OUR LEGAL HERITAGE The first thousand years: 600 - 1600 King AEthelbert - Queen Elizabeth
Part 4 out of 7
of the work being 4d., and he shall have three meals each day of
the value given above: and thus the lord will lose, if he
receives the service, 3d. Thus that mowing is worth nothing to
the service of the lord.
And he ought to carry the heath which he has cut, the value of
the work being 5d. And he shall receive from the lord three meals
at the price of 2 1/2 d. And thus the work will be worth 2 1/2 d.
And he ought to carry to Battle, twice in the summer season, each
time half a load of grain, the value of the service being 4d. And
he shall receive in the manor each time one meal of the value of
2d. And thus the work is worth 2d. clear.
The totals of the rents, with the value of the hens, is 2s. 4d.
The total of the value of the works is 2s. 3 1/2 d., being owed
from the said
William of Cayworth holds a house and 30 acres of land and owes
at Easter and Michaelmas 2s. rent. And he shall do all customs
just as the aforesaid John of Cayworth.
William atte Grene holds a house and 30 acres of land and owes in
all things the same as the said John. Alan atte Felde holds a
house and 16 acres of land (for which the sergeant pays to the
court of Bixley 2s.), and he owes at Easter and Michaelmas 4s.,
attendance at the manor court, relief, and heriot.
John Lyllingwyst holds a house and four acres of land and owes at
the two terms 2s., attendance at the manor court, relief, and
The same John holds one acre of land in the fields of Hoo and
owes at the two periods 2s., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Reginald atte Denne holds a house and 18 acres of land and owes
at the said periods 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Robert of Northehou holds three acres of land at Saltcote and
owes at the said periods attendance, relief, and heriot. Total
of the rents of the villeins, with the value of the hens, 20s.
Total of all the works of these villeins, 6s.10 1/2 d.
And it is to be noted that none of the abovementioned villeins
can give their daughters in marriage, nor cause their sons to be
tonsured, nor can they cut down timber growing on the lands they
hold, without license of the bailiff or sergeant of the lord, and
then for building purposes and not otherwise. And after the death
of any one of the aforesaid villeins, the lord shall have as a
heriot his best animal, if he had any; if, however, he have no
living beast, the lord shall have no heriot, as they say. The
sons or daughters of the aforesaid villeins shall give, for
entrance into the holding after the death of their predecessors,
as much as they give of rent per year. Sylvester, the priest,
holds one acre of meadow adjacent to his house and owes yearly
Total of the rent of tenants for life, 3s.
Petronilla atte Holme holds a cottage and a piece of land and
owes at Easter and Michaelmas - ; also, attendance, relief, and
Walter Herying holds a cottage and a piece of land and owes at
Easter and Michaelmas 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Isabella Mariner holds a cottage and owes at the feast of St.
Michael 12d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Jordan atte Melle holds a cottage and 1 1/2 acres of land and
owes at Easter and Michaelmas 2s., attendance, relief, and
William of Batelesmere holds one acre of land with a cottage and
owes at the feast of St. Michael 3d., and one cock and one hen at
Christmas of the value of 3d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
John le Man holds half an acre of land with a cottage and owes at
the feast of St. Michael 2s., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Hohn Werthe holds one rood of land with a cottage and owes at the
said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Geoffrey Caumbreis holds half an acre and a cottage and owes at
the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
William Hassok holds one rood of land and a cottage and owes at
the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
The same man holds 3 1/2 acres of land and owes yearly at the
feast of St. Michael 3s. for all.
Roger Doget holds half an acre of land and a cottage, which were
those of R. the miller, and owes at the feast of St. Michael
18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Thomas le Brod holds one acre and a cottage and owes at the said
term 3s., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Agnes of Cayworth holds half an acre and a cottage and owes at
the said term 18d., attendance, relief, and heriot.
Total of the rents of the said cottagers, with the value of the
And it is to be noted that all the said cottagers shall do as
their daughters in marriage, having their sons tonsured, cutting
down timber, paying heriot, and giving fines for entrance, just
as John of Cayworth and the rest of the villeins above mentioned.
The above fines and penalties, with heriots and reliefs, are
worth 5s. yearly.
Most villeins did not venture beyond their village except for
about ten miles to a local shrine or great fair a couple times a
year. Often one village was divided up among two or more manors,
so different manorial customs made living conditions different
among the villagers. Each villein had his own garden in which to
grow fruit and vegetables next to his house, a pig (which
fattened more quickly than other animals), strips in the common
field, and sometimes an assart [a few acres of his own to
cultivate as he pleased on originally rough uncultivated waste
land beyond the common fields and the enclosed common pastures
People told time by counting the number of rings of the church
bell, which rang on the hour. Every Sunday, the villagers went to
church, which was typically the most elaborate and centrally
located building in the village. Their religion brought comfort
and hope of going to heaven after judgment by God at their death
if they avoided sin. On festival days, Bible stories, legends,
and lives of saints were read or performed as miracle dramas.
They learned to avoid the devil, who was influential in lonely
places like forests and high mountains. At death, the corpse was
washed, shrouded, and put into a rectangular coffin with a cross
on its lid. Priests sang prayers amid burning incense for the
deliverance of the soul to God while interring the coffin into
A villein could be forever set free from servitude by his lord as
in this example:
"To all the faithful of Christ to whom the present writing shall
come, Richard, by the divine permission, abbot of Peterborough
and of the Convent of the same place, eternal greeting in the
Let all know that we have manumitted and liberated from all yoke
of servitude William, the son of Richard of Wythington, whom
previously we have held as our born bondman, with his whole
progeny and all his chattels, so that neither we nor our
successors shall be able to require or exact any right or claim
in the said William, his progeny, or his chattels. But the same
William, with his whole progeny and all his chattels, shall
remain free and quit and without disturbance, exaction, or any
claim on the part of us or our successors by reason of any
We will, moreover, and concede that he and his heirs shall hold
the messuages, land, rents, and meadows in Wythington which his
ancestors held from us and our predecessors, by giving and
performing the fine which is called merchet for giving his
daughter in marriage, and tallage from year to year according to
our will, - that he shall have and hold these for the future from
us and our successors freely, quietly, peacefully, and
hereditarily, by paying to us and our successors yearly 40 s.
sterling, at the four terms of the year, namely: at St. John the
Baptist's day 10s., at Michaelmas 10s., at Christmas 10s., and at
Easter 10s., for all service, exaction, custom, and secular
demand; saving to us, nevertheless, attendance at our court of
Castre every three weeks, wardship, and relief, and outside
service of our lord the King, when they shall happen.
And if it shall happen that the said William or his heirs shall
die at any time without an heir, the said messuage, land rents,
and meadows with their appurtenances shall return fully and
completely to us and our successors. Nor will it be allowed to
the said William or his heirs to give, sell, alienate, mortgage,
or encumber in any way, the said messuage, land, rents, and
meadows, or any part of them, by which the said messuage, land,
rents, and meadows should not return to us and our successors in
the form declared above. And if this should occur later, their
deed shall be declared null, and what is thus alienated shall
come to us and our successors ...
Given at Borough, for the love of Lord Robert of good memory,
once abbot, our predecessor and maternal uncle of the said
William, and at the instance of the good man, Brother Hugh of
Mutton, relative of the said abbot Robert, A.D. 1278, on the eve
Villeins who were released from the manorial organization by
commutation of their service for a money payment took the name of
their craft as part of their name, such as, for the manufacture
of textiles, Weaver, Draper, Comber, Fuller, Napper, Cissor,
Tailor, Textor; for metal-work, Faber, Ironmonger; for
leatherwork, Tanner; for woodwork, building and carpentry,
Carpenter, Cooper, Mason, Pictor; for food-production, Baker,
Pistor. Iron, tin, lead, salt, and even coal were providing
increasing numbers of people with a livelihood.
Many new boroughs were founded as grants of market rights by the
King grew in number. These grants implied the advantage of the
King's protection. In fact, a certain flooded town was replaced
with a new town planned with square blocks. It was the charter
which distinguished the borough community from the other
communities existing in the country. It invested each borough
with a distinct character. The privileges which the charter
conferred were different indifferent places. It might give
trading privileges: freedom from toll, a guild merchant, a right
to hold a fair. It might give jurisdictional privileges: a right
to hold court with greater or less franchises. It might given
governmental privileges: freedom from the burden of attending the
hundred and county courts, the return of writs, which meant the
right to exclude the royal officials, the right to take the
profits of the borough, paying for them a fixed sum to the Crown
or other lord of the borough, the right to elect their own
officials rather than them being appointed by the King or a lord,
and the right to provide for the government of the borough. It
might give tenurial privileges: the power to make a will of
lands, or freedom from the right of a lord to control his
tenants' marriages. It might give procedural privileges: trial by
battle is excluded, and trial by compurgation is secured and
regulated. These medieval borough charters are very varied, and
represent all stages of development and all grades of franchise.
Boroughs bought increasing rights and freedoms from their lord,
who was usually the King.
In the larger towns, where cathedrals and public building were
built, there arose a system for teaching these technical skills
and elaborate handicraft, wood, metal, stained glass, and stone
work. A boy from the town would be bound over to a particular
workman, who supplied him with board and clothing. After a few
years of this apprenticeship, he became a journeyman and
perfected his knowledge of his craft and its standards by seeing
different methods and results in various towns. He was admitted
as a master of his trade to a guild uponpresenting an article of
his work worthy of that guild's standard of workmanship: his
"masterpiece". The tailors' guild and the skinners' guild are
When guilds performed morality plays based on Bible stories at
town festivals, there was usually a tie between the Bible story
and the guild's craft. For instance, the story of the loaves and
fishes would be performed by the Bakers' or Fishmongers' Guild.
The theme of the morality play was the fight of the Seven
Cardinal Virtues against the Seven Deadly Sins for the human
soul, a life-long battle.
A borough was run by a mayor elected usually for life. By being
members of a guild, merchant-traders and craftsmen acquired the
legal status of burgesses and had the freedom of the borough.
Each guild occupied a certain ward of the town headed by an
alderman. The town aldermen made up the town council, which
advised the mayor. Often there were town police, bailiffs,
beadles [messengers], a town-cryer, and a town clerk. No longer
were towns dominated by the local landowners.
In London by this time there was a wall with four towers
surrounding the White Tower, and this castle was known as the
Tower of London. Another wall and a moat were built around it and
it has reached its final form. Hovels, shops, and waste patches
alternated with high walls and imposing gateways protecting
mansions. The mansions had orchards, gardens, stables,
brewhouses, bakeries, guardrooms, and chapels. London streets
were paved with cobbles and sand. Each citizen was to keep the
street in front of his tenement in good repair. Later, each
alderman appointed four reputable men to repair and clean the
streets for wages. Prostitutes were expelled from the city
because the street with their bawdy houses had become very noisy.
