Medieval Beverley: Local 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, 'Medieval Beverley: Local Government', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 19-30. 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: Local Government", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 19-30. 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: Local Government", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 19-30. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

Local Government

The first acknowledgement that the townsmen of Beverley enjoyed a degree of self-government was made in the archiepiscopate of Thurstan. (fn. 1) In 1114-16 Henry I confirmed the new archbishop's grant to Beverley of free burgage according to the customs of York, a guild merchant, and the town's free customs and liberties. The king added that the townspeople were to be quit of toll throughout Yorkshire. Perhaps in 1122 Thurstan amplified some of those elements in a further charter. The townsmen's liberties were confirmed, 'saving the dignity and honour of God and St. John, and the archbishop and canons'. The archbishop willed that the townsmen have their 'hansehouse', where they could make their statutes as freely as the men of York. They were also to farm their tolls for £12 a year, (fn. 2) except on the three feasts on which fairs were held, when the toll belonged to the archbishop and canons. On those days, however, the burgesses were to be quit of toll themselves. Finally, Thurstan repeated the king's earlier grant of freedom from toll throughout Yorkshire. The townsmen's right to farm their own tolls makes it clear that some machinery of self-government existed by that date. In Beverley, as elsewhere, corporate identity was vested in the hanse or guild merchant, which provided a vehicle for civic action. The hanse later developed into the great guild of St. John of Beverley de Hanshus. (fn. 3) The guild's hall in Walkergate was used by the keepers as a town hall in the later Middle Ages. In 1434 the keepers planned to build a new hall in the Dings, but the scheme was abandoned. Instead, in 1437, they persuaded a draper, Robert Jackson, to convert four of the existing shops at the south end of the Dings into a hall and two chambers at his own expense. In the initial agreement he was given a 40-year lease, but he handed back the property in 1463 so that the hall could be used by the keepers, who thereupon surrendered their claim to St. John's guildhall. The rent for the latter was still being paid in 1494, however. The decisive move came in 1501 when the town acquired property in Cross garths for its own hall. (fn. 4)

At some point late in the 13th or early in the 14th century the structure of local government in Beverley underwent a major change. Previously authority had been vested in the commonalty as a whole, equated in Thurstan's grants with the guild merchant and later with the burgesses. Thus in 1282 Archbishop Wickwane's agreement about pasture was made with 108 named burgesses. (fn. 5) When negotiation was called for, this cumbersome body nominated a few of its members to represent it, as in 1267 when Hecroft was under discussion. (fn. 6) Such ad hoc arrangements probably lie behind the emergence of officials with authority to represent the commonalty on a more permanent basis. The first known indication of such a shift occurs in a lease made by the alderman and commonalty in 1303. (fn. 7) How long the office of alderman lasted is unknown, although in 1467 it was claimed that the town 'used anciently' to be governed by aldermen, which implies more than a brief experiment. (fn. 8) By 1320, however, the single representative had been replaced by 12 keepers. (fn. 9) This development evidently took time to become fully established. In a petition of 1320 the town was represented not by the keepers but by 10 other burgesses, with one of the keepers, John Young (le Jouen), added as an eleventh, perhaps to identify the keepers with the move. (fn. 10) In 1321 the commonalty acted as a body, not through the keepers, in making an acquittance to three burgesses. (fn. 11) As late as 1332 an exchange of land between the town and the son of John Waltheof referred simply to the burgesses and commonalty. (fn. 12) Part of the delay may have been due to archiepiscopal dislike of the change. In 1334 William Melton came to an agreement over the assize of bread and ale not with the keepers but with his burgesses and tenants of Beverley. (fn. 13) In 1382 Richard II claimed that the town had been governed by keepers for 50 years, which, if taken at face value, would imply that they had been finally accepted in the early 1330s. (fn. 14) They were alternatively known as keepers (custodes) or governors (gubernatores).

At the first mention of the keepers in 1320 most of the later aspects of their role were already established. (fn. 15) Their indenture of election records that they were elected on St. Mark's Day (25 Apr.) and held office for one year. There was no provision for replacing men who died in office, (fn. 16) but with the quorum set at seven there was normally little risk of meetings becoming inquorate. They were to be responsible for making gifts and paying fees for the commonalty, and their sworn word on what they had spent was to be accepted without question by the following year's keepers. If they were taken to law on the town's behalf their costs were to be reimbursed. They were empowered to levy money for town business, the rate to be decided at a meeting of the burgesses; if no one turned up the keepers could fix the rate themselves. Anyone refusing election as a keeper was to be fined £2 and failure to attend a council meeting without reasonable cause carried a penalty of 6d.

