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|Original source:||Schedule attached to a parliamentary petition|
|Transcription in:||Rotuli Parliamentorum; ut et Petitiones et Placita in Parliamento, Record Commission, vol.4, pp.476-480.|
|Original language:||Middle English|
First, it is agreed to by the bailiffs and community of the town of Shrewsbury regarding the annual election of bailiffs and other town officials, from this time forth in perpetuity, that the two bailiffs of the town then in office shall, upon the day for electing the said officials that is, the Friday following St. Giles' day in September in front of the community take a public oath upon a [holy] book, administered by the town clerk then in office, that they shall openly in the town's guildhall, honestly and without any favouritism, choose 25 persons from the most honest and impartial commoners, burgesses, residents, permanent householders, and contributors to all kinds of levies within the town, using the form and procedure that follows. Without being influenced by gift, promises, bribe, friendship, favouritism, envy, enmity, or relationship regarding any person, nor for any other cause, by fraud, malice, collusion, or prior agreement by the bailiffs or any one of them, or by anyone else done in their names, they are not to fail to choose the said 25 persons from the best qualified and impartial commoners, in the fashion mentioned above, from those who are present in the guildhall at the time of the election (so long as there are sufficient qualified persons present to permit the election to be made); excepting those who have occupied the office of bailiff and those who were chosen to make the election the previous year. The bailiffs are not to choose the said 25 persons from some document already drawn up. The which 25 persons so chosen shall make the election under oath, sworn in the same manner as the bailiffs' was and administered by the town clerk. Then the town clerk is to question each under oath whether they, or any of them, have been suborned to choose any particular person for any office that falls under the election. If this examination discovers any person or persons to have been suborned, then he or they are to be removed and another qualified and impartial burgess of the town, in the said manner sworn and determined not to have been suborned, is to be put in his place. Then the 25 persons are to proceed, as already mentioned, with the election of two bailiffs for the coming year, [chosen] from the most honest, impartial, and qualified burgesses of the town, who are most competent to rule and govern the town properly and honestly according to the laws, customs and usages of the town. Each of the bailiffs who shall be so chosen is to possess £10 in lands or rents either in fee simple or for the term of his life, or his own possessions to the value of £100. Each of the bailiffs is to be a resident burgess, permanently domiciled, a householder, and contributors to to all kinds of levies within the town. If the 25 persons choose one or more bailiffs who do not meet the above qualifications, then each of them is to forfeit 20s. to the town community. If they cannot agree on who to elect, then the choice will be decided by the majority of the 25. If that majority chooses one or more bailiffs who do not meet the above qualifications, then each of that majority is to forfeit the said sum of 20s., to be levied by the bailiffs at that time in office, to the use of the community. Nor are the 25 persons to choose any official from their own number, but from other qualified and capable burgesses, as described previously. They are not to choose anyone for the office of bailiff who has been bailiff within the three previous years, upon penalty of forfeiting the said sum of 20s., levied as already indicated. And henceforth they are to choose no-one to the office of the 6 men after that person has already held the office of bailiff of the town, upon penalty of 20s. each, levied as already indicated.
The said 25 persons, under oath as already mentioned, are to choose 6 men who are called cessors, each of whom shall have [an income of] 26s.8d annually (beyond reprises) from lands or rents in fee simple or for the term of his life, or his own possessions to the value of £10, and is to be a bona fide burgess and resident of the town. [Which cessors are] to hold and occupy, from this time forward, the office responsible for receiving all kinds of communal revenues which come, or ought to come, annually to the communal Exchequer of the town, and faithfully and honestly administer those moneys for the profit of the community.
The said 25 persons shall choose, by their oath sworn in the manner already mentioned, two coroners for the town, [who are to be] qualified burgesses resident in the town, to occupy the office of coroner within the town and its franchise. The coroners are to oversee the community projects of the town during their term of office, to ensure they are properly carried out from time to time, in a reasonable and honest fashion, for the benefit of the community. Anyone who has been coroner for a year is not to be elected again to that office for the three years immediately following. Nor is anyone who has been one of the 6 men for a year to be elected again to that office for the three years immediately following. No-one who has served in the offices of coroner of 6 men within the town is to occupy the office of sergeant henceforth, upon penalty of 40s. upon each one [of the 25?], to be levied from each and every one by the bailiffs then in office, for the profit of the community.