London had twenty four wards. The aldermen for the first time
included a fishmonger in 1291. The Fishmongers were the only
guild at this time, besides the weavers, which had independent
jurisdiction, as they had transferred control of their weekly
hall moot from a public official to themselves. Craftsmen began
to take other public offices too. Other city offices were:
recorder, prosecutor, common sergeant, and attorneys. Each ward
chose certain of its inhabitants to be councilors to the
aldermen. This council was to be consulted by him and its advice
to be followed. Admission to freedom of the city [citizenship]
was controlled by the citizens. Apprentices had to finish their
terms before such admission. Craftsmen had to have sureties from
their crafts as of 1319. No longer could one simply purchase
citizenship. Only freemen could sell wares in the city, a custom
of at least two hundred years.
In 1275, a goldsmith was chief assay-master of the King's mint
and keeper of the exchange at London. The King gave the
Goldsmiths' Company the right of assay [determination of the
quantity of gold or silver in an object] and required that no
vessels of gold or silver should leave the maker's hands until
they had been tested by the wardens and stamped appropriately. In
1279, goldsmith William Farrington bought the soke of the ward
containing the goldsmiths' shops. It remained in his family for
80 years. A patent of 1327 empowered the guild to elect a
properly qualified governing body to superintend its affairs, and
reform subjects of just complaint. It also prescribed, as a
safeguard against a prevailing fraud and abuse, that all members
of the trade should have their standing in Cheapside or in the
King's exchange, and that no gold or silver should be
manufactured for export, except that which had been bought at the
exchange or of the trade openly.
There was a problem with malefactors committing offenses in
London and avoiding its jurisdiction by escaping to Southwark
across the Thames River. So Southwark was put under the
jurisdiction of London for peace and order matters by grant of
the King. London forbade games being played because they had
replaced practice in archery, which was necessary for defense.
Exports and imports were no longer a tiny margin in an economy
just above the subsistence level. Raw wool, cloth, grain, and
herring were exported. Wine, silk, timber, furs, rubies,
emeralds, fruits, raisins, currents, pepper, ginger, and cloves
were imported. They were transported in ships with two masts upon
which sails could be furled and which had the recently invented
rudder. Many duties of sheriffs and coroners were transferred to
county landowners by commissions. In coastal counties, there were
such commissions for supervising coastal defense and maintaining
the beacons. Ports had a vigilant coastguard and well-maintained
harbors, quays, and streets. A customs revenue was collected on
exports and imports.
Women could inherit land in certain circumstances. Some tenants
holding land in chief of the King were women.
Regulation of trade became national instead of local.
Responsibility for the coinage was transferred from the
individual moneyers working in different boroughs to a central
official who was to become Master of the Mint. The round half
penny and farthing [1/4 penny] were created so that the penny
needn't be cut into halves and quarters anymore.
Edward called a meeting of representatives from all social and
geographic sectors of the nation at one Parliament to determine
taxes due to the Crown. He declared that "what touches all,
should be approved by all". He wanted taxes from the burgesses in
the towns and the clergy's ecclesiastical property as well as
from landholders. He argued to the clergy that if barons had to
both fight and pay, they who could do no fighting must at least
pay, and compelled them to renounce all Papal orders contrary to
the King's authority. This new system of taxation began the
decline of the imposition of feudal aids, scutages, and carucage.
The aids of the boroughs, counties, and church had been
negotiated by the Exchequer with the reeves of each town, the
sheriff and shire courts of each county, and the archdeacons of
This Model Parliament of 1295 was composed of the three
communities. The first were the lords. Because of the increase of
lesser barons due to a long national peace and prosperity, the
lords attending were reduced in numbers and peerage became
dependent not on land tenure, but on royal writ of summons. The
second community was the clergy, represented by the bishops of
each diocese. They later declined to attend. The third community
was the commons. It was composed of two burgesses elected by
principal burgesses of each borough and two elected knights
representing each county. The common people now had a voice in
law-making. The first legislation proposed by the commons was
alteration of the forest laws governing the royal pleasure parks.
Such a statute was passed in a bargain for taxes of a percentage
of all moveables, which were mostly foodstuffs and animals.
Parliament soon was required to meet once or twice yearly.
Lawmaking is now a function of Parliament, of which the King's
council is a part, instead of a function of the King with his
council and judges. However, legislation may be passed without
the consent of the commons. Also, there was no convention that
agreement or even the presence of representatives was required
for legislation. The Chief Justices still had, as members of the
council, a real voice in the making of laws. The King and his
justices might, after a statute has been made, put an
authoritative interpretation upon it.
Most petitions to Parliament were private grievances of
individuals, including people of no social rank, such as
prisoners. Other petitions were from communities and groups.
The commons became a permanent and distinct body with its own
clerk in Edward III's reign.
The export of wool had increased and Parliament made permanent
customs duties on the export of wool, woolfells, and hides at 6s.
8d. per sack, which was collected at each of the thirteen ports.
Sheriffs were elected in their own counties rather than appointed
by the King as of 1297.
Lawyers are now drawn from the knightly class instead of
ecclesiastical people. Law no longer belongs to the church, but
to the knightly class of landed gentlemen. The Inns of Court in
London provide legal education and certify members to the bar.
From 1299, statutes were recorded in a Statute Roll as they were
By the end of the thirteenth century, the King's wardrobe, where
confidential matters such as military affairs were discussed in
his bedroom, became a department of state with the privy seal. It
paid and provisioned the knights, squires, and sergeants of the
King and was composed mostly of civil servants. It traveled with
the King. The other two specialized administrative bodies were
the Exchequer, which received most of the royal revenue and kept
accounts at Westminster in London, and the Chancery, which wrote
royal writs, charters, and letters.
As of 1336, importing foreign cloth or fur, except for use by the
King's family, was prohibited, as was the export of unwoven wool.
Later, this was relaxed and a customs tax of 33% was imposed on
wool exported. Foreign cloth-workers may come to live in the
nation, be granted franchises, and shall be in the King's
protection. No cloth may be exported until it is fulled.
Edward I confirmed the Magna Carta. He also agreed not to impose
taxes without the consent of Parliament after baronial pressure
had forced him to retreat from trying to increase, for a war in
France, the customs tax on every exported sack of wool to 40s.
from the 6s. 8d. per sack it had been since 1275. The customs tax
was finally fixed at 10s. for every sack of wool, 2s. for each
tun of wine, and 6d. for every pound's worth of other goods. A
tax system of "tenths and fifteenths" levied on moveables or
chattels every year also came into being. Never again did a King
impose a tax without the consent of Parliament. Edward also
confirmed the Forest Charter, which called for its earlier
boundaries. And he agreed not to impound any grain or wool or and
like against the will of the owners, as had been done before to
collect taxes. Lastly, he agreed not to impose penalties on two
earls and their supporters for refusing to serve in the war in
There was a recoinage due to debasement of the old coinage. This
increased the number of coins in circulation. The price of wheat
went from about 7s. in 1270 to about 5s. per quarter in 1280.
Also the price of an ox went from 14s. to 10s. From 1280 to 1290,
there was runaway inflation.
As before, inadequate care and ignorance of nutrition caused many
infant deaths. Accidents and disease were so prevalent that death
was always near and life insecure. Many women died in childbirth.
Under Edward II, all citizens of London had to be enrolled in the
trade guild of their craft.
To support a war with France, Edward III created the staple
system, by which wool exports were taxed through his officials
only at the designated staple port. Certain large wool merchants
were allowed to create a monopoly on the export of wool. Also
under Edward III, Flanders weavers were encouraged to come to
England to teach the English how to weave and finish fine cloth.
A cloth industry grew with all the manufacturing processes under
the supervision of one capitalist manufacturer, who set up his
enterprise in the country to avoid the regulations of the towns.
The best places were hilly areas where there were many streams
and good pasture for flocks of sheep. He hired shearers to cut
the nap as short as possible to give a smooth surface, then
spinsters to card and spin the wool in their country cottages,
then weavers, and then fullers and dyers to come to fulling mills
established near streams for their waterpower. Fulling became
mechanized as heavy wooden hammers run by water-power replaced
feet trampling the cloth covered with soap or fuller's clay,
until it became thick and smaller. The shaft loom was a
technological advance in weaving. This loom was horizontal and
its frames, which controlled the lifting of the warp threads,
could each be raised by a foot treadle. This left both hands free
to throw and catch the shuttle attached to the woof thread. Also
many more weaving patterns became possible through the use of
different thread configurations on the frames.
- The Law -
Edward I remodeled the law in response to grievances and to
problems which came up in the courts. The changes improved the
efficiency of justice and served to accommodate it to the
changing circumstances of the social system. These statutes were:
"No man by force of arms, malice or menacing shall disturb anyone
in making free election [of sheriffs, coroners, conservators of
the peace by freeholders of the shire]."
"No city, borough, town, nor man shall be amerced without
reasonable cause and according to the severity of his trespass.
That is, every freeman saving his freehold, a merchant saving his
merchandise, a villein saving his waynage [implements of
agriculture], and that by his peers."
No distress shall be taken of ploughing cattle or sheep.
Young salmon shall not be taken from waters in the spring.
No loan shall be made for interest.
If an heir who is a minor is married off without the consent of
the guardian, the value of the marriage will be lost and the
wrongdoer imprisoned. If anyone marries off an heir over 14 years
of age without the consent of the guardian, the guardian shall
have double the value of the marriage. Moreover, anyone who has
withdrawn a marriage shall pay the full value thereof to the
guardian for the trespass and make amends to the King. And if a
Lord refuses to marry off a female heir of full age and keep her
unmarried because he covets the land, then he shall not have her
lands more than two years after she reaches full age, at which
time she can recover her inheritance without giving anything for
the wardship or her marriage. However, if she maliciously refuses
to be married by her Lord, he may hold her land and inheritance
until she is the age of a male heir, that is, twenty one years
old and further until he has taken the value of the marriage.
Aid to make one's son a knight or marry off his daughter of a
whole knight's fee shall be taken 20s., and 400s.[yearly income
from] land held in socage 20s. [5%], and of more, more; and of
less, less; after the rate. And none shall levy such aid to make
his son a knight until his son is 15 years old, nor to marry his
daughter until she is seven year old.
A conveyance of land which is the inheritance of a minor child by
his guardian or lord to another is void.
Dower shall not abate because the widow has received dower of
another man unless part of the first dower received was of the
same tenant and in the same town. But a woman who leaves her
husband for another man is barred from dower.
