Part 4 out of 7
"Farmers during their terms, shall not make waste, sale, nor
exile of house, woods, and men, nor of any thing else belonging
to the tenements which they have to farm".
Henry de Bracton, a royal judge and the last great ecclesiastical
lawyer, wrote an unfinished treatise: A Tract on the Laws and
Customs of England, systematizing and organizing the law of the
court rolls with definitions and general concepts and describing
court practice and procedure. It was influenced by his knowledge
of Roman legal concepts, such as res judicata, and by his own
opinions, such as that the law should go from precedent to
precedent. He also argued that the will and intent to injure was
the essence of murder, so that neither an infant nor a madman
should be held liable for such and that degrees of punishment
should vary with the level of moral guilt in a killing. He
thought the deodand to be unreasonable.
Bracton defines the requirements of a valid and effective gift
as: "It must be complete and absolute, free and uncoerced,
extorted neither by fear nor through force. Let money or service
play no part, lest it fall into the category of purchase and
sale, for if money is involved there will them be a sale, and if
service, the remuneration for it. If a gift is to be valid the
donor must be of full age, for if a minor makes a gift it will be
ineffective since (if he so wishes) it shall be returned to him
in its entirety when he reaches full age. Also let the donor
hold in his own name and not another's, otherwise his gift may
be revoked. And let him, at the least, be of sound mind and good
memory, though an invalid, ill and on his death bed, for a gift
make under such conditions will be good if all the other
[requirements] of a valid gift are met. For no one, provided he
is of good memory, ought to be kept from the administration or
disposition of his own property when affected by infirmity,
since it is only then that he must make provision for his
family, his household and relations, given stipends and settle
his bequests; otherwise such persons might suffer damage without
fault. But since charters are sometimes fraudulently drawn and
gifts falsely taken to be made when they are not, recourse must
therefore be had to the country and the neighborhood so that the
truth may be declared."
In Bracton's view, a villein could buy his own freedom and the
child of a mixed marriage was free unless he was born in the
tenement of his villein parent.
The Royal Court split up into several courts with different
specialties and became more like departments of state than
offices of the King's household. The judges were career civil
servants knowledgeable in the civil and canon law. The Court of
Common Pleas heard civil cases brought by one subject against
another. Pursuant to the Magna Carta, it sat only at one place,
Westminster Hall in London. Its records were the de banco rolls.
The Court of the Exchequer with its subsidiary department of the
Treasury was in almost permanent session at Westminster,
collecting the Crown's revenue and enforcing the Crown's rights.
The Court of the King's Bench (a marble slab in Westminster upon
which the throne was placed) traveled with the King and heard
criminal cases and pleas of the Crown. Its records were the
coram rege rolls. The title of the Chief Justiciar of England
changed to the Chief Justice of England.
Appeals from these courts could be made to the King and his
Crown pleas included issues of the King's property, fines due to
him, murder (a body found with no witnesses to a killing),
homicide (a killing for which there were witnesses), rape,
wounding, mayhem, consorting, larceny, robbery, burglary, arson,
poaching, unjust imprisonment, selling cloth by non-standard
widths, selling wine by non-standard weights.
Royal judges called justices in eyre traveled to the shires every
seven years. There, they gave interrogatories to local assizes
of twelve men to determine what had happened there since the
last eyre. Every crime, every invasion of royal rights, and
every neglect of police duties was to be presented and tried.
The assize ultimately evolved into the jury of verdict, which
replaced ordeal, compurgation, and battle as the method of
finding the truth. Suspects were failed until their cases could
be heard and jail breaks were common.
Royal coroners held inquests on all sudden deaths to determine
whether they were accidental or not. If not, royal justices held
trial. They also had duties in treasure troves and shipwreck
The hundred court decided cases of theft, viewing of boundaries
of land, claims for tenurial services, claims for homage,
relief, and for wardship; enfeoffments made, battery and brawls
not amounting to felony, wounding and maiming of beasts,
collection of debts, trespass, detinue and covenant, defamation,
and enquiries and presentments arising from the assizes of bread
and ale and measures.
Still in existence is the old self-help law of hamsocne, the
thief hand- habbende, the thief back-berend, the old summary
procedure where the thief is caught in the act, AEthelstan's
laws, Edward the Confessor's laws, and Kent's childwyte [fine
for begetting a bastard on a lord's female bond slave]. Under
the name of "actio furti" [appeal of larceny] is the old process
by which a thief can be pursued and goods vindicated. As before
and for centuries later, the deodand [any personal chattel which
was the immediate cause of death] was forfeited "to God". These
chattel were usually carts, cart teams, horses, boats, and
Five cases with short summaries are:
CASE: "John Croc was drowned from his horse and cart in the water
of Bickney. Judgment: misadventur. The price of the horse and
cart is 4s.6d. 4s.6d. deodand."
CASE: "Willam Ruffus was crushed to death by a certain trunk. The
price of the trunk is 4d., for which the sheriff is to answer.
CASE: "William le Hauck killed Edric le Poter and fled, so he is
to be exacted and outlawed. He was in the tithing of Reynold
Horloc in Clandon of the abbot of Chertsey (West Clandon), so it
is in mercy. His chattels were 4 s., for which the bailiff of
the abbot of Chertsey is to answer."
CASE: "Richard de Bregsells, accused of larceny, comes and denies
the whole and puts himself on the country for good or ill. The
twelve jurors and four vills say that he is not guilty, so he is
CASE: William le Wimpler and William Vintner sold wine contrary
to the statute, so they are in mercy.
Other cases dealt with issues of entry, i.e. whether land was
conveyed or just rented; issues of whether a man was free, for
which his lineage was examined; issues of to which lord a
villein belonged; issues of nuisance such as making or
destroying a bank, ditch, or hedge; diverting a watercourse or
damming it to make a pool; obstructing a road, and issues of
what grazing rights were conveyed in pasture land, waste, woods,
or arable fields between harvest and sowing. Grazing right
disputes usually arose from the ambiguous language in the grant
of land "with appurtances".
Courts awarded specific relief as well as money damages. If a
landlord broke his covenant to lease land for a term of years,
the court restored possession to the lessee. If a lord did not
perform the services due to his superior lord, the court ordered
him to perform the services. The courts also ordered repair by a
Debts of country knights and freeholders were heard in the local
courts; debts of merchants and burgesses were heard in the
courts of the fairs and boroughs; debts due under wills and
testaments were heard in the ecclesiastical courts. The
ecclesiastical courts deemed marriage to legitimize bastard
children whose parents married, so they inherited chattels and
money of their parents. Proof was by compurgation, the ordeal
having been abolished by the Church.
Trial by battle is still available, although it is extremely rare
for the duel to actually take place.
The manor court imposed penalties on those who did not perform
their services to the manor and the lord wrote down the customs
of the manor for future use in other courts.
By statute, no fines could be taken of any man for fair pleading
in the Circuit of Justiciars, shire, hundred, or manor courts.
Various statutes relaxed the requirements for attendance at court
of those who were not involved in a case as long as there were
enough to make the inquests fully. And "every freeman who owes
suit to the county, tything, hundred, and wapentake, or to the
Court of his Lord, may freely make his attorney attend for him."
In Chancery, the court of the Chancellor, if there is a case with
no remedy specified in the law, that is similar to a situation
for which there is a writ, then a new writ may be made for that
case. (By this will later be expanded the action of trespass,
which even later has offshoots of misdemeanor and the tort of
The Times: 1272-1348
King Edward I was respected by the people for his good
government, practical wisdom, and genuine concern for justice
for everyone. He loved his people and wanted them to love him.
He came to the throne with twenty years experience governing
lesser lands on the continent which were given to him by his
father Henry III. He gained a reputation as a lawgiver and as a
peacemaker in disputes on the continent. He had close and solid
family relationships, especially with his father and with his
wife Eleanor, to whom he was faithful. He was loyal to his close
circle of good friends. He valued honor and adhered reasonably
well to the terms of the treaties he made. He was generous in
carrying out the royal custom of subsidizing the feeding of
paupers. He visited the sick. He dressed in plain, ordinary
clothes rather than extravagant or ostentatious ones. He
disliked ceremony and display.
At his accession, there was a firm foundation of a national law
administered by a centralized judicial system, a centralized
executive, and an organized system of local government in close
touch with both the judicial and the executive system. To gain
knowledge of his nation, he sent royal commissioners into every
shire to ask about any encroachments on the King's rights and
about misdeeds by any of the King's officials: sheriffs,
bailiffs, or coroners. The results were compiled as the "Hundred
Rolls". They were the basis of reforms which improved justice at
the local as well as the national level. They also rationalized
the array of jurisdictions that had grown up with feudal
government. Statutes were passed by a Parliament of two houses,
that of lords and that of an elected [rather than appointed]
commons, and the final form of the constitution was fixed.
Wardships of children and widows were sought because they were
very profitable. A guardian could get one tenth of the income of
the property during the wardship and a substantial marriage
amount when the ward married.
Most earldoms and many baronages came into the royal house by
escheat or marriage. The royal house employed many people. The
barons developed a class consciousness of aristocracy and became
leaders of society. Many men, no matter of whom they held land,
sought knighthood. The King granted knighthood by placing his
sword on the head of able-bodied and moral candidates who swore
an oath of loyalty to the King and to defend "all ladies,
gentlewomen, widows and orphans" and to "shun no adventure of
your person in any war wherein you should happen to be". A code
of knightly chivalry became recognized, such as telling the
truth and setting wrongs right. About half of the knights were
literate. In 1278, the King issued a writ ordering all
free-holders who held land of the value of 400s. to receive
knighthood at the King's hands.
At the royal house and other great houses gentlemanly jousting
competitions, with well-refined and specific rules, took the
place of violent tournaments with general rules. At these
knights competed for the affection of ladies by jousting with
each other while the ladies watched. Courtly romances were
common. If a man convinced a lady to marry him, the marriage
ceremony took place in church, with feasting and dancing
afterwards. Romantic stories were at the height of their
popularity. A usual theme was the lonely quest of a knight
engaged in adventures which would impress his lady.
The dress of the higher classes was very changeable and subject
to fashion as well as function. Ladies no longer braided their
hair in long tails, but rolled it up in a net under a veil,
often topped with an elaborate and fanciful headdress. They wore
non-functional long trains on their tunics and dainty shoes. Men
wore a long gown, sometimes clasped around the waist. Overtunics
were often lined or trimmed with native fur such as squirrel.
People often wore solid red, blue, or green clothes. Only monks
and friars wore brown. The introduction of buttons and
buttonholes to replace pins and laces made clothing warmer. The
spinning wheel came into existence to replace the hand-held
The great barons lived in houses built within the walls of their
castles. In semi-fortified manors, halls were two stories high,
and usually built on the first rather than on the second floor.
