Murage, an english corruption of the latin muragium, was a term for a toll collected to build or, probably more generally, repair walls1, usually the large defensive walls of stone or brick, or sometimes the earthen embankments2 with palisades, built to enclose towns. Occasionally murage could be used as a more general term to refer to these walls themselves, rather than just the toll or sometimes to any type of wall, including walls and earthen banks built to protect against flooding from the sea or rivers.
Over the last few years the author has attempted to collect and collate all references to murage, in various forms, in the royal records of the English Crown, in the various calendars of such records and in other sources. Some of these records are still being calendared, notably the Gascon Rolls where the post-1317 century rolls have been made available only since 20123.
Previous authors have looked at murage in the context of surveys and studies of town defences, most notable Hilary Turner4 and Avril Thomas5. However this author is not aware of a study specifically examining the support the English Crown gave for town defences, particularly across the whole range of its possessions. There remains considerable scope for work on the medieval town defences of the English possessions in France, however, no attempt is made by this author to explain the situation in those realms, but there were clear cultural, legal and even demographic differences between practices in England, Ireland and the various English possessions in France. However, it must be said, as a caution, that the usual view in England about French bastides, that these were fortified new towns like the Edwardian boroughs of North Wales, is misleading. Bastides were new settlements, founded by a particular legal charter but varying considerably in size. Many bastides were, in practice, unfortified villages, despite having charters of urban privileges and their foundation was often, in effect, a concentration of the previously dispersed population into centres. An example is Lacenne, which has charters dated 1283 and 13206, where there is hint a defensive wall was intended. This survives as a chapel, a farm and three other buildings in Sembas, Lot-et-Garonne, but with no evidence of any defenses or even of the regular grid street pattern suggested as typical of bastides7. One of the reasons for wanting such a demographic change may have been concerns about warfare and defense but other considerations, such as economic efficiencies and social interaction were probably more important and even social expectations that bastides were the way to organize the population may have influenced lords in forming them and locals in moving into to them.
Walled towns existed in Roman Britain. The Saxon kingdom of Wessex is notable for its building of communal burhs to defend against Viking incursions and these seem to have been built on the orders of the king using communal labour8. This communal duty continued after the Conquest of 1066 and is mentioned in the Domesday record for the city of Chester. An order for the burgess of Bury St Edmunds, of c. 1121-389, to work on the town ditch in the same way as knights and freemen is, arguably, evidence of this existing duty for work on defences but also shows towns people these were not doing the manual labour. The move away from unskilled forced labour to paid skilled builders required different forms of funding. More direct royal financial support for the building and repair of town walls comes with a remissions on the fee-farm of Shrewsbury in 1165-6 and Canterbury in 1166-7 which are the first two of 15 such remissions to various towns, recorded in the Pipe Rolls, granted in the reigns before Henry III. King John also gave several grants of timber and stone10.
Whilst remission of fee-farm and other forms of support for town walls continued in Henry III reign and afterwards a novel form of support was introduced; a royal grant allowing communities to impose a surtax on goods for sale in their markets. It is this form of murage that has attracted the most interest in the past. Some 677 such murage grants occur in the published Calendars of Patent Rolls with nearly 200 more grants being recorded in other calendars, secondary sources and derivable from indirect evidence. These tend to be a long list of specific duty rates on specific goods for a period of a few years (see Appendix 1), but there are important exceptions and specific murage for the particular circumstances of the town. Fore instance, the murage at Dover, always a passenger transit port, included a toll on persons and horses11 - much more like pontage, a bridge toll. Coal was not generally on the list of specific goods but Newcastle upon Tyne was granted additional murage of 1d. a chaldron in 1373 from the sellers (generally murage was taken on goods coming into a town for sale) and in 1407 at 2d. a chaldron 'taken out of the port of the town by water', although for just two years12.
One thing that does become clear fairly quickly when one gets past the initial entries of the grants of murage in the various Calendars is what a difficult tax murage was for a range of reasons.
Murage, in the form of a duty on goods, was one of several civic improvement taxes of similar form (pavage for paving roads, pontage for bridges and quayage for developing docks being the most usually mentioned) collected at market towns along with other duties and tolls of various forms such as stallage a toll for setting up a market stall. (See Appendix Two for a fuller listing of medieval financial terminology).
The first grants of murage recorded are relatively simple. Shrewsbury's grant of 1220 has the rates of 4d. for a boat load of goods, a penny on a cart (halfpence if it was from Shropshire), ¼d. on every [horse] load of goods for sale, except barley, and, for driven livestock, ½d. for each horse or cow, 1d. for every 10 sheep, goats or pigs and ½d. for every 5 sheep, goats or pigs13. This seems fairly straight forward and would be a relatively easy tax to apply at the existing town gates of Shrewsbury on market days, but problems can be seen to arise. What's the rate on six pigs? What if you have three pigs and two sheep? However, clearly the most important problem is applying the same tax to bulky low price goods and small high value goods, particularly since the high value goods would generally be foreign imports traded by non-local merchants.