In 1359 the keepers recorded the 'immemorial' customs of the town, which amplify the indenture in some respects. (fn. 17) The outgoing keepers were responsible for nominating 18 men, who had not been keepers in the past three years, from whom the burgesses were to choose the next 12 keepers. The requirement that the candidates were to have had three years out of office was generally observed, although there are a few apparent exceptions. (fn. 18) The keepers were able to formulate orders, with the assent of the burgesses, and punish those infringing them. They could also make leases of town land. The penalty for non-attendance at a council meeting was now 1s. for a keeper and 6d. for a burgess, an increase already in force in 1345. (fn. 19) In 1370 a possible loophole was closed when the fine for refusing the office of keeper was stated to buy only one year's immunity, and in 1376 a keeper's fine for non-attendance jumped to £2. (fn. 20) The keepers were also expected to remain within the town during their term of office, and in 1416-17 John Brompton was fined 10d. for five days' absence. (fn. 21) A keeper with an interest in a case under discussion was apparently required to withdraw, as William Lorimer did in 1442 when his son was accused of a felony, although Lorimer then clashed with his colleagues over his right to sit with them in judgement on other issues. (fn. 22) The keepers were unpaid, but their expenses were met and they enjoyed dinners at town expense on occasion. (fn. 23)

In the course of the 15th century the system became somewhat more elaborate. By 1435 it seems to have become normal at council meetings to distinguish between the burgesses attending in their own right and the aldermen and stewards of the crafts attending ex officio. (fn. 24) By 1465 the ordinary burgesses were evidently discouraged from attending council meetings unless summoned, although that was not made explicit until the 'new orders' of 1467 were drawn up. (fn. 25) Instead council meetings consisted of the 12 keepers, representatives of the craft guilds, and members of the 48. (fn. 26) The 48 were mentioned in 1465, without explanation, but the 1467 orders reveal that they were chosen from former keepers. (fn. 27) The same orders show that the fine of 6d. for non-attendance at a meeting was now applied to members of the 48, not to the burgesses at large. By 1498 the 48 had been reduced to 24, apparently chosen by the town although still consisting of former keepers. (fn. 28)

The orders of 1467 also recommended a change in terminology, with the keepers or governors to be known alternatively as aldermen. (fn. 29) 'Alderman' did not catch on, probably because of potential confusion with the aldermen of the crafts, but 'governor' did eventually replace keeper as the preferred term for a member of the 12. At some point between 1470, when the last election was held for which there are details, (fn. 30) and 1498 the system of electing keepers was changed. The field of 18 from which they were chosen was increased to 30, made up of 12 of the 24, who were not to have been keepers in the past two years, a further 12 former keepers, and 6 men who had never been keepers. The new arrangements proved too cumbersome, however, and in 1498 the field was again set at 18, although its composition was defined more narrowly. Twelve of the candidates were to come from the 24 and the other 6 were to be chosen from the town by the existing keepers. (fn. 31)

The changes of the late 15th century look restrictive. (fn. 32) Their requirement that a majority of candidates be former keepers would seem to have limited the openings for newcomers. In practice they did little more than formalize the existing situation. The lists of candidates from earlier in the century show that a high proportion of former keepers stood for re-election as soon as their three years out of office had elapsed and that most of them were returned again. In the 1442 election, for instance, nine of the elected keepers had held office in 1438-9; a tenth was a candidate but had to wait until the next year to be re-elected, and of the other three successful candidates one had been a keeper in 1437-8. (fn. 33) The 1470 election produced an almost identical pattern. Nine of the 1466-7 keepers stood for reelection and all were successful. One of the 1465-6 keepers also stood and was elected; he had not been a candidate in the previous year, when nine of his 14656 colleagues had been returned to office. (fn. 34) The consistency of the pattern casts some doubt on the genuineness of the elections by the burgesses. The election days were well attended, 202 being present in 1457, (fn. 35) but it is impossible to tell how far the burgesses were simply acquiescing in an established routine. There was probably most freedom of choice between the candidates for the last couple of places. Richard Thorpe, for instance, failed to be elected on at least four occasions in five years, (fn. 36) although he had previously been returned twice. (fn. 37)

Rule by the keepers was not uniformly popular. There was inevitably some personal criticism of individual keepers, for which the standard penalty was £2. (fn. 38) In 1453 a chapman called the keeper John Conton a broken knave ('broston carlle'), (fn. 39) and a few years earlier one of the keepers had been threatened with an axe. (fn. 40) Alongside personal abuse there was also criticism of the system as a whole. In 1356 a riot took place at the election of the keepers, during which the electors were attacked. (fn. 41) Dissatisfaction surfaced most dramatically in 1381, probably at or shortly after that year's election, when the keepers were replaced by an alderman and two chamberlains. (fn. 42) The choice of an alderman to head the commonalty harked back to the situation at the beginning of the century, and it is possible that memories of the office had been kept alive by revivals. In 1382 it was claimed that in the 50 years since the establishment of the keepers, aldermen and chamberlains had been seen 'twice or less'. (fn. 43) The change was not only one of terminology, however. The 1381 unrest was an attack by the middling levels of urban society, the small craftsmen, on the monopoly of civic office enjoyed by the 'great and most sufficient burgesses'. Both chamberlains came from relatively humble backgrounds: Thomas White was a tiler and Henry Newark a sanctuary man. The alderman, Richard Middleton, by contrast, was a draper who had been a keeper in 1377-8 (fn. 44) and was therefore due for re-election in 1381. The new officers, unlike the keepers, were made allowances for occupying the posts: £5 for the alderman and £1 each for the chamberlains, (fn. 45) which may have been intended to make civic office more accessible to the less wealthy citizens. The new form of government was also said to include a recorder and 24 wardens, but nothing more is known of them. (fn. 46)

It is possible to represent the unrest of 1381 simply as a popular attack on the keepers, whose financial exactions in particular were clearly resented. (fn. 47) That is unlikely to have been the whole story, although the other elements are less well defined. The unrest was in part an attack on the ecclesiastical lords of the town. The dissidents took the opportunity to indict the chapter underbailiff, Robert Butemond, for 'stealing' goods within the town—in reality the chattels of a felon which had escheated to the chapter. (fn. 48) One of the townsmen who came under attack was Thomas Beverley, who was the steward of all three ecclesiastical fees, archbishop's, provost's, and chapter. (fn. 49) The situation was complicated by a major quarrel between the archbishop and the chapter, which seems to have given the rebels the idea of playing one side off against the other and appealing to the arbitration of the archbishop, but there may well have been underlying resentment of both lords. That resentment was linked with the hostility towards the keepers, since the appointment of leading men like Thomas Beverley to office within the fees must have resulted in some identification of the ruling oligarchy with the town's lords, at least in the popular imagination.

