The seventeenth century: The Charters and Town Government

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'The seventeenth century: The Charters and Town Government', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 100-105. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "The seventeenth century: The Charters and Town Government", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 100-105. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "The seventeenth century: The Charters and Town Government", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 100-105. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

The Charters and Town Government

The structure of municipal government established by the charter of 1573 remained substantially unaltered throughout the 17th century. The charter was confirmed in 1628 with the addition of one new privilege: besides the mayor and recorder all 12 governors, instead of only two, were to be J.P.s. (fn. 1) Municipal affairs were apparently untroubled by government intervention before the corporation in 1643 infringed its customs by re-electing Robert Manby as mayor on completion of his first term of office. In 1644 the parliamentary committee at York ordered his removal and later in the year that of three governors, Thomas Clarke, William Elrington, and Edward Grey, for royalist sympathies. The corporation complied without demur, filling the vacancies in the customary manner. (fn. 2)

Following the Restoration the government was determined to put local administration into the hands of reliable men and to remove those thought to have republican sympathies. The commissioners for regulating corporations found the governors deeply divided in their religious and political sympathies, and in 1662 six of the governors, William Coulson, William Forge, Timothy Grey, Thomas Hudson, Thomas Milner, and William Wade, were dismissed. All but Coulson had been elected since 1644. Only Forge and Wade, who had succeeded two of the royalists displaced then, were deemed to have been unlawfully elected; the others were said to be disqualified by their refusal to take the necessary oaths, including those prescribed by the Corporation Act. Coulson and Grey had, moreover, been ringleaders in the recent disturbance at the minster. The governors left in office included Edward Grey (d. 1668), removed in 1644 but recently reinstated. The commisioners appointed new men to the vacancies, and the mayor, governors, recorder, town clerk, and chamber clerk all took the oaths. (fn. 3) In the midst of political uncertainty the corporation obtained a new charter in 1663. It confirmed existing privileges and, at the corporation's request, gave formal authority for the selected burgesses, whose continuation had recently been debated; they were thenceforth to be known as the capital burgesses. It also reserved to the Crown the right to interfere in the choice of recorder and town clerk. (fn. 4)

Until the 1680s the choice of new governors was untrammelled and their service uninterrupted, though the statutory obligations on officers were being evaded by nonconformists or their sympathizers. From 1680 there was pressure from the Privy Council to enforce the law and by 1683 four capital burgesses had been displaced for failing to take the sacrament and a governor, Edward Grey the younger, reported to the government for political disloyalty and suspect religious activities. (fn. 5) During the government's campaign to browbeat corporations into the surrender of their charters in 1684, Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys visited Beverley, probably early in July, and shortly afterwards the corporation agreed to surrender its charter and petition for another. On 11 August, under the threat of quo warranto proceedings, the surrender was effected. (fn. 6)

Negotiations for the new charter were lengthy, partly because of Charles II's death, and when eventually granted in 1685 it generally confirmed the town's rights and constitution. The name of governor was, however, changed to the more usual style of alderman, and an additional fair was instituted. A clause, normally inserted at that date, reserved to the Crown the right to remove officers by Order in Council and, as the price of renewal, the recorder Sir Edward Barnard and seven governors were replaced by the charter. The governors included Edward Grey, William Wilberforce, and another William Coulson, all of whom, with Barnard, were suspected of nonconformity. (fn. 7)

By 1688 the policy of James II's government had changed and many of its erstwhile Tory-Anglican allies were being replaced by former opponents, in return for their support. Accordingly the removal of the recorder James Moyser, four aldermen, and four capital burgesses was ordered in May. Two of the aldermen, William Clarke and Joshua Naylor, had come into office under the new charter, which had confirmed another, Christopher Chappelow, as mayor; the fourth was John Fotherby, mayor in 1676-7. The government nominees as aldermen included Thomas Milner and John Sugden; the former was a suspected nonconformist and the latter had been displaced from the governorship in 1685 as a Whig. Three of the capital burgesses nominated and the new recorder, Thomas Alured, were also suspected dissenters. Significantly, most of the qualifying oaths were ordered to be dispensed with. On that occasion, however, perhaps encouraged by the growing chaos in the country, the corporation made a show of resistance. Alured was duly sworn and Milner and Sugden elected aldermen in June, but the appointment of the other two aldermen was eventually refused. When, in September, Milner resigned and aldermen were elected to the vacancies the government's remaining nominees were passed over. The nominees for capital burgess were also rejected, on the grounds that none of them had been in the list put to the commonalty at the last election, as prescribed by the charter, and in July the vacancies were filled from that list. It thus seems that the attempted manipulation of the corporation's membership was largely ignored in the confusion of those weeks. (fn. 8) The royal proclamation of October restored charters which had been surrendered unless, as in the case of Beverley, the surrenders had already been enrolled. (fn. 9) The corporation did not apply for the restoration of the earlier charter, however, and that of 1685 remained the basis for its government.

