Medieval Beverley: The Archbishop and Beverley

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, 'Medieval Beverley: The Archbishop and Beverley', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 11-16. 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. "Medieval Beverley: The Archbishop and Beverley", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 11-16. 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. "Medieval Beverley: The Archbishop and Beverley", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 11-16. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

The Archbishop and Beverley

The dominant figure in Beverley throughout the Middle Ages was the archbishop of York, whom Edward the Confessor had made the town's sole lord under the king. (fn. 1) The archbishop's rights in the town received their fullest expression in 1293, when they were investigated as part of Edward I's Quo Warranto inquiries. An earlier inquiry, in 1280, had produced a briefer list. The archbishop had then been required to justify his claim to have return of writs, gallows, his own coroner, freedom from suit of court, and free warren. In 1293 he also defended a claim to his own gaol and the profits of wrecks and waifs. The later inquiry also revealed that the archbishop claimed exclusive jurisdiction within the liberty. Even pleas of the Crown were held by the archbishop's own justices, although in the presence of one or two of the king's justices. The justices of assize delivered their writs to the archbishop's justices near the boundary of the liberty, at Mile cross. Similarly the king's sheriffs and bailiffs were banned from exercising authority in the town except in the case of default by the archbishop's bailiff. (fn. 2) The extent of the archbishop's jurisdiction had been tacitly acknowledged in 1257, when the Crown had appointed Roger of Thirkleby to hear pleas in the liberty without prejudice to the rights of the archbishop or chapter. (fn. 3) In a dispute of the 1270s, concerning land in Wyke, the abbey of Meaux accepted that assizes of novel disseisin relating to the lands of St. John could be heard only in Beverley, and there are records of the archbishop appointing justices of assize in 1275 and 1286. (fn. 4) In 1281 and 1282 the archbishop's justices are found acting with those of the king in cases concerning the liberty. (fn. 5)

All the rights claimed in 1293 appear to have been allowed, although it was the shorter list produced in 1280 of which the archbishop procured an exemplification in 1338. (fn. 6) The archbishops continued to appoint their own justices and successfully challenged attempts to hear Beverley cases outside the liberty. (fn. 7) They also, by analogy, secured the right to appoint their own justices of the peace and of labourers for Beverley, and in 1467 they were given the power to appoint justices of oyer et terminer within the liberty. (fn. 8) In practice the archbishops usually seem to have made their selection from the king's justices for the East Riding, with the addition of a few local men as necessary. (fn. 9) The archbishops were also largely successful in limiting the powers of the sheriff, although in 1328 it took a physical assault to stop his deputy levying money in the liberty. (fn. 10) In 1388, when the see was in the king's hands, the exclusion of the sheriff was confirmed after a complaint by the commonalty, (fn. 11) and in 1505 a townsman lost his burgess status for helping officials of the sheriff of York make an arrest within the borough. (fn. 12) The sheriff did, however, hold his court within Beverley for cases not concerning the liberty. (fn. 13)

Few of those rights derived from explicit royal grants, and the relative insecurity of privileges based on precedent at a time when kings were increasingly demanding written evidence explains the fabrication of a 'charter' from Athelstan to the archbishop of York. It was first recorded in the early 14th century and purported to make the archbishop as free in his liberty of St. John 'as heart may think or eye may see'. (fn. 14) It was apparently taken seriously by later kings. In 1404 Henry IV granted the archbishop letters patent excluding from the liberty the steward, marshalls, and clerk of the market of the royal household, specifically to remove any ambiguities in Athelstan's grant. (fn. 15)

Although the archbishop's jurisdictional rights were valuable for the power which they brought, in financial terms they were eclipsed by other profits of lordship. An undated account from the early 14th century gives the court profits in Beverley itself as £1 5s. 7d. Tolls on trade came to £10 and rents to a notional £22 10s. 7d., although £5 10s. of that could not be collected. Legal profits were a similarly small part of the issues from the outlying townships: £2 7s. 8d. out of £46 19s. 5d. (fn. 16) In 1373-4 profits of courts in the townships as a whole totalled only £1 10s. 10d., while in 1388 rents stood at £20 5s. and the issues of trade at £15 in the town alone. (fn. 17) In 1405-6 the town paid the archbishop £6 13s. 4d. for the previous year's tolls, (fn. 18) and the same sum was paid in 1445-6. (fn. 19) In 1425-6 rents and farms in the town nominally produced £47 4s. 8d., with £4 7s. 10d. in decay, and in 1482 the town was valued at £48 16s., of which £8 15s. 4d. were court profits. That compares with a value of £206 15s. 1d. for the 'water towns' in 1482. (fn. 20)