The establishment of the new order did not go unchallenged. The 'better sort' still had possession of the town's muniments and money, which they had removed from the guildhall in the week after election day. (fn. 50) They also attempted to take the common seal but failed, and it was used to validate the actions of the new government. The rebels' major problem was to translate their victory into a permanent change in the balance of power within the town. Their solution was to extract bonds from their opponents, technically to abide by the arbitration of the archbishop, although the bonds were no doubt also intended to serve as a more general political lever. According to the later complaints of the victims the bonds were extracted by force, with men thrown out of their houses unless they agreed, and there are other indications that by the summer of 1381 the dispute was entering a more violent phase. In July 1381 one of the supporters of the new order, William Haldene, was murdered in Walkergate and his body thrown into the beck. The collapse into violence may well have marked the beginning of the end of effective control by the alternative government, although the details of its fall from power cannot be traced. Overt unrest evidently continued. One of the leaders of the rebellion, Richard of Boston, was murdered and another, Richard Middleton, was attacked. The new framework of government nevertheless lasted for several years. In spite of Richard II's order in 1382 that the town should revert to the election of 12 keepers, the revised structure still prevailed in 1386, (fn. 51) although the keepers had been reinstated by 1391. (fn. 52) The spirit of the reforms, by contrast, lasted less than a year. The alderman and chamberlains chosen in 1382 were men who had been attacked by the insurgents in 1381. (fn. 53) That remained the case while the new offices lasted. By 1386 the 'old guard' was so thoroughly back in control that the replacement of an alderman and two chamberlains by 12 keepers might have seemed a welcome broadening of responsibility.

The 15th century saw further attacks on the rule of the keepers. There was a disturbance at the election of 1423, for which 18 'rebels' were fined. All had to enter bonds for good behaviour in the following March and April, presumably to prevent a repetition of their protest at the next election. (fn. 54) The 1456 election seems to have been conducted in an atmosphere of unrest. The election, uniquely in the period, was made from a field of 24, (fn. 55) and it is significant that of the 9 keepers of 1452-3 who stood only 2 were elected. (fn. 56) The initial election may even have been overturned, for the list of keepers in the minute book does not completely agree with a list of 10 keepers drawn up towards the end of their year of office. (fn. 57) At the election of the following year, 1457, the burgesses are said to have asked for a return to the traditional field of 18 'of the better and more worthy burgesses'. (fn. 58) There was more unrest at the 1465 election, which resulted in the arrest of seven dissidents by the keepers. The rebels appealed to the archbishop, whose arbitration ordered mutual forgiveness and the preservation of the status quo. (fn. 59) The suggestion in the 'new orders' of 1467 that the keepers might in future be called aldermen was perhaps an attempt to disarm criticism. (fn. 60)

None of these outbreaks can be linked to specific grievances. Even the archbishop's arbitration of 1465 does not identify the nature of the rebels' 'misgovernance'. (fn. 61) One element in the situation, although whether as cause or effect is not clear, may have been the changing balance of power between the keepers, guilds, and other burgesses. By the 1430s guild officials were attending council meetings ex officio (fn. 62) and seem to have come increasingly to be seen as representatives of the commonalty. When in 1460 the commonalty demanded that outgoing keepers should present their accounts within two months of leaving office, it was the representatives of the guilds rather than the burgesses as a whole who were to attend on account day. (fn. 63) At the same time the keepers were emphasizing their authority over the guilds. The 'new orders' of 1467 gave the keepers the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a craft if a guild member challenged the sum he was required to pay towards the guild's expenses (fn. 64) and this is likely to have been just one symptom of a more general control. The same orders also demonstrate the extent to which it was the keepers who regulated local industry, rather than the guilds themselves. They include, for instance, clauses governing the hours to be worked in the building trade and the conditions under which a master could hire extra labour. (fn. 65)

The keepers' involvement in trade and industry was only one aspect of their role. They were also responsible for local bylaws, such as those regulating wheeled traffic within the town (fn. 66) or prohibiting the dumping of muck in public roads. (fn. 67) They oversaw the common pastures and also the rights of average enjoyed by the burgesses. (fn. 68) They undertook any necessary public works, including the regular scouring of the beck (fn. 69) and the maintenance of the banks and ditches which defined and drained the common lands around the town. (fn. 70) They were also responsible for the town's defence, whether that was a matter of establishing a watch or blocking the roads which led out of the town. (fn. 71) One of their earliest functions had been to manage the town's finances, (fn. 72) and in the 15th century the keepers took it in turns to hold the keys of the common chest in the treasury. (fn. 73) They were also empowered to make leases of the town's property (fn. 74) and supervise its upkeep. (fn. 75) As a corporate body the keepers on occasion acted as trustees for charitable endowments, although in that respect they continued to be overshadowed by the minster clergy. In 1398 the merchant John of Aike made the keepers responsible for his chapel and hospital at Cross bridge, (fn. 76) and beds there were in the town's gift. (fn. 77) The keepers also controlled the endowments of Kelk's chantry in St. Mary's church. (fn. 78)