It is agreed to that no-one is to speak with the 25 persons neither past or future bailiffs, nor anyone else once they have taken their oath and been examined in the manner already mentioned, and have been tasked with making the election; nor is to go with them into whatever place where the election shall be made. With the exception of the common clerk of the town then in office (or who shall be in future); and he is to take oath upon a book that he will not suborn, or have suborned, any of them to choose anyone particular for an office. So is he to behave until they or a majority of them have agreed [on their choices] in the way already indicated. They are not, nor is any one of them, to go out of the place to where the town clerk takes them for making the election, until the election has been made; upon penalty of 40s. from each of them, to be levied by the bailiffs then in office, for community use.
It is agreed to that the town bailiffs who are newly elected each year shall take oath upon a book in the presence of the community of the town, before they take up their office: that they shall be faithful and loyal to the king and his heirs; that they will honestly and properly maintain his peace within the town, and administer and govern the assizes of all kinds of foodstuffs within the town and its franchise; that they will do justice to poor as well as to rich; and that they will perform all the duties of the office honestly, to the utmost of their wisdom and ability, according to the laws, customs and usages of the town.
It is agreed to that the said 6 men, once elected in the manner already mentioned, shall publicly take oath upon a book, before the community: that every day assigned by the bailiffs and the 6 men for receiving community revenues they shall go to the communal Exchequer and there receive all such revenues as are brought there by various persons, and honestly and properly keep those moneys secure; also that they shall honestly and properly oversee all expenses and costs made by the bailiffs for the benefit and esteem of the town; and also to assist and advise the bailiffs for the benefit of the community.
The coroners who are elected annually are to take a public oath in the manner already mentioned: that they shall honestly and properly fulfill the duties of coroner within the town and franchise; oversee the communal projects of the town; and honestly and properly write down, or have written down, the details of those projects where and when they were carried out, associated expenses and costs and on a weekly basis deliver them to the bailiffs and 6 men in the town Exchequer. If any person disobeys and does the contrary, and will not comply with the aforesaid ordinance, he is to forfeit 40s., to be levied by the bailiffs then in office, to the use of the community. If the bailiffs are negligent and fail to levy that penalty, as aforesaid, each is to forfeit 66s.8d., [of which one-third is to go] to the use of the community, one-third to the king, and one-third to whoever sues the bailiffs on behalf of the king.
Those who have been, or shall in future be, bailiffs are each to have and take for their year's term of office a fee of 100s. and a gown worth 20s. (and no more). The steward of the town then in office is to have and take annually 40s. for his fee and a gown of the same style as the bailiffs', worth 20s. Each of the 6 men in office now or in the future is to have and take for his annual fee a gown worth 13s.4d for their labour. The common clerk of the town in office now or in the future is to have and take annually for his fee 40s. and a gown worth 13s.4d. of the same style as those of the 6 men. Also, the coroners in office now or in the future are to have and take from the community revenues, for their labour in overseeing the town projects, 12d. per week throughout the year, to be divided evenly between them. The bailiffs in office now or in the future are to be reimbursed for all reasonable expenses and costs incurred by them for the benefit and esteem of the town, at the time they render account; on condition that is has been confirmed by the 6 men (or at least 3 of them) that the expenses and costs have truly been incurred for the purposes indicated, otherwise their claims are not to be allowed.