Windows came down almost to the floor. The hall had a raised
floor at one end where the lord and lady and a few others sat at
a high table. The hearth was in the middle of the room or on a
wall. The lord's bedroom was next to the hall on the second
floor and could have windows into the hall and a spiral
staircase connecting the two rooms. Most barons and knights
lived in unfortified or semi-fortified houses with two rooms.
In great houses, there were more wall hangings, and ornaments for
the tables. The tables were lit with candles or torches made of
wax. Plates were gold and silver. On the head table was a large
and elaborate salt cellar. Salt and spices were available at all
tables. There were minstrels who played musical instruments or
recited histories of noble deeds or amusing anecdotes. Reading
aloud was a favorite pastime. Most people ate with their fingers,
although there were knives and some spoons. Drinking vessels
were usually metal, horn, or wood. In lesser houses people ate
off slices of bread or plates of wood or pewter [made from tin,
copper, and lead]. They often shared plates and drinking vessels
at the table.
Wardships of children and widows were sought because they were
very profitable. A guardian could get one tenth of the income of
the property during the wardship and a substantial marriage
amount when the ward married.
Queen Eleanor, a cultivated, intelligent, and educated lady from
the continent, fostered culture and rewarded individual literary
efforts, such as translations from Latin, with grants of her own
money. She patronized Oxford and Cambridge Universities and left
bequests to poor scholars there. She herself had read Aristotle
and commentaries thereon, and she especially patronized
literature which would give cross-cultural perspectives on
subjects. She was kind and thoughtful towards those about her
and was also sympathetic to the afflicted and generous to the
poor. She shared Edward's career to a remarkable extent, even
accompanying him on a crusade. She had an intimate knowledge of
the people in Edward's official circle and relied on the advice
of two of them in managing her lands. She mediated disputes
between earls and other nobility, as well as softened her
husband's temper towards people. Edward granted her many
wardships and marriages and she arranged marriages with
political advantages. She dealt with envoys coming to the court.
Her intellectual vitality and organized mentality allowed her to
deal with arising situations well. Edward held her in great
esteem. She introduced to England the merino sheep, which, when
bred with the English sheep, gave them a better quality of wool.
She and Edward often played games of chess and backgammon.
Farm efficiency was increased by the use of windmills in the
fields to pump water and by allowing villeins their freedom and
hiring them as laborers only when needed. Customary service was
virtually extinct. A man could earn 5d. for reaping, binding,
and shocking into a pile, an acre of wheat. A strong man with a
wife to do the binding could do this in a long harvest day. There
was enough grain to store so that the population was no longer
periodically decimated by famine. The population grew and all
arable land in the nation was under the plough. The acre was
standardized. Harvests were usually plentiful, with the
exception of two periods of famine over the country due to
weather conditions. Then the price of wheat went up and drove up
the prices of all other goods correspondingly.
Although manors needed the ploughmen, the carters and drivers,
the herdsmen, and the dairymaid on a full-time basis, other
tenants spent increasing time in crafts and became village
carpenters, smiths, weavers or millers' assistants. Trade and
the towns grew. Smiths used coal in their furnaces.
Money rents often replaced service due to a lord, such as fish
silver, malt silver, or barley silver. The lord's rights are
being limited to the rights declared on the extents [records
showing service due from each tenant] and the rolls of the
manor. Sometimes land is granted to strangers because none of the
kindred of the deceased will take it. Often a manor court limited
a fee in land to certain issue instead of being inheritable by
all heirs. Surveyors' poles marked boundaries declared by court
in boundary disputes. This resulted in survey maps showing
villages and cow pastures.
The revival of trade and the appearance of a money economy was
undermining the long-established relationship between the lord
of the manor and his villeins. As a result, money payments were
supplementing or replacing payments in service and produce as in
Martham, where Thomas Knight held twelve acres in villeinage,
paid 16d. for it and 14d. in special aids. "He shall do sixteen
working days in August and for every day he shall have one
repast - viz. Bread and fish. He shall hoe ten days without the
lord's food - price of a day 1/2d. He shall cart to Norwich six
cartings or shall give 9d., and he shall have for every carting
one leaf and one lagena - or gallon - of ale. Also for ditching
1d. He shall make malt 3 1/2 seams of barley or shall give 6d.
Also he shall flail for twelve days or give 12d. He shall plough
if he has his own plough, and for every plouging he shall have
three loaves and nine herrings ... For carting manure he shall
Another example is this manor's holdings, when 3d. would buy food
for a day: "Extent of the manor of Bernehorne, made on Wednesday
following the feast of St. Gregory the pope, in the thirty-fifth
year of the reign of Ding Edward, in the presence of Brother
Thomas, keeper of Marley, John de la More, and Adam de
Thruhlegh, clerks, on the oath of William de Gocecoumbe, Walter
le Parker, Richard le Knyst, Richard the son of the latter,
Andrew of Estone, Stephen Morsprich, Thomas Brembel, William of
Swynham, John Pollard, Roger le Glide, John Syward, and John de
Lillingewist, who say that there are all the following
holdings:... John Pollard holds a half acre in Aldithewisse and
owes 18d. at the four terms,and owes for it relief and heriot.
John Suthinton holds a house and 40 acres of land and owes 3s.
6d. at Easter and Michaelmas. William of Swynham holds one acre
of meadow in the thicket of Swynham and owes 1d. at the feast of
Michaelmas. Ralph of Leybourne holds a cottage and one acre of
land in Pinden and owes 3s. at Easter and Michaelmas, and
attendance at the court in the manor every three weeks, also
relief and heriot. Richard Knyst of Swynham holds two acres and a
half of land and owes yearly 4s. William of Knelle holds two
acres of land in Aldithewisse and owes yearly 4s. Roger le Glede
holds a cottage and three roods of land and owes 2s. 6d. Easter
and Michaelmas. Alexander Hamound holds a little piece of land
near Aldewisse and owes one goose of the value of 2d. The sum of
the whole rent of the free tenants, with the value of the goose,
is 18s. 9d. They say, moreover, that John of Cayworth holds a
house and 30 acres of land, and owes yearly 2s. at Easter and
Michaelmas; and he owes a cock and two hens at Christmas of the
value of 4d. And he ought to harrow for two days at the Lenten
sowing with one man and his own horse and his own harrow, the
value of the work being 4d.; and he is to receive from the lord
on each day three meals, of the value of 5d., and then the lord
will be at a loss of 1d. Thus his harrowing is of no value to the
service of the lord. And he ought to carry the manure of the
lord for two days with one cart, with his own two oxen, the
value of the work being 8d.; and he is to receive from the lord
each day three meals at the value as above. And thus the service
is worth 3d. clear. And he shall find one man for two days, for
mowing the meadow of the lord, who can mow, by estimation, one
acre and a half, the value of the mowing of an acre being 6d.:
the sum is therefore 9d. And he is to receive each day three
meals of the value given above. And thus that mowing is worth
4d. clear. And he ought to gather and carry that same hay which
he has cut, the price of the work being 3d. And he shall have
from the lord two meals for one man, of the value of 1 1/2 d.
Thus the work will be worth 1 1/2 d. clear. And he ought to
carry the hay of the lord for one day with a cart and three
animals of his own, the price of the work being 6d. And he shall
have from the lord three meals of the value of 2 1/2 d. And thus
the work is worth 3 1/2 d. clear. And he ought to carry in
autumn beans or oats for two days with a cart and three animals
of his own, the value of the work being 12d. And he shall receive
from the lord each day three meals of the value given above. And
thus the work is worth 7d. clear. And he ought to carry wood
from the woods of the lord as far as the manor, for two days in
summer, with a cart and three animals of his own, the value of
the work being 9d. And he shall receive from the lord each day
three meals of the price given above. And thus the work is worth
4d. clear. And he ought to find one man for two days to cut
heath, the value of the work being 4d., and he shall have three
meals each day of the value given above: and thus the lord will
lose, if he receives the service, 3d. Thus that mowing is worth
nothing to the service of the lord. And he ought to carry the
heath which he has cut, the value of the work being 5d. And he
shall receive from the lord three meals at the price of 2 1/2 d.
And thus the work will be worth 2 1/2 d. clear. And he ought to
carry to Battle, twice in the summer season, each time half a
load of grain, the value of the service being 4d. And he shall
receive in the manor each time one meal of the value of 2d. And
thus the work is worth 2d. clear. The totals of the rents, with
the value of the hens, is 2s. 4d. The total of the value of the
works is 2s. 3 1/2 d., being owed from the said John yearly.
William of Cayworth holds a house and 30 acres of land and owes
at Easter and Michaelmas 2s. rent. And he shall do all customs
just as the aforesaid John of Cayworth. William atte Grene holds
a house and 30 acres of land and owes in all things the same as
the said John. Alan atte Felde holds a house and 16 acres of land
(for which the sergeant pays to the court of Bixley 2s.), and he
owes at Easter and Michaelmas 4s., attendance at the manor
court, relief, and heriot. John Lyllingwyst holds a house and
four acres of land and owes at the two terms 2s., attendance at
the manor court, relief, and heriot. The same John holds one acre
of land in the fields of Hoo and owes at the two periods 2s.,
attendance, relief, and heriot. Reginald atte Denne holds a
house and 18 acres of land and owes at the said periods 18d.,
attendance, relief, and heriot. Robert of Northehou holds three
acres of land at Saltcote and owes at the said periods
attendance, relief, and heriot. Total of the rents of the
villeins, with the value of the hens, 20s. Total of all the
works of these villeins, 6s.10 1/2 d. And it is to be noted that
none of the above-mentioned villeins can give their daughters in
marriage, nor cause their sons to be tonsured, nor can they cut
down timber growing on the lands they hold, without license of
the bailiff or sergeant of the lord, and then for building
purposes and not otherwise. And after the death of any one of
the aforesaid villeins, the lord shall have as a heriot his best
animal, if he had any; if, however, he have no living beast, the
lord shall have no heriot, as they say. The sons or daughters of
the aforesaid villeins shall give, for entrance into the holding
after the death of their predecessors, as much as they give of
rent per year. Sylvester, the priest, holds one acre of meadow
adjacent to his house and owes yearly 3s. Total of the rent of
tenants for life, 3s. Petronilla atte Holme holds a cottage and
a piece of land and owes at Easter and Michaelmas - ; also,
attendance, relief, and heriot. Walter Herying holds a cottage
and a piece of land and owes at Easter and Michaelmas 18d.,
attendance, relief, and heriot. Isabella Mariner holds a cottage
and owes at the feast of St. Michael 12d., attendance, relief,
and heriot. Jordan atte Melle holds a cottage and 1 1/2 acres of
land and owes at Easter and Michaelmas 2s., attendance, relief,
and heriot. William of Batelesmere holds one acre of land with a
cottage and owes at the feast of St. Michael 3d., and one cock
and one hen at Christmas of the value of 3d., attendance,
relief, and heriot. John le Man holds half an acre of land with a
cottage and owes at the feast of St. Michael 2s., attendance,
relief, and heriot. Hohn Werthe holds one rood of land with a
cottage and owes at the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and
heriot. Geoffrey Caumbreis holds half an acre and a cottage and
owes at the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
William Hassok holds one rood of land and a cottage and owes at
the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot. The same
man holds 3 1/2 acres of land and owes yearly at the feast of St.
