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|Subject:||Disputes over elections and electoral methods|
|Original source:||Items 1, 3, 5 and 6: Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn Corporation archives, Volume of letters and memoranda 2 Hen.IV - Hen.V, KL/C10/2, ff. 79,101-02, 105-109, 114-115; item 2: Public Records Office, C145/294; item 4: Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn Corporation archives, KL/C2/29|
|Transcription in:||1, 3, 5, 6: My transcription from original documents (transcripts of 3, 5, and 6 may also be found in Dorothy Owen, The Making of King's Lynn, 1984); 2. Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, vol.7, 1399-1422, London: HMSO,1968, 290-91; 4. John Cordy Jeaffreson, "The manuscripts of the Corporations of Southampton and King's Lynn." 11th Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, appendix, part III, London, 1887, 195-203.|
|Original language:||1, 3, 5, 6: Latin and Middle English; 2. Latin (translated by the editor); 4. Latin (translated by Jeaffreson, and modernized by me, with reference to notes made from my examination of the original document)|
[1. Letter from the mayor, seeking support for his cause, 1414]
Dear and trusty friends, we send you good greetings with all our hearts, letting you know that at the time of drafting this letter, we are healthy in body (thanks be to God), and have not been imprisoned as your opponents have stated in Lynn which cost us a great deal of money. Nonetheless we are assured, thanks to the favour of my lord [the Bishop] of Norwich and of various other lords, that our opponents shall not have their way. We have high hopes of furthering our election, for the law is on our side. The steps they have taken against us are completely contrary to our charters and our liberties. Therefore keep your spirits up and encourage all those friendly to us, for the effort we have put into our cause has resulted in this great council; we anticipate no resolution until the council is over. We beseech you, and all our friends, with all our hearts to send us gold with as much speed that you can muster, for we have made major commitments and are spending large sums of money to achieve our goals and to protect the interests of the community (which God preserve, forever). Whoever believes in the rights of the community and its well-being, now is the time to put forward a helping hand, and achieve what we wish or else [submit] to perpetual shame and pain that will last longer than we care to admit. Therefore, as quickly as you may, gather together six or seven of the best persons (as you so judge) and send them around to our friends to tell them the truth of the matter and of this great need, for the benefit of all. And send us an accurate account of what is received from every man, for it is essential if we are to recoup our expenses from our opponents. For many shameful things are spoken about them in the king's house, and in London among the estates. So that the blame will rest on your heads, not on us; for we do not intend to abandon our pursuit for our rights, unless it be due to you alone, which God forbid. Certainly we are going to need £40 or £50 more than we have. To speed things up, assign ten or twelve persons to collect as much as you can and, within three or four days, gather it together; for we must have it quickly, by [the hand of] whomever you think best, to ensure our cause is successful. We hope that every man shall receive back what he puts up [...] for, believe me, in whatever sum they happen to be condemned, we will never release them from it. We write no more at this time, but may the Holy Trinity guide us all, and will be certain to destroy their commission. Written in haste at 2:00 p.m. on the Monday following St. Math.'s day. Your own Bartholomew Petypas, mayor.
[2. Inquisition at Swaffham, 23 May 1415, into disturbances at Lynn]
On Trinity Sunday 1 Henry V [18 June 1413] the said 4 persons came with many others unknown with force and arms, viz. swords and staves, to the guildhall of the Holy Trinity at King's Lynn [sic] and violently and maliciously made an assault by night on the brethren of the gild against the king's peace, so that they were frightened and in great despair of their lives and mutilation of their limbs.
On Monday before St. Bartholomew 2 Henry V [20 August 1414], as Thomas Waterden, John Wenteworth, Thomas Brygge, John Bolt, and John Spicer of King's Lynn with other honourable gentlemen of the country were peacefully in John Warner's tavern in King's Lynn, there came the same 4 persons with a great multitude of people with force and arms, violently, wickedly and unlawfully against the king's peace upon the said Thomas Waterden and others, who intended to go peacefully to their inns and houses; and John Wardeyn glasier and John Cissesson spurrier of King's Lynn with other persons unknown lay in wait with force and arms against the king's peace for the said Thomas Waterden and others as they were going home with lights before them and assaulted them, to the no small disturbance of the king's peace and the bad example of others. John Frevylee, keeper of the gaol of King's Lynn, seeing the disturbance made by John Wardeyn, John Cisseson and many others, arrested them at the gaol by virtue of his office; but Bartholomew Petypas, hearing of this, came thither with force and arms and a great multitude of people and by strength and his own power, in the absence of the said keeper and without his assent or will, received and delivered John Wardeyn, John Cissesson and the others from the gaol, to the great prejudice of the king's laws and the perpetual destruction of the liberties of the town.
On Wednesday, the Decollation of St. John the Baptist 2 Henry V [29 August 1414], the king having directed his letter and command to Edmund Oldhall, then sheriff of co. Norfolk, to survey and hear the governance and ordinance relating to the election of the mayor of King's Lynn, together with other gentlemen of the country, Bartholomew Petypas, then in his mayoralty, with William Halyate, John Bilneye and John Tilneye and a great multitude of men of the town in manner of war with swords, staves and other arms violently and unlawfully against the king's peace disturbed and hindered the said sheriff and gentlemen and the good burgesses of the town as far as they could with armed force and insulting words from the election of a mayor and violently broke the bridges about the town and maliciously guarded the gates with armed men, so that very many gentlemen of the country were unable to get in to the aid of the sheriff, whereby the said sheriff and other gentlemen and the good men, burgesses and mayors elected from of old were frightened and stood in despair of their lives and the mutilation of their limbs; and the said Bartholomew and his fellows would not let the said sheriff, gentlemen, good burgesses and mayors come to the guildhall for the election of the mayor according to use and ancient custom, but they held the election in the house of the Austin friars of King's Lynn, in contempt of the king and of the liberties of the town.
On Friday, the Conversion of St. Paul 2 Henry V [25 January 1415] Bartholomew Petypas made an assault in the guildhall at King's Lynn with his drawn baselard on John Lakynghithe and on other good burgesses of the town during his mayoralty, procured and abetted by William Halyate, John Bilneye and John Tilneye and their fellows unknown, whereby the said mayor was thrown to the ground and trampled upon among them violently, maliciously, wickedly and unlawfully against the king's peace, to the very great terror of the said good burgesses and mayors elected from of old and to the very great despair of their lives and mutilation of their limbs, and Bartholomew and his fellows did other evil things to the said mayor and good burgesses and mayors elected from of old every day maliciously, wickedly and unlawfuly, against the king's peace, so that they did not dare for fear of death to hold any session in the guildhall, as was the custom from of old, for the good governance of the town and the preservation of the king's peace there, whereby the mayor, good burgesses and mayors elected from of old are seriously diminished and maliciously destroyed so far as is possible by the said 4 persons and their accomplices, to the very great destruction of the governance of the liberty of the town, to the very great contempt of the king and prejudice of his laws and to the very great deterioration of the liberties of the town.
