Part 5 out of 7
to speak Norman. The grammar schools taught in English instead
of Norman. Bishops began to preach in English. Twenty years
later, English became the official language of the courts and of
A will in 1389 in which a wealthy citizen arranges for one son to
become a lawyer and the other a merchant: "Will of William de
Tonge, citizen of London: One hundred marks [1,333s.] each to my
two sons. And I will that my said two sons shall live upon the
profits of the money bequeathed to them above until the age of
twenty years. And if my said two sons be well learned in grammar
and adorned with good manners, which shall be known at the end
of twenty years, and the elder son wish to practice common law,
and if it is known that he would spend his time well in that
faculty, I will that over and above the profit of the said one
hundred marks he shall have yearly from my rents for the term of
seven years five marks [67s.]. And if he should waste his time
aforesaid, or if he should marry foolishly and unsuitably, I
will that he receive nothing more of the said five marks.
And if younger son wishes to attend the University of Oxford or
to establish himself well in the mystery of a merchant after the
age of twenty years, and [if] there be knowledge of his
praiseworthy progress in his faculty or his carefulness in
trading ... I will that he shall receive five marks yearly in the
manner described above for his maintenance, over and above the
profit of the said one hundred marks to him bequeathed, for the
space of seven years; and if he behave himself otherwise, I will
that thereupon he be excluded from the said five marks. And in
case the said bequest of 200 marks [2,667s.]to him and his
brother shall be annulled so that he shall have nothing therefrom
... then the said 200 marks shall be spent upon all the yearly
chaplains who can be had to celebrate divine service in the
church of All Hallows for my soul."
England was still an agricultural rather than a manufacturing
country. Imported were cloth, silks, linen, velvets, furs,
glass, wines, candles, millstones, amber, iron, and mercury.
Exported were wool, leather, lead, tin, and alabaster for
sculpturing. But the London Society of the Merchant Adventurers,
which had a monopoly of trade with the Low Countries, now
manufactured cloth good enough for export and began to buy up
raw wool in such quantity that its export declined.
An Oxford theologian and preacher, John Wyclif, voiced the
popular resentment of the materialism of the church, benefit of
clergy, immorality of priests, and the selling of indulgences
and pardons. He argued against the supremacy of the papal law
over the King's courts and against payments to the papacy. He
opined that the church had no power to excommunicate. The Friars
had become mere beggars and the church was still wealthy. He
proposed that all goods should be held in common by the
righteous and that the church should hold no property but be
entirely spiritual. He believed that people should rely on their
individual consciences. He thought that the Bible should be
available to people who could read English so that the people
could have a direct access to God without priests or the Pope.
Towards this end, he translated it from Latin into English in
1384. His preachers spread his views throughout the country. The
church then possessed about one-third of the land of the nation.
Stories were written about pilgrimage vacations of ordinary
people to religious sites in England. Geoffrey Chaucer's "Tales
of the Canterbury Pilgrims" portrayed characters of every social
class, including the knight with his squire, abbot, prioress,
nun, priest, monk, friar, poor parson of the country, summoner
(who enforced the jurisdiction and levied the dues of the church
courts), pardoner (sold pardons from the Pope), scholar, lawyer,
doctor, merchant, sailor, franklin, yeoman, haberdasher,
tapestry-maker, ploughman, cook, weaver, dyer, upholsterer,
miller, reeve, carpenter.
It told stories about a beautiful and virtuous wife disliked by
her mother-in- law, the difficulty of marriage between people of
different religions, the hatred of a poor person b his brother
and his neighbor, rich merchants who visited other kingdoms, the
importance of a man himself following the rules he sets for
other people's behavior, the spite of a man for a woman who
rejected him, the relative lack of enthusiasm of a wife for sex
as compared to her husband, a mother giving up her own comfort
for that of her child, the revenge killing of a murderer by the
dead man's friends, the joy of seeing a loved one after years of
separation, that life is more sad than happy, that lost money can
be retrieved, but time lost is lost forever.
Other stories in the Canterbury Tales were about two men who did
not remain friends after they fell in love with the same woman,
about a child who preferred to learn from an older child than
from his school-teacher, about a wife who convinced her husband
not to avenge her beating for the sake of peace, about a man who
woke up from bad dreams full of fear, about a man wanting to
marry a beautiful woman but later realizing a plain wife would
not be pursued by other men, about a man who drank so much wine
that he lost his mental and physical powers, about a woman who
married for money instead of love, about a man who said
something in frustration which he didn't mean, about a person
brought up in poverty who endured adversity better than one
brought up in wealth, about a wife who was loving and wise,
about a good marriage being more valuable than money, about a
virgin who committed suicide rather than be raped, about a wife
persuaded to adultery by a man who said he would otherwise kill
himself, about three men who found a pile of gold and murdered
each other to take it all, about an angry man who wanted to
kill, about a malicious man who had joy in seeing other men in
trouble and misfortune, about a man whose face turned red in
shame, about a wife expecting to have half of what her husband
Will Langland's poem "The Vision of William Concerning Piers
Plowman" portrays a pilgrimage of common people to the shrine of
Truth led by a virtuous laborer. Mystics wrote practical advice
with transcendental teaching, for instance "Scale of Perfection"
attributed to Walter Hilton and "Cloud of Unknowing". Richard
Rolle wrote about spiritual matters, probably the "Prick of
Conscience". Richard de Bury wrote "Philobiblon" about book
lovers. Jean Froissart wrote the "Chronicles" on knights.
Courtly ideals were expressed in "Sir Gawaine and the Grene
Knyght", wherein the adventures of the hero, an Arthur knight,
are allegorical in the struggle against the world, the flesh,
and the devil (1370). "Pearl" eulogized all that is pure and
innocent on the event of the death of a two year old child.
Paper supplemented parchment, so there were more books.
Political songs and poems were written about the evil times of
King Edward II, the military triumphs of King Edward III, and
the complaints of the poor against their oppressors, such as
"Song of the Husbandman". John Gower wrote moralizing poems on
the villein's revolt, the sins of the clergy and lawyers, and the
bad rule of King Richard II. Robin Hood ballads were popular.
The minstrel, who was a honorable person, replaced the
troubadour of older times.
There were many colleges at Oxford and Cambridge due to the
prohibition of gifts to the church. Laymen instead of
ecclesiastics were appointed as Chancellor. The Masters at
Oxford got rid of ecclesiastical supervision by a bishop and
archdeacon by 1368. One could be admitted as a student at age
A Bachelor of Arts degree was granted after four years of study
and an oral exam. Required reading in 1340 for the Bachelor's
Degree was Aristotlean logic and a selection from these works:
"Of Heaven and Earth", "On the Soul", "Of meteors", "Of Birth
and Decay", "Of Feeling and What is Felt", "Of Memory and
Recollection", "Of Sleep and Waking", "Of the Movement of
Animals", "Of Minor Points in Natural History".
A Master of Arts degree could be awarded after three more years
of study and teaching. A Doctorate degrees in theology required
ten more years of study. A Doctorate in civil or canon law
required eight more years. A man with a degree in canon law who
wanted to practice in a certain bishop's court had to first
satisfy this bishop of his competence. The guilds gave rise to
the Inns of Court in London. They used the Register of Writs,
the case law of the Year Books, and disputation to teach their
For a doctorate in medicine from Oxford or Cambridge, five more
years plus two years of practice were required. Surgery was not
taught because it was considered manual labor. Humans were
thought to be influenced by four humors: sanguine, phlegmatic,
choleric, and melancholic. Urinalysis and pulse beat were used
for diagnosis. Epilepsy and apoplexy were understood as spasms
inside the head. It was known what substances served as
laxatives and diuretics. Teeth were extracted, eye cataracts
were removed with a silver needle, and skin from the arm was
grafted onto a mutilated face.
Englishmen who had collected books on philosophy, medicine,
astronomy, and history and literature books from the continent
gave their collections to the universities, which started their
libraries. Marco Polo's discoveries on his journey to China were
The requirements of elementary and higher studies were adjusted
in 1393 and began the public school system. William of Wykeham's
school, St. Mary College of Winchester in Oxford was the
prototype. The curriculum was civil law, canon law, medicine,
astronomy with astronomical instruments that were made, theology,
and the arts. The arts textbooks were still grammar, logic,
Donatus, and Aristotle. Many laymen were literate, for instance
country gentry, merchants, and craftsmen. Laymen instead of
clerics were now appointed to the great offices of state.
Parliament was composed of representatives from 100 boroughs and
37 shires. Merchants were entering Parliament and paid much of
the taxes. Some were created Earls and appointed as ministers to
the King. Edward III did not summon anyone to his council who
did not have the confidence of the magnates [barons, earls,
bishops, and abbots]. Under him, the commons took a leading part
in the granting of taxes and the presentation of petitions.
At the 1376 Parliament, ("the Good Parliament") the Commons,
which formerly had only consented to taxes, took political
action by complaining that the King's councilors had grown rich
by war profiteering at the cost of impoverishing the nation and
the people were too poor to endure any more taxation for the war
and held a hearing on malfeasance of two ministers. The
Parliament found the charges proved and dismissed them from
office. This established the constitutional means for
impeachment and removal of ministers. The commons demanded that
its members be elected by shire citizens rather than appointed
by the sheriff. Actions of this Parliament were undone a few
King Richard II exiled Henry of Lancaster, forbade his
inheritance, and took his property. This made all propertied men
anxious. The "Merciless Parliament" of 1388 swept out King
Richard II's friends. Parliament threw Richard II into prison
and elected Lancaster to be King Henry IV. This action
established clearly that royal decrees were subordinate to
parliamentary statutes. The House of Commons became very
So the roles of Parliament and the King's council are starting to
differentiate into legislative and executive, respectively. The
legislative function is law- making and the executive is
regulation-making that refines and effectuates the laws of
Parliament. But the legislative, executive and judicial
authorities have not as yet become so completely separated that
they cannot on occasion work together.
There was a standard form of direct taxation voted by Parliament,
which was normally 1/10 of the value of all moveables in towns
and royal domains and 1/15 in the country.
>From 1150 to 1400, resistance was an ordinary remedy for
political disagreements. If a popular leader raised his standard
in a popular cause, an irregular army could be assembled in a
day. (There was no regular army, since England was protected by
the sea from invasion.) So misgovernment by a King would be
quickly restrained. Society recovered quickly from conflict and
civil war because the national wealth consisted chiefly in
flocks and herds and in the simple buildings inhabited by the
people. In a week after armed resistance, the agricultural
worker was driving his team. There was little furniture, stock of
shops, manufactured goods, or machinery that could be destroyed.