In running the town the keepers had the help of a growing body of paid officials, the earliest of whom in fact predate the establishment of the keepers themselves. The offices of toll collector and town clerk were both in existence by the mid 13th century and are likely to have been even older. The existence of toll collectors was presumed by Archbishop Thurstan's charter of the early 12th century which allowed the townsmen to farm their tolls. (fn. 79) The first recorded holder of the office is probably the Geoffrey thelonearius who witnessed a deed in the second quarter of the 13th century. (fn. 80) The office was later shared, with Andrew Matfrey and Alan Beche named together in a deed from the third quarter of the century. (fn. 81) At the end of the century John of Beswick was described as assessor of the toll of Beverley. (fn. 82) No subsequent holders are known and responsibility for the tolls was probably taken over by the keepers as soon as they had become established. Toll collection is not explicitly mentioned in their list of powers in the 1320 indenture, but it was probably subsumed in the keepers' right to receive all profits pertaining to the community. (fn. 83) The early keepers certainly levied a series of graded assessments on resident burgesses and craftsmen, which were itemized in 1359 and feature in the two earliest keepers' accounts. (fn. 84) They also took over the responsibility for levying pavage on goods entering the town, although the actual collection was done by men stationed at the entry points into the town, which by the 15th century meant the chief bars and the beck. (fn. 85)

The town clerk was first mentioned explicitly in the mid 13th century, when Walkelin clericus burgensium ville wrote and witnessed several charters. (fn. 86) Walkelin was unique in describing himself so precisely and the identification of other early clerks is questionable. A possible candidate is John Jordan, clericus, only one charter by whom is known (fn. 87) but who acted as one of the town's proctors in the dispute with the archbishop in 1267. (fn. 88) The same episode provides the first datable reference to the town's seal. Some indication of the problems of identification is provided by William of Tenelby, who wrote and witnessed charters for townsmen regularly between c. 1295 and 1325, (fn. 89) but who was one of the chapter clerks. (fn. 90) The 14th-century keepers' accounts do not shed much light on the clerkship, since the lists of salaried officials give only names, not offices. Thomas of Wakefield and Robert of Scorborough, who were paid £2 each, the former in 1344-5 and the latter in 1366-7 and 1386-7, are, however, likely to have been town clerks. (fn. 91) Scorborough witnessed regularly between 1351 and 1370 as clericus. (fn. 92) More is known about the 15th-century clerks. (fn. 93) William Spene, also known as William Clerk, was the archbishop's clerk in 1386 (fn. 94) and town clerk in 1398-9 and 1405-6. Walter Dunham apparently succeeded Spene in 1405-6, when they were named together as receiving the fee of £2, and he was in office for at least 15 more years. By 1423 he had been replaced by John Thorn, who stayed in office until the mid 1450s, but Dunham remained active in town business (fn. 95) and was a keeper in 14334. (fn. 96) Thorn was replaced by John Boswell, but his tenure was brief and in 1459 Richard Dalkyn, formerly the archbishop's clerk of court, was appointed.

The early town clerks may have been primarily scribes but, as the example of John Jordan implies, they soon developed a parallel role as the town's attorney. Dunham was described as such in 1407 when he answered for the town before the justices of sewers. (fn. 97) The ordinances of 1359 extended to the clerk, as well as the keepers, the right to be reimbursed if he was impleaded on behalf of the commonalty. (fn. 98) It is possible that when the keepers were first established the clerk was regarded as one of the 12, and the 1320 list of keepers ends with John of Bristol (Bristowe), clerk. (fn. 99) If Bristol was indeed the town clerk, the practice had been abandoned by 1344-5. (fn. 100) For the rest of the Middle Ages the clerk was considered subordinate to the keepers, and the fine for abusing him was only 6s. 8d., compared with £2 for abusing a keeper. (fn. 101) The clerk was, however, one of only two officials, the other being the serjeant, who were identified with the keepers on ceremonial occasions. In 1450, for instance, they watched the Corpus Christi pageant together at North bar. (fn. 102)

The origins of the serjeant's office are uncertain. In the early 14th century there were several references to the serjeant of the borough of Beverley, otherwise known as the archbishop's receiver of the borough, who was responsible for collecting the archbishop's tolls and rents within the town. (fn. 103) In 1334 a John of Burton, 'serjeant', was among those appointed by the king to levy a tenth in the liberty. (fn. 104) None of those references makes it clear whether the official concerned was primarily the servant of the burgesses or the servant of the archbishop. The first unequivocal mention of a common serjeant occurs in the orders of 1359. (fn. 105) He was then empowered to distrain on the keepers' behalf, and was given the same rights of reimbursement as the keepers and the clerk. His place in the hierarchy is reflected in the fine for abusing him, 3s. 4d., (fn. 106) but he received the same salary as the clerk, £2. (fn. 107) For the rest of the Middle Ages the serjeant's role was to act as executive officer for the keepers. Making distraints remained a regular part of his job (fn. 108) and he was the obvious choice to run errands for the town. (fn. 109) Fifteenth-century serjeants sometimes took on additional jobs. William Silver, in office by 1433-4 and not replaced until 1463, (fn. 110) was also given the tasks of carting faggots from Westwood (fn. 111) and keeping the bar at Old Newbegin. (fn. 112)