[3. The mayoral election of 1415, thwarted, provokes an uprising]
Memorandum that on 29 September 1415, between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., when Robert Brunham, mayor of Bishop's Lynn, was attending mass in Holy Trinity chapel within the parish church of St. Margaret's, Lynn, burgess William Wyth suddenly appeared before the mayor and, calling on Thomas Abnale prolocutor of the community of Lynn to be his witness, delivered to Robert Brunham the mayor three royal writs, sealed in white wax under the Great Seal of England. One of which [ordered him] to continue to occupy the mayoralty himself until the King's Council has given consideration to the dispute [over the election], notwithstanding the election made by the community of Lynn the previous 29 August; upon penalty [for failure] of £1000.
[The clerk then proceeds to transcribe and/or summarize the content of the king's writs. The first, dated 26 September 1415, referred to the community having elected John Bilney as mayor, and ordered Brunham not to turn over the office to him. The second writ, of the same date, ordered him to ensure that John Spicer, John Bolt, John Waterden, Bartholomew Systerne, John Permonter, Philip Franke, Bartholomew Petipas, John Bilney, William Hallyate, John Bucworth, William Walden, and John Meryell appeared before Chancery in the quindene of Michaelmas. The third, which the clerk noted had been delivered to John Bilney and was not available for copying, ordered Bilney not to take up the office of mayor, despite his election, and to appear before Chancery in the quindene of Michaelmas.]
Robert Brunham having opened these two writs, by mayoral order the common clerk read them out and declared their contents to the mayor and people who were in the chapel. While the third writ was handed over to Robert Beer, the sergeant-at-mace, so that he could execute it. Hearing the clamour made by a great number of people who were pouring into and out of Holy Trinity chapel and the church itself, in consequence of this [turn of events] and in support, as it is said, of the liberties and franchises of the town or borough of Bishop's Lynn, dom. Thomas de Hevenyngham, prior of the monastic priory at Lynn, after the procession [was over], came in person into the Holy Trinity chapel and ordered the crowd and populace in the name of God to quieten down and leave, to prevent the disturbance they were making from interfering with the daily divine services. He asked mayor Robert Brunham to go up into the chancel to hear High Mass (for it was Sunday and there were two services), and this was done, with Robert Brunham being assigned a stall at the entrance to the choir, where he might stand on the right-hand side of the prior; there being present Sir John Litilbury and Bartholomew Petypas a previous mayor of Bishop's Lynn. Meanwhile, so many members of the community of Lynn gathered and came into the church that it was extraordinary.
Once mass was over and the blessing had been given with the sacrament, Bartholomew Petypas earnestly requested Robert Brunham that, if it pleased him, he go into the guildhall, as was the custom and usage, for the swearing-in of mayor-elect John Bilney. He replied that when the Lord Chancellor of England was last in Lynn he had, in the presence of many persons, ordered Robert to continue to occupy the mayoralty until he received other instructions based on decisions reached by the King's Council; and he said that the Chancellor had today renewed those orders to continue in office, via a writ [given] to Robert by William Wyth, under penalty of a thousand pounds. He also said that the Chancellor had in another writ, [delivered] by William Wyth, ordered that John Bilneye not be admitted to the office of mayor to which recently elected: "I, Robert, delivered the same by my own hands to Robert Beer, sergeant-at-mace, to give to John Bilneye." He added that he had no intention of entering the guildhall for any purpose whatsoever, unless compelled by force against his will seeing that the populace was stirred up and there was a real risk of that eventuality. Upon this, Bartholomew requested from the mayor the keys to the guildhall. Robert replied that they were at his house. [Bartholomew] requested that he send for them. He replied that no-one in his household had authority to touch them unless he was present in the house in person. He said that it was not his intention to disobey the orders (as above) in the Chancellor's writ, by handing over or surrendering in any way whatsoever his position as mayor, so that he would lose a thousand pounds, and added that if any wished to take his position or office from him against his will, it would be at their own risk. Reproachful words from the vulgar people coming and going in the church have not been recorded here by the common clerk, as it seems to him they are in no way relevant to community affairs; and those things said against the community or slanders against the wise, judicious and providential patricians sworn to the service of the borough, I leave out.
Finally, at the instance of the council and entreaties of Sir John Litilbury and Bartholomew Petypas, former mayor of Lynn, and in order to avoid worse, Robert Brunham agreed to go to his residence in Mercer Row, Lynn, to get the keys to the guildhall, on condition that no-one in any way molest him or harm him physically. When he came out of the church door into the street, so thick was the crowd that gathered around, that by sheer force of numbers they propelled both him and the common clerk to the guildhall door. Then they called forward John Mordon the bellman of Lynn and made the mayor, against his will, send him for the keys to the guildhall doors. When the bellman returned, they made him unlock the door, and then Robert de Brunham was knocked down by the press of the crowd and lay there in peril for some time never was a mayor so vilely treated, as far as anyone has heard and likewise the common clerk. After that mayor Robert de Brunham was hoisted up by force, brought into the guildhall, and set down on the low bench in the south corner of the guildhall. While the mayor was so suffering and fearful, the chest or muniment box of the guildhall, in which are placed for security and safe-keeping the community treasures (that is, the royal charters, records, and evidences), was broken open by John Blome fletcher and three royal charters concerning the liberties, franchises and privileges of the borough or town of Bishop's Lynn, sealed with the Great Seal of England, along with a round casket of contents unknown, which were found there, were removed by Bartholomew Petypas the former mayor of Lynn. Taking firm hold of them, he carried them out of the guildhall.
Half an hour later arrived John Bilneye, [who had been] elected, named and legitimately appointed as mayor on 29 August according to [the terms of] the king's charter and the new ordinances enrolled in the king's Chancery with an exemplification issued under the Great Seal of England; he had been detained by a high fever and other infirmities. Entering the guildhall, he seated himself on the lower bench. Immediately the community [wished to] follow up on the election and appointment of John Bilneye, having the common clerk bring about his admittance to the mayoralty by administering the customary oath. The clerk responded that from ancient times it had been prescribed that the mayor's oath was in the muniments chest, written down in a certain bound red book; the clerk did not know it by heart. [At that] the whole congregation raised their voices, crying out: "Indeed, you lie! You can give him his charge well enough!", and again, "Give him his charge!" The mayor [to] Ashebourne: "Why will you not give me my charge?" Upon this the clerk, to avoid the situation getting more out of hand, felt compelled to take from the muniments chest the book with a design of Holy Trinity [on its cover], upon which the oath of John Bilneye the mayor-elect was given and received, in the following words: "Sir, you shall place your hand upon the book and you shall swear that you shall govern and rule the community of this town well and truly, with all your ability and diligence, during the year that you are mayor. And maintain all the franchises of the town, and every parcel thereof both within and without, with all your power, and undertake all duties that pertain to the mayoralty, so help you God at the Final Judgement."
