. Oxf MS. 148.
  • 28. S.A.C. li, 56, 60.
  • 29. S.A.C. lxi, 86.
  • 30. Assize R. 915, m. 27; also in 1275 ibid. 921, m. 26 d.
  • 31. a Ibid. 924, m. 43 d.
  • 32. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. clviii.
  • 33. a Cal. of Bodl. Chart. Suss. no. 36.
  • 34. Lansd. Ch. 110.
  • 35. a Customs Accts. (P.R.O), 180. no. 5.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. R. 1377–81, p. 252.
  • 37. Cal. Close R. 1392–96, p. 357.
  • 38. Doc. in show case, D. & C. Lib.
  • 39. Cal. Close R. 1405–9, p. 328.
  • 40. Cal. Pat. R. 1408–13, p. 277.
  • 41. Cal. Pat. R. 1416–22, p. 163.
  • 42. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 7, no 30.
  • 43. a His will: P.C.C. Logge, 12.
  • 44. b Given by Dunkin as 'William Holt.' Add. MS. 39427, fol. 64.
  • 45. c See below, p. 104.
  • 46. Ct. R. (Lambeth), no. 906.
  • 47. a Reg. Bp. Sherburne, ii, fol. xxxviii d.
  • 48. Subs. bdle. 189, no. 158.
  • 49. a Ct. R. (Lambeth), no. 910.
  • 50. Reg. Bp. Sherburne, ii, fol. xxxviii d.
  • 51. Suss. Fines (Suss. Rec. Soc.), ii, 46, 153; Feet of F. Suss. file 84, no. 12.
  • 52. Assize R. 924, m. 12. This reference was kindly supplied by Mr. Lindsay Fleming.
  • 53. Cal. Close R. 1279–88, pp. 365, 534; Cal. Pat. R. 1292–1301, pp. 72, 112.
  • 54. Cf. Pollock and Maitland, Hist. of Engl. Law, i, 677.
  • 55. Cal. Close R. 1392–6, p. 357.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. R. 1391–6, p. 485.
  • 57. S.A.C. xv, p. 170.
  • 58. This must be a mistake for anno vii, as Urban V was elected in 1362.
  • 59. Selden, Titles of Honour, p. 672 (B.M. copy).
  • 60. Cath. Doc. Lib. E, fol. clxxxi.
  • 61. Reg. of Archb. Chicheley, vol. i, ff. 316–19.
  • 62. Cal. Pat. R. 1441–46, p. 461.
  • 63. Pat. R. 24 Hen. VI, pt. 2, m. 2; cf. Stephens, Memorials of the South Saxon See, p. 197; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Var. Coll.), i, p. 197, where 'a tenement of St. George' is mentioned as adjoining the Swan Inn in East Street in 1528.
  • 64. Stephens, loc. cit.
  • 65. Ballard, Hist. of Chich. 55–6.
  • 66. Chant. Cert. Augmentation Office, no. 50; Cal. Pat. R. 1548–9, p. 242.
  • 67. City archives.
  • 68. Ibid.
  • 69. Cf. Ballard, op. cit. pp. 78–9. It appears to be impossible to verify this reference to the King's Bench.
  • 70. Cal. Pat. R. 1301–7, p. 268; S.A.C. lxxiv, 73.
  • 71. Crown presentations. See Cal. Pat. R. s.d.
  • 72. Rede's Reg. (Suss. Rec. Soc. viii), p. 126.
  • 73. Visitation of Bishop Scory, fol. 14 (Notes from Mr. W. D. Peckham).
  • 74. Cal. Close R. 1405–9, p. 328.
  • 75. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), p. 761.
  • 76. The clerk who appears in the Usages of Winchester, probably before 1275, is treated by Mr. Furley (Winchester Rec. p. 49) as 'the city's recording officer,' and probably the original of the 'Recorder.' For another very early 'common clerk' see V.C.H. Northants, iii, p. 6, where the clerk may be as early as 1215, the date of the first mayor.
  • 77. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fol. cxxxix; cf. Univ. Coll. Oxf. MS. 148, no. 19; S.A.C. li, p. 47.
  • 78. Peckham, Litterae (Rolls Ser.), ii, pp. 563, 578, 584. Petrus de Boseham appears in the Subsidy lists for 1296, for both the city of Chichester and the villata of Broadbridge. It seems improbable that he was town clerk.
  • 79. Mins. Accts. (P.R.O.), 1022, no. 2.