The feudal army was summoned for the last time in the 100 year
war with France, which began in 1337. In it the English longbow
was used to pierce French knights' armor. Guns and cannon with
gunpowder were introduced in 1338. They became common by 1372
and foresaw the end to the competition between the strength of
arrows to pierce and the heaviness of armor to resist.
Featherbeds and blooded horses were favorite spoils of war
brought back to England. In th 1300s and 1400s, the King relied
on mercenaries hired directly or by contract with his great
nobles for foreign wars.
Many lords got men to fight with them by livery and maintenance
employment agreements such as this one of 1374: "Bordeaux,
February 15. This indenture, made between our lord King John [of
Gaunt, of Castile, etc.] of the one part and Symkyn Molyneux,
esquire, of the other part, witnesses that the said Symkyn is
retained and will remain with our said lord for peace and for
war for the term of his life, as follows: that is to say, the
said Symkyn shall be bound to serve our said lord as well in time
of peace as of war in whatsoever parts it shall please our said
lord, well and fitly arrayed. And he shall be boarded as well in
time of peace as of war. And he shall take for his fees by the
year, as well in time of peace as of war, 133s. ten marks
[133s.4d] sterling from the issues of the Duchy of Lancaster by
the hands of the receiver there who now is or shall be in time to
come, at the terms of Easter and Michaelmas by even portions
yearly for the whole of his life. And, moreover, our lord has
granted to him by the year in time of war five marks [67s.]
sterling by the hands of the treasurer of war for the time being.
And his year of war shall begin the day when he shall move from
his inn towards our said lord by letters which shall be sent to
him thereof, and thenceforward he shall take wages coming and
returning by reasonable daily [payments] and he shall have
fitting freightage for him, his men, horses, and other harness
within reason, and in respect of his war horses taken and lost
in the service of our said lord, and also in respect to
prisoners and other profits of war taken or gained by him or any
of his men, the said our lord will do to him as to other squires
of his rank."
Forecastles and stern castles on ships were lower and broader.
Underneath them were cabins. The English ship was still
single-masted with a single square sail. A navy was formed with
over 200 ships selected by the English admirals acting for the
King at the ports. Men were seized and pressed into service and
criminals were pardoned from crimes to become sailors in the
fleet, which was led by the King's ship. They used the superior
longbow against the French sailor's crossbow. In 1372, the Tower
of London had four mounted fortress cannon and Dover had six.
The war's disruption of shipping caused trade to decline. But the
better policing of the narrow seas made piracy almost disappear.
In 1363, Calais, a continental town held by the English, became
the staple town for lead, tin, cloth, and wool and was placed
under a group of London capitalists: the Merchants of the
Staple. All exports of these had to pass through Calais, where
customs tax was collected. Merchants who took cloth abroad to
various places to sell, personally or by agents, were called
merchant adventurers to distinguish them from the Merchant of
Waterpower was replacing foot power in driving the mills where
cloth was cleaned and fulled [thickened].
A boundary dispute between two barons resulted in the first true
survey map. Nine cow pastures were divided by a boundary marked
by a shield on a pole which the commission of true and sworn men
had set up.
Bethlehem Hospital was used from 1377 to house the mentally ill.
After the Black Death of 1348 these statutes were enacted:
High treason was defined by statute in 1352 as levying war
against the King, aiding the King's enemies, compassing or
imagining the death of the King, Queen, or their eldest son and
heir, or violating the Queen or the eldest unmarried daughter or
the wife of the King's eldest son and heir, making or knowingly
using counterfeits of the King's great or privy seal or coinage,
or slaying the Chancellor, Treasurer, or any justice in the
exercise of their duty. The penalty was forfeit of life and
lands. During the reign of King Richard II, who was later
disposed, high treason was extended to include making a riot and
rumor, compassing or purposing to depose the King, revoking
one's homage or liege to the King, and attempting to repeal a
statute. But these extensions were repealed after he was
Petit treason was defined by statute and included a servant
slaying his master, a wife her husband, or a man his lord, to
whom was owed faith and obedience.
No one shall tell false news or lies about prelates, dukes,
earls, barons, and other nobles and great men or the Chancellor,
Treasurer, a Justice, Clerk of the Privy Seal, Steward of the
King's house whereby debates and discords might arise between
these lords or between the lords and the commons. Cases shall be
tried by the King's Council, which included the Chancellor,
Treasurer, and chief justices.
Preachers drawing crowds by ingenious sermons and inciting them
to riot shall be arrested by sheriffs and tried by the
Any stranger passing at night of whom any have suspicion shall be
arrested and taken to the Sheriff.
No man shall ride with a spear, upon pain of forfeiting it.
No servant of agriculture or laborer shall carry any sword or
dagger, or forfeit it, except in time of war in defense of the
nation. He may carry bow and arrow [for practice] on Sundays and
holy days, when he should not play games such as tennis.
football, or dice.
No one may enter another's land and tenements by strong hand nor
with a mob, upon pain of imprisonment and ransom at the King's
Charters, releases, obligations, [quit-claim deeds] and other
deeds burnt or destroyed in uprisings shall be reissued without
fee, after trial by the King and his council. Manumissions,
obligations, releases and other bonds and feoffments in land
made by force, coercion or duress during mob uprisings are void.
Men who rape and women consenting after a rape shall lose their
inheritance and dower and joint feoffments. The husbands, or
father or next of kin of such women may sue the rapist by
inquisition, but not by battle. The penalty is loss of life and
The Statute of Laborers of 1351 required all workers, from
tailors to ploughmen, to work only at pre-plague wage rates and
forced the vagrant peasant to work for anyone who claimed him or
her. It also encouraged longer terms of employment as in the
past rather than for a day at a time. Statutory price controls on
food limited profits to reasonable ones according to the
distance of the supply. Later, wages were determined in each
county by Justices of the Peace according to the dearth of
victuals while allowing a victualler a reasonable profit and a
penalty was specified as paying the value of the excess wages
given or received for the first offense, double this for the
second offense, and treble this or forty days imprisonment for
the third offense.
A fugitive laborer will be outlawed, and when found, shall be
burnt in the forehead with the letter "F" for falsity.
Children who labored at the plough and cart or other agriculture
shall continue in that labor and may not go into a craft.
A statute of 1363 designed to stop hoarding various types of
merchandise until a type became scarce so to sell it at high
prices, required merchants to deal in only one type of
merchandise. It also required craftsmen to work in only one
craft as before (except women who traditionally did several
types of handiwork). This was repealed a year later.
Where scarcity has made the price of poultry high, it shall be
lowered to 8d. for a young capon, 7d. for an old capon or a
goose, 9d. for a hen, and 10d. for a pullet.
The fares for passage on boats on fresh waters and from Dover to
the continent shall remain at their old rate.
Any merchant selling at a fair after it has ended will forfeit to
the King twice the value of that sold.
Anyone finding and proving cloth contrary to the assize of cloth
shall have one- third of it for his labor.
No shoemaker nor cordwainer shall tan their leather and no tanner
shall make shoes, in order that tanning not be false or poorly
The staple was reinstituted by statute of 1353 after an
experiment without it, in which profits of a staple went to
staples outside the nation. The rationale for the staple was to
facilitate inspection of quality and the levy of customs. Wool,
woolfells, leather, and lead sold for export had to go through
the staple town. The penalty was forfeiture of lands, tenements,
goods, and chattel. (The staple statute remained basically
unchanged for the next 200 years.) The mayor and constables of
the staple were elected annually by the native and foreign
merchants of the place. The mayor gave validity to contracts for
a set fee, by seal of his office. He and the constables had
jurisdiction over all persons and things touching the staple,
which was regulated by the Law Merchant in all matters of
contract, covenant, debt, and felonies against foreign merchants.
A Hue and Cry was required to be raised and followed for anyone
taking a cart of merchandise or slaying a merchant, denizen
[resident alien] or alien, or the town would answer for the
robbery and damage done.
All denizen [foreigner permitted to reside in the realm with
certain rights and privileges] and alien merchants may buy and
sell goods and merchandise, in gross, in any part of the
country, despite town charters or franchises, to anyone except
an enemy of the King. They may also sell small wares: victuals,
fur, silk, cover chiefs, silver wire, and gold wire in retail,
but not cloth or wine. They must sell their goods within three
months of arrival. Any alien bringing goods to the nation to
sell must buy goods of the nation to the value of at least
one-half that of his merchandise sold. These merchants must
engage in no collusion to lower the price of merchandise
bought, take merchandise bought to the staple, and promise to
hold no staple beyond the sea for the same merchandise. An
amendment disallowed denizens from taking wools, leather,
woolfells, or lead for export, but only strangers.
Towns failing to bring disturbers of this right to justice shall
forfeit their franchise to the King and pay double damages to
the merchant. The disturber shall be imprisoned for a year.
Cloth may not be tacked nor folded for sale to merchants unless
they are opened to the buyers for inspection, for instance for
concealed inferior wool. Workers, weavers, and fullers shall put
their seals to every cloth. And anyone could bring his own
wools, woolfells, leather, and lead to the staple to sell without
being compelled to sell them in the country. Special streets or
warehouses were appointed with warehouse rent fixed by the mayor
and constables with four of the principal inhabitants. Customs
duties were regulated and machinery provided for their
collection. No one was to forestall or regrate, that is, buy at
one price and sell at a higher price in the same locale.
Forestallers were those who bought raw material on its way to
market. Regrators were those who tried to create a "corner" in
the article in the market itself.
Anyone may ship or carry grain out of the nation, except to
enemies, after paying duties. But the council may restrain this
passage when necessary for the good of the nation. Any merchant,
privy or stranger, who was robbed of goods on the sea or lost
his ship by tempest or other misfortune on the sea banks, his
goods coming to shore could not be declared Wreck, but were to be
delivered to the merchant after he proves ownership in court by
his marks on the goods or by good and lawful merchants.
All stakes and obstacles set up in rivers impeding the passage of
boats shall be removed.
Imported cloth shall be inspected by the King's officials for
non-standard measurements or defects [despite town franchises].
No one shall leave the nation except at designated ports, on pain
of one year's imprisonment.
