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CONSTITUTION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham charter rights customs tolls taxation landholding

Subject: Charter granted by Henry II to Nottingham
Original source: Copy in Nottinghamshire Archives
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 2-4.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: ca. 1157


Henry, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, officers and all loyal subjects throughout England, French and English, greetings. Know that I have granted, and by this charter confirm, to the burgesses of Nottingham all those free customs which they had in the time of my grandfather, King Henry. Which is to say: tol and theam; infangenetheof; and the collection of tolls – as fully as in the borough of Nottingham – from Thrumpton as far as Newark, including on all [goods] crossing the Trent, and on the other side of the watercourse beyond Rempston as far as the water of Retford in the north. Moreover, the men of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire ought to come to the borough of Nottingham each Friday and Saturday, with their wagons and packhorses; nor should anyone manufacture dyed cloth within a radius of 10 leagues of Nottingham, except in the borough of Nottingham. If anyone, from whatever place he originates, lives in the borough of Nottingham for a year and a day during a time of peace, without [anyone laying] claim [to him], no-one shall have any lordship over him afterwards except the king. If any burgess buys land in his neighbourhood and has possession of it for an entire year and a day, without claim [to it] by the kin of the vendor (if they are in England), his ownership of it may not afterwards be challenged. Nor shall any burgess be answerable to a charge made by the reeve of the borough of Nottingham, unless there is a plaintiff in the case. Whoever resides in the borough, no matter what fee he is in, ought to contribute with the burgesses to tallages and to making up borough defaults. Also, all those who come to Nottingham marketplace between Friday evening and Saturday evening shall not be subject to distraint, unless for [payment towards] the king's farm. And the right of passage along the Trent should be free to navigation to the width of one perch on either side of midstream. It is my will and firm command that the burgesses shall have and hold the aforesaid customs properly, peacefully, freely, quietly, honorably, fully, and wholly, as they had them in the time of King Henry my grandfather. Witnesses: Richard de Humes constable, William de Braosio, William de Caisneto, William de Lanvallei, Ralph sheriff of Nottingham. [Given] at York.


Henry II was cautious in the amount of liberty he granted to English boroughs, wishing to avoid anything similar to the "revolutionary" communes that had caused political strife on mainland Europe. He did little more than continue a policy begun by Henry I. He was prepared to confirm privileges which some towns claimed to have received from his grandfather, or to grant the same types of privileges to other towns, on condition of an annual payment (farm), but ensured that this was a strictly revocable arrangement. It was not in Henry II's nature to surrender his powers to others. Nonetheless, his reign did see a large number of charters to towns, furthering their ambitions at least a little. When, at the very end of his reign, Henry gave Nottingham into the lordship of his son, John, the latter confirmed the terms of his father's charter, and added new privileges: right to a merchant gild, exemption from toll, fee farm and the associated right to elect a reeve.

A comparison of this document to the contemporary grant to Oxford is useful in indicating how certain liberties were common features of charters, while others were specific to local needs.



"tol and theam"
I have encountered considerable variance in the interpretation of "tol and theam", a combination typically found together (like sac and soc). L.J. Downer, in his edition of the Leges Henrici Primi defined tol as "the right to receive a tax on the sale of goods within the privileged person's property" and theam as "taking of the profits where a person charged with wrongfully possessing goods was able to vouch to warranty". Bishop Stubbs, in a similar vein, had defined theam as the right to compel the person in whose possession stolen or lost property was found to identify the person from whom he received it, and this definition was followed by Ballard in his study of borough charters, and has passed its way down into ORB's Guide to Medieval Terms. Christopher Brooke described tol and theam as the right to levy tolls on the sale of cattle and the right of a court to try cases of cattle-theft, in which he was probably following Harmer's study of Anglo-Saxon writs (1952), defining tol as the right of an estate-owner to take a toll from sales of cattle or other goods that happened on his estate; and theam as the right to profits (i.e. a fine) from a case in which someone accused of unlawful possession of cattel or other goods could vouch his warrantor (i.e. pass answerability along to the person from whom he acquired the goods). It is unknown if tol was used in the Anglo-Saxon period to refer to the imposition of a tax on the passage of goods through one's property. Stubbs did not differentiate between tol and thelonium, although their separate inclusion in the same list in the Nottingham charter suggests they were not, at that time, perceived as the same thing. The pairing of tol and theam is probably because the witnessed payment of toll on a sale provided some assurance of the honesty of the transaction. That the perception of meanings could change, however, is shown by a late 14th century entry in Colchester's Red Parchment Book indicating that some jurists of that time thought theam was the right of a lord to own the children of his villeins, except that if any villein had lived in a town for a year and a day and had been received into the community (i.e. entered the franchise or the gild), he became free. The same source defined tol as an exemption for a lord and his villeins from paying tolls on goods they bought or sold in all markets. London's Liber Memorandum has a set of shorter definitions that support those of the Red Parchment Book.

Infangthef was the right of a court to try thieves caught within the region of its jurisdiction, notably those caught red-handed (and, since the punishment was hanging, in effect the right to a gallows). Outfangthef, on the other hand, was the right to pursue thieves beyond the region of jurisdiction, and was a liberty accorded to few boroughs.

"men of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire"
The purpose of the clause referring to these men was to designate the borough as an authorized marketplace for those counties, seeming to imply that no other markets were to operate within that region on the specified days – just as the clause that followed protected the borough's control of cloth manufacture by prohibiting rival industry within a 30-mile radius.

"the kin of the vendor"
The pre-emptive rights of kin to property, under certain circumstances, are exemplified in chapters of the Norwich and Fordwich custumals.

"borough defaults"
The phrase here translated as referring to borough defaults is a little vague in the Latin, but most likely refers to communal answerability for the entire amount of a tax or other levy, regardless of defaults of individual members in contributing their share.

"subject to distraint"
The distraint from which temporary protection was accorded, to those coming to the Saturday market, may have related to private grievances in cases of withernam; but the reference to the farm indicates that it also related to public misdeeds, such as avoidance of tolls, which deprived the borough of revenue needed to pay the farm.

"one perch"
Approximately 17 feet.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 15, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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