The twelfth and thirteenth centuries: York under the sheriffs of Yorkshire

Pages 30-31

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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York under the Sheriffs of Yorkshire (1100-1212)

National politics and regional administration were perhaps of less concern to the citizens than the king's government of the city—a government which was apt to manifest itself by the imposition of financial burdens. The king derived revenues of various sorts from the city. First, there was the annual 'farm' already fixed at £100 in 1086; apart from a brief period in Richard I's reign, when this charge was raised to £120, the Sheriff of Yorkshire continued to account for the 'ancient' farm down to 1212 when responsibility was transferred to the citizens. (fn. 1) No statement has survived of the sources at the sheriff's disposal for raising the farm. It seems likely that they included tolls and other charges on trade. The city court, too, would yield some profits, though, apart from the bare mention early in the 13th century of pleas in the 'portmoot' and in burgwarmoto of the city, nothing is known of it. (fn. 2) Finally there was 'husgable'. This was apparently a charge on house property in Henry I's reign, (fn. 3) a definition which accords well enough with that given in a charter of c. 1274, 'husgable as the land was built upon', and in the Pipe Roll for 1295, 'from certain inhabited houses, 1d., from others, ½d., and from others, ¼d.' (fn. 4)

The farm, however, was only the beginning of the financial demands which the king made upon the city and for which the sheriff was the accounting officer at the Exchequer. In 1130 amercements imposed by the king's justice, Geoffrey de Clinton, were outstanding from some previous year; (fn. 5) and from 1170 onwards the profits of royal justice figure prominently on the Pipe Rolls. From the early years of Henry II, too, payments for purprestures (fn. 6) became an annual charge which eventually settled down at about £4 yearly. Finally, there were auxilia, dona, or tallages. Between 1156 and 1206 there were at least sixteen such levies yielding in all about £3,500—no small charge on the working capital of traders and craftsmen. (fn. 7)

Twelfth-century York, then, was a community in which the king had a financial stake and which possessed its own court, the portmoot. It was ruled by the Sheriff of Yorkshire, who answered for it at the Exchequer and must also have been in principle the president of its court. From an early date, however, the sheriff had assistants in ruling the city. A 'collector of York' is mentioned in 1130 and bailiffs of measures in 1175; (fn. 8) but doubtless the sheriff's main subordinates were the reeve or reeves of York addressed in charters of Henry I and Henry II. (fn. 9) Round about 1200 the office of reeve was held by Gerard the bellman and by William Fairfax; and one duty imposed upon the reeve by the sheriff was to take into the king's hand wine sold against the assize. (fn. 10) There specific information ends, but analogy suggests that the reeve might act as the sheriff's deputy in all other matters which fell within the latter's omnicompetent province.


  • 1. J. Tait, Med. Eng. Borough, 184; Pipe R. 1190 (P.R.S. N.S. i), 89; 1191 and 1192 (P.R.S. N.S. ii), 61; E 372/63, m. 15.
  • 2. Yorks. Assize R. (Y.A.S. Rec. Ser. 44), 20–21; B.M. Eg. MS. 2827, f. 137.
  • 3. E.Y.C. i. 142–3.
  • 4. B.M. Cott. MS. Nero, D. iii, f. 190d; E 372/146, m. 7d.
  • 5. Pipe R. 1130 (H.M.S.O. facsimile), 26.
  • 6. R. S. Hoyt, The Royal Demesne in Eng. Const. Hist. 93–96.
  • 7. S. K. Mitchell, Taxation in Med. Eng. 313.
  • 8. Pipe R. 1130, 31; 1175, 179–80.
  • 9. E.Y.C. i. 173, 223.
  • 10. Ibid. 198–9; Mem. R. 1 John (P.R.S. N.S. xxi), 59.