Michael 3s. for all. Roger Doget holds half an acre of land and a
cottage, which were those of R. the miller, and owes at the
feast of St. Michael 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Thomas le Brod holds one acre and a cottage and owes at the said
term 3s., attendance, relief, and heriot. Agnes of Cayworth
holds half an acre and a cottage and owes at the said term 18d.,
attendance, relief, and heriot. Total of the rents of the said
cottagers, with the value of the hens, 34s.6d. And it is to be
noted that all the said cottagers shall do as regards giving
their daughters in marriage, having their sons tonsured, cutting
down timber, paying heriot, and giving fines for entrance, just
as John of Cayworth and the rest of the villeins above
The above fines and penalties, with heriots and reliefs, are
worth 5s. yearly.
Most villeins did not venture beyond their village except for
about ten miles to a local shrine or great fair a couple times a
year. At the fair might be soap, garlic, coal, fish, nails,
grindstones, iron, salt, shovels, brushes, pails, oil, honey,
pots, pans, horses, and pack-saddles. Often one village was
divided up among two or more manors, so different manorial
customs made living conditions different among the villagers.
Villages usually had carpenters, smiths, saddlers, thatchers,
carters, fullers, dyers, soapmakers, tanners, needlers, and
brassworkers. Each villein had his own garden in which to grow
fruit and vegetables next to his house, a pig (which fattened
more quickly than other animals), strips in the common field,
and sometimes an assart [a few acres of his own to cultivate as
he pleased on originally rough uncultivated waste land beyond
the common fields and the enclosed common pastures and meadows].
People told time by counting the number of rings of the church
bell, which rang on the hour. Every Sunday, the villagers went
to church, which was typically the most elaborate and centrally
located building in the village. The parishioners elected
churchwardens. This religion brought comfort and hope of going to
heaven after judgment by God at death if sin was avoided. On
festival days, Bible stories, legends, and lives of saints were
read or performed as miracle dramas. They learned to avoid the
devil, who was influential in lonely places like forests and
high mountains. At death, the corpse was washed, shrouded, and
put into a rectangular coffin with a cross on its lid. Priests
sang prayers amid burning incense for the deliverance of the
soul to God while interring the coffin into the ground.
A villein could be forever set free from servitude by his lord as
in this example:
"To all the faithful of Christ to whom the present writing shall
come, Richard, by the divine permission, abbot of Peterborough
and of the Convent of the same place, eternal greeting in the
Let all know that we have manumitted and liberated from all yoke
of servitude William, the son of Richard of Wythington, whom
previously we have held as our born bondman, with his whole
progeny and all his chattels, so that neither we nor our
successors shall be able to require or exact any right or claim
in the said William, his progeny, or his chattels. But the same
William, with his whole progeny and all his chattels, shall
remain free and quit and without disturbance, exaction, or any
claim on the part of us or our successors by reason of any
We will, moreover, and concede that he and his heirs shall hold
the messuages, land, rents, and meadows in Wythington which his
ancestors held from us and our predecessors, by giving and
performing the fine which is called merchet for giving his
daughter in marriage, and tallage from year to year according to
our will, - that he shall have and hold these for the future
from us and our successors freely, quietly, peacefully, and
hereditarily, by paying to us and our successors yearly 40 s.
sterling, at the four terms of the year, namely: at St. John the
Baptist's day 10s., at Michaelmas 10s., at Christmas 10s., and at
Easter 10s., for all service, exaction, custom, and secular
demand; saving to us, nevertheless, attendance at our court of
Castre every three weeks, wardship, and relief, and outside
service of our lord the King, when they shall happen.
And if it shall happen that the said William or his heirs shall
die at any time without an heir, the said messuage, land rents,
and meadows with their appurtenances shall return fully and
completely to us and our successors. Nor will it be allowed to
the said William or his heirs to give, sell, alienate, mortgage,
or encumber in any way, the said messuage, land, rents, and
meadows, or any part of them, by which the said messuage, land,
rents, and meadows should not return to us and our successors in
the form declared above. And if this should occur later, their
deed shall be declared null, and what is thus alienated shall
come to us and our successors ...
Given at Borough, for the love of Lord Robert of good memory,
once abbot, our predecessor and maternal uncle of the said
William, and at the instance of the good man, Brother Hugh of
Mutton, relative of the said abbot Robert, A.D. 1278, on the eve
Villeins who were released from the manorial organization by
commutation of their service for a money payment took the name
of their craft as part of their name, such as, for the
manufacture of textiles, Weaver, Draper, Comber, Fuller, Napper,
Cissor, Tailor, Textor; for metal-work, Faber, Ironmonger; for
leatherwork, Tanner; for woodwork, building and carpentry,
Carpenter, Cooper, Mason, Pictor; for food-production, Baker,
Pistor. Iron, tin, lead, salt, and even coal were providing
increasing numbers of people with a livelihood.
Many new boroughs were founded as grants of market rights by the
King grew in number. These grants implied the advantage of the
King's protection. In fact, a certain flooded town was replaced
with a new town planned with square blocks. It was the charter
which distinguished the borough community from the other
communities existing in the country. It invested each borough
with a distinct character. The privileges which the charter
conferred were different indifferent places. It might give
trading privileges: freedom from toll, a guild merchant, a right
to hold a fair. It might give jurisdictional privileges: a right
to hold court with greater or less franchises. It might given
governmental privileges: freedom from the burden of attending
the hundred and county courts, the return of writs, which meant
the right to exclude the royal officials, the right to take the
profits of the borough, paying for them a fixed sum to the Crown
or other lord of the borough, the right to elect their own
officials rather than them being appointed by the King or a
lord, and the right to provide for the government of the
borough. It might give tenurial privileges: the power to make a
will of lands, or freedom from the right of a lord to control his
tenants' marriages. It might give procedural privileges: trial
by battle is excluded, and trial by compurgation is secured and
regulated. These medieval borough charters are very varied, and
represent all stages of development and all grades of franchise.
Boroughs bought increasing rights and freedoms from their lord,
who was usually the King.
In the larger towns, where cathedrals and public building were
built, there arose a system for teaching these technical skills
and elaborate handicraft, wood, metal, stained glass, and stone
work. Some churches now had stained-glass windows. A boy from
the town would be bound over in apprenticeship to a particular
craftsman, who supplied him with board and clothing. The
craftsman might also employ men for just a day. These journeymen
were not part of the craftsman's household as was the
apprentice. After a few years of an apprenticeship, one became a
journeyman and perfected his knowledge of his craft and its
standards by seeing different methods and results in various
towns. He was admitted as a master of his trade to a guild upon
presenting an article of his work worthy of that guild's
standard of workmanship: his "masterpiece". The tailors' guild
and the skinners' guild are extant now.
When guilds performed morality plays based on Bible stories at
town festivals, there was usually a tie between the Bible story
and the guild's craft. For instance, the story of the loaves and
fishes would be performed by the Bakers' or Fishmongers' Guild.
The theme of the morality play was the fight of the Seven
Cardinal Virtues against the Seven Deadly Sins for the human
soul, a life-long battle.
A borough was run by a mayor elected usually for life. By being
members of a guild, merchant-traders and craftsmen acquired the
legal status of burgesses and had the freedom of the borough.
Each guild occupied a certain ward of the town headed by an
alderman. The town aldermen made up the town council, which
advised the mayor. Often there were town police, bailiffs,
beadles [messengers], a town cryer, and a town clerk. In the
center of town were the fine stone houses, a guildhall with a
belfry-tower, and the marketplace - a square or broad street,
where the town cryer made public announcements with bell or horn.
Here too was the duckingstool for scandalmongers and the stocks
which held offenders by their legs and perhaps their hands to be
scorned and pelted by bystanders with, for instance, rotten
fruit and filth. No longer were towns dominated by the local
In London by this time there was a wall with four towers
surrounding the White Tower, and this castle was known as the
Tower of London. Another wall and a moat were built around it
and it has reached its final form. Hovels, shops, and waste
patches alternated with high walls and imposing gateways
protecting mansions. The mansions had orchards, gardens,
stables, brewhouses, bakeries, guardrooms, and chapels. London
streets were paved with cobbles and sand. Each citizen was to
keep the street in front of his tenement in good repair. Later,
each alderman appointed four reputable men to repair and clean
the streets for wages. Prostitutes were expelled from the city
because the street with their bawdy houses had become very
London had twenty four wards. The aldermen for the first time
included a fishmonger in 1291. The Fishmongers were the only
guild at this time, besides the weavers, which had independent
jurisdiction, as they had transferred control of their weekly
hall moot from a public official to themselves. Craftsmen began
to take other public offices too. Other city offices were:
recorder, prosecutor, common sergeant, and attorneys. Each ward
chose certain of its inhabitants to be councilors to the
aldermen. This council was to be consulted by him and its advice
to be followed. Admission to freedom of the city [citizenship]
was controlled by the citizens. Apprentices had to finish their
terms before such admission. Craftsmen had to have sureties from
their crafts as of 1319. No longer could one simply purchase
citizenship. Only freemen could sell wares in the city, a custom
of at least two hundred years.
In 1275, a goldsmith was chief assay-master of the King's mint
and keeper of the exchange at London. The King gave the
Goldsmiths' Company the right of assay [determination of the
quantity of gold or silver in an object] and required that no
vessels of gold or silver should leave the maker's hands until
they had been tested by the wardens and stamped appropriately.
In 1279, goldsmith William Farrington bought the soke of the
ward containing the goldsmiths' shops. It remained in his family
for 80 years. A patent of 1327 empowered the guild to elect a
properly qualified governing body to superintend its affairs, and
reform subjects of just complaint. It also prescribed, as a
safeguard against a prevailing fraud and abuse, that all members
of the trade should have their standing in Cheapside or in the
King's exchange, and that no gold or silver should be
manufactured for export, except that which had been bought at the
exchange or of the trade openly.
There was a problem with malefactors committing offenses in
London and avoiding its jurisdiction by escaping to Southwark
across the Thames River. So Southwark was put under the
jurisdiction of London for peace and order matters by grant of
the King. London forbade games being played because they had
replaced practice in archery, which was necessary for defense.
