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towns had fought for supremacy in administration, in trade and in justice, and in each of these directions they secured valuable concessions.
Foremost among their privileges was that of farming (i.) The the revenues of the borough 1; this was the indispensable burgi. preliminary if the sheriff or other rough and powerful officer set over their town were to be excluded from their walls. The burgesses collected the tolls of the market, the profits of the court, the rents of the burgages-where the king was also lord of the soil-and in their stead they paid annually a fixed composition to the Exchequer. Middlesex, for example, was held at farm for three hundred pounds by the citizens of London. In relation to the firma burgi, as the composition was termed, attention should be directed to the following points. The right to farm their own revenues did not constitute the burgesses lords of the town or owners of its soil; it meant only that they had replaced the royal officers in the collection of the royal dues. Again, the farm did not necessarily cover, as is sometimes supposed, every item of income which the burgesses owed to the king4; nor did it include the occasional gifts or aids which the king levied from time to time 5. The firma burgi was sometimes conceded only for a term of years and not in 'fee-farm', that is, in perpetuity; moreover, the grant was sometimes made to the borough, then revoked in favour of individuals, and eventually restored to the burghers. In 1227 Henry III. granted the farm of Bristol to the town for eight years at a yearly rent of two hundred and forty-five pounds, which on subsequent occasions was raised in amount; Edward II. gave it in 1320 to Hugh Despenser, and Edward III, restored it to the townsmen; not, however, until 1462 did they receive it "for ever"". The competition for farming the borough revenues indicates that, while the exclusion of the sheriff 1 The sources of income derived from boroughs are enumerated in Ballard, Domesday Boroughs, 63, 94. 2 Madox, Firma Burgi, 279.
3 J. H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville (1892), 347, 358.
4 At Colchester it was said of a payment belonging to the king that "it was not farmed": Domesday Studies, i. 135.
5 Madox, Firma Burgi, 280.
6 J. Latimer, Bristol Charters (1909), 18.
7 Ibid. 116.
was the primary consideration, the farm often afforded a surplus which made it a profitable venture. The men of Carlisle offered John an increment of sixty shillings in addition to the ancient farm, but the sheriff of Cumberland found it worth his while to compete, and his more liberal terms prevailed1. The burgesses of Newcastle, again, agreed to give a hundred pounds instead of the fifty paid by the sheriff, and the bargain proved most advantageous on account of its coal trade 2. When a town fell on evil days the firma burgi was sometimes temporarily reduced. As early as 1256 Henry III. reduced the farm of Grimsby from over a hundred pounds to less than half the sum3. In the fourteenth century Lincoln and Yarmouth (1399) complained that the inhabitants were leaving the city because they could not support the payment of the farm. The men of Southampton (1376) even prayed the king to take the town into his own hands and discharge them completely of the farm," for that they are not able to pay the fee-farm by reason of the farm being so great and of their great charge about the fortification of the town"5; the king consented to remit the farm for two years, and all arrears 6. These fluctuations in the amount of the firma burgi serve as a useful index to the prosperity or decay of the older boroughs. We can trace the continuous decline of an important trading centre in the financial history of Chester, whose decay was brought about by the silting up of the port. Edward I. granted the farm of the city at a yearly rent of a hundred pounds, Henry VI. released fifty pounds, Richard III. remitted another twenty, and Henry VII. finally reduced the farm to twenty. Most striking of all was the petition of Winchester 8 in 1440, setting forth that the city "which in ancient times was chosen out for the coronations and burials of kings, through pestilence and loss of trade, has had II streets, 17 parish churches, and 987 messuages in
1 Madox, Firma Burgi, 251.
Rot. Parl. iii. 438 a.
2 Proceedings of the Archæol. Institute, Newcastle (1852), 34.
Patent Rolls, 1377-1381, p. 76.
7 Morris, Chester, 490, 511, 516, 521.
8 Patent Rolls, 1436-1441, P. 400; ibid. 1441-1446, P. 84.
ruin during the last fifty years, and is so impoverished as to be unable to support the payment of its fee-farm".
