The later middle ages: The city and the ecclesiastical franchises

Pages 68-69

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

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The City and the Ecclesiastical Franchises

Relations between the city and the churches with liberties in York were much less placid. The citizens never accepted their defeat of 1275. In 1301 and 1308 they complained that St. Leonard's Hospital was withdrawing men from the jurisdiction of the city courts and from liability to tallage and other common burdens; and the hospital brought counter-charges of violent intrusion into its liberty in 1309. (fn. 1) About the same time an armed band broke into the archbishop's property in the Old Baile, and the city tried to encroach on the jurisdiction of the courts of St. Peter's liberty. It was even argued that the jurisdiction of the court held at the minster door extended only over the villeins of the church. (fn. 2) The citizens too, with some success, exercised constant pressure to compel the archbishop to repair and defend the city wall in the Old Baile area; (fn. 3) and they were not unnaturally angered in 1321 when Dean Pickering excommunicated the collectors of a special levy imposed to strengthen the city's defences. (fn. 4)

These squabbles, however, were small matter compared with the perennial conflict with St. Mary's Abbey. There was a number of attempts, some of them backed by force, by the city authorities between 1311 and 1316 to administer the assizes of bread and ale and to levy tallages and other charges in Bootham. (fn. 5) The abbot made things no better when he obtained a market and fair there in 1318, a grant subsequently cancelled because it was to the injury of the city. (fn. 6) For the time being, however, the abbey kept the ground it had won in 1275. In 1334–5 Edward III exempted from tallage all its recent acquisitions of property, and confirmed the verdict of 1275 excluding the city officers from all authority in Bootham. (fn. 7)

The citizens still showed no sign of accepting the situation. They made renewed attacks on the monks in 1343 and 1350, prevented the food-supplies of the abbey from passing along the Ouse, and threatened at one time to kill and at another to crucify the abbot, the monks, and their men. (fn. 8) They had one strong arguing point—that St. Mary's hold on Bootham reduced the resources at their disposal for meeting their farm. (fn. 9) This may have proved conclusive. In any case the government was alarmed by a new outbreak of violence during which there was an armed siege of the abbey which compelled the abbot and monks to seek safety in flight. (fn. 10) In 1350 the whole matter was reviewed. After much investigation, the parties were brought to agreement in 1354. Bootham, except for Marygate and some adjoining areas, was restored to the city's jurisdiction. On the other hand, the abbot and monks were not to be arrested in Bootham by the city authorities except for felony, trespass, and so forth, and they were to have freedom of navigation on the Ouse for boats carrying their supplies. (fn. 11)

Thus, by sheer persistence, the city reversed the verdict of 1275. Squabbles on a smaller scale continued to occur; but except in the matter of the common lands (fn. 12) they were no longer over questions involving major principles. The citizens were sometimes suspicious: the cappers decreed in 1482 that no master was to give work to men dwelling in St. Mary's or St. Leonard's liberties 'where we have no power to correct them', and in 1501 freemen were forbidden to collect tolls for the archbishop at his Lammas fair. (fn. 13) Again, in the riots of 1380–1, St. Leonard's and the Friars Minor were attacked; (fn. 14) and from time to time there were difficulties overfelons who took sanctuary with the friars. (fn. 15) Conversely, in 1393, the city justices of the peace had to be warned not to poach upon the minster close, the Bedern and the houses of the canons, where jurisdiction belonged to the steward of the chapter. (fn. 16) The normal attitude, however, was that displayed in 1378. The bursar of St. Mary's obstructed the free passage of goods from the Ouse to Bootham via Marygate. The city protested and the abbey gave way to avoid further dispute. (fn. 17) This moderation, in contrast with what had gone before, was the watchword in the relations between the city and the churches after 1354.


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1292–1301, 625; 1307–13, 86, 129–30, 255.
  • 2. Reg. Greenfield, i, no. 292; J.I. 1/1114, m. 33; S.C. 8/323/E564.
  • 3. Letters from Northern Reg. 313–14; Chron. de Melsa (Rolls Ser.), ii. 314–15; Cal. Close, 327–30, 214; see pp. 528–9.
  • 4. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 350; S.C. 8/233/11645.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1307–13, 470–1; 1313–17, 692; Chron. St. Mary's, 68–69.
  • 6. Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, 407.
  • 7. Cal. Pat. 1334–8, 15 sqq., 27–28, 85–86; see pp. 39–40.
  • 8. Cal. Pat. 1348–50, 496; Cal. Close, 1343–6, 96.
  • 9. S.C. 8/178/8867.
  • 10. S.C. 8/26/1286; /46/2251.
  • 11. Cal. Close, 1349–54, 232, 286; Cal. Pat. 1348–50, 497, 530, 550, 584; 1350–4, 292, 392–3, 471; 1354–8, 84–86.
  • 12. See pp. 82–83.
  • 13. York Mem. Bk. ii. 285; York Civ. Rec. ii. 167.
  • 14. See p. 81.
  • 15. S.C. 8/106/5252; Cal. Pat. 1358–61, 255; York Mem. Bk. ii. 27–28.
  • 16. Cal. Chart. R. 1341–1417, 337–8.
  • 17. York Mem. Bk. i. 26–28.