A tenant for a term of years who has let land from a landlord
shall not let it lie waste, nor shall a landlord attempt to oust
a tenant for a term of years by fictitious recoveries.
When two or more hold wood, turfland, or fishing or other such
thing in common, wherein none knows his several, and one does
waste against the minds of the others, he may be sued.
Lands which are given to a man and his wife upon condition that
if they die without heirs, the land shall revert to the donor or
his heir, may not be alienated to defeat this condition.
If a man takes land in marriage with a wife, and she dies before
him, the land will revert to the donor or his heir, unless they
have a child, in which case the husband will have the land by the
courtesy of the nation for his life before it reverts to the
donor or his heir.
A free tenant may alienate his land freely, but if the alienation
was for an estate in fee simple [to a man and his heirs], the
person acquiring the land would hold of the land's lord and not
of the person alienating the land. (This halted the growth of
subinfeudation and caused services as well as incidents of aids,
relief, escheat, wardship, and marriage to go directly to the
Chief Lord. It also advantaged the Crown as overlord, which then
acquired more direct tenants.)
One may create an estate which will descend in unbroken
succession down the line of inheritance prescribed in the
original gift as long as that line should last, instead of
descending to all heirs. The successive occupants might draw the
rents and cut the wood, but on the death of each, his heir would
take possession of an unencumbered interest, unfettered by any
liability for the debt of his ancestor or by any disposition made
by him during his lifetime e.g. a wife's estate in dower or a
husband's estate in courtesy. If there was no issue, it reverted
to the original donor. ( This curtailed the advantage of tenants
of the greater barons who profited by increased wardships and
reliefs from subinfeudation from subdivision and better
cultivation of their land while still paying the greater barons
fixed sums. This statute [Quia Emptores] that protected
reversionary estates incidentally established a system of
entails. This new manner of holding land: "fee tail", is in
addition to the concepts of land held in fee simple and land held
for life. Interests in remainder or reversion of estates in land
replace the lord's tenurial right to succeed to land by escheat
if his tenant dies without heirs.)
In Kent, all men are free and may give or sell their lands
without permission of their lords, as before the Conquest. (Since
Kent was nearest the continent, money flowed between England and
the continent through Kent. So Kent never developed a manorial
system of land holding, but evolved from a system of clans and
independent villages directly into a commercial system.
Anyone disseising another whereby he also robs him or uses force
and arms in the disseisin shall be imprisoned and fined. The
plaintiff shall recover seisin and damages.
"All must be ready at the command and summons of sheriffs, and at
the cry of the country, to sue and arrest felons as necessary as
well within franchise as without." Otherwise, he shall be fined.
A Lord defaulting shall lose his franchise to the King. A Bailiff
defaulting shall be imprisoned a year as well as fined, or be
imprisoned two years if he cannot pay the fine. A sheriff,
coroner, or any other bailiff who conceals a felony will be
imprisoned for a year and pay a fine, or be imprisoned for three
years if he cannot pay the fine.
Villeins must report felons, pursue felons, serve in the watch,
and clear growth of concealing underwood from roads. They must
join the military to fight on the borders when called. Desertion
from the army is punishable.
Accessories to a crime shall not be declared outlaw before the
principal is proven guilty. (This made uniform the practice of
the various shires.)
Only those imprisoned for the smaller offenses of a single
incidence of petty larceny, receipt of felons, or accessory to a
felony, or some other trespass not punishable by life or limb
shall be let out by sufficient surety. Prisoners who were
outlawed or escaped from prison or are notorious thieves or were
imprisoned for felonious house-burning, passing false money,
counterfeiting the King's seal, treason touching the King
himself, or other major offenses or have been excommunicated by
the church may not be released.
Killing in self-defense and by mischance shall be pardoned from
the King's indictment. Killing by a child or a person of unsound
mind shall be pardoned from the King's indictment. (But a private
accuser can still sue.)
Any man who ravishes [abducts] any woman without her consent or
by force shall have the criminal penalty of loss of life or limb.
(The criminal penalty used to be just two years in prison.)
Trespasses [serious and forcible breaches of the peace] in parks
or ponds shall be punished by imprisonment for three years and a
fine as well as paying damages to the wronged person. After his
imprisonment, he shall find a surety or leave the nation.
"Forasmuch as there have been often times found in the country
devisors of tales, where discord, or occasion of discord, has
many times arisen between the King and his people, or great men
of this realm; For the damage that has and may thereof ensue, it
is commanded, that from henceforth none be so hardy to tell or
publish any false news or tales, whereby discord or occasion of
discord or slander may grow between the King and his people, or
the great men of the realm." Anyone doing so shall be imprisoned
until he brings into the court the first author of the tale.
A system of registration and enforcement of commercial agreements
was established by statute. Merchants could obtain a writing of a
debt sealed by the debtor and authenticated by royal seal or a
seal of a mayor of certain towns, and kept by the creditor.
Failure to pay a such a debt was punishable by imprisonment and,
after three months, the selling of borough tenements and chattels
and of shire lands. During the three months, the merchant held
this property in a new tenure of "statute merchant". (Prior to
this, it was difficult for a foreign merchant to collect a debt
because he could not appear in court which did not recognize him
as one of its proper "suitors" or constituents, so he had to
trust a local attorney. Also, the remedy was inadequate because
the history of the law of debt was based on debt as a substitute
for the blood feud, so that failure to pay meant slavery or
death. Also a debtor's land was protected by feudal custom, which
was contrary to the idea of imposing a new tenant on a lord.)
"In no city, borough, town, market, or fair shall a person of the
realm be distrained for a debt for which he is not the debtor or
Anyone making those passing with goods through their jurisdiction
answer to them in excess of their jurisdiction shall be
grievously amerced to the King.
No market town shall take an outrageous toll contrary to the
common custom of the nation.
Since good sterling money has been counterfeited with base and
false metal outside the nation and then brought in, foreigners
found in the nation's ports with this false money shall forfeit
their lives. Anyone bringing foreign money into the nation must
have it examined at his port of entry. Payments of money shall be
made only by coin of the appropriate weight delivered by the
Warden of the Exchange and marked with the King's mark. (A
currency exchange was established at Dover for the exchange of
foreign currency for English sterling.)
The silver in craftwork must be sterling and marked with the
Leopard's Head. The gold in craftwork must meet the standard of
the Touch of Paris.
The assize of bread and ale had been and was enforced locally by
local inspectors. Now, the Crown appointed royal officers for the
gauge of wines and measurement of cloths. Edicts disallowed
middlemen from raising prices against consumers by such practices
as forestalling or engrossing and price regulation was attempted.
For instance, prices were set for poultry and lamb, in a period
of plenty (1299). Maximum prices were set for cattle, pigs,
sheep, poultry, and eggs in 1314, but was hard to enforce. In
London examples of prices set are: best hen 3d.2q., best wild
goose 4d., best rabbit 4d., best kid 10d., best lamb 4d., best
fresh herrings 12 for 1d., best pickled herrings 20 for 1d., best
haddock 2d., best fresh salmon 3s.,
Freemen may drive their swine through the King's demesne Forest
in order to agest them in their own woods or elsewhere. No man
shall lose his life or limb for killing deer in the Forest, but
instead shall be grievously fined or imprisoned for a year.
The Forest Charter allowed a man to cut down and take wood from
his own woods in the King's forest to repair his house, fences,
and hedges. He may also enclose his woods in the King's forest
with fences and hedges to grow new trees and keep cattle and
beasts therefrom. After seven years growth of these new trees, he
may cut them down for sale with the King's permission.
Each borough has its own civil and criminal ordinances and police
jurisdiction. Borough courts tended to deal with more laws than
other local courts because of the borough's denser populations,
which were composed of merchants, manufacturers, and traders, as
well as those engaged in agriculture. Only borough courts have
jurisdiction over fairs. In some boroughs the villein who resides
for a year and a day becomes free. There are special ordinances
relating to apprentices. There are sometimes ordinances against
enticing away servants bound by agreement to serve another. The
wife who is a trader is regarded in many places as a femme sole.
There may be special ordinances as to the liability of masters
for the acts of their apprentices and agents, or as to brokers,
debt, or earnest money binding a bargain. The criminal and police
jurisdiction in the borough was organized upon the same model as
in the country at large, and was controlled by the King's courts
upon similar principles, though there are some survivals of old
rules, such as mention of the bot and the wer. The crimes
committed are similar to those of the country, such as violence,
breaches of the assize of bread and beer, stirring up suits
before the ecclesiastical courts, digging up or obstructing the
highway, not being enrolled in a tithing, encroachments upon or
obstructions of rights of common. The most striking difference
with the country at large are the ordinances on the repair or
demolition of buildings, encroachments on another's building,
fires, and nuisances. Specimens of other characteristic urban
disputes are: selling bad food, using bad materials, unskillful
or careless workmanship, fraudulent weights and measures, fraud
in buying and selling, forestalling or regrating, acting in a way
likely to endanger the liberties of the borough, usury, trading
without being a citizen, assisting other unlicensed persons to
trade, unlawfully forming a guild, complaints against various
guilds in which trade might be organized. Since the ordinances
were always liable to be called in question before the King's
courts, they tended to become uniform and in harmony with the
principles of the common law. Also, trading between boroughs kept
them knowledgeable about each other's customs and conditions for
trade, which then tended to standardize. Boroughs often had seals
to prove communal consent and tended to act as a corporate body.
Borough ordinances often include arson such as this one: "And if
a street be set on fire by any one, his body shall be attached
and cast into the midst of the fire." Robbery by the miller was
specially treated by an ordinance that "And if the miller be
attainted of robbery of the grain or of the flour to the amount
of 4d., he shall be hanged from the beam in his mill."
In London, an ordinance prescribed for bakers for the first
offense of making false bread a forfeiture of that bread. For the
second offense was prescribed imprisonment, and for the third
offense placement in the pillory. A London ordinance for millers
who caused bread to be false prescribed for them to be carried in
a tumbrel cart through certain streets, exposed to the derision
of the people.
By statute, no one may make a gift or alienation of land to the
church. An attempt to do so will cause the land to escheat to the
lord, or in his default, to the King. Religious houses may not
alienate land given to them by the King or other patrons because
such gifts were for the sake of someone's soul. An attempt to do
so will cause the land to revert to the donor or his heir. If the
church did not say the prayers or do the other actions for which
land was given to it, the land will revert to the donor or his
heir. The church shall send no money out of the nation.
