A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
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COUNTY GOVERNMENT. c. 1530–c. 1660
The Lord Lieutenant, p. 80. The Justices of the Peace, p. 87—(i) Structure of the Commission of the Peace, p. 88, (ii) Attendance at Quarter Sessions, p. 90, (iii) Functions of Quarter Sessions, p. 92, (iv) Criminal Matters, p. 92, (v) Civil Affairs, p. 94.
The capacity of English organs of government to combine continuity with change is nowhere better demonstrated than in the history of local administration between the Reformation and the Civil Wars. (fn. 1) At the end of our period, with a restoration in both local and central government we are, almost without exception, surveying the activities of the same local officials whom we met at the beginning. But the strong elements of continuity and tradition somewhat mask a subtle yet profound shift in the balance of local power. If so many of the local officials bore the marks of their medieval origins, they shouldered none the less responsibilities peculiar to a later age. In some respects, indeed, there was something approaching a revolution in the structure of local government. How far these officials proved equal to the new requirements, and the nature of the revolution which occurred, form the central themes of this chapter.
The material at our disposal is, unfortunately, very unevenly distributed. What the lord lieutenant did, or rather, what he was told to do, we can often discover from the Privy Council Register and sometimes from the State Papers. In addition, a narrow but vivid shaft of light is cast upon his day-to-day activities by a volume of the Earl of Hertford's papers at the British Museum. (fn. 2) On the other hand, the crucial records of the justices of the peace are sadly lacking for the Tudor period: only one volume has survived. (fn. 3) We meet them elsewhere in chance encounters in State Papers, Ancient Indictments, and Star Chamber Proceedings, but our visions of their problems and activities are fleeting ones. It is not until 1610 that we begin a full and continuous series of quarter sessions records, which prove increasingly rewarding as we advance through the 17th century. As we penetrate further into local administration, into the hundred and parish in search of petty sessions and court leet, high constable and tithingman, we are, for the whole period, virtually without direct reports and can only piece together from scattered references some impressionistic picture of these minor but important institutions and men. For military affairs the pivotal official was undoubtedly the lord lieutenant, for civil affairs, the justice of the peace.
The Lord Lieutenant
From the time of Edward VI until the outbreak of the Civil Wars, the lieutenancy of Wiltshire seems to have been the perquisite of successive earls of Pembroke, with only one interruption. In 1551 we find Sir William Herbert, shortly to be created Earl of Pembroke, granted the lieutenancy of Wiltshire; (fn. 4) and in 1552 and 1553 he was again exercising his office under direction from the Privy Council. (fn. 5) The lord lieutenant had not yet become a permanent feature of county administration anywhere in England, and, during Mary's reign and indeed in Elizabeth I's until the Armada, the post was filled only intermittently. During such times as it was filled we know that Pembroke was responsible for Wiltshire. (fn. 6) In 1559, the commission of lieutenancy joined two counties, Somerset and Wiltshire, under the jurisdiction of Pembroke; (fn. 7) and a contemporary list of November 1569 shows him still occupying the lieutenancies of the two counties. (fn. 8) Early in 1570 he died and was succeeded in the lieutenancy of Wiltshire by his son Henry, the 2nd earl; (fn. 9) but the queen also appears to have been prepared, according to the current practice, to leave it in abeyance for periods. In its place she would establish a commission of musters, composed of the sheriff and certain justices of the peace, charged with the levying of troops. (fn. 10) Henry, Earl of Pembroke, was on various occasions a member of these commissions. (fn. 11) By August 1586, if not earlier, he was again lord lieutenant of Wiltshire to which Somerset had been added; (fn. 12) and when, in 1587, faced with the gravest threat of her reign, the queen issued new commissions of lieutenancy, we find Pembroke in charge also of Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and the twelve Welsh counties. (fn. 13) Thus he reinforced his title of President of the Council of Wales with the lieutenancy over the principality.
With Pembroke's death in 1601 the succession to the Wiltshire lieutenancy passed from the Herbert family to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, son of the Protector Somerset; and the evidence shows him occupying the office, when called upon, until his death in 1621. (fn. 14) Then the lieutenancy reverted to the Herberts with whom it remained until the Civil War. First it went to William, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, statesman, courtier, and patron of literature and the arts, who was given responsibility for Wiltshire and Somerset, the usual combination, to which Cornwall was subsequently added. (fn. 15) When he died in 1630 the lieutenancies for the three counties passed to his younger brother, Philip, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, (fn. 16) and these were accordingly added to the lieutenancy of Kent, which he already held. (fn. 17) His office in Wiltshire went on until 1640 at least; (fn. 18) but soon the lieutenant was heavily committed to his duties as a parliamentary leader against the king from whom he held his commission of lieutenancy.
The lieutenancy of Wiltshire was fast becoming a perquisite of the Herbert family, a practice perhaps unwelcome to the sovereign, but tolerated perforce on account of the primacy of the family in the county at that time. (fn. 19) It is not always easy to discover the full details of the office, but it is a straightforward matter to discover who were the lords lieutenant for the period. When we come to the deputy lieutenants, however, we reach more difficult territory. The exact origin of the deputies, like so much in the administrative history of the period, is obscure. The commissions of musters, which we have seen operating when the lieutenancy was vacant, clearly pointed the way. But the emergence of the deputy lieutenant as an important local officer in Elizabeth I's reign pays tribute, amongst other things, to the increasing burden of responsibility descending upon the lieutenant himself. It was becoming necessary for him to shed the load. It is not easy, however, to discover upon whom precisely the load descended. When deputy lieutenants began to be appointed as recognized crown officials, probably early in Elizabeth's reign, their names were entered in the commissions of lieutenancy; but unfortunately we do not possess a complete series of such commissions. Our first reference for Wiltshire is a manuscript list, possibly for 1569, where we find that William, Earl of Pembroke, had two pairs of deputy lieutenants: Sir Henry Knyvet and Sir John Danvers for this county, and Sir George Sydenham and Sir Henry Barker for Somerset. (fn. 20) In 1590 we find Knyvet and Danvers occupying the same posts (fn. 21) under the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, now lord lieutenant. By 1597 only Knyvet remained, and a Privy Council letter to the Lord Keeper pointed out that the lord lieutenant needed more help than this, more particularly 'by reason of the far absence of our very good lord the Earl of Pembroke... who is for the most part resident in Wales'. Sir Francis Popham was accordingly added as deputy lieutenant. (fn. 22) A year later the number of deputies was raised to three and the name of Edward Penruddock was added to the commission. (fn. 23) In 1601, perhaps as a further sign of the times, we find that the number of deputies for Wiltshire was now four, in the persons of Sir James Marvin, Sir Francis Popham, Sir Walter Long, and Sir William Eyre. (fn. 24) In 1608 there were four again, the only change being the substitution of Sir Thomas Gorges for Sir Francis Popham. (fn. 25) Some time after this Anthony Hungerford must have been appointed a deputy, for we find him, in his turn, retiring in favour of his son, Edward, in 1624. (fn. 26). In this year, also, Sir John Dauntsey appears to have been added to the deputy lieutenants; but whether he replaced someone else, or augmented the total, we do not know. (fn. 27) Four years later we find that Edward Gorges had replaced Thomas Gorges and Edward Baynton's name appears also in the list. (fn. 28) Here only three deputy lieutenants are mentioned; but when we meet them again, in 1633, we find that there are now five of them: Francis Seymour, Edward Hungerford, Neville Poole, Walter Vaughan, and John Popham. (fn. 29)
The leading families of the county, then, were called upon to share, under the lieutenant, in the mounting responsibilities devolving upon him; and if the office of lieutenant of Wiltshire was passing from father to son, the office of deputy lieutenant was tending to develop a similar tradition. It was, no doubt, increasingly sought after. 'All men cannot be deputy lieutenants', the 2nd Earl of Pembroke once wrote to some suitors of Wales, 'some must govern, some must obey'. (fn. 30) Perhaps the increase in the number of deputy lieutenants from two to five testifies not simply to the growing pressure of work but to the growing pressure of the county families. But the posts were no sinecures. With the lord lieutenant they shared the military tasks assigned to him and these remained in the forefront of his obligations; but financial and social duties, themselves manifestly related to the key problem of the maintenance of order, claimed a growing share of his time. His prestige in the county, his relationship with the justices of the peace, and, in some cases, his participation in the central government, marked him out as well suited to carry the will of the government into the shires.
His military duties in Wiltshire displayed the features familiar to the rest of England: the division of the county into its component parts, each under the supervision of a group of justices of the peace with perhaps one or two deputy lieutenants; the preparation of the muster roll and the summoning of the trained bands of array; the supervision of military stores and the provision of part of the funds from local sources for the equipment and movement of troops. Some special aspects of the county, however, merit further consideration.
