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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London reforms law order police crime detection felony alderman peace hue-and-cry curfew nightwatch taverns inns sanctuary surety criminals punishment prostitution

Subject: Ordinances for policing the city
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Albus, ff. 199, 201-203
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Liber Albus, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.1 (1859), 264, 275-76, 280-85.
Original language: French
Location: London
Date: 1280s


Concerning those who resist authority

No-one is to behave in a defiant fashion, in word or deed, towards the sergeants or bailiffs of the city. Nor is anyone to interfere with their execution of judgements, attachments, distresses, or other tasks that are ordered or fall to the bailiffs to perform, upon penalty of imprisonment. If however someone believes that he has been wronged by the bailiff, let him bring a complaint about it to his superiors and obtain restitution from those who are authorized to put matters right.

[ .... ]

Concerning night wanderers

It is also prohibited for anyone to have the audacity to be found roving or wandering around the city streets after curfew has been sounded at St. Martin le Grand and St. Lawrence, or at Barking church, [armed] with sword or buckler or any other weapon with which mischief may be done (whereby there may be suspicion of evil intent), or in any other way. Unless he is a great lord or some other trustworthy man of good reputation, or someone from their household for whom they will vouch, who goes before them with a guiding light. If someone is found abroad contrary to the tenor of the aforesaid, without a good reason for coming into town at a late hour, he is to be taken by the keepers of the peace and put in the Tun, which is assigned for such offenders. The day after let him be [formally] arrested and brought before the city mayor and aldermen. And if they find that offenders have infringed [curfew] and are in the habit of doing so, let them be punished.

Concerning the closing of tavern and brewhouse doors at the specified time

Because such persons wandering around at night typically frequent taverns and congregate there more than at other places, seeking shelter there and biding their time in wait for an opportunity to do mischief, it is prohibited for anyone to keep a tavern selling wine or ale open after the hour of curfew. Rather, they are to keep their taverns closed after that hour; nor are they to have anyone sitting or lying around there. No-one is to receive into his own house, by night or day, someone [coming] from a public tavern, other than persons for whom he is prepared to be answerable regarding the king's peace.

If it is found that any taverner does otherwise, on the first occasion he is to provide a surety in the form of his tavern's hanap, or some other suitable item found there, and is to be amerced 40d. If he is found to offend a second time, he is to be amerced 6s.8d, and on a third occasion 10s. At the fourth instance the fine payable is to be doubled, that is, 20s. And on the fifth occasion, he is to renounce his occupation in the city forever. If any taverner receives any troublemaker, knowing of his offences, he is to be committed to the same prison as all receivers of felons. Provision has been made for every alderman to make diligent enquiry through his wardmoot concerning wrongdoers coming into and living in his ward; if any such are discovered through the presentment and indictment of the good people of the ward, let them be attached by their bodies as soon as possible – and that by the alderman, if the sheriffs or their bailiffs are not available. If they are present, however, they are to do it under direction of the alderman. And [the offenders] are to be brought before the mayor and aldermen and be interrogated regarding that of which they have been accused or what has been presented against them. Those who cannot clear themselves are to be punished by imprisonment, or by some other punishment (at the discretion [of the mayor and aldermen]) as demanded by the offence.

Every alderman is to hold his wardmoot, and [address] all the points which have been addressed in times past, four times a year.

[ .... ]

Concerning the peace and those who flee to churches

It is ordained for the safekeeping of the city that from now on there shall be a warden appointed by the king, instead of a mayor, and the sheriffs and aldermen [shall be appointed] by the Barons of the Exchequer. They are to take an oath of obedience to the king, to keep watch and ward and maintain the peace in the manner in which they shall be instructed: that is, to preserve the peace by night and by day and to arrange for the watches and the guards to take action, according to the points written below. The sheriffs, aldermen and the entire populace are to be obedient to the warden.

In order to preserve the peace in the city, the king wishes and commands that if any felony is committed within the city, or any breach of his peace, that anyone nearby when such an offence or felony occurs, or who hears, sees or knows of a felony or breach of his peace, shall do whatever is within his power to arrest or attach such felons or offenders. If he has not the means to do so straight away, he is to raise hue-and-cry on the wrongdoers. Upon which, the king wishes and commands, all those who are nearby and hear the cry shall come to [where] the cry [is being made] in order to capture and arrest such felons and wrongdoers. Once they are taken, let them be handed over to the king's bailiffs. Whoever does not respond to the raising of a hue-and-cry is to be heavily amerced.