Among the lesser officers the first to be appointed seem to have been the waits. In 1366-7 a Ralph Wayt was paid 10s. as his salary for half a year. (fn. 113) The first firm identification comes from 1407-8, when two waits shared a fee of £1 6s. 8d. (fn. 114) Two or three waits recur in the accounts until the middle of the century, with a joint salary of between £1 and £1 10s. (fn. 115) In 1460-1 the waits were given 10s. for clothing at Christmas but no fee, and by the end of the century they had vanished from the accounts altogether. (fn. 116) In the 1430s they were retained for the whole year (fn. 117) but from 1443 for the winter months only, defined as extending from All Saints' Day or the feast of St. John in winter (25 Oct.) to the beginning of Lent. (fn. 118) That may also have been the pattern earlier, with Ralph Wayt paid for only half a year and the 1423-4 waits paid extra when they proclaimed the Corpus Christi plays. (fn. 119) The 15th-century waits were issued with livery collars and miniature silver-gilt shields bearing the town's arms. (fn. 120)

By 1390 the town also had a bellman, who was issued with four hand bells. (fn. 121) He was responsible for warning burgesses of council meetings (fn. 122) and his daily progress from North bar to the beck apparently marked the official opening of trade for the day. (fn. 123) He may also have rung the common bell, (fn. 124) which called burgesses and keepers to meetings in the guildhall. (fn. 125) In the 15th century he received an annual reward of 1s. from the town (fn. 126) and made up the rest of his income from private commissions, such as announcing obits. (fn. 127) In the 1430s the bellman, John Ridings, doubled as the shepherd of Swine Moor. (fn. 128) Beverley also retained a furbisher or armourer, who was mentioned in 1407-8. (fn. 129) He looked after the town's armour at a salary which varied between 3s. 4d. and 8s. In 1433 Beverley had full arms for six men, excluding the leg armour. In 1449 the furbisher's responsibility was defined as the arms kept in the great chest in the guildhall and six lances. The office was mentioned until 1460-1.

Further officials were added in the course of the 15th century. In the 1420s the sweeper or raker of the market was mentioned, and references to the office continued for the rest of the century. (fn. 130) In 1452 the town retained a supervisor of the fish and corn markets. (fn. 131) A keeper of the corn market and of the market cross was mentioned in 1460-1 and again in 1494-5. (fn. 132) The town land also had its complement of officials. In the 15th century Beverley had its own swineherd. (fn. 133) He received no salary and was presumably paid by the burgesses whose animals he guarded. The town also had shepherds. It is possible that the Thomas Herd who witnessed some 13thcentury charters was a town employee, (fn. 134) but definite references to town shepherds do not occur until later. Figham had its own shepherd by 1407-8, when he was rewarded by the town on his retirement. (fn. 135) A shepherd of Westwood was mentioned in 1436 (fn. 136) and in 1438 the shepherds of Swine Moor and Figham were said to receive 2d. for each of the animals in their care. (fn. 137) Their duties also included the general maintenance of the pastures, including scouring the ditches and mending the hedges and walls. (fn. 138) From the outset the pastures were the keepers' responsibility, and in the earlier 15th century two keepers were designated annually as supervisors of each of the chief pastures. (fn. 139) By 1460, however, that practice was giving way to the appointment of salaried officials, who seem in effect to have been up-graded shepherds. In 1459 the supervisors of Westwood and Figham were the herds, but in 1460-1 William Pierson was paid 6s. 8d. for supervising Swine Moor. (fn. 140) In 14945 a supervisor of Westwood was mentioned. (fn. 141) The town also appointed carters, who were paid for carrying wood and building materials from Westwood. (fn. 142)

As well as paying its own officers Beverley found it worth while to make gifts and give fees to influential outsiders in return for their help. That practice is apparent from the earliest extant accounts, and the making of gifts on the commonalty's behalf was listed among the keepers' powers in the 1320 indenture. (fn. 143) Among the main beneficiaries in the 15th century were the earls of Northumberland, whose manor of Leconfield made them the town's most powerful neighbours. In 1423-4, for instance, the town paid for a dinner for the earl and countess and their household when they watched the Corpus Christi festivities from the house of William Thixhill. (fn. 144) By 1494-5 such payments had been given their own section in the keepers' accounts: 'expenditure on magnates'. (fn. 145) By the early 15th century, in addition to making casual gifts, the town was regularly retaining two or three local lawyers at 13s. 4d. each. (fn. 146) That remained the case throughout the first half of the century, but by 1494 the practice had been abandoned. That left Beverley with no salaried legal representative, for the town seems never to have had a recorder, unless briefly in 1381. (fn. 147)