English merchants may carry their merchandise in foreign ships if
there are no English ships available.
Social distinctions by attire were mandated by statute of 1363. A
servant, his wife, son, or daughter, shall only wear cloth worth
no more than 27s. and shall not have more than one dish of meat
or fish a day. Carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough,
oxherds, cowherds, shepherds, and all other people owning less
than 40s. of goods and chattels shall only wear blanket and
russet worth no more than 12d. and girdles of linen according to
their estate. Craftsmen and free peasants shall only wear cloth
worth no more than 40s. Esquires and gentlemen below the rank of
knight with no land nor rent over 2,000s. a year shall only wear
cloth worth no more than 60s., no gold, silver, stone, fur, or
the color purple. Esquires with land up to 2,667s. per year may
wear 67s. cloth, cloth of silk and silver, miniver [grey] fur
and stones, except head stones. Merchants, citizens, burgesses,
artificers, and people of handicraft having goods and chattels
worth 10,000s. shall wear cloth the same value as that worn by
esquires and gentlemen with land or rent within 2,000s. per
year. The same merchants and burgesses with goods and chattels
worth 13,333s. and esquires and gentlemen with land or rent
within 400s. per year may not wear gold cloth, miniver fur,
ermine [white] fur, or embroidered stones. A knight with land or
rents within 2,667s. yearly are limited to cloth of 80s., but
his wife may wear a stone on her head. Knights and ladies with
land or rents within 8,000s. to 20,000s. yearly may not wear fur
of ermine or of letuse, but may wear gold, and such ladies may
wear pearls as well as stones on their heads. The penalty is
forfeiture of such apparel. This statute is necessary because of
"outrageous and excessive apparel of diverse persons against
their estate and degree, to the great destruction and
impoverishment of all the land".
If anyone finds a hawk [used to hunt birds, ducks, and pheasant]
that a lord has lost, he must take it to the sheriff for keeping
for the lord to claim. If there is no claim after four months,
the finder may have it only if he is a gentleman. If one steals
a hawk from a lord or conceals from him the fact that it has been
found, he shall pay the price of the hawk and be imprisoned for
No laborer or any other man who does not have lands and tenements
of the value of 40s. per year shall keep a greyhound [or other
hound or dog] to hunt, nor shall they use nets or cords or other
devices to take [deer, rabbits, conies, nor other gentlemen's
game], upon pain of one year imprisonment.
No man shall eat more than two courses of meat or fish in his
house or elsewhere, except at festivals, when three are allowed
[because great men ate costly meats to excess and the lesser
people were thereby impoverished].
No one may export silver, whether bullion or coinage, or wine
except foreign merchants may carry back the portion of their
money not used to buy English commodities. The penalty for
bringing false or counterfeit money into the nation is loss of
life and member. An assigned searcher [inspector] for coinage of
the nation on the sea passing out of the nation or bad money in
the nation shall have one third of it. No foreign money may be
used in the nation.
Each goldsmith shall have an identifying mark, which shall be
placed on his vessel or work only after inspection by the King's
No one shall give anything to a beggar who is capable of working.
Vagrants begging in London were banned by this 1359 ordinance:
"Forasmuch as many men and women, and others, of divers
counties, who might work, to the help of the common people, have
betaken themselves from out of their own country to the city of
London and do go about begging there so as to have their own ease
and repose, not wishing to labor or work for their sustenance, to
the great damage of the common people; and also do waste divers
alms which would otherwise be given to many poor folks, such as
lepers, blind, halt, and persons oppressed with old age and
divers other maladies, to the destruction of the support of the
same - we do command on behalf of our lord the King, whom may God
preserve and bless, that all those who go about begging in the
said city and who are able to labor and work for the profit of
the common people shall quit the said city between now and
Monday next ensuing. And if any such shall be found begging
after the day aforesaid, the same shall be taken and put in the
stocks on Cornhill for half a day the first time, and the second
time he shall remain in the stocks one whole day, and the third
time he shall be taken and shall remain in prison for forty days
and shall then forswear the said city forever. And every
constable and the beadle of every ward of the said city shall be
empowered to arrest such manner of folks and to put them in the
stocks in manner aforesaid."
The hundred year cry to "let the King live on his own" found
fruition in a 1352 statute requiring consent of the Parliament
before any commission of array for militia could be taken and a
1362 statute requiring purchases of goods and means of
conveyance for the King and his household to be made only by
agreement with the seller and with payment to him before the
King traveled on, instead of at the low prices determined
unilaterally by the King's purveyer.
Every man who has wood within the forest may take houseboot and
heyboot in his wood without being arrested so long as it take
such within the view of the foresters.
English was made the official language of the courts, replacing
French and Latin, and schools in 1362 and of Parliament,
replacing Anglo-Norman, in 1363.
No fecal matter, dung, garbage, or entrails of animals killed
shall be put into ditches or rivers or other waters, so that
maladies and diseases will not be caused by corrupted and
infected air. The penalty is 400s. to the King after trial by
Gifts or alienation of land to guilds, fraternities, or towns are
forbidden. Instead, it escheats to its lord, or in his default,
to the King.
No man will be charged to go out of his shire to do military
service except in case of an enemy invasion of the nation. Men
who chose to go into the King's service outside the nation shall
be paid wages by the King until their return.
Admiralty law came into being when ancient naval manners and
customs were written down as the "Black Book of the Admiralty".
This included the organization of the fleet under the Admiral,
sea-maneuver rules such as not laying anchor until the Admiral's
ship had, engagement rules, and the distribution of captured
goods: one-fourth to the vessel owner, one-fourth to the King if
the seamen were paid by the King's wages, and the rest divided
among the crew and Admiral. Stealing a boat or an anchor holding
a boat was punishable by hanging. Stealing an oar or an anchor
was punishable by forty days imprisonment for the first offense,
six months imprisonment for the second, and hanging for the
third. Desertion was punishable by loss of double the amount of
wages earned and imprisonment for one year. Cases were tried by
jury in the Admiral's court.
Wines, vinegar, oil and honey imported shall be gauged by the
A man may not hire another man to fight in his place in a
quarrel, except one living in his household or his esquire.
The office of Justice of the Peace was developed and filled by
knights, esquires and gentlemen who were closely associated with
the magnates. There was no salary nor any requirement of
knowledge of the law. They were to pursue, restrain, arrest,
imprison, try, and duly punish felons, trespassers, and rioters
according to the law. They were expected to arrest vagrants who
would not work and imprison them until sureties for good
behavior was found for them. They also were empowered to
inspect weights and measures and enforce the new law against
hiring another to fight one's quarrel. Trespass included forcible
offenses of breaking of a fence enclosing private property,
assault and battery, false imprisonment, and taking away goods
Private suits for murder or personal injury were falling into
disuse and being replaced by the action of trespass.
Pardons may be given only for slaying another in one's own
defense or by misfortune [accident], and not for slaying by
lying in wait, assault, or malice aforethought.
Justices of Assize, sheriffs, and Justices of the Peace and
mayors shall have power to inquire of all vagabonds and compel
them to find surety of their good bearing or be imprisoned.
Treason was tried in Parliament, by bill of "attainder". It was
often used for political purposes. Most attaints were reversed
as a term of peace made between factions.
A reversioner shall be received in court to defend his right when
a tenant for a term of life, tenant in dower, or by the Law of
England, or in Tail after Possibility of Issue extinct are sued
in court for the land, so as to prevent collusion by the
A person in debt may not avoid his creditors by giving his
tenements or chattels to his friends in collusion to have the
profits at their will.
Where there was a garnishment given touching a plea of land, a
writ of deceit is also maintainable.
Actions of debt will be heard only in the county where the
contract was made. The action of debt includes enforcement of
contracts executed or under seal, e.g. rent due on a lease, hire
of an archer, contract of sale or repair of an item. Thus there
is a growing connection between the actions of debt and
Executors have an action for trespass to their testators' goods
and chattels in like manner as did the testator when alive.
If a man dies intestate, his goods shall be administered by his
next and most lawful friends appointed. Such administrators
shall have the same powers and duties as executors and be
accountable as are executors to the ecclesiastical court.
Children born to English parents in parts beyond the sea may
inherit from their ancestors in the same manner as those born in
A person grieved by a false oath in a town court proceeding may
appeal to the King's Bench or Common Pleas, regardless of any
The Court of the King's Bench worked independently of the King.
It became confined to the established common law. The King
proclaimed that petitions for remedies that the common law
didn't cover be addressed to the Chancellor, who was not bound
by established law, but could do equity. With the backing of the
council, he made decisions implementing the policy of the Statute
of Laborers. Most of these concerned occupational competency,
for instance negligent activity of carriers, builders,
shepherds, doctors, clothworkers, smiths, innkeepers, and
jailers. For instance, the common law action of detinue could
force return of cloth bailed for fulling or sheep bailed for
pasturing, but could not address damages due to faulty work. The
Chancellor addressed issues of loss of wool, dead lambs, and
damaged sheep, as well as dead sheep. He imposed a legal duty on
innkeepers to prevent injury or damage to a patron or his goods
from third parties. A dog bite or other damage by a dog known by
its owner to be vicious was made a more serious offense than
general damage by any dog. A person starting a fire was given a
duty to prevent the fire from damaging property of others. These
new forms of action came to be known as assumpsit, which
provided damages for breach of an oral agreement and a written
agreement without a seal, or trespass on the case, which did not
require the element of force of the trespass offense.
Decisions of the common law courts are appealable to Parliament,
which can change the common law by statute.
No attorney may practice law and also be a justice of assize.
Champerty [an outsider supporting or maintaining litigation in
which there is an agreement for him to share in the award] is
forbidden because court officials have maintained and defended
a party which has resulted in another party being cheated out of
Whereas it is contained in the Magna Carta that none shall be
imprisoned nor put out of his freehold, nor of his franchises
nor free custom, unless it be by the law of the land; it is
established that from henceforth none shall be taken by petition
or suggestion made to the King unless by indictment of good and
lawful people of the same neighborhood where such deeds be done,
in due manner, or by process made by writ original at the common
law; nor that none be out of his franchise, nor of his
freeholds, unless he be duly brought into answer and forejudges
of the same by the course of law. (forerunner of indictment grand
juries and trial juries for criminal cases)
There were so many cases that were similar to, but not in
technical conformity with, the requirements of the common law
for a remedy by the reign of Edward III, that litigants were
flowing into the Chancery, which had the power to give swift and
The King will fine instead of seize the land of his tenants who
sell or alienate their land, such fine to be determined by the
Chancellor by due process.