If it happens that any felon escapes to a church before he can be taken, the people of the ward in which stands the church where the felon has put himself are to keep watch upon the felon, until it has been arranged for him to leave the kingdom. If the people of the ward are not sufficient [for this], let them be helped by the people of the nearest neighbouring wards, as decided and advised by the warden of the city – allowing that no-one be unreasonably burdened with such watch.

Concerning offenders

The king wishes it understood by all that no liberty or ancient custom is valid that might cause this ordinance not to be observed. Those who are convicted of offences such as battery or [assault] drawing blood, where death or maiming are not the outcome, may be punished by a fine and, particularly, imprisonment, at the discretion of those who judge the offence – so that the severity of the punishment makes others afraid to offend. They should always have regard to the seriousness of the offence, the extent of the guilt, and whether they are habitual offenders or not.

Everyone is to take care not to raise hue-and-cry on any brawl in the city, by day or by night, without good reason. If any does [without cause] and is convicted of the same, let him be punished according to the offence.

If any wrongdoer escapes from a church, those who were supposed to be keeping watch on him will forfeit 100s. to the king for [failing to prevent] the escape; this applies to escapes from city churches. For escapes from Newgate, let things be as they were in the past.

Concerning criminals who lie low

Some people make for the city from overseas, and some from those same lands seek shelter and refuge there after being exiled from their own country or removing themselves because of grave offences or as other punishment. Suchlike make themselves brokers, hostellers, and lodging-house keepers in the city, serving denizens and foreigners, as if they were honest, law-abiding men and freemen of the city. Yet some of these seem to have nothing better to do than spend their time going up and down the streets – more by night than by day – are well attired and fitted out, and dine on expensive delicacies. They follow no trade, do not engage in commerce, nor do they own lands or tenements, to provide themselves with a livelihood. [They have] no friends who seek them out, and they are constantly changing their place of residence. Persons such as this are the source of many of the troubles in the city. Hence this provision, that no-one from a foreign land (or any other person) may run a lodging-house or a hostelry within the city unless: he is admitted as a freeman of the city and it is verified by the warden, mayor and aldermen that he is an honest and law-abiding man, or he has favourable testimonials from the place from which he comes; that he left there and came here under proper circumstances; that he can find reliable sureties, amenable to judgements executable by the city bailiffs, regarding being answerable to the king's peace, and to the citizens for avoiding doing any harm to the city.

If it should happen that someone from a foreign land, on the basis of the sureties he has found or of the franchise granted him by the city, is to become a hosteler or lodging-house keeper in the city, he is to make arrangements to reside in the heart of the city, as previously indicated. Let them cease and desist from any contrary practice within 40 days of the date that these articles are read out and made public in the city. And if anyone is found in contravention of what is indicated above after those 40 days, he is to lose the franchise in perpetuity and, furthermore, be punished by imprisonment according to the gravity of the offence.

Concerning thieves and whores

Thieves and other rash or mischievous persons are received and hosted more frequently and more commonly in the houses of women of ill repute in the city than elsewhere, whereby crimes and murders [committed] by persons so received often occur, to the great harm and scandal of the people of the city. The king therefore wishes and commands that henceforth no prostitute live within the walls of the city. If any is found hereafter living and receiving guests within the city, she is to be imprisoned for 40 days. The warden is to have enquiry made throughout the city, using whatever methods he considers to be most effective, into where such women are received and who they are. Once they have been found, let them be assigned a certain district. None of them may henceforth wear miniver [or cendal] on her dress or her hood; if any does so, she is to forfeit the miniver or cendal to whichever sergeant finds and captures such a woman dressed thus.