The town's complement of officials, even in the 15th century, was relatively modest both in numbers and cost, with an annual wages bill of between £7 and £8. (fn. 148) That reflected the continuing role of other agencies in the internal affairs of Beverley. It was particularly marked in the legal sphere, where the archbishop and provost had responsibilities which under other circumstances would probably have been enjoyed by the town. In theory the keepers' responsibility was limited to breaches of their own ordinances, with all other cases heard in the courts of archbishop or provost. In practice the keepers did what they could to extend their own authority within those limits. They fostered good relations with the archbishop's officials, making them regular gifts and, in some cases, taking them into the town's service. At least two of the 15th-century town clerks, Spene and Dalkyn, had previously been clerks of the archbishop's court, and Dalkyn may even have held the two posts together in the 1460s. (fn. 149) In the same decade the archbishop's steward, William Eland, simultaneously acted as one of the legal advisers for Beverley. (fn. 150) The town tried to limit the officials' scope for arbitrary action. The keepers insisted, for example, that only a properly sworn bailiff, with a rod of office, could summon burgesses to court and that burgesses could be arraigned only by a jury of presentment, not by the bailiff alone. (fn. 151) The keepers also tried to divert cases from other courts. In 1354 they ordered that no burgess implead another in any court without first showing his grievance to the keepers and obtaining their permission, (fn. 152) an order which remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. (fn. 153) That gave the keepers a chance to try to settle the dispute themselves, usually by arbitration, (fn. 154) although they also attempted to enforce payment of debts. (fn. 155) It also allowed them to make some profit out of cases lost to other jurisdictions. In 1434 the archbishop complained that the keepers were charging 6s. 8d. for permission to take a case into his court. (fn. 156)

A modus vivendi was also reached over the assize of bread and ale, which the archbishop and the provost (fn. 157) both claimed within their fees. In 1275 the archbishop simply appointed three local men as inspectors of measures and keepers of the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 158) That practice was subsequently challenged by the townsmen and in 1334 Archbishop William Melton complained to the king that for a 'great while' the men of Beverley had forcibly prevented his officials from examining bread and ale. (fn. 159) The resulting settlement gave the burgesses a little more say in the process. The archbishop's steward or bailiff was to choose a jury who were to present offenders in full court. The fines were then to be assessed by four burgesses. (fn. 160) In 1367 the balance was shifted further in the town's favour when it was agreed that the keepers were to present, in full court, three suitable burgesses to oversee the assize. (fn. 161) At some point the overseers were changed to six keepers, whose appointment in the archbishop's court was noted in 1451. (fn. 162) That was also the number preferred in an undated list of town liberties, where it was claimed that 'time out of mind' the town had chosen six burgesses to keep the assize. They supervised the weighing of bread by the archbishop's officials and levied the fines, which were then paid over to the archbishop's bailiff. (fn. 163) Six keepers also kept the assize of ale, although in that case without the archbishop's officials playing any role except that of receiving the fines at the end of the year. (fn. 164) That gave the town effective control of the assizes while preserving the archbishop's financial interest. It did not, however, put an end to controversy. For a short period in 1436-7 the keepers moved the weighing of bread into the guildhall, but that was evidently resisted and in 1437 the process returned to the archbishop's hall. (fn. 165) There was trouble with the assize of ale in 1447, when the archbishop's steward claimed a larger role in levying the fines. (fn. 166) The town protested that that was contrary to custom and seems to have won its case, with six keepers being sworn as assessors at regular intervals thereafter. (fn. 167) No similar agreement survives with the provost, who may have gone on appointing his own assessors of bread and ale, as he did in 1347. (fn. 168)

Although the keepers were thus in some ways able to increase their hold on internal affairs they failed to achieve complete independence. On the whole the Crown maintained the rights claimed by the archbishop and the provost. It was, significantly, while the archbishop was out of favour in 1397 that the keepers secured a grant of the commission of the peace for eight of their number. (fn. 169) In 1415 they obtained royal letters patent vesting the powers of the justices of the peace and of labourers in a quorum of the keepers. (fn. 170) An entry in the town cartulary, which probably dates from the early 15th century, records that the keepers believed that early grants of liberties to Beverley, including that of Athelstan, could be interpreted as giving them the right to act as keepers of the peace within the town. (fn. 171) The archbishop petitioned parliament for redress in 1416, citing Athelstan's grant to the church of Beverley. The town had no voice in parliament. It had sent representatives only between 1295 and 1306, at the height of the war with Scotland, (fn. 172) and in spite of intensive lobbying by the town, which cost over £21, (fn. 173) the grant was cancelled. (fn. 174) All that the town and its legal advisers were able to salvage was the clause recognizing the exemption of Beverley men from the duty of levying taxes outside the liberty. (fn. 175) As that episode implies, any improvement in the keepers' position rested on compromise rather than explicit grant. That position was accordingly vulnerable, and the keepers reacted angrily to attempts to cause trouble, since major challenges to the status quo might well rebound on them. In 1435 they fined John Howell £2 for his claim that the keepers heard pleas pertaining to the spiritual and temporal jurisdiction of the archbishop. (fn. 176)


