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A number of qualifications must instantly be attached to these figures. Office-holders who did not live to middle-age are likely to be under-represented, since death may often have taken them unawares, before they had made wills. That is almost certainly the case with the Philip Wyth junior mentioned above, who died before 1377 and whose will, had he left one, would have been entered into the Liber Lynn alongside those of others of his family. Since, as we shall shortly see, men tended not to enter into the mainstream of administrative duties before their 30s, the average calculated above must not be taken as applicable to the whole adult male burgess population. Indeed, Thrupp's study of London merchants shows 49-50 to be a more reasonable life expectancy, supporting the findings of Russell. If we eliminate those of Thrupp's examples who did not reach the age of 30, her average is raised, but only slightly, to 53-54. The remaining discrepancy may be explained away largely as the consequence of our figures relying over-heavily on the cases of jurats, who tended to be veterans. At the same time, it is clear that a substantial majority (over 80%) of the office-holders for whom length of life has been calculated lived beyond the average life-expectancy estimated by Russell and Thrupp. Platt has noted, with regard to Southampton burgesses, that "a strikingly high percentage" reached their 60s or beyond, and the same may be said for these Lynn men. Age was not a pre-requisite for power, but it may be true that the major figures in local government, wielding the most influence, were usually the survivors of their class: the long-livers. Our office-holders, as the wealthier members of the borough community, had a relatively comfortable standard of living and servants to do some of their work for them, and so had a better chance of survival to old age. Yet death is not only no respecter of persons, it also pays little heed to age. Richard Gigges had probably barely passed his fiftieth birthday when he finally succumbed, after years of illness; and Margery Kempe's husband John may have appeared to his wife "a man in gret age passyng thre scor yer" when he turned senile, but other evidence suggests he was not much past the 60 years mark. By contrast, we have men like William de Swanton of Lynn, or Hugh Fastolf of Yarmouth, still fathering children in their late 40s or 50s - a fact which may help explain the large number of underage children found in wills - and Edmund Westhorp (jurat over a 34-year period), John de Lakinghithe (jurat 27 years), Ralph Bedingham (jurat 36 years), Edmund Belleyeter (jurat 43 years), Robert de Salisbury (jurat 36 years), Thomas de Waterden (jurat 41 years), and John de Brunham (jurat 55 years), men still active in administration in their late 70s and early 80s, almost up to their deaths; most of this last group were mayors more than once and several held the post of alderman too. Estimation of age is far more difficult from the Colchester and Ipswich evidence. A smaller proportion of burgess entrances have been recorded, and we know too little about the conditions governing entrance to the franchise in those towns for that evidence to be of much use in estimating birth. In fact, of our Colchester officials the age of only one can be calculated with any confidence. Matthew fitz Robert le Verrer is first mentioned in the context of the 1296 lay subsidy, when his assessment and the description of his moveables suggest someone just starting out in life. As his first responsible role comes in 1301, as assessor of that year's subsidy, one is inclined to doubt that Matthew was born much later than 1280; nor does an earlier date commend itself greatly given that his father was still alive in 1307 and his mother in 1327, and that Matthew's will received probate in 1358/9 (although he does not appear in the records after 1352). Matthew was therefore about 75 years old when he died. The ages of 13 Ipswich office-holders can be estimated and they average at the 54-59 years range, but so small a sample cannot be considered acceptable as a guide to the average age of the whole group. However, this evidence, such as it is, still favours the idea that office-holders tended to live beyond the average life-span of the medieval burgess. Nor are we enlightened on the subject of age by analysis of the average length of time between entrance to the franchise and the first holding of ballival or mayoral office. At Lynn the average is 21 years, with a minimum of 1 year (John Urry) and maximum of 42 years (John Lakinghithe); but few men (9%) held the mayoralty within their first decade as freemen, and the great majority of our examples are clustered within a decade on either side of the estimated average. At Ipswich the average is 17 years, with a minimum of 1 year (John Heved) and maximum of 37 years. At Colchester there is an average of 19 years, with a minimum of 1 year (Thomas Godestone) and maximum 37 years. In both Ipswich and Colchester, however, the examples are well spread out between the minima and maxima, with no conglomerations of statistics, and therefore the notion of an average is not very helpful. We are no better off at Maldon, where the franchise entrances of 28 of our office-holders are recorded. Judging from length of life approximations, it seems that entrances most commonly occurred in early adulthood, in