"Concerning wrecks of the sea, where a man, a dog, or a cat
escape alive out of the ship, that such ship nor barge nor
anything within them shall be deemed wreck, but the goods shall
be saved and kept by view of the Sheriff, Coroner, or the King's
Bailiff". If anyone proves the goods were his within a year and a
day, they shall be restored to him without delay. Otherwise, they
shall be kept by the King. "And where wreck belongs to one other
than the King, he shall have it in like manner". If he does
otherwise, he shall be imprisoned and pay damages and fine.
Some statutes applied only to Kent County, which had a unique
position between London and the continent. One could sell or give
away his land without the consent of one's lord. The services of
the land, however, could only be sold to the chief lord.
Inheritance of land was to all sons by equal portions, and if
there were no sons, then to all daughters in equal portions. The
eldest brother has his choice of portion, then the next oldest,
etc. The goods of a deceased person were divided into three parts
after his funeral expenses and debts were paid. One third went to
the surviving spouse. One third went to the deceased's sons and
daughters. One third could be disposed by will of the decedent.
If there were no children, one half went to the spouse and one
half went according to will. If an heir was under 15 years old,
his next of kin to whom inheritance could not descend was to be
his guardian. A wife who remarried or bore a child lost her dower
land. A husband lost his dower if he remarried. If a tenant
withheld rent or services, his lord could seek award of court to
find distress on his tenement and if he could find none, he could
take the tenement for a year and a day in his hands without
manuring it. It the tenant paid up in this time, he got the
tenement back. If he didn't within a year and a day, however, the
lord could manure the land. A felon forfeited his life and his
goods, but not his lands or tenements. A wife of a felon had the
dower of one half or her husband's lands and tenements.
The common law recognized the tort of false imprisonment if a man
arrested as a felon, a person who was not a felon.
Ecclesiastical courts were successful in their competition with
the secular courts for jurisdiction over testamentary [concerning
wills] and intestate succession [no will] to chattels. It's law
made a woman's chattels the property of her husband upon
marriage. She also lost all power over her land during marriage.
A husband became liable for his wife's torts. Promises under oath
were not recognized for married women.
Land may not be alienated to religious bodies in such a way that
it would cease to render its due service to the King.
- Judicial Procedure -
The writ of Quo Warranto [by what right] is created, by which all
landowners exercising jurisdictions must bring their ancestors'
charters before a justice in eyre for the Common Pleas for
examination and interpretation as to whether they were going
beyond their charters and infringing upon the jurisdiction of the
Royal Court. As a result, many manor courts were confined to
seigneurial matters and could no longer view frankpledge or hear
criminal cases, which were reserved for the royal courts. In the
manor courts which retained criminal jurisdiction, there was a
reassertion of the obligation to have present a royal coroner,
whose duty it was to see that royal rights were not infringed and
that the goods of felons were given to the Crown and not kept by
The supreme court was Parliament. Next were the royal courts of
the King's Bench, Common Pleas, and the Exchequer, which had
become separate, each with its own justices and records. The
Court of Common Pleas had its own Chief Justice and usually met
at Westminster. This disadvantaged the small farmer, who would
have to travel to Westminster to present a case. The Court of the
King's Bench heard criminal cases and appeals from the Court of
Common Pleas. It traveled with the King. There were many trespass
cases so heard by it in the reign of Edward I. In criminal cases,
witnesses acquainted with particular facts were added to the
general assize of twelve men from each hundred and frou men from
The most common cases in the Court of Common Pleas were "detinue"
[wrongful detention of a good or chattel which had been loaned,
rented, or left for safe-keeping with a "bailee", but belonged to
the plaintiff], "debt" [for money due from a sale, for money
loaned, for rent upon a lease for years, from a surety, promised
in a sealed document, or due to arbitrators to whom a dispute had
been submitted] and "account" [e.g. by bailiffs of manors, the
guardian in socage, and partners]. It also heard estovers of
wood, profit by gathering nuts, acorns, and other fruits in wood,
corody, yearly delivery of grain, toll, tronage, passage
[pawnage], keeping of parks, woods, forests, chases, warrens,
gates, and other bailiwicks, and offices in fee.
The justices in eyre gradually ceased to perform administrative
duties on their eyres because landed society had objected to
Breaches of the forest charter laws were determined by justices
of the King's forest, parks, and chases, along with men of
Coroners' inquest procedures were delineated by statute and
included describing in detail in the coroner's rolls every wound
of a dead body, how many may be culpable, and people claiming to
have found treasure who might be suspects.
There were local courts of the vill, borough, manor, hundred,
county, sheriff, escheator, and royal bailiff, with overlapping
In the manor courts, actions of debt, detinue, and covenant were
frequent. Sometimes there are questions of a breach of warranty
of title in agreements of sale of land. Accusations of defamation
were frequent; this offense could not be taken to the King's
court, but it had been recognized as an offense in the
Anglo-Saxon laws. In some cases, the damages caused are
specifically stated. For instance, defamation of a lord's grain
cause other purchasers to forbear buying it. There are frequent
cases of ordinary thefts, trespasses, and assaults. The courts
did rough but substantial justice without distinction between
concepts such as tort and contract. In fact, the action of
covenant was the only form of agreement enforceable at common
law. It required a writing under seal and awarded damages. Their
law was not technical, but elastic, and remedies could include
injunctions, salary attachment, and performance of acts.
The precedent for punishment for treason was established by the
conviction of a knight, David ab Gruffydd, who had turned traitor
to the Welsh enemy during the conquest of Wales and plotted to
kill the King. He was condemned to be dragged at the heels of
horses for being a traitor to his knightly vows, hanged by the
neck for his murders, cut down before consciousness left him to
have his entrails cut out for committing his crimes during the
holy week of Easter, and his head cut off and his body divided
into four parts for plotting against the King's life. The head
and body sections were placed in public view at various locations
in the nation. Prior to this the penalty was imprisonment usually
followed by ransom.
Trial by battle is now limited to certain claims of enfeoffment
of large land holding and is barred for land held in socage,
burgage, or by marriage. Assize is the usual manner of trial, but
compurgation remains in the borough court long after it becomes
obsolete in the royal courts. Defendants no longer request
assizes but are automatically put to them.
Numerous statutes protect the integrity of the courts and King's
offices by double and treble damages and imprisonment for
offenses such as bribery, false informers, conspiracy to falsely
move or maintain pleas, champerty [giving an interest in the
outcome of a case to a person for his assistance in litigating
it], conflict of interest by court officers by having a part in
the business or thing at issue. There had been many abuses, the
most common of which was extortion by sheriffs, who jailed people
without cause to make them pay to be released.
The King reserved to himself and his council in its judicial
capacity the correction of all breaches of the law which the
lower courts had failed to remedy, whether from weakness,
partiality, or corruption, and especially when the powerful
barons defied the courts.
The Court of Hustings in London is empowered to award landlords
their tenementsfor which rent or services are in arrears if the
landlord could not distrain enough tenant possessions to cover
Wills are proven in the Court of Husting, the oldest court in
London, which went back to the times of Edward the Confessor. One
such proven will is:
"Tour (John de La) - To Robert his eldest son his capital
messuage and wharf in the parish of Berchingechurch near the land
called 'Berewardesland`. To Agnes his wife his house called
'Wyvelattestone', together with rents, reversions, etc. in the
parish of S. Dunstan towards the Tower, for life; remainder to
Stephen his son. To Peter and Edmund his sons lands and rents in
the parish of All Hallows de Berhyngechurch; remainders over in
default of heirs. To Agnes, wife of John le Keu, fishmonger, a
house situate in the same parish of Berhyng, at a peppercorn
The Court of the Mayor of London heard diverse cases, including
disputes over goods, faulty goods, enhancing the price of goods,
using unlawful weighing beams, debts, theft, distraints,
tavern-brawling, bullying, and gambling. The following four cases
pertain to customs, bad grain, surgery, and apprenticeship,
"John le Paumer was summoned to answer Richer de Refham, Sheriff,
in a plea that, whereas the defendant and his Society of Bermen
[carriers] in the City were sworn not to carry any wine, by land
or water, for the use of citizens or others, without the
Sheriff's mark, nor lead nor cause it to be led, whereby the
Sheriff might be defrauded of his customs, nevertheless he caused
four casks of wine belonging to Ralph le Mazun of Westminster to
be carried from the City of Westminster without the Sheriff's
mark, thus defrauding the latter of his customs in contempt of
the King etc. The defendant acknowledged the trespass. Judgment
that he remain in the custody of the Sheriff till he satisfy the
King and the Court for offense."
"Walter atte Belhaus, William atte Belhous, Robert le Barber
dwelling at Ewelleshalle, John de Lewes, Gilbert le Gras, John
his son, Roger le Mortimer, William Ballard atte Hole, Peter de
Sheperton, John Brun and the wife of Thomas the pelterer, Stephen
de Haddeham, William de Goryngg, Margery de Frydaiestrate,
Mariot, who dwells in the house of William de Harwe, and William
de Hendone were attached to answer for forestalling all kinds of
grain and exposing it, together with putrid grain, on the
pavement, for sale by the bushel, through their men and women
servants; and for buying their own grain from their own servants
in deception of the people. The defendants denied that they were
guilty and put themselves on their country. A jury of Richard de
Hockeleye and others brought in a verdict of guilty, and the
defendants were committed to prison til the next Parliament."
"Peter the Surgeon acknowledged himself bound to Ralph de
Mortimer, by Richard atte Hill his attorney, in the sum of 20s.,
payable at certain terms, the said Ralph undertaking to give
Peter a letter of acquittance [release from a debt]. This
Recognizance arose out of a covenant between them with regard to
the effecting of a cure. Both were amerced for coming to an
agreement out of Court. A precept was issued to summon all the
surgeons of the City for Friday, that an enquiry might be made as
to whether the above Peter was fitted to enjoy the profession of
"Thomas de Kydemenstre, shoemaker, was summoned to answer William
de Beverlee, because he did not clothe, feed and instruct his
apprentice Thomas, William's son, but drove him away. The
defendant said that the apprentice lent his master's goods to
others and promised to restore them or their value, but went away
against his wish; and he demanded a jury. Subsequently, a jury of
William de Upton and others said the apprentice lent two pairs of
shoes belonging to his master and was told to restore them, but,
frightened by the beating which he received, ran away; further
that the master did not feed and clothe his apprentice as he
ought, being unable to do so, to the apprentice's damage 40d.,
but that he was now in a position to look after his apprentice.
Thereupon Thomas de Kydemenstre said he was willing to have the
apprentice back and provide for him, and the father agreed.
Judgment that the master take back the apprentice and feed and
instruct him, or that he repay to the father, the money paid to
the latter, and that he pay the father the 40d. and be in mercy."
A professional class of temporal lawyers is prominent in the
nation. They were educated and certified at the new Inns of Court
in London. Some are employed by the King. Judge tend to be
recruited from among those who had passed their lives practicing
law in court, instead of from the ecclesiastical orders. Men
learned All lawyers were brought under the control of the judges.