It was perhaps its geographical situation which determined Wiltshire's role in war and the preparation for war. It was part of what the Privy Council once described as the 'upland counties'. In other words, it was not in the direct line of an enemy's assault but a hinterland to provide the men and means of resistance. Hence we find it called upon to provide levies for the 'maritime counties' as well as for the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands, and Ireland, and to help in the movement of troops to focal points. But amidst the plentiful reports on military affairs flowing in from the lieutenant or the commission of musters, in the Elizabethan period, we detect innumerable signs of the difficulties of organization and supply. In 1562 we learn that a contractor who had received £100 some two years previously for supplies had still failed to deliver the goods. (fn. 31) In October 1570 the government was warned of the inadequacy of armour and equipment revealed by the county musters; (fn. 32) and three years later it was reported that the cost of training troops was greater than the county, heavily taxed already, could endure. (fn. 33) When in 1577 Wiltshire asked that it should be allowed to restrict the period of training to four days in the year instead of the ten officially laid down, it was abruptly told that 'her Majesty's pleasure is that the days shall not be diminished' and that the money needed for the purpose could be 'levied easily' in the county. (fn. 34) The Crown for its part was committed to heavy expenditure. In one month alone, November 1596, it had to find £1,000 to pay for the levies from Wiltshire and Hampshire for the Isle of Wight. (fn. 35)
Difficulties arose also about the appointment of officers. When the Earl of Pembroke found that Sir George Carey had been appointed, apparently over the heads of the local gentry, to take the musters and appoint the captain for the levies for the Isle of Wight, he spoke up on behalf of the county and protested against the whole arrangement. (fn. 36) He did so to good effect. In less than a fortnight Carey was relieved of his charge since the captains were already appointed from amongst 'the chiefest and gentlemen of best quality of the said county, who in case they should be removed from their said charges would think themselves therein to be greatly disgraced', especially as they had already been put to great trouble and expense. (fn. 37) On the other hand when, in the summer of 1588, Pembroke replaced Sir John Stoyll, the leader of the levies appointed by the Council eight years earlier, by his own nominee, Gabriel Hanley, Pembroke was told by the Council to restore Stoyll to office, to take note of allegations of corruption against Hanley, and to report. (fn. 38)
Soon other complaints were being directed against the county administration. In 1592 Wiltshire was named as one of the five counties which had not sent up the muster rolls in spite of being asked to do so on two separate occasions, 'wherewith we can assure you her Highness is not a little displeased'. (fn. 39) In November 1596 the Privy Council once again referred to the poor quality of the Wiltshire levies; (fn. 40) and in the New Year it prepared for vigorous action. In February 1597 the Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham, was instructed by the Privy Council to inquire into the alleged irregularities in the disbandment of levies and the waste of equipment in his county. It was not going to be an easy task, especially as 'upon other occasions of service when like abuses have been committed, the matter hath been so shifted from the county to those that had the government of the soldiers, and from these again to the county that we could hardly find where to lay the fault'. In a postscript he was further directed to investigate the 'great abuse committed in the discharge of divers soldiers for sums of money'. (fn. 41) A list of offenders was duly returned and in May the Council prepared to haul them up to London. (fn. 42) But neither Popham nor the Council achieved any lasting success. In 1598 the equipment was reported as inadequate and the men unfit for service. (fn. 43) In January 1599 things were no better: the lord lieutenant was told that some were refusing to contribute to the muster and he was asked 'to be the more earnest with them'. Moreover, there had been 'slack attendance' on the part of justices of the peace when the Irish expedition was in preparation and Pembroke was asked to 'give them admonition'. On top of all this there was wholesale evasion of military duties and contributions, in Wiltshire as elsewhere, in that 'many gentlemen and others do retain more servants than the law doth allow them'. Others, therefore, had to bear a disproportionate burden. (fn. 44)
Under the Stuarts, as is well known, the position still further deteriorated, and opposition to the demands of government, including its military demands, finally flared up into civil war. Yet, if the new century provided ample evidence of resistance, corruption, and inefficiency, it yielded also clear examples of officials trying to make the administrative machine work. The Earl of Hertford, lieutenant under James I, was indeed singled out in the House of Commons debate of 1606 for personal attack on the grounds of favouritism, bullying, and general high-handedness. (fn. 45) It so happens, however, that his lieutenancy papers for the year 1608 have survived and here we have patiently recorded, and with a wealth of detail, the day to day processes by which the military preparedness of the county was tested. (fn. 46) Like the Longleat papers on the preparations for the Armada of 1588, (fn. 47) it gives an admirable picture of the county in military array. Here we can only select some of its salient features. First we have the copy of the commission of 28 June 1608, appointing the Earl of Hertford lord lieutenant of Somerset and Wiltshire, of Bristol, Bath and Wells, and Salisbury 'and all other corporate and privileged places within the limits or precincts of the said counties'. (fn. 48) Two days later the Privy Council drew up the instruction, which reached Amesbury on 11 July, to hold the muster. (fn. 49) A fortnight after its receipt, the earl issued directions to his deputy lieutenants and these, and other appropriate documents, were 'delivered by his lordship's own hands unto Sir Thomas Gorges'. (fn. 50)
Not everyone delighted in the military titles falling thick and fast upon Wiltshire. On 1 August Sir Thomas Thynne wrote to ask that, in virtue of his office of sheriff 'and some other important occasions', the rank of colonel should be bestowed elsewhere. (fn. 51) The letter was brought, significantly enough, by a servant of Sir James Marvin, fatherin-law of Thynne and deputy lieutenant of Wiltshire. Marvin himself supported Thynne's plea. None the less Marvin received a stinging rebuke. (fn. 52) 'I marvel', wrote Hertford to him on 18 September, 'that your years and gravity could not divert him from so peremptory and undutiful a resolution'. The colonelcy had indeed been offered in the first place at Marvin's suggestion to raise Thynne's prestige in the county and to prepare him for his Majesty's service. In return Thynne had publicly stated, 'with many idle words' in the presence of the lord lieutenant and others, that he would not assume the colonelcy. Thynne was now ordered to appear as instructed: the fact that he was sheriff and the'poverty which he alleged' were brushed aside. Any further refusal would provoke Hertford 'to lay open his said wilful, peremptory refusal', a thing he 'would be sorry so to do knowing he is not able to answer so high a contempt'. The threat at first appeared to work. Marvin replied that he had assumed that Hertford would appreciate the heavy duties which had fallen to Thynne. But in any case, without this recent prompting from the lord lieutenant, Marvin had succeeded in persuading his son-in-law 'to leave all his former accounts and business upon six and seven and to attend that service of colonel himself'. (fn. 53) It was an empty promise. When the time came Thynne took himself and his household off to London and left the lord lieutenant to his own devices. (fn. 54) Sir Francis Englefield, Edward Long, and a Mr. Moody, who were also absent, and had indeed for many years made a practice of being absent, were warned that any continued refusal to serve would lead to their being reported to the Privy Council for contempt. (fn. 55)
Meanwhile the county officials had been getting down to business. On 10 August the four deputy lieutenants with five justices of the peace had assembled at Devizes to divide up the county between them, each inspection to be made by two deputy lieutenants over a period of two days. First Sir Thomas Gorges and Sir James Marvin would 'take a view' at Hindon on 23 and 24 September and on the same day Sir Walter Long and Sir William Eyre would arrive at Devizes. Gorges and Marvin would then go to Salisbury on 26 and 27 September while Long and Eyre would go to Chippenham. Finally Gorges and Marvin would appear at Marlborough on 6 and 7 October while their colleagues would be at Trowbridge on the 10th and 11th of the same month. The justices of the various divisions were to appear with the muster books at the appointed places and one at least of the colonels and captains was to be present with his muster roll. So much for the 'trained men with their armour and furniture'. The justices of the peace were also to report any defects in the store of match and powder; and special arrangements had to be made in addition for the light horse and the lancers to be separately inspected. Preparations were also made to send precepts for the clergy 'to be viewed in every division and in the same manner as the other forces are appointed to be viewed'. (fn. 56)
But dealing with the clergy was not as easy as that. In Wiltshire, as in Northamptonshire, (fn. 57) they resisted attempts to put them on an equal footing with the laity. On 6 August the Bishop of Salisbury was asked by Hertford to provide a list of his clergy capable of bearing arms (fn. 58) and his reply, received on the 12th, expressed his willingness to have his clergy ready. He pointed out, however, that it was normal to expect an instruction from the Archbishop of Canterbury to that effect, but, whether it came or not, 'according to your lordship's direction I will give them admonition to be provided at the days appointed'. (fn. 59) Across the border, in Somerset, the Bishop of Bath and Wells showed himself less acquiescent. Hitherto the clergy had mustered before the bishop and he had therefore written to his archbishop for instructions. He assumed, he added with a broad hint, that the Earl of Hertford had no intention of innovation. (fn. 60) While, therefore, in Salisbury a list was being drawn up at the end of August and the bishop was being asked to appoint a captain for the horse troop of his clergy, (fn. 61) his brother Bishop of Bath and Wells was still playing a waiting game. He was willing to allow the 'view' of the clergy to be taken (unless he received meanwhile contrary instructions from higher authority) but they were not to be 'charged', i.e. assessed for contribution, because that was not within the power of the commission. (fn. 62) The archbishop had meanwhile taken the matter up with the lord treasurer; and on this issue the bishop was victorious. (fn. 63) Hertford accepted the situation and issued appropriate instructions to his deputy lieutenants on 14 September. (fn. 64)
So the work of the muster went on through the summer and autumn and, at the end of October, the lord lieutenant began to take stock. As in the past there were serious defects laid bare, with no good prospects of immediate redress. (fn. 65)
The next three decades witnessed a worsening situation, hardly unexpected in the county of Ludlow, Strode, and Long. In April 1613 Hertford was asking for time to bring the equipment up to the required levels, since the use of borrowed arms had prevented his recognizing the true situation earlier. (fn. 66) A month later the position seemed to be improving; (fn. 67) but in November of the following year many defects in the muster were recorded, which were attributed, this time, to the weather. (fn. 68) But, in June 1620, near the end of his lieutenancy, he was able to record, for the moment, an improvement. The foot companies were complete, the horse nearly so. Sir Francis Englefield, however, was keeping up what had become for him a long-standing tradition of withholding his contribution. (fn. 69) He was not alone. In the directions for muster, issued in April 1618, Wiltshire, Bedfordshire, and Somerset were singled out for special mention since 'citizens or other gentlemen as have seated themselves' there were claiming exemption through being rateable in London or elsewhere. No such exemption, the Privy Council stated, was valid. (fn. 70)
If the gentry proved increasingly reluctant to provide the arms, the money, and the men, the men themselves did not enter joyfully upon their commitments. In 1625 some of the troops sent from Wiltshire to Dover mutinied and ran away. (fn. 71) Others bribed their way out of military service, and no less a person than Sir Thomas Sadler, himself a justice, was involved. More men were pressed than were actually required; various sums of money were exacted with a good deal of buying and selling of poor men, and 'these abuses were much spoken of by the country'. (fn. 72) For this Sadler was brought before the Council, imprisoned, ordered to repay the sums collected, and dismissed from the commission of the peace. (fn. 73) But even drastic action to meet a major scandal could not remedy the situation as a whole. In 1627 the Wiltshire levies were again short of their target. (fn. 74)
If the county musters met with obstruction, and service beyond the county brought in its train corruption and mutiny, there were other unpopular tasks awaiting the high officials of the county: for example, the billeting of troops. In 1627 the lords lieutenant of Wiltshire and other counties were asked to arrange that troops coming from Devon and Cornwall should either be billeted or passed on, the billeting allowance being 3s. 6d. a week, the lodging and diet allowance for those passing through, 8d. a day. Twelve miles were to be reckoned as a day's march. (fn. 75) But when, at the beginning of 1628, a regiment from Hampshire appeared in Wiltshire, the deputy lieutenants wrote to Pembroke in alarm saying that for this regiment they had no direction from either the Council or the earl. They asked for speedy instructions, especially as many of the local inhabitants were refusing to contribute towards the cost of billeting. (fn. 76) On another occasion, when in fact money could be collected, this time for a powder magazine, the difficulty lay in getting hold of the people into whose possession the money had passed. (fn. 77)
In the sixteen-thirties the deputy lieutenants continued to press on with the work of mustering the shire, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success; (fn. 78) though it is worth recording that in 1634 a member of the Englefield family was at last brought to book, or at least before the Council. He faithfully promised to give his share to the musters, but whether he kept his word, and for how long, we do not know. (fn. 79) If he continued to default he did so in good company, for, at the beginning of 1637, we find Henry Ludlow, Henry Thynne, Sir Thomas Hall, and Walter Long reported for similar misdemeanours. (fn. 80) Walter Long, however, flatly denied the allegation, saying that he had had no request for his contribution. (fn. 81) And then, in 1640, came mutiny again. The lord lieutenant himself foresaw the danger and warned the Council of many obstinate refusals of coat and conduct money. His deputy lieutenants could not conceive 'what mutinous courses these armed men may take not having wherewithal to sustain their present necessities'. (fn. 82) Some were committed to prison for refusing to contribute. Others, from amongst the trained bands, broke open the prison to enable them to escape. They, in turn, were brought before the sheriff and lord lieutenant for punishment. (fn. 83) For a moment this show of force restored order; but the rot had set in at all levels and three of the constables found themselves in prison for refusing to collect coat and conduct money. (fn. 84) Finally resistance spread to the lord lieutenant himself as the country slid into civil war.