the 20s. Analyses of the distances between entrance and the holding of offices of chamberlain and bailiff each produce an average of 15 years, but this is misleading as only four of the chamberlains whose entrances are recorded also held the ballivalty. Unfortunately we cannot tell whether the absence of any pattern in these towns is a consequence of trends in office-holding or in entrances to the franchise, lack of knowledge as to ages preventing us from clarifying the situation. We are thus encircled by our ignorance. Once again it is to Lynn that we must turn for more detailed evidence of a hierarchy of experience; for, supplementing the data of men whose ages have been calculated with others whose franchise entrances at least are known, we may estimate the average ages for the holding of particular offices. The chart showing these ages indicates a cursus officiorum and the association of higher office with men of greater age. The model constructed is one of men entering the corporation via the office of chamberlain, and/or that of Common Councillor in the fifteenth century, the worthier of their number being promoted into the jurats within a few years, and a large proportion of these attaining the mayoralty after a further few years service as jurats. It may be noted that, of the men who rose to the mayoralty before the age of 40, half held office in the earliest of our three chronological divisions. This impression of a younger administration the earlier back in time we look is supported by the evidence generally, although it is interesting that the average age of chamberlains - the point of entry of the cursus - does not show any significant fluctuations. The increases, from one period to another, of the average ages of jurats and mayors are quite distinct and may reflect increasing life-expectation, although this is purely hypothetical. The correspondence of average ages of chamberlains and jurats 1350-99 is explicable by the fact that it was not uncommon in that period for men elected chamberlains to have already served in the jurats (which it must be remembered was the sole council and an elected one), or to become jurats when elected chamberlain; there are 28 cases of this. That situation altered with the borough constitutional reforms of the reign of Henry V, producing a lower council and raising the standing of the jurats, while also prohibiting that chamberlains be chosen from the jurats. There are only two cases of jurats acting as chamberlains in the period 1400-60, one pre-dating the reforms, one contemporary with them; the Common Council henceforth took over (informally) the role of the jurats in furnishing many of the chamberlains. If we investigate this age hierarchy in more detail, we are led to conclude that an effective promotional system operated in Lynn's government. In fact, there is increasing evidence that such systems may have been common features of later medieval borough government generally. In fifteenth century Oxford we find a promotional route beginning with ward constable and progressing through common councillor, chamberlain, bailiff, to permanent aldermannic status and thence to the mayoralty; a man might hold the same office more than once before moving up a step on the ladder, but he would not be asked to serve in an office lower than the one last held. The scabin's office in fourteenth century Southampton has been described as "a distinction or a reward for past services." A promotional relationship between the lower and upper councils in seventeenth century Ipswich, Stamford tempore Edward IV, and medieval Exeter has been discerned, whilst at Exeter (1340) service in the office of steward was prescribed as a pre-requisite for election to the mayoralty. At Lynn - and the same seems to hold true for the other towns studied here, as far as the poorer evidence allows determination - the lowest level of participation in borough administration seems to be in the leet. The responsibilities of many of our office-holders began as capital pledges or leet affeerors, but not constables, an office generally held by men of jurat status, perhaps because of the coercive power it endowed. The minor, and very temporary, roles of tax assessor/collector also feature early in careers. Holding of these roles was not influenced by whether a man had yet entered the franchise. The same is true of bureaucratic posts, often held by non-freemen and usually by townsmen other than those of the wealthiest class. Just over a dozen of the office-holders studied from Lynn, Ipswich, Colchester, and Yarmouth (approximately 1%) held such posts, but of them only two rose to the executive offices of their towns; the others were of little account, although two were briefly jurats, and at Colchester and Yarmouth a few M.P.s were men who held the post of sergeant. Most of these bureaucrats date from the fourteenth century; with the growing awareness of the dignity of office in the fifteenth, we find fewer of our men serving in bureaucratic offices. Thomas Tolyot, councillor for most of the period 1443-72, refused the office of sergeant-at-mace in 1461; William Richeman appears to have turned down the same office and the janitorship of the town's south gate in 1450; and Amery Trewe (frequently councillor 1431-47) volunteered for the newly-created post of supervisor of community tenements, in 1434, only after negotiating the relatively high annual salary of £5. However, there is no