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Organization of the early English borough.
where foreign influences prevailed, and here there was no power either to sell or to devise landed property1.
The organization of the early English borough was in its main features comparatively uniform when contrasted with the complexity of the later municipality; it comprised a borough court and a reeve or praepositus. The reeve controlled the administration of the town alike in its fiscal and military concerns; he gathered in the revenues due to the king, acted as official witness in all commercial transactions, and defended the town against attack. He was not, however, independent, but was responsible to the sheriff to whom he was subordinate. The court was the most important element in the constitution of the borough, which formed a separate jurisdictional unit independent of the hundred court. The contention has been advanced that originally the jurisdiction of the hundred court was not excluded from the borough. A law of Edgar 3 enacted that the borough moot should be held three times a year, but the hundred moot once a month; the disparity, it has been supposed, would have placed the burgesses at a disadvantage, if they were refused access to other courts. But it is possible that, in addition to the three formal assemblies of the full borough court, a number of smaller meetings were held for the transaction of less important matters. Other legal enactments affecting towns relate to the institution of official witnesses 5 and the minting of money. In the tenth century every borough was allowed at least one mint, and a larger number was accorded to those distinguished by their wealth and importance. London had eight moneyers, and Winchester six; at Canterbury four belonged to the king, two to the archbishop, and one to the abbot. The towns where Danish influences were strong show signs of a more elaborate organization; at Lincoln, Stamford and Cambridge were bodies of lawmen, who apparently enjoyed some measure of jurisdictional authority in the capacity of
1 Hemmeon, Burgage Tenure, 4-5, 106, 171.
2 Stubbs, Constitutional History, i. 102; Ballard, Domesday Boroughs, 47, IIO.
3 Liebermann, Gesetze, i. 202.
5 Infra, p. 199.
4 Ballard, op. cit. 53, 121. • Kemble, Saxons in England, ii. 336.
legal assessors to the borough court1. Of the occupations of the burgesses at this period we have little direct knowledge, though the evidence of the Domesday Survey can be interpreted to show that many were engaged in trade. At Ipswich 2 538 burghers held only 40 acres of land between them; the greater number must have been landless, and dependent for their livelihood on their craft or trade. There is fragmentary evidence also as to the existence of saltworks and lead-furnaces at Droitwich, of iron factories at Gloucester, and of shoemakers and drapers at Canterbury 3, while at Hereford six smiths were engaged in iron-working 4.
The economic history of English towns after the Norman ConstituConquest can scarcely be isolated from the story of their constitutional progress. Their efforts to attain independence and self-government are closely intertwined with their economic development, of which they were in part an effect, and in part a cause. The control which feudal law enabled mediaeval landowners to exercise over towns on their estates gave into their hands a powerful instrument for advancing or retarding, and in any case for benefiting by, the industry and enterprise of their subjects. At the same time the towns were constrained to acknowledge the political authority of the sheriff as the local representative of the royal power; and only gradually did they secure their emancipation from the one or the other.
The feudal claims were coeval with the origin of the Feudal town, for in the earliest stage of its growth the townsfolk were in the position of manorial tenants, and accordingly were burdened with the onerous obligations incidental to villeinage. They owed agricultural service in the field and suit of court and suit of mill. The rural services performed by the burgesses of Hereford are recorded in Domesday; every burgage within the city owed three days' reaping at Marden in August, and one day for gathering the hay wherever the sheriff thought fit. Subsequently the burgesses commuted
1 Ellis, Introduction to Domesday Book, i. 205; Ballard, Domesday Boroughs, 51.
2 Domesday Book, ii. 290. • Domesday Book, i. 179.
Ballard, op. cit. 62. 5 Ibid. i. 179.
their predial services for a quit-rent, when the lord came to appreciate the importance of trade as a source of profit. Already in the twelfth century the earls of Gloucester had conceded that the burgesses of Cardiff 1 should owe no suit to the mill, and might marry son or daughter without seeking licence; they could also brew and bake, sell ox and horse, without toll, and could make themselves dove-cotes, horsemills and hand-mills. At Bury St. Edmunds the inhabitants commuted their obligation to reap the monastic demesne for a money payment termed 'rep-silver', and the cellarer of the abbey used to go through the town to collect the tax. But all the old women came out, says the chronicler, and brandished their distaffs in his face, cursing him and his men; and so the abbot agreed to accept a composite sum 2. At other times the immunity of the burgesses was only partial, and here they still retained the marks of their former servitude; even in the thirteenth century the citizens of Egremont 3 were liable for agricultural services: "the burgesses with ploughs shall plough for me one day every year". Manchester did not entirely shake off the manorial yoke till the middle of the nineteenth century; a hundred years earlier, its inhabitants were still taking their corn and malt to the lord's mill and their bread to the lord's oven. Suit of mill survived, indeed, long after all other incidents of feudal dependence had disappeared; so valuable, for example, were the Dee Mills of Chester that they passed into a proverb on extravagance 5. The monasteries in particular clung tenaciously to their monopoly, and could. never be brought freely to relinquish its profits. When the burgesses of Barnstaple made submission to the abbey, they bound themselves expressly to do suit at its mill and erect none of their own to its prejudice and hurt. Even at the time of the dissolution the monastic establishments were