The mayor having been thus sworn, the community ordered Thomas Abnale, the prolocutor of the whole community, to administer to William Ashebourne the common clerk his oath of office according to the good ordinances enrolled at Chancery with an exemplification issued under the Great Seal of England. At this point Robert Beer, the sergeant-at-mace of the mayor and community, arrived and offered and delivered to mayor John Bilney the aforementioned sealed writ prohibiting him from taking up the mayoralty (as specified in [the above copy of] the writ). The latter, with the gravity due the situation, received the writ and ordered the common clerk to open it and read it out to the congregation, and this was done in Latin. The writ having been read out, heard, and understood, the mayor declared that he did not in any way wish to take up administration of the mayoralty, but rather he wished to obey the king's writ in all regards, whatever the writ demanded and required. Robert Brunham asked the sergeant-at-mace where he had been all this time, and why he had not [earlier] delivered the writ to John Bilneye as he had been instructed. He replied that he had been at the house of John Bilneye mayor, but had been unable to speak with him; and, he went on, when he returned to the guildhall it had been impossible for him to pass through the doorway into the hall, due to the size and agitation of the crowd. Such was the excuse he offered. The community then instructed the common clerk to administer to Robert his oath, according to custom, and this was done; and the [guildhall] key was handed over to Robert Beer by the consent of the community.
Robert de Brunham was still sitting in the corner of the guildhall, confused and in pain. There were present Thomas de Hevenyngham, prior of the monks at Lynn, Sir John Litilbury, Bartholomew Systerne, one of the 24 jurats, and John Permonter burgess of the town, [acting] as mediators for the restoration of peace and harmony, since Robert de Brunham had been maltreated and subjected to compulsion against his will, even imprisoned and detained as some say. Robert de Brunham asked the community what it wanted. In response to which they unanimously asked to have handed over to them the key to the chest or muniments box in which are kept the treasures of the borough of Bishop's Lynn that is, the king's charters concerning the liberties, appurtenances, privileges and franchises, and the records and evidences of the town of Lynn as well as the key to the treasury where the common seal is kept under communal keys in the possession of the mayor along with the mayoral sword and seal of the mayoralty. As regards the common seal, he had a concern in view of the fact that there was some degree of disagreement, dissension and dispute persisting here and he did not wish the common seal to be put to any kind of use in support of some particular party.
Robert Brunham replied that the room in which the common seal was kept also contained the treasury of the Gild of Holy Trinity of Lynn, of which he was alderman, and that it had four keys, of which the two chamberlains of the town of Lynn had custody of two, while he, Robert, had two in his custody one by right of his office as mayor, and one by right of his office as alderman of Holy Trinity Gild. He said that he was not prepared to surrender that the mayoralty was responsible, unless [forced] against his will. This issue was negotiated for a long time, from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. and later. Finally, with the consent of Bartholomew Systerne, one of the jurats of the borough of Lynn, and John Permonter, a burgess of good sense, and at the request and advice of the Prior of Lynn and the knight, Robert handed over all the items that had been asked for, as mentioned above, except for the sword belonging to the mayoralty, with an expression of concern and protest that he was doing so under compulsion and against his will. In the meantime, one citizen (whose name is not known at present) took that sword by force from Robert's sergeant, against the latter's will. John Bilneye, the mayor elected, appointed and sworn as indicated above, who was present, continued to protest before the community that this was not what he wanted, and that he did not wish to be in any way involved. And so it came about, against the express wishes of John Bilneye mayor as well as those of Robert de Brunham, that the keys to the muniments chest together with the mayoral seal were handed over to Sir John Litilbury for safekeeping, under the seals of Bartholomew Systerne and Bartholomew Petypas, by consent of and instruction from the community there.
[The account continues with somewhat confused memoranda noting that on 14 October a new writ, dated 6 October, was delivered to Brunham, confirming that notwithstanding Bilneye's election Brunham should remain in office until further notice; which was read out in the Tuesday marketplace on (Tuesday) 15 October as well as (later?) in the Saturday marketplace.]
A little later, by consent of the mayor and others of the 24 jurats as well as others summoned, nominated and elected, the Prior of Lynn, Thomas Brygge, Thomas Hunte, William Hunderpound, and William Ashebourne the common clerk went in person to Sir John Litilbury, who had in his custody the key to the chest and the mayoral seal, under the seals of Bartholomew Petypas and Bartholomew Systerne, to ask him on behalf of the mayor to return them, so that the mayor could carry out the exercise of his duties, by authority of the king's letters patent. In reply, Sir John Litilbury stated that when he was given sufficient authority he would willingly hand them over. Thomas Brygge then said to him: "Sir, we believe you have a writ to that effect." Who replied, saying: "Sir, I told you that when I have sufficient authority, I shall do what is right. You'll get no other answer from me at this time." This was communicated to the mayor by the Prior of Lynn and the others who were there at that time.
[4. Extracts from the king's Exemplification of the Revocation of the New Ordinances and Constitutions, 2 June 1416]
[The king states that he has inspected the document of revocation, which is then recited:]
To all sons of Holy Mother Church who see this document, we the mayor, jurats, and the rest of their fellow burgesses of the town of Bishop's Lynn, together with the whole community of that town, give greetings in the Saviour's name. Whereas our ancestors and predecessors of happy memory, former burgesses of this town, from time immemorial, for the better and healthier government of the town were accustomed to make twenty-four jurats from the more judicious, upstanding, worthy, and qualified burgesses of the town, and to elect each year a mayor, chamberlains, common clerk, common sergeant-at-mace, and other officers and ministers in the town, by virtue and authority of certain liberties and privileges granted to our ancestors and predecessors and their heirs and successors by the charters of the noble ancestors of [... the king ...], with the assent and at the special request of the then Bishop of Norwich [...] under certain manner and form as follows.
