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The Southampton Burgess Book of the Sixteenth Century
The Southampton Burgess Book of the Sixteenth Century
By the Tudor period, a sophisticated town administration had developed in Southampton with the mayor and his assistants at its core. These men, responsible for both trade and government, were drawn from the burgess group as admission to the burgesship was a prerequisite for election to municipal office. An analysis of the Burgess Book, which details admissions with reasons for admittance often noted, allows an insight into the economy and politics of Tudor Southampton. It shows that admission to the burgesship was for the benefit of both the town and the individual.
The origin and nature of the Southampton burgesship are closely linked with the earlier guild merchants. These guilds had evolved into a genuine municipal governing body by the middle of the thirteenth century, although the details of this evolution are obscure. The burgesses were governed by the town ordinances, although there were attempts at self regulation during the period. Burgess admissions, discharges and readmissions are recorded in three books which cover the years from 1496 to 1835. This article analyses the years from 1496 to 1603. Although the first entries in the Book are dated 1496, it was begun, most probably, in the 1560s, the earlier entries having been copied from older records until it was possible for details to be entered contemporaneously. It is suggested that the handwriting from 1496 to 1562 is that of John Knight; assistant town clerk in the 1550s and town clerk from about 1558 until his resignation on 11 March 1564.
In Southampton, those inhabitants who were trading belonged to one of three groups: burgesses, freemen, and strangers. Burgesses were those whose names were recorded in the Burgess Book and as such were entitled to certain privileges and important financial incentives; freemen, also known as commoners, were persons admitted to a craft or trade in the town but not to the burgesship; and strangers were the rest, either inhabitants of the town or those traders who brought goods into the town for sale, either from elsewhere in England or from overseas, generally termed ‘foreigners’ and ‘aliens’ respectively.
Analysis of the entries from 1496 to 1603 reveals admissions for 528 men. The average number of admissions per year is five which is low when compared with other towns. There could be many reasons for this, one suggestion is that it is connected with the way in which town administrations, and thus the terminology used in the records, developed. For example, terms such as: burgess, citizen, commoner and freeman had different meanings in the various towns. The reason for admission falls into three categories: by being the son of a burgess (patrimony); by having served an apprenticeship within the town (servitude); and by order of the mayor and burgesses (redemption). Other details are given in the Book and are discussed below: admission fines or fees, discharges, readmissions, banquets and the role of women.
As regards admission fines, the standard fee for entry to the burgesship was 66s 8d until an order of 1561 which increased the fee to £10. There were exceptions to this order and certain groups paid reduce fines: sons of burgesses; apprentices of merchant adventurers of the town; and men of ‘honor or worshippe’ that requested admission for pleasure and not for gain of the petty custom. This last group are classified as honorary burgesses. Free admittance was noted in 66 per cent of entries; 66s 8d in eight per cent; other fees ranged from 10s to £10. Fees for readmission ranged from nil to 40s, depending on the reason for discharge.
Patrimony: Over the period, 60 admissions (12 per cent) were by reason of patrimony. The years with the most number of entries are 1518 and 1599, each with four. The town ordinance stated that the eldest son of a burgess, if of full age and good behaviour, should be admitted free if his father were dead, otherwise on payment of 10s. Membership could not be obtained by marriage, nor did it descend automatically to sons of a burgess other than the eldest, although these might expect to be admitted to membership on taking of an oath and the payment of a fine.
Servitude: There were 28 men (five per cent) who entered the burgesship by reason of servitude over the period analysed. The decade with the highest entries is the 1540s with eight. John Mille, a merchant adventurer and the town recorder, had the most number of apprentices admitted with three: in 1538, 1547 and 1548. By custom, former apprentices of those burgesses who were merchant adventurers were generally admitted for the reduced fine of 20s.