There are two types of attorneys: one appears in the place of his
principal, who does not appear. The appointment of such an
attorney is an unusual and a solemn thing, only to be allowed on
special grounds and with the proper formalities. The other type
of attorney accompanies his client to court and advocates his
position with his knowledge of the law and his persuasiveness.
The great litigation of the nation is conducted by a small group
of men, as is indicated by the earliest Year Books of case
decisions. They sit in court and one will sometimes intervene as
amicus curiae. Parliament refers difficult points of law to them
as well as to the judges. In 1280, the city of London made
regulations for the admission of both types of attorneys to
practice before the civic courts, and for their due control. In
1292 the King directed the judges to provide a certain number of
attorneys and apprentices to follow the court, who should have
the exclusive right of practicing before it. This begins the
process which will make the attorney for legal business an
"officer of the court" which has appointed him.
Because the common law and its procedures have become technical
and rigid, the Chancery was given equity jurisdiction by statute
in 1285. In Chancery, if there is a case with no remedy specified
in the law, that is similar to a case for which there is a writ,
then a new writ may be made for that case. These were called
"actions on the case". This added to Chancery's work of now
hearing petitions of misconduct of government officials or of
powerful oppressors, wardship of infants, dower, rent charges,
fraud, accident, and abuse of trust. Also, Parliament may create
Disputes within the royal household were administered by the
King's steward. He received and determined complaints about acts
or breaches of the peace within twelve miles around the King's
person or "verge". He was assisted by the marshall in the "court
of the hall" and by the clerk of the market when imposing fines
for trading regulation violations in the "court of the market".
- The Times: 1348-1399 -
Waves of the black death, named for the black spots on the body,
swept over the nation. The first wave of this plague, in 1348,
decimated the population by about one half in the towns and one
third in the country. People tried to avoid the plague by flight.
The agony and death of so many good people caused some question
their belief in God. Thus begins a long period of
disorganization, unrest, and social instability. Customary ways
were so upset that authority and tradition were no longer
automatically accepted. Fields lay waste and sheep and cattle
wandered over the countryside. Local courts could not be held.
Guilds and rich men made contributions to the poor and ships with
provisions were sent to various parts of the country for the
relief of starving people.
Farm workers were so rare that they were able to demand wages at
double or triple the pre-plague rate. The peasants had become
nomadic, roaming from place to place, seeking day work for good
wages where they could get it, and resorting to thievery on the
highways or beggary where they could not. The Robin Hood legends
were popular among them.
They spread political songs among each other, such as: "To seek
silver to the King, I my seed sold; wherefore my land lieth
fallow and learneth to sleep. Since they fetched my fair cattle
in my fold; when I think of my old wealth, well nigh I weep. Thus
breedeth many beggars bold; and there wakeneth in the world
dismay and woe, for as good is death anon as so for to toil."
Groups of armed men took lands, manors, goods, and women by
force. The villeins agreed to assist each other in resisting by
force their lords' efforts to return them to servitude. Justices
became afraid to administer the law. Villeins, free peasants, and
craftsmen joined together and learned to use the tactics of
association and strikes against their employers.
The office of Justice of the Peace was created for every county
to deal with rioting and vagrants. Cooperation by officials of
other counties was mandated to deal with fugitives from its
When there were attempts to enforce the legal servitude of the
peasants, they spread rhymes of their condition and need to
revolt. A secret league, called the "Great Society" linked the
centers of intrigue. A poll tax for a war with France touched off
a riot all over the nation in 1381. This tax included people not
taxed before, such as laborers, the village smith, and the
village tiler. By this time, the black death had reduced the
population from 5 million to 2 1/2 million. It was to rise to 4
million by 1600.
Mobs overran the counties around London. The upper classes fled
to the woods. But the Chief Justice was murdered while fleeing.
Written records of the servitude of villeins were burned in their
halls, which were also looted. Prisoners were released from
jails. The archbishop, who was a notoriously exploitive landlord,
and the Treasurer were beheaded on Tower Hill and their heads
were posted over London Bridge. The villeins demanded that
service to a lord be by agreement instead of by servitude, a
ceiling on rents of 4d. per acre yearly, abolition of a lord's
right for their work on demand (e.g. just before a hail storm so
only his crops were saved), and the right to hunt and fish.
The revolt was suppressed and its leaders punished. Also, the
duty to deal with rioting and vagrants was given to royal judges,
sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, and constables as well as the
Justices of the Peace. There was a high constable in each hundred
and a petty constable in each parish. Justices of the peace could
swear in neighbors as unpaid special constables when disorder
The sheriff was responsible for seeing that men of the lower
classes were organized into groups of ten for police and surety
purposes, and for holding of hundred and shire courts, arresting
suspects, guarding prisoners awaiting trial, carrying out the
penalties adjudged by the courts, and collecting Crown revenue
through his bailiffs. Royal writs were addressed to the sheriff.
Because many sheriffs had taken fines and ransoms for their own
use, a term limit of one year was imposed. Sheriffs, hundreders,
and bailiffs had to have lands in the same shires or bailiwicks
[so they could be held answerable to the King].
Efforts were made to keep laborers at the plough and cart rather
than learn a craft or entering and being educated by the church.
The new colleges at the universities ceased to accept villeins as
Due to the shortage of labor, landlords' returns had decreased
from about 20% to 5%. But some found new methods of using land
that were more profitable than the customary services of villeins
who had holdings of land or the paid labor of practically free
men who paid a money rent for land holdings. One method was to
turn the land to sheep-breeding. Others leased their demesne
land, which transferred the burden of getting laborers from the
landlord to the lessor-tenant. The payment was called a "farm"
and the tenant a "farmer". First, there were stock-and-land
leases, in which both the land and everything required to
cultivate it were let together. After 50 years, when the farmers
had acquired assets, there were pure land leases. The commutation
of labor services into a money payment developed into a general
commutation of all services. Lords in need of money gladly sold
manumissions to their villeins. The lord and lady of some manors
now ate by themselves in a private parlor with a fireplace of its
own and the great hall was deserted.
Some farmers achieved enough wealth to employ others as laborers
on their farms. The laborers lived with their employer in his
barn, sleeping on hay in the loft, or in mud huts outside the
barn. The farmer's family lived at one end of the barn around an
open fire. Their possessions typically were: a chest, a trestle
table, benches, stools, an iron or bronze cauldron and pots,
brooms, wooden platters, wooden bowls, spoons, knives, wooden or
leather jugs, a salt box, straw mattresses, wool blankets, linen
towels, iron tools, rushlightholders, and livestock. Some farmers
could afford to have a wooden four-posted bedstead, hens, geese,
pigs, a couple of cows, a couple of sheep, or two plow oxen. They
ate dark bread and beans and drank water from springs. Milk and
cheese were a luxury for them. Farming still occupied the vast
majority of the population. Town inhabitants and university
students went into the fields to help with the harvest in the
Town people had more wealth than country people. Most townspeople
slept in nightgowns and nightcaps in beds with mattresses,
blankets, linen sheets, and pillows. Beds were made every
morning. Bathing was by sponging hot water from a basin over the
body, sometimes with herbs in it, rinsing with a splash of warm
water, and drying off with a towel. There were drapery-rugs hung
around beds, hand-held mirrors of glass, and salt cellars. The
first meal of the day was breakfast, which broke the fast lasting
the night. Meals were often prepared according to recipes from
cook books which involved several preparation procedures using
flour, eggs, sugar, cheese, and grated bread, rather than just
simple seasoning. Menus were put together with foods that tasted
well together and served on plates in several courses. Table
manners included not making sounds when eating, not playing with
one's spoon or knife, not placing one's elbows on the table,
keeping one's mouth clean with a napkin, and not being
boisterous. There were courtesies such as saying "Good Morning"
when meeting someone and not pointing one's finger at another
person. King Richard II invented the handkerchief for sneezing
and blowing one's nose. There were books on etiquette.
There were extremes of fashion in men's and women's clothing
including tight garments, pendant sleeves down to the ground,
coats so short they didn't reach the hips or so long they reached
the heels, hoods so small they couldn't cover the head, and shoes
with long curved peaks like claws at the toes. Some women painted
their faces and/or colored their hair. There were hand-held glass
mirrors. Some people kept dogs purely as pets.
New burgesses were recruited locally, usually from within a 20
mile radius of town. Most of the freemen of the larger boroughs,
like Canterbury and London, came from smaller boroughs. An
incoming burgess was required to buy his right to trade either by
way of a seven year apprenticeship or by payment of an entry fee.
To qualify, he needed both a skill and social respectability.
Towns started acquiring from the King the right to vacant sites
and other waste places, which previously was the lord's right.
The perpetuality of towns was recognized by statutes of 1391,
which compared town-held property to church-held property. The
right of London to pass ordinances was confirmed by charter. Some
towns had a town clerk, who was chief of full-time salaried
officers. There was a guildhall to maintain, a weigh-house,
prison, and other public buildings, municipal water supplies,
wharves, cranes, quays, wash-houses, and public lavatories.
After the experience of the black death, some sanitary measures
were taken. The notorious offenders in matters of public hygiene
in the towns, such as the butchers, the fishmongers, and the
leather tanners were assigned specific localities where their
trades would do least harm. The smiths and potters were excluded
from the more densely populated areas because they were fire
risks. In the town of Salisbury, there was Butcher Row, Ox Row,
Fish Row, Ironmongers' Row, Wheelwrights' Row, Smiths' Row, Pot
Row, Silver Street, Cheese Market, and Wool Market.
Fresh water was brought into towns by pipe or open conduit as a
public facility, in addition to having public wells. In London, a
conduit piped water underground to a lead tank, from which it was
delivered to the public by means of pipes and brass taps in the
stone framework. This was London's chief water supply. Water
carriers carried water in wooden devices on their backs to
houses. The paving and proper drainage of the streets became a
town concern. Building contracts specified the provision of
adequate cesspits for the privies at town houses, whether the
toilets were built into the house or as an outhouse. Also, in the
better houses, there grew a practice of carting human and animal
fecal matter at night to dung heaps outside the city walls.
Country manor houses had toilets on the ground floor and/or the
basement level. Stairwells between floors had narrow and winding
In all towns, the organization of craft associations spread
rapidly downwards through the trades and sought self-government.
Craft guilds were gaining much power relative to the old merchant
guilds in governing the towns. The greater crafts such as the
fishmongers, skinners, and the corders organized and ultimately
were recognized by town authorities as self-governing craft
guilds. The guild was not necessarily associated with a specific
product. For instance, a saddle and bridle were the result of
work of four crafts: joiner (woodworker), painter, saddler
(leather), and lorimer (metal trappings).