It is agreed to that the bailiffs who will take office may appoint two town sergeants, from individuals for whom they are prepared to be answerable. A third town sergeant is to be chosen annually by the 25 persons, on election day; he is to be a bona fide burgess, qualified, resident, and contributor to all kinds of levies within the town. The sergeant is to be warden of the town gate called the Castle Gate. The third sergeant is also to be responsible for collection of the town rents, honestly delivering the same to the 6 men in the Exchequer on (at the latest) the day when the bailiffs and 6 men go over the accounts, and rendering a true account of the same. He is to receive annually for that labour 20s. from the community revenues, from the hands of the 6 men, and answer for everything that pertains to his duties. On the condition that this sergeant is to find suitable guarantors regarding levying the money assigned by the bailiffs for him to collect, and regarding turning it over to the 6 men in the communal Exchequer and rendering an honest account before the bailiffs and 6 men in the Exchequer, when they require him to do so; and regarding him being responsive and obedient to the bailiffs and their orders, as he ought to be. If that sergeant is unable to find guarantors for that purpose, in order to protect the bailiffs from being answerable, then the bailiffs may choose and appoint any sergeant for whom they will be answerable, at their own risk. Those sergeants are to render a proper and honest account of all issues and estreats of the court, after the end of every third court session. Also of fines from brewsters who, when they sell ale, break the assize customarily enforced in the town since ancient times; [they are to account] at the end of every quarter, or within that period if it is so ordered or required by the bailiffs and 6 men then in office. Also of all other revenues that are part of their duty to collect and ought to be put towards the common profit, [they are to account] at the end of each year, before the day when the bailiffs and 6 men go over the accounts.
Before they can take up office, the sergeants are to take oath upon a book before the bailiffs and 6 men then in office, in the community Exchequer, that each and every one of them: shall be faithful and loyal to the bailiffs, commoners, and franchises of the town; treat both poor and rich fairly; collect all moneys that the bailiffs assign them as their duty to levy, in the form of estreats or other revenues, for the profit of the community; render honest account of the same to the bailiffs and 6 men when they so require it; and be attendant on and obedient to the bailiffs, as they ought to be in their office. Each of them is to have and take annually, from community revenues, 26s.8d and a gown priced 10s. The sergeants are to be removed from office at the end of each year, along with the other officers. None of the sergeants is to occupy that office within the town [on terms] contrary to these ordinances, upon penalty of 133s.4d to be levied from each of them by the bailiffs then in office, to community use.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that those who have been, or shall in future be, bailiffs and 6 men of the town shall henceforth choose and appoint tollreeves, from the most honest and most capable persons they can find, to collect the tolls and customs that ought to be taken at the town gate for community profit. Before they can occupy the office of tollreeve, they are to take oath upon a book, in the community Exchequer before the bailiffs and 6 men: to be faithful to the bailiffs and commoners of the town; and to bring to the community Exchequer of the town, whenever required by the bailiffs and 6 men, all revenues that they are supposed to collect for community profit. Once sworn, the tollreeves may receive and keep safe all the customs money sometimes called "sergeants' fees" that ought rightly to be collected at the gates, putting this money aside separately and then producing it and handing it over in the Exchequer, in the manner already mentioned, without fraud, conspiracy, or deceit [to withhold any], to be received and recorded annually in its own right. If any omission or deceit on the part of the tollreeves, or any one of them, is discovered and proven true before the bailiffs and 6 men, they are to be removed from office by the bailiffs and 6 men whenever so found in fault, and others put in their places. Furthermore, when legally convicted of the same, each is to forfeit 40s. and is to be imprisoned, without prospect of bail or mainprise, until that amount is raised and paid to the 6 men for community profit. If the bailiffs who were in office, or shall be in the future, do not impose the penalty specified in this article, then each of them is to forfeit 100s.; of which two-thirds go to the king, and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to be the bailiffs and community that no bailiff of the town shall henceforth receive or have in keeping any rents, customs, fines, nor other incomes or revenues that belong to the community. Rather these are to be taken to the community Exchequer and there paid and delivered to the 6 men, who may have the safekeeping of the same. Those who have been, or shall in future be, bailiffs may not reduce or waive any duties payable to the community without consulting and obtaining the agreement of the 6 men, or at least 3 of them, upon penalty of paying double the amount they have waived.