Of course this problem applied to several of the customs duties on goods, not just murage, and a resolution was the development of an expanding list of rates on specified goods. By 1232 the murage for Bristol14 is quite a long list although unlisted goods are still charged by the load, rather than the market value. The development of listing then seems to lead to the problem of merchants arguing that if their goods are not listed then no tax is due so the lists grow ever longer. The idea of a tax based on the value of goods does not seem to develop until the mid 13th century and the earliest such references I have are; Dublin in 1250 where for 3s. worth of small wares ¼d. is due15 and Oswestry in 1283 where the list reads; 'From every pack of sundry merchandise of the value of two shillings coming into the aforesaid town for sale, ¼d.'16. However, once the list of goods developed, the idea that non-listed goods were exempt, regardless of any such clause, must have caused considerable argument amongst tax collectors and merchants.
There is also some evidence that once set, changing the taxable items was difficult. The city of Dublin was granted murage in 1284 for 7 years and gets a further grant of 7 years in 1295, but in a different form used in some grants for other Irish towns in the intervening years. A new grant, in the older, slightly simpler form is granted in 1297 for the remaining 5 years17. A few grants are, however, simple duties on the value of goods; Southampton in 1388 has a grant of 1d. in the pound and Bayonne a rate of 4d. in the pound of both imports and exports, although the town petitioned to have this very high duty (of 1.67%) stopped before the full six year term was complete18. These duties on value are also not without problems since they have to be imposed on goods before the goods are sold and for goods of variable value deciding the value before market forces have set the value must have lead to disputes between traders and collectors and, in practice, it may have been quicker to go through a long list of set values rather than to argue what was the particular value of a particular load of goods.
Although there was no such thing as a standard murage list of duties some towns clearly copy their murage rates from those of other towns, and individual countries ruled by the English kings had murage rates of basically similar form, with more or less complexity. In part this may have been due to a desire to ensure that trade was not driven away whilst maximising revenue, also such copying must reduce legal and scribal costs, although other towns seem to have felt their needs were best met by a individual duty list. For Chancery clerks it must have been simpler to copy out a list from an earlier grant to the same or another town than draw up a new list and this may have been what happened with the Dublin grant of 1295. There does though, at times, seem to have been some royal resistance to local initiatives to set uniques murage rates as in 1378 when a petition from the bailiffs and citizens of Canterbury, which had specified a new and simple set of rates, was granted in 'the common form' for five years19.
It was not always clear what murage was collected for. In earlier grants the term used is auxilium ville claudende - 'in aid of enclosing the town', sometimes with the addition that it was in aid of the security of the town and adjacent parts. This could be for walls or for ditches and palisades. A few grants do sometimes specify walls of stone20 and a wall and ditch21. Sometimes it is clear that such walls are sea defences, as in the grant to 'Ravensere' (Ravenserodd - the lost port on the Spurn at the mouth of the Humber.) in 1310 and Old Winchelsea in 1262 and 126922 and some other grants to coastal and riverside towns mention natural forces suggesting that the defences were, at least in part, for flood prevention although the tendency was to emphasise military threat. Murage grants for Shrewsbury, where they state a reason, usually mention the king's enemies but in 1361 the grant was for 'repair of their walls which have been so worn away by the water of Severn as it flows beneath the town that it is feared they will fall.' This emphasis on military considerations needs to be considered with care as can be seen by the murage grant for Shrewbury in 1392, in the calendar this reads 'Grant to the bailiffs and burgesses of Shrewsbury, in consideration of that town being near to Wales and in need of better fortification, of murage for four years from Midsummer next.' A stock phase used in many of the towns grants; but the original warrant to prepare the patent letter survives and this reads; 'prepare letters under the great seal granting to the burgesses the tolls on persons bringing merchandise, for the term of four years, to repair the walls, gates, and bridges, the latter being greatly injured and almost destroyed by floods of the Severn; a previous grant for three years being now determined23.'
Towns often had a number of civic improvement projects and the maintenance of existing buildings and structures put pressure on their civic purse. Grants for royal approved surtaxes were supposedly for a specific improvement for a specific period but multiple demands for money is sometimes reflected in grants. The grant to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1350 states the murage granted was to be used 'not only in the walling of the town but also in the bridge thereof'24 and there are other grants which combine quayage and murage. The pavage granted to Lichfield in 129925 was to be used to build a precinct wall for the cathedral. Grants to Grimsby in 1255 and 1261 where for quayage, pavage and murage, a third grant in 1268 is calendared as just for murage (forming a slightly interrupted series lasting 18 years)26. The order of the intended works of the first grants, with walls last listed, may be significant. Does the third grant represent an intent to focus on town defences or a clerical simplification of a toll still meant for a number of civic improvements of which 'walls' may have been a low priority? There is no evidence of walls at Grimsby but there was a ditch (the Burdyke) and possibly some embankments although these may have been flood defences in practice.
There is some other evidence of occasional confusion in contemporary accounts between such hypothecated improvement taxes27. Generally murage, reflected the royal preoccupation with military defense, is the most common grant for civic improvement mentioned but it should not be assumed that revenue raised from murage was always spent on defences.
The precedence of murage in the class of civic improvement taxes is nicely examplified by a grant for repairs to a bridge at Brougham, Cumbria, which seem to have mentioned a wall (possibly a safety rail, or a stock enclosure) and, therefore the grant is recorded as murage although clearly a passage toll was taken and this was, in practice, pontage28.