The justices of the peace
The sounds of war and the preparation for war entered increasingly, as we have seen, into the public and private life of the county from the fifteen-eighties onwards. Yet even in times of acute danger it is not the lord lieutenant or his deputies who provide us with the fullest information about how the county went about its business. For that we must turn elsewhere: to the justices of the peace and their quarter sessions.
For administrative and judicial purposes the county fell into six main 'divisions', each of which tended to carry the name of the lord lieutenant, a deputy lieutenant, or some senior member of the county hierarchy. Thus, in 1592, for example, we find the six divisions named after the Earl of Pembroke, Sir James Marvin, Sir Thomas Wroughton, Sir John Danvers, Sir Edward Baynton, and Sir Walter Hungerford. (fn. 85) The names of the division changed, of course, with death, departure or for other reasons. In 1633 we find a reference to 'the division heretofore called the Earl of Pembroke's division but lately termed Salisbury division'. (fn. 86) In broad outline, during the late 16th century, Pembroke's (Salisbury division) covered the south-eastern part of the county, Marvin's (Warminster division) the south-western, Wroughton's (Marlborough division) the north-eastern, Danvers' (Devizes division) the central part, Baynton's (Chippenham division) the north-western, and Hungerford's (Westbury division) the west. (fn. 87)
We have seen that the shire marshalled itself in 1608 along the main divisional lines, while the quarter sessions records supply frequent examples of justices of the peace having devolved upon them duties to be performed 'within their divisions', with or without their having to refer the matter back to the sessions. But it was not intended that these internal divisions should provide hard and impenetrable boundaries. When directions were sent to the sheriff and justices of the peace of Wiltshire in 1637 about arrangements for collecting contributions towards the rebuilding of St. Paul's, this was pointed out. 'Whereas by a letter sent to you in July last touching contributions... we directed you to sort yourselves into your accustomed divisions... for the performance of that service.... We by the same did intend only... your more ease, but not to restrain you in any sort from setting about that work in any other division or place in the said county and... shall take it very well from any of you who, out of his affection for so pious a work, shall take pain and employ his endeavour in all or any other of the divisions'. (fn. 88) It is clear, however, that for many purposes the division was more significant than the shire.
The meeting place for the sessions did not become fixed during our period, but from the last decades of the 16th century they tended to follow a fairly regular course: Salisbury for the Hilary sessions, Warminster at Easter, Devizes at Midsummer, and Marlborough at Michaelmas. But this routine was far from binding and, for example, between 1575 and 1587, it was very considerably modified. Other towns which were used for these meetings were Calne, Chippenham, Hindon, and Trowbridge. (fn. 89) The duration of the sessions was restricted by statute to a maximum of three days. For the Tudor period it is not possible to establish the exact duration of each meeting; under the early Stuarts the sessions lasted one or two days and only occasionally three.
The structure of the Commission of the Peace
We may divide the personnel of the commission into four main groups. First in seniority were eminent men in the state. (fn. 90) For example, the commission of 1562 included Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper, the Marquess of Winchester, the Lord Treasurer, and the Earl of Arundel, the Lord Steward of the Household. Similarly, the commission of 1600 included Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper and Lord Buckhurst, the Lord Treasurer. That for 1638 was headed by Lord Coventry, the Lord Keeper, Bishop Juxon, the Lord Treasurer, and the Earl of Manchester, the Privy Seal. The Commonwealth commission of 1657 was led by the commissioners of the Great Seal and the commissioners of the Treasury. But these distinguished names normally appeared on the commissions for each county. So far as Wiltshire was concerned they were honorary members and played no active part in its quarter sessions.
Next in seniority were the judges who came on circuit twice a year to hold the assizes, to deal with complex, and sometimes more serious, issues and in the process to instruct their brother justices of the peace, resident in the county, in the arts of judicial procedure. In 1562 we find on the commission Mr. Justice Weston and Richard Harpur, a serjeant at law. (fn. 91) In 1600 there were four judges, led by Lord Chief Justice Popham, a Wiltshire man. In 1638 we find Chief Justice Finch and a baron of the Exchequer. In 1657 there were as many as nine judges on the commission.
Then come the men of rank and distinction in the shire, for example the Earls of Pembroke and Hertford, with whom may be coupled the Bishop of Salisbury; while lower down on the commission we find his diocesan chancellor. There was lastly the main body of the justices, knights, esquires and gentlemen, bearing the familiar names of the leading county families: the Thynnes, Hungerfords, Penruddocks, Danverses, Estcourts, and Ludlows. Forming a kind of inner core of the commission were men senior to the others in status or legal training who were described as 'of the quorum' and, for certain purposes, one or more of them had to be present; but the distinction between them and the rest wore thin and most of the justices were so designated.
The size of the commission of the peace showed, during this period, a marked increase. In 1562 it had a membership of 30, of whom three were 'honorary' members, one a justice of assize, and one a serjeant at law. These 5 came from outside the shire. The rest consisted of 1 earl, 2 barons and 22 country gentlemen. By 1600 the total number on the commission had risen to 52 of whom 2 were honorary and 4 judges, while the 'local' membership comprised 2 earls, 5 barons, 37 country gentlemen, the Bishop of Salisbury and his chancellor. In 1638 the number had risen only slightly, to 55, but there were now 5 honorary members on the commission and 2 judges, while the basic structure of the commission remained unchanged. Less than 20 years later, however, in 1657, the total membership had reached 79; but of these 6 were honorary, 7 were judges and I the attorney general. If these figures are examined in terms of local members only, omitting the names of the judges and of those who appear in every commission for that year, it emerges that local membership rose from 25 in 1562 to 46 in 1600, to 2 more than this in 1638, but to as high as 65 in the last years of the Protectorate. Even with the intermittent purges of the commission during the period, the numbers continued to rise.
The most senior of the justices, sometimes the lord lieutenant, was appointed custos rotulorum. But this was not invariably the case. In 1562, though the Earl of Pembroke was lord lieutenant, Sir John Thynne was custos. In 1600, on the other hand, the 2nd earl was both lord lieutenant and custos; and in the early 17th century the Earl of Hertford likewise combined both offices. Towards the end of Hertford's long life, however, Sir Francis Seymour became custos. Similarly, between 1621 and 1640 when the 3rd and 4th Earls of Pembroke were lords lieutenant they were not at the same time custodes. Under the Protectorate, the 5th earl was custos but he gave place to Francis Lord Seymour at the Restoration. (fn. 92) Clearly, in Wiltshire as elsewhere, the lord lieutenant had no prescriptive right to be custodian of its quarter sessions records.
These records owed more to the clerks of the peace than to the custodes rotulorum, especially as some clerks held long periods of office. (fn. 93) Christopher Dysmers, the last to be appointed by royal letter patent before the granting of the office reverted to the custos, was clerk for 30 years, from 1537 to 1567, to be followed by the thirteen-year tenure of Walter Berington; under the early Stuarts John Kent was clerk for a quarter of a century to be followed by John Frampton who was in office for twenty years. These were no honorific appointments; and the sessions records, especially for the 17th century, show a marked widening of the clerk's responsibilities. Not only the purely administrative tasks, such as the issue of quarter sessions' writs and the recording of its business, came his way, but executive and legal duties out of sessions. It was he, for example, who had to handle the wearisome and drawn-out investigation to discover who was responsible for the upkeep of Harnham bridge at Salisbury. (fn. 94) Then he had to start litigation on behalf of the county. It was he who had to prepare the county's defence when it was 'indicted' at the assizes for the neglect of another bridge. It was he who handled the money brought in by the treasurers of the north and south parts of the county. Not surprisingly, he had to devolve some of his work upon others. By the sixteen-forties there were two deputy clerks, Francis Bennet and William Coles, of whom the latter subsequently succeeded Frampton as clerk in 1646.
Attendance at Quarter Sessions
How many of the justices were active in quarter sessions ? There are two main sources for this information: the pipe rolls on which the sheriff claimed allowances for what he had paid in wages to the justices and, secondly, the list of attendances recorded by the clerk in his minute and order books. Both sources are, however, defective.
Justices below the rank of 'banneret' were entitled to wages of 4s. a day and this, by means of the Pipe Rolls, may provide a clue as to their attendance. But for a number of reasons the evidence is not easy to interpret. In the first place, men on the upper rungs of the commission received no wages and therefore are absent from the list. Apart from this, in Wiltshire as in other counties, (fn. 95) the money was not paid to individuals but kept as a special fund for their entertainment. This, however, gave rise to difficulties of its own. 'Whereas the usual and ancient custom within this county' (declares the sessions minute book in 1630) (fn. 96) 'hath been heretofore that the clerk of the peace was steward and did provide for all the justices' dinners the first day of every sessions in lieu of wages allowed them by his Majesty, in which respect the said clerk of the peace received the benefit of all such allowance as he could procure for the said justices' diet....' Now, the justices felt, the arrangement had shown itself to be unsatisfactory, though the clerk had apparently continued to pay the usual rate for the meal. 'Yet the remissness or covetousness of the innkeeper where the said diet was provided this present sessions in not providing what was meet gave not that satisfaction to the justices there assembled as was requisite.' As a result, the justices with one voice agreed to abandon the longstanding arrangement of having meals in lieu of wages and henceforth 'would expect heir wages due to them according to the law!'. What the Devizes innkeeper had served on that July day in 1630 we cannot speculate; but it was clearly not to the taste of His Majesty's justices of the peace.
But whether the justices claimed dinners or cash, how accurate are the lists on the Pipe Rolls ? The evidence of the Warwickshire county records shows that there are at least discrepancies between attendances warranted by the Pipe Rolls and information obtained elsewhere. (fn. 97) For Wiltshire also, during this period, there is an interesting change in the statistics provided by the sheriff. (fn. 98) At the beginning of the 17th century there is a notable variation in the number of days attended by individual justices. One, Edward Hungerford, is credited with 9 days, two others with 8, one with 7, and one with 6, four with 5 days, one with 4, three with 3 and four with 2 days. John Kent, the clerk, is recorded as having attended on 9 days. In 1639, on the other hand, all the justices are credited with 3 days, or multiples of 3, and John Frampton, their clerk, with 12 days. In other words, as the editors of the Warwickshire county records have suggested, it looks as though attendance at the first day of quarter sessions brought an allowance for the full 3 days. (fn. 99) Then in 1658 the Pipe Roll credits the 12 Wiltshire justices it lists with the unlikely record of attendance for the full 12 days. The other evidence flatly contradicts this. The quarter sessions order book shows that of the 12 justices recorded on the Pipe Rolls as having attended 12 days, in fact none of them attended all four quarter sessions, five of them attended 3 of the sessions, one attended 2, three attended 1 of the sessions and three of them did not appear at any of the quarter sessions. By contrast, the order book records no less than 16 other justices who attended one or more quarter sessions but who—if the Pipe Rolls are to be trusted—received no reward whatsoever for their pains.