evidence that any of the above offices was either qualification or pre-requisite for higher office. If there were any pre-requisite - and such factors are generally unwritten laws - it would be found in the financial office. At Exeter the stewards mentioned above, although not the principal financial officers of the community, were officers with financial responsibilities. A similar case is seen at Norwich, where the requirement that all mayors have served first as sheriff, the office responsible for the fee farm, was doubtless prompted not only by the value of shrieval experience but by the desire to ensure that holders could be found for a burdensome office. We may suspect that it was usual in Lynn for a man to enter the higher ranks of government via the office of chamberlain from the fact that, of our 473 Lynn men, 416 held that office at least once in their lives. Of the 57 not known to have been chamberlain: 25 cases may be explained as due to gaps in the records or as men who were in borough administration before the office of chamberlain is known to have existed; 8 cases were of men not involved in the administrative mainstream, but acting only as M.P.s; 4 were town clerks; 5 were men who held office during the period of political disruption (1411-16) when the normal cursus officiorum was abandoned, and 4 were the atypical cases (already mentioned) of men prompted into the mayoralty or jurat ranks within a year of becoming freemen. Setting aside these cases, we can conclude that 97.4% of the Lynn office-holders studied here held the office of chamberlain (although not all went on to hold other offices). The situation in our other towns is not quite so decisive. At Colchester, where financial officers were to be chosen from persons who had never been bailiff, the former were clearly junior in the administrative hierarchy but only one-third of the bailiffs are known to have served as receiver/chamberlain after that office was initiated. However, the list of known financial officers is only half complete, so it may well be that a majority of bailiffs did serve in the financial office first. Our lists of financial officers at Ipswich are similarly inadequate, but suggest that, in the reign of Henry VI at least, some two-thirds of the bailiffs were formerly chamberlains/treasurers. At Yarmouth the lists are somewhat fuller and indicate, for the same period, about the same proportion. At Maldon, on the other hand (again with inadequate lists), only one-third of the bailiffs are known to have been chamberlains. It may be noted that in all of these towns the financial office was invariably held prior to executive office; the sole exception, John Page of Maldon, occurring at an early stage (1414) in the development of the financial office there. Because of the unpopularity of financial office, very few men held it repeatedly, and the effect of Lynn's reform in barring jurats from camerarian office was to increase the number of men holding it, so that it became rare for any man to hold it more than once. In consequence, and despite the special efforts taken by borough authorities, we cannot expect to find much expertise developing in this department. According to our hierarchical model, the next step up the ladder was entry into the town council. Just over half the men who served as chamberlains in Lynn went on to become jurats. Creation of a Common Council in Lynn doubtless is largely responsible for raising the average age of jurats, by setting an additional rung in the ladder. That the lower council was the usual route of promotion into the upper is seen from the fact that, after 1418 (when the first membership of the lower council is recorded), of the 73 of our office-holders who became jurats, 51 were councillors previously. Of the remainder: 16 had previously served as chamberlains; one was the rehabilitated leader and ex-mayor of the reformers, Bartholomew Petypas; 3 were the special cases discussed elsewhere; one was a man who had served as M.P. three times (John Waterden); and the last was Thomas Salisbury, who was to have been councillor, but instead engineered his succession to his father in jurat ranks. It must be stressed again that cases of sudden promotion, by-passing established routes, although not technically unconstitutional, were atypical infractions of tradition. When John Style was made a freeman and a jurat at the same assembly in January 1439, the move provoked such public criticism from young merchants who had only just begun to work their way up the ladder of promotion, that severe measures had to be taken to quiet the malcontents. For a more typical example of the process of promotion, we may review the career of William Marche. A waxchandler, he first appears in 1445 when paid by the community for making wax figures to go in a model ship to be presented to Lord Scales, and he purchased the franchise in 1453; from this and other evidence a birth-date of c.1425 is likely. Assigned the roles of capital pledge (1454, 1457) and leet affeeror (1457) soon after his entrance, he became involved in borough administration proper when elected chamberlain in 1459 and, after the completion of this term, immediately entered the Common Council. There he remained until 1463, when he fell from grace as the result of some imprecisely understood quarrel with the mayor, as a result of which he was disfranchised and thrown into prison (this part of his career was, of