The royal court was not entirely blind to this confusion of intent and sometimes grants are declined while other improvement taxes are taken or the grant expressly says the murage is not to be taken on goods on which another tax is paid although there are also times when some market traders were subject to several such taxes as well as the other tolls and charges.
Both the application for and the issuing of murage grants involved an amount of diplomatic undertones designed to foster a more general good relationship between townsmen, their overlords and the king. A grant of murage could be used to reward loyalty even if there was no particular need for repairs. In 1267 Henry III granted Stamford six years of murage added on to an existing grant which still had three more years to run "in consideration that they were constant in their fidelity in the disturbance had in the realm"29.
Of course how hypothecated taxes were actually spent need not be the same as what was stated they should be collected for but some grants do give details of auditing procedures. Sometimes accounts are to be directly audited by royal officers, such as the constable of Hereford castle, mentioned in the grant of 123830, or by people appointed by such a royal officer. The 1249 grant to Chester details that 'The collection is to be made by two men of the town and deposited in the abbey of Chester under three locks, and the abbot or prior or sacristan of that house is to have one key and the collectors two keys; every year the amount is to be viewed, and the collectors to render account to the justice of Chester by testimony of lawful men'31.
However, seemingly starting in Ireland, there does seem to be some move towards self-accounting. In 1334 a Kinsale charter requires 'A proper account thereof to be rendered yearly before two burgesses, or before the earl of Desmond, and not into the Exchequer' on customs duties collected for repair of the walls32. Several other Irish towns get similar exemptions from accounting to the Exchequer although this does not seem to happen in England until the late 15th century when a grant to Hereford details that the accounts are to be rendered to twelve discreet citizens33. It does seem that royal audits were a usual requirement and that such self auditing was an exception usually associated with making murage a vested right of a borough.
Murage was initially granted for specific periods of a few years, sometimes a short period is allowed between the grant and the start of the tax and a specific start date for collection is given, sometimes a grant is a renewal and a given start date reflects the end of the previous grant but often, with later grants, the tax is either specified to start from the date of the grant or no such detail is given by the calendarists. The grant is usually for a specific number of years, by order of frequency the given years are 5, 3, 7, 10, 2, 4, 6, 1, 20, 8, 12, 40, 60, 24, 9, 30, 15 and 18 with 5 years being used in just over 180 grants and 3 years in just under 180 grants and 15 and 18 years used in one grant each. A handful of grants are for a period between two dates that are somewhat over a year, a further handful are "during pleasure". Some grants are specific extensions of earlier grants and other grants clearly for a long series of continuous grants, with a few towns, notably, London, York and Bristol, having hundreds of years of virtually unbroken murage.
Although many grants were applied for before the end of a previous grant occasionally there are small gaps when murage was not under royal grant, although it seems likely that the tax was still actually collected. Presumably these are either clerical oversight on the part of the town authorities or delays in the processing of applications at Westminster or Dublin. Clearly a market trader had to either be very savvy or trust the town authorities as to whether murage was being legally taken. Later grants, particularly those given to Irish towns in borough charters, give a vested right to collect murage forever, which, in practice, meant until the Municipal Corporation Acts of 1835 and 1840, although the tax was used on more general civic improvements in later centuries.
Specific details on how taxes in general and murage in particular were collected are rarely part of the royal rolls examined. It is clear that the collection of the tax was sometimes farmed out, that is the right to collect the tax was bought for a fixed amount at the beginning of the tax period by a specific person or persons as an investment. Sometimes the farmers are named. The murage granted to Shrewsbury for 10 years in 1312 was had by a fine of 50 marks (a large fine34). The endorsement to the petition reads 'They are to have it for a fine of 50 marks; and they are to have murage for 10 years for the aforesaid fine. And it is to be entered in the name of Thomas de Byketon, who made the fine.' Does this mean Thomas Byketon (a.k.a. Bikedon or Bykedon) was the farmer of the murage? He was MP for Shrewsbury in 1307 and 1309 and often a town bailiff, although not in 131235.
The letter books of London give clearer evidence of murage farming giving names, rates and places where murage was collected, such as the £10 John de Little paid for the murage of Smethefeud for 1312, paid quarterly at 50s.36. The letter books also give hints to other complexities such as the row between two collectors of murage over who should have the murage certain foreign merchants paid on purchases; Goscelyn le Sergeant claimed it since the merchants resided and stored their goods in his balliwick of Sopereslane and St. Laurence Lane, whilst Thomas Vernoun had the balliwick of Billinggesgate where the goods were purchased. These merchants seem to have been buying many small lots to make up larger cargos since the row was settled in favour of Goscelyn who could more easily assess the collected cargo in the merchants warehouses37.
The Receivers Accounts of Exeter gives evidence of collection and also expenditure. The 'roll for 1341-42 survives in particularly full form. It provides the names of those who collected murage as well as the names of the gates at which they operated and the sums then expended on labour, materials and carriage.'38
Sometimes these murage collectors were appointed by the town but, as the right to levy such a surtax was a crown prerogative, sometimes the appointment was made by the king, as at Southampton in 126939. Newcastle upon Tyne, of particular importance to the crown during the Scottish Wars, also seems to have had particular attention with several patent letters showing royal appointment of collectors40.
However farming was by no means universal. At Dover the town sergeant was paid a bonus on top of his normal wage for gathering the murage in 1524, and at Chester Walter Hayford was paid 4d. a day and one robe yearly in 133941.