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that the bailiffs and 6 men shall render to auditors chosen annually by the community, under oath administered by the auditors, an accurate and honest account of all rents, revenues, and other profits already mentioned. The bailiffs are to carry out, or have carried out, their responsibility to the best of their knowledge without any fraud, conspiracy or deceit in bringing, or having brought, into the hands of the 6 men all rents, revenues, fines, and other profits that go, or ought to go, to the profit of the community during the year that they occupy the office of bailiff. Those 6 men are to have safekeeping of those community goods that remain at the close of every accounting, until the election day, when they should bring it before the commons in the guildhall and there be informed by the commons who shall [thereafter] have the keeping of the same, for community profit. If any future bailiff of the town obstructs or disturbs the 6 men in their safekeeping of the community goods, he is to forfeit £10; of which two-thirds go to the king, and one-third to the community. The auditors who are chosen by the community, according to a long-established process, to audit the accounts of the bailiffs and 6 men concerning community goods received by the 6 men, are henceforth after their election to take oath upon a book, administered by the common clerk, before the community to accept or reject them [i.e. the accounts] according to the form of the accounts, at their honest discretion. The bailiffs then in office are to have three peals of the community bell rung, to summon the commons together to choose the auditors. Henceforth the auditors are not to be chosen based on some petition drawn up, to the deceit of the community. Similarly, burgesses who are chosen to go to Parliament are henceforth to be chosen by the commons, in the same way and manner that the auditors are.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that no bailiff during his term of office may buy or sell by retail any kind of foodstuffs, [nor] by means of collusion or underhandedness, contrary to parliamentary statutes and ordinances dealing with such cases. If he acts, personally or by others, contrary to those statutes and ordinances he is to forfeit over and above the penalty specified in the statutes and ordinances £20; of which two-thirds go to the king, and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that all distresses that remain in safekeeping among the community goods, not having been recovered by replevin, on the day when the bailiffs and 6 men, past or future, have to render their account are to be shown to the auditors during the accounting and they are to make a record of what distresses remain; with a view to them being handed over by the bailiffs and 6 men to their successors chosen for the year following, by indenture, on the Monday following election day, without further delay, for the profit of the community. No bailiff is to act contrary to the ordinance contained in this article, upon penalty of forfeiting 40s., two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that whenever the town bailiffs, past or future, make a public proclamation (as has long been the custom) that all burgesses of the town should come to the town guildhall, or send their sergeants to instruct individuals to come to the bailiffs for purposes of the good rule, government, and welfare of the town, if anyone stays away and refuses to respond to such proclamations or instructions, without a reasonable and good cause for being excused, he shall forfeit and lose to the community 12d., to be levied from his goods and possessions by the bailiffs, without any remission, for the profit of the community. If the bailiffs are negligent in thus levying the penalty, they are to forfeit 2s.; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that if any burgess or resident of the town is attached by any of the sergeants, in relation to any personal action within the town, that they are not to take him to gaol nor demand any fee from him if he can find within the town or franchise sufficient guarantors for his coming to answer to the king or to the other party, depending on the requirements of the case, at whatever time is assigned him by the bailiffs in office now or in the future. If any sergeant does the contrary to this ordinance, he shall forfeit 20s. to the community, to be levied by the bailiffs then in office. And every time that any of the sergeants acts contrary to this ordinance he is to forfeit 20s., to be levied from him as already indicated. If then bailiffs then in office fail to levy the penalty found to be warranted, they are to forfeit 100s.; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that, if any burgess of the town or franchise is being vexatiously sued or in any other way harassed so as to be in danger of losing his goods in relation to communal business of the town, and proper examination finds this indeed to be the case so that the bailiffs and community know it to be true, then the community goods may be used to defend him or them, or preserve them from any [personal] losses. If the bailiff or bailiffs are negligent in this and will not use their power and such of the community goods as seems reasonable to reimburse, by the hands of the 6 men, him or them thus vexed for reasonable expenses and costs in defending himself or themselves (assuming there to be sufficient goods in the communal treasury of the town), then the bailiff or bailiffs are to forfeit the penalty that follows in this ordinance: that is, each of the bailiffs, if they or either of them is found at fault, is to forfeit 40s.; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community, that if any person or persons creates any disturbance in infringement of the king's peace within the town, and this is duly proved by verdict of 12 qualified and impartial persons of the town, and [he is] duly convicted of the same according to the custom of the town, before the bailiffs then in office in the guildhall, then he or they are each to forfeit 3s.4d, to be levied by the bailiffs for the use of the community, without any remission. If any person or persons commit an assault, striking any man in infringement of the king's peace within the town, and this is duly proved as already indicated, he is to forfeit 3s.4d, to be levied in the manner indicated. If any person or persons draw blood when assaulting someone, in infringement of the king's peace within the town, and this is duly proved as already indicated, he or they are each to forfeit 6s.8d, to be levied in the manner indicated. If the bailiffs then in office do not impose those penalties, so that such a penalty shall in the future happen to be lost, then they are to forfeit double the amount of the penalty; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that the common seal of the town be kept in the common coffer, as has been the case in the past; and that 4 respectable men of the town, chosen by the commons, shall have the 4 keys to the locks in their safekeeping. Neither the bailiffs, those now in office or those to be, nor anyone else is to remove the seal from the coffer for purposes of sealing any grant made to any person by the bailiffs and community, without the consent of 24 respectable men, burgesses of the town; they are to oversee the removal of the seal, sealings, and the restoration of the seal into the coffer. All documents belonging to the community of the town that exist now or shall exist in future are to be put into the coffer, and safeguarded and administered in the manner indicated. If anyone acts contrary to the ordinance contained in this article, he is to forfeit £20; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community. Also, the account rolls of the bailiffs and 6 men then in office are from year to year to be deposited as [official] record, indented between the bailiffs and 6 men, as one party, and the auditors chosen annually to audit the accounts of the bailiffs and 6 men, as the other party. And all burgess rolls, community compositions, and court rolls are to be placed and kept in that coffer.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community, for the good rule and government of the town in the future, that the bailiffs and community and their successors shall choose 12 respectable men [who are] burgesses, residents, and the most qualified and judicious men of the town, to be permanent assistants to the bailiffs then in office, giving them good advice beneficial to the community whenever they are summoned to come to the bailiffs in the guildhall. They are to remain as such for life, unless they have to be discharged from the office due to some reason deserving it by judgement of the bailiffs and community. If any of them dies or is discharged, then another qualified and deserving burgess of the town is to be chosen in his place by the bailiffs and commons; he is to take oath upon a book to be faithful to the bailiffs and community and to his franchise. If any of them absent themselves without good cause, when summoned by the bailiffs, or either of them or by any of their sergeants, and refuses to come to the bailiffs for the purpose mentioned, then he is to forfeit 3s.4d to the community of the town, to be levied from his goods and possessions by the bailiffs then in office, without any remission. If the bailiffs then in office are negligent in levying the penalty, they are to forfeit 6s.8d; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that if any burgess or resident of the town interferes with or opposes any of the above ordinances, through collusion, conspiracy or any other method, or directly or indirectly stirs up any opposition to or interference with any of these ordinances in the future, or obstructs or prevents the bailiffs then in office from levying the penalties prescribed above as forfeits, then he is to be deprived of all offices and of his freedom within the town, for life; nor is he to be made free, nor listened to, nor have a voice in any common assembly regarding any matter that concerns the community. If in the future any man who is chosen to the office of bailiff refuses that office after being duly elected to it, in the manner already indicated, he is to forfeit £26.13s.4d, to be levied from his lands, goods and possessions by the bailiffs then in office, for the profit of the community. If the bailiffs then in office do not carry out the stipulations made in this article, failing to levy the penalty mentioned so that the penalty is lost (unless they are obstructed from doing it), then each of them is to forfeit £40; of which two-thirds to the king and one-third to the community.
If any person or persons who are subjected to forfeiting various penalties to the town community, as indicated in the above articles, lack the means to pay such penalties, then the town bailiffs then in office are to arrest them if they can be found within the town or franchise and commit them to prison, to be kept securely there until they have made an agreement [for payment] of the penalties to the community.