Viz., that all the burgesses of the town each year on 28 August be summoned and forewarned by the common sergeant-at-mace, in the name and by the authority of the mayor of the town then in office, to assemble on the following day, along with the mayor and the jurats of the town then in office, at the guildhall of the town, for the election both of the mayor and of the other officers and ministers mentioned. They having assembled, the alderman of the Holy Trinity Gild of Lynn then in office or if he is unable to to attend whomever he designates as he deputy in regard to this election is to choose and nominate four of the more worthy and qualified burgesses of the town who are not of the status or rank of jurats but are then among those present. Who are to elect to join them eight others of their fellow burgesses, likewise not of the status or rank of the twenty-four jurats, for choosing the mayor and the other officers and ministers of the town for the coming year. Which twelve burgesses so chosen, having been administered their customary oath by the common clerk of the town, should proceed at once to electing one of the twenty-four jurats and no other to the office of mayor of the town, and other of their fellow burgesses or others who are not burgesses to the offices of chamberlains, common clerk, common sergeant-at-mace, and gatekeepers, as well as to the offices of bellman and wayte in the town for the coming year.
They having been thus elected to the offices, should in the guildhall on the following September 29 (and not before) without delay be administered by the common clerk the customary oaths pertaining to their offices. This having been done, they should continue to fulfill and undertake their duties throughout one entire year.
In regard to the election of the twenty-four jurats, the ancient custom was thus. Whenever one or more of the twenty-four jurats dies, retires from his position, or because of his faults legitimately warrants removal and expulsion from office, the mayor then in office and the remainder of the jurats, in the presence of each and every other burgess of the town who wishes to attend (upon being given notice by the sergeant-at-mace, on behalf of the mayor), as often as and whenever necessary, should elect, admit and appoint one or more of the more worthy, upstanding, judicious, and qualified burgesses to the place of he or they dying, retiring, or being removed, to exercise the corresponding authority. Those being thus elected, admitted and appointed the customary oath having been administered should continue for life in this status and position, unless it should happen due to the causes mentioned that they or any one of them should voluntarily retire or be removed.
Furthermore, should it happen that any one or more of the coroners or constables should die, or on account of old age or for some other good reason should retire or be removed, then the mayor then in office should have the burgesses of the town forewarned by the common sergeant to come to the guildhall to elect to the vacant office or offices. Once all his fellow burgesses wishing to attend have arrived, the mayor should nominate four of his fellow burgesses, who should similarly nominate eight others of their fellow burgesses who are then present. This being done, the twelve so nominated, after having been administered their customary oath, should elect and appoint another person or persons in place of the coroners or constables removed or whose positions are vacant.
While these ordinances, electoral procedures, and ancient customs endured and were observed in the manner described, our ancestors and predecessors, the mayor, jurats, burgesses, and community of the town led a peaceful, contented, and pleasant existence, through a long period of prosperity. But recently serious discord, strife, controversy, riot, dissension, and quarrels have arisen and spread among the fellow burgesses and others of the same town, because of certain new ordinances and constitutions relating to the election of the mayor, the other jurats, and the officers and ministers mentioned; which were made by certain former burgesses of the town and their adherents. Which [discord etc.] has increased to a deplorable level in recent days. The tenor of these new ordinances and constitutions takes the following form:
Certain immense expenses, costs, losses, and intolerable damages have come about as a result of the aforementioned discord, strife, controversy, riot, and dissension, from the time that these new ordinances and constitutions were produced and enacted in the town. And over the course of time much worse is feared and can be expected to happen, unless things can be brought under control. They may result in the final destruction and impoverishment, as well as the desolation and probable overthrow, of the entire town may it be far distant! Observing this, and wishing to take precautions against losses and onerous damages of this kind and, to the best of our ability, pluck up by the roots and entirely erase the strife, quarrels, and dissension from the town and from among its inhabitants, as well as to restore peace, quiet, and true harmony between us, and our heirs and successors, with the support and assistance of the lords [of the town] in re-establishing it forever, by this document we by our common consent, will, and authority, for ourselves and our heirs and successors revoke, void, disempower, and annul each and every of the above new ordinances and constitutions regarding the election of the mayor, jurats, officers and ministers, as specified in the above memorandum. Which [ordinances] have been the basis for fuelling grief and hatred, and every instance of the same. It is our will that these new ordinances and constitutions not be applied henceforth in the town, by ourselves or our heirs and successors, or in any way whatsoever be in effect or exercised. But that from this time forward and forever they be completely without power or substance.
Furthermore, for the better, healthier, and more judicious government of the town, through our common decision, assent, will and authority, we wish, grant, order, give and declare for ourselves, our heirs and successors, that the abovementioned ancient customs, ordinances, constitutions and all other commendable and prescribed customs, in each and every of their articles pertinent [to these matters] from now on, and forever, be upheld, adhered to, and firmly observed.
And if it happen that the town's mayor then in office should die within his year, before he has completed the term of his mayoralty throughout that year, the alderman of the gild then in office is to occupy, exercise and undertake the office of the mayor thus dying until the end of that year, as was the case and custom from ancient time, the new ordinances and constitutions notwithstanding.
[The concluding section of the document begins with a statement whether from the borough authorities or, less likely, the king is not clear that nothing within the document is to be prejudicial to the lordship rights of the Bishop of Norwich, and that the new common seal of the town was applied to the document at Lynn on 1 June 1416. There follows a statement of the king indicating approval of this exemplification of the revocation, witnessed by him at Westminster on 2 June 1416.]
[5. Election day, 29 August 1416]
At which assembly, around 11 o'clock, the mayor put the question whether there was anyone in the guildhall other than sworn and known burgesses. The general response to the mayor was "No". Upon which the mayor had William Ashebourne the common clerk publicly read out before the community the exemplification under the Great Seal of England of the king's inspeximus of the revocation of the New Ordinances [recited].
The public reading of the exemplification of the revocation and annulment of the New Ordinances and Constitutions having taken place, and it being understood, the mayor said: "Sirs, is there any man in this hall who objects to any point in this document of revocation and annulment?" They replied "No." After a brief pause, the mayor again asked: "Sirs, is there any man at all in this hall at this time who objects to any point?" They replied "No." For a third and final time the mayor gave an opportunity, saying: "Sirs, if there is any man in the hall at this time who is not happy or satisfied with these matters, let him stand up unafraid and state his opinion." They replied unanimously, to the effect that they considered themselves well satisfied with everything.