In London in 1392 craft guilds included: baker, fishmonger (cut
up and sold fish), fruiterer, brewer, butcher, bird dealer, cook,
apothecary (sold drugs he had ground up), cutler (made knives and
spoons), barber, tailor, shoemaker, glover (made gloves), skinner
(sold furs), girdler (made girdles of cloth to wear around one's
waist), pouchmaker, armorer, sheathmaker, weaver, fuller (made
cloth full and dense), painter, carpenter, joiner (woodworker,
including furniture), tiler, mason (cut stone for buildings),
smith (made metal tools for stonemasons and builders), tallow
chandler (made candles), wax chandler (made candles), stirrup
maker, spurrier (made spurs), and hosteler (innkeeper). However,
the merchant guilds of the goldsmiths, vintners (sold wine),
mercers (sold cloth), grocers, and drapers (finished and sold
English cloth) were still strong. The goldsmiths, tailors,
skinners, and girdlers bought royal charters, which recognized
their power of self-government as a company and their power to
enforce their standards, perhaps throughout the country. There
were paint mills and saw mills replacing human labor. Women who
spent their days spinning with the new spinning wheel were called
Many of the guilds bought sites on which they built a chapel,
which was later used as a secular meeting place. The guild
officers commonly included an alderman, stewards, a dean, and a
clerk, who were elected. The guild officers sat as a guild court
to determine discipline for offences such as false weights or
measures or false workmanship or work and decided trade disputes.
The brethren in guild fraternity were classified as masters,
journeymen, or apprentices. They were expected to contribute to
the support of the sick and impoverished in their fellowship.
Their code required social action such as ostracizing a man of
the craft who was living in adultery until he mended his ways.
The rules of the Company of Glovers were:
1. None but a freeman of the city shall make or sell gloves.
2. No glover may be admitted to the freedom of the city unless
with the assent of the wardens of the trade.
3. No one shall entice away the servant of another.
4. If a servant in the trade makes away with his master's
chattels to the value of 12d., the wardens shall make good the
loss; and if the servant refuses to be judged by the wardens, he
shall be taken before the mayor and aldermen.
5. No one may sell his goods by candle-light.
6. Any false work found shall be taken before the mayor and
aldermen by the wardens.
7. All things touching the trade within the city between those
who are not freemen shall be forfeited.
8. Journeymen shall be paid their present rate of wages.
9. Persons who entice away journeymen glovers to make gloves in
their own houses shall be brought before the mayor and aldermen.
10. Any one of the trade who refuses to obey these regulations
shall be brought before the mayor and aldermen.
Cordwainers [workers in soft cordovan leather from Spain,
especially shoes] of good repute petitioned the city of London in
1375 for ordinances on their trade as follows:
'To the mayor and aldermen of the city of London pray the good
folks of the trade of cordwainers of the same city, that it may
please you to grant unto them the articles that follow, for the
profit of the common people; that so, what is good and right may
be done unto all manner of folks, for saving the honor of the
city and lawfully governing the said trade.
In the first place - that if any one of the trade shall sell to
any person shoes of bazen [sheep-skin tanned in oak or
larch-bark] as being cordwain, or of calf-leather for ox-leather,
in deceit of the common people, and to the scandal of the trade,
he shall pay to the Chamber of the Guildhall, the first time that
he shall be convicted thereof, forty pence; the second time, 7s.
half a mark; and the third time the same, and further, at the
discretion of the mayor and aldermen.
Also - that no one of the trade shall keep house within the
franchise if he be not free [invested with the rights or
privileges] of the city and one knowing his trade, and that no
one shall be admitted to the freedom without the presence of the
wardens of the trade bearing witness to his standing, on the pain
Also - if any one of the trade shall be found offending touching
the trade, or rebellious against the wardens thereof, such person
shall not make complaint to any one of another trade, by reason
of the discord or dissension that may have arisen between them;
but he shall be ruled by the good folks of his own trade. And if
he shall differ from them as acting against right, then let the
offense be adjudged upon before the mayor and aldermen; and if he
be found rebellious against the ordinance, let him pay to the
Chamber the sum above mentioned.
Also - that no one of the trade shall entice or purloin the
servant of another
from the service of his master by paying him more than is
ordained by the trade,
on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that no one shall carry out of his house any wares
connected with his trade for sale in market or elsewhere except
only at a certain place situated between Soperesland and the
Conduit; and that at a certain time of the day, that is to say,
between prime [the first hour of the day] and noon. And that no
shoes shall exceed the measure of seven inches, so that the wares
may be surveyed by the good folks of the trade, because of the
deceit upon the common people that might ensue and the scandal of
the trade, on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that no one shall expose his wares openly for sale in
market on Sundays at any place, but only within his own dwelling
to serve the common people, on the pain aforesaid.
Also - that if any one sells old shoes, he shall not mix new
shoes among the old in deceit of the common people and to the
scandal of the trade, on the pain aforesaid."
Smithfield was a field outside the city gates at which horses
were sold and raced. In 1372, the horsedealers and drovers
petitioned for a tax on animals sold there to pay for cleaning
the field. The city ordinance reads as follows: "On Wednesday
next after the Feast of St. Margaret the Virgin came reputable
men, the horsedealers and drovers, and delivered unto the mayor
and aldermen a certain petition in these words: 'To the mayor,
recorder, and aldermen show the dealers of Smithfield, that is to
say, the coursers and drovers, that for the amendment of the said
field they have granted and assented among them that for the term
of three years next ensuing after the date of this petition for
every horse sold in the said field there shall be paid one penny,
for every ox and cow one half-penny, for every eight sheep one
penny, and for every swine one penny by the seller and the same
by the purchaser who buys the same for resale.` Afterwards, on
the eleventh day of August in the same year, Adam Fernham, keeper
of the gaol at Newgate, Hugh, Averelle, bailiff of Smithfield,
and William Godhewe, weaver, were chosen and sworn faithfully to
collect and receive the said pennies in form aforesaid and to
clean the field of Smithfield from time to time during such term
of three years when necessary."
Some London houses were being made from stone and timber and even
brick and timber, instead of just timber and mud. However,
chimneys were still a luxury of the rich. There were windows of
glass and a guild of glaziers was chartered by the King. Many
single-roomed houses added a second-floor room for sleeping,
which was approached by a wooden or stone staircase from the
outside. Goods were displayed on a booth outside the door of the
house or hung in the windows. They were stored at night in the
cellar. Over the booths swung huge signs, which had to be nine
feet above street level to allow a man on horseback to ride
underneath. There were no footpaths. Street repair work for wages
was supervised by a stone master. The streets sloped down from
the middle so that the filth of the streets would run down the
sides of the road. Dustmen collected rubbish from the streets and
pigs and geese were no allowed to run at large in the streets,
but had to be fed at home.
Aldermen were constantly making rounds to test measures and
weights, wine cups, the height of tavern signs, and the mesh of
the fishing nets, which had to be at least two inches wide. They
saw that the taverns were shut when curfew was rung and arrested
anyone on the street after curfew who had a weapon. Wards
provided citizens to guard the gates in their respective
neighborhood and keep its key.
The city was so dense that nuisance was a common action brought
in court, for instance, vegetable vendors near a church
obstructing passageway on the street or plumbers melting their
solder with a lower than usual shalt of the furnace so smoke was
inhaled by people nearby.
Crime in London was rare. Murder, burglary, highway robbery, and
gross theft were punishable by hanging. Forgery, fraud, was
punishable by the placement in the pillory or stocks or by
imprisonment. Perjury was punished by confession from a high
stool for the first offense, and the pillory for the second.
Slander and telling lies was punished by the pillory and wearing
a whetstone around one's neck.
Prominent Londoners sought to elevate their social position by
having their family marry into rural landowners of position.
Many master freemasons left the country for better wages after
their wages were fixed by statute. The curvilinear gothic style
of architecture was replaced by the perpendicular style, which
was simpler and cheaper to build. Church steeples now had clocks
on them with dials and hands to supplement the church bell
ringing on the hour.
Towns recognized surgery as a livelihood subject to admission and
oath to serve the social good. Master surgeons were admitted to
practice in 1369 in London in full husting before the mayor and
the aldermen and swore to: faithfully serve the people in
undertaking their cures, take reasonably from them, faithfully
follow their calling, present to the said mayor and aldermen the
defaults of others undertaking, so often as should be necessary;
to be ready, at all times when they should be warned, to attend
the maimed or wounded and others, to give truthful information to
the officers of the city as to such maimed, wounded, or others
whether they be in peril of death or not, and to faithfully do
all other things touching their calling.
Only women were allowed to be present at a birth, at which they
spread the knowledge of midwifery. As usual, many women died
giving birth. Various ways to prevent pregnancy were tried. It
was believed that a baby grew from a seed of the father planted
in the woman's body.
Infant mortality was especially high in boroughs and burgess
family lines usually died out. A three-generation family span was
exceptional in the towns, despite family wealth.
After the plague, gentlemen no longer had their children learn to
speak Norman. The grammar schools taught in English instead of
Norman. Bishops began to preach in English. Twenty years later,
English became the official language of the courts and of
A will in 1389 in which a wealthy citizen arranges for one son to
become a lawyer and the other a merchant:
"Will of William de Tonge, citizen of London: One hundred marks
[1,333s.]each to my two sons. And I will that my said two sons
shall live upon the profits of the money bequeathed to them above
until the age of twenty years. And if my said two sons be well
learned in grammar and adorned with good manners, which shall be
known at the end of twenty years, and the elder son wish to
practice common law, and if it is known that he would spend his
time well in that faculty, I will that over and above the profit
of the said one hundred marks he shall have yearly from my rents
for the term of seven years five marks [67s.]. And if he should
waste his time aforesaid, or if he should marry foolishly and
unsuitably, I will that he receive nothing more of the said five
And if younger son wishes to attend the University of Oxford or
to establish himself well in the mystery of a merchant after the
age of twenty years, and [if] there be knowledge of his
praiseworthy progress in his faculty or his carefulness in
trading ... I will that he shall receive five marks yearly in the
manner described above for his maintenance, over and above the
profit of the said one hundred marks to him bequeathed, for the
space of seven years; and if he behave himself otherwise, I will
that thereupon he be excluded from the said five marks. And in
case the said bequest of 200 marks [2,667s.]to him and his
brother shall be annulled so that he shall have nothing therefrom
... then the said 200 marks shall be spent upon all the yearly
chaplains who can be had to celebrate divine service in the
church of All Hallows for my soul."
