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TOLLS AND CUSTOMS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Leicester exemption tolls charter franchises testimonials

Subject: Letters testimonial to support a citizen's exemption from toll
Original source: Borough archives
Transcription in: Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1899), vol.2, 230-31.
Original language: French
Location: Leicester
Date: 1420


To all those to whose attention comes these letters of ours, Thomas Waldgrave mayor of the town of Leicester and the whole community of the town [send] greetings. From time immemorial all the tenants of the honour of Leicester, notably the burgesses of the town of Leicester, have been exempt from all kinds of tolls, passage, pavage, lastage, stallage, pesage, tronage, carriage, picage, terrage, and all other types of tolls whatsoever, throughout all England, as is more clearly stated in the charters and other grants made by kings who have been and confirmed by our present king (whom God preserve). Therefore we request all those to whom these letters are presented not to allow their bearer, John de Lyn barker, a burgess of the town of Leicester, when he comes and goes with his merchandize, to be harassed or caused difficulties regarding the above matter, nor to be attached or distrained, to the detriment of our present king (whom God preserve) in regard to his franchise of his duchy of Lancaster; nor any of the burgesses of the town of Leicester, in contravention of their above liberties and franchises. Rather, out of respect for our lord king and by reason of his franchise, please allow John de Lyn, and any other burgess of the town of Leicester, to pass through quit and without taking any toll contrary to the franchises and liberties mentioned above. So that no cause be given to the king nor to ourselves to sue our franchise against anyone in such matters. And because exemptions on grounds of the franchise are claimed by many who have no share in it, we have issued these our letters patent to John de Lyn, as one of the burgesses of the town. Sealed with the common seal of the town, together with the seal of the mayoralty there. Issued at Leicester, 3 February 1420.


There are copies in the borough archives of several letters of the same tenor issued during the 1420s. Such were evidently a means of identifying which townsmen were qualified, by citizenship or membership in a merchant gild, for the charter-granted exemption from tolls. However, it is not clear whether it was common to supply such letters to a town's merchants, or whether occasioned by special circumstances, such as in the case of John de Lyn, when fraudulent claims to exemption jeopardized the respect for rights of those who could legitimately claim it.

As a mediatized borough – one not directly under the king's lordship – Leicester's exemption from toll must have been limited for much of the later Middle Ages to the territories that were part of the honour of Leicester. Around the middle of the twelfth century the first so-styled earl of Leicester granted to his burgesses exemption from all customs that might be levied at points in the great forest encompassing the town, and forbade his foresters and other officers to stop the burgesses and their packhorses for such a reason (although a later confirmation suggests this may have been applicable only to timber obtained from the forest – on which see, Origin of some customs at Leicester). This was perhaps a confirmation of a privilege granted by the earl's father when lord of Leicester. Some years earlier, the king himself had granted the earl's men exemption from tolls solely at Oxford. But when King John in 1199 – pursuing a grant of privileges to the earl that included the right to collect toll, pontage, passage, pedage, stallage, tallage and various other revenues – granted the burgesses unhindered travel through the kingdom for purposes of trade, he added the reservation that they should pay legitimate tolls wherever they were due. Although in 1361 the burgesses gained control over tolls collected within Leicester, they still seem to have had no share in the kingdom-wide toll exemptions that the earl himself had received from the king.

When the town came directly under the king's lordship, under the Lancastrians, prospects must have seemed brighter. But it was not until 1416 that Henry V accorded the townsmen freedom from "toll, pontage, picage, murage, pavage, stallage, passage, lastage and carriage", even though his charter claimed they had been exempt from such since time immemorial. This charter helps explain the issuing of letters testimonial in the following decade, as both those qualified and unqualified sought to take advantage of the turn of events.



I.e. the estates of the earldom.

"passage, carriage"
Fees related to the transportation of goods through or past a customs collection point.

A toll imposed to raise money to support maintenance of the roads.

A toll on the volume of a cargo.

"stallage, picage, terrage"
Fees associated with the assignment of a location from which to sell goods.

"tronage, pesage"
Fees for weighing merchandize. Pesage was a fee paid by the purchaser of goods, the aim apparently being to verify the true weight of the goods being acquired. The purpose of tronage was to ascertain the weight so that the appropriate import/export customs could be assessed, and so the equipment was typically kept at the quayside (see the possible representation on the Elizabethan plan of Yarmouth). These operations were normally undertaken using official weights and the tron, or large beam (to distinguish it from the small beam used for goods measured in avoirdupois).

A worker of, and dealer in, leather.

"duchy of Lancaster"
After de Montfort's rebellion, the earldom of Leicester was handed over to Henry III's second son and by that route came under the earldom (later the duchy) of Lancaster, and thereby directly to the king once Henry IV took the throne.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 22, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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