At this the mayor said: "Sirs, as you well know, today is our day to choose our mayor, and other officers, for the coming year. Is it your wish that we proceed to the election, or not?" They replied unanimously that it was. It is the case that the alderman of Holy Trinity Gild, Lynn, then in office may nominate and elect a minimum of 4 of the more judicious, qualified, and dependable burgesses who are not of the status or rank of jurats and are among those present, [who in turn are] to elect eight other of their fellow burgesses likewise not being of the status or rank of jurats, [all twelve serving] for the election of the mayor and other officers and ministers of the town. That alderman, standing bare-headed before the mayor and the community, both asked and requested: "Sirs, is it your wish that I name four persons, as this book prescribes?" Everyone responded that it was. Again he asked: "Sirs, what do you say is it your wish that I name and call up four persons?" And they said that it was. Having giving the opportunity for proper consideration of the matter, the alderman named John Bryghtzeve, John Broun, John Maupas, and William Spyr, burgesses and merchants of the town of Lynn. They were instructed to go into the council chamber, according to custom and usage, and use their judgement to add to their number another eight of the more judicious, qualified, and dependable burgesses, according to custom and usage, two at a time; these were: Peter Cambell, John Sylesden, William Blakeneye, Philip Franke, John Alger, William Gedeney, Richart Thweyt, and Robert Narburgh.
These 12 came out of the council chamber and one by one took their customary oaths to do their duty (as indicated above) well and faithfully, as contained in the bound red book kept in the muniments chest etc. The 12 then went back into the council chamber for quite some time, to reach an agreement that was satisfactory to them. They came out with their verdict in writing, carried by John Alger. Upon which the alderman, at the suggestion of Philip Franke prior to the decision being announced, left his seat and stood up bareheaded before the mayor and whole community there and asked: "Sirs, has it been your wish that I name and call up four burgesses, as we have done?" For certain, they unanimously responded that it was. Upon which the mayor instructed William Ashebourne the common clerk to take delivery of the verdict. The common clerk asked the 12: "Sirs, are you all agreed?" They replied that they were. He then said: "Sirs, hand over your verdict." They handed over to the common clerk a written paper note in which it was set down that the 12 sworn men had elected John Wesenham as mayor for the coming year, Walter Todenham, William Waterden, William Stile, and Hugh Cook as chamberlains, William Ashebourne as common clerk, Robert Beer as sergeant-at-mace and keeper of the east gate, John Frome as keeper of the south gate, Thomas Groute as keeper of the north gate, and John Mordon as bellman, for the next year coming, beginning as of next Michaelmas, on which day they will take their oaths in the guildhall, as is set down in the exemplification mentioned above.
Memorandum that on the same day, after the mayor, chamberlains, and other officers had been elected, the mayor with the consent of [those of] the community present had arranged, as a favour to the mayoralty, for the council of the reverend father, dom. John Wakerynge by God's grace Bishop of Norwich, to come before the mayor and community gathered there following that event, as observers of the assembly and the people taking part in it. That is: Master John Cays, parson of the church of Fakenham and clerk of the King's Hanaper; Master William Sponne, steward of the hospice of the reverend father; dom. Thomas Hevenyngham, prior of the monks at Lynn; and Edmund Oldehall esq., receiver of the king's revenues for the Duchy of Lancaster in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, and one of the king's justices for keeping the peace in Norfolk, substituting for John Spenser, sheriff of Norfolk, also of the council, because the sheriff is said to be detained in London, infected with a fever and other infirmities. The mayor, 24 jurats, and burgesses there assembled rose to leave with both a cheerful demeanour and feeling of great satisfaction, pleased both with the conclusion of the day's events and the arrival of the bishop's council; and all departed in tranquillity, peace and harmony, giving praise to God and rejoicing in His grace.
On which day, proclamation was made in the town of Bishop's Lynn that is, in the Tuesday marketplace and Saturday marketplace around 9 o'clock, in the names of the king and the lord of the liberty of the town of Bishop's Lynn, at the instructions and recommendation of Edmund Oldehalle, king's justice for keeping the peace in Norfolk, with the agreement of those present from the council of the Bishop of Norwich, and in the presence of Thomas Hunte mayor of the town of Lynn, that craftsmen and labourers who were residents of Lynn should not fail to remain at and keep open their shops or selds, pursuing their crafts or other livelihoods as they are accustomed on week-days, unless they are burgesses. And that all vagrants or itinerant persons who were within the liberty should bring themselves before the king's justices [to give assurances] for keeping the peace, so that no insurrections, gatherings, conventicles, or riots in any form or fashion take place this day in the town of Lynn.
[6. Letter from the mayor and good men of Lynn concerning a rioter, 1416]
To the most honourable gentleman and our most devoted friend, John Spenser, sheriff of Norfolk. Respected and reverent sir, we commend ourselves to you, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the kindness and courtesy you have shown us in times past, hoping for continuation of the same. We have understood your letter, for which our deepest thanks. As concerns Thomas Feltwell goldsmith, mentioned in your letter, it is well-known throughout Lynn that he was in the past indicted for rebellion and riot, and we have dealt with him fairly and in good faith, sir, since the last time that he was newly indicted. He never showed any repentance in word or action as far as we could tell, nor did anyone speak up for him until now except only his wife spoke to us on his behalf but he remained obstinate, full of ill-will, malice and worse. So it seemed to us and our fellows that we were not obliged to do him any favours. And we have been repeatedly informed, sir, that Thomas Hardell, Thomas Enemethe and many others with ill intent are consorting with and gathering again around Bartholomew Petypas, to offer him advice and his party support; and one is an attorney and schemes to have me, the mayor, brought in person to answer before the king or his council, along with all the bonds that we have taken in this matter. We beg you, sir, if it please you, to pay special attention to determining if this is what is being talked about there, and to do your best to prevent it, and send us information on the matter along with your best advice, by a speedy letter. We shall reimburse you for your efforts in a manner that will satisfy you, with God's grace. Sir, we are sending to you, by the carrier of this letter, a little young [...] beer, for we are given to believe that your other is destroyed. As regards your table "meyne" we have written on this matter, and as soon as it arrives we will send it to you. And sir, my wife Elizabeth commends herself to you a thousand times over. If there is anything else we may or can do to please you, do let us know by letter and we shall do whatever is within our power. Dear sir, we can say no more at this time. But Jesus give you long life, body and soul, and continual increase in honours. Written at Lynn, the second day of the month of July, in the fourth year of the reign of King Henry V.
It is not often we are given an intimate look at electoral procedures in medieval English towns; when we are, it is often as a consequence of disputes arising over those procedures. The texts above document episodes from a lengthier struggle between political factions in early fifteenth century Lynn. This struggle I have earlier discussed elsewhere and will try to avoid repeating all the same details here. At the risk of over-simplifying, it was a contest for control of borough government between two main interests in the town. One group, the potentiores, aimed to preserve its status as a ruling elite within a larger privileged group: the enfranchised burgesses. The other group, which may loosely be described as a populist or reform movement, aimed to alter the constitution to give or restore, depending on one's perspective, authority to the "community" its support coming primarily from the lower ranks of the burgesses and from the unenfranchised residents. This group was led by burgesses Bartholomew Petypas and John Bilney, and two non-burgesses, William Hallyate and John Tilney.