The actual practicalities of collecting all market tolls must have varied from place to place but in the farming of London there is some suggestion the farmers were based on the main gates into London and in walled towns gates make an obvious place to collect tolls. Indeed it may be that, in practice, it was the effective collection of tolls and reduction in smuggling, rather than defense against attack, that motivated the construction and maintenance of walls and gates. The suggestion town walls simplified toll collection is made by Turner and that they had a role in 'the exaction of tolls' by Creighton and Higham42 but I feel this economic function has been rather understated. Most murage grants are, basically, about collecting money. For a town like Southampton, where the Bargate was the main landward entrance into the town, the gatehouse became the centre of civic government and tolls could have been collected, audited and stored all within the same building and under the direct supervision of the town fathers in their guildhall over the gate.
Possibly the most difficult of all the complexities of murage, and other such tolls, were the numerous individuals and institutions who were granted exemption from such tolls. Within the Calendars of Patent Rolls and the Calendars of Charter Rolls some 160 individuals and institutions are granted charters which specifically exempted them from murage, another 60 or so charters are recorded in other sources although this is far from a comprehensive survey of such exemptions. The king and other members of the royal family were also exempt, as were the numerous tenants of their various demense lands.
Most of these exemptions are to urban communities and the earliest, undoubtable entry, to specifically mention murage is a close roll entry of 1233 to the men of Carmarthen, granting exemption from murage at Bristol43. More general and extensive exemptions were to follow for many towns large and small such as the welsh 'bastide' towns of Edward I where the "burgesses shall have sok and sac, tol and team and infangenethef, and shall be quit throughout the realm of toll, lastage, passage, murage, pontage, stallage, leve, danegeld and gaywite and all other customs and exactions throughout the king's power in England and elsewhere. ..." in 128444.
For these new boroughs in Wales and for many such elsewhere, such exemptions were a small part of a large set of borough liberties designed to help establish the towns as functioning economic but local entities for which such exemptions would have only limited importance. However for large towns of regional importance, particularly ports, where some trade would be wholesale trade between merchants intended for retail elsewhere such exemptions would have prevented multiple imposition of taxes. Fore instance some of the trade between Bristol and Carmarthen was actually going to Ireland.
The feelings that small peasant producers had towards exemptions is not shown in royal records, since these people rarely had access to the royal courts. What is clear, from fairly numerous records, is that town authorities had, at best, an ambiguous attitude to church exemptions. The church did have access to lawyers and the royal courts and frequently asserted its liberties so such disputes are often documented. At York several times after the town is given a new grant of murage the cathedral priory has to get its charter of exemption from 1257 inspected and confirmed. Both St Mary's Abbey and St Leonard's Hospital complain about the town taking enforced payments of murage from them despite their specific charters of exemption45. The dispute between the walled town of Kilkenny and the Bishop of Ossory, who controlled the market in the extra-mural suburb of Irishtown, documented in the 1360-70s may have more to do with trade protectionism although it was expressed through murage collection and exemption46.
The London letter books give some insight into the difficulties with several cases of merchants claiming exemption, or more often trying to gain redress for murage taken despite their exempt status, being detailed. Fore instance in 1328 three named merchants of New Sarum (Salisbury) came before the Mayor and Aldermen to complain that citizens had been distrained for murage despite a charter of exemption and it was agreed that they were exempt yet only 10 years later another similar complaint with the same outcome was heard47.
Town defences encouraged trade in several ways. The security given was not unimportant, although this can be overstated. Clearly on the English marches and within Ireland security was often mentioned and it would seem unlikely that traders in more exotic goods would try to take these to market if the possibility of loss was too high. Here it is the perception of risk that is important so questions about the effectiveness of town defences need to be addressed in terms of how they were perceived.
Much of the expense of town defences was in prestigious gateways, often highly decorated and with upper storey chapels or guildhalls which added nothing to the defensive quality of the basic gateway and timber doors. However, prestige was also important for attracting traders and consumers although such modern concepts as marketing were only in their embryonic stages. For most users of town markets there was little choice as to which market to use, although people were willing to walk considerable distances for markets or especially fairs. There were certain higher value goods, such as spices, which had a limited number of retailers and prestigious towns, i.e. those with walls, would have attracted these retailers and their high status customers.
Town walls must also have reduced the opportunities for smuggling, toll avoidance and black market trading and somewhat stabilized prices and would have had most effect for established town traders in reducing the possibilities for them to have their prices undercut. Since the established town traders were also, generally, the town government they were able to reduce the burden of these municipal taxes on themselves.
Crime rates may have been higher in the medieval period than today48 and all market traders must have been concerned about theft. A deterrent to crime is the probability of being caught and town walls would make it somewhat more difficult to flee, certainly in smaller towns. However town walls are not designed to keep people in and this effect can only have been slight although the presence of toll collectors at gates may have partly deterred petty criminals. Town and city walls also had a limited effect on the gangs of violent criminals that arose from time to time across the county. Colchester was twice besieged in the 14th century by a gang lead by John Fitzwalter and held to ransom49. Although the walls must have offered some protection from direct violence and theft of townsfolk they would not have protected people bringing goods for sale into the town or those leaving the town with purchases.