course, not typical). His rehabilitation was accomplished before 1469, when he was re-elected as councillor for a year. A further year in the Common Council (1473/4) was interrupted by his promotion to the jurats in August 1474. He was selected as one of the jurats to hold the rarely-mentioned ward aldermen's posts in 1479, and the following year attained the mayoralty, to which he was re-elected in 1481. William remained a jurat, and also coroner after 1485, until the year before his death in 1489; by which time he had exchanged his chandler designation for that of merchant, and had acquired substantial property not only in Lynn borough, but also in South Lynn and the Wiggenhall area. To give one more brief example, a similar line of development is seen in the career of John Gosse, who entered the franchise at Ipswich in 1443, was chamberlain first in 1454, apparently a Common Councillor by 1459, and almost certainly a portman by the time he held his first ballivalty in 1466; four further ballivalties followed, and Gosse is still found as a portman in 1486, some dozen years before his death. The lists of Lynn jurats show a further sophistication of the cursus officiorum in the form of a cursus honorum. Again, this is not unknown elsewhere, having revealed itself in the listing of the councils of Oxford and Stamford, although that in Lynn may be traced further back in time. From the sample analyses of lists used in our discussion of monopolisation, it is clear that the lists of jurats in office between 1430 and 1450 show a coherently consistent ordering of names, not so rigidly repetitive as to imply mere clerical copying from the previous year's list, but sufficiently similar to strongly suggest a reflection of seniorities within jurat ranks. Fluctuations such as occur in the listings are largely explicable. Some are simply clerical errors, as in 1435 when the influx of an unusually large number of new members appears to have thrown off the clerk who, however, corrected the ordering in 1436 so that it followed logically on from that of 1434. Further error, in 1479, serves to illustrate that this cursus was a conscious affair: again in that year the clerk mixed up the order of names, but this was sorted out by placing miniscule letters above each name, in an alphabetical order corresponding to the seniority indicated in the list of 1478. Alterations in listing, and thereby promotion up the course, were also the result of deaths of jurat members, and the promotion of one jurat annually to the mayoralty, thus putting him at the head of the list. Mayors tended to be chosen from the 'middle eight' of the 24; whatever the intent behind this, the effect must have been to guarantee mayors who had accumulated several years of experience in the higher decision-making which fell to the jurats, and who had time to develop a loyalty to the interests of the group, while maintaining a balance of power within the ranks so that the most senior of the jurats did not monopolise the mayoralty. Mayoral promotion was the only fast route through the ranks of the jurats, which was basically a society of equals of varying degrees of experience. On the other hand, at the top of each list after mayor and alderman were the ex-mayors (nobiles de banco), the elite we have already uncovered; the retiring mayor was usually listed as the last of these. We can only speculate on how much this group may have been the real driving force behind borough government. The nobiles did not monopolise the mayoralty - in fact, 13 of the 24 jurats of 1430, and 14 of the 25 jurats of 1370, held the mayoralty at some time in their lives - but they did supply the office of alderman of the Merchant Gild. Yet there is no indication this elite developed interests counter to those of their fellow jurats, it was simply a case of experience-based seniority. In the period 1370-90 this careful ordering of jurats is not evidenced - it would have been a difficult task given the elective character of the jurats at that time - but its roots are visible in the recording of the names of mayor, alderman, and then former mayors, first; the special status of former mayors is visible at least as early as 1365. At Yarmouth our knowledge of administrative structure is too sketchy to reconstruct any political hierarchy. There is some indication that, notably in the fourteenth century, there may have been no age hierarchy, for a number of bailiffs evidently first held that office at a young age. We may select, from a large number of examples: Stephen de Catfield, whose merchant career began with a contract to supply the army with victuals in 1318, and who died in 1356, 35 years after his first ballival term; John de Fordele, whose ballival career lasted from 1289 to 1309, but who appears to be the same man who made his will in 1336; Richard Fastolf, first bailiff in 1303, who outlived his own children to die in 1356; Richard's nephew, Hugh Fastolf, who began his career in the customs service in 1351, became bailiff in 1354, and died in 1392; William de Oxney, 13 times bailiff 1376-1409, last heard of in 1410; Ralph Ramsey who, perhaps as a reward for his service to Bolingbroke (see below), was granted the office of controller in Yarmouth for life in 1384 (although he surrendered the office a few months later), became bailiff the following year, and rose ultimately to the county's shrievalty, dying in 1419; Thomas Halle, bailiff but once in 1397, although