Exports and imports were no longer a tiny margin in an economy
just above the subsistence level. Exports were primarily raw
wool and cloth, but also grain, butter eggs, herring, hides,
leather goods such as bottles and boots, embroideries,
metalware, horseshoes, daggers, tin, coal, and lead. Imported
were Wine, silk, timber, furs, rubies, emeralds, fruits,
raisins, currents, pepper, ginger, cloves, rice, cordovan
leather, pitch, hemp, spars, fine iron, short rods of steel,
bow-staves of yew, tar, oil, salt, cotton (for candle-wicks), and
alum (makes dyes hold). Ships which transported them had one or
two masts upon which sails could be furled, the recently
invented rudder, and a carrying capacity of up to 200 tuns. Many
duties of sheriffs and coroners were transferred to county
landholders by commissions. In coastal counties, there were such
commissions for supervising coastal defense and maintaining the
beacons. Ports had a vigilant coastguard and well-maintained
harbors, quays, and streets.
Women could inherit land in certain circumstances. Some tenants
holding land in chief of the King were women.
Regulation of trade became national instead of local. Trade was
relatively free; almost the only internal transportation tolls
were petty portages and viages levied to recoup the expense of a
bridge or road which had been built by private enterprise.
Responsibility for the coinage was transferred from the
individual moneyers working in different boroughs to a central
official who was to become Master of the Mint. The round half
penny and farthing [1/4 penny] were created so that the penny
needn't be cut into halves and quarters anymore.
Edward called meetings of representatives from all social and
geographic sectors of the nation at one Parliament to determine
taxes due to the Crown. He declared that "what touches all,
should be approved by all". He wanted taxes from the burgesses
in the towns and the clergy's ecclesiastical property as well as
from landholders. He argued to the clergy that if barons had to
both fight and pay, they who could do no fighting must at least
pay, and compelled them to renounce all Papal orders contrary to
the King's authority. He offered to give up the royal right to
tax merchandise for a new tax: customs on exports. He got an
agreement for an "aid" of one-fifteenth on other moveables. This
new system of taxation began the decline of the imposition of
feudal aids, scutages, and carucage. The aids of the boroughs,
counties, and church had been negotiated by the Exchequer with
the reeves of each town, the sheriff and shire courts of each
county, and the archdeacons of each diocese, the area under a
This Model Parliament of 1295 was composed of the three
communities. The first were the lords. Because of the increase
of lesser barons due to a long national peace and prosperity,
the lords attending were reduced in numbers and peerage became
dependent not on land tenure, but on royal writ of summons. The
second community was the clergy, represented by the bishops of
each diocese. They later declined to attend. The third community
was the commons. It was composed of two burgesses elected by
principal burgesses of each borough and two elected knights
representing each county. The common people now had a voice in
law-making. The first legislation proposed by the commons was
alteration of the forest laws governing the royal pleasure
parks. Such a statute was passed in a bargain for taxes of a
percentage of all moveables, which were mostly foodstuffs and
Parliament soon was required to meet once or twice yearly.
Lawmaking is now a function of Parliament, of which the King's
council is a part, instead of a function of the King with his
council and judges. However, legislation may be passed without
the consent of the commons. Also, there was no convention that
agreement or even the presence of representatives was required
for legislation. The idea that the present can bind the absent
and that the majority of those present to outvote the minority
was beginning to take hold. The Chief Justices still had, as
members of the council, a real voice in the making of laws. The
King and his justices might, after a statute has been made, put
an authoritative interpretation upon it.
Most petitions to Parliament were private grievances of
individuals, including people of no social rank, such as
prisoners. Other petitions were from communities and groups.
In 1297, Edward I confirmed the Magna Carta and other items.
Judgments contrary to Magna Carta were nullified. The documents
were to be read in cathedral churches as grants of Edward and
all violators were to be excommunicated. He also agreed not to
impose taxes without the consent of Parliament after baronial
pressure had forced him to retreat from trying to increase, for a
war in France, the customs tax on every exported sack of wool to
40s. from the 6s. 8d. per sack it had been since 1275. The
customs tax was finally fixed at 10s. for every sack of wool,
2s. for each tun of wine, and 6d. for every pound's worth of
other goods. A tax system of "tenths and fifteenths" levied on
income from moveables or chattels every year also came into
being. This most affected the goods made and sold in the towns,
so that both town and countryside were taxed about the same.
Never again did a King impose a tax without the consent of
Parliament. Edward also confirmed the Forest Charter, which
called for its earlier boundaries. And he agreed not to impound
any grain or wool or and like against the will of the owners, as
had been done before to collect taxes. Also, the special prises
or requisitions of goods for national emergency were not to be a
precedent. Lastly, he agreed not to impose penalties on two earls
and their supporters for refusing to serve in the war in France.
The export of wool had increased and Parliament initiated customs
duties of 6s.8d. on every sack of wool, woolfells [sheepskin
with wool still on it], or skins exported, which was collected
at each of the thirteen ports, the beginning of the staple
[depot] system. Imports of wine were taxed as tonnage as before.
Sheriffs were elected in their own counties rather than appointed
by the King as of 1297.
Lawyers are now drawn from the knightly class instead of
ecclesiastical people. Law no longer belongs to the church, but
to the knightly class of landed gentlemen. The Inns of Court in
London provide legal education and certify members to the bar.
>From 1299, statutes were recorded in a Statute Roll as they were
By the end of the 1200s, the King's wardrobe, where confidential
matters such as military affairs were discussed in his bedroom,
became a department of state with the privy seal. It paid and
provisioned the knights, squires, and sergeants of the King and
was composed mostly of civil servants. It traveled with the
King. The Crown's treasure, plate, tents, hangings, beds,
cooking-utensils, wine, and legal and financial rolls were
carried on pack-horses or in two- wheeled carts drawn by oxen,
donkeys, or dogs. The people in the entourage rode horses or
walked. The other two specialized administrative bodies were the
Exchequer, which received most of the royal revenue and kept
accounts at Westminster in London, and the Chancery, which wrote
royal writs, charters, and letters.
As of 1336, importing foreign cloth or fur, except for use by the
King's family, was prohibited, as was the export of unwoven
wool. Later, this was relaxed and a customs tax of 33% was
imposed on wool exported. Foreign cloth-workers may come to live
in the nation, be granted franchises, and shall be in the King's
protection. No cloth may be exported until it is fulled.
There was a recoinage due to debasement of the old coinage. This
increased the number of coins in circulation. The price of wheat
went from about 7s. in 1270 to about 5s. per quarter in 1280.
Also the price of an ox went from 14s. to 10s. >From 1280 to
1290, there was runaway inflation.
As before, inadequate care and ignorance of nutrition caused many
infant deaths. Accidents and disease were so prevalent that
death was always near and life insecure. Many women died in
In the 1300s, there were extremes of fashion in men's and women's
clothing including tight garments, pendant sleeves down to the
ground, coats so short they didn't reach the hips or so long
they reached the heels, hoods so small they couldn't cover the
head, and shoes with long curved peaks like claws at the toes.
Both men and women wore belts low on the hips. The skirt of a
lady's tunic was fuller and the bodice more closely fitted than
before. Her hair was usually elaborately done up, e.g. with long
curls or curled braids on either side of the face. A jeweled
circlet was often worn around her head. Ladies wore on their
arms or belts, cloth handbags, which usually contained
toiletries, such as combs made of ivory, horn, bone, or wood,
and perhaps a little book of devotions. A man wore a knife and a
bag on his belt. Some women painted their faces and/or colored
their hair. There were hand-held glass mirrors. Some people kept
dogs purely as pets.
Under Edward II, all citizens of London had to be enrolled in the
trade guild of their craft.
The commons became a permanent and distinct body with an elected
spokesman or speaker and its own clerk in Edward III's reign.
Also, sheriffs them dealt directly with the King instead of
through an earl.
To support a war with France, Edward III permanently instituted
the staple system, by which wool exports were taxed through his
officials only at the designated staple port. These officials
included collectors, controllers, searchers, surveyors, clerks,
weighers, and crane-keepers.
Certain large wool merchants were allowed to create a monopoly on
the export of wool. Also under Edward III, Flanders weavers were
encouraged to come to England to teach the English how to weave
and finish fine cloth. A cloth industry grew with all the
manufacturing processes under the supervision of one capitalist
manufacturer, who set up his enterprise in the country to avoid
the regulations of the towns. The best places were hilly areas
where there were many streams and good pasture for flocks of
sheep. He hired shearers to cut the nap as short as possible to
give a smooth surface, then spinsters to card and spin the wool
in their country cottages, then weavers, and then fullers and
dyers to come to fulling mills established near streams for
their waterpower. Fulling became mechanized as heavy wooden
hammers run by water-power replaced feet trampling the cloth
covered with soap or fuller's clay, until it became thick and
smaller. The shaft loom was a technological advance in weaving.
This loom was horizontal and its frames, which controlled the
lifting of the warp threads, could each be raised by a foot
treadle. This left both hands free to throw and catch the
shuttle attached to the woof thread. Also many more weaving
patterns became possible through the use of different thread
configurations on the frames.
Edward I remodeled the law in response to grievances and to
problems which came up in the courts. The changes improved the
efficiency of justice and served to accommodate it to the
changing circumstances of the social system. These statutes
"No man by force of arms, malice or menacing shall disturb anyone
in making free election [of sheriffs, coroners, conservators of
the peace by freeholders of the shire]."
"No city, borough, town, nor man shall be amerced without
reasonable cause and according to the severity of his trespass.
That is, every freeman saving his freehold, a merchant saving
his merchandise, a villein saving his waynage [implements of
agriculture], and that by his peers."
No distress shall be taken of ploughing-cattle or sheep.
Young salmon shall not be taken from waters in the spring.
No loan shall be made for interest.
If an heir who is a minor is married off without the consent of
the guardian, the value of the marriage will be lost and the
wrongdoer imprisoned. If anyone marries off an heir over 14
years of age without the consent of the guardian, the guardian
shall have double the value of the marriage. Moreover, anyone who
has withdrawn a marriage shall pay the full value thereof to the
guardian for the trespass and make amends to the King. And if a
Lord refuses to marry off a female heir of full age and keep her
unmarried because he covets the land, then he shall not have her
lands more than two years after she reaches full age, at which
time she can recover her inheritance without giving anything for
the wardship or her marriage. However, if she maliciously
refuses to be married by her Lord, he may hold her land and
inheritance until she is the age of a male heir, that is, twenty
one years old and further until he has taken the value of the
Aid to make one's son a knight or marry off his daughter of a
whole knight's fee shall be taken 20s., and 400s.[yearly income
from] land held in socage 20s. [5%], and of more, more; and of
less, less; after the rate. And none shall levy such aid to make
his son a knight until his son is 15 years old, nor to marry his
daughter until she is seven year old.
A conveyance of land which is the inheritance of a minor child by
his guardian or lord to another is void.