The archbishop had many officials to look after his interests in Beverley. The most important of them, as far as the townsmen were concerned, was the archbishop's bailiff. The earliest known holder of the office is Ellis of Welham in the 12th century, (fn. 21) and a reasonably complete series can be constructed from the episcopate of Walter Grey (1216-55). The early bailiffs seem usually to have been clerics, such as Ralph of Totenhale, bailiff in 1282, and his successors Walter of Wragby and Henry of Menille. (fn. 22) In the 14th century lay bailiffs were becoming the norm and the office seems to have been filled more often by local men. Richard Dousing, bailiff in the 1330s, was probably a kinsman of the Dousings who held land in Frarygate in the same period. (fn. 23) The change may in practice have led to a certain blurring of interests. Thomas Beverley, who had been the archbishop's bailiff in 1360, was in receipt of a fee from the town six years later, when he was active in town business. (fn. 24) Robert Fenton, bailiff in 1386-7, was paid by the town for help in various matters, and in the 15th century it was usual for the town to pay the bailiff an annual fee. (fn. 25) By 1407-8 the office of underbailiff had developed, perhaps in response to the tendency of the bailiffs to take on other offices in the liberty. (fn. 26) John Tickhill, bailiff at the beginning of the century, was also keeper of the archbishop's gaol. (fn. 27) His successor, William Soulby, was gaoler and coroner as well as bailiff, while in 1467 Ingelram Lepton was made bailiff, coroner, and clerk of the market, a combination of offices which was also held by Richard Rokeby in 1493. (fn. 28)

The head of the archbishop's administrative hierarchy in Beverley was the steward. The office was recorded in the episcopate of Walter Grey, when it was held by a cleric, John Holtby. (fn. 29) The early pattern seems to have been that a cleric held the stewardship of Beverley, while a layman took on the legal responsibilities for several manors. Thus in 1275 Hugh of Babington, described simply as steward, was appointed by Archbishop Giffard to take the assizes of novel disseisin in Beverley and Ripon. (fn. 30) In 1346 Archbishop Zouche appointed Richard of Donington, rector of Haversham (Bucks.), as steward of Beverley alone. (fn. 31) For a time later in the century it became customary for the Beverley stewardship to be held by a layman together with the office of bailiff, or in succession to it, but by the 15th century it had again become a separate appointment. It was then usually held by a member of the local gentry with legal training, who was responsible for the whole of the archbishop's land in the East Riding, but specifically for acting as justice and holding inquisitions within the liberty. (fn. 32) The archbishop also on occasion appointed a titular chief steward of Beverley as a means of extending patronage to eminent local figures. In 1477 Archbishop Lawrence Booth granted the office to the earl of Northumberland. (fn. 33) The chief stewardship may in that respect have replaced the post of surveyor of the lordship of Beverley which had been held by local noblemen earlier in the century. (fn. 34)

The lesser offices within the lordship included that of the receiver. The post was mentioned in the late 13th century, when the receiver answered to the archbishop's receiver general for both temporalities and spiritualities. (fn. 35) By the early 14th century the office had undergone a change which points to greater civic involvement. A receiver now also known as the serjeant of the borough of Beverley answered to the archbishop's bailiff for the rents and tolls within the town. (fn. 36) The office changed hands regularly, perhaps even annually, and seems to have been the equivalent of that of the reeve who answered for the issues of the lordship outside the borough. By the early 15th century the office had been absorbed by that of the bailiff, who answered for the borough rents and farms while the reeve continued to answer for the rest of the lordship. (fn. 37) After the retirement of William Soulby as bailiff in 1435 the offices were separated again, and the next bailiff, Brian Holme, held office alongside various receivers. (fn. 38) The receivers were now appointed from the leading men of the town. Thomas Driffield, mentioned as receiver in the 14456 keepers' account, was also a keeper in that year. William Morethwaite, receiver in 1450-1, had been a keeper five years earlier. It looks as if responsibility for collecting the archbishop's farms had effectively passed to the town, which may even have been nominating the receivers. By that period the tolls and taxes due to the archbishop were collected by the town and handed over as a lump sum. (fn. 39) When in 1481 Archbishop Rotherham appointed John Cromwell, chaplain, as receiver of the whole liberty his role may have been little more than to provide a collecting point for internally raised money. (fn. 40)