The King's coroner and a murderer who had taken sanctuary in a
church often agreed to the penalty of confession and perpetual
banishment from the nation as follows: "Memorandum that on July
6, , Henry de Roseye abjured the realm of England before
John Bernard, the King's coroner, at the church of Tendale in
the County of Kent in form following: 'Hear this, O lord the
coroner, that I, Henry de Roseye, have stolen an ox and a cow of
the widow of John Welsshe of Retherfeld; and I have stolen
eighteen beasts from divers men in the said county. And I
acknowledge that I have feloniously killed Roger le Swan in the
town of Strete in the hundred of Strete in the rape of Lewes and
that I am a felon of the lord King of England. And because I
have committed many ill deeds and thefts in his land, I abjure
the land of the Lord Edward King of England, and [I
acknowledge] that I ought to hasten to the port of Hastings,
which thou hast given me, and that I ought not to depart from
the way, and if I do so I am willing to be taken as a thief and
felon of the lord King, and that at Hastings I will diligently
seek passage, and that I will not wait there save for the flood
and one ebb if I can have passage; and if I cannot have passage
within that period, I will go up to the knees into the sea every
day, endeavoring to cross; and unless I can do so within forty
days, I will return at once to the church, as a thief and a
felon of the lord King, so help me God."
Property damage by a tenant of a London building was assessed in
a 1374 case: "John Parker, butcher, was summoned to answer
Clement Spray in a plea of trespass, wherein the latter
complained that the said John, who had hired a tavern at the
corner of St. Martin-le-Grand from him for fifteen months, had
committed waste and damage therein, although by the custom of the
city no tenant for a term of years was entitled to destroy any
portion of the buildings or fixtures let to him. He alleged that
the defendant had taken down the doorpost of the tavern and also
of the shop, the boarded door of a partition of the tavern, a
seat in the tavern, a plastered partition wall, the stone
flooring in the chamber, the hearth of the kitchen, and the
mantelpiece above it, a partition in the kitchen, two doors and
other partitions, of a total value of 21s. four pounds, 1s.
8d., and to his damage, 400s. 20 pounds. The defendant denied
the trespass and put himself on the country. Afterwards a jury
... found the defendant guilty of the aforesaid trespass to the
plaintiff's damage, 40d. Judgment was given for that amount and
a fine of 1s. to the King, which the defendant paid immediately
The innkeeper's duty to safeguard the person and property of his
lodgers was applied in this case:
"John Trentedeus of Southwark was summoned to answer William
Latymer touching a plea why, whereas according to the law and
custom of the realm of England, innkeepers who keep a common inn
are bound to keep safely by day and by night without reduction
or loss men who are passing through the parts where such inns
are and lodging their goods within those inns, so that, by
default of the innkeepers or their servants, no damage should in
any way happen to such their guests ...
On Monday after the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary
in the fourth year of the now King by default of the said John,
certain malefactors took and carried away two small portable
chests with 533s. and also with charters and writings, to wit
two writings obligatory, in the one of which is contained that a
certain Robert Bour is bound to the said William in 2,000s. and
in the other that a certain John Pusele is bound to the same
William in 800s. 40 pounds ... and with other muniments
[writings defending claims or rights] of the same William, to
wit his return of all the writs of the lord King for the counties
of Somerset and Dorset, whereof the same William was then
sheriff, for the morrow of the Purification of the Blessed Mary
the Virgin in the year aforesaid, as well before the same lord
the King in his Chancery and in his Bench as before the justices
of the King's Common Bench and his barons of his Exchequer,
returnable at Westminster on the said morrow, and likewise the
rolls of the court of Cranestock for all the courts held there
from the first year of the reign of the said lord the King until
the said Monday, contained in the same chests being lodged
within the inn of the same John at Southwark
And the said John ... says that on the said Monday about the
second hour after noon the said William entered his inn to be
lodged there, and at once when he entered, the same John
assigned to the said William a certain chamber being in that
inn, fitting for his rank, with a door and a lock affixed to the
same door with sufficient nails, so that he should lie there and
put and keep his things there, and delivered to the said William
the key to the door of the said chamber, which chamber the said
William says that ... when the said John had delivered to him the
said chamber and key as above, the same William, being occupied
about divers businesses to be done in the city of London, went
out from the said inn into the city to expedite the said
businesses and handed over the key of the door to a certain
servant of the said William to take care of in meantime,
ordering the servant to remain in the inn meanwhile and to take
care of his horses there; and afterwards, when night was
falling, the same William being in the city and the key still in
the keeping of the said servant, the wife of the said John
called unto her into her hall the said servant who had the key,
giving him food and drink with a merry countenance and asking
him divers questions and occupying him thus for a long time,
until the staple of the lock of the door aforesaid was thrust on
one side out of its right place and the door of the chamber was
thereby opened and his goods, being in the inn of the said John,
were taken and carried off by the said malefactors ... The said
John says ...[that his wife did not call the servant into the
hall, but that] when the said servant came into the said hall and
asked his wife for bread and ale and other necessaries to be
brought to the said chamber of his master, his wife immediately
and without delay delivered to the same servant the things for
which he asked ... protesting that no goods of the same William
in the said inn were carried away by the said John his servant or
any strange malefactors other than the persons of the household
of the said William."
On the Coram Rege Roll of 1395 is a case on the issue of whether
a court-crier can be seized by officers of a staple:
"Edmund Hikelyng, 'criour', sues William Baddele and wife Maud,
John Olney, and William Knyghtbrugge for assault and
imprisonment at Westminster, attacking him with a stick and
imprisoning him for one hour on Wednesday before St. Martin, 19
Baddele says Mark Faire of Winchester was prosecuting a bill of
debt for 18s. against Edmund and John More before William
Brampton, mayor of the staple of Westminster, and Thomas Alby
and William Askham, constables of the said staple, and on that
day the Mayor and the constables issued a writ of capias against
Edmund and John to answer Mark and be before the Mayor and the
constables at the next court. This writ was delivered to Baddele
as sergeant of the staple, and by virtue of it he took and
imprisoned Edmund in the staple. Maud and the others say they
aided Baddele by virtue of the said writ.
Edmund does not acknowledge Baddele to be sergeant of the staple
or Mark a merchant of the staple or that he was taken in the
staple. He is minister of the King's Court of his Bench and is
crier under Thomas Thorne, the chief crier, his master. Every
servant of the court is under special protection while doing his
duty or on his way to do it. On the day in question, he was at
Westminster carrying his master's staff of office before Hugh
Huls, one of the King's justices, and William took him in the
presence of the said justice and imprisoned him.
The case is adjourned for consideration from Hilary to Easter."
The Times: 1399-1485
This period, which begins with the reign of the usurper King,
Henry IV, is dominated by war: the last half of the 100 year war
with France, which, with the help of Joan of Arc, took all
English land on the continent except the port of Calais, and the
War of the Roses in England. The barons and earls returned from
France with their private fighting units. Nobles employed men who
had returned from fighting to use their fighting skill in local
defense. All the great houses kept bands of armed retainers.
These retainers were given land or pay or both as well as
liveries [uniforms or badges] bearing the family crest. They came
to fight for the cause of one of the two royal family lines
competing for the throne. In the system of "livery and
maintenance", if the retainer was harassed by the law or by
enemies, the lord gave him protection [maintenance].
In both wars, the musket was used as well as the long-bow. Cannon
were used to besiege castles and destroy their walls, so many
castles were allowed to deteriorate. The existence of cannon
also limited the usefulness of town walls for defense.
Barons and earls settled their disputes in the field rather than
in the royal courts. And men relied increasingly on the
protection of the great men of their neighborhood and less on
the King's courts for the safety of their lives and land. Local
men involved in court functions usually owed allegiance to a lord
which compromised the exercise of justice. Men serving in an
assize often lied to please their lord instead of telling the
truth. Lords maintained, supported, or promoted litigation with
money or aid supplied to one party to the detriment of justice.
It was not unusual for lords to attend court with a great force
of retainers behind them. Royal justices were flouted or bribed.
The King's writ was denied or perverted. For 6-8s., a lord could
have the King instruct his sheriff to impanel a jury which would
find in his favor. A statute against riots, forcible entries,
and, excepting the King, magnates' liveries of uniform, food,
and badges to their retainers, except in war outside the nation,
was passed, but was difficult to enforce because the offenders
were lords, who dominated the Parliament and the council.
Since the power of the throne changed from one faction to
another, many bills of attainder caused lords to lose their
lands to the King. Fighting between lords and gangs of ruffians
holding the roads, breaking into and seizing manor houses, and
openly committing murders continued. The roads were not safe.
People turned to mysticism to escape from the everyday violent
world. They had no religious enthusiasm, but believed in magic
With men so often gone to fight, their wives managed the
household alone. The typical wife had maidens of equal class to
whom she taught household management, spinning, weaving, carding
wool with iron wool-combs, heckling flax, embroidery, and making
garments. There were foot-treadles for spinning wheels. She
taught the children. Each day she scheduled the activities of
the household including music, conversation, dancing, chess,
reading, playing ball, and gathering flowers. She organized
picnics, rode horseback and went hunting, hawking to get birds,
and rabbit-ferreting. She was nurse to all around her. If her
husband died, she usually continued in this role because most
men named their wives as executors of their wills with full
power to act as she thought best.
For ladies, close-fitting jackets came to be worn over
close-fitting long gowns with low, square-cut necklines and
flowing sleeves, under which was worn a girdle. All her hair was
confined by a hair net. Headdresses were very elaborate and
heavy, trailing streamers of linen. Some were in the shape of
hearts, butterflies, crescents, double horns, or long cones. Men
also were wearing hats rather than hoods. They wore huge hats of
velvet, fur, or leather. Their hair was cut into a cap-like
shape on their heads, and later was shoulder-length. They wore
doublets with thick padding over the shoulders or short tunics
over the trucks of their bodies and tightened at the waist to
emphasize the shoulders. Their collars were high. Their sleeves
were long concoctions of velvet, damask, and satin, sometimes
worn wrapped around their arms in layers. Their legs were
covered with hose, often in different colors. Shoes were pointed
with upward pikes at the toes. At another time, shoes were broad
with blunt toes. Both men and women wore much jewelry and
Cooking and the serving of meals was also elaborate. There were
many courses of a variety of meats, fish, stews, and soups, with
a variety of spices. The standard number of meals was three:
breakfast, dinner, and supper. The diet of an ordinary family
such as that of a small shopholder or yeoman farmer included
beef, mutton, pork, a variety of fish, both fresh and salted,
venison, nuts, peas, oatmeal, honey, grapes, apples, pears, and
fresh vegetables. Cattle and sheep were driven from Wales to
English markets. This droving lasted for five centuries.