Dower shall not abate because the widow has received dower of
another man unless part of the first dower received was of the
same tenant and in the same town. But a woman who leaves her
husband for another man is barred from dower.
A tenant for a term of years who has let land from a landlord
shall not let it lie waste, nor shall a landlord attempt to oust
a tenant for a term of years by fictitious recoveries.
When two or more hold wood, turfland, or fishing or other such
thing in common, wherein none knows his several, and one does
waste against the minds of the others, he may be sued.
Lands which are given to a man and his wife upon condition that
if they die without heirs, the land shall revert to the donor or
his heir, may not be alienated to defeat this condition.
If a man takes land in marriage with a wife, and she dies before
him, the land will revert to the donor or his heir, unless they
have a child, in which case the husband will have the land by
the courtesy of the nation for his life before it reverts to the
donor or his heir.
A free tenant may alienate his land freely, but if the alienation
was for an estate in fee simple [to a man and his heirs], the
person acquiring the land would hold of the land's lord and not
of the person alienating the land. (This halted the growth of
subinfeudation and caused services as well as incidents of aids,
relief, escheat, wardship, and marriage to go directly to the
Chief Lord. It also advantaged the Crown as overlord, which then
acquired more direct tenants.)
One may create an estate which will descend in unbroken
succession down the line of inheritance prescribed in the
original gift as long as that line should last, instead of
descending to all heirs. The successive occupants might draw the
rents and cut the wood, but on the death of each, his heir would
take possession of an unencumbered interest, unfettered by any
liability for the debt of his ancestor or by any disposition
made by him during his lifetime e.g. a wife's estate in dower or
a husband's estate in courtesy. If there was no issue, it
reverted to the original donor. ( This curtailed the advantage of
tenants of the greater barons who profited by increased
wardships and reliefs from subinfeudation from subdivision and
better cultivation of their land while still paying the greater
barons fixed sums. This statute [Quia Emptores] that protected
reversionary estates incidentally established a system of
entails. This new manner of holding land: "fee tail", is in
addition to the concepts of land held in fee simple and land
held for life. Interests in remainder or reversion of estates in
land replace the lord's tenurial right to succeed to land by
escheat if his tenant dies without heirs.)
In Kent, all men are free and may give or sell their lands
without permission of their lords, as before the Conquest.
(Since Kent was nearest the continent, money flowed between
England and the continent through Kent. So Kent never developed
a manorial system of land holding, but evolved from a system of
clans and independent villages directly into a commercial
Anyone disseising another whereby he also robs him or uses force
and arms in the disseisin shall be imprisoned and fined. The
plaintiff shall recover seisin and damages.
"All must be ready at the command and summons of sheriffs, and at
the cry of the country, to sue and arrest felons as necessary as
well within franchise as without." Otherwise, he shall be fined.
A Lord defaulting shall lose his franchise to the King. A
Bailiff defaulting shall be imprisoned a year as well as fined,
or be imprisoned two years if he cannot pay the fine. A sheriff,
coroner, or any other bailiff who conceals a felony will be
imprisoned for a year and pay a fine, or be imprisoned for three
years if he cannot pay the fine.
Villeins must report felons, pursue felons, serve in the watch,
and clear growth of concealing underwood from roads. They must
join the military to fight on the borders when called. Desertion
from the army is punishable.
Accessories to a crime shall not be declared outlaw before the
principal is proven guilty. (This made uniform the practice of
the various shires.)
Only those imprisoned for the smaller offenses of a single
incidence of petty larceny, receipt of felons, or accessory to a
felony, or some other trespass not punishable by life or limb
shall be let out by sufficient surety. Prisoners who were
outlawed or escaped from prison or are notorious thieves or were
imprisoned for felonious house-burning, passing false money,
counterfeiting the King's seal, treason touching the King
himself, or other major offenses or have been excommunicated by
the church may not be released.
Killing in self-defense and by mischance shall be pardoned from
the King's indictment. Killing by a child or a person of unsound
mind shall be pardoned from the King's indictment. (But a
private accuser can still sue.)
Any man who ravishes [abducts] any woman without her consent or
by force shall have the criminal penalty of loss of life or
limb. (The criminal penalty used to be just two years in
Trespasses [serious and forcible breaches of the peace] in parks
or ponds shall be punished by imprisonment for three years and a
fine as well as paying damages to the wronged person. After his
imprisonment, he shall find a surety or leave the nation.
"Forasmuch as there have been often times found in the country
devisors of tales, where discord, or occasion of discord, has
many times arisen between the King and his people, or great men
of this realm; For the damage that has and may thereof ensue, it
is commanded, that from henceforth none be so hardy to tell or
publish any false news or tales, whereby discord or occasion of
discord or slander may grow between the King and his people, or
the great men of the realm." Anyone doing so shall be imprisoned
until he brings into the court the first author of the tale.
A system of registration and enforcement of commercial agreements
was established by statute. Merchants could obtain a writing of
a debt sealed by the debtor and authenticated by royal seal or
a seal of a mayor of certain towns, and kept by the creditor.
Failure to pay a such a debt was punishable by imprisonment and,
after three months, the selling of borough tenements and
chattels and of shire lands. During the three months, the
merchant held this property in a new tenure of "statute
merchant". (Prior to this, it was difficult for a foreign
merchant to collect a debt because he could not appear in court
which did not recognize him as one of its proper "suitors" or
constituents, so he had to trust a local attorney. Also, the
remedy was inadequate because the history of the law of debt was
based on debt as a substitute for the blood feud, so that
failure to pay meant slavery or death. Also a debtor's land was
protected by feudal custom, which was contrary to the idea of
imposing a new tenant on a lord.)
"In no city, borough, town, market, or fair shall a person of the
realm be distrained for a debt for which he is not the debtor or
Anyone making those passing with goods through their jurisdiction
answer to them in excess of their jurisdiction shall be
grievously amerced to the King.
No market town shall take an outrageous toll contrary to the
common custom of the nation.
Since good sterling money has been counterfeited with base and
false metal outside the nation and then brought in, foreigners
found in the nation's ports with this false money shall forfeit
their lives. Anyone bringing foreign money into the nation must
have it examined at his port of entry. Payments of money shall
be made only by coin of the appropriate weight delivered by the
Warden of the Exchange and marked with the King's mark. (A
currency exchange was established at Dover for the exchange of
foreign currency for English sterling.)
The silver in craftwork must be sterling and marked with the
Leopard's Head. The gold in craftwork must meet the standard of
the Touch of Paris.
The assize of bread and ale had been and was enforced locally by
local inspectors. Now, the Crown appointed royal officers for
the gauge of wines and measurement of cloths. Edicts disallowed
middlemen from raising prices against consumers by such
practices as forestalling or engrossing and price regulation was
attempted. For instance, prices were set for poultry and lamb,
in a period of plenty. Maximum prices were set for cattle,
pigs, sheep, poultry, and eggs in 1314, but was hard to enforce.
In London examples of prices set are: best hen 3d.2q., best wild
goose 4d., best rabbit 4d., best kid 10d., best lamb 4d., best
fresh herrings 12 for 1d., best pickled herrings 20 for 1d., best
haddock 2d., best fresh salmon 3s.
Freemen may drive their swine through the King's demesne Forest
to feed in their own woods or elsewhere. No man shall lose his
life or limb for killing deer in the Forest, but instead shall
be grievously fined or imprisoned for a year.
The Forest Charter allowed a man to cut down and take wood from
his own woods in the King's forest to repair his house, fences,
and hedges. He may also enclose his woods in the King's forest
with fences and hedges to grow new trees and keep cattle and
beasts therefrom. After seven years growth of these new trees, he
may cut them down for sale with the King's permission.
Each borough has its own civil and criminal ordinances and police
jurisdiction. Borough courts tended to deal with more laws than
other local courts because of the borough's denser populations,
which were composed of merchants, manufacturers, and traders, as
well as those engaged in agriculture. Only borough courts have
jurisdiction over fairs. In some boroughs the villein who
resides for a year and a day becomes free. There are special
ordinances relating to apprentices. There are sometimes
ordinances against enticing away servants bound by agreement to
serve another. The wife who is a trader is regarded in many
places as a femme sole. There may be special ordinances as to the
liability of masters for the acts of their apprentices and
agents, or as to brokers, debt, or earnest money binding a
bargain. The criminal and police jurisdiction in the borough was
organized upon the same model as in the country at large, and was
controlled by the King's courts upon similar principles, though
there are some survivals of old rules, such as mention of the
bot and the wer. The crimes committed are similar to those of
the country, such as violence, breaches of the assize of bread
and beer, stirring up suits before the ecclesiastical courts,
digging up or obstructing the highway, not being enrolled in a
tithing, encroachments upon or obstructions of rights of common.
The most striking difference with the country at large are the
ordinances on the repair or demolition of buildings,
encroachments on another's building, fires, and nuisances.
Specimens of other characteristic urban disputes are: selling bad
food, using bad materials, unskillful or careless workmanship,
fraudulent weights and measures, fraud in buying and selling,
forestalling or regrating, acting in a way likely to endanger
the liberties of the borough, usury, trading without being a
citizen, assisting other unlicensed persons to trade, unlawfully
forming a guild, complaints against various guilds in which trade
might be organized. Since the ordinances were always liable to
be called in question before the King's courts, they tended to
become uniform and in harmony with the principles of the common
law. Also, trading between boroughs kept them knowledgeable
about each other's customs and conditions for trade, which then
tended to standardize. Boroughs often had seals to prove communal
consent and tended to act as a corporate body.
Borough ordinances often include arson such as this one: "And if
a street be set on fire by any one, his body shall be attached
and cast into the midst of the fire." Robbery by the miller was
specially treated by an ordinance that "And if the miller be
attainted of robbery of the grain or of the flour to the amount
of 4d., he shall be hanged from the beam in his mill."
In London, an ordinance prescribed for bakers for the first
offense of making false bread a forfeiture of that bread. For
the second offense was prescribed imprisonment, and for the
third offense placement in the pillory. A London ordinance for
millers who caused bread to be false prescribed for them to be
carried in a tumbrel cart through certain streets, exposed to the
derision of the people.
By statute, no one may make a gift or alienation of land to the
church. An attempt to do so will cause the land to escheat to
the lord, or in his default, to the King. Religious houses may
not alienate land given to them by the King or other patrons
because such gifts were for the sake of someone's soul. An
attempt to do so will cause the land to revert to the donor or
his heir. If the church did not say the prayers or do the other
actions for which land was given to it, the land will revert to
the donor or his heir. The church shall send no money out of the
"Concerning wrecks of the sea, where a man, a dog, or a cat
escape alive out of the ship, that such ship nor barge nor
anything within them shall be deemed wreck, but the goods shall
be saved and kept by view of the Sheriff, Coroner, or the King's
Bailiff". If anyone proves the goods were his within a year and a
day, they shall be restored to him without delay. Otherwise, they
shall be kept by the King. "And where wreck belongs to one other
than the King, he shall have it in like manner". If he does
otherwise, he shall be imprisoned and pay damages and fine.