  • 1. The dating here follows Reg. Regum Anglo-Norm. ii, pp. 134, 173-4, which differs from that of E. Y.C. i, pp. 902, and Town Doc. pp. xix-xx. Thurstan's chart. is at H.R.O., BC/I/1.
  • 2. For the rent see below, Mkts. and Fairs.
  • 3. P.R.O., C 47/46/447.
  • 4. For the guildhall see below, Public Inst.
  • 5. Town Doc. p. xxv.
  • 6. Reg. Giffard, p. 59.
  • 7. B.L. Add. MS. 25703, f. 8v.; Town Doc. p. xxvi.
  • 8. Town Doc. 54.
  • 9. H.R.O., BC/II/1/1 (print. Yorks. Deeds, vii, pp. 25-6). The claim that keepers existed in 1306 is based on H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 6 (print. Town Doc. pp. xxvi, 12). The date may, however, be a copying error. The two keepers named served in 1347-8 and 1354: below, Lists of Officers.
  • 10. Chapter Act Bk. i. 384; Yorks. Deeds, vii. 25.
  • 11. B.L. Lansd. Ch. 252.
  • 12. B.L. Add. MS. 25703, f. 8 and v.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 9.
  • 14. Town Doc. 6-7.
  • 15. Yorks. Deeds, vii, pp. 25-6. The govt. of Beverley is discussed by J. I. Kermode, 'Obvious Observations on Formation of Oligarchies in Late Med. Eng. Towns', in Towns and Townspeople in 15th Cent. ed. J. A. F. Thomson, 93 sqq.
  • 16. H.R.O., BC/II/6/5, 7.
  • 17. Town Doc. 1-5.
  • 18. Below, Lists of Officers.
  • 19. H.R.O., BC/II/1/2.
  • 20. Town Doc. 11.
  • 21. H.R.O., BC/II/6/7.
  • 22. Ibid. BC/II/2, f. 6v.
  • 23. Ibid. BC/II/6, passim.
  • 24. Ibid. BC/II/2, ff. 5-6.
  • 25. Town Doc. 52, 54.
  • 26. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, ff. 170v., 189v., 205v.
  • 27. Town Doc. 52, 55.
  • 28. Ibid. 61.
  • 29. Ibid. 54.
  • 30. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 227v.
  • 31. Town Doc. 60-1.
  • 32. Ibid. p. xxxv.
  • 33. H.R.O., BC/II/6/10; BC/II/7/1, ff. 28v., 53 and v., 59v.-60.
  • 34. Ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 187, 190, 223, 227v.
  • 35. Ibid. BC/II/3, f. 21.
  • 36. Ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 190, 207v., 223, 227v. (the second year in the sequence is missing).
  • 37. Ibid. ff. 146v.-147, 170v.
  • 38. Town Doc. 16.
  • 39. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 121.
  • 40. Ibid. BC/II/6/13.
  • 41. Poulson, Beverlac, 126-8; Town Doc. pp. xxvi-xxvii.
  • 42. Unless otherwise stated, what follows is taken from R. B. Dobson, 'Risings in York, Beverley and Scarborough, 1380-1', in Eng. Rising of 1381, ed. R. H. Hilton and T. H. Aston, 124-30.
  • 43. Town Doc. 7.
  • 44. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 91.
  • 45. Ibid. BC/II/6/3.
  • 46. P.R.O., SC 8/168/8356.
  • 47. Town Doc. pp. xxxi-xxxii; and see below (Finance).
  • 48. P.R.O., C 260/94/5 (paraphrased Town Doc. p. xxx).
  • 49. e.g. B.L. Add. MS. 40008, f. 348; Corp. MSS. 10.
  • 50. Town Doc. p. xxx.
  • 51. H.R.O., BC/II/6/3.
  • 52. Town Doc. 27.
  • 53. P.R.O., SC 8/225/11234; Cal. Close, 1381-5, 38.
  • 54. H.R.O., BC/II/6/8.
  • 55. Ibid. BC/II/7/1, f. 138 and v.
  • 56. Ibid. f. 116v.
  • 57. Rolleston Cart. f. 14.
  • 58. Town Doc. 50-1.
  • 59. Ibid. 52.
  • 60. Ibid. 54.
  • 61. Ibid. 52.
  • 62. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 5.
  • 63. Town Doc. 51.
  • 64. Ibid. 54.
  • 65. Ibid. 55-6.
  • 66. Ibid. 21.
  • 67. Ibid. 4-5.
  • 68. Below (this section).
  • 69. e.g. H.R.O., BC/II/2, ff. 6, 7v.-8.
  • 70. Ibid. BC/II/6, passim.
  • 71. Ibid. BC/II/6/11.
  • 72. Yorks. Deeds, vii, p. 25.
  • 73. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 28 and v.
  • 74. e.g. ibid. f. 45; town property is listed in BC/II/6.
  • 75. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 29, 41.
  • 76. Ibid. BC/II/3, f. 84v.
  • 77. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 15, 31.
  • 78. Ibid. BC/II/3, ff. 91v.-92;BC/II/7/1, ff. 35v.-36, 115v.116; Cal. Pat. 1413-16, 274.
  • 79. Reg. Regum Anglo-Norm, ii, pp. 173-4.
  • 80. Lines. Archives Off., NEL 2/2/5.
  • 81. Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 64; Chron. de Melsa, ii. 108.
  • 82. Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 60.