The raison d'être of medieval royal government was state defense and law and order. So whilst towns themselves may have wanted town walls for prestige, for the benefits they offered for market regulation and for other concerns, the crown was bound to emphasise state defense. And, in this regards, town walls were seen as being of benefit to the crown and the crown was often keen to support the building of walls sometimes even when the taxes raised were seen as having a negative effect on trade. In 1370 Edward III revoked a grant of murage to Coventry, at the request of the victuallers of the town who complained the tax was driving away trade, but imposed instead a levy on the wealthy inhabitants of the town to continue the work on the walls50. The same king did revoke a grant given Portsmouth in 1342 (after damage was done in a French raid) at their request after 20 months because of its negative effects on its trade although this, at that time, small and insignificant port, was particularly price sensitive since it was so close, via shipping, to large Southampton51.
The number of exemptions from tolls and taxes shows a general concern by merchants to reduce the tax burden, although this is neither novel nor restricted to medieval England. Although the rates of of murage were usually a small percentage of the value of goods (often less than 1%) they were a surtax and part of a larger set of purchase taxes. There were royal concerns over the rates of market taxes and in the 1275 Statute of Westminster there was a section which penalised the excessive taking of tolls52. Although in 18th century Clonmel it was reported that 'serious riots very often occur, on account of the collection of customs'53 there is only slight evidence of serious consumer discontent, in the form of a complaint from the poor of London54, with this form of taxation in the medieval period.
Ultimately the effect town walls could have on trade was limited and other factors were much more important for trade. The walls of Winchelsea did not stop the silting up of the town's harbour, so essential for its French wine trade. For most small towns walls in relatively peaceful England when their markets had periods of boom demand, most notably towns trading in wool, the extra revenue was spent on grand churches rather than walls. However in Wales and particularly in Ireland, where urban communities had a different ethnic make up from their rural hinterlands, there does seem to be a far greater desire for towns to have walls.
Following the inquisitions at the start of the reign of Edward I, detailed in the Hundred Rolls, concerns over the failure to spend murage on town walls and other misuse of murage in Lincoln, Scarborough, Stamford and Bath55 lead to one section of the 1275 Statue of Westminster to include the statement 'Touching citizens and burgesses, to whom the King or his father hath granted murage to inclose their towns, which take such murage otherwise than it was granted unto them, and thereof be attained; it is provided, that they shall lose their grant for ever, and shall be grievously amerced unto the King'56. At the start of the reign of Edward II further complaints of corruption and abuses occurred at London, York and Dublin where the mayor Geoffrey Morton and his wife Maud, were the cause of a series of complaints. In 1308 Morton was given licence to collect murage including for turris Isolde a tower beside the bridge over the River Liffey. However the Morton's were actually the tenants of Isolda's Tower and were supposed to, under that tenancy, upkeep the tower at their own expense. Under the licence they also committed a number of other abuses, including forced collection of tolls from exempt merchants but favouring friends by not levying tolls on their goods, all of which was said to cost trade and, in total, to have damaged the city's economy by at least £40 a year57.
There are over 40 recorded complaints and investigations into abuses of murage recorded in the various royal rolls over a period of 300 years which must much under represent the actual amount of corruption although, even so, this does not seem a particularly high level of abuse.
For the Crown, with its central duty to provide security in the realm, the presence of walled towns helped to support the impression of the need and value of a central government, particularly when these walls could be said to have been built with royal approval and support. Equally for some walled towns founded by major lords a similar situation applied. Royal and lordly support for walls and gates must then often have harmonised with borough desires for prestige and for market control.
Although granting the liberty to take market surtaxes for civic improvements, including walls, was the most common form of royal support other forms of support were used. However, because of the shortage of actual coinage, this support was rarely in the form of cash. In total, across all the realms of the English crown there were;
Although there were several forms of civic improvement taxes murage is the one most prominently mentioned in the various exemptions and is said to be the most widely imposed although pavage should have appealed to more communities60. Murage grants and the prominence of the mention of murage in tax exemptions show the high prestige of walled towns in the realms of the English kings.
Murage grants do, on occasion, given some evidence of building work and can help in dating if used with caution. But it should also be borne in mind that a grant of murage, of itself, is only, at best, evidence of intent. They should not be taken as evidence of the existence of a lost stone wall. Other royal support for town walls, such as grants of money or materials are often rather better evidence for the dating of building of new defences or significant repairs of existing defences. Even more caution is required in using murage grants as evidence for the purpose of medieval town walls, as stock phraseology and Chancery and Parliamentary etiquette much influence the wording of murage grants. However, murage grants of all forms do show the value given to town walls by all large and some small urban communities and the willingness of the crown to be associated with such town walls.
Arguably the real value of the study of the surtax form of murage grants lies in the insights into the commercial and administrative activities of towns. They show the richness of goods for sale, not just in London, but also in small towns in Ireland61 along with some idea of the relative value of such goods.