Some statutes applied only to Kent County, which had a unique
position between London and the continent. One could sell or
give away his land without the consent of one's lord. The
services of the land, however, could only be sold to the chief
lord. Inheritance of land was to all sons by equal portions, and
if there were no sons, then to all daughters in equal portions.
The eldest brother has his choice of portion, then the next
oldest, etc. The goods of a deceased person were divided into
three parts after his funeral expenses and debts were paid. One
third went to the surviving spouse. One third went to the
deceased's sons and daughters. One third could be disposed by
will of the decedent. If there were no children, one half went
to the spouse and one half went according to will. If an heir
was under 15 years old, his next of kin to whom inheritance
could not descend was to be his guardian. A wife who remarried or
bore a child lost her dower land. A husband lost his dower if he
remarried. If a tenant withheld rent or services, his lord could
seek award of court to find distress on his tenement and if he
could find none, he could take the tenement for a year and a day
in his hands without manuring it. It the tenant paid up in this
time, he got the tenement back. If he didn't within a year and a
day, however, the lord could manure the land. A felon forfeited
his life and his goods, but not his lands or tenements. A wife
of a felon had the dower of one half or her husband's lands and
The common law recognized the tort of false imprisonment if a man
arrested as a felon, a person who was not a felon.
Ecclesiastical courts were successful in their competition with
the secular courts for jurisdiction over testamentary
[concerning wills] and succession [no will] to chattels. It's
law made a woman's chattels the property of her husband upon
marriage. She also lost all power over her land during marriage.
A husband became liable for his wife's torts. Promises under
oath were not recognized for married women.
Land may not be alienated to religious bodies in such a way that
it would cease to render its due service to the King.
The writ of Quo Warranto [by what right] is created, by which all
landholders exercising jurisdictions must bring their ancestors'
charters before a justice in eyre for the Common Pleas for
examination and interpretation as to whether they were going
beyond their charters and infringing upon the jurisdiction of
the Royal Court. As a result, many manor courts were confined to
seigneurial matters and could no longer view frankpledge or hear
criminal cases, which were reserved for the royal courts. In the
manor courts which retained criminal jurisdiction, there was a
reassertion of the obligation to have present a royal coroner,
whose duty it was to see that royal rights were not infringed and
that the goods of felons were given to the Crown and not kept
by the lords.
The supreme court was Parliament. Next were the royal courts of
the King's Bench, Common Pleas, and the Exchequer, which had
become separate, each with its own justices and records. The
Court of Common Pleas had its own Chief Justice and usually met
at Westminster. This disadvantaged the small farmer, who would
have to travel to Westminster to present a case. The Court of the
King's Bench heard criminal cases and appeals from the Court of
Common Pleas. It traveled with the King. There were many
trespass cases so heard by it in the reign of Edward I. In
criminal cases, witnesses acquainted with particular facts were
added to the general assize of twelve men from each hundred and
four men from each town.
The most common cases in the Court of Common Pleas were "detinue"
[wrongful detention of a good or chattel which had been loaned,
rented, or left for safe- keeping with a "bailee", but belonged
to the plaintiff], "debt" [for money due from a sale, for money
loaned, for rent upon a lease for years, from a surety, promised
in a sealed document, or due to arbitrators to whom a dispute had
been submitted] and "account" [e.g. by bailiffs of manors, the
guardian in socage, and partners]. It also heard estovers of
wood, profit by gathering nuts, acorns, and other fruits in
wood, corody [allowance of food], yearly delivery of grain,
toll, tonage, passage, keeping of parks, woods, forests, chases,
warrens, gates, and other bailiwicks, and offices in fee.
The justices in eyre gradually ceased to perform administrative
duties on their eyres because landed society had objected to
Breaches of the forest charter laws were determined by justices
of the King's forest, parks, and chases, along with men of
Coroners' inquest procedures were delineated by statute and
included describing in detail in the coroner's rolls every wound
of a dead body, how many may be culpable, and people claiming to
have found treasure who might be suspects.
There were local courts of the vill, borough, manor, hundred,
county, sheriff, escheator, and royal bailiff, with overlapping
jurisdictions. The most common plea in the hundred court was
trespass. It also heard issues concerning services arising out
of land, detention of chattels, small debts, maiming of animals,
and personal assaults and brawls not amounting to felony. Twice
a year the sheriff visited each hundred in the shire to hold a
tourn or court for small criminal cases. Everyone who held
freehold land in the hundred except the greater magnates had to
attend or be fined for absence. The sheriff annually viewed
frankpledge, in which every layman without land that could be
forfeited for felony, including villeins, were checked for being
in a tithing, a group of neighbors responsible for each other's
good conduct. This applied to every boy who had reached the age
of twelve. He had to swear on the Bible "I will be a lawful man
and bear loyalty to our lord the king and his heirs, and I will
be justicable to my chief tithing man, so help me God and the
saints." Each tithing man paid a penny to the sheriff.
In the manor courts, actions of debt, detinue, and covenant were
frequent. Sometimes there are questions of a breach of warranty
of title in agreements of sale of land. Accusations of
defamation were frequent; this offense could not be taken to the
King's court, but it had been recognized as an offense in the
Anglo-Saxon laws. In some cases, the damages caused are
specifically stated. For instance, defamation of a lord's grain
cause other purchasers to forbear buying it. There are frequent
cases of ordinary thefts, trespasses, and assaults. The courts
did rough but substantial justice without distinction between
concepts such as tort and contract. In fact, the action of
covenant was the only form of agreement enforceable at common
law. It required a writing under seal and awarded damages. Their
law was not technical, but elastic, and remedies could include
injunctions, salary attachment, and performance of acts.
The precedent for punishment for treason was established by the
conviction of a knight, David ab Gruffydd, who had turned
traitor to the Welsh enemy during the conquest of Wales and
plotted to kill the King. He was condemned to be dragged at the
heels of horses for being a traitor to his knightly vows, hanged
by the neck for his murders, cut down before consciousness left
him to have his entrails cut out for committing his crimes
during the holy week of Easter, and his head cut off and his
body divided into four parts for plotting against the King's
life. The head and body sections were placed in public view at
various locations in the nation. Prior to this the penalty was
imprisonment usually followed by ransom.
Trial by battle is now limited to certain claims of enfeoffment
of large land holding and is barred for land held in socage,
burgage, or by marriage. Assize is the usual manner of trial,
but compurgation remains in the borough court long after it
becomes obsolete in the royal courts. Defendants no longer
request assizes but are automatically put to them.
Numerous statutes protect the integrity of the courts and King's
offices by double and treble damages and imprisonment for
offenses such as bribery, false informers, conspiracy to falsely
move or maintain pleas, champerty [giving an interest in the
outcome of a case to a person for his assistance in litigating
it], conflict of interest by court officers by having a part in
the business or thing at issue. There had been many abuses, the
most common of which was extortion by sheriffs, who jailed
people without cause to make them pay to be released.
The King reserved to himself and his council in its judicial
capacity the correction of all breaches of the law which the
lower courts had failed to remedy, whether from weakness,
partiality, or corruption, and especially when the powerful
barons defied the courts.
The Court of Hustings in London is empowered to award landlords
their tenements for which rent or services are in arrears if the
landlord could not distrain enough tenant possessions to cover
Wills are proven in the Court of Husting, the oldest court in
London, which went back to the times of Edward the Confessor.
One such proven will is:
"Tour (John de La) - To Robert his eldest son his capital
messuage and wharf in the parish of Berchingechurch near the
land called 'Berewardesland`. To Agnes his wife his house called
'Wyvelattestone', together with rents, reversions, etc. in the
parish of S. Dunstan towards the Tower, for life; remainder to
Stephen his son. To Peter and Edmund his sons lands and rents in
the parish of All Hallows de Berhyngechurch; remainders over in
default of heirs. To Agnes, wife of John le Keu, fishmonger, a
house situate in the same parish of Berhyng, at a peppercorn
The Court of the Mayor of London heard diverse cases, including
disputes over goods, faulty goods, enhancing the price of goods,
using unlawful weighing beams, debts, theft, distraints,
tavern-brawling, bullying, and gambling. The following four
cases pertain to customs, bad grain, surgery, and apprenticeship,
"John le Paumer was summoned to answer Richer de Refham, Sheriff,
in a plea that, whereas the defendant and his Society of Bermen
[carriers] in the City were sworn not to carry any wine, by
land or water, for the use of citizens or others, without the
Sheriff's mark, nor lead nor cause it to be led, whereby the
Sheriff might be defrauded of his customs, nevertheless he caused
four casks of wine belonging to Ralph le Mazun of Westminster to
be carried from the City of Westminster without the Sheriff's
mark, thus defrauding the latter of his customs in contempt of
the King etc. The defendant acknowledged the trespass. Judgment
that he remain in the custody of the Sheriff till he satisfy the
King and the Court for offense."
"Walter atte Belhaus, William atte Belhous, Robert le Barber
dwelling at Ewelleshalle, John de Lewes, Gilbert le Gras, John
his son, Roger le Mortimer, William Ballard atte Hole, Peter de
Sheperton, John Brun and the wife of Thomas the pelterer,
Stephen de Haddeham, William de Goryngg, Margery de
Frydaiestrate, Mariot, who dwells in the house of William de
Harwe, and William de Hendone were attached to answer for
forestalling all kinds of grain and exposing it, together with
putrid grain, on the pavement, for sale by the bushel, through
their men and women servants; and for buying their own grain
from their own servants in deception of the people. The
defendants denied that they were guilty and put themselves on
their country. A jury of Richard de Hockeleye and others brought
in a verdict of guilty, and the defendants were committed to
prison til the next Parliament."
"Peter the Surgeon acknowledged himself bound to Ralph de
Mortimer, by Richard atte Hill his attorney, in the sum of 20s.,
payable at certain terms, the said Ralph undertaking to give
Peter a letter of acquittance [release from a debt]. This
Recognizance arose out of a covenant between them with regard to
the effecting of a cure. Both were amerced for coming to an
agreement out of Court. A precept was issued to summon all the
surgeons of the City for Friday, that an enquiry might be made
as to whether the above Peter was fitted to enjoy the profession
of a surgeon."
"Thomas de Kydemenstre, shoemaker, was summoned to answer William
de Beverlee, because he did not clothe, feed and instruct his
apprentice Thomas, William's son, but drove him away. The
defendant said that the apprentice lent his master's goods to
others and promised to restore them or their value, but went
away against his wish; and he demanded a jury. Subsequently, a
jury of William de Upton and others said the apprentice lent two
pairs of shoes belonging to his master and was told to restore
them, but, frightened by the beating which he received, ran
away; further that the master did not feed and clothe his
apprentice as he ought, being unable to do so, to the
apprentice's damage 40d., but that he was now in a position to
look after his apprentice. Thereupon Thomas de Kydemenstre said
he was willing to have the apprentice back and provide for him,
and the father agreed. Judgment that the master take back the
apprentice and feed and instruct him, or that he repay to the
father, the money paid to the latter, and that he pay the father
the 40d. and be in mercy."