  • 80. De Banco R. 635, m. 49.
  • 81. Chich. D. & C. Act. Bk. I, fol. xlii d, from inf. by Mr. W. D. Peckham.
  • 82. a Exch. Dep. by Com. Hil. 22–23 Chas. II, no. 14.
  • 83. b Oxf. Univ. Coll. MS. 148, fol. 15.
  • 84. T. G. Willis, Rec. of Chich. illust. facing p. viii. Hope dates the seal 'early 13th century': Corporation Plate, ii, p. 361. The plate (ibid. 360–4) includes a very fine 17th-century mace, a beautiful 'walking staff' for the mayor and one for the bailiff (both early 18th cent.), four 17th-century silver cups, and a tankard and salt cellars of the 18th century. A serjeant's mace (early 17th cent.) is now in the South Kensington Museum.
  • 85. a Suss. N. and Q. v, 163–5.
  • 86. Assize R. 926, m. 27 d.
  • 87. Ibid. 923, m. 74, 'quod possunt legare enementa sua que perquisiverunt in feodo.'
  • 88. Ibid. 916, m. 27 d.
  • 89. Ibid. 946, m. 6. The point at issue here seems to be rather the question of movable heirlooms than of the will itself; cf. Bateson, Borough Customs, ii, 138–144.
  • 90. Cal. Close R. 1429–35, p. 142.
  • 91. Cath. Doc. Lib. Y, fols. cxxvi d, cxxxv; Univ. Coll. Oxf. MS. 148, fol. 126; cf. S.A.C. li, p. 44, nos. 6, 7. In 1297–8 Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, apparently held the court-leet and view of frankpledge and took the profits from them (Exch. K.R. Accts. of Edm. E. of Cornwall, E 119, no. 1, m. 10).
  • 92. Pollock and Maitland, Hist. of Engl. Law, i, 667.
  • 93. Cal. Pat. R. 1446–52, pp. 522–3.
  • 94. a See below, p. 104.
  • 95. Cf. Ballard, op. cit. p. 61, for a somewhat fuller account for 1604.
  • 96. This roll, which has been numbered 5 by Canon Deedes, is headed 'Placita in Curia domini Regis tenta apud Civitatem Cicestr' in Guildhall.'
  • 97. Marked No. 4 by Canon Deedes. There are also bastardy orders, a presentment against a tailor, 'never brought up on this trade,' and a note that an assault was 'against the republiques peace.'
  • 98. There seems to be no reference number for this.
  • 99. There is said to have been a public well in each of the four quarters of the city, still used in 1815 (Dallaway, Hist. of Suss. i, p. 6).
  • 100. V.C.H. Suss. i, 504. As early as 1254 it was declared that henceforth the county court should be held as of old at Chichester (Cal. Close R. 1253–4, p. 18). In the 14th and 15th centuries the county courts appear to have been held on Thursdays, at intervals of four weeks (Assize R. 947, m. 4; Anct. Indictments, 164, no. 107).
  • 101. Rot. Parl. ii, 348. The Earl of Arundel had been granted the sheriff's tourns of his hundreds and may have been reviving an ancient practice of the Rape. Robert, son of Tetbald, was apparently Sheriff of Arundel at the time of the Domesday Survey (V.C.H. Suss. i, 378–9) and would no doubt have had his court. In the Rape of Hastings the Lathe Court exercised such functions as to lead historians to a strong supposition that each Rape originally had its own Sheriff, and exercised the jurisdiction usually belonging to a shire-court. The relations between the Rapes of Chichester and Arundel are particularly obscure and there is little or no evidence as to the jurisdiction exercised by the 'shire-court' at Chichester. In 1435 the Earl had a 'court of the liberties of Arundel called Shirecourt' (Chan. Inq. p.m. 13 Hen. VI, 37), or, in 1438, 'Sherevescourt' (ibid. 16 Hen. VI, 50).
  • 102. Pat. R. 30 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 6; Cal. Pat. R. 1446–52, p. 522.
  • 103. Ibid. 1334–38, p. 318; cf. Pat. R. 2 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 9.
  • 104. Schedule quoted above.
  • 105. Ibid.; Cal. Pat. R. 1494–1509, p. 205.
  • 106. Cf. Ballard, op. cit. p. 63.
  • 107. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1635–6, pp. 166, 538; cf. Gibson, Misc. pp. 11, 53. Tanner MS. (Bodleian) 149, fol. 21.
  • 108. Printed in full in Hay, op. cit. p. 579.