Notwithstanding occasional external interference with its membership, the corporation was a largely self-perpetuating body. As in the 16th century, the mayor was chosen from the governors or aldermen and with them he elected new governors, named the candidates from whom the burgesses at large elected the selected or capital burgesses, and appointed the recorder and all salaried corporation officers. The progress of aspiring councillors was restricted by the fact that governors held office for life. Long serving governors included John Chappelow and William Dunn, who were each in office for about 35 years, William Johnson for 25 years, and Robert Manby, until he was displaced, for 21 years. William Coulson, who served from 1636 to 1662, was apparently followed by two others of the same name. (fn. 10) The mayor and governors normally acted together, and when Robert Manby took his own initiative during the Civil War he received no support from the governors. (fn. 11) Newly elected governors usually reached the mayoralty speedily, but the rules made in the 16th century ensured that no one was mayor twice within five years or more than three times in all. (fn. 12) In those circumstances mayoral elections may sometimes have been a formality. Of the 72 mayors elected from 1600 to 1699 44 held office only once, 24 served twice, and William Dunn, Edward Grey the elder and younger, and Robert Manby served three times. (fn. 13) Occasionally an ineligible candidate was put forward. After an attempt in 1602 to choose a man who was not a governor four of the culprits were gaoled, (fn. 14) and 16 men who tried in 1610 to break the rule about re-election were threatened with prosecution before the Council in the North. (fn. 15)

The callings of the mayors suggest that several occupations were predominant among those who ruled the town; at least 12 were tanners, 11 drapers, 10 mercers, and 7 maltsters, while 5 described themselves as gentlemen and one was an attorney. (fn. 16) Their wills show that some of the governors were men of substance. Edward Nelthorpe, mercer and draper, for example, left silver table ware, gold rings, two houses in Toll Gavel, and £1,693 in money. Thomas Clarke, gentleman, left a library, and the probate value of William Wilberforce's will was £800. (fn. 17) Many other governors owned property in Beverley and beyond. (fn. 18) The wealth of members of the governing group is also reflected in tax returns and in charitable bequests like those of John Dymoke and Thwaites Fox. (fn. 19)

Other governors may have been men of smaller fortunes, like Christopher Farrer who resigned after 13 years' service to better himself by living elsewhere and received a gratuity of £30. (fn. 20) At least three former mayors were relieved by the town, in the 1660s John Fotherby and William Elrington, the latter for his sufferings as a royalist, and in 1691 Christopher Chappelow. (fn. 21) Early in the century exoneration from the governorship could be bought for £10. (fn. 22) Later, political considerations made men reluctant to take office (fn. 23) and the fine for refusing the mayoralty was set at £100 in 1646. In 1688, when political influences again discouraged some, refusal to take the place of an alderman removed by the Crown attracted a fine of £20. Though exonerations were never numerous, the corporation may have used them as a source of additional income in the 1690s, when fines were set for refusal to serve as capital burgess and receiver. (fn. 24)

The chief professional officer of the corporation was the recorder. Notable lawyers who held the office during the 17th century were Sir William Gee, Francis Thorpe, a judge during the Interregnum, and Sir William Wise. Recorders were expected to reside and received a fee, together with pasture rights. (fn. 25) Routine legal and administrative business was the responsibility of the town clerk and the chamber clerk; both received a salary, besides fees and perquisites. One holder of each office gave unusually long service. Christopher Tadman was town clerk from 1660 until 1704. His colleague John Jackson became an attorney in the court of record and macebearer in 1651 and was chamber clerk from 1660 until his retirement in 1707. (fn. 26) The clerkships of the court of record and of the peace were held by another officer in the earlier 17th century, but they were evidently later held by the town or chamber clerk. (fn. 27) Among minor officers were the town husband and the overseer of works. (fn. 28)