A professional class of temporal lawyers is prominent in the
nation. They were educated and certified at the new Inns of
Court in London. Some are employed by the King. Judge tend to be
recruited from among those who had passed their lives practicing
law in court, instead of from the ecclesiastical orders. Men
learned All lawyers were brought under the control of the
There are two types of attorneys: one appears in the place of his
principal, who does not appear. The appointment of such an
attorney is an unusual and a solemn thing, only to be allowed on
special grounds and with the proper formalities. For instance, a
poor person may not be able to afford to travel to attend the
royal court in person. The other type of attorney accompanies his
client to court and advocates his position with his knowledge of
the law and his persuasiveness.
The great litigation of the nation is conducted by a small group
of men, as is indicated by the earliest Year Books of case
decisions. They sit in court and one will sometimes intervene as
amicus curiae [friends of the court]. Parliament refers
difficult points of law to them as well as to the judges. In
1280, the city of London made regulations for the admission of
both types of attorneys to practice before the civic courts, and
for their due control. In 1292 the King directed the judges to
provide a certain number of attorneys and apprentices to follow
the court, who should have the exclusive right of practicing
before it. This begins the process which will make the attorney
for legal business an "officer of the court" which has appointed
Because the common law and its procedures have become technical
and rigid, the Chancery was given equity jurisdiction by statute
in 1285. In Chancery, if there is a case with no remedy
specified in the law, that is similar to a case for which there
is a writ, then a new writ may be made for that case. These were
called "actions on the case". This added to Chancery's work of
now hearing petitions of misconduct of government officials or
of powerful oppressors, wardship of infants, dower, rent
charges, fraud, accident, and abuse of trust. Also, Parliament
may create new remedies.
Disputes within the royal household were administered by the
King's steward. He received and determined complaints about acts
or breaches of the peace within twelve miles around the King's
person or "verge". He was assisted by the marshall in the "court
of the hall" and by the clerk of the market when imposing fines
for trading regulation violations in the "court of the market".
The Times: 1348-1399
Waves of the black death, named for the black spots on the body,
swept over the nation. The first wave of this plague, in 1348,
decimated the population by about one half in the towns and one
third in the country. People tried to avoid the plague by
flight. The agony and death of so many good people caused some
question their belief in God. Also, it was hard to understand why
priests who fled were less likely to die than priests who stayed
with the dying to give them the last rites. Thus begins a long
period of disorganization, unrest, and social instability.
Customary ways were so upset that authority and tradition were no
longer automatically accepted. Fields lay waste and sheep and
cattle wandered over the countryside. Local courts could not be
held. Some monasteries in need of cash sold annuities to be paid
in the form of food, drink, clothing, and lodging during the
annuitant's life, and sometimes that of his widow also. Guilds
and rich men made contributions to the poor and ships with
provisions were sent to various parts of the country for the
relief of starving people.
Farm workers were so rare that they were able to demand wages at
double or triple the pre-plague rate. Prices did not go up
nearly as much. The villeins had become nomadic, roaming from
place to place, seeking day work for good wages where they could
get it, and resorting to thievery on the highways or beggary
where they could not. The Robin Hood legends were popular among
They spread political songs among each other, such as: "To seek
silver to the King, I my seed sold; wherefore my land lieth
fallow and learneth to sleep. Since they fetched my fair cattle
in my fold; when I think of my old wealth, well nigh I weep.
Thus breedeth many beggars bold; and there wakeneth in the world
dismay and woe, for as good is death anon as so for to toil."
Groups of armed men took lands, manors, goods, and women by
force. The villeins agreed to assist each other in resisting by
force their lords' efforts to return them to servitude. Justices
became afraid to administer the law. Villeins, free peasants,
and craftsmen joined together and learned to use the tactics of
association and strikes against their employers.
The office of Justice of the Peace was created for every county
to deal with rioting and vagrants. Cooperation by officials of
other counties was mandated to deal with fugitives from its
When there were attempts to enforce the legal servitude of the
villeins, they spread rhymes of their condition and need to
revolt. A secret league, called the "Great Society" linked the
centers of intrigue. A poll tax for a war with France touched
off a riot all over the nation in 1381. This tax included people
not taxed before, such as laborers, the village smith, and the
village tiler. By this time, the black death had reduced the
population from 5 million to 2 1/2 million. It was to rise to 4
million by 1600.
Mobs overran the counties around London. The upper classes fled
to the woods. But the Chief Justice was murdered while fleeing.
Written records of the servitude of villeins were burned in
their halls, which were also looted. Prisoners were released
from jails. The archbishop, who was a notoriously exploitive
landlord, and the Treasurer were beheaded on Tower Hill and their
heads were posted over London Bridge. The villeins demanded that
service to a lord be by agreement instead of by servitude, a
ceiling on rents of 4d. per acre yearly, abolition of a lord's
right for their work on demand (e.g. just before a hail storm so
only his crops were saved), and the right to hunt and fish.
The revolt was suppressed and its leaders punished. Also, the
duty to deal with rioting and vagrants was given to royal
judges, sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, and constables as well as
the Justices of the Peace. There was a high constable in each
hundred and a petty constable in each parish. Justices of the
peace could swear in neighbors as unpaid special constables when
disorder broke out.
The sheriff was responsible for seeing that men of the lower
classes were organized into groups of ten for police and surety
purposes, and for holding of hundred and shire courts, arresting
suspects, guarding prisoners awaiting trial, carrying out the
penalties adjudged by the courts, and collecting Crown revenue
through his bailiffs. Royal writs were addressed to the sheriff.
Because many sheriffs had taken fines and ransoms for their own
use, a term limit of one year was imposed. Sheriffs, hundreders,
and bailiffs had to have lands in the same shires or bailiwicks
[so they could be held answerable to the King].
Efforts were made to keep laborers at the plough and cart rather
than learn a craft or entering and being educated by the church.
The new colleges at the universities ceased to accept villeins
Due to the shortage of labor, landlords' returns had decreased
from about 20% to 5%. But some found new methods of using land
that were more profitable than the customary services of
villeins who had holdings of land or the paid labor of
practically free men who paid a money rent for land holdings.
One method was to turn the land to sheep-breeding. Others leased
their demesne land, which transferred the burden of getting
laborers from the landlord to the lessor- tenant. The payment was
called a "farm" and the tenant a "farmer". First, there were
stock-and-land leases, in which both the land and everything
required to cultivate it were let together. After 50 years, when
the farmers had acquired assets, there were pure land leases.
The commutation of labor services into a money payment developed
into a general commutation of all services. Lords in need of
money gladly sold manumissions to their villeins. The lord and
lady of some manors now ate by themselves in a private parlor
with a fireplace of its own and the great hall was deserted.
Some farmers achieved enough wealth to employ others as laborers
on their farms. The laborers lived with their employer in his
barn, sleeping on hay in the loft, or in mud huts outside the
barn. The farmer's family lived at one end of the barn around an
open fire. Their possessions typically were: a chest, a trestle
table, benches, stools, an iron or bronze cauldron and pots,
brooms, wooden platters, wooden bowls, spoons, knives, wooden or
leather jugs, a salt box, straw mattresses, wool blankets, linen
towels, iron tools, rushlightholders, and livestock. Some
farmers could afford to have a wooden four-posted bedstead,
hens, geese, pigs, a couple of cows, a couple of sheep, or two
plow oxen. They ate dark bread and beans and drank water from
springs. Milk and cheese were a luxury for them. Farming still
occupied the vast majority of the population. Town inhabitants
and university students went into the fields to help with the
harvest in the summer.
Town people had more wealth than country people. Most townspeople
slept in nightgowns and nightcaps in beds with mattresses,
blankets, linen sheets, and pillows. Beds were made every
morning. Bathing was by sponging hot water from a basin over the
body, sometimes with herbs in it, rinsing with a splash of warm
water, and drying off with a towel. Tubs just for baths came into
use. There were drapery-rugs hung around beds, hand-held mirrors
of glass, and salt cellars. The first meal of the day was
breakfast, which broke the fast lasting the night. Meals were
often prepared according to recipes from cook books which
involved several preparation procedures using flour, eggs, sugar,
cheese, and grated bread, rather than just simple seasoning.
Menus were put together with foods that tasted well together and
served on plates in several courses. Table manners included not
making sounds when eating, not playing with one's spoon or
knife, not placing one's elbows on the table, keeping one's mouth
clean with a napkin, and not being boisterous. There were
courtesies such as saying "Good Morning" when meeting someone
and not pointing one's finger at another person. King Richard II
invented the handkerchief for sneezing and blowing one's nose.
There were books on etiquette.
New burgesses were recruited locally, usually from within a 20
mile radius of town. Most of the freemen of the larger boroughs,
like Canterbury and London, came from smaller boroughs. An
incoming burgess was required to buy his right to trade either
by way of a seven year apprenticeship or by payment of an entry
fee. To qualify, he needed both a skill and social
Towns started acquiring from the King the right to vacant sites
and other waste places, which previously was the lord's right.
The perpetuality of towns was recognized by statutes of 1391,
which compared town-held property to church-held property. The
right of London to pass ordinances was confirmed by charter. Some
towns had a town clerk, who was chief of full-time salaried
officers. There was a guildhall to maintain, a weigh-house,
prison, and other public buildings, municipal water supplies,
wharves, cranes, quays, wash-houses, and public lavatories.
After the experience of the black death, some sanitary measures
were taken. The notorious offenders in matters of public hygiene
in the towns, such as the butchers, the fishmongers, and the
leather tanners were assigned specific localities where their
trades would do least harm. The smiths and potters were excluded
from the more densely populated areas because they were fire
risks. In the town of Salisbury, there was Butcher Row, Ox Row,
Fish Row, Ironmongers' Row, Wheelwrights' Row, Smiths' Row, Pot
Row, Silver Street, Cheese Market, and Wool Market.
Fresh water was brought into towns by pipe or open conduit as a
public facility, in addition to having public wells. In London,
a conduit piped water underground to a lead tank, from which it
was delivered to the public by means of pipes and brass taps in
the stone framework. This was London's chief water supply. Water
carriers carried water in wooden devices on their backs to
houses. The paving and proper drainage of the streets became a
town concern. Building contracts began specifying the provision
of adequate cesspits for the privies at town houses, whether the
toilets were built into the house or as an outhouse. Also, in
the better houses, there grew a practice of carting human and
animal fecal matter at night to dung heaps outside the city
walls. There was one public latrine in each ward and about
twelve dung-carts for the whole city. Country manor houses had
toilets on the ground floor and/or the basement level.