Complicating matters was the involvement of the Bishop of Norwich, who had a tradition of being a champion of the interests of the lesser townspeople against the more prominent citizens, and who had long been engaged in a struggle of his own against the potentiores. The latter believed it would be the economic benefit of the town and to the improvement of their ability to run local affairs if they could obtain greater independence from the jurisdictional rights of the bishop. The political conflict internal to the community followed hard on after a series of clashes between the potentiores and the bishop and his officials in Lynn. These were complicated by popular riots, in support of which side is uncertain although a parliamentary petition of 1404 had seven lesser townsmen, claiming to represent the "poor commons", complaining of wrongs and extortions committed by "the great men", who had imprisoned the petitioners. The nature of the bishop's involvement in the internal struggle is also not entirely clear; at the least he gave moral support and showed some favouritism towards the reformers, but he may have gone so far as intentionally to furnish some of the key leaders of the resistance to the potentiores. On the other hand, the bishopric, initially (when the potentiores began their legal contest) in the hands of Henry Despenser who had several reasons to object to those governing Lynn, changed hands three times during the affair, making it necessary for the reformers to repeatedly reassure themselves of episcopal support.
Once the Petypas party had obtained control of government in 1411 by installing a figurehead mayor, Roger Galyon by force, its opponents claimed (see below) it quickly showed its intent to introduce constitutional reforms, sending fact-finding missions first to Oxford, where the method of mayoral election reported back could not have been very encouraging, then to Norwich and London. The potentiores were no less prompt to complain to the king that the recent election had been carried out contrary to the chartered liberties of the borough, obliging Petypas to lead a large delegation to Westminster, carrying the town charters for presentation in their defence; the detailed itemization of expenses associated with this episode, in the chamberlains account of 1411/12, shows how seriously this threat was taken.
After scraping through this challenge, the reform administration, in an effort partly intended to cow the potentiores, subjected to a review their past administrations during the years of the struggle against the bishop, and accused them of
"numerous injuries, oppressions, injustices, exactions, extortions, and wrongful vexations, and many sums of money in which the mayor and the potentiores became indebted, which were frequently imposed on and raised from the burgesses and inferiores who are not burgesses, frequently without a reasonable cause, to their serious injury and damage, and to the no slight impoverishment of the town, for which reason the opposition of the burgesses and inferiores."
The new administration even went so far as to employ, for eighteen days, some sort of specialist to re-audit the chamberlains' accounts for the previous twelve years. The underlying concern seems to have been that borough expenditures had burgeoned out of control, with the community in effect becoming debtor to the potentiores, from whom money had been borrowed (both individually, and collectively through the merchant gild) or supplies purchased, giving them not only a political but also an economic hold over the town. There was additionally concern for management of revenues from rents, the backbone of the corporation budget, and freeman admission fees; during Petypas' mayoralty, four new rentals of community properties were compiled. The scrutiny may have extended beyond the ex-mayors, for the chamberlains account for that first year of the reform administration also included, in an attached schedule, a petition by town clerk William Ashebourne regarding the expenses of his offices since 1408; although perhaps the clerk simply took the opportunity to try to recoup his personal outlay an effort he continued to pursue in later years.
The review of past administrations by an investigative committee from which the potentiores, initially participating, soon dissociated themselves led to a decision that imposed financial penalties on that group, particularly those who had served as mayor. A note added at this time to both the 1401/02 and 1404/05 chamberlains' accounts (the only fair-copy accounts surviving from that decade) stated that all expenses of that year's administration many of which related to the legal battle with Bishop Despenser were disallowed by the majority of the investigating committee (i.e. those who remained after the potentiores had withdrawn). The reason given was that the mayors of those years, and several other mayors since and before, through "confederacies" and "private oaths" had conspired against the bishop, without consent of the burgesses or the inferiores, dishonestly, unjustly, inordinately, and dissolutely spending borough revenues. This referred to the legal battle with the bishop, part of whose costs had been paid for out of the pockets of the potentiores, particularly the past mayors. Under the award issued by the investigative committee on May 20, 1412 the ex-mayors' claims for reimbursement were denied and it was ruled they should repay community money expended on the legal battle.
Another irritant had been the growing salary demands of the mayors; Thomas Brygge, for example, claimed £26.13s.4d for his term in office in 1407/08, and he was excused the 20s. he had been assessed towards a communal tax, apparently a customary perk for mayors. The investigators cut his salary claim to the traditional fee of £10.
However, the reform administration dropped its demand for repayment, apparently on the understanding that the ex-mayors would drop theirs for reimbursement. As a result, agreements were obtained from most of the potentiores in July for their compliance with the award. In December this submission was given, it seemed, more security by each of the potentiores putting up a bond of £100 to guarantee their acceptance of the terms of the award. Later, once the potentiores had regained ascendancy, they would take bonds for good behaviour from their opponents.
The reform party was able to maintain its hold over the mayoralty at the 1412 election, thanks in part to having made 112 of its supporters burgesses days before the election took place; they included Hallyate and Tilney. The occupation of most of these was stated at that time, or later. The list identifies 39 different occupations spread across the board. Most were artisans, with an unsurprising predominance of those involved in the cloth industry (hosiers, drapers, tailors, weavers, shermen, chaloners, listers, steynours, cardmaker), followed by the leather industry (skinners, tawyers, cordwainers, barkers, saddlers), and the metal-working industries (goldsmiths, cutlers, pewterers, spurriers, armourer, locksmith, brasier). Those involved in the food trades are less in evidence than might be expected: there are several butchers, but only a couple of bakers and brewers and a single cook on the list. Similarly, only a handful of middlemen mercers, chandlers, spicers.
The list suggests that, unlike the situation at London, where different crafts were powerful enough to be rivals for power, at Lynn the split was more mercantile vs. crafts, although it would be dangerous to characterize the political conflict purely on that basis. It does appear that much of Petypas' support came from lesser tradesmen, as opposed to the mercantile potentiores. But, except for two mariners, who might have been ship's masters, there is no evidence of where lay the loyalties of the lowest strata of society: labourers; if indeed they were involved or interested in the struggle for power. The absence of those involved in the building industries, other than for two glasiers and a joiner, may also be suggestive.