I have collected the historical documentary references as an aid to others to do further study on town walls and I do not intend to draw further conclusions myself. Even within the very limited scope of market surtaxes there is much room for further work. The translators of the calendars of the royal Chancery rolls only rarely fully transcribe the details of murage grants even when these are actually quite simple; a grant of 1325 is recorded in the calendar as "Grant to the burgesses of the town of Kyngeston upon Hull of murage for three years to finish the wall and ditch, which by the king's command they have begun to enclose their town.62" the original, which survives and is preserved in the Hull History Centre, has the rate as simply qualibet libra valoris bonorum et mercimomorum illorum unum denarius (for every pounds value of goods and merchandise of these one penny). There remain several hundred grants which could be fully translated and an analysis made of the changes in forms, content and rates of good for sale although the further insights gained from such an analysis may be of limited value.
There is scope for archaeological and architectural historical work to be done to see if urban defenses funded more directly by the crown through grants of material or money differed in form and/or function from those built on the basis of customs duties obtained after a petition from a borough and, as stated above, the support given by the English Crown for urban defenses in their French realms is open for much investigation.
The firma burgi, or fee-farm of a borough, was the annual fixed sum due to the Exchequer in return for the king allowing the administration of a borough and its sources of revenue (including property rents and taxes, local tolls, court amercements). Boroughs could be farmed by county sheriffs or local magnates whose aim was to be able to make a profit from the revenues beyond the amount due for the farm, which could result in extortionate measures. Townsmen wanted to acquire the farm for themselves, taking over the local administration. With the grants of self-government to boroughs by kings (markedly during the reigns of Richard I and John), the farm became a perpetual lease.
Market tolls, customs duties or surtaxes. There was local variation with such tolls, both in what tolls were charged, what the tolls were called64 and the rates of such tolls. Also includes a number of similar tolls or fees often included in the long lists of exemptions from such expenses granted to churches, boroughs, etc. The medieval Latin and English terms were not strictly defined by law and over the several hundred years of the medieval period terms, and the way they were used did change. Medieval spelling was not fixed and could vary and transcription of medieval documents, themselves often highly abbreviated, in a minuscule hand and sometimes damaged, is difficult with different people transcribing the same document with different spellings. It is rare that modern authors, including myself, have the space to record all the possible meanings or spellings of such terms.
The 500 years of the medieval period had considerable economic variation but the following sweeping generalizations can be made. For most of the period the only coin in England in use was the silver penny (denarius; denerius), although this was often physically halved or quartered and these fractions of coins were acceptable currency. In the late 13th century some additional coins, halfpennies, farthings, groats (worth 4d.) and half groats, extended the denominations available. Towards the end of the medieval period some high value gold coins, such as the Angel, were also minted. The most usual units of account were the shilling (solidus); which was 12 pence and the pound (libra) being 20 shillings or 240 pence. An alternative unit of account was the mark (marca) which was 160 pence (two thirds of a pound or 13s. 4d.). The penny was a silver coin about 20mm or 0.75 inch in circumference, weighing between 1-1.5g65, marked with the royal head on the obverse and a cross on the reverse, which allowed for some accuracy when halving the coin. Most museum displays of medieval coins are coins of the best quality but much actual coinage in use was often quite worn. The silver content of the coins was high and there was little debasement of english coinage during the medieval period. There appears to have been rather a shortage of coinage, which may be why really quite badly worn coins remained in circulation. The physical value of these coins must have been rather less than their face value but, as with modern notes and coins, they were seen as trustworthy. For Wales and Ireland, where and when under the rule of the English Crown, much the same is true. For the English realms in France the situation was different with different coinage and different units of account. Nearly 25,000 examples of medieval coins are recorded for Britain by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and can be viewed online at finds.org.uk/medievalcoins/.
1Creighton, Oliver and Higham, Robert, 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Tempus) p. 68
2Hunter, A.G. and Jope, E.M., 1951, 'Excavations on the city defences in New College, Oxford, 1949' Oxoniensia Vol. 16 p. 30 citing Maitland, F.W., 1898, Township and Borough p. 54 and Parker, J.H., 1885, Early History of Oxford (Oxford Historical Society 3) p. 236
3The previously unpublished rolls - C 61/32-144 (1317-1468) - are being made available online by The Gascon Rolls Project (1317-1468) at http://www.gasconrolls.org. Another important online resource that became available in 2012 was CIRCLE A Calendar of Irish Chancery Letters c. 1244 - 1509 (at http://chancery.tcd.ie) although this is a project to reconstruct lost rolls by collating earlier calendars and references.
4Hilary L. Turner, 1970, Town Defences in England and Wales: An architectural and documentary study (London: John Baker) based on her PhD. Whilst this is now over 40 years old more recent studies of town walls tend to be archaeological in focus and have few references to primary sources.
5Thomas, A., 1992, The Walled Towns of Ireland 2 vols (Dublin: Irish Academic Press). A thorough examination of Irish walled towns with much good historical, as well as archaeological study. However, Thomas in general did not look at the calendars of rolls previously held in the Tower of London (she mainly examined the calendars of the lost Dublin records) and, therefore, missed quite a few documentary sources.
61283 is a date given in the online Inventaire général but no reference is cited; 1320 - Gascon Roll C 61/33 4.278
7Inventaire général du Patrimole culturel d'Aquitaine Référence Mérimée IA47002403 (online record at http://www.culture.gouv.fr/documentation/memoire/HTML/IVR72/IA47002403/INDEX.HTM)
8Rumble, A.R., and Hill, D., 1996, The Defence of Wessex: The Burghal Hidage and Anglo-Saxon Fortifications (Manchester University Press)
9Ballard, A., 1913, British Borough Charters 1042-1216 (Cambridge University Press) p. 93
10Pipe Rolls various references fully given online.
