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CONSTITUTION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Leicester charter powers farm revenues judicial administration mesne boroughs seigneurial rights

Subject: Grant of farm by a mesne lord
Original source: Borough archives
Transcription in: Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1901), vol.2, 149-52.
Original language: French
Location: Leicester
Date: 1375


This indenture made between the noble lord John, king of Castile and Leon, and Duke of Lancaster, on the one hand, and the mayor, burgesses and community of the town of Leicester, on the other hand, evidences that the Duke has granted and farmed to the mayor, burgesses and commonalty, the bailiwick of the town and its suburbs. Including all types of executions to be made within the same by the bailiffs deputed by them, both of writs of the king and of any other executions whatsoever within the town and suburbs. Together with all kinds of revenues from portmoots, courts of the fair and the market of the town and suburbs, and any other courts whatsoever within the town and suburbs, to be held by them or their deputies. [Together] with all kinds or rents, leases, and [other such] revenues within the town and suburbs. [Together] with the possessions of fugitives and felons, waif and stray, [and any] fines and amercements imposed before them or their deputies in the town. Excluding rents and leases of ovens, mills, and watercourses, and the rents leviable by the porter of the castle, as were accustomed to be levied in the past. And reserving to the duke and his heirs: the escheats of free tenements; his court held in Leicester castle every three weeks; summonses, attachments, distresses, and all other kinds of executions ordered by that same court and to be made or levied by the porter of the castle throughout the town and suburbs. In addition, the duke has granted to the mayor, burgesses and community and their successors the custody of all kinds of prisoners arrested in the town and suburbs, whether for felonies or for trespasses, to be guarded according to the law, just as in the past was the responsibility of the duke's bailiffs.

The mayor, burgesses, community and their successors are to have and to hold all these powers and revenues indicated above, other than those excluded above, and only for the term of ten years – this term beginning on 29 September following the date of this document. For such, they are to pay annually to the duke and his heirs, through his receiver at Leicester who is then in office, £80 in cash in equal portions at the feasts of the Purification of Our Lady, Whitsuntide, and Michaelmas. On condition that at any time that the farm of £80 may be in arrears, wholly or in part, at any of those due dates, it is permissible for the duke and his heirs and their officers to distrain the mayor, burgesses and community, and each of them [individually], and to drive or carry off and to keep the distress taken, until they have been satisfied for the arrears of the farm. Should it happen that the farm be in arrears for a month following the due dates indicated, the mayor, burgesses and community by this document agree and commit themselves and their successors to pay the duke and his heirs one hundred shillings above the farm stated above, for every payment period which is thus in arrears, throughout the term of the ten years.

The duke grants to the mayor, burgesses and community that they may have large timbers from the duke's woods, in order to build new shops that may be rented out for the profit of the mayor, burgesses and community during the aforementioned term of ten years, and after that period [the profit] of the duke and his heirs. He also grants that they may have large timbers from the same woods for improvements and repairs to the shops and shambles which are at present rented out in the marketplace of the town. And that the two bailiffs who are elected in the town by the mayor, burgesses and community, shall have clothing of his livery at the times when he makes a general handout of livery.

In witness to which, the duke has set his seal to the one part of this indenture, and the mayor, burgesses and community have set their common seal to the other part of the indenture. Given at Leicester on 20 August 1375.


The emphasis in this grant is not on the delegation of authority or jurisdiction so much as the leasing of revenues in return for an annual lump sum payment. The collection of these revenues entailed jurisdiction. Revenues and jurisdiction were two sides of the same coin. A community sought jurisdiction in order to have more direct control over matters that affected its self-interests, well-being, and prosperity. As towns grew, their industry and commerce flourished, and immigrants were attracted, jurisdiction offered the prospect of increased revenues. If the community could acquire the jurisdiction-revenues for a fixed annual payment, it could capitalize on the growing profit margin, channeling some of those profits into community improvements and strengthened self-government.