However, the list of entrants is not by itself reliable evidence, since Petypas would have selected as franchise entrants those easiest to slip under the net. Many of them were probably financially qualified to be freemen, but had never thought it sufficiently advantageous, economically, to warrant paying the 40s. admission fee; strictly speaking, they were not supposed to retail in the town unless freemen, but this does not seem to have been much enforced until the 1420s. John Wentworth, on the other hand, would have disagreed about their eligibility, for he complained to the bishop that these were mere shoemakers and tailors of whom 20 or so were worth only a penny. These entrances became a bone of contention between the parties. This was partly over whether the entrants had the right to become freemen under guise of most (100) entering by right of apprenticeship, and thereby free of fee as was the case with merchants' apprentices. And partly over the payment of the entrance fees, which appear to have been deferred initially. Petypas later called upon them as a source of revenue to fund his efforts to stay in power, and accounted for them as revenues during his mayoralty (1413/14). But the potentiores subsequently refused to accept this and, suspecting the revenues had never reached the communal treasury, obliged the entrants to take a special oath to divulge when they had become freemen and to whom they had paid their fees; they were also required either to find guarantors for the payment of the fees in full, or to renounce citizenship.
The pressure the reform administration continued to be under during its second term in office (1412/13) is reflected in the chamberlains' account of that year, which deviated from tradition in that it was prefaced by a narrative of events in the ongoing struggle with the potentiores; this was presented as an "account" of the activities of the investigative committee and the subsequent efforts of the reform administration. The account, likely drafted by John Tilney, was careful to state (whether accurately or not) that all actions taken by the administration were done through the assent and consent of the community. The mayoral account of Bartholomew Petypas for 1413/14 has a similarly unconventional character, not least because it extends throughout the term of his successor, as if Petypas considered that he was legitimately mayor during that second year. At the same time, the excitement generated within the community by the radical turn of events is reflected in the large attendances recorded at assembly meetings during 1412/13, often estimated as in the hundreds and triple the level of attendance common in an earlier period.
In late August 1412 the potentiores' representatives, Thomas Waterden and John Brandon, had put their complaints before the Chancellor, Archbishop Arundel, who had in fact been present on May 20 when the investigative committee made its award and received the potentiores submission to its terms. They succeeded in obtaining a writ summoning mayor Galyon to appear before the Chancellor, bringing the document embodying the award and the related bonds put up by the potentiores. The pair put up their own bond, guaranteeing they would pay the court costs if they failed to prove their case against the mayor. Galyon, doubtless at Petypas' instructions, neglected to respond to the first summons; after a second summons, permission was obtained for him to appear by deputy rather than in person. The reformers in their turn had obtained the intervention of the bishop, who summoned the potentiores to appear before him. After the bishop had ordered them to desist and respect the agreement, Petypas sent Tilney to London in mid-September to try to dissuade the Chancellor from proceeding.
All these activities, from about May to October 1412, resulted in expenses of just over £80; but it paid off for, after a period in which the potentiores continued to plot, during October and November groups of the potentiores dropped their actions against the reform administration. Meanwhile, in mid-October, Petypas further secured his party's position by leading a delegation to Westminster (in response to the writ originally directed to Galyon) where they consulted numerous lawyers, and obtained a review by the Chancellor of their complaints, the award of the investigative committee, and the related submissions. The Chancellor pronounced in favour of what had been done, and the king subsequently gave his stamp of approval in late November; to which letters patent of inspeximus the reform administration applied the borough seal in a ceremony attended by various notables. A sealed exemplification of the inspeximus was obtained the following April.
Constitutional reform was still not yet underway, although Petypas and his colleagues were moving slowly in that direction, with the introduction of the office of prolocutor and the intent to seek from Henry V at least a confirmation of the borough charters, on whose brief terminology rested the claim of the community to a say in the mayoral elections. In that latter ambition they were disappointed: the parliamentary representatives (Tilney and Hallyate), assigned to the task, reported that no town had been able to secure confirmation of their charters from the new king. In July, they obtained the promotion of John Bilney into the ranks of the jurats, in place of Ralph Bedingham who had been deposed earlier in the year, for reasons unknown; this meant that two of the reform leaders were now qualified for the mayoralty, placing less reliance on Galyon.
A third term in office for the reformers was achieved through the election in 1413 of Petypas himself as mayor. It continued to be a year of struggle between the opposing parties; very soon in to his term, Petypas despatched his lieutenants to London to advise the newly-elected Bishop Courtenay of the continuing disputes and to seek his intervention. When the potentiores were asked if they would agree to his arbitration, however, they temporized. As the elections again approached in 1414, rumours reached Petypas that his opponents would bring in an armed force recruited in the countryside to help them control the outcome. He tried to pre-empt this by holding the elections on August 21, evidently resulting in his own re-election. Despite this the potentiores assembled a crowd of their supporters at the Augustinian friary on August 29, having been denied access to the guildhall, and held their own election; they further obtained a writ summoning Petypas, Galyon, Bilney, and Hallyate to appear before the king on September 7, to explain themselves. Before setting out, Petypas ensured he still had popular support, by asking an assembly if the community was willing to bear the expenses of the four men's journey to London and obtaining permission to take with him letters of attorney on behalf of the community.
The first document given above, not fully dated, was dictated by Petypas while in London, during the final days of his mayoralty. Dorothy Owen, in calendaring the volume of memoranda in which a copy had been made [William Asshebourne's Book, Norfolk Record Society, vol.48 (1981)] assigned it a date of 26 February 1414, on the assumption that the saint's day mentioned was that of St. Mathias. However, I believe that this document was written in London in the context of the hearing given by the king's council to representatives of the two sides in the dispute, following each party having elected a rival mayor in August, and that the correct festival is St. Matthew's, making the date 24 September. The second document, stating complaints evidently laid by, and represented from the perspective of, the potentiores, indicates the strenuous efforts Petypas made to ensure his re-election, a success that would be overturned by decisions at Westminster.
The outcome of the arbitration of the king's council was that the parties agreed on what were named the New Ordinances. However, this settlement was not really satisfactory to the potentiores and did not prevent further disputes over constitutional matters. The ordinances were put into immediate effect through a new election; but the supposed compromise candidate for mayor, John Lakinghithe, was soon denounced by Petypas for plotting to subvert what the reformers had accomplished. The Lakinghithe administration annulled the mass freemen entrances made under the reform administration (a decision later reversed) and had the disputes brought back before the Chancellor. There they obtained permission to appoint new arbitrators, to be chosen by an electoral committee; however, the committee comprised 17 potentiores and 7 supporters of the reform party, and only the former were present when the arbitrators were chosen. This turn of events provoked violent protests from the reformers, and it was now their turn to complain to the Chancellor, who ruled in April that a fresh arbitration take place through the Bishop of Norwich and Earl of Dorset.