11Calendar of Patent Rolls (1343-1345) p. 442; CPR (1391-1396) p. 691; CPR (1476-1485) p. 462
12CPR (1405-1408) p. 380 ; CPR (1216-1225) pp. 238-9
13CPR (1225-1232) p. 483. General market tolls of the 12th century had similar relatively simple lists; see Ballard pp. 177-78)
14Sweetman, H.S. (ed), 1875-86, Calendar of Documents Ireland Vol. 1 (1171-1251) pp. 455-56 No. 3057 calendared, as usual without the rates, in CPR (1247-1258) p. 68
15CDI (1252-1284) p. 505
16Pratt, D., 1980, 'Search for town wall' West Midlands Archaeology Vol. 23 p. 105-8 in full translation calendared, without the rates, in CPR (1281-1291) p. 108 - This low rate, of just over 1%, has to been seen of in the context of all the other tolls due on such goods.
17CDI (1252-1284) p. 505 ; CDI (1293-1301) pp. 105-6 ; CDI (1293-1301) p. 308. Actually the difference in rates was slight but different order of items gave a perception of difference that was probably the important issue.
18Given-Wilson, C. (ed), 2005, 'Richard II, 1393 January, Text/Translation', in The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. C. Given-Wilson et al., item 23. Internet version, at http://www.sd-editions.com/PROME, accessed on 23/04/2009. (Scholarly Digital Editions, Leicester)
19Murage de commune forme pro v ans' Strachey, J. (ed), 1763-83, Rotuli Parliamentorum 1278-1503 Vol. 3 p. 53
20i.e. Dover 1380 CPR (1377-1381) p. 428; Harwich 1338 CPR (1338-1340) p. 88
21Great Yarmouth 1261 CPR (1258-1266) p. 177; Hull 1325 CPR (1324-1327) p. 197
22CPR (1307-1313) p. 281; CPR (1258-1266) p. 226; CPR (1266-72) p. 357
23CPR (1358-1361) p. 538; CPR (1391-1396) p. 74; Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1899, 'The corporation of Shrewsbury: Royal charters', The Manuscripts of Shrewsbury and Coventry Corporations [etc]: Fourth report, Appendix: Part X, pp. 2-6. The presence of towers and a wall walk mean the wall was defensive in a military sense but the records show it also had a roll in protecting the town from floods.
24CPR (1348-1350) p. 484; CPR (1266-1272) p. 357
25CPR (1392-1301) p. 408
26CRP (1247-58) p. 408, CRP (1258-66) p. 144. CPR (1266-72) p. 226. Turner missed the first of these. Apparently just on the basis of these grants Bond lists Grimsby as having stone walls (Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 99).
27i.e. CPR (1330-1334) p. 201, where a commission is ordered to investigate the murage granted to Lichfield and Tamworth - Tamworth was never granted murage and Lichfield's murage and pavage are used for similar projects.
28CPR (1385-1389) p. 190
29CPR (1266-1272) p. 121
30CPR (1232-1247) p. 224
31CPR (1247-1258) p. 49
32Smith, C., 1750, The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork (Dublin) pp. 215-6 (1815 editon)
33CPR (1485-1494) p. 67
34A 'fine' was a payment (one concluding or finalising negotiations) not a punishment. Fines in the modern sense were called amerchments (amerciamentum) or mercy payments where paying some money granted mercy from a corporal punishment.
35CPR (1307-1313) p. 437; National Archive SC 8/197/9807
36Folio cxv. Sharpe, R.R. (ed), 1902, Calendar of letter-books of the city of London: D: 1309-1314, pp. 238-249
37Folio cxv b. ibid.