Many types of people besides the nobility and knights now had
property and thus were considered gentry: female lines of the
nobility, merchants and their sons, lawyers, auditors, squires,
and peasant-yeomen. The burgess grew rich as the knight dropped
lower. The great merchants lived in mansions which could occupy
whole blocks. Typically, there would be an oak-paneled great
hall, with adjoining kitchen, pantry, and buttery on one end and
a great parlor to receive guests, bedrooms, wardrobes, servants'
rooms, and a chapel on the other end or on a second floor. The
beds were surrounded by heavy draperies to keep out cold drafts.
Master and servants ceased to eat together in the same hall. In
towns these mansions were entered through a gate through a row
of shops on the street. A lesser dwelling would have these rooms
on three floors over a shop on the first floor. An average
Londoner would have a shop, a storeroom, a hall, a kitchen, and
a buttery on the first floor, and three bedrooms on the second
floor. Artisans and shopkeepers of more modest means lived in
rows of dwellings, each with a shop and small storage room on
the first floor, and a combination parlor-bedroom on the second
floor. The humblest residents crowded their shop and family into
one 6 by 10 foot room for rent of a few shillings a year. All
except the last would also have a small garden. The best gardens
had a fruit tree, herbs, flowers, a well, and a privy. There
were common and public privies for those without their own.
Kitchen slops and casual refuse continued to be thrown into the
street. Floors of stone or planks were strewn with rushes. There
was some tile flooring. Most dwellings had glass windows. Candles
were used for lighting at night. Torches and oil-burning
lanterns were portable lights. Furnishings were still sparse.
Men sat on benches or joint stools and women sat on cushions on
the floor. Hall and parlor had a table and benches and perhaps
one chair. Bedrooms had a curtained bed and a chest. On the
feather bed were pillows, blankets, and sheets. Better homes had
wall hanging and cupboards displaying plate. Laundresses washed
clothes in the streams, rivers, and public conduits. Country
peasants still lived in wood, straw, and mud huts with earth
floors and a smoky hearth in the center or a kitchen area under
the eaves of the hut.
In 1442, bricks began to be manufactured in the nation and so
there was more use of bricks in buildings. Chimneys were
introduced into manor houses where stone had been too expensive.
This was necessary if a second floor was added, so the smoke
would not damage the floor above it and would eventually go out
of the house.
Nobles and their retinue moved from manor to manor, as they had
for centuries, to keep watch upon their lands and to consume the
produce thereof; it was easier to bring the household to the
estate than to transport the yield of the estate to the
household. Also, at regular intervals sewage had to be removed
from the cellar pits.
Jousting tournaments were held for entertainment purposes only
and were followed by banquets of several courses of food served
on dishes of gold, silver, pewter, or wood on a linen cloth
covering the table. Hands were washed before and after the meal.
People washed their faces every morning after getting up. Teeth
were cleaned with powders. Fragrant leaves were chewed for bad
breath. Garlic was used for indigestion and other ailments. Feet
were rubbed with salt and vinegar to remove calluses. Good
manners included not slumping against a post, fidgeting,
sticking one's finger into one's nose, putting one's hands into
one's hose to scratch the privy parts, spitting over the table
or too far, licking one's plate, picking one's teeth, breathing
stinking breath into the face of the lord, blowing on one's
food, stuffing masses of bread into one's mouth, scratching
one's head, loosening one's girdle to belch, and probing one's
teeth with a knife.
Fishing and hunting were reserved for the nobility rather than
just the King.
As many lords became less wealthy because of the cost of war,
some peasants, villein and free, became prosperous, especially
those who also worked at a craft, e.g. butchers, bakers, smiths,
shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, and clothworkers.
An agricultural slump caused poorer soils to fall back into
waste. The better soils were leased by peasants, who, with their
families, were in a better position to farm it than a great
lord, who found it hard to hire laborers at a reasonable cost.
Further, peasants' sheep, hens, pigs, ducks, goats, cattle,
bees, and crop made them almost self-sufficient in foodstuffs.
They lived in a huddle of cottages, pastured their animals on
common land, and used common meadows for hay-making. They
subsisted mainly on boiled bacon, an occasional chicken, worts
and beans grown in the cottage garden, and cereals. They wore
fine wool cloth in all their apparel. Brimless hats were
replacing hoods. They had an abundance of bed coverings in their
houses. And they had more free time. Village entertainment
included traveling jesters, acrobats, musicians, and bear-
baiter. Playing games and gambling were popular pastimes.
Most villeins were now being called "customary tenants" or
"copy-holders" of land because they held their acres by a copy
of the court-roll of the manor, which listed the number of
teams, the fines, the reliefs, and the services due to the lord
for each landholder. The Chancery court interpreted many of these
documents to include rights of inheritance. The common law courts
followed the lead of the Chancery and held that copyhold land
could be inherited as was land at common law. Evictions by lords
The difference between villein and free man lessened but
landlords usually still had profits of villein bondage, such as
heriot, merchet, and chevage.
A class of laborers was arising who depended entirely on the
wages of industry for their subsistence. The cloth workers in
rural areas were isolated and weak and often at the mercy of
middle-men for employment and the amount of their wages.
Rural laborers went to towns to seek employment in the new
industries. They would work at first for any rate. This deepened
the cleavage of the classes in the towns.
The townspeople did not take part in the fighting of the War of
the Roses. Many boroughs sought and obtained formal
incorporation with perpetual existence, the right to sue and be
sued in their own name. Often, a borough would have its own
resident Justice of the Peace. Each incorporation involved a
review by a Justice of the Peace to make sure the charter of
incorporation rule didn't conflict with the law of the nation.
Henry IV granted the first charter of incorporation. A borough
typically had a mayor accompanied by his personal sword-bearer
and serjeants-at-mace bearing the borough regalia, bailiffs, a
sheriff, and chamberlains or a steward for financial
assistance. At many boroughs, aldermen, assisted by their
constables, kept the peace in their separate wards. There might
be coroners, a recorder, and a town clerk, with a host of lesser
officials including beadles, aletasters, sealers, searchers
[inspectors], weighers and keepers of the market, ferrymen and
porters, clock-keepers and criers, paviors [maintained the
roads], scavengers and other street cleaners, gatekeepers and
watchmen of several ranks and kinds. A wealthy borough would have
a chaplain and two or three minstrels.
In all towns, the wealthiest and most influential guilds were the
merchant traders of mercers, drapers, grocers, and goldsmiths.
From their ranks came most of the mayors. Next came the
shopholders of skinners, tailors, ironmongers, and corvisors
[shoemakers]. Thirdly came the humbler artisans, the sellers of
victuals, small shopkeepers, apprentices, and journeymen on the
rise. Lastly came unskilled laborers, who lived in crowded
tenements and hired themselves out. The first three groups were
the free men who voted, paid the scot and lot, and belonged to
In the towns, many married women had independent businesses and
wives also played an active part in the businesses of their
husbands. Wives of well-to-do London merchants embroidered,
sewed jewelry onto clothes, and made silk garments. Widows often
continued in their husband's businesses, such as managing a
large import-export trade, tailoring, brewing, and metal shop.
Socially lower women often ran their own breweries, bakeries,
and taverns. It was possible for wives to be free burgesses in
their own right in some towns.
Some ladies were patrons of writers. Some women were active in
prison reform in matters of reviews to insure that no man was in
jail without due cause, overcharges for bed and board,
brutality, and regulation of prisoners being placed in irons.
Many men and women left money in their wills for food and
clothing for prisoners.
There was much overlapping in the two forms of association: the
craft guild and the religious fraternity.
Paved roads in towns were usually gravel and sometimes cobble.
They were frequently muddy because of rain and spillage of water
being carried. Iron-shod wheels and overloaded carts made them
very uneven. London was the first town with paviors. They
repaired and cleaned the streets. Pot-holes were usually just
filled up with wood chips and compacted with hand rams. They were
organized as a city company in 1479. About 1482, towns besides
London began appointing salaried road paviors to repair roads
and collect their expenses from the householders because the
policy of placing the burden on individual householders didn't
work well. London streets were lighted at night by public
lanterns, under the direction of the mayor. There were
fire-engines composed of a circular cistern with a pump and six
feet of inflexible hose on wheels pulled by two men on one end
and pushed by two men on the other end.
The King granted London all common soils, improvements, wastes,
streets, and ways in London and in the adjacent waters of the
Thames River and all the profits and rents to be derived
therefrom. Later the King granted London the liberty to purchase
lands and tenements worth up to 2,667 s. yearly. Each ward
nominated two men for alderman, the final choice being made by
the mayor and the other aldermen.
There were many craft guilds. In fact, every trade of twenty men
had its own guild. The guild secured good work for its members
and the members maintained the reputation of the work standards
of the guild. Bad work was punished and night work prohibited as
leading to bad work. The guild exercised moral control over its
members and provided sickness and death benefits for them.
Apprentices were taken in to assure an adequate supply of
competent workers for the future. When these apprentices had
enough training they were made journeymen with a higher rate of
pay. Journeymen traveled to see the work of their craft in other
towns. Those journeymen rising to master had the highest pay
But the guilds were being replaced by associations for the
investment of capital. In associations, journeymen were losing
their chance of rising to be a master. Competition among
associations was starting to supplant custom as the mainspring
The Merchant Adventurers was chartered in 1407. A share in the
ownership of one of their vessels was a common form of
investment by prosperous merchants. By 1450, they were dealing
in linen cloths, buckrams [a stiffened, coarse cloth], fustians
[coarse cloth made of cotton threads going in one direction and
linen threads the other], satins, jewels, fine woolen and linen
wares, threads, drugs, wood, oil, wine, salt, copper, and iron.
They began to replace trade by alien traders. (The history of
the "Merchant Adventurers" was associated with the growth of the
mercantile system for more than 300 years. It eventually replaced
the staples system.)