However, the potentiores seem to have been making complaints of their own, with the result that on May 10, 1415 the king appointed four justices to investigate "dissensions, discords and debates which have continued for no small time and still do daily between the mayor and certain of the burgesses of King's Lynn [sic] and certain other burgesses and the commonalty" [Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, 1399-1422, 189]; the king noted that he had tried to settle the problem by summoning representatives of both parties before him, but had been unable to get them to agree to compromise or even negotiate. The investigations (extracts in document no.2 above) went as far back as the mayoral election of Michaelmas 1411 when, it was complained, an armed mob led by Willliam Hallyate, John Bilneye, Bartholomew Petypas, merchants, and John Tilneye junior, husbandman, had intervened by force to have their candidate, Roger Galyon, nominated and elected.
By this time matters had worsened for the reformers' cause, for Lakinghithe had died in office, allowing gild alderman Robert Brunham, a leader of the potentiores, to assume the mayoralty. When election time rolled around again, the New Ordinances were followed; the community nominated two jurats probably Petypas and Bilney and the jurats selected as mayor the lesser of the evils: Bilney. Some of the jurats, however, complained to the Chancellor and sought to have the election annulled. When queried about this by the Chancellor, Brunham replied (according to Petypas' account) that the election had been legitimate. This position, if taken, was soon reversed perhaps (again, according to Petypas) because the death of Bishop Courtenay left the reformers temporarily vulnerable and some potentiores, probably Brunham himself during the final days of his term of office, obtained a writ summoning Bilney before the Chancellor. The immediate consequences are the subject of the third document above.
Bilney managed (once more according to Petypas) to justify his election to the Chancellor, but the latter decided it might quieten things down in Lynn if he put aside the claims of both Bilney and Brunham and appointed a third party. Thomas Hunte thereby became mayor, theoretically a compromise candidate. In fact he was evidently perceived as a trusted member of the potentiores for, at a meeting of the corporation in March 1415, when alderman Brunham could not be present, Hunte had taken his place; he had also been an executor of Robert Botkesham, one of the main early targets of the reformers. Once in the mayoralty, whether from a genuine desire to restore peace to local politics or from sympathies with his fellow merchants of the potentiores, Hunte engineered the revocation of the New Ordinances, and the restoration of the key points of the earlier constitution, removing the powers the community had won under those ordinances.
The lengthy text of the revocation, recorded on a single large membrane, which I have divided up into paragraphs to make for easier reading, illustrates the different political perspectives of the parties in conflict in early fifteenth century Lynn. The New Ordinances were based on constitutional arrangements in London. It may seem odd for a movement seeking to break the hold of an elite on government to look for a solution to a city where an elite was perhaps more firmly entrenched than elsewhere. But adopting this model appears to have been the idea of the arbitrators; the reformers probably had few options available, and the example of London provided a source of authority that might prove an acceptable compromise to all interests.
The procedure at the election in 1416 seems to show an electorate in which harmony had largely been restored. More likely it shows a political situation in which the fortunes of the reformers were at a low ebb and there was little resistance to the potentiores aims.
Hunte's querying of the guildhall audience whether they wished to proceed with the election may have been a traditional procedure. It is also recorded for the election of 1412 when, around 10 o'clock, mayor Galyon asked those in attendance a crowd of about 150 burgesses and 100 non-burgesses whether they wished to proceed with the election. When dissenters raised their voices, it was put to a vote; the procedure being for all in favour to sit, and all opposed to stand, leaving six persons conspicuously on their feet. The dissent was over the question of electoral procedures. This question was put to the burgesses at large, who responded that by right, granted through royal charters, it ought to lay with them to nominate and elect the mayor and other officers. The procedure followed, at the advice of John Bilney, used the co-optative committee of 12, but with the first four chosen by the congregation two from the jurats and two from the burgesses instead of by the alderman (who, like most of the jurats, was boycotting the election).
Hunte's mayoralty did not see the end of the wrangles over the constitution. During his successor's mayoralty the corporation sent a representative to Norwich "to learn how they are governed in those parts." [KL/C39/51 m.9] It would be take a couple more years before things started to return to normal, following the introduction of a lower council as the voice of the community, the prolocutor being seen no more.
Differences in political perspective of the parties can be seen in the documents above. The potentiores preferred the more orderly process of nominal representation of the community through an electoral committee whose decision was held to symbolize a unanimous decision of the community, although the process of indirect election was influenced by individuals they would select (the alderman of the merchant gild being not merely one of their number, but one of the leaders of that party). The reformers preferred an open majority vote of all qualified voters to determine mayoral candidates, it being recognized that unanimity was unlikely.
The reformers, although they held that the community was the source of authority, acknowledged two separate empowered estates, jurats and burgesses, seeing the two as partners in government with the primary decision as to candidature for office being made by the burgesses. Membership in the jurats, through identification with the Magna Jurata, an originally separate body acting as a jury for the view of land, was restricted to townsmen who held property providing an income of at least 100s. a year. Even the reformers did not attempt to empower the unenfranchised class within the community, although non-burgesses were often in attendance at assembly meetings during the reform administration; on one occasion (28 June 1413), when the potentiores refused to attend because there was such a crowd of non-burgesses present, the mayor replied that because the business in hand was the report of the representatives to the last parliament and the raising of money for their wages, he could not deny anyone entrance to the hall.
The potentiores on the other hand, although they might pay lip-service to communal authority, really saw that authority as divided; they had come to see it as their right to exercise decision-making in local government. Even within their own group they recognized a smaller elite whose opinions counted for more. By 1419, we find expression of this perception of the political hierarchy in a statement that an ordinance had been made in the guildhall by "the majority of the patricians of the bench, the 24 venerable sworn comburgesses of the town of Lynn, and the 27 judicious comburgesses of the common council of the town of Lynn." [KL/C39/52 m.11r] The terminology is significant.
The powerful ex-mayors who had been the principal target of the reformers had now established themselves more firmly in local government, while the community at large was excluded from routine assemblies, being represented by a lower council whose oath suggests its scope was restricted to domestic matters. The institutionalisation of communal consultation through the Common Council ensured more breadth to local government, and perhaps greater accountability. It may by that have helped detach the moderates from the extremists in the reform movement; but it did not involve a significant transfer of power. That and other small concessions to the community, such as that the election of replacement jurats could only take place in an assembly open to community attendance, failed to do more than delay the trend towards the development of a closed corporation. But it was sufficient to bring an end, for exhausted combattants, to one of the more virulent periods of urban political strife for which records survive from the medieval period.
"have not been imprisoned"
"force and arms" "violently" "mutilation"
"mayors elected from of old"
"Holy Trinity chapel"
"the crowd that gathered"
"he had a concern"
"not of the status or rank"
"who are not burgesses"
"election of four chamberlains"
"new common seal"
"sworn and known burgesses"
"bound red book"
"Thomas Hardell, Thomas Enemethe"
"seven lesser townsmen"
"identification with the Magna Jurata"
|Created: May 27, 2003.||© Stephen Alsford, 2003|