England was still an agricultural rather than a manufacturing
country. Imported were cloth, silks, linen, velvets, furs, glass,
wines, candles, millstones, amber, iron, and mercury. Exported
were wool, leather, lead, tin, and alabaster for sculpturing. But
the Merchant Adventurers now manufactured cloth good enough for
export and began to buy up raw wool in such quantity that its
An Oxford theologian and preacher, John Wyclif, voiced the
popular resentment of the materialism of the church, benefit of
clergy, immorality of priests, and the selling of indulgences and
pardons. He argued against the supremacy of the papal law over
the King's courts and against payments to the papacy. He opined
that the church had no power to excommunicate. The Friars had
become mere beggars and the church was still wealthy. He proposed
that all goods should be held in common by the righteous and that
the church should hold no property but be entirely spiritual. He
believed that people should rely on their individual consciences.
He thought that the Bible should be available to people who could
read English so that the people could have a direct access to God
without priests or the Pope. Towards this end, he translated it
from Latin into English in 1384. His preachers spread his views
throughout the country. The church then possessed about one-third
of the land of the nation.
Stories were written about pilgrimage vacations of ordinary
people to religious sites in England. Geoffrey Chaucer's "Tales
of the Canterbury Pilgrims" portrayed characters of every social
class, including the knight with his squire, abbot,prioress, nun,
priest, monk, friar, poor parson of the country, summoner (who
enforced the jurisdiction and levied the dues of the church
courts), pardoner (sold pardons from the Pope), scholar, lawyer,
doctor, merchant, sailor, franklin, yeoman, haberdasher,
tapestry-maker, ploughman, cook, weaver, dyer, upholsterer,
miller, reeve, carpenter.
It told stories about a beautiful and virtuous wife disliked by
her mother-in-law, the difficulty of marriage between people of
different religions, the hatred of a poor person b his brother
and his neighbor, rich merchants who visited other kingdoms, the
importance of a man himself following the rules he sets for other
people's behavior, the spite of a man for a woman who rejected
him, the relative lack of enthusiasm of a wife for sex as
compared to her husband, a mother giving up her own comfort for
that of her child, the revenge killing of a murderer by the dead
man's friends, the joy of seeing a loved one after years of
separation, that life is more sad than happy, that lost money can
be retrieved, but time lost is lost forever.
Other stories in the Canterbury Tales were about two men who did
not remain friends after they fell in love with the same woman,
about a child who preferred to learn from an older child than
from his school-teacher, about a wife who convinced her husband
not to avenge her beating for the sake of peace, about a man who
woke up from bad dreams full of fear, about a man wanting to
marry a beautiful woman but later realizing a plain wife would
not be pursued by other men, about a man who drank so much wine
that he lost his mental and physical powers, about a woman who
married for money instead of love, about a man who said something
in frustration which he didn't mean, about a person brought up in
poverty who endured adversity better than one brought up in
wealth, about a wife who was loving and wise, about a good
marriage being more valuable than money, about a virgin who
committed suicide rather than be raped, about a wife persuaded to
adultery by a man who said he would otherwise kill himself, about
three men who found a pile of gold and murdered each other to
take it all, about an angry man who wanted to kill, about a
malicious man who had joy in seeing other men in trouble and
misfortune, about a man whose face turned red in shame, about a
wife expecting to have half of what her husband owned.
Will Langland's poem "The Vision of William Concerning Piers
Plowman" portrays a pilgrimage of common people to the shrine of
Truth led by a virtuous laborer. Mystics wrote practical advice
with transcendental teaching, for instance "Scale of Perfection"
attributed to Walter Hilton and "Cloud of Unknowing". Richard
Rolle wrote about spiritual matters, probably the "Prick of
Conscience". Richard de Bury wrote "Philobiblon" about book
lovers. Jean Froissart wrote the "Chronicles" on knights. Courtly
ideals were expressed in "Sir Gawaine and the Grene Knyght",
wherein the adventures of the hero, an Arthur knight, are
allegorical in the struggle against the world, the flesh, and the
devil (1370). "Pearl" eulogized all that is pure and innocent on
the event of the death of a two year old child. Paper
supplemented parchment, so there were more books.
Political songs and poems were written about the evil times of
King Edward II, the military triumphs of King Edward III, and the
complaints of the poor against their oppressors, such as "Song of
the Husbandman". John Gower wrote moralizing poems on the
peasant's revolt, the sins of the clergy and lawyers, and the bad
rule of King Richard II. Robin Hood ballads were popular. The
minstrel, who was a honorable person, replaced the troubadour of
There were many colleges at Oxford and Cambridge due to the
prohibition of gifts to the church. Laymen instead of
ecclesiastics were appointed as Chancellor. The Masters at Oxford
got rid of ecclesiastical supervision by a bishop and archdeacon
by 1368. One could be admitted as a student at age thirteen.
A Bachelor of Arts degree was granted after four years of study
and an oral exam. Required reading in 1340 for the Bachelor's
Degree was Aristotlean logic and a selection from these works:
"Of Heaven and Earth", "On the Soul", "Of meteors", "Of Birth and
Decay", "Of Feeling and What is Felt", "Of Memory and
Recollection", "Of Sleep and Waking", "Of the Movement of
Animals", "Of Minor Points in Natural History".
A Master of Arts degree could be awarded after three more years
of study and teaching. A Doctorate degrees in theology required
ten more years of study. A Doctorate in civil or canon law
required eight more years. A man with a degree in canon law who
wanted to practice in a certain bishop's court had to first
satisfy this bishop of his competence. The guilds gave rise to
the Inns of Court in London. They used the Register of Writs, the
case law of the Year Books, and disputation to teach their
For a doctorate in medicine from Oxford or Cambridge, five more
years plus two years of practice were required. Surgery was not
taught because it was considered manual labor. Humans were
thought to be influenced by four humors: sanguine, phlegmatic,
choleric, and melancholic. Urinalysis and pulse beat were used
for diagnosis. Epilepsy and apoplexy were understood as spasms
inside the head. It was known what substances served as laxatives
and diuretics. Teeth were extracted, eye cataracts were removed
with a silver needle, and skin from the arm was grafted onto a
Englishmen who had collected books on philosophy, medicine,
astronomy, and history and literature books from the continent
gave their collections to the universities, which started their
libraries. Marco Polo's discoveries on his journey to China were
The requirements of elementary and higher studies were adjusted
in 1393 and began the public school system. William of Wykeham's
school, St. Mary College of Winchester in Oxford was the
prototype. The curriculum was civil law, canon law, medicine,
astronomy with astronomical instruments that were made, theology,
and the arts. The arts text books were still grammar, logic,
Donatus, and Aristotle. Many laymen were literate, for instance
country gentry, merchants, and craftsmen. Laymen instead of
clerics were now appointed to the great offices of state.
Parliament was composed of representatives from 100 boroughs and
37 shires. Merchants were entering Parliament and paid much of
the taxes. Some were created Earls and appointed as ministers to
the King. Edward III did not summon anyone to his council who did
not have the confidence of the magnates [barons, earls, bishops,
and abbots]. Under him, the commons took a leading part in the
granting of taxes and the presentation of petitions.
King Richard II exiled Henry of Lancaster, forbade his
inheritance, and took his property. This made all propertied men
anxious. The "Merciless Parliament" of 1388 swept out King
Richard II's friends. Parliament threw Richard II into prison and
elected Lancaster to be King Henry IV. This action established
clearly that royal decrees were subordinate to parliamentary
statutes. The House of Commons became very powerful.
So the roles of Parliament and the King's council are starting to
differentiate into legislative and executive, respectively. The
legislative function is law-making and the executive is
regulation-making that refines and effectuates the laws of
Parliament. But the legislative, executive and judicial
authorities have not as yet become so completely separated that
they cannot on occasion work together.
At the 1376 Parliament, ("the Good Parliament") the Commons,
which formerly had only consented to taxes, took political action
by complaining that the King's councilors had grown rich by war
profiteering at the cost of impoverishing the nation and the
people were too poor to endure any more taxation for the war and
held a hearing on malfeasance of two ministers. The Parliament
found the charges proved and dismissed them from office. This
established the constitutional means for impeachment and removal
of ministers. The commons demanded that its members be elected by
shire citizens rather than appointed by the sheriff. Actions of
this Parliament were undone a few months later.
There was a standard form of direct taxation voted by Parliament,
which was normally 1/10 of the value of all moveables in towns
and royal domains and 1/15 in the country.
From 1150 to 1400, resistance was an ordinary remedy for
political disagreements. If a popular leader raised his standard
in a popular cause, an irregular army could be assembled in a
day. (There was no regular army, since England was protected by
the sea from invasion.) So misgovernment by a King would be
quickly restrained. Society recovered quickly from conflict and
civil war because the national wealth consisted chiefly in flocks
and herds and in the simple buildings inhabited by the people. In
a week after armed resistance, the peasant was driving his team.
There was little furniture, stock of shops, manufactured goods,
or machinery that could be destroyed.
The feudal army was summoned for the last time in the 100 year
war with France, which began in 1337. In it the English longbow
was used to pierce French knights' armor. Gunpowder and guns and
cannon were introduced in 1338. They became common by 1372 and
foresaw the end to the competition between the strength of arrows
to pierce and the heaviness of armor to resist. Featherbeds and
blooded horses were favorite spoils of war brought back to
Many lords got men to fight with them by livery and maintenance
agreements such as this one of 1374:
"Bordeaux, February 15. This indenture, made between our lord
King John [of Gaunt, of Castile, etc.] of the one part and Symkyn
Molyneux, esquire, of the other part, witnesses that the said
Symkyn is retained and will remain with our said lord for peace
and for war for the term of his life, as follows: that is to say,
the said Symkyn shall be bound to serve our said lord as well in
time of peace as of war in whatsoever parts it shall please our
said lord, well and fitly arrayed. And he shall be boarded as
well in time of peace as of war. And he shall take for his fees
by the year, as well in time of peace as of war, 133s. ten marks
sterling from the issues of the Duchy of Lancaster by the hands
of the receiver there who now is or shall be in time to come, at
the terms of Easter and Michaelmas by even portions yearly for
the whole of his life. And, moreover, our lord has granted to him
by the year in time of war 67s. five marks sterling by the hands
of the treasurer of war for the time being. And his year of war
shall begin the day when he shall move from his inn towards our
said lord by letters which shall be sent to him thereof, and
thenceforward he shall take wages coming and returning by
reasonable daily [payments] and he shall have fitting freightage
for him, his men, horses, and other harness within reason, and in
respect of his war horses taken and lost in the service of our
said lord, and also in respect to prisoners and other profits of
war taken or gained by him or any of his men, the said our lord
will do to him as to other squires of his rank."