What is the explanation of this? Apparently what mattered to the justices was not how much each of them was entitled to receive but what was the total sum involved. Whether they resumed the practice of using the money for their dinners or devoted it to some other purpose, it is reasonable to assume that it remained a corporate fund. In that case there was no need to record the exact number of attendances for each individual; the clerk and the sheriff between them might agree upon a reasonable sum to claim and attach to it their list of justices. Later, in Charles II's reign, this practice appears to have been in part abandoned, but the sheriff did not revert to the original method of recording the exact numbers of days attended. He stopped at the half-way house: all the attendance figures are given in multiples of three.
Apart from the Pipe Rolls we have information about the justices' attendance in the clerk's minute and order books, now preserved in the County Record Office at Trowbridge. But here too we cannot always discover the exact number of attendances because the clerk was content in some cases to name only some of the justices of the peace and complete his list with the expression 'and others'. Fortunately he did not invariably do this, and where the list seems to be a complete one we have some useful statistics at our disposal. If we take the last quarter of the 16th century we find very considerable fluctuations. A fairly common attendance was from 8 to II but there were cases where it fell far below this. For example, at the St. Thomas' sessions held at Devizes in July 1576, there were no more than 3 justices present, (fn. 100) and at the Michaelmas sessions held some 15 months later in the same town, the attendance came down to 2 (if the clerk's record is accurate). (fn. 101) At the Michaelmas sessions 2 years later, held this time at Chippenham, again only 2 justices appeared. (fn. 102) There were 2 also at a special sessions called in August 1584, but in view of its character, and the very small amount of work it appears to have done, this is not surprising. (fn. 103) The same applies to the special sessions of October 1586. (fn. 104) In other words, these meetings look not like the ordinary quarter sessions but either adjournments or the petty sessions now in process of development. By contrast, the preceding Easter sessions at Warminster saw an attendance of sixteen. (fn. 105) The attendance varied a good deal not only in numbers but in membership. Some names appear frequently on the list: for example, Danvers, Hungerford, and Penruddock. On the other hand, William, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, came only three times. (fn. 106) Other distinguished names also appear on the records, including the Earl of Hertford, Lord Audley and Lord Stourton, but they too were infrequent attenders.
In the 17th century we also notice considerable fluctuations. (fn. 107) At the Trinity sessions of 1610 there were 6 justices present while at the Michaelmas sessions which followed there were fifteen. At the Easter sessions of 1620 there were as many as 29. At the Trinity sessions of 1644 the attendance fell to 2, after which sessions meetings fell into abeyance for 2 years. Under the Commonwealth and Protectorate the numbers continued to fluctuate. At the Easter sessions of 1660, the last sessions before the Restoration, only 3 justices appeared; at the Michaelmas sessions of 1660, the first after the Restoration, 18 attended.
An examination of the clerk's lists shows also that justices did not restrict their attendance to the towns nearest their homes. It is true that a good many attended only one out of the four sessions in the year, but others attended two and a few attended three. It is clear also that, in some years at least, half the members of the commission did not appear at quarter sessions at all.
The Functions of Quarter Sessions
As the 16th century wore on the meetings at quarter sessions became more and more the clearing house for the criminal and civil affairs of the county. Many matters were settled in court, others were sent down to be dealt with by one or more justices in their division, while some matters, administrative and judicial, had to await the judgement of the assizes. This happened, for example, in Hilary term 1642, when, as the order book records, 'because it is a case of difficulty this Court doth order that the Judges of Assizes shall be attended with the plea at the next assizes'. (fn. 108) In civil affairs quarter sessions had to deal with licences to victuallers and badgers, the maintenance of highways, bridges, and houses of correction, the apprenticing of paupers, the control of markets, local taxation, recusancy, and anything else which came their way. In the 17th century the government taxed still further the energies and pockets of the local justices until the whole system very nearly collapsed during the Civil War. Before examining the nature and effects of that collapse, it is necessary to look a little more closely, first at the judicial, then at the economic and social, responsibilities which were steadily accruing to the sometimes unpaid, and often involuntary, instruments of the Crown.
The treatment of criminal matters by the justices in quarter sessions represents neither the most important nor, from our point of view, the most interesting part of their work. In theory their writ ran widely and their powers were extensive, in practice we find a certain monotony in their proceedings, rendered the more so where we have long lists of penalties with no indication of the crimes which gave rise to them. Where we are told of the offence, we find through the years a long procession of whippings for the parents of bastard children, brandings for vagrants, occasionally punishments for trespass or poaching. (fn. 109) We have also the usual undertakings to keep the peace. Once, in 1635, the zealous bench sent a child aged ten or eleven to the Bridewell to await his Majesty's pleasure, for uttering lewd words against the king. (fn. 110) Occasionally the proceedings were enlivened by an indictment for unlawful games as when three men, from as far afield as London and Oxfordshire, were indicted before the Wiltshire quarter sessions for playing 'unlawful and cosening games', in this case 'trolemadame and ryffling for dishes and platters'. (fn. 111) One, George Copplestone, in 1584, added assault to his gaming and was fined 5s. for the one, and 6s. 8d. for the other, the court apparently taking a more serious view of his gaming. (fn. 112) We have also, on another occasion, 'a misguided reveller who forgot himself to the extent of unlawfully tippling before he unlawfully bowled [and] was condemned to forfeit xiid. for each of these forbidden pleasures'. (fn. 113) Once, in 1587, what appears to be a complete bowling team was fined for their game. But they got off lightly—2s. for the whole team. And it looks as though one of the justices paid the fine. (fn. 114)
In the main it was a rough justice which was meted out at quarter sessions and an even rougher justice here and there, unadorned with the full majesty of the law: hence, perhaps, the frequent allegations against J.P.s in the Star Chamber. Thus, Sir Anthony Hungerford, J.P., was accused by a churchwarden in the Star Chamber, in the fifth year of Edward VI, of showing favour in his official duties. One John Boiler had, it was alleged, forcibly resisted the churchwardens of Highworth, who were taking down the altar on instructions from the Privy Council. Hungerford, according to the accusation, had not only displayed partiality to Boiler but had generally thwarted justice by allowing personal friendship to intervene in various cases of felony. In reply Hungerford flatly denied the allegations and, in the absence of the Star Chamber decrees, we cannot know the upshot. What we do know, however, is that someone wrote on the back of the churchwarden's petition (though it was subsequently crossed out): 'Matter for the King's Majesty. Worthy to commit the said Sir Anthony and Mr. Boiler at least to the Fleet.' (fn. 115) In 1614 Sir Henry Moody, J.P., was alleging in the Star Chamber that certain justices had achieved their ends by holding a private sessions at Malmesbury. (fn. 116) A similar allegation, however, was fo be made against him in 1621 in that he 'most unlawfully and corruptly keepeth a session in his own chamber, and there at his will and pleasure dischargeth offenders and vexeth innocent persons, who are compelled to attend him there to their intolerable vexation'. (fn. 117) It may well be, however, that the affairs were not as heinous as they sound and we may be catching in them the intermittent glimpses of the petty sessions.
Inevitably much work had to be devolved upon individual J.P.s, or groups of two or three; and the rise of petty sessions, divisional meetings of justices held between the quarterly assemblies, contributed towards this essential devolution. Unfortunately we have only the scantiest references to these meetings in stray records and it is not easy to tell at which stage these 'private' meetings of J.P.s, sometimes held by direction of quarter sessions to report on or settle matters, took on the more formal character of petty sessions. The practice of holding them was perhaps fairly widespread and in Calne they may go back to as early as 1565. (fn. 118) Whether such proceedings were formal or informal it is clear that they gave rise to opportunities for favouritism, bullying, or corruption. But they equally provided opportunities for such accusations; and we must not assume that the lengthy and circumstantial allegations in the Star Chamber had necessarily any basis in fact.
There were also plenty of complaints about illegal detention, which sometimes meant no more than arrests by J.P.s. It was not always easy to draw the fine distinction between what a man did in his private capacity and what he did as an official. (fn. 119) Giles Estcourt, J.P., was accused of having 'dealt very indirectly' in a certain case but the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, to whom the Privy Council submitted the matter, found him to have been 'very unjustly charged'. The Council therefore entirely cleared Estcourt but recorded that they found in the whole matter 'such indirect dealing and working that they think it very necessary to have the same more deeply looked unto'. (fn. 120) On another occasion the Attorney General took action in the Star Chamber against the false accusers of a justice of the peace. (fn. 121)
We cannot leave criminal matters without referring briefly to the county gaol at Fisherton Anger, in Salisbury. It was the only gaol in the county, and early in Elizabeth's reign had apparently fallen into decay. For a time, in 1568, East Harnham, not far from the palace of the Bishop of Salisbury, was proposed as an alternative site, but, on protest from the bishop, this was abandoned. Instead, either a new site was bought at Fisherton, or else the old gaol was enlarged, for which a county rate was levied. The work was not completed until 1578. (fn. 122) In 1642, if not earlier, it was again in need of repair and, on petition from its keeper, John Freeland, the justices of assize ordered the county to do the necessary work, under penalty of a £40 fine. (fn. 123) At the next meeting of the assizes, however, the county showed that the statutory responsibility lay with the sheriff, (fn. 124) and their plea was accepted. (fn. 125) In 1649, however, the gaol was still in great decay, (fn. 126) which may explain why a number of prisoners had been able to break out during the previous year. (fn. 127)
In 1646, during the Civil War, prisoners could not be sent to Fisherton and were committed to the garrison at Malmesbury; a special order had to be made at quarter sessions to reimburse the marshals. (fn. 128) The money in this case was to be provided by the Treasurer for the King's Bench and Marshalsea, who was at least partly responsible for providing funds for the upkeep of the gaol. He worked apparently through the 'collectors for the relief of poor prisoners'. (fn. 129) One such collector, William Groome, was involved in a scandal. He combined the office of collector with that of baker for the gaol, in which office he was guilty of various abuses. As a result, the justices deprived him of his monopoly of selling bread to the gaol and decreed that he should henceforth supply it only on alternate weeks. When, however, he pointed out that, as honorary collector, he had over the past 24 years saved the county about £100, 'there being formerly given for the collecting of the same money four pounds every year', his monopoly was restored. (fn. 130) The sheriff was, as hitherto, in charge of the gaol, but the day to day responsibility had obviously passed from the sheriff to the gaoler. (fn. 131)
From the criminal we turn to the variegated duties of the justice of the peace as a civil officer. The most familiar to us of these is the maintenance of what we may perhaps call, in their crude beginnings, the social services: poor relief, pensions and germane matters. Then a word must be said about their control of trade, especially the food trade, and their general supervision of ale-houses. Finally we must look at fiscal matters, both local taxation and at the part the J.P. played, with varying degrees of reluctance, in collecting taxes on behalf of the Crown.
The alleviation of poverty and unemployment seems to have been their greatest preoccupation. It is well known that, after many decades of experiment, the Tudors hammered out a poor-law policy which in broad outline survived for centuries. That policy, as it finally took shape in the closing years of Elizabeth I's reign, and was enshrined in the famous statues of 1598, (fn. 132) divided the indigent into four main categories: pauper children, the aged and infirm, the unemployed, and finally the vagrants or sturdy beggars, that is, those who, it was assumed, did not work because they would not work. It is possible to see the implementation of this policy in the Wiltshire sessions records of the period.