In London, shopkeepers appealed to passers-by to buy their goods,
sometimes even seizing people by the sleeve. The drapers had
several roomy shops containing shelves piled with cloths of all
colors and grades, tapestries, pillows, and 'bankers and
dorsers' to soften hard wooden benches. A rear storeroom held
more cloth for import or export. Many shops of skinners were on
Fur Row. There were shops of leather-sellers, hosiers, gold and
silver cups, and silks. At the Stocks Market were fishmongers,
butchers, and poulterers. The Fishmongers were incorporated in
1433, the Cordwainers in 1439, and the Pewterers in 1468. London
grocers imported spices, canvas, ropery, drugs, unguents, soap,
confections, garlic, cabbages, onions, apples, oranges, almonds,
figs, dates, raisins, dye- stuffs, woad, madder, scarlet grains,
saffron, iron, and steel. They were retailers as well as
wholesalers and had shops selling honey, licorice, salt,
vinegar, rice, sugar loaves, syrups, spices, garden seeds, dyes,
alum, soap, brimstone, paper, varnish, canvas, rope, musk,
incense, treacle of Genoa, and mercury. The Grocers did some
money-lending, usually at 12% interest. The guilds did not
restrict themselves to dealing in the goods for which they had a
right of inspection, and so many dealt in wine that it was a
medium of exchange. There was no sharp distinction between
retail and wholesale trading.
Grocers sold herbs for medicinal as well as eating purposes.
Breadcarts sold penny wheat loaves. Foreigners set up stalls on
certain days of the week to sell meat, canvas, linen, cloth,
ironmongery, and lead. There were great houses, churches,
monasteries, inns, guildhalls, warehouses, and the King's Beam
for weighing wool to be exported. The Mercers and Goldsmiths
were in the prosperous part of town. The Goldsmiths' shops sold
gold and silver plate, jewels, rings, water pitchers, drinking
goblets, basins to hold water for the hands, and covered
saltcellars. The grain market was on Cornhill. Halfway up the
street, there was a supply of water which had been brought up in
pipes. On the top was a cage where riotous folk had been
incarcerated by the night watch and the stocks and pillory,
where fraudulent schemers were exposed to ridicule.
Outside the London city walls were tenements, Smithfield cattle
market, Westminster Hall, green fields of crops, and some marsh
On the Thames River to London were large ships with cargos; small
boats rowed by tough boatmen offering passage for a penny; small
private barges of great men with carved wood, gay banners, and
oarsmen with velvet gowns; the banks covered with masts and
tackle; the nineteen arch London Bridge supporting a street of
shops and houses and a drawbridge in the middle; quays;
warehouses, and great cranes lifting bales from ship to wharf.
Merchant guilds which imported or exported each had their own
wharves and warehouses. Downstream, pirates hung on gallows at
the low-water mark to remain until three tides had overflowed
The large scale of London trade promoted the specialization of
the manufacturer versus the merchant versus the shipper.
Merchants had enough wealth to make loans to the government or
for new commercial enterprises. Some London merchants were
knighted by the King. Many bought country estates and turned
themselves into gentry.
In schools, there was a renaissance of learning from original
sources of knowledge written in Greek and rebirth of the Greek
pursuit of the truth and scientific spirit of inquiry. There was
a striking increase in the number of schools founded by wealthy
merchants or town guilds. Merchants tended to send their sons to
private boarding schools, instead of having them tutored at home
as did the nobility. Well-to-do parents still sent sons to live
in the house of some noble to serve them as pages in return for
being educated with the noble's son by the household priest.
They often wore their master's coat of arms and became their
squires as part of their knightly education. At the universities,
the bachelor's degree came into existence to denote a preliminary
stage in the course of becoming a master.
The book "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was written about an
incident in the court of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere in
which a green knight challenges Arthur's knights to live up to
their reputation for valor and awesome deeds. The knight Gawain
answers the challenge, but is shown that he could be false and
cowardly when death seemed to be imminent. Thereafter, he wears a
green girdle around his waist to remind him not to be proud.
Other literature read included "London Lickpenny", a satire on
London and its expensive services and products, "Fall of
Princes" by John Lydgate, social history by Thomas Hoccleve,
"The King is Quair"" by King James I of Scotland about how he
fell in love, "The Cuckoo and the Nightengale", and "The Flower
and Leaf" on morality as secular common sense. Chaucer, Cicero,
and Ovid were widely read. Malory's new version of the Arthurian
stories was popular. Margery Kempe wrote the first true
autobiography. She was a woman who had a normal married life
with children, but one day had visions and voices which led her
to leave her husband to take up a life of wandering and praying
in holy possession. The common people developed ballads, e.g.
about their love of the forest, their wish to hunt, and their
hatred of the forest laws.
About 30% of the people could read English. Books were bought in
London in such quantities by 1403 that the organization of
text-letter writers, book-binders, and book sellers was
sanctioned by ordinance. "Unto the honorable lords, and wise,
the mayor and aldermen of the city of London, pray very humbly
all the good folks, freemen of the said city, of the trades of
writers of text-letter, limners [illuminator of books], and
other folks of London who are wont to bind and to sell books,
that it may please your great sagenesses to grant unto them that
they may elect yearly two reputable men, the one a limner, the
other a text-writer, to be wardens of the said trades, and that
the names of the wardens so elected may be presented each year
before the mayor for the time being, and they be there sworn
well and diligently to oversee that good rule and governance is
had and exercised by all folks of the same trades in all works
unto the said trades pertaining, to the praise and good fame of
the loyal good men of the said trades and to the shame and blame
of the bad and disloyal men of the same. And that the same
wardens may call together all the men of the said trades
honorably and peacefully when need shall be, as well for the
good rule and governance of the said city as of the trades
aforesaid. And that the same wardens, in performing their due
office, may present from time to time all the defaults of the
said bad and disloyal men to the chamberlain at the Guildhall for
the time being, to the end that the same may there, according to
the wise and prudent discretion of the governors of the said
city, be corrected, punished, and duly redressed. And that all
who are rebellious against the said wardens as to the survey and
good rule of the same trades may be punished according to the
general ordinance made as to rebellious persons in trades of the
said city [fines and imprisonment]. And that it may please you
to command that this petition, by your sagenesses granted, may
be entered of record for time to come, for the love of God and
as a work of charity."
The printing press was brought to London in 1476 by a mercer:
William Caxton. It supplemented the text-writer and monastic
copyist. It was a wood and iron frame with a mounted platform on
which were placed small metal frames into which words with small
letters of lead had been set up. Each line of text had to be
carried from the type case to the press. Beside the press were
pots filled with ink and inking balls. When enough lines of type
to make a page had been assembled on the press, the balls would
be dipped in ink and drawn over the type. Then a sheet of paper
would be placed on the form and a lever pulled to press the paper
against the type. Linen usually replaced the more expensive
parchment for the book pages.
The printing press made books more accessible to all literate
people. Caxton printed major English texts and some translations
from French and Latin. He commended different books to various
kinds of readers, for instance, for gentlemen who understand
gentleness and science, or for ladies and gentlewomen, or to all
good folk. There were many cook books in use. There were
eyeglasses to correct near-sightedness.
Old-established London families began to choose the law as a
profession for their sons, in preference to an apprenticeship in
trade. Many borough burgesses in Parliament were lawyers.
Many carols were sung at the Christian festival of Christmas.
Ballads were sung on many features of social life of this age of
disorder, hatred of sheriffs, but faith in the King. The legend
of Robin Hood was popular. Town miracle plays on leading
incidents of the Bible and morality plays were popular. Vintners
portrayed the miracle of Cana where water was turned into wine
and Goldsmiths ornately dressed the three Kings coming from the
east. Short pantomimes and disguising, forerunners of costume
parties, were good recreation. Games of cards became popular as
soon as cards were introduced. The king, queen, and jack were
dressed in contemporary clothes. Men bowled, kicked footballs,
and played tennis. May Day was celebrated with crowns and
garlands of spring flowers. The village May Day pageant was
often presided over by Robin Hood and Maid Marion.
The church was engendering more disrespect. Monks and nuns had
long ago resigned spiritual leadership to the friars; now the
friars too lost much of their good fame. The monks got used to
life with many servants such as cooks, butlers, bakers, brewers,
barbers, laundresses, tailors, carpenters, and farm hands. The
austerity of their diet had vanished. The schedule of divine
services was no longer followed by many and the fostering of
learning was abandoned. Into monasteries drifted the lazy and
miserable. Nunneries had become aristocratic boarding houses.
The practice of taking sanctuary was abused; criminals and
debtors sought it and were allowed to overstay the 40-day
restriction and to leave at night to commit robberies. People
turned to the writing of mystics, such as "Scale of Perfection"
and "Cloud of Unknowing", the latter describing how one may
better know God.
People relied on saint's days as reference points in the year,
because they did not know dates of the year. But townspeople
knew the hour and minute of each day, because mechanical clocks
were in all towns and in the halls of the well- to-do. This
increased the sense of punctuality and higher standards of
Important news was announced and spread by word of mouth in
market squares and sometimes in churches. As usual, traders
provided one of the best sources of news; they maintained an
informal network of speedy messengers and accurate reports
because political changes so affected their ventures.
A royal post service was established by relays of mounted
messengers. The first route was between London and the Scottish
border, where there were frequent battles for land between the
Scotch and English.
The inland roads from town to town were still rough and without
signs. A horseman could make up to 40 miles a day. Common
carriers took passengers and parcels from various towns to
London on scheduled journeys. Now the common yeoman could order
goods from the London market, communicate readily with friends
in London, and receive news of the world frequently. Trade with
London was so great and the common carrier so efficient in
transporting goods that the medieval fair began to decline.
First the Grocers and then the Mercers refused to allow their
members to sell goods at fairs. There was much highway robbery.
Most goods were still transported by boats along the coasts,
with trading at the ports.
Embroidery was exported. Imported were timber, pitch, tar, potash
[for cloth- dying], furs, silk, satin, gold cloth, damask cloth,
furred gowns, gems, fruit, spices, and sugar. Imports were
restricted by national policy for the purpose of protecting
English single-masted ships began to be replaced by two or three
masted ships with high pointed bows to resist waves and sails
enabling the ship to sail closer to the wind. 200 tuns was the
usual carrying capacity. The increase in trade made piracy, even
by merchants, profitable and frequent until merchant vessels
began sailing in groups for their mutual protection. The
astrolabe was used for navigation by the stars.