Other archiepiscopal officers in Beverley included the clerk of the court and the porter of the archbishop's manor house. (fn. 41) In the late 15th century a keeper of the manor, who lived in the lodge within the park, was also mentioned. (fn. 42) The park itself was a major source of office. In the 14th century it supported two parkers, a paliser, a hay ward, a carter, and a cowherd. (fn. 43) The parkerships were the most valuable, carrying grazing rights for 12 oxen as well as a wage of 4d. a day, and were on occasion used as rewards for established archiepiscopal servants. The posts were not always a sinecure. Poachers could threaten the safety of the park officials as well as the deer they guarded. A mid 15th-century parker, William Morethwaite, complained to the earl of Northumberland that the earl's retinue harboured poachers who had lain in wait for him and beaten up some of his friends. (fn. 44) In 1493 Robert Birley was allowed 10s. annually towards the cost of bows and arrows. (fn. 45)

The archbishop's base in Beverley was initially his hall in the market place. This stone building was known as the Dings or the Bishop Dings and was in existence by the 1160s. (fn. 46) In 1282 the Dings was made over to the town by Archbishop Wickwane for an annual rent of 6s. 8d. (fn. 47) By this date the archbishop had moved his Beverley residence to a moated site south of the minster, later known as Hall Garth. The archbishop's manor there was mentioned in 1280. (fn. 48) In 1444 there was a reference to the archbishop's court being held in the great hall of the manor, (fn. 49) and the archbishop's gaol was presumably also on the same site. Little is known about other buildings but surviving earthworks suggest that they may have been extensive. (fn. 50) The archbishop's house there, or its predecessor in the market place, had a chapel, and in 1258 a chaplain was collated to the chapel of St. Swithin within the court of the archbishop at Beverley. (fn. 51) An inventory of 1388 mentions only a hall and a kitchen. (fn. 52) In 1980 excavation revealed the eastern abutment of a timber bridge, which spanned the moat near its north-western corner and may have supported lifting gear for a drawbridge; an early 14th-century date has been suggested. (fn. 53) Work was under way on the manor in 1409-10, but by the 1530s the house had been abandoned and Leland described it as 'all in ruin'. (fn. 54) Besides his Beverley residence the archbishop also had a manor house at nearby Bishop Burton which he regularly visited in the 12th and 13th centuries. (fn. 55)

The archbishop's lordship of Beverley proved a mixed blessing for the town. The archbishop had a vested interest in the success of the town as a trading centre. Until the early 12th century he received all the tolls, and even after Thurstan had farmed most of them to the townsmen the archbishop continued to receive those from the annual fairs. (fn. 56) He also claimed tolls on water-borne trade on the river Hull. (fn. 57) The archbishop accordingly did much to encourage trade in the town. (fn. 58) Elsewhere the interests of town and archbishop coincided less well. The archbishop's authority within the liberty was in some respects valued by the town, which enthusiastically supported the exclusion of royal officials from the liberty. (fn. 59) The town also made some effort to claim the liberty as its own. In the 15th-century cartulary which survives among the town's archives, Athelstan's charter is presented as a grant of freedom to the men of Beverley as well as to the church. (fn. 60) In practice, however, the archbishop's authority inevitably limited the development of civic autonomy. (fn. 61)

Another major source of grievance throughout the Middle Ages was the question of access to open land around the town. The most contentious area was the land to the south, which offered not only arable and grazing but also, in the marsh of Bradwell, a valued turbary. (fn. 62) The archbishop had granges there (fn. 63) and in the course of the 13th century was extending his hold on the area with the aim of turning it into an inclosed park. In the reign of John the townsmen complained that the archbishop had dispossessed them of their pasture, toll, turbary, and sandpit. The archbishop promised restitution but continued to exclude the burgesses, putting up a hedge where there had previously been a ditch. The townsmen complained again, and a royal inquiry upheld their claim and granted them seisin, a verdict rejected by the archbishop, who excommunicated those involved. (fn. 64) During the episcopate of Sewall de Bovill (1255-8) a formal compromise was reached in the king's court. The townsmen gave up their rights of common in the park and in Stone Carr, in Weel. In return the archbishop granted them pasture and pannage in Westwood, pannage in Hagg wood, and pasture in the meadow called Out ings which adjoined Figham. To protect the value of the grazing rights in Westwood it was also agreed that the division between arable and pasture there should be frozen, to prevent further encroachment on the pasture, and that the archbishop should have no rights of agistment. (fn. 65)

The compromise did not produce a lasting settlement. Archbishops Giffard and Wickwane both pursued an active policy of buying out the rights of others in land south of the town, with the aim perhaps of extending rather than merely consolidating the boundaries of the park. (fn. 66) By 1267 the burgesses had become concerned about pasture rights in Hecroft and Moswood, and appointed a delegation to meet Archbishop Giffard. (fn. 67) In the 12th century land in Hecroft had been granted away by the archbishop, (fn. 68) who was now evidently seeking to reassert control. In 1267 the townsmen bound themselves to pay 1,000 marks to the archbishop for their trespasses in his park. (fn. 69) In return they appear to have been allowed some pasture rights in Hecroft and Moswood, although both remained within the park. Moswood was available as summer pasture in 1309, (fn. 70) and in the mid 15th century burgesses' horses were over-wintering in Hecroft. (fn. 71) After the 1267 agreement the dispute simmered down for a time, but it flared up again early in Wickwane's episcopate. In 1281 the archbishop excommunicated a group of townsmen who had appealed to the archbishop of Canterbury over the question of pasture. (fn. 72) The king was also drawn into the dispute and called the case into his own court. The archbishop responded by imprisoning the townsmen involved, so that they could not plead in the king's court. (fn. 73) A settlement was finally reached in 1282. Archbishop Bovill's compromise was confirmed, but with the additional grant to the burgesses of the Dings in the market place. (fn. 74) A separate agreement regulated pannage in Hagg wood. (fn. 75)

From that time the ground of contention seems to have changed. Later disputes did not focus on pasture rights but on the poaching of the archbishop's deer by individual townsmen and others, to which the archbishop usually responded by excommunicating the offenders. (fn. 76) Medieval kings took an equally strong line during vacancies of the see. (fn. 77) The readjustments of pasture in the 13th century had apparently been accepted, helped perhaps by the fall in population which accompanied the plague epidemics of the mid 14th century and relieved the pressure on land. The final readjustment of land ownership between the town and the archbishop was made in 1379-80 and, unlike the earlier settlements, does not seem to have been a response to conflict. Alexander Neville alienated Westwood and its boundary ditches to the burgesses for an annual rent of £5. (fn. 78) He reserved the right to keep one limekiln there for his own use, but undertook not to sell the lime produced. (fn. 79) From the archbishop's point of view, he had exchanged the uncertainties of direct exploitation for an assured income which had probably been set at a level just above his usual return from the land. In 1386-7 the town's cash return was £1 4s. from wood sales and £3 10s. from the farm of limekilns. (fn. 80) The town gradually increased the return, however, and by the 1420s was easily covering the rent to the archbishop. (fn. 81)