A navy was formed with over 200 ships selected by the English
admirals acting for the King at the ports. Men were seized and
pressed into service and criminals were pardoned from crimes to
become sailors in the fleet, which was led by the King's ship.
They used the superior longbow against the French sailor's
crossbow. In 1372, the Tower of London had four mounted fortress
cannon and Dover had six.
The war's disruption of shipping caused trade to decline. But the
better policing of the narrow seas made piracy almost disappear.
In 1363, Calais, a continental town held by the English, became
the staple town for lead, tin, cloth, and wool and was placed
under a group of London capitalists: the Merchants of the Staple.
All exports of these had to pass through Calais, where customs
tax was collected.
Waterpower was replacing foot power in driving the mills where
cloth was cleaned and fulled [thickened].
Bethlehem Hospital was used from 1377 to house the mentally ill.
- The Law -
After the Black Death of 1348 these statutes were enacted:
High treason was defined by statute in 1352 as levying war
against the King, aiding the King's enemies, compassing or
imagining the death of the King, Queen, or their eldest son and
heir, or violating the Queen or the eldest unmarried daughter or
the wife of the King's eldest son and heir, making or knowingly
using counterfeits of the King's great or privy seal or coinage,
or slaying the Chancellor, Treasurer, or any justice in the
exercise of their duty. The penalty was forfeit of life and
lands. During the reign of King Richard II, who was later
disposed, high treason was extended to include making a riot and
rumor, compassing or purposing to depose the King, revoking one's
homage or liege to the King, and attempting to repeal a statute.
But these extensions were repealed after he was deposed.
Petit treason was defined by statute and included a servant
slaying his master, a wife her husband, or a man his lord, to
whom was owed faith and obedience.
No one shall tell false news or lies about prelates, dukes,
earls, barons, and other nobles and great men or the Chancellor,
Treasurer, a Justice, Clerk of the Privy Seal, Steward of the
King's house whereby debates and discords might arise between
these lords or between the lords and the commons. Cases shall be
tried by the King's Council, which included the Chancellor,
Treasurer, and chief justices.
Preachers drawing crowds by ingenious sermons and inciting them
to riot shall be arrested by sheriffs and tried by the
Any stranger passing at night of whom any have suspicion shall be
arrested and taken to the Sheriff.
No man shall ride with a spear, upon pain of forfeiting it.
No servant of agriculture or laborer shall carry any sword or
dagger, or forfeit it, except in time of war in defense of the
nation. He may carry bow and arrow [for practice] on Sundays and
holy days, when he should not play games such as tennis.
football, or dice.
No one may enter another's land and tenements by strong hand nor
with a mob, upon pain of imprisonment and ransom at the King's
Charters, releases, obligations, [quit-claim deeds] and other
deeds burnt or destroyed in uprisings shall be reissued without
fee, after trial by the King and his council. Manumissions,
obligations, releases and other bonds and feoffments in land made
by force, coercion or duress during mob uprisings are void.
Men who rape and women consenting after a rape shall lose their
inheritance and dower and joint feoffments. The husbands, or
father or next of kin of such women may sue the rapist by
inquisition, but not by battle. The penalty is loss of life and
The Statute of Laborers of 1351 required all workers, from
tailors to ploughmen, to work only at pre-plague wage rates and
forced the vagrant peasant to work for anyone who claimed him or
her. It also encouraged longer terms of employment as in the past
rather than for a day at a time. Statutory price controls on food
limited profits to reasonable ones according to the distance of
the supply. Later, wages were determined in each county by
Justices of the Peace according to the dearth of victuals while
allowing a victualler a reasonable profit and a penalty was
specified as paying the value of the excess wages given or
received for the first offense, double this for the second
offense, and treble this or forty days imprisonment for the third
A fugitive laborer will be outlawed, and when found, shall be
burnt in the forehead with the letter "F" for falsity.
Children who labored at the plough and cart or other agriculture
shall continue in that labor and may not go into a craft.
A statute of 1363 designed to stop hoarding various types of
merchandise until a type became scarce so to sell it at high
prices, required merchants to deal in only one type of
merchandise. It also required craftsmen to work in only one craft
as before (except women who traditionally did several types of
handiwork). This was repealed a year later.
Where scarcity has made the price of poultry high, it shall be
lowered to 8d. for a young capon, 7d. for an old capon or a
goose, 9d. for a hen, and 10d. for a pullet.
The fares for passage on boats on fresh waters and from Dover to
the continent shall remain at their old rate.
Any merchant selling at a fair after it has ended will forfeit to
the King twice the value of that sold.
Anyone finding and proving cloth contrary to the assize of cloth
shall have one-
third of it for his labor.
No shoemaker nor cordwainer shall tan their leather and no tanner
shall make shoes, in order that tanning not be false or poorly
The staple was reinstituted by statute of 1353 after an
experiment without it, in which profits of a staple went to
staples outside the nation. The rationale for the staple was to
facilitate inspection of quality and the levy of customs. Wool,
woolfells, leather, and lead sold for export had to go through
the staple town. The penalty was forfeiture of lands, tenements,
goods, and chattel. (The staple statute remained basically
unchanged for the next 200 years.) The mayor and constables of
the staple were elected annually by the native and foreign
merchants of the place. The mayor gave validity to contracts for
a set fee, by seal of his office. He and the constables had
jurisdiction over all persons and things touching the staple,
which was regulated by the Law Merchant in all matters of
contract, covenant, debt, and felonies against foreign merchants.
A Hue and Cry was required to be raised and followed for anyone
taking a cart of merchandise or slaying a merchant, denizen
[resident alien] or alien, or the town would answer for the
robbery and damage done.
All denizen [foreigner permitted to reside in the realm with
certain rights and privileges] and alien merchants may buy and
sell goods and merchandise, in gross, in any part of the country,
despite town charters or franchises, to anyone except an enemy of
the King. They may also sell small wares: victuals, fur, silk,
cover chiefs, silver wire, and gold wire in retail, but not cloth
or wine. They must sell their goods within three months of
arrival. Any alien bringing goods to the nation to sell must buy
goods of the nation to the value of at least one-half that of his
merchandise sold. These merchants must engage in no collusion to
lower the price of merchandise bought, take merchandise bought to
the staple, and promise to hold no staple beyond the sea for the
same merchandise. An amendment disallowed denizens from taking
wools, leather, woolfells, or lead for export, but only
Towns failing to bring disturbers of this right to justice shall
forfeit their franchise to the King and pay double damages to the
merchant. The disturber shall be imprisoned for a year.
Cloth may not be tacked nor folded for sale to merchants unless
they are opened to the buyers for inspection, for instance for
concealed inferior wool. Workers, weavers, and fullers shall put
their seals to every cloth. And anyone could bring his own wools,
woolfells, leather, and lead to the staple to sell without being
compelled to sell them in the country. Special streets or
warehouses were appointed with warehouse rent fixed by the mayor
and constables with four of the principal inhabitants. Customs
duties were regulated and machinery provided for their
collection. No one was to forestall or regrate, that is, buy at
one price and sell at a higher price in the same locale.
Forestallers were those who bought raw material on its way to
market. Regrators were those who tried to create a "corner" in
the article in the market itself.
Anyone may ship or carry grain out of the nation, except to
enemies, after paying duties. But the council may restrain this
passage when necessary for the good of the nation. Any merchant,
privy or stranger, who was robbed of goods on the sea or lost his
ship by tempest or other misfortune on the sea banks, his goods
coming to shore could not be declared Wreck, but were to be
delivered to the merchant after he proves ownership in court by
his marks on the goods or by good and lawful merchants.
All stakes and obstacles set up in rivers impeding the passage of
boats shall be removed.
Imported cloth shall be inspected by the King's officials for
non-standard measurements or defects [despite town franchises].
No one shall leave the nation except at designated ports, on pain
of one year's imprisonment.
English merchants may carry their merchandise in foreign ships if
there are no English ships available.
Social distinctions by attire were mandated by statute of 1363. A
servant, his wife, son, or daughter, shall only wear cloth worth
no more than 27s. and shall not have more than one dish of meat
or fish a day. Carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough,
oxherds, cowherds, shepherds, and all other people owning less
than 40s. of goods and chattels shall only wear blanket and
russet worth no more than 12d. and girdles of linen according to
their estate. Craftsmen and free peasants shall only wear cloth
worth no more than 40s. Esquires and gentlemen below the rank of
knight with no land nor rent over 2,000s. a year shall only wear
cloth worth no more than 60s., no gold, silver, stone, fur, or
the color purple. Esquires with land up to 2,667s. per year may
wear 67s. cloth, cloth of silk and silver, miniver [grey] fur and
stones, except head stones. Merchants, citizens, burgesses,
artificers, and people of handicraft having goods and chattels
worth 10,000s. shall wear cloth the same value as that worn by
esquires and gentlemen with land or rent within 2,000s. per year.
The same merchants and burgesses with goods and chattels worth
13,333s. and esquires and gentlemen with land or rent within
400s. per year may not wear gold cloth, miniver fur, ermine
[white] fur, or embroidered stones. A knight with land or rents
within 2,667s. yearly are limited to cloth of 80s., but his wife
may wear a stone on her head. Knights and ladies with land or
rents within 8,000s. to 20,000s. yearly may not wear fur of
ermine or of letuse, but may wear gold, and such ladies may wear
pearls as well as stones on their heads. The penalty is
forfeiture of such apparel. This statute is necessary because of
"outrageous and excessive apparel of diverse persons against
their estate and degree, to the great destruction and
impoverishment of all the land".
If anyone finds a hawk [used to hunt birds, ducks, and pheasant]
that a lord has lost, he must take it to the sheriff for keeping
for the lord to claim. If there is no claim after four months,
the finder may have it only if he is a gentleman. If one steals a
hawk from a lord or conceals from him the fact that it has been
found, he shall pay the price of the hawk and be imprisoned for
No laborer or any other man who does not have lands and tenements
of the value of 40s. per year shall keep a greyhound [or other
hound or dog] to hunt, nor shall they use nets or cords or other
devices to take [deer, rabbits, conies, nor other gentlemen's
game], upon pain of one year imprisonment.
No man shall eat more than two courses of meat or fish in his
house or elsewhere, except at festivals, when three are allowed
[because great men ate costly meats to excess and the lesser
people were thereby impoverished].
No one may export silver, whether bullion or coinage, or wine
except foreign merchants may carry back the portion of their
money not used to buy English commodities. The penalty for
bringing false or counterfeit money into the nation is loss of
life and member. An assigned searcher [inspector] for coinage of
the nation on the sea passing out of the nation or bad money in
the nation shall have one third of it. No foreign money may be
used in the nation.
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