Consuls were appointed to assist English traders abroad.
Henry IV appointed the first admiral of the entire nation and
resolved to create a national fleet of warships instead of using
merchant ships. In 1417, the war navy had 27 ships. In 1421,
Portsmouth was fortified as a naval base.
For defense of the nation, especially the safeguard of the seas,
Parliament allotted the King for life, 3s. for every tun of wine
imported and an additional 3s. for every tun of sweet wine
The most common ailments were eye problems, aching teeth,
festering ears, joint swelling and sudden paralysis of the
bowels. Epidemics broke out occasionally in the towns in the
summers. Leprosy disappeared.
Hospitals were supported by a tax of the King levied on nearby
counties. The walls, ditches, gutters, sewers, and bridges on
waterways and the coast were kept in repair by laborers hired by
commissions appointed by the Chancellor. Those who benefited
from these waterways were taxed for the repairs in proportion to
their use thereof.
Alabaster was sculptured into tombs surmounted with a recumbent
effigy of the deceased, and effigies of mourners on the sides.
Few townsmen choose to face death alone and planned memorial
masses to be sung to lift his soul beyond Purgatory. Chantries
were built by wealthy men for this purpose.
Gold was minted into coins: noble, half noble, and farthing.
The commons gained much power in Parliament under Henry IV
because he needed so much taxes that the commons had a hold over
him. Also, as a usurper King, he did not carry the natural
authority of a King. The lords who helped his usurpation felt
they should share the natural power of the kingship. Also, the
commons gained power compared to the nobility because many
nobles had died in war. Shakespeare's histories deal with this
era. The Commons now has a speaker.
The Commons established an exclusive right to originate all money
grants to the King in 1407. The commons announced its money
grant only on the last day of the parliamentary session, after
the answers to its petitions had been declared. It tied its
grants by rule rather than just practice to certain
appropriations. For instance, tonnage and poundage were
appropriated for naval defenses. Wool customs went to the
maintenance of Calais, a port on the continent, and defense of
the nation. It also put the petitions in statutory form, called
"bills", to be enacted without alteration. It forced the King's
council appointees to be approved by Parliament, and auditors to
be appointed to audit the King's account to ensure past grants
had been spent according to their purpose.
This was the first encroachment on the King's right to summon,
prorogue, or dismiss a Parliament at his pleasure, determine an
agenda of Parliament, veto or amend its bills, exercise his
discretion as to which lords he summoned to Parliament, and
create new peers by letters patent [official public letters].
The King lost Parliamentary power. The magnates asserted that
their attendance at one Parliament established a hereditary
right to attend the others. The consent of the Commons to
legislation became so usual that the judges declared that it was
necessary. In 1426, the retainers of the barons in Parliament
were forbidden to bear arms, so they appeared with clubs on
their shoulders. The clubs were forbidden and they brought in
stones concealed in their clothing.
The authority of the King's privy seal had become a great office
of state which transmitted the King's wishes to the Chancery and
Exchequer, rather than the King's personal instrument for
sealing documents. Now the King used a signet kept by his
secretary as his personal seal. The position of secretary rose in
power under Edward IV.
King Edward IV introduced an elaborate spy system, the use of the
rack to torture people to confess, and other interferences with
justice, all of which the Tudors later used.
King Richard III prohibited the seizure of goods before
conviction of felony. He also liberated the unfree villeins on
It was declared under Parliamentary authority that there was a
preference for the Crown to pass to a King's eldest son, and to
his male issue after him. Formerly, a man could ascend to the
throne through his female ancestry as well.
The forcible entry statute is expanded to include peaceful entry
with forcible holding afterwards and to forcible holding with
departure before the justices arrived. Penalties are triple
damages, fine, and ransom to the King. A forceful possession
lasting three years is exempt.
Women of age fourteen or over shall have livery of their lands
and tenements by inheritance without question or difficulty.
Purposely cutting out another's tongue or putting out another's
eyes is a felony [penalty of loss of all property].
No one may keep swans unless he has lands and tenements of the
estate of freehold to a yearly value of 67s., because swans of
the King, lords, knights, and esquires have been stolen by
yeomen and husbandmen.
The wage ceiling for servants is: bailiff of agriculture 23s.4d.
per year, and clothing up to 5s., with meat and drink; chief
peasant, a carter, chief shepherd 20s. and clothing up to 4s.,
with meat and drink; common servant of agriculture 15s., and
clothing up to 3s.4d.; woman servant 10s., and clothing up to
4s., with meat and drink; infant under fourteen years 6s., and
clothing up to 3s., with meat and drink. Such as deserve less or
where there is a custom of less, that lesser amount shall be
For laborers at harvest time: mower 4d. with meat and drink or
6d. without; reaper or carter: 3d. with or 5d. without; woman
laborer and other laborers: 2d with and 4d. without.
The ceiling wage rate for craftsmen per day is: free mason or
master carpenter 4d. with meat & drink or 5d. without; master
tiler or slater, rough mason, and mesne carpenter and other
artificiers in building 3d. with meat and drink or 4d. without;
every other laborer 2d. with meat and drink or 3d. without. In
winter the respective wages were less: mason category: 3d. with
or 4d. without; master tiler category: 2d. with or 4d. without;
others: 1d. with or 3d. without meat and drink.
Any servant of agriculture who is serving a term with a master
and covenants to serve another man at the end of this term and
that other man shall notify the master by the middle of his term
so he can get a replacement worker. Otherwise, the servant shall
continue to serve the first master.
No man or woman may put their son or daughter to serve as an
apprentice in a craft within any borough, but may send the child
to school, unless he or she has land or rent to the value of
20s. per year. [because of scarcity of laborers and other
servants of agriculture]
No laborer may be hired by the week.
Masons may no longer congregate yearly, because it has led to
violation of the statute of laborers.
No games may be played by laborers because they lead to murders
Apparel worn must be appropriate to one's status to preserve the
industry of agriculture. The following list of classes shows the
lowest class, which could wear certain apparel:
1. Lords - gold cloth, gold corses, sable fur, purple silk
2. Knights - velvet, branched satin, ermine fur
3. Esquires and gentlemen with possessions to the value of 800
s. per year, daughters of a person who has possessions to the
value of 2,000s. a year - damask, silk, kerchiefs up to 5s. in
4. Esquires and gentlemen with possessions to the yearly value
of 800s. 40 pounds - fur of martron or letuse, gold or silver
girdles, silk corse not made in the nation, kerchief up to 3s.4d
5. Men with possessions of the yearly value of 40s. excluding
the above three classes - fustian, bustian, scarlet cloth in
6. Men with possessions under the yearly value of 40s. excluding
the first three classes - black or white lamb fur, stuffing of
wool, cotton, or cadas.
7. Yeomen - cloth up to the value of 2s., hose up to the value
of 14s., a girdle with silver, kerchief up to 12d.
8. Servants of agriculture, laborer, servant, country craftsman
- none of the above clothes
Gowns and jackets must cover the entire trunk of the body,
including the private parts. Shoes may not have pikes over two
Every town shall have at its cost a common balance with weights
according to the standard of the Exchequer. All citizens may
weigh goods for free. All cloth to be sold shall be sealed
according to this measure.
There is a standard bushel of grain throughout the nation.
There are standard measures for plain tile, roof tile, and gutter
tile throughout the nation.
No gold or silver may be taken out of the nation.
The price of silver is fixed at 30s. for a pound, to increase the
value of silver coinage, which has become scarce due to its
higher value when in plate or masse.
A designee of the King will inspect and seal cloth with lead to
prevent deceit. Cloth may not be tacked together before
inspection. No cloth may be sold until sealed.
Heads of arrows shall be hardened at the points with steel and
marked with the mark of the arrowsmith who made it, so they are
Shoemakers and cordwainers may tan their leather, but all leather
must be inspected and marked by a town official before it is
Cordwainers shall not tan leather [to prevent deceitful tanning].
Tanners who make a notorious default in leather which is found
by a cordwainer shall make a forfeiture.
Defective embroidery for sale shall be forfeited.
No fishing net may be fastened or tacked to posts, boats, or
anchors, but may be used by hand, so that fish are preserved and
vessels may pass.
No one may import any articles which could be made in the nation,
including silks, bows, woolen cloths, iron and hardware goods,
harness and saddlery, and excepting printed books.
The following merchandise shall not be brought into the nation
already wrought: woolen cloth or caps, silk laces, ribbons,
fringes, and embroidery, gold laces, saddles, stirrups,
harnesses, spurs, bridles, gridirons, locks, hammers, fire
tongs, dripping pans, dice, tennis balls, points, purses, gloves,
girdles, harness for girdles of iron steel or of tin, any thing
wrought of any treated leather, towed furs, shoes, galoshes,
corks, knives, daggers, woodknives, thick blunt needles, sheers
for tailors, scissors, razors, sheaths, playing cards, pins,
pattens [wooden shoes on iron supports worn in wet weather], pack
needles, painted ware, forcers, caskets, rings of copper or of
gilt sheet metal, chaffing dishes, hanging candlesticks,
chaffing balls, Mass bells, rings for curtains, ladles,
skimmers, counterfeit felt hat moulds, water pitchers with wide
spouts, hats, brushes, cards for wool, white iron wire, upon
pain of their forfeiture. One half this forfeiture goes to the
King and the other half to the person seizing the wares.
No sheep may be exported, because being shorn elsewhere would
deprive the King of customs.
No wheat, rye, or barley may be imported unless the prices are
such that national agriculture is not hurt.
Clothmakers must pay their laborers, such as carders and
spinsters, in current coin and not in pins and girdles and the
The term "freemen" in the Magna Carta includes women.
The election of a knight from a shire to go to Parliament shall
be proclaimed by the sheriff in the full county so all may
attend and none shall be commanded to do something else at that
time. Election results will be sealed and sent to Parliament.
To be elected to Parliament, a knight must reside in the county
and have free land or tenements to the value of 40s. per year,
because participation in elections of too many people of little
substance or worth had led to homicides, assaults, and feuds.
(These "yeomen" were about one sixth of the population. Most
former voters and every leaseholder and every copyholder were
excluded. The requirement lasted for 400 years.)