he later represented the borough in parliament (1423, 1429), and who was still alive in 1434; John Cranelee, bailiff in 1411, who died c.1445. If we may use the average age of Lynn office-holders as a rough guide, then examples such as those listed above indicate that it was not too uncommon for men in the late 20s and early 30s to become bailiff. It may be that this is a consequence of the system of junior and senior bailiffs that seems to have existed, and perhaps was intended to give potential future leaders experience in government. Before summing up, we may briefly look at the position of the M.P. in the hierarchy. McKisack's thesis of parliamentary experience has been echoed in, and supported by, various studies since. That thesis states: that M.P.s were chosen from men of influence, experienced in the art of local administration or versed in the affairs of the town; whether men who had actually served in borough government, or other members of the wealthy class from which the administration was recruited, they shared common interests and "they knew well what their own boroughs wanted. The statistics from the towns studied here, dealt with in the discussion of monopolisation, confirm the essence of this thesis, although we must not ignore a large minority of town clerks, sergeants, and men of little apparent note, who sat in the fourteenth century, and a smaller minority of outsiders who sat in the fifteenth. Our average age estimates confirm that M.P.s were usually men of jurat, although not quite mayoral, status. Lawson's analysis of London M.P.s 1413-37 similarly found that two-thirds were aldermen at the time of, or soon after, their elections, whilst most of the remainder held some lesser civic office. This is not to say that young men were not considered for the duty: John Walworth junior, M.P. for Ipswich in 1472, could not have been more than 24 years old, since his father had no children when he entered the franchise in 1448; and Richard Suthwell was probably no older than 30 when he sat for Yarmouth in 1455. On the contrary, it is the older of our office-holders who are conspicuously absent from the ranks of M.P.s, not surprisingly, since it can rarely have been necessary to send the most experienced members of local government - men becoming rather old for long journies - to do a job that could be done as well by others. But if age equals the accumulation of experience, as has been argued regarding members of borough government, and these members dominate the list of M.P.s, then we must conclude that experience played a definite role when it came to selecting M.P.s. The evidence presented above leads to the conclusion that in Lynn there was a clear promotional system operating in government, albeit informally. It is likely that such systems, in a less or more elaborate form, existed in most of our other towns and, indeed, will probably be found in most English boroughs; one suspects it an inevitable development in a sophisticating hierarchy. Even in Maldon, the poorest and least mature of our towns, we find unmistakeable evidence of hierarchic and promotional notions. Hierarchy is expressed in a chapter of the sixteenth century recension of the custumal, setting out the graduated fines for officers refusing to accept office: bailiffs were to be fined £10, J.P.s and aldermen £7, wardemen and chamberlains £5, constables £2, other officers £1. Promotion is expressed in the 1444 custumal requirement that, once a man had served as bailiff, he should never be chosen to any lesser office except M.P., which the sixteenth century custumal expanded to include deposed bailiffs and aldermen, who were not to be chosen to any office lower than that of wardeman, whilst deposed wardemen should not be elected to any office below constable. Wealth and parentage may have had some influence over the choice of who was to be promoted, but these were perhaps of diminished importance once the threshold into the ranks of the decision-making level of government had been crossed; thereafter experience is likely to have played a crucial role in promotional decisions, in a system where men tended not to court power. It might be stretching the evidence too far to suggest that medieval borough government was a 'meritocracy'. But certainly the seeming emphasis on experience and promotion through a hierarchy is likely to have made for a relatively open form of government, in which power was shared between a fairly large number of townsmen, yet allowing for a higher degree of competency at the highest governmental level, where it was most needed to provide the efficient rule that was fundamental to burgess political philosophy. At the same time, the promotional system, particularly in the relationship between upper and lower councils, gave the urban elites some control over recruitment to their own number - including the opportunity to exclude potential dissenters, lone wolves, or demagogues, who might threaten the unity of the ruling class. But it would be unduly cynical, and not consonant with the available evidence, to suggest that this control was used to create and maintain an oligarchy.
Structure of Borough Government | Social and Economic Background of Office-Holders
Monopolisation of Office | Attitudes Towards Office-holding | Professionalism in Administration
Quality of Government | Conflict and Solidarity in Urban Politics
|Created: July 30, 1998||© Stephen Alsford, 1998-2003|