Redemption: There were 440 men (83 per cent) admitted by reason of redemption. This is by far the most difficult group to analyse as many entries do not contain a specific reason for admission. For analytical purposes, these entries have been divided into nine categories:
servants of burgesses, (1 per cent);
by custom, (1 per cent);
by gift, (2 per cent);
those who could offer a trade or service to the town, (2 per cent);
those who were admitted by special request, (3 per cent);
officers and royal custom officials, (4 per cent);
mayor’s burgesses, (19 per cent);
‘honoraries’, (32 per cent);
and ‘non-honoraries’, (36 per cent).
Servants: Four men were admitted to the burgesship by reason of redemption because they were servants of existing burgesses. It is possible that they were apprentices who were compelled by clauses in their indentures to serve their masters as hired servants for a ‘covenant’ year after the end of their apprenticeships.
By custom: The phrase ‘according to ancient custom’, or similar, appears in more than the five admissions that had been categorised as such in this study. In these other cases the reason for entry is clear, for example, Edward Bishop was admitted by reason of patrimony in 1555 as the eldest son of his father ‘according to the anncient orders’.
By gift: There were seven entries that specify entry by ‘gift’ of the mayors and others. These could, quite easily, be included in the category of ‘honorary’ admissions as they were all free admissions and, as far as can be ascertained, men whose influence or advice was useful to the town. They included two churchmen, a knight, Sir James Wurseley, who was admitted for his work concerning the liberties of the town and the town clerk at the time, John Mille. His entry is an example of a salaried town officer being admitted, although this is not stated in the entry. These gifts were all early in the period: from 1496 to 1537.
Trade or service to the town: Three men entered by reason of offering a trade and eight by offering a service to the town. The trades were a plumber and two barbers. William Sutton’s entry in 1550 as a barber states that he is admitted free because ‘he shalbe redy to the inhabitauntes of the saide towne in his arte of surgery’. As regards the services, the admissions include the vicar of St Michael’s, Rev John Orpit, and of Holy Rood, Rev John Wilcok, who were admitted free on the same day in 1510. John Capleyn was admitted free in 1537 in the hope that he would be able to bring back the tin trade to the town which had been lost recently. Nicholas Perrye was admitted for £3 in 1587 in consideration of his efforts when the plague had been in the town. Two admissions were for ship masters. One of these was for Laurance Prowse in 1594 who was admitted free in consideration of his pains and service taken to provide a ship when the Spanish were ‘uppon the English Coast’.
By special request: There were 15 entries that specify entry by ‘special request’. These include three admissions of sons-in-law by their fathers-in-law, all of whom were prominent burgesses, and one by the current mayor who requested his brother’s admission. There were requests from other influential people: the Bishop of Winchester; the Earl of Southampton and his mother; the Earl of Leicester and Sir Francis Dawtry.
Officers of the town and royal custom officials: It was customary by this time to confer the burgesship free of fine to senior royal custom officials in the port, to the recorder and to persons appointed to certain salaried town offices such as the petty customership and the deputy-stewardship. Six men were admitted because they were royal custom officials and 13 as officers of the town. The offices named were a ‘helper’ of the water bailiff’s clerk, a deputy steward, a recorder, a coroner, a captain of the local defence force and sergeants. There were very few admissions for reason of being a salaried town official, which seems surprising when compared to the number of officials that there were over the period. This does not mean, however, that more officials were not burgesses; it is just that only a small number noted this as the reason for their admission. With regard to royal custom officials, again, there were others who served in these posts, all through the period, some of whom were already burgesses.
Mayor’s burgess: There were 83 men who entered the burgesship by reason of being a mayor’s burgess. There were entries in every decade, which is to be expected, as each mayor was entitled to nominate a burgess for the term of his office and the majority of mayors did so. All admissions are entered free of fine. This was because each mayor enjoyed the right to nominate a burgess and receive his payment. As the fine was regarded as a matter for private negotiation between the mayor and his burgess, it was not noted in the mayoral accounts and therefore evidence is lacking for the sums actually received. Mayors’ burgesses were nominated in 75 per cent of the mayoralties suggesting that this method of admission was advantageous to both parties. The mayors benefited in political and well as financial ways, that is, by having possible allies in any potential infighting, and the burgesses benefited in terms of prestige and standing within the town, in addition to the normal economic gains of burgesship membership.
Honoraries: Admissions of honorary burgesses relate to the custom in the sixteenth century of conferring the burgesship free of fine on prominent men of the county or the court whose influence or advice was useful to the town. They were also called out-burgesses as they were mostly gentlemen who did not live in the town, although at times this compliment was paid to those who were inhabitants. There are 139 men who have been classified as honorary burgesses. The highest number of entries was in 1597 with 23 admissions in the mayoralties of William Wallopp and Richard Biston. Notable admissions include the abbots of Beaulieu, Netley, Waverley and Quarr in 1536. Several prominent burgesses used their position and influence to acquire interests in monastic lands post-Dissolution. Sir Walter Raleigh was admitted in 1586. One honorary burgess was discharged; Sir Christopher Blunt, admitted in 1594, had his entry crossed out in 1601with a note stating that he was discharged because he had been attainted, convicted and executed for high treason.
Non-honoraries: There are 157 men who have been classified as non-honorary burgesses; these were men who could not be classified elsewhere. The years with the highest admissions were 1505, 1574 and 1587 with seven each. The fees charged ranged from nil to £10.
The Burgess Book notes other details in addition to names and reasons for entry: discharges, readmissions, banquets as well as offering insights into the role of women. Burgesses could be deprived of their membership and the reasons for this are noted in the Book. In total 30 men were deprived of their burgesship; 11 of whom were readmitted at least once. One man, Hugh Durvall, was readmitted four times. A variety of reasons are given for dismissal, generally they were for actions not conducive to the town ordinances: assaulting other burgesses, resisting taxation, defrauding the town of customs and duties, for not living in the town for twelve months and a day, and personal attacks against the mayor.
From 1561 many new burgesses were required to pay for a banquet, one assumes as a celebration. It is likely that a new member had always been welcomed with wine and ale, for which he may have been obliged to pay. The Burgess Book notes details of payment, whether paid or remitted, although an amount is not always given. The amounts paid ranged from 20s to £6 13s 4d. Sometimes the new burgesses paid for the banquets for a special occasion, for example, when Queen Elizabeth visited the town in 1591, or for her accession or coronation days, or, on one occasion, when a suitably esteemed person visited the town. Sometimes payments were made in lieu of a banquet, for example, in the form of bread for the poor, for clothing a poor child or by donating silver plate.
Concerning Tudor women, the town ordinances provided that no man should become a burgess through marrying a burgess’s widow ‘without he agrees to paye therefore’. There are only five women mentioned in the Burgess Book and always in connection with a man, never in their own right. Two men were admitted because they had married an alderman’s widow; another woman had part of her new husband’s burgess fine given to her in appreciation of hers and her late husband’s work for the profit of the town; another because her husband was a very old, honest man and she had for many years been the chief midwife of the town; and the Earl of Southampton with his mother requested a burgess admission. There is evidence in other sources to suggest that widows could inherit their husbands’ burgess rights if they did not remarry and until their own death if there were no male children.
A study into the relationship between admission to the burgesship and gaining a position within the town government shows that the number of burgesses who gained a position as an elected officer increased over the period.
An inner circle of the burgesship, that is, the mayor and his assistants, controlled the government and regulated the economy of Tudor Southampton. Consequently, patronage and personal favours played a major part in the admission process. The analysis of the entries in the Burgess Book, which was begun most probably in the 1560s, shows that admission was primarily for two reasons: firstly, for the benefit of the individual, as a reward for friendship, and secondly, for the benefit of the town in the form of a man’s labour, advice or influence.
Abbreviations and Short Titles
SRS Southampton Record Series
SRSoc Southampton Record Society
Boden, ‘Southampton’ C.E. Boden, ‘The Borough Organisation of Southampton in the Sixteenth Century’, M.A. thesis (University of London, 1920).
Butler, Book of Fines C. Butler (ed.), The Book of Fines: The Annual Accounts of the Mayors of Southampton, 1488-1594, 3 vols., SRS 41, 43, 44 (2007, 2009, 2010).
Oak Book P. Studer (ed.), The Oak Book of Southampton, 2 vols., SRSoc 10, 11 (1910, 1911).
Platt, Southampton C. Platt, Medieval Southampton: The Port and Trading Community, AD 1000-1600 (London, 1973).
Third Book of A.L. Merson and T.B. James (eds.), The Third Book of Remembrance Remembrance of Southampton, 1514-1602, 4 vols., SRS 2, 3, 8, 22 (1952, 1955, 1965, 1979).
Merson, ‘Apprenticeship’ A.J. Willis (compiled by) and A.L. Merson (ed.), ‘Apprenticeship Registers 1609-1740, SRS 12 (1968).
Author: Louise Fairbrother (August, 2012)
 This article is based on a dissertation written as part of a MA in Regional and Local History and Archaeology gained at the University of Winchester (2010). The research is ongoing.
 See Third Book of Remembrance, Vol. I, xii for the responsibilities of the mayor and his assistants.
 Platt, Southampton, 19.
 The surviving ordinances date from the thirteenth century with some later additions. See Oak Book, Vol. I for a translation.
 Notably, in 1491 when Thomas Overey set about regularising the mayoral accounts and later in 1573 William Capleyn, another reforming mayor, attempted to reduce the power of the aldermen. Butler, Book of Fines, Vol. I, xv and Third Book of Remembrance, II, 145, entries 318-326.
 These books are held in the Southampton Archives: SC 3/1/1 (1496-1704), SC 3/1/2 (1703-1721) and SC 3/1/3 (1697-1835).
 Much of this analysis is based on the calendar produced by Miss SD Thomson (1992-3).
 Third Book of Remembrance, II, xv. Hand ‘B’ as identified by A. Merson.
 Third Book Of Remembrance, II, 82, entry 249.
 Third Book of Remembrance II, 82, n3.
 Platt, Southampton, 19.
 Third Book of Remembrance II, 82, n3.
 Percentages are of the total admission by redemption.
 Merson, ‘Apprenticeship’, xxviii.
 Prior Walter Maye of the Priory of St Denys, Southampton and Bishop Thomas Skevington, Bishop of Bangor and Abbot of the Monastery of St Mary the Virgin, Beaulieu.
 The trade had moved to London, but Capleyn was unsuccessful. Third Book of Remembrance, I, 60, n2.
 This relates probably to the plague epidemic of 1583.
 This relates probably to hostilities concerning the Spanish Armada in 1588.
 There was a Controller and two Collectors of the King’s Customs and Subsidies at the port during this period.
 For example, William Thorpe was admitted in 1536 and became a collector of customs in 1544.
 Third Book of Remembrance, II, 149, n6.
 For example, in 1535 Sampson Thomas negotiated an agreement, extremely favourable to himself, concerning access to fresh running water from the friary site. Platt, Southampton, 207.
 Boden, ‘Southampton’, 18.
 For example, Dr Julius Caesar in 1591. In the 1580s, Dr Caesar (1558-1636) was associated with Howard of Effingham, Lord Admiral, in disputes about Southampton’s admiralty jurisdiction concerning the big increase in privateering. Third Book of Remembrance, III, 89-102.
 Third Book of Remembrance, II, 82, n2.
 Personal communication with Cheryl Butler, 16.7.2012.
 Three decades have been sampled: 1500 to 1509, 1545 to 1554 and 1590 to 1599. 56% of men admitted to the burgesship between 1590 and 1599, and who were eligible, went on to serve in the administration, that is, as elected or salaried officials.
14th Aug 2012 10:44
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