38Creighton and Higham ref. Rowe, M.M. and Draisey, J.M. (eds), 1989, The Receivers’ Accounts of the City of Exeter, 1304-1353 (Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society (new series) 32)
39Fine Roll 53 Henry III C 60/66 m. 12
40CPR (1272-1281) pp. 373-4; CPR (1292-1301) p. 159; CPR (1330-1334) p. 548
41Brewer, J.S. (ed), 1875, 'Appendix: 1524-1527', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII Vol. 4: 1524-1530 pp. 3079-3129 ; 1875, 36th Annual Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records - Cheshire Recognizance Roll p. 91, 233
42Turner p. 92; Creighton and Higham p. 26
43CCR (1231-34) p. 199 This exemption had to be repeated in 1341 after Bristol had been given a further grant of murage. Earlier exemptions to other towns (i.e. Cirencester, Dunwich and Brideport) are recorded but only from mention in later sources and not directly from primary sources. Bury St Edmunds was granted an exemption from ‘other customs’ (aliis consuetudinibus) as early as 1102-3 and London an exemption from 'all other customs' (omnibus aliis consuetudinibus) in 1131 but in these exemptions murage is not specifically mentioned (Ballard p. 180)
44CCharterR (1257-1300) pp. 276-8; Calendar of various Chancery Rolls - Welsh Rolls 1277-1294 p. 295 exemptions for Conwyy, Rhuddlan, Flint, Caernarfon, Bere, Criccieth and Harlech. Overton-on-Dee and Beaumaris followed in 1296 (CChartR (1257-1300) p. 414, 465)
45CPR (1338-40) p. 444 (St Peter's Cathedral exemption of 1340); CPR (1345-48) p. 199 (repeat 1346); CCR (1377-81) p. 285 (order to obey charter 1380); CCR (1389-92) p. 469 (order to obey charter 1392); CCR (1405-09) p. 212, 214 (order to obey charter 1407); CCharterR (1226-1257) p. 461 (St Mary's Abbey exemption of 1257); CPR (1338-40) p. 538 (St Leonard Hospital exemption of 1338); CPR (1307-13) pp. 129-30, 225, 370 (complaints by St Leonard's); CPR (1307-13) p. 317 (complaint by St Mary)
46Thomas, A., 1992, The Walled Towns of Ireland Vol. 2 (Irish Academic Press) p. 126-32; Morrin, J. (ed), 1861, Calendar of the Patent and Close Rolls of Chancery in Ireland, of the Reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth: 1514-1575 Vol. 1 p. 363-4; Irish Record Commission, 1829-30, Chartae Privilegia et Immunitates p. 62; Tresham, E. (ed), 1828, Rotulorum patentium et clausorum cancellariae Hiberniae calendarium (Dublin) p. 102 No. 76
47Sharpe, R.R. (ed), 1903, Calendar of letter-books of the city of London E: 1314-1337 - Folio clxxxvii ; Sharpe, R.R. (ed), 1904, Calendar of letter-books of the city of London F: 1337-1352 - Folio xxii
48The evidence for medieval crime rates is contentious. Most work has been done on murder rates with suggestions that medieval murder rates where 25 times higher in 14th century London than today (Prestwich, Michael, 2007, Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (Oxford University Press) p. 507-8). However there are profound problems with such statistical statements when basic data, such as the population of London, are so poorly known. Colin Platt may overstate 14th century crime (Platt, Colin, 1978, Medieval England: A social history and archaeology from the Conquest to A.D. 1600 (Routledge) p. 109-11). Medieval chroniclers, generally reflecting the concerns of the governing classes, had their own reasons for giving exaggerated or distorted accounts. Some actual court records do exist but are far from complete enough to make statements of any certainty. However, the author believes for demographic and sociological reasons too complex for a short footnote (considered in the works of the psychologist Professor Stephen Pinker) and because of the limited policing methods that generally there were higher crime rates in the medieval period.
49Platt p. 110
50CPR (1367-70) p. 369
51"unexpressed alterior motives may have been relevant" Creighton and Higham p. 182, 214. Presumably Portsmouth hoped to get defences built for it by the crown at the crown’s expense.
52Luders, A. et al (ed), 1870 (revised edition), Statutes of the Realm (London: Record Commission) p. 23
53Burke, William P., 1907, History of Clonmel (Waterford) p. 216-7
54CPR (1307-13) p. 130; Creighton and Higham (p. 181) make the point that the economy of England was generally buoyant in the latter middle ages and that there was "no widespread evidence that the exactions of murage was ever a disincentive to trading activity".
55Rotuli Hundredorum (Record Commission) Vol. 1 p. 314-5, 322, 345-6, 398-9; Ibid p. 108; Ibid p. 357; Ibid Vol. 2 p. 123, 132-3
56Luders, A. et al (ed), 1870 (revised edition), Statutes of the Realm (London: Record Commission) p. 23
57Memorandum Roll of Ireland passim; CCloseRolls Edward II Vol. 1 p. 455; Gilbert, J.T. (ed), 1870, Historical and Municipal Documents of Ireland, From the Archives of the City of Dublin &c. 1172-1320 (Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores - Rolls Series) p. 274-77; Connolly, P., 2002, 'The rise and fall of Geoffrey Morton, mayor of Dublin, 1303-4' in Seán Duffy (ed), Medieval Dublin II p. 233-51
58Coulson, C., 1995, ‘Battlement and the Bourgeoise; Municipal Status and the Apparatus of Urban Defence’ in Church, S. (ed), Medieval Knighthood Vol. 5 (Boydell) pp. 119-95; Davis, P., 2008-9, ‘Licences to Crenellate: Additional data, analysis and comment’ Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 pp. 245-267
59Janet Cooper, C R Elrington (eds), 1994, 'Medieval Colchester: Borough government', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9: The Borough of Colchester pp. 48-57. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=21973 Date accessed: 22 June 2013
60There are also some suggestion that clerks used the term murage even when other improvement taxes were meant. See above Lichfield and Brougham Bridge but also Boston in 1285 where the copy of the patent letter in the rolls is calendared as pavage but possibly another copy (unidentified by me but of the same original) is reported to be for murage (Thompson, P., 1856, The Histories and Antiquities of Boston (Boston: John Noble, jun.) pp. 43-44
61Although the copying of murage rates by centrally based scribes has to be considered.
62CPR (1324-27) p. 197. Having transcribed just a few of these lists I do appreciate what a tedious task it would have been to fully translate and publish these in the calendars which remain outstanding examples of scholarship. Indeed without the lifelong efforts of the calendarists such as Thomas Duffus Hardy, Henry Maxwell Lyte, or A.E. Stamp such medieval historical studies as this one would be impossible.
64One can imagