reputation which was the vital basis of trust, and in turn of all life
in the city. Whether relatively rich or poor, every townsman and woman
was in need of the trust which depended upon a good reputation. If
damaged, it had to be defended at all costs [ 45 ].
Late medieval observers often
declared that they were looking at significant socialchange in the form
of inferior artisans and their wives who affected
property-owning burgess for a year and a day would enjoy in perpetuity
the rights of citizenship. The number of rural tenants able to escape
service to their lords and to accumulate sufficient means to pay for a
burgage in town can never have been large. Yet the principle expresses a
contemporary perception of the town as a potential agent of socialchange. This perception also underlies the declaration – the
, 154; C. Dyer, Standards of
Living in the Later Middle Ages: SocialChange in England
c.1200–1520 , revised edn, Cambridge, 1998. For the
appearance and proliferation from the late fourteenth century of one
craft of importance in this connection, that of the pewterers
(mainly citing evidence from York), see H. Swanson, Medieval
Artisans , Oxford, 1989 , pp
reading, merely an intensifying or complicating factor in the
situation. In other words, and to use the modern jargon, economic
and socialchange in the fourteenth century was endogamous (it came
from flaws or tensions within the system) rather than
exogamous (caused by outside factors). Not all the historians who
share this perception have agreed on the nature of that fatal flaw
The abundant records of manor courts represent the single most important source for the study of English local society in the Middle Ages, and offer unique and highly detailed information relating to a wide range of subjects. This chapter aims to provide a general introduction to the manorial court, its format, procedures and business, and its usefulness to the historian, and to consider changes to its business in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Like the records of the manor court, those of the leet simply recorded its decisions rather than the background to each case or detailed evidence. Physical punishments were exceptional in manor courts, but were not unknown in leet courts. The decline of the frankpledge system, and by extension the declining powers of the leet court, is mirrored by a fall in the business conducted in manor courts during the fifteenth century.
later Middle Ages’, in Law and SocialChange in British
History , ed. J. A. Guy and H. G. Beale (London, Royal
Historical Society, 1984), pp. 34–55.
W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III
(New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 55–6;
Rawcliffe, ‘Great lord as peacekeeper’, p. 52
Court (Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1926),
pp. 114–15; C. Whittick, ‘Role of the criminal appeal in
the fifteenth century’, in Law and SocialChange , ed.
J. A. Guy (London, Royal Historical Society, 1984), pp. 63–5,
SCCKB , vol. 3, pp.