  • 1. E.Y.C. i, pp. 85-6.
  • 2. Poulson, Beverlac, 149 sqq.
  • 3. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 573.
  • 4. Chron. de Melsa (Rolls Ser.), ii. 153-4; Reg. Giffard, p. 273; Reg. Romeyn, ii, p. 48.
  • 5. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, f. 87; Town Doc. pp. xxiii-xxiv.
  • 6. Cal. Pat. 1338-40, 165-6.
  • 7. P.R.O., C 260/68/18; Cal. Close, 1337-9, 624-5.
  • 8. Cal. Pat. 1350-4, 332; 1467-77, 15.
  • 9. e.g. B.I.H.R., Reg. 11, f. 300v.; 22, ff. 289-90; cf. Cal. Pat. 1476-85, 578-9.
  • 10. Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 454.
  • 11. Cal. Close, 1385-9, 401-2.
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 53.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 69; cf. Chapter Act Bk. i, pp. xxix-xxx.
  • 14. Chapter Act Bk. ii. 280-7.
  • 15. Cal. Pat. 1401-5, 395.
  • 16. P.R.O., SC 6/1144/5, m. 3. For the townships or 'water towns' see below, Boundaries.
  • 17. P.R.O., SC 6/1144/10, m. 10; Cal. Inq. Misc. iv, p. 214.
  • 18. H.R.O., BC/II/6/4.
  • 19. Ibid. BC/II/6/11.
  • 20. Y.A.S., MD. 37; R. [E.] Horrox and P. W. Hammond, B.L. Harl. MS. 433, iii. 219.
  • 21. B.L. Lansd. Ch. 197.
  • 22. Reg. Wickwane, p. 283; Reg. Romeyn, i, pp. 215, 393; ii, pp. 34-35 n., 60.
  • 23. Rolleston Cart. ff. 39-44, 50-1; Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 88.
  • 24. B.I.H.R., Reg. 11, f. 306; H.R.O., BC/II/6/2.
  • 25. H.R.O., BC/II/6/3 sqq.
  • 26. Ibid. BC/II/6/5 sqq.
  • 27. Ibid. BC/II/6/4-7; Cal. Pat. 1401-5, 102.
  • 28. B.I.H.R., Reg. 19, f. 169v.; 22, f. 43; Reg. Rotherham, i. p. 237.
  • 29. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, f. 59v.
  • 30. Reg. Giffard, p. 273.
  • 31. B.I.H.R., Reg. 10, f. 297v.
  • 32. e.g. ibid. 20, f. 129v.; 22, f. 289.
  • 33. Ibid. 22, f. 293v.
  • 34. Ibid. 20, f. 141v.
  • 35. Reg. Wickwane, pp. 321-2.
  • 36. Reg. Greenfield, i, pp. 52, 195; iv, pp. 280, 362; v, pp. 36, 41.
  • 37. H.R.O., BC/II/6/7-8; Y.A.S., MD. 37.
  • 38. H.R.O., BC/II/6/11-13; BC/II/7/1, f. 104.
  • 39. e.g. ibid. BC/II/6/4; BC/II/7/1, f. 104.
  • 40. Reg. Rotherham, i, p. 197.
  • 41. P.R.O., SC 6/1144/5, m. 3; Cal. Inq. Misc. iv, p. 216.
  • 42. B.I.H.R., Reg. 22, f. 40v.; Reg. Rotherham, i, p. 198.
  • 43. Reg. Greenfield, i, pp. 265-6; Cal. Inq. Misc. iv, p. 215.
  • 44. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 36v.
  • 45. Reg. Rotherham, i, p. 237.
  • 46. E.Y.C. i, p. 137; B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, f. 86.
  • 47. Town Doc. p. xxv.
  • 48. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, ff. 60v.-61, 86v.
  • 49. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 69.
  • 50. R.C.H.M. Beverley, 11-12 and Map 1.
  • 51. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 643.
  • 52. Cal. Inq. Misc. iv, pp. 215-16.
  • 53. Med. Arch. xxv. 216-18.
  • 54. H.R.O., BC/II/6/6; Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i, 46.
  • 55. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. iv. 5.
  • 56. E.Y.C. i, pp. 90-2.
  • 57. P.R.O., C 260/42/52.
  • 58. Below (Trade and Ind.).
  • 59. e.g. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 2 (the town's copy of the doc. abstracted in Cal. Close, 1385-9, 401-2); BC/II/7/1, f. 53.
  • 60. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 10v.
  • 61. Below (Local Govt.).
  • 62. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, ff. 61, 63 and v.
  • 63. Reg. Gray, p. 258.
  • 64. Town Doc. p. xxii.
  • 65. Below, Common Lands.
  • 66. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, ff. 58v.-59, 61, 63 and v., 64v.65, 70v.-71v., 88v.
  • 67. Reg. Giffard, p. 59.
  • 68. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, ff. 80v.-81; Anlaby Cart. f. 89.
  • 69. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, ff. 57v.-58v.
  • 70. Reg. Greenfield, i, p. 214.
  • 71. B.I.H.R., Prob. Reg. 2, f. 185.
  • 72. Reg. Wickwane, p. 14.
  • 73. Ibid. pp. 246-7.
  • 74. Town Doc. pp. xxiv-xxv.
  • 75. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, f. 62.
  • 76. e.g. Reg. Greenfield, i, pp. 103, 106, 197-8; iii, pp. 1806, 193-4.
  • 77. Cal. Pat. 1292-1301, 260.
  • 78. Ibid. 1377-81, 433.
  • 79. Town Doc. 136.
  • 80. H.R.O., BC/II/6/3.
  • 81. Ibid. BC/II/6/8 sqq.