Stairwells between floors had narrow and winding steps.
In London, the Goldsmiths, the Mercers, and the Saddlers became
the first guilds to receive, in 1394-5, charters of
incorporation, which gave them perpetual existence. As such they
could hold land in "mortmain", thus depriving the King of rights
that came to him on the death of a tenant-in-chief. They were
called Livery Companies.
In all towns, the organization of craft associations spread
rapidly downwards through the trades and sought self-government.
Craft guilds were gaining much power relative to the old
merchant guilds in governing the towns. The greater crafts such
as the fishmongers, skinners, and the corders organized and
ultimately were recognized by town authorities as self-governing
craft guilds. The building trade guilds such as the tilers,
carpenters, masons, and joiners, became important. Masons were
still itinerant, going to sites of churches, public buildings,
or commanded by the King to work on castles. The guild was not
necessarily associated with a specific product. For instance, a
saddle and bridle were the result of work of four crafts: joiner
(woodworker), painter, saddler (leather), and lorimer (metal
In London in 1392 craft guilds included: baker, fishmonger (cut
up and sold fish), fruiterer, brewer, butcher, bird dealer,
cook, apothecary (sold drugs he had ground up), cutler (made
knives and spoons), barber, tailor, shoemaker, glover (made
gloves), skinner (sold furs), girdler (made girdles of cloth to
wear around one's waist), pouchmaker, armorer, sheathmaker,
weaver, fuller (made cloth full and dense), painter, carpenter,
joiner (woodworker who finished interior woodwork such as doors
and made furniture), tiler, mason (cut stone for buildings),
smith (made metal tools for stonemasons and builders), tallow
chandler (made candles and sometimes soap from the fat and
grease the housewife supplied), wax chandler (made candles),
stirrup maker, spurrier (made spurs), and hosteler (innkeeper).
However, the merchant guilds of the goldsmiths, vintners (sold
wine), mercers (sold cloth), grocers, and drapers (finished and
sold English cloth) were still strong. The goldsmiths, tailors,
skinners, and girdlers bought royal charters, which recognized
their power of self-government as a company and their power to
enforce their standards, perhaps throughout the country. Freemen
in one company could practice the trade of another company.
There were paint mills and saw mills replacing human labor. Women
who spent their days spinning with the new spinning wheel were
Many of the guilds bought sites on which they built a chapel,
which was later used as a secular meeting place. The guild
officers commonly included an alderman, stewards, a dean, and a
clerk, who were elected. The guild officers sat as a guild court
to determine discipline for offences such as false weights or
measures or false workmanship or work and decided trade disputes.
The brethren in guild fraternity were classified as masters,
journeymen, or apprentices. They were expected to contribute to
the support of the sick and impoverished in their fellowship.
Their code required social action such as ostracizing a man of
the craft who was living in adultery until he mended his ways.
The rules of the Company of Glovers were:
1. None but a freeman of the city shall make or sell gloves.
2. No glover may be admitted to the freedom of the city unless
with the assent of the wardens of the trade.
3. No one shall entice away the servant of another.
4. If a servant in the trade makes away with his master's
chattels to the value of 12d., the wardens shall make good the
loss; and if the servant refuses to be judged by the wardens, he
shall be taken before the mayor and aldermen.
5. No one may sell his goods by candle-light.
6. Any false work found shall be taken before the mayor and
aldermen by the wardens.
7. All things touching the trade within the city between those
who are not freemen shall be forfeited.
8. Journeymen shall be paid their present rate of wages.
9. Persons who entice away journeymen glovers to make gloves in
their own houses shall be brought before the mayor and aldermen.
10. Any one of the trade who refuses to obey these regulations
shall be brought before the mayor and aldermen.
Cordwainers [workers in soft cordovan leather from Spain,
especially shoes] of good repute petitioned the city of London
in 1375 for ordinances on their trade as follows:
'To the mayor and aldermen of the city of London pray the good
folks of the trade of cordwainers of the same city, that it may
please you to grant unto them the articles that follow, for the
profit of the common people; that so, what is good and right may
be done unto all manner of folks, for saving the honor of the
city and lawfully governing the said trade.
In the first place - that if any one of the trade shall sell to
any person shoes of bazen [sheep-skin tanned in oak or
larch-bark] as being cordwain, or of calf- leather for
ox-leather, in deceit of the common people, and to the scandal of
the trade, he shall pay to the Chamber of the Guildhall, the
first time that he shall be convicted thereof, forty pence; the
second time, 7s. half a mark; and the third time the same, and
further, at the discretion of the mayor and aldermen.
Also - that no one of the trade shall keep house within the
franchise if he be not free [invested with the rights or
privileges] of the city and one knowing his trade, and that no
one shall be admitted to the freedom without the presence of the
wardens of the trade bearing witness to his standing, on the pain
Also - if any one of the trade shall be found offending touching
the trade, or rebellious against the wardens thereof, such
person shall not make complaint to any one of another trade, by
reason of the discord or dissension that may have arisen between
them; but he shall be ruled by the good folks of his own trade.
And if he shall differ from them as acting against right, then
let the offense be adjudged upon before the mayor and aldermen;
and if he be found rebellious against the ordinance, let him pay
to the Chamber the sum above mentioned.
Also - that no one of the trade shall entice or purloin the
servant of another from the service of his master by paying him
more than is ordained by the trade, on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that no one shall carry out of his house any wares
connected with his trade for sale in market or elsewhere except
only at a certain place situated between Soperesland and the
Conduit; and that at a certain time of the day, that is to say,
between prime [the first hour of the day] and noon. And that no
shoes shall exceed the measure of seven inches, so that the
wares may be surveyed by the good folks of the trade, because of
the deceit upon the common people that might ensue and the
scandal of the trade, on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that no one shall expose his wares openly for sale in
market on Sundays at any place, but only within his own dwelling
to serve the common people, on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that if any one sells old shoes, he shall not mix new
shoes among the old in deceit of the common people and to the
scandal of the trade, on the pain aforesaid."
Smithfield was a field outside the city gates at which horses
were sold and raced. In 1372, the horsedealers and drovers
petitioned for a tax on animals sold there to pay for cleaning
the field. The city ordinance reads as follows: "On Wednesday
next after the Feast of St. Margaret the Virgin came reputable
men, the horsedealers and drovers, and delivered unto the mayor
and aldermen a certain petition in these words: 'To the mayor,
recorder, and aldermen show the dealers of Smithfield, that is
to say, the coursers and drovers, that for the amendment of the
said field they have granted and assented among them that for
the term of three years next ensuing after the date of this
petition for every horse sold in the said field there shall be
paid one penny, for every ox and cow one half-penny, for every
eight sheep one penny, and for every swine one penny by the
seller and the same by the purchaser who buys the same for
resale.` Afterwards, on the eleventh day of August in the same
year, Adam Fernham, keeper of the gaol at Newgate, Hugh,
Averelle, bailiff of Smithfield, and William Godhewe, weaver,
were chosen and sworn faithfully to collect and receive the said
pennies in form aforesaid and to clean the field of Smithfield
from time to time during such term of three years when
Many London houses were being made from stone and timber and even
brick and timber, instead of just timber and mud. However,
chimneys were still a luxury of the rich. There were windows of
glass and a guild of glaziers was chartered by the King. Many
single-roomed houses added a second-floor room for sleeping,
which was approached by a wooden or stone staircase from the
outside. Goods were displayed on a booth outside the door of the
house or hung in the windows. They were stored at night in the
cellar. Over the booths swung huge signs, which had to be nine
feet above street level to allow a man on horseback to ride
underneath. There were no sidewalks. Street repair work for
wages was supervised by a stone master. The streets sloped down
from the middle so that the filth of the streets would run down
the sides of the road. People sometimes threw the rubbish from
their houses onto the street although they were supposed to cart
it outside the city walls and to clean the frontage of their
houses once a week. Dustmen scavenged through the rubbish on the
streets. Pigs and geese were not allowed to run at large in the
streets, but had to be fed at home. There were other city rules
on building, public order, the use of fountains, precautions
against fire, trading rights in various districts, closing time
of taverns, and when refuse could be thrown into the streets,
Aldermen were constantly making rounds to test measures and
weights, wine cups, the height of tavern signs, and the mesh of
the fishing nets, which had to be at least two inches wide. They
saw that the taverns were shut when curfew was rung and arrested
anyone on the street after curfew who had a weapon, for no one
with a sword was allowed on the streets unless he was some great
lord or other substantial person of good reputation. Wards
provided citizens to guard the gates in their respective
neighborhood and keep its key.
The city was so dense that nuisance was a common action brought
in court, for instance, vegetable vendors near a church
obstructing passageway on the street or plumbers melting their
solder with a lower than usual shalt of the furnace so smoke was
inhaled by people nearby.
Crime in London was rare. Murder, burglary, highway robbery, and
gross theft were punishable by hanging. Forgery, fraud, was
punishable by the placement in the pillory or stocks or by
imprisonment. Perjury was punished by confession from a high
stool for the first offense, and the pillory for the second.
Slander and telling lies was punished by the pillory and wearing
a whetstone around one's neck.
Prominent Londoners sought to elevate their social position by
having their family marry into rural landholders of position.
Many master freemasons, who carved freestone or finely grained
sandstone and limestone artistically with mallet and chisel,
left the country for better wages after their wages were fixed
by statute. The curvilinear gothic style of architecture was
replaced by the perpendicular style, which was simpler and
cheaper to build. Church steeples now had clocks on them with
dials and hands to supplement the church bell ringing on the
Towns recognized surgery as a livelihood subject to admission and
oath to serve the social good. Master surgeons were admitted to
practice in 1369 in London in full husting before the mayor and
the aldermen and swore to: faithfully serve the people in
undertaking their cures, take reasonably from them, faithfully
follow their calling, present to the said mayor and aldermen the
defaults of others undertaking, so often as should be necessary;
to be ready, at all times when they should be warned, to attend
the maimed or wounded and others, to give truthful information
to the officers of the city as to such maimed, wounded, or
others whether they be in peril of death or not, and to
faithfully do all other things touching their calling.
Some young girls of good families were boarded at nunneries to be
taught there. Some upper class widows retired there. Only women
were allowed to be present at a birth, at which they spread the
knowledge of midwifery. As usual, many women died giving birth.
Various ways to prevent pregnancy were tried. It was believed
that a baby grew from a seed of the father planted in the woman's
Infant mortality was especially high in boroughs and burgess
family lines usually died out. A three-generation family span
was exceptional in the towns, despite family wealth.
Children's sweets included gingerbread and peppermint drops.
After the plague, gentlemen no longer had their children learn