  • 83. Yorks. Deeds, vii, p. 25.
  • 84. H.R.O., BC/II/6/1-2; Town Doc. 1-3; below (Finance).
  • 85. e.g. Beverley Rec, BC/II/7/1, ff. 28v., 60; R.C.H.M. Beverley, 40.
  • 86. e.g. B.L. Add. MS. 25703, f. 3; Lansd. Ch. 210A; Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 64.
  • 87. Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 60.
  • 88. B.L. Lansd. MS. 402, f. 57v.; Reg. Giffard, p. 59.
  • 89. e.g. Anlaby Cart. f. 86; Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, pp. 43, 72.
  • 90. Chapter Act Bk. i. 121-2, 160-1, 172, 207.
  • 91. H.R.O..BC/II/6/1-3.
  • 92. Bodl. MS. Univ. Coll. 82, p. 57; Lines. Archives Off., NEL 2/2/9; Rolleston Cart. ff. 31, 45 and v., 49.
  • 93. For the following see below, Lists of Officers, unless otherwise stated.
  • 94. H.R.O., BC/II/6/3.
  • 95. Ibid. BC/II/6/8.
  • 96. Ibid. BC/II/6/9.
  • 97. Ibid. BC/II/3, f. 25v.
  • 98. Town Doc. 4.
  • 99. Yorks. Deeds, vii, p. 25.
  • 100. H.R.O., BC/II/6/1.
  • 101. Town Doc. 16.
  • 102. H.R.O., BC/II/6/13.
  • 103. e.g. Anlaby Cart. f. 93v.; Reg. Greenfield, i, p. 52; iv, pp. 280, 362.
  • 104. Cal. Pat. 1334-8, 40.
  • 105. Town Doc. 4.
  • 106. Ibid. 16.
  • 107. H.R.O., BC/II/6, passim.
  • 108. e.g. Town Doc. 75.
  • 109. e.g. H.R.O., BC/II/6/5, 13.
  • 110. Ibid. BC/II/6/9-14; BC/II/7/1, f. 172v.
  • 111. Ibid. BC/II/7/14, f. 12v.
  • 112. Ibid. BC/II/6/13.
  • 113. Ibid. BC/II/6/2.
  • 114. Ibid. BC/II/6/5.
  • 115. Ibid. BC/II/6/6-13.
  • 116. Ibid. BC/II/6/14-15.
  • 117. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, f. 40v.
  • 118. Ibid. BC/II/6/11-12; BC/II/7/1, ff. 63, 69v.
  • 119. Ibid. BC/II/6/8.
  • 120. Below, Arms, Seals, Insignia, and Plate.
  • 121. Town Doc. 44.
  • 122. Ibid. 46.
  • 123. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 78v.
  • 124. Ibid. BC/II/6/4.
  • 125. Town Doc. 46.
  • 126. H.R.O., BC/II/6/4 sqq.
  • 127. Ibid. BC/II/3, f. 88; B.I.H.R., Prob. Reg. 4, f. 93.
  • 128. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 29.
  • 129. Ibid. BC/II/6/5-14.
  • 130. Ibid. BC/II/6/8, 14-15; BC/II/7/1, passim.
  • 131. Ibid. BC/II/7/1; f. 119.
  • 132. Ibid. BC/II/6/14-15.
  • 133. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 26, 48, 53v.; Town Doc. 19.
  • 134. e.g. Y.A.J. xii. 110.
  • 135. H.R.O., BC/II/6/5.
  • 136. Ibid. BC/II/7/1, f. 8v.
  • 137. Ibid. f. 29.
  • 138. e.g. ibid. f. 27; BC/II/6/9-10.
  • 139. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, ff. 29, 41, 72, 147, 181v.
  • 140. Ibid. f. 152; BC/II/6/14.
  • 141. Ibid. BC/II/6/15.
  • 142. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, f. 105.
  • 143. Ibid. BC/II/6, passim; Yorks. Deeds, vii, p. 25.
  • 144. H.R.O., BC/II/6/8.
  • 145. Ibid. BC/II/6/15.
  • 146. Ibid. BC/II/6/5 sqq.; BC/II/7/1, f. 135.
  • 147. P.R.O., SC 8/168/8356.
  • 148. H.R.O., BC/II/6/1-14.
  • 149. Ibid. BC/II/6/3, 4, 12 sqq.
  • 150. Ibid. BC/II/6/14.
  • 151. Town Doc. 9-10.
  • 152. Ibid. 44.
  • 153. e.g. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, ff. 74, 118v., 166v.
  • 154. e.g. ibid. BC/II/3, f. 23; BC/II/7/1, passim.
  • 155. e.g. ibid. BC/II/7/1, f. 10; Town Doc. 55.
  • 156. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 20 and v.
  • 157. B.L. Add. MS. 25703, f. 4.
  • 158. Reg. Giffard, pp. 269-70.
  • 159. Cal. Pat. 1330-4, 575-6.
  • 160. B.L. Add. MS. 25703, f. 9.
  • 161. Ibid. f. 9v.; Town Doc. 41.
  • 162. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 113v.
  • 163. Town Doc. 8-9.
  • 164. Ibid. 9.
  • 165. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, ff. 10v., 14, 23, 26, 27v., 30v.
  • 166. Ibid. BC/II/2, f. 7v.
  • 167. e.g. ibid. f. 7; BC/II/7/1, ff. 111v., 113v., 182.
  • 168. Ibid. PE/129/150, f. 54.
  • 169. Ibid. BC/I/36.
  • 170. Cal. Pat. 1413-16, 287.
  • 171. H.R.O., BC/II/2, f. 10v.; Corp. MSS. 11-12.
  • 172. Return of M.P.s, H.C. 69, pp. 6, 10, 12, 20, 26 (1878), lxii(1).
  • 173. H.R.O., BC/II/6/7.
  • 174. Cal. Pat. 1416-22, 31.
  • 175. Ibid.; H.R.O., BC/II/6/7.
  • 176. Town Doc. 48-9.