Despite the deficiency of the town's minute books, which were compiled in the same fashion as in the 16th century, it is clear that the corporation conducted a great variety of business, including the election and appointment of officers, the determination of fees and salaries, the management of municipal property, the regulation of markets and pastures, the conduct of litigation, and the consideration of guild ordinances. (fn. 29) Earlier bylaws were confirmed and added to during the century. (fn. 30) For the good government of the town each governor was, appointed to supervise a ward, a duty perhaps more easily discharged after all governors became J.P.s under the charter of 1628. Lawbreakers were usually prosecuted at the 'Thursday sittings' of the magistrates, but in serious cases they were taken before the assize judges or occasionally, in the early 17th century, before the Star Chamber. (fn. 31) The most serious breaches of public order seem to have occurred in the reign of James I and immediately after the Restoration, both times of strongly felt religious disagreements. (fn. 32) The mayor, recorder, and governors sat weekly in the court of record to hear civil pleas, and the corporation appointed attorneys to practise there and made the rules of procedure. (fn. 33)

Litigation involved the corporation in much trouble and expense. A dispute about the boundaries and jurisdiction of the borough and manor was settled in 1624. (fn. 34) The corporation defended the exemption of Beverley freemen from tolls at Barnsley and Lincoln in the early years of the century (fn. 35) and more toll disputes, involving Driffield, Hull, and York, occurred c. 1680. (fn. 36) On two matters litigation was especially difficult and prolonged. A dispute about shops at the Cross fair lasted for 25 years before it was settled in 1650, and the liabilities of the corporation and St. John's parish for the repair of the road from Beverley to Hull bridge were exhaustively argued before the town lost the case in 1676. (fn. 37)

To meet legal costs and the general expenses of government the corporation had various sources of income. (fn. 38) Those funds were handled by two receivers appointed annually from the selected burgesses, one to keep the town account and the other the minster account. (fn. 39) The total income was some £400 c. 1605 and usually between £500 and £700 from the mid century. Income from some sources was more or less fixed, by custom or the long-term farming of the revenues, but from others it varied considerably from year to year. The annual value of the town's property rose with the purchase of more land (fn. 40) from £100 or less in the first decade (fn. 41) to some £220 in the 1650s, but was later reduced by decays, falling to £123 in 1692-3, when £85 was allowed. The minster rents totalled £63 in 1605-6, £105 in 1652-3, and £166 in 1679-80. The receivers spent much time in managing that property. (fn. 42) Leases were renewed regularly to produce extra income and some sales were made; moreover, in 1625 all leases within seven years of expiry were called in and renewed for 21 years, and in 1648 it was decided to survey all the property quarterly. (fn. 43) Income from the fees of new burgesses varied from £6 in 1602-3 to £94 in 1644-5 and £175 in 1662-3; 27 new burgesses were admitted in 1644-5 and 55 in 1662-3, the high figures perhaps reflecting the disturbed political circumstances. Apart from a small administrative fee, sons of burgesses were admitted free, apprentices paid £1, and strangers usually paid £5 or £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 44) The collection of tolls and the weighing of wool were usually farmed, at about £30 c. 1610 and later for some £40 a year; proceeds from the collection and sale of toll corn fluctuated between a few pounds and c. £25. Other sources of income included the leading of Londoners' wares to the Cross fair, (fn. 45) court fines, exonerations from office, the market boat, (fn. 46) wood sales, and occasional loans or gifts. Among the loans was one of £30 from the churchwardens of St. Martin's, on which interest was paid in 1649-50. Loans were especially needed when heavy expenses were incurred, as when the charter was renewed, because the corporation did not raise a general rate. (fn. 47)

Regular items of expenditure included salaries and fees, general administration and entertainment, and repairs to town property and the minster. Salaries and fees totalled c. £140 early in the century and increased only slowly; indeed the mayor's allowance was reduced from £30 to £20 in 1636. (fn. 48) The total in 1660-1 was £190, including augmentations of £20 from Metcalfe's charity. General expenses included small payments for audit dinners and feasts, the transport of prisoners, the town armour and the common soldiers, and bell-ringing for public celebrations. (fn. 49) The maintenance of property, including the minster, bars, shambles, guildhall, and maisons dieu, besides many houses, was a heavy, if varying, charge.

The receivers were required to present their accounts promptly for audit. (fn. 50) The form of the record was improved until by 1660 the town and minster accounts were shown separately. Beverley was not a rich town and the receivers mostly maintained a somewhat precarious solvency; the balances were always at risk from unusually heavy charges, besides the decay of customary revenues. A deficit of £98 was recorded in 1692-3 and another of £166 in 1694-5. About that time salaries and fees were reduced as an economy measure, a careful check kept on disbursements, and loans sought. (fn. 51) There were no surplus funds for costly municipal buildings, lavish ceremonial, or the provision of the kind of amenities which, by the end of the century, were to be found elsewhere.