After the death of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, at Evesham (1265), the king gave the lordship of Leicester to one of his sons, and it thereby became part of the earldom of Lancaster. As they had in the thirteenth century (see Origins of some customs at Leicester), the burgesses of the fourteenth century town continued to chip away at their obligations to their seigneur, negotiating on matters such as pasture rights, customary payments, revenues due the lord from the fair (stallage, fair court fines), and various market tolls. These negotiations met with mixed success.

New negotiations with John of Gaunt were on a more ambitious scale, with the burgesses seeking to farm a group of revenues and jurisdictions from the duke. This was hardly ambitious on the scale of general urban development, however, as most towns of comparable size and importance had already obtained that degree of self-government through fee farm grants, typically including the right to elect administrative officers. Because of the restricted nature of his lordship over Leicester, however, John of Gaunt was unable (even had he been willing) to give his burgesses of Leicester a grant of perpetual fee farm. Instead the burgesses acquired, during a ten-year lease, direct control over the borough courts and market, and the revenues issuing from them. This included the right to elect the town bailiffs who were responsible for administration of the same, although the duke made it clear that the bailiffs remained essentially answerable to him, by clothing them in his household uniform.

Whether this arrangement was actually to the fiscal advantage of the town is open to question. At this period the mayoral government, to cover its operating expenses, was relying on a small but growing number of rents, a very modest profit from fines for infringements of borough ordinances or the assize of bread, and (primarily) on fees for membership in the merchant gild, supplemented by the occasional local tax imposed when need required, which was often. The mayor was the accountant; but, apparently as a result of the 1375 grant, chamberlains took over this responsibility – whether they were new officers, or the gild's financial officers in an expanded role is more difficult to say – and the mayor focused on accounting for the revenues that had to address the annual farm.

The only such account for the farm to have survived to us is that of 1377/78. Already it refers to substantial arrears due from the very first term under the lease; perhaps the burgesses had not yet been able to take advantage of prospective new revenues from building new shops, for in 1378/79 the mayor and portmanmoot ordered the bailiffs to do their best in finding tenants for the shops. The account also shows that the burgesses had already broken the terms of the lease, with regard to escheats: they had taken revenues from properties that ought to have escheated, and now owed over £10 to the duke, who had presumably learned what was going on and insisted on his rights – but there were perhaps mitigating circumstances (lack of new rents?), as the duke subsequently forgave them the full amount. Nonetheless, at the end of this account they continued to owe the duke the original arrears, although were able to pay the full £80 for 1377/78. In the years that followed, there seem to have been further adjustments in the borough's accounting system, but precisely what is hidden by a disappearance of financial records from this period.

It does not appear that the burgesses obtained a renewal of the farm in 1385. We know only that in 1404 they obtained from his son, as Henry IV, a 20-year lease on slightly more restrictive terms and for £90 a year. In 1423 Henry V's widow renewed the lease for ten more years, at the original £80. Other surviving evidence suggests that in the 1390s and 1440s there was no lease in effect.



A written agreement, named for the fact that two copies were made on the same membrane of parchment, then were cut apart in a zig-zag fashion, to create the effect of indentations. This made it difficult for either party to alter the terms of the agreement via forgery – the authenticity of one part of the agreement could be checked by matching its indents against those of the other part.

A scope of authority.

The carrying out of legal and administrative instructions.

"courts of the fair and the market"
This would refer to piepowder proceedings.

"waif and stray"
Beasts that were caught roaming loose.

Properties which fell vacant due to the failure of heirs or the loss of rights of the tenant due to conviction (or outlawry) for a crime, and consequently reverted to the lord of the land.

The Receiver of the honour of Leicester.

The original is chacer, which would seem to apply to distraint of animals.

Articles of clothing and/or decorative items worn to indicate affiliation with some party or source of authority, similar to a uniform. Associated with "bastard feudalism", and with the factionalism that plagued England in the fifteenth century.

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

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