Concerning watch and ward in the city

To safeguard and maintain his peace the king wishes that, whenever it is necessary, a nightwatch be set within the city in the appropriate manner. That is, in each ward there are to be chosen a certain number of persons, according to the size of the ward, and depending on the size of the crowds being then in town. Such persons are to be strong, and able to defend themselves properly, being well armed. They are to be nominated by the people of the ward to its alderman, before whom they shall take oath to well and truly perform watch and ward and, without descending to favouritism because of bribe or affinity, to arrest and attach those who go about and are active at night, contrary to the peace and to the tenor of the proclamation; and faithfully to bring them before the warden or the mayor. By whom such persons are be punished, according to their offence. All innkeepers and householders in the ward, with the exception of the king's officers, are to contribute towards the support of those persons [of the watch]. If anyone of those sworn persons who make up the watch is convicted of failing to perform that duty properly, or of showing leniency (due to corruption, affinity, forbearance, or any other reason) to someone who ought to have been arrested or attached for an offence, he is to be punished by imprisonment, at the discretion of the warden and aldermen, according to the gravity of the offence. What weapons they are to be provided with for keeping guard is the decision of the city warden; they are to be purchased at the cost of the residents of the wards.


The table of contents to this part of the Liber Albus has a preamble indicating that some of the regulations were made by Edward I, after he seized the city liberties in 1285. Some of the specifications were much the same as those in the Statute of Winchester, enacted about the same time. Some of the London regulations were said to remain in force after the liberties were later restored to the citizens.

The 1260s had been a period of political strife in the city, reflecting the discord within the nation as a whole. But 1272 brought to the throne a man intent on restoring order and discipline to the realm, and asserting royal authority over the nation. King Edward, rightly or wrongly, perceived London as a hotbed of disorder, where criminals were escaping justice because of a failure to hold assizes and inquests properly.

The eyre of 1276 does indeed suggest either a change in attitude or laxness among London authorities, who informed the justices that it was not obligatory for hue-and-cry to be raised when a homicide had occurred; although men in the vicinity of the crime should try to arrest the culprit, even that was optional. The justices had not liked that assertion. Records of thirteenth century eyres likewise identify a number of sanctuary-takers, or prisoners, who managed to escape the sometimes less-than-watchful eye of authority.

At the beginning of the 1280s, a new mayor Henry le Waleys, with the king's approval, instituted a series of reforms aimed at strengthening police and judicial systems. This did not sit well with the aldermen, who replaced Waleys with a more traditionalist mayor. Edward responded by appointing a commission to investigate the state of order in London. When the traditionalists protested, the king seized the city liberties and appointed a warden in 1285. The royal officers in charge of London reworked Waleys' reforms and published a set of new ordinances, with police regulations looming large, although changes to the commercial environment were more revolutionary in attacking citizens' monopolistic privileges. The aim was to bring London's legal and administrative procedures more in line with the national system.

Those regulations from and including "Concerning the peace and those who flee to churches" were the ones attributed to Edward I's people, while those preceding were likely from the earlier reforms of Waleys.

Over the course of the next decade, the resistance of citizens to the new situation gradually stiffened. But it took the near-revolt of 1297, led by the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford, to bring national dissatisfaction to a head, before Edward could be persuaded to restore London's self-government (1299). Despite that, many of the changes wrought under the royal administration were lasting.



A small, round shield intended for practice or lightly-armed combat; came to be carried by troublemakers.

The Tun was one of the city prisons, its name from its round (cask-like) shape; built in 1283 at Cornhill, it was intended particularly for vagrants and persons committing offences against morality.

Riley argues persuasively that this was a large drinking cup with handles, adding that the modern "hamper" derives from a container used originally to transport such cups.

The term here translated "guard" is geyte which seems to be associated with waits, later used to refer to musicians; the connection perhaps being horns that guards may have carried to sound the hours.

The largest of the city prisons.

The original is femme coursable, "woman providing a service".

The original is marche, which may refer to limitations of movement or to a 'marketplace' – an area in which they may conduct business.

The white or spotted fur from a small animal, used to line garments. "Or cendal" is omitted here but appears in the copy in the Liber Custumarum; cendal was a type of fine linen or inferior silk, again typically used for lining.

Innkeepers seem to have received special mention because they were perceived (at least by the king) as the hosts of transients who were likely to cause trouble, or themselves as of dubious behaviour – one of the ordinances identifies some innkeepers as foreign criminals who had fled their own country and settled in London.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 23, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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