1 Records of Cardiff, i. 10. Similarly Records of Leicester, i. 8, 39.
4 J. Tait, Mediaeval Manchester (1904), 42, 50.
wouldst spend it ".
" If thou hadst the rent of Dee Mills thou
• Calendar of Documents in France, ed. J. H. Round (1899), 462 (c. 1210).
drawing a considerable portion of their revenues from the mills 1.
The extent to which English towns secured their freedom (i.) Towns from feudal control, and the rapidity of their development, royal were determined not so much by their own activity and demesne. sense of corporate consciousness, as by the character of the feudal control which they contested. There were three classes of towns 2: those on the royal demesne, those owned,' by lay lords, and those belonging to the Church. The 3 greater number, and with few exceptions the more important towns, were situated on the demesne of the Crown, and were therefore held directly of the king. The king showed himself an easy master, with neither inclination nor motive for playing the part of local tyrant. His interests were too wide, and position too important, to concern himself unduly in the relatively petty affairs of the townsfolk. He was content to let them manage their own business, provided they paid their dues with regularity into his Exchequer. This complaisance was the more politic, in that it made unnecessary a host of minor officials and was a safeguard against embezzlement. Moreover, it was part of the royal policy to weaken the authority of the sheriffs, whose local power and prestige were becoming as great a menace to the monarchy as either the Old English aldermen or the barons of the Conquest had been in earlier times.
The towns on the royal demesne prided themselves on (ii.) Towns their superior status, and were reluctant to share their estates. privileged position with the mediate boroughs. "There are some towns", said the men of Hereford 4, " belonging to our lord the king of England and to his heirs without a mesne or mediate lord, and to such we are bound to certify concerning our laws and customs as often and whensoever it shall be needful, especially because we are of one and the same tenure. And nothing shall be taken of them in the
1 Savine, English Monasteries, 127.
T. Madox, Firma Burgi (1726), 4.
3 E.g. Beverley and Lynn.
4 "Customs of Hereford", printed in Journal of the British Archæol. Assoc. xxvii. 477, and in J. Duncumb, History of the County of Hereford (1804), i. 317-344, and (Latin version) in English Hist. Review, xv. 303-305. For a discussion of the date, see ibid. xv. 303.
(iii.) Towns belonging to the Church.
name of a reward"; but there are also other market towns, which are of divers lords of the kingdom, in which are some serfs and rustics 1, which of old do corporal services to the lord divers manners of ways, and especially such and other services which amongst us are not used": these were debarred from their "laws and customs" save "at a great price". Apart from their inferior status, the towns on the baronial estates were in other respects less favourably situated, since it was to the interest of the lord to retain his authority in his own hands. But no town could hope to attain prosperity or a thriving trade, so long as it lay in the power of an alien ruler to impose his own will at every turn upon its concerns. In the struggle between the barons and the towns the advantages lay with the latter; they profited by the lord's penuriousness and wrung privileges from his necessities. Moreover, as corporations they were able to carry on the struggle with a continuity of tradition, and a persistence which was ultimately bound to prevail against the isolated efforts of individuals 2. In 1286 the lord of Bakewell granted a charter of liberties to his burgesses, in which they were exempted from suit of court and payment of toll, and allowed the free disposal of their burgages by sale, grant and bequest 3. A few years later (1294) Pontefract bought for three hundred marks of silver an extensive series of privileges from Roger de Lacy.
In contrast with the towns belonging to secular lords, those connected with bishoprics or monastic houses were placed in a position of the utmost disadvantage. Here the struggle for independence lasted for centuries, and the towns found it almost impossible to wrest concessions from corporate bodies, which clung to their privileges with undying tenacity and an uncompromising attachment to legal formalism. The Church did not indeed everywhere assume an unyielding attitude; and the prior of St. Swithun at
1 The translation of the text reads " natives and countrymen ".
2 Cf. A. S. Green, Town Life in the Fifteenth Century (1894), i. 250, 263 seq. 3 Hist. MSS. Comm. Rutland, iv. 41. For Lancashire town charters, see
4 Ibid. 8th Rep. App. i. 269. Harland, Mamecestre, i. 178 seq.