Of considerable importance to the burgesses was the (ii) The right to hold a court, in order that they might not be court. impleaded beyond the walls of the borough. As early as 1131 London obtained the privilege that "the citizens shall not plead outside the walls of the city for any plea". Immunity from external jurisdiction was valued by the townsmen, partly from their distrust of the impartiality of the stranger, partly to avoid summons to distant courts involving the expenditure of money and energy, and partly to retain the profits of justice in their own hands. The borough court was something more than merely a judicial tribunal 2; it was the kernel of the town administration and the most important constituent in the civic polity. At its head was the mayor or the bailiff, while the analogy of the shire court suggests that originally the whole body of burgesses were members of the court and sat as doomsmen. But in any case the range of membership would gradually be restricted to the leading and more experienced burgesses, and the court would thus cease to be a popular body 3. Attention has been drawn to the fact that even before the Conquest some boroughs had a select body of lawmen or judges. In the later Middle Ages the court came to be superseded in importance by the growth of the town council, but this was a subsequent development.
The election of their own magistrates was a necessary (iii.) The election of precaution against undue influence on the part of outsiders, magisand ensured that the administration would be conducted trates. according to the wishes of the townsmen. Early in the twelfth century the citizens of London obtained from Henry I. the right to appoint their sheriff and justiciar from their own body, but other towns acquired more slowly the privilege of choosing their own bailiffs and later their mayor. It is possible that the right of farming the revenues of the borough was held to carry with it the power to
1 Liebermann, Gesetze, i. 525.
E.g. it was responsible for the firma burgi.
3 Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, i. 657.
appoint the reeves or bailiffs, in whose hands the financial administration of the town was vested. In 1189 the men of Nottingham were permitted to "make whom they will of their people to be their reeve at the end of the year, who shall answer on their behalf for my farm [to the Exchequer]" 1. A frequent clause in borough charters conferred freeacquisition dom on any villein who resided safely for a year and of freedom by villeins. a day within the walls of the town. According to
Glanville, the villein was required to take up the rights
E.g. (i.) Aberystwith (1277): Charter Rolls, ii. 206; (ii.) Preston:
Madox, Firma Burgi, 270-271.
• Plac. Abbrev. 316 a.
7 Rot. Parl. iii. 296 b.
Similarly, Letter-Book K, 80.
was withheld, for example, in a charter granted to Plympton (1285), where a saving clause reserved the lord's prerogative over his subjects: "saving that the bondmen of the earl by tarrying in the city shall not acquire their freedom by any liberty of the city without the earl's special assent"1. Sometimes also, the privilege was made an occasion for extortion. In 1267 the citizens of Lincoln complained that the "mayor and others of the city by force and intimidation have distrained men dwelling in the city to give money to them for their liberties" 2.
Other privileges varied from borough to borough. The (v.) Other privileges. citizens of London were freed from military and naval obligations, while Oxford and Cambridge were each liable for the service of twenty soldiers in the field. At Preston the burgesses were not required to go upon any expedition unless the lord accompanied them, and provided they were able to return on the same day 5. For the economic historian, however, interest attaches mainly to the mercantile privileges, of which the chief was the grant of a merchant gild. This will be the subject of a subsequent chapter.
1 Charter Rolls, ii. 303.
2 Patent Rolls, 1266-1272, p. 270. Ibid, 1327-1330, p. 135. 4 Ballard, Borough Charters, p. xlviii. Dobson and Harland, History of Preston Guild, 77. It is difficult to define the term 'liber burgus'. Gross (Gild Merchant, i. 5) holds that it was a variable generic conception. It comprised a vague aggregate of franchises". Professor Tait (Mediaeval Manchester, 62) is of opinion that " the institution of a free borough' meant no more than the substitution of a free burgage tenure and customs for the villein services and merchet of the rural manor". This seems the most probable view, and with it may be compared the statement of the chronicler Jocelin (Chronica, 73) that before the town of St. Edmunds became free, its inhabitants used to reap as serfs; but when it received the name and liberty of a borough the townsmen commuted their services for a pecuniary payment. The two features common to all boroughs, Mr. Ballard (Borough Charters, p. lxxxviii) has pointed out, were (a) burgage tenure and (b) the borough court. Cf. also Petit-Dutaillis, Studies Supplementary to Stubbs, i. 69 (n. 2).