  • 1. H.R.O., BC/I/83; Boro. Rec. 102.
  • 2. Above (Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60).
  • 3. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661-2, 379; Boro. Rec. 103-4; Faithorn, op. cit. 85-6, 240-1, 243.
  • 4. H.R.O., BC/I/86; BC/II/7/5, f. 11; Boro. Rec. 130-3; above (Parl. Representation and Politics after 1660).
  • 5. Boro. Rec. 166, 171; above (Parl. Representation and Politics after 1660); below, Lists of Officers.
  • 6. H.R.O., BC/II/6/89, Boro. Rec. 88-9, 173; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1684-5, 127.
  • 7. H.R.O., BC/I/87 (print. Poulson, Beverlac, App. pp. 48-71); Boro. Rec. 174-5; Faithorn, op. cit. 304, 412; below, Mkts. and Fairs.
  • 8. H.R.O., BC/II/5/1 (2nd), ff. 19, 22v.; Boro. Rec. 1078, 178; Faithorn, op. cit. 311; below, Lists of Officers.
  • 9. R. Steele, Tudor and Stuart Proclamations, 1485-1714, i. 470; R. B. Pugh, 'Note on Boro. Chart. in later 17th Cent.' (V.C.H., unpubl.).
  • 10. Below, Lists of Officers.
  • 11. Above (Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60).
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 28, 29V.; above, Beverley in 16th Cent. (Town Govt.).
  • 13. Below, Lists of Officers.
  • 14. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 13v., 16; Boro. Rec. 101.
  • 15. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 28, 29v., 47; above (Relig. Life to 1642).
  • 16. Poulson, Beverlac, 399-400.
  • 17. B.I.H.R., Prob. Reg. 37, f. 507; 58, ff. 247, 698.
  • 18. e.g. ibid. 41, f. 510; 42, f. 699; 46, f. 12; 60, f. 12.
  • 19. Below (Pop. and Topog.); below, Charities.
  • 20. Boro. Rec. 101-2.
  • 21. Ibid. 134-5, 182; above (Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60); below, Lists of Officers.
  • 22. Boro. Rec. 45, 101.
  • 23. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 94.
  • 24. Ibid. BC/II/5/1 (2nd), f. 14; Boro. Rec. 91, 111.
  • 25. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 58v., 98v.; Boro. Rec. 101-3, 105, 130; above (Parl. Representation to 1640; Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60); below, Lists of Officers.
  • 26. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 86, 89v.; Boro. Rec. pp. xvi, no, 118, 195; below, Lists of Officers.
  • 27. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 101v.; Boro. Rec. 102,106, 110, 113.
  • 28. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 68v., 69v., 72v., 75v., 80, 967; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1603-10, 137; Boro. Rec. 106, 180-1.
  • 29. H.R.O., BC/II/5/1; BC/II/7/4/i; BC/II/7/5. The records are partly print. Boro. Rec.
  • 30. Boro. Rec. 36-50, 174.
  • 31. P.R.O., STAC 8/233/1; STAC 8/242/25; STAC 8/267/18; STAC 8/306/27; H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 27.
  • 32. Above (Relig. Life to 1642; Relig. Life after 1642).
  • 33. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 61; Boro. Rec. pp. x, 108-10, 151-3, and passim; Y.A.J. xxxvi. 339-41.
  • 34. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 33, 44v.; below, Boundaries; Communications.
  • 35. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 11, 28v., 42v.; P.R.O., E 134/6 Jas. I Hil./24; E 134/7 Jas. I East./11.
  • 36. H.R.O., BC/II/7/5, ff. 158v., 160; Boro. Rec. 165, 169, 176-7.
  • 37. Below (Economy); below, Communications.
  • 38. The following three paras. are based on H.R.O., BC/II/6, passim.
  • 39. Boro. Rec. 45, 113.
  • 40. Below, Charities (s.vv. Ferrer; Metcalfe); Outlying Townships (Weel, Manor).
  • 41. Including payments for average.
  • 42. e.g. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 21 and v.; Boro. Rec. 117.
  • 43. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 35v., 77-8, 91, 99v.-100v.; Boro. Rec. 122-3, 127, 149.
  • 44. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 2, 51v.; Boro. Rec. 37, 144, 184.
  • 45. Below (Economy).
  • 46. Below (Pop. and Topog.).
  • 47. H.R.O., BC/II/6/60; BC/II/7/4/1, t. 93 and v.; Boro. Rec. 88-9, 174-5.
  • 48. Boro. Rec. 47.
  • 49. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 11v.; Boro. Rec. 125, 180.
  • 50. Boro. Rec. 40-1.
  • 51. Ibid. 90, 112-13, 185.