London ordinances forbade placing rubbish or dung in the Thames
River or any town ditch or casting water or anything else out of
a window. The roads were maintained with tolls on carts and
horses bringing victuals or grains into the city and on
merchandise unloaded from ships at the port. No carter shall
drive his cart more quickly when it is unloaded than when it is
loaded. No pie bakers shall sell beef pies as venison pies, or
make any meat pie with entrails. To assist the poor, bread and
ale shall be sold by the farthing.
Desertion by a soldier is penalized by forfeiture of all land and
The common law held that a bailee is entitled to possession
against all persons except the owner of the bailed property.
Former judge Sir Thomas Littleton wrote a legal textbook
describing tenancies in dower; the tenures of socage, knight's
service, serjeanty, and burgage; estates in fee simple, fee
tail, and fee conditional. For instance, "Also, if feoffment be
made upon such condition, that if the feoffor pay to the feofee
at a certain day, etc., 800s. forty pounds of money, that then
the feoffor may re-enter, etc., in this case the feoffee is
called tenant in mortgage, ... and if he doth not pay, then the
land which he puts in pledge upon condition for the payment of
the money is gone from him for ever, and so dead as to the
Joint tenants are distinguished from tenants in common by
Littleton thus: "Joint-tenants are, as if a man be seised of
certain lands or tenements, etc., and thereof enfeoffeth two, or
three, or four, or more, to have and to hold to them (and to
their heirs, or letteth to them) for term of their lives, or for
term of another's life; by force of which feoffment or lease they
are seised, such are joint-tenants. ... And it is to be
understood, that the nature of joint-tenancy is, that he that
surviveth shall have solely the entire tenancy, according to
such estate as he hath, ..." "Tenants in common are they that
have lands or tenements in fee-simple, fee-tail, or for term of
life, etc., the which have such lands and tenements by several
title, and not by joint title, and neither of them knoweth
thereof his severalty, but they ought by the law to occupy such
lands or tenements in common pro indiviso, to take the profits in
common. ...As if a man enfeoff two joint-tenants in fee, and the
one of them alien that which to him belongeth to another in fee,
now the other joint-tenant and the alienee are tenants in
common, because they are in such tenements by several titles,
People took grievances outside the confines of the rigid common
law to the Chancellor, who could give equitable remedies under
authority of a statute of 1285 (described in Chapter 8). The
Chancery heard many cases of breach of faith in the "use", a
form of trust in which three parties were involved: the holder
of land, feofees to whom the holder had made it over by
conveyance or "bargain and sale", and the beneficiary or
receiver of the profits of the land, who was often the holder,
his children, relatives, friends, an institution, or a
corporation. This system of using land had been created by the
friars to get around the prohibition against holding property.
Lords and gentry quickly adopted it. The advantages of the use
were that 1) there was no legal restriction to will away the
beneficial interest of the use although the land itself could
not be conveyed by will; 2) it was hard for the King to collect
feudal incidents because the feoffees were often unknown 3) the
original holder was protected from forfeiture of his land in
case of conviction of treason if the Crown went to someone he
had not supported. Chancery gave a remedy for dishonest or
Chancery also provided the equitable relief of specific
performance in disputes over agreements, for instance,
conveyance of certain land, whereas the common law courts
awarded only monetary damages by the writ of covenant.
Chancery ordered accounts to be made in matters of foreign trade
because the common law courts were limited to accounts pursuant
to transactions made within the nation. It also involved itself
in the administration of assets and accounting of partners to
The Chancellor took jurisdiction of cases of debt, detinue, and
account which had been decided in other courts with oathhelping
by the defendant. He did not trust the reliance on friends of
the defendant swearing that his statement made in his defense
was true. An important evidentiary difference between procedures
of the Chancery and the common law courts was that the Chancellor
could orally question the plaintiff and the defendant under
oath. He also could order persons to appear at his court by
subpoena [under pain of punishment, such as a heavy fine].
Whereas the characteristic award of the common law courts was
seisin of land or monetary damages, Chancery often enjoined
certain action. Because malicious suits were a problem, the
Chancery identified such suits and issued injunctions against
taking them to any court.
The Chancery was given jurisdiction by statute over men of great
power taking by force women who had lands and tenements or goods
and not setting them free unless they bound themselves to pay
great sums to the offenders or to marry them. A statute also
gave Chancery jurisdiction over servants taking their masters'
goods at his death.
Justices of the Peace, appointed by the Crown, investigated all
riots and arrested rioters, by authority of statute. If they had
departed, the Justices certified the case to the King. The case
was then set for trial first before the King and his council and
then at the King's Bench. If the suspected rioters did not
appear at either trial, they could be convicted for default of
appearance. If a riot was not investigated and the rioters
sought, the Justice of the Peace nearest forfeited 2,000s.
Justices of the peace were not paid and need not have a legal
background. For complex cases and criminal cases with defendants
of high social status, they deferred to the Justices of Assize,
who rode on circuit once or twice a year.
Manor courts still formally admitted new tenants, registered
titles, sales of land and exchanges of land, and commutation of
services, enrolled leases and rules of succession, settled
boundary disputes, and regulated the village agriculture.
All attorneys shall be examined by the royal judges for their
learnedness in the law and, at their discretion, those that are
good and virtuous shall be received to make any suit in any
royal court. The attorneys shall be sworn to serve well and
truly in their offices.
Attorneys may plead on behalf of parties in the hundred courts.
A qualification for jurors was to have an estate to one's own use
or one of whom other persons have estates of fee simple, fee
tail, freehold in lands and tenements, or freehold, which was at
least 40s. per year in value. In a plea of land worth at least
40s. yearly or a personal plea with relief sought at least
800s., jurors had to have land in the bailiwick to the value of
at least 400s., because perjury was considered less likely in
the more sufficient men.
Jurors were separated from witnesses.
Justices of the Peace were to have lands worth 267s. yearly,
because those with less used the office for extortion and lost
the respect and obedience of the people.
A Sheriff was not to arrest, but to transfer indictments to the
Justices of the Peace of the county. He had to reside in his
bailiwick. The sheriff could be sued for misfeasance such as
bribery in the King's court.
Court of "Pie Powder" [French pie poudre: dust on the feet] were
established at the great fairs to decide conflicts of commercial
The Times: 1485-1509
Henry Tudor and other exiles defeated and killed Richard III on
Bosworth field, which ends the War of the Roses. As King, Henry
VII restored order to the nation. He was readily accepted as
King because he was descended from both royal lines who were
fighting each other and married a woman who also was in the royal
bloodline. Henry was intelligent and sensitive. He weighed
alternatives and possible consequences before taking action. He
was convinced by reason on what plans to make. His primary
strategy was enacting and enforcing statutes to shore up the
undermined legal system, which includes the establishment of a
new court: the Court of the Star Chamber, to obtain punishment
of persons whom juries were afraid to convict. It had no jury.
The Star Chamber was the room in which the King's council had
met since the 1300s. In his reign of 24 years, Henry applied
himself diligently to the details of the work of government to
make it work well. He strengthened the monarchy, shored up the
legal system to work again, and provided a peace in the land in
which can later flourish a renaissance of the arts and sciences,
culture, and the intellectual life.
The most prevalent problems were: murder, robbery, rape or forced
marriage of wealthy women, counterfeiting of coin, extortion,
misdemeanors by sheriffs and escheators, bribing of sheriffs and
jurors, perjury, livery and maintenance agreements, idleness,
unlawful plays, and riots. Interference with the course of
justice was not committed only by lords on behalf of their
retainers; men of humbler station were equally prone to help
their friends in court or to give assistance in return for
payment. Rural juries were intimidated by the old baronage and
their armed retinues. Juries in municipal courts were subverted
by gangs of townsmen. Justices of the Peace didn't enforce the
laws. The agricultural work of the nation had been adversely
Henry made policy with the advice of his council and implemented
it by causing Parliament to enact it into legislation. He
dominated Parliament by having selected most of its members.
Many of his council were sons of burgesses and had been trained
in universities. He chose competent and especially trusted men
for his officers and commanders of castles and garrison. The
fact that only the King had artillery deterred barons from
revolting. Also, the baronial forces were depleted due to war.
If Henry thought a magnate was exercising his territorial power
to the King's detriment, he confronted him with an army and
forced him to bind his whole family in recognizances for large
sums of money to ensure future good conduct. Since the King had
the authority to interpret these pledges, they were a formidable
check on any activity which could be considered to be disloyal.
The earl of Kent, whose debts put him entirely at the King's
mercy, was bound to "be seen daily once in the day within the
King's house". Henry also required recognizances from men of all
classes, including clergy, captains of royal castles, and
receivers of land. The higher nobility now consisted of about
twenty families. The heavy fines by the Star Court put an end to
conspiracies to defraud, champerty [an agreement with a litigant
to pay costs of litigation for a share in the damages awarded],
livery, and maintenance. The ties between the nobility and the
Justices of the Peace had encouraged corruption of justice. So
Henry appointed many of the lesser gentry and attorneys as
Justices of the Peace. Also he appointed a few of his councilors
as non-resident Justices of the Peace. There were a total of
about thirty Justices of the Peace per county. Their
appointments were indefinite and most remained until retirement
or death. Henry had yeomen serve as personal bodyguards night
Many bills of attainder caused lords to lose their land to the
King. Most of these lords had been chronic disturbers of the
peace. Henry was also known to exhaust the resources of barons
he suspected of disloyalty by accepting their hospitality for
himself and his household for an extended period of time.
Henry built up royal funds by using every available procedure of
government to get money, by maximizing income from royal estates
by transferring authority over them from the Exchequer to
knowledgeable receivers, and from forfeitures of land and
property due to attaints of treason. He also personally reviewed
all accounts and initialed every page, making sure that all
payments were made. He made a regular practice of ordering all
men with lands with 800s. 40 pounds per year to receive
knighthoods or pay a high fee. As a result, the Crown became
rich and therefore powerful.
Queen Elizabeth was a good influence on Henry's character. Her
active beneficence was a counteracting influence to his
avaricious predisposition. When Henry and his Queen traveled
through the nation, they often stopped to talk to the common
people. They sometimes gave away money, such as to a man who had
lost his hand. Henry paid for an intelligent boy he met to go to
Henry had the first paper mill erected in the nation. He fostered
the reading of books and the study of Roman law, the classics,
and the Bible. He had his own library and gave books to other