If the town bailiffs, or either of them, or any other person who is (due to the above ordinances) subjected to a penalty payable to the king, is for that reason indicted before the king or his council or any of his justices, he or they are to be tried as to whether guilty or not of [the offence giving rise to] the penalty by 12 qualified and impartial burgesses of the town and franchise, and not by anyone else.
It is agreed to by the bailiffs and community that henceforth on every day when the bailiffs, 6 men, coroners, and other town officers are elected, all the above articles and ordinances shall be read out loud before the commons, by the common clerk of the town then in office, before any action is taken regarding the elections. This is so that all the commons shall hear and know the good rules for government of the town contained in the ordinances, and can shun and avoid the offences clearly identified in the articles and ordinances.
The late fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries were a period of constitutional upheaval in many towns, as urban societies tried to come to terms with changes rooted partly in changes in the economy and the national legal system that had stimulated social differentiation, so that a "ruling class" had become more evident within society. These changes had undermined the sense of communal welfare and created concern that the interests of the rulers, or of specific groups or even individuals within the ruling class, were different from the best interests of the community as a whole and might lead to administrative abuses. Such concerns were not new, for they are apparent in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, but they seem to have had a new vigour towards the end of the Middle Ages, as the ruled sensed their last vestiges of authority slipping from their grasp and tried to reassert some control.
So it was at Shrewsbury, where the 1380s were marked by internal constitutional conflict. An agreement in 1389 dictated that bailiffs, coroners and cessors be elected by a jury of 25 a device that, from one perspective, allowed the community through representation to have a say in the choice of its officers, and from the other perspective prevented unruly elections in which the community at large might participate in the voting. The bailiffs were to choose their own sergeants.
These were basically the terms of the 1433 ordinances, evidently one of the "community compositions" referred to within the text, except for:
This constitutional composition is fairly typical of those of other towns in its broad areas of concern: methods of electing officers, candidates' qualifications, financial accountability, proper performance of duties, and checks on the potential for misgovernment. The unusually detailed provisions for electoral procedures, handling of borough revenues and particular circumstances related to those matters, may be suspected of addressing specific problems encountered in past elections since 1389.
The 1433 constitution was likely a compromise between competing political viewpoints. The document takes care to emphasize the community as the source of authority and the owner of revenues, archives, etc. On the other hand we see the tell-tale signs creeping in of an institutionalized separation of ruling class and ruled, in the town councillors who are appointed for life, in contrast to the emphasis on annual elections for other officers.
In 1444 Shrewsbury again petitioned parliament to give its approval to a set of constitutional ordinances, in many regards the same as those of 1433 (which were claimed in 1444 as having brought peace and harmony to the town), but with some key differences. For instance, the 25 electors were now to be chosen not by the bailiffs, but by two members of the lower council of 24, those two members were themselves to be selected by the bailiffs. Thus the electoral process was becoming more complex, in an attempt to ensure elections could not be rigged.
The 1444 constitutions overall represent an elaboration of their predecessors, doubtless attempting to plug holes in the 1433 set, as well as to add elements missing in 1433, but also evidence continuation of the undermining of democratic principles. The life-council of 12 had now dignified themselves through the title "aldermen" and vacancies in their ranks were to be filled by their own choice. The "24 commoners" a group mentioned only peripherally in the 1433 document (unless we assume that the "commons" frequently referred to were already the community as represented by the lower council) has come more to the fore, as a second council elected by the community a further reflection of the growing socio-political divide within the community. However, that the members of this council also had been elected for life, and would fill vacancies in its ranks by their own choice, effectively put this body outside democratic control, despite the fact that it was expected to speak for the community (whose other members could no longer speak directly during assembly debates).
These restrictions on what was previously a more 'democratic' form of government were probably made palatable to the community by including among the ordinances controls over the administration of borough finances for example, in 1443 we also hear of a new financial officer, the chamberlain, although the 6 men continue to have a role and regulations regarding officers' fees; both matters addressing popular concerns over believed corruption in government. A closer comparison between the two documents would throw further light on the directions in which local government was heading.
"St. Giles day"
"contributor to all kinds of levies"
"issues and estreats"
"and of his freedom"
|Created: May 27, 2003.||© Stephen Alsford, 2003|