The fear that lay at the roots of so much of the social policy of the time was reflected in the attitude of the Wiltshire officials to young and old alike. Social policy then, as now, began with the cradle; and we find a good deal of the justices' time taken up in the effort to pin the responsibility for bastard children upon their begetters. Whipping of the parents, which was frequently resorted to, could not, of course, provide the funds for maintaining the child though it was hoped, no doubt, that exemplary punishment might reduce the incidence of illegitimacy in the future. The next stage was the more practical one of issuing an affiliation order against the father. The matter was frequently remitted to two or more justices who, on one occasion, imposed a maintenance charge upon the father but omitted to inflict the appropriate punishment for the offence. Accordingly, at a later meeting of the full sessions, the sentence was modified to include whipping; and, as an instruction to the justices and a warning to the county, it was laid down: 'This order to continue against all such as shall offend as abovesaid.' (fn. 133) The amount imposed by a maintenance order varied from 4d. to 8d. a week in the Elizabethan period. In one order the justices imposed a charge of 6d. a week against a clerk but added that if 'the lord of Hertford and Sir Thomas Wroughton like not of this order, then to pay 8d.' (fn. 134) On the other hand, in 1620, an affiliation order for 10d. a week was reduced to 6d. (fn. 135) On one occasion, when the father failed to make the necessary payment, the man who had stood surety for him was bound over to pay on his behalf 'until he bring the said William Neat in place to do the same'. (fn. 136) Disobedience to a maintenance order brought imprisonment to the defaulter.
A maintenance order was normally made to last until the child was twelve in Elizabeth's reign but this changed to seven during the next century. Sometimes the money was to be paid to the mother, sometimes to the churchwardens of the parish, presumably when the child was not in its mother's care. But what was to happen to him after the age of twelve, or indeed to pauper children whatever their age? To this the answer was apprenticeship; and one of the functions of the justices was to persuade local employers to make use of this uncalled-for supply of labour. Thus John Williams was left at the age of eight 'by some unknown beggar' in Bradford. He was accordingly apprenticed to Robert Brouncker, a weaver of Broughton Gifford, to serve until the age of twenty-two. (fn. 137) In this way the justices hoped at one and the same time to reduce the potential supply of idle beggars and to shift the financial burden of maintaining paupers off the rates. They did not, however, renounce all responsibility. The justices in quarter sessions exercised their statutory authority, where a master ill treated his apprentice, to intervene and cancel the indenture. (fn. 138)
Fear played an even larger role in the approach to the vagrant or 'sturdy beggar'; and the record of whipping, branding, and imprisonment in the sessions minutes reflects the widespread alarm engendered by vagrancy in Tudor and Stuart England. But in this, as in so much else, punishment alone was clearly not enough. So the justices pinned their faith to 'settlement', that is the eviction of paupers, or those liable to become destitute, to the place of their birth or settlement. Secondly, where eviction was not possible, they sought their remedy in 'houses of correction'. The earliest settlement law dates from the late 14th century, (fn. 139) and the sessions records of our period show us the system fully at work. Sometimes it worked ruthlessly, as is instanced by the laconic note entered by the clerk in 1582: 'Memorandum, the woman Elner Clerke is to remain in the sheriff's custody and the child to be carried from tithing to tithing until it come to the place where it was born, videlicet at Melkesham.' (fn. 140) For the same reason a close watch was kept on those who took in boarders, and the justices, if they wished, could direct that boarders be evicted or the cottage pulled down. (fn. 141) In 1630 two pregnant women were ordered by the justices to be moved from the place where they were lodging as they were liable to become chargeable to the parish. (fn. 142) Sometimes ruthlessness was tempered with humanity. Thomas Revell came from Bromham to make his home with his bride in the neighbouring parish of Melksham. But the inhabitants feared that Revell and his wife might one day become a burden on the rates and, after some eight weeks, persuaded the local justices to order them to return to the place of Revell's origin. But the justices in quarter sessions were in better humour. On petition from the inhabitants of Bromham, they reversed the eviction order and left the couple to enjoy what peace their neighbours would allow them at Melksham. (fn. 143)
Where eviction was impracticable, the unemployed had to be found work either by private indenture (fn. 144) or in a house of correction. The Act authorizing counties to raise money for such institutions was passed in 1576; (fn. 145) and at the midsummer sessions of 1578 it was decided to levy 4d. in the pound upon the inhabitants of Wiltshire for the establishment of a house of correction. (fn. 146) Later in the year the J.P.s were petitioning the Crown for 'a piece of the castle of the Devizes where the said house is thought fittest to be' (fn. 147) Perhaps they had heard of the petition made years before by the citizens of London to Edward VI which had won them his palace of Bridewell as a house of correction. But where London succeeded Wiltshire failed, and other premises in Devizes had to be obtained. (fn. 148) In the new year we find two officials charged with the detailed administration of the house, under the general direction of a committee of the justices. (fn. 149) By the end of the century the experiment of a house of correction seems to have justified itself. In September 1600 it was decided at quarter sessions that further houses should be established in each hundred of the county; and in October two places, Urchfont and Great Bedwyn, were selected for the purpose. By now also the administration was taking shape and it was decided that a 'corrector' be appointed for each at a yearly stipend of 30s. at Devizes and 20s. at the other two. (fn. 150) It is most doubtful whether the project, apart from Devizes, came to anything. Long afterwards, in 1623, we find the Earl of Pembroke seeking the support of the Privy Council to induce the justices of the southern part of Wiltshire to build a house of correction, since they had none nearer than Devizes in a county 'now oppressed with the numbers and insolences of vagabond and licentious multitudes'. (fn. 151) In 1631 the J.P.s, under pressure from the justices of assize, decided to build three houses of correction, this time at Fisherton Anger, Malmesbury, and Marlborough, and to raise £1,200 for the purpose. (fn. 152) But meanwhile catastrophe had descended upon the one at Devizes. Its master had employed the premises not only as a house of correction but as an 'east' or 'kill' for drying malt, which was perhaps the stock for setting the unemployed to work. The result was a disastrous fire which took place in 1630; (fn. 153) and the justices were now faced with the task not only of searching for money for three new houses but of somehow getting money to rebuild the old one. The records of the decade show the justices wrestling with these ambitious schemes. Houses of correction were indeed established at Marlborough and Fisherton but, before the end of our period, both were in need of repair. (fn. 154) In the case of the house at Fisherton, there was apparently some confusion of function between it and the gaol; it is probable that they were adjacent to one another, or they may even have shared a common building. (fn. 155)
But not all paupers could be moved either out of the district or into a house of correction. There remained the aged, the infirm, the maimed soldiers and sailors, and the victims of unemployment, fire and plague, all with an urgent call upon the county rates. For the aged and infirm there were 'poorhouses'; while 'guiders', as they were called, were sometimes authorized to collect charitable contributions within the shire, and indeed in neighbouring shires. (fn. 156) Sometimes the parish would provide a stock to keep the unemployed at work. (fn. 157) For maimed soldiers, for whom an Act of 1593 ordered that pensions should be provided, (fn. 158) the J.P.s in quarter sessions allocated funds. The claimant had to produce a certificate from some responsible military official as evidence of his service, yet even so he was liable to lose his pension subsequently if the justices were satisfied that he was guilty of some abuse. (fn. 159) But on one occasion, in 1597, when the justices refused relief to a wounded veteran, they received instructions direct from the Privy Council either to grant a pension or explain their refusal. (fn. 160) For the victims of fire there were grants from quarter sessions of sums of money, never very large, for their rehabilitation. For plague there was isolation of the infected area and the organization of contributions from the surrounding districts.
All these measures of social relief involved expenditure. The county was thus faced with a growing burden of taxation and the justices with the intractable problem of building an efficient system for obtaining and distributing the funds. Voluntary relief was an essential part of the scheme. For example, justices in quarter sessions frequently gave authority to organize a collection on behalf of an area distressed by fire. It was also possible, by authority of quarter sessions, to transfer the cost of maintaining an aged father from the parish to his son. (fn. 161) The full extent of private charity, whether in the shape of almshouses, gifts to individuals, bequests, or contributions to voluntary collections, it is naturally impossible to assess. But clearly it was not enough; and, from the middle of the Tudor period, the county authorities everywhere, under pressure from the state, had been bound to meet part of the increasing cost of the social services out of some compulsory system of collection. Since 1536 parishes had been obliged to grant relief to the poor (fn. 162) and since 1563 magistrates were empowered to demand weekly contributions for the purpose. (fn. 163) In 1572 came confirmation of the full measure of compulsion: and the method of assessment by the justices of the peace was established. (fn. 164) The Act of 1598 codified existing regulations and vested considerable powers in the overseers (the churchwardens and two substantial householders), under the supervision of the justices. (fn. 165)
The whole of the social service was not maintained out of one county rate administered by one county official; the rise of a local government service and of a uniform system of accounting belongs to a later age. (fn. 166) For the present, as the county assumed new responsibilities, so it appointed officials ad hoc. An Act of 1552 had established that there should be two or more collectors and distributors of alms, elected annually for each town or parish. (fn. 167) In 1572 we find further legislation about 'overseers' of the poor, to be appointed annually by the justices in quarter sessions. (fn. 168) The Wiltshire records of the period provide plenty of evidence of the poor law officials in action and of fines imposed upon those who would not accept office or pay their share. (fn. 169) In 1577 we have also what appear to be the beginnings of the allocation of special sums for poor prisoners in the common gaol, 'this money to be taken out of the church box or collection for the poor'. But there was an attempt to spread the burden so that it did not fall too heavily on those parishes least able to bear it: 'the churchwardens in every great parish to gather iid. by the week, and in every meaner parish Id. by the week.' (fn. 170) In 1593, when the care of maimed servicemen was added to the local responsibilities, special treasurers, with power to levy a rate, were joined to the unpaid bureaucracy of the county. (fn. 171) In Wiltshire there were two, one for the north and one for the south of the county. In 1597 the relief of prisoners in the gaol and the maintenance of the paupers in almshouses and hospitals were by statute made the responsibility of a separate treasurer; (fn. 172) and for this purpose also Wiltshire appointed one for the north and one for the south. Even before such legislation, however, the county had been organizing collections of this sort by authority of quarter sessions, (fn. 173) and the subsidy book was sometimes laid down as the basis of assessment. (fn. 174)
From now onwards the treasurers handled a good deal, but by no means all, of the county rates. The treasurers for maimed servicemen seem to have been restricted to this function, but the treasurers for relief of poor prisoners were continually widening theirs. Known officially as the Treasurers for the King's Bench and Marshalsea (or Upper Bench, during the Interregnum), they had to find funds for a variety of purposes, including hospitals, almshouses, houses of correction and the legal costs of defending the county for non-repair of a bridge. (fn. 175) The treasurerships were annual appointments and displayed the familiar features of amateur administration.
In 1588 the justices in quarter sessions strengthened their hands to deal with defaulters by giving to a single justice the right to commit to prison anyone refusing to contribute. (fn. 176) But, as Miss Leonard pointed out half a century ago, the distinction between voluntary and compulsory contributions was a shadowy one. (fn. 177) The justices had their own ways of dealing with recalcitrants. Thus, at an uneven pace and with the stimulus of Parliament and Privy Council behind it, Wiltshire under Elizabeth I and James I erected a makeshift and uncoordinated system of local taxation and local relief. If it fell short of its objectives, it at least left its mark everywhere in the social life of the county.
Whatever virtues and vigour the system may have developed, it was suddenly put under heavier pressure by the new instructions issued in January 1631 by Charles I. (fn. 178) His purpose in issuing the Book of Orders was to shake up the whole of the local administration and bring home to the justices the full measure of their obligations. For example, they were now to meet in groups monthly and they were to make quarterly reports. For Wiltshire a number of these reports have survived but it may be significant that the latest of them extant is dated May 1635. (fn. 179) From these reports and from the quarter sessions records two facts clearly emerge. In the first place, it was becoming very difficult to extract the money both from the contributors and the collectors. Here, lack of supervision was playing into the hands of corrupt or inefficient treasurers and some remedy had to be sought. 'Forasmuch as it appeareth unto this court', observed the quarter sessions minute of 6 April 1630, 'that divers inconveniences have already grown unto this county and are like to increase in succeeding times in neglecting the passing of the treasurers' accounts yearly...', it was accordingly decided that there should be an annual audit at the first general sessions after Easter. (fn. 180) Secondly, it was manifest that social policy was being very unevenly enforced throughout the county.
That there was room for improvement was clear enough. The records of quarter sessions tell a lamentable story of treasurers and constables who cannot collect the money they need: one collector found himself in 1610 out of pocket to the tune of £100. First he petitioned the Lord Chief Justice, who transmitted the petition to the J.P.s, who solemnly appointed a committee of inquiry to go into the whole business. (fn. 181) In 1622, during a time of acute depression in the Wiltshire cloth trade and the accompanying disorder, the sheriff and justices were chid by the Privy Council 'for, as we understand, those laws both for relieving the poor and punishing of rogues are much neglected, which in such times as this is you must cause to be strictly put in execution'. (fn. 182) In 1630, when directed to grant pensions to two ex-servicemen, however, the justices had to point out that they had run out of money for the purpose. (fn. 183) In 1631 they, as well as their colleagues in Dorset and Somerset, were warned that the king looked to them for a better performance of their duties against malcontents and would call them to an exact account. (fn. 184)
The divisional reports resulting from the Book of Orders show also how unevenly the system was working in Wiltshire. (fn. 185) Warminster reported in June 1632 that the justices 'have met divers times concerning the said directions, as well before the receipt of the said letters as sithence'. They then explained what they had done. '[We] have bound many apprentices, and settled many others formerly bound [but] departed from their masters; we punish alehouses offending, and tiplers in alehouses, contrary to the statute. Our watches are duly kept, the penalties upon tiplers are duly paid and distributed to the poor; by means whereof the country is well cleared of vagabonds and wanderers, and such as are found travelling with counterfeit passes are sent to the house of correction.' 'Which course', the report concluded, 'we intend to continue.' (fn. 186) Here was vigour indeed; and a similar report came in a month later from the hundreds of Swanborough, and Potterne and Cannings with the additional item that they had levied and spent 'seven score pounds at the least on rebuilding the house of correction at Devizes'. (fn. 187) In the same month the Salisbury division sent in a full report, including a list of the poor children bound apprentice. In addition, three 'tiplers' had been fined 3s. 4d. each for 'drinking in an alehouse above the space of one hour' while the innkeeper had been fined 10s. for permitting it, and lost his licence. (fn. 188) The report of November 1633 shows the J.P.s of the area pressing on with their work. (fn. 189) In this division at least the social dictatorship of the Commonwealth period cast its long shadow before it.
In November 1632 the Marlborough division provided evidence of its treatment of the poor but refrained from submitting details of the number of apprentices bound or vagabonds punished, 'fearing our certificate would prove too tedious'. It added, however, that the keeping of watch and ward 'would do very much good if it were generally observed in all parts of the country alike; otherwise to observe it in one place and not in another it doth but little good'. (fn. 190) In March 1633 Swanborough and Potterne and Cannings reported that watch and ward had been kept in the hundreds, as the result of which they had been 'very little or nothing at all troubled' with vagabonds. They had met difficulty in finding masters for poor apprentices but that they attributed to their having 'formerly bound a great many'. (fn. 191) From Chippenham and Calne in November 1633 came the frank admission by the J.P.s that, though they had done their best to fulfil the Privy Council's directions, they found 'a great neglect and unwillingness in the country to observe the same'. (fn. 192) In its report of May 1634 the same hundred painted an even gloomier picture: in apprenticeship, 'great difficulties to cross our proceedings in that behalf, in watch and ward, 'a great neglect in all sorts of people to observe the same.' (fn. 193) May 1635 saw the last of these reports, though how far this is due to the destruction of the records and how far to inefficiency and resistance in Wiltshire it is impossible to say. The character of the later reports, however, suggests that it was defectiveness in Wiltshire rather than destruction later which brought the series to a close. (fn. 194)
Closely related to the administration of poor relief were the other economic and social services of the justices. With the fairs and markets they were intimately concerned; and by 1586 it is possible to see the six divisions of the county serving as the administrative units for the purpose, each under a group of J.P.s. At this time there seem to have been sixteen market-towns in all: Salisbury, Ludgershall, Warminster, Mere, Hindon, Marlborough, Wootton Bassett, Highworth, Devizes, Market Lavington, Trowbridge, Bradford, Westbury, Chippenham, Calne, and Malmesbury. (fn. 195) Other places were added from time to time: for example, Amesbury in 1614 (fn. 196) and Swindon in 1626. (fn. 197) On the other hand the Crown had the right, by means of a Privy Council direction, to forbid a fair in time of plague, as it did in the case of Steeple Ashton in 1625. (fn. 198)
Famine no less than plague brought the Crown into the market square. When food was scarce in Bristol in 1586, the Wiltshire justices were instructed to permit the movement of corn there and to prevent a price rise. (fn. 199) They were ordered to take similar steps in 1587 when the same threat appeared in Carmarthen. (fn. 200) In 1597 they were once again being urged to take in hand the problem of cornering and price raising. (fn. 201) Under Charles I the pressure upon them intensified. A report of the period, sent by the Salisbury justices to the sheriff in 1631, gives us some measure of their success, as well as of the resistance they encountered. (fn. 202) It is significant that only two J.P.s in the whole division were willing to take on the control of the market. The rest of their colleagues presented various reasons for being unable to play their part. One had 'many urgent occasions' which made it necessary for him to leave at once for London. Four others were also reported to be in the capital. Another was in Wales or Bristol. Someone else was afflicted with lameness; another was 'long sick and diseased'; another, aged and unable to travel. The chancellor of the diocese was away on his official duties. Indeed the two surviving justices had heard about the commission only by chance, since the then sheriff had failed to send the proclamation and orders.
But what they lacked in numbers they appear to have made up in vigour. They summoned, through the high constables, a number of the important inhabitants of the area but noticed that 'very few or none at all of the great farmers of corn or such as had store of grain to sell' made their appearance. They discovered a 'reasonable good store' of wheat and barley but too many maltsters, 'wherof some we suppressed and others we restrained'; many alehouse keepers and tiplers had been suppressed on a former occasion. There were few, if any, badgers or corn jobbers. A number of millers seemed to be cornering grain, so some were suppressed or restrained and others bound over to appear at quarter sessions. Most suppliers were willing to bring their corn to market and sell at reasonable prices but a few were 'wilful and refractory', and 'we terrified them a little with conventing them before the lords of the council—and then they seemed very willing and tractable'. No wonder the market was well supplied and 'at the end of the markets buyers have been rather wanting than corn'.
Upon corn and beer the Wiltshire justices bestowed a good deal of their time and energy. Only slightly less important than these, in a clothing county like Wiltshire, were their duties in connexion with local industry. (fn. 203) For example, between 1575 and 1577 the activities of a certain Peter Blackborowe, an informer, set the Privy Council hot on the trail of the Wiltshire justices, with instructions to make a thorough investigation of the local cloth industry. (fn. 204) The justices also, by means of their own officers, the searchers, were expected to maintain the standard of the material, since the alnagers had long since failed to perform their allotted function. (fn. 205) As industrial depression deepened from the sixteen-twenties, so heavier pressure was brought to bear on the justices, who, in turn, were somehow expected to see that industrialists kept their men in employment and that dealers bought up at least some of the surplus stock. (fn. 206) Meanwhile, oppression by trouble-making informers was growing. The justices prayed the Privy Council 'to take special notice of one William Hackett, as most notorious for extortion and other misdemeanours, who taketh the boldness to call in question some of His Majesty's said justices'. (fn. 207) The appeal was not in vain: Hackett was summoned before the Council and committed to the gatehouse. The Wiltshire justices were told also to send other informers before the Privy Council, 'whereupon order shall be taken for easing the country of any grievance in that behalf'. (fn. 208) When the informers learnt what was in store for them many fled, but three were taken, sentenced to the pillory and imprisoned. Unfortunately, these were merely the small fry, acting as agents on behalf of their masters in London. (fn. 209)
In 1633 we find the justices once again receiving instructions about maintaining the standards of the material; (fn. 210) but their duties were not restricted simply to textiles. In 1627 they had been instructed to help put an end to tobacco growing in the county. (fn. 211) Now, in 1633, they were also asked to investigate complaints about the manufacture of saltpetre. (fn. 212)
Even less welcome than their duties in industry must have been the fiscal burdens which came their way. To them fell the unwelcome task of organizing the collection of loans and taxes. The Privy Seal requesting a loan was sent to the sheriff, (fn. 213) but the actual collection was done under groups of commissioners, by collectors who, incidentally, received in the early 17th century 4d. in the pound (and their clerks, twopence) for their pains. (fn. 214) For the collection of subsidies the commission of the peace divided into groups to assess the different parts of the county; and, though the task did not increase their popularity, it did augment their power. Edmund Long was one such commissioner. He was accustomed, it was alleged in a Star Chamber case in 1621, 'to win applause to himself and to increase an estimation of greatness' at the expense of his fellow justices. Accordingly, during the assessment he spread such a 'false conceipt of his, the said Edmund Long's unlimited authority by virtue of the said commission, that he might induce ignorant people to believe that he had absolute power and authority in himself to raise or abate their several rates'. (fn. 215) But however real or illusory the justices' powers might be in deciding the assessment, they were often unable to collect what they claimed. In 1622 Wiltshire was one of ten counties which had made no adequate response to the appeal for contributions towards the war in the Palatinate. (fn. 216) It was not always so remiss: five years later the commissioners were being complimented for their part in collecting a loan. (fn. 217)
When it came to ship money, however, the hostility of the local justices undermined the whole machinery of collection. In 1635 the sheriff received the ship-money writ and summoned the J.P.s to meet him at Devizes. They arrived simply to tell him that they possessed no powers to undertake the work. As a result the sheriff had to work through the high constables and the process was a lengthy one. (fn. 218) He assessed the county at more than £7,000, and by 21 March was still at least £500 short of his target. He said that he did not expect to reach the figure of £7,000 because some were dead, some had moved away and some were unable to pay. He had written to the high constables about the contributions of the clergy but, as he was no longer sheriff and was not in the commission of the peace, his letters were being ignored. (fn. 219) Meanwhile, if the justices declined the invitation to make the assessment, the constables for their part seemed equally reluctant to hand over the money. In the middle of 1639 the high constable of Malmesbury was still clinging to the money he had collected by the writ of 1637. (fn. 220)
A long-standing financial and administrative burden was the royal right of purveyance. In essence, it was a system under which the Crown bought in the counties the provisions for its household at favourable (and, as far as the supplier was concerned, uneconomic) prices. (fn. 221) The evils of the system had been attacked since at least the time of Magna Carta. Sometimes the burden was made more tolerable by replacing the old methods by a contractual arrangement, a composition to supply the Crown on a fixed basis. Under Burghley compositions for various items were, wherever possible, organized on a county basis. For example, in 1568 the Wiltshire justices agreed that the Crown could buy as much wheat as the county could conveniently provide, paying for the best wheat 'after the rate that the third wheat shall be sold in the market at the same day and places'. (fn. 222) It was bad enough to have to subsidize the government in this way, but to make matters worse, by 1580 the crown contractors were in arrears of payment. (fn. 223) Then, in 1584, we find the justices being asked to provide oats for the queen's stable at Reading. This they resisted as an innovation, especially as they were in any case yielding 'a continual provision of oats, hay, and litter to the studdery at Cole Park'. (fn. 224) This anachronistic and inefficient form of indirect taxation was modified still further in May 1594. The justices reached an agreement with the Privy Council, over a wider range of commodities, under which the county would yield a quantity of certain provisions at fixed prices and make up the difference between these and actual costs by a tax on the county. (fn. 225) In return, the Crown renounced its right to take purveyance of these commodities as hitherto, except when the queen came on progress into the county. This agreement was one of the series made by the counties throughout England. In 1596, however, there seem to have arisen new difficulties over the collection of provisions for the navy, a separate matter from purveyance for the household. The justices, on the grounds that they did not possess sufficient authority, suggested that the duty should be shifted on to the constables, but the Privy Council, reminding them that this was 'a course taken in no other county but in yours', rejected the proposal. (fn. 226) Whether the whole system of purveyance was commuted into a capital sum, as happened in Devonshire in 1622, it has been impossible to trace. (fn. 227)
The justices were heavily involved also in keeping the lines of communication open. By the statute of 1531 the county was declared responsible for bridge repairs, unless this duty could be shown to belong to some other authority. (fn. 228) By the statute of 1555 the parishes were made responsible for providing labour and funds for their highways; (fn. 229) and the sessions records abound with fines for failure to implement the statute. The justices were sometimes required also to supply the means of communication. For example, in 1627 Wiltshire and various adjacent counties were required to see that there were always available 'able and sufficient post horses, well furnished to be ready at the postmasters on all occasions, he paying them the usual rates'. (fn. 230) Eleven years later, we find a grand jury present a bill of complaint to the assizes against oppression by the postmasters of Salisbury and Shaftesbury. They reported that certain tithings were severely pressed to make available a ready supply of horses which, since they were not in easy supply, had to be hired at heavy rates. (fn. 231) The carriage of timber for the navy also brought grievances in its train. In 1613 we find the justices ordered by the Privy Council to remedy their neglect to organize the carriage of timber from the New Forest. (fn. 232) In 1632 they were again rebuked for their failure in this work, (fn. 233) but in their defence the justices pointed out that they had been held up by the harvest and the king's visit to the county. Moreover, a great part of Wiltshire was 60 miles from where the timber was to be loaded. (fn. 234) A year later we learn that it is not the justices but the carters who, although paid in advance, were lagging in their duties and discouraging other carters from doing their share. (fn. 235) But in 1637 it was once again the justices who were alleged to be remiss and threatened by the Privy Council with a charge of contempt. (fn. 236) In 1638 a further ill report was made about them and it was noted that, in particular, Sir Lawrence and Robert Hyde had been more 'peremptorily adverse' than was appropriate to men of their station. (fn. 237)
In this survey of the work of the Wiltshire justices we have seen their responsibilities extending widely and deeply into the whole fabric of the county. Some of their functions fell into clearly defined categories. Others hovered on the uncertain borderland between their judicial, social, and fiscal duties: for example, the enforcement of the recusancy laws and the collection of recusancy fines. (fn. 238) To the justices fell many diverse and complex responsibilities and it is clear that they could not have endured these growing burdens alone. Upon their clerks and upon the high constables of the hundred, the parish constables, churchwardens, overseers, and the rest they were bound to devolve a good deal of the work, though the ultimate responsibility rested with them.
Unfortunately, for the period under review, the conditions of appointment and the work of these lesser officials were by no means well defined. From the intermittent light which the records shed upon him, the high constable emerges as one of the significant, if minor, figures of local administration. The link between him and the justices was indeed given concrete form by his appointment at quarter sessions. When exactly the link was forged it is impossible to say. In theory the power of appointment lay with the court leet of the hundred; in practice by the late 16th century, if not earlier, these powers in Wiltshire, in common with other counties, were passing to either quarter sessions or the divisional justices. (fn. 239) On the eve of the Civil Wars the link in Wiltshire was made closer still. By direction of the Michaelmas quarter sessions 1639, it was decided to take firm steps against high constables who 'get out of their office before they have served two years' without being discharged of all 'payments and duties'. Henceforth the clerk of the peace was not to make out a warrant for new constables until the presiding J.P. in open court authorized him, and 'the same new constables are to be elected and appointed by him and the rest of the justices at the end of the sessions'. (fn. 240)
To the high constables, we have already seen, the executive responsibility for law and order, the preparation against invasion, (fn. 241) the collection of rates, and various other social functions were being committed wholly or partly by the justices. It was a position of respect and trust, though high constables not infrequently betrayed the financial trust confided in them. It was said also that they misused their authority to vent personal feelings, and disguised their own riotous acts under the due forms of the law. For example, it was once alleged in the Star Chamber that, under the stretched authority of a high constable, a group of men forced entry into a private house, and 'having found out two minced pies they suddenly devoured them'. After this, and sundry unmentionable acts, they stole a 'double Holland kerchief and a table napkin' and plunged the householder's wife into the river. (fn. 242)
The powers and opportunities of the office may have encouraged some to conspire to gain the appointment. Others were at least as eager to decline it, which brought them under threat of a fine by the justices. (fn. 243) It was this reluctance, no doubt, which contributed to the decision of the justices in 1592 to limit the constable's term of office to three years. (fn. 244)
Below him, the petty constable, or tithingman, represented the parish or tithing to higher authority and carried the instructions of J.P., and sometimes high constable, to the parish. Watch and ward, the guarding of prisoners, the enforcement of settlement, the collection of parish dues and other tasks fell to him. In Wiltshire, as in other counties, the office seems to have passed by rotation amongst the householders, to be confirmed at the court leet. It could apparently be held by women as well as by men though women apparently acted through a deputy. (fn. 245) But it can have had little attraction for either sex. Hence it had to be laid down at quarter sessions in 1640 that freeholders no less than copyholders could be called upon to serve in the office. (fn. 246) Even so it cannot have been easy to fill the posts. At the Michaelmas quarter sessions of 1630, a man produced evidence that he was merely a household servant, that he did not live in the parish allotted to him, and other arguments. None the less he was instructed to take his oath as a tithingman within a fortnight. (fn. 247) When we consider the nature of the work it is remarkable not that men evaded office but that they could be persuaded to take it on at all.
Of the sheriff, the coroner, the escheator and the other crown officials there is little to be said in this context, though they must have left their mark on the county. The sheriff was in some respects the servant of the justices as he was of the Crown. Sometimes he appears to have acted in collusion with the J.P.s to defeat the course of justice. (fn. 248) At others he was punished by them, for example, 'quia non diligenter attendebat durante curia'. (fn. 249) On one occasion, during the Commonwealth period, the sheriff, Hugh Audley, was allowed by special authority of the Council to live outside the county on account of his age and indisposition. (fn. 250) Either the egregious Audley was much needed for his service or the office was proving difficult to fill in troublous times.
The sheriff went on, throughout the period, impanelling juries, taking responsibility for prisoners and the county gaol, sending lists of those who could be called upon for a loan, (fn. 251) accounting at the Exchequer for the royal revenues still in his care, and making returns of members of Parliament. But of his tourn and his county court, so far as the extant records are concerned, we hear nothing. We meet him, and his under-sheriff, as well as his bailiffs of the hundreds, when they are charged with misdemeanours. In 1639, for example, a bailiff was accused of blackmailing the freeholders of Amesbury for money to avoid being summoned to the sessions and assizes at Salisbury, more than 40 miles away. (fn. 252) Of the coroner we know less, (fn. 253) though we meet him in Edward VI's reign in a Star Chamber case where he is alleged to have corrupted a jury to return a false verdict of murder instead of suicide, whereby he robbed the Crown of its title to the goods and chattels of the deceased. (fn. 254) In 1655 we find two Wiltshire coroners recommended for dismissal by the justices of assize. (fn. 255) But these officials were essentially crown officials dealing with crown issues as they affected individual Wiltshiremen, not county officials as such. When, however, sufficient material comes to light to enable their history to be written, it will undoubtedly add detail and understanding to our knowledge of the county framework. What is clear, however, from the available material, is that an impressive transfer of functions, from one group of officials to another, was taking place. (fn. 256)
In the century which had elapsed between the Reformation and the Civil Wars, the lords lieutenant and the justices of the peace had been increasing their powers and widening their interests. In many respects a revolution had taken place. The medieval sheriff had declined in importance by the 16th century and the process continued under the Tudors and Stuarts. He continued to be drawn from the same class as the justice of the peace and he was still an important figure in the county. But he was a servant of the justices and his military significance had largely evaporated before the rise of the lord lieutenant. In another sphere we have seen how the courts leet virtually passed into desuetude while the quarter sessions, voluntarily or involuntarily, assumed some of their functions.
But if the military leadership had passed to the lord lieutenant, he was also called upon to do many things outside his military duties: to collect the loans, to deal with recusancy, to improve local administration and to report upon conditions in the shire. In short, he was representing the Crown to the county and the county to the Crown. He was not yet invariably the custos rotulorum, the undisputed head of the commission of the peace, as he was to become in the 18th century, but he was nearly there. The lord lieutenant, in Wiltshire as in other counties, was often a privy councillor and a statesman of the first rank; then the bond between central and local government was truly personal. Through the lord lieutenant the Privy Council forged a major link in the chain of responsibility which reached down through the hierarchy of administration.
But the whole relationship between central and local government was much more complex than this. The Privy Council directions might also go through the sheriff to the justices of the peace and from them to the high constable. He in his turn would pass the instructions to the parish constable or to the tithingman from whom it would go, where necessary, to the churchwardens. In other words, authority could thus be transmitted from the Privy Council to the humblest churchwarden in the smallest parish. There was also another route: through the justices of assize coming on circuit twice a year. At the same time, the grand jury, foreshadowing the county council of a later age would, by judicial presentment at the assizes, in effect suggest a future programme of social policy. The county gaol, through the sheriff, was directly the responsibility of the assizes, but for much else the assizes operated through quarter sessions, high constable and the rest. County policy was not always made in London; and in the county administrative machinery there is to be discerned the shape of the local selfgovernment to come.
With all its defects, the county administration seems to have been functioning and, under pressure of the central government, the rough foundations of the social services were in their place. Their testing time came in the sixteen-forties, which gave the nascent system a fundamental shock. How great that shock was may be seen from the records of the quarter sessions and the general impression is confirmed from other sources. In brief two things happened: the local organs seemed to be grinding almost to a standstill, 'in these dangerous and troublesome times' as a contemporary put it; (fn. 257) and then, when a new autocracy was established under Cromwell, it called for new organs of government to carry its revolutionary dictatorship into the countryside.
Naturally, some of the most urgent issues arose out of war itself. For example, Harnham bridge near Salisbury was of considerable strategic importance being 'the roadway from the city of London into all the west part of this nation'. (fn. 258) The fact that it was in decay raised not only the problem of finance but a complex legal problem, familiar to justices up and down the country. (fn. 259) Under the Statute of Bridges of 1531 (fn. 260) the county could only allocate funds for bridge repair where responsibility did not belong elsewhere, to a municipality, a hundred or a private person. Thus the normal procedure in Wiltshire was for a committee of justices to inquire into the cost of necessary repairs and find out who should pay for them. They would then proceed by way of 'indictment' against those liable for its upkeep. When it was impossible to establish such liability the county had to find the money, though justices fought a rearguard action against the imposition upon the county of burdens of this sort.
But a dangerous bridge in a civil war offered little opportunity for establishing where the responsibility for its upkeep belonged; so in 1642 the justices agreed that Harnham bridge should be repaired from county funds, though they recorded at the same time that this was not to serve as a precedent. (fn. 261) From now onwards they pressed on with their efforts to discover who in fact should maintain the bridge. (fn. 262) It was a drawn-out affair. In the sixteen-fifties the justices were hot on the trail of the master of the hospital of St. Nicholas at Harnham against whom they brought a lawsuit in the 'Upper Bench'. As that was still unsettled they had to pay for the repair of the bridge though 'without prejudice to the county in point of right'. Meanwhile they instructed the clerk of the peace to try to bring the matter to speedy trial. (fn. 263) That was in 1653. In 1661 they were still paying for repairs to Harnham bridge, once more 'without prejudice' to their future claims. (fn. 264)
In the sixteen-forties we find frequent reference to the increasing difficulties facing local officials in collecting funds for relief of the poor. It may be that, to meet these mounting difficulties, the justices decided to impose on a clerk of the court the responsibility for collecting and administering the 'surplusage' from the treasurers for King's Bench and Marshalsea and for maimed soldiers and mariners. (fn. 265) We may perhaps see in this official the primitive notions of a county treasurer. At Easter 1642 came instructions from quarter sessions that watch and ward must be properly kept in the county and all who failed in their duty were to be brought to book. (fn. 266) By Michaelmas 1643 the position appears to have further deteriorated. No proclamation of the sessions had been possible throughout the county and 'the ways are now very dangerous to travel in by reason of the interruptions of soldiers'. Those who had failed to honour their recognizances to appear at quarter sessions were therefore absolved from the penalty. (fn. 267) Later, in 1649, one justice excused himself from attendance at the sessions on the grounds that he was unwilling to leave home 'for we have with us a troop of soldiers and those none of the civilest'. (fn. 268) It was no doubt in recognition of the hazards of the time that the justices decided in Hilary term, 18 Charles I, for the preservation of the records, to buy a 'strong chest. . . with two locks and keys' to be kept under the charge of the two deputy clerks of the peace, in the vestry house of Warminster church. (fn. 269)
Meanwhile, the practice, already difficult before the Civil War, of holding courts leet to elect high constables and tithingmen, was proving virtually impossible. Men were therefore unable to relinquish office for years on end and the justices in quarter sessions were obliged to intervene to appoint successors. On the other hand, some tithingmen were being elected at courts leet but were refusing to serve: one more indication of the breakdown of local government. (fn. 270) At the same time, the collection of funds for poor relief was being neglected by all and sundry as the justices' hold upon the county grew weaker. At the Trinity sessions of 1644 only two justices appeared and the meeting lasted one day. After that we have no record of further meetings until Trinity 1646, when nine J.P.s appeared at the sessions. In 1646 it was reported to the assizes that though there were many justices on the commission Very few of them are sworn to execute their offices, whereby His Majesty's service and the service of the country is much hindered'. In the same year, and again in 1647, it was also learned at the assizes that many parishes were without churchwardens. (fn. 271) But from now onwards we notice that the system of watch and ward was being tightened up, though not with consistent success. (fn. 272) We see also an intensified attack on the 'manifold abuses, inconveniences and mischief which ariseth by reason of the multiplicity of alehouses in this county'. All ale-houses were therefore suppressed and no further ones were to be licensed by the justices unless specially requested by the majority of the 'chief inhabitants' and the constables of the area. (fn. 273)
In 1647 food was scarce in Wiltshire and the justices stopped maltsters from buying excessive barley for malt, as well as intervened to control the distribution of corn. (fn. 274) Arrears of contributions to poor relief and of payments to county officials were mounting and the justices laid down in Michaelmas 1648 that no high constable was to be discharged until he had paid his dues. (fn. 275) Meanwhile masters were resisting the imposition of pauper apprentices on them while constables, churchwardens and others were sabotaging the regulations laid down for the purpose. (fn. 276) Then, at the end of 1650, the J.P.s were forced by the justices of assize to set about tackling the question of 'insufficient juries' arising from the 'great neglect' of the under-sheriffs and their deputies as well as bailiffs of the hundreds, and began to overhaul the whole apparatus for their listing and summons. (fn. 277)
While the traditional machinery of justices and quarter sessions was being operated in a defective and half-hearted manner, new organs were being erected to meet the revolutionary requirements of the Commonwealth. Following upon the ordinance of 24 February 1643, county committees came into existence for raising money for the Parliamentary forces. (fn. 278) That for Wiltshire consisted of a good many justices of the peace and operated through local collectors. They in turn called upon the tithingmen for help and were supported also by the armed forces. The work of the committee must have been hampered in 1643 by the bitter feud between two of its leaders, Sir Edward Hungerford and Sir Edward Baynton; (fn. 279) while the surviving collectors' accounts for Chalfield and Malmesbury provide evidence of resistance, or at least reluctance, to contribute to the full. There is evidence also of the existence of a royalist committee for the county but not of its activities. (fn. 280) In 1644 the Parliamentary Committee for Wiltshire was reporting to London on local conditions, and indeed offering resistance. (fn. 281) But a year later it was itself being rebuked for misdemeanours and maladministration. (fn. 282) We find also in 1646 that the Sub-committee of Accounts for Wiltshire was, with considerable difficulty, collecting funds for the Parliamentary forces. (fn. 283) Colonel Ludlow, it was said, 'found a great fainting amongst us and could with all his diligence swear but five of us at that time, and since the business lies asleep'. We hear later of 'collectors for drums and colours' but, as the justices observed, these officials were answerable to the militia and were not 'within the power and cognizance of this court'. (fn. 284) Other institutions were also active: the Commissioners for Assessments, (fn. 285) the Commissioners for ejecting scandalous ministers and school masters, (fn. 286) the Commissioners for survey of church livings. (fn. 287) And, on top of them, in 1655, there was imposed the rule of Major General John Desborow, who also held Gloucestershire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall within his jurisdiction. (fn. 288) Under these new organs of government the justices were expected to perform the manifold duties which the times required.
Indeed their authority widened. The publishing of banns, hitherto the responsibility of the church, now passed to the puritan state; and the justices solemnly considered matrimonial disputes, and impediments raised to matrimony, at quarter sessions. (fn. 289) At the same time, at the assizes, scandalous living and adultery appear on the indictments. (fn. 290) Meanwhile, if the attendance at quarter sessions was sometimes small, the necessary vigour was not always lacking. In 1654 the justices ordered a thorough reform of weights and measures throughout the county. (fn. 291) In 1656 there was a renewed onslaught on vagabonds and sturdy beggars, as well as on constables and tithingmen who failed to keep the problem within bounds. (fn. 292) In the same year also they somehow found time to consider the troublesome dogs of Mere, who were henceforth to be tied or muzzled. (fn. 293) And then, in 1657, they discovered that they had, in at least one respect, acted ultra vires. In law, on petition from assizes or quarter sessions, only the Lord Chancellor could authorize victims of fire or other calamity to collect money for their relief. But in recent times the justices had in quarter sessions, and without higher authority, authorized these collections (as happened also in Warwickshire). This they now recognized 'upon better consideration to be not altogether legal' and decided to abandon the practice. (fn. 294) From now onwards they made grants for such relief through the treasurers of the Upper Bench and Marshalsea. (fn. 295) After the Restoration they reverted to the traditional method of petitioning the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 296)
The administrative system of the Commonwealth proved an uneasy marriage between the traditional and the revolutionary; between the permanent and the provisional; and the county which had resisted the dictation of Charles I did not easily acquiesce in the dictation of Cromwell. Then, in Wiltshire as elsewhere, the Restoration produced a temporary upheaval at quarter sessions. At the Hilary sessions of 1660 only five justices appeared, and at the Easter sessions, the last before the Restoration, only three. (fn. 297) The Trinity sessions were not held at all. But the Michaelmas sessions, the first held after the Restoration, attracted as many as 18 justices. No less significant, none of the 3 who appeared at the Easter sessions before the Restoration, and only 1 of the 5 who appeared at the preceeding sessions, came to the first meeting after the Restoration. Of the 12 who came to the Michaelmas sessions of 1659 only 1 came to the Michaelmas sessions of 1660. Of the 65 local members of the last Cromwellian commission extant, that of 1657, only 19 were named on the first Restoration commission (fn. 298) and only 3 came to the first Restoration quarter sessions. The other 15 who came were not on the Cromwellian commission at all. Here is clear evidence of a purge; and it is noteworthy also that the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery gave place to the Marquess of Hertford as custos rotulorum. (fn. 299)
There are clear signs also of a purge in other aspects of the county administration. Two of the masters of houses of correction were replaced. (fn. 300) Pensions granted by the justices were revoked unless specially confirmed by quarter sessions. A new series of pensions were granted to royalist ex-servicemen. (fn. 301) But in many other respects the justices, with changed personnel, settled down to the familiar duties of social administration. In Wiltshire, as elsewhere, the Restoration brought relief and hope. Perhaps the borough of Calne reflected the mood of a large section of the county when it devoted £1 4s. for the purchase of one hogshead of beer 'when we proclaimed our most gracious and merciful sovereign lord Charles the Second'. (fn. 302) Only time would show whether the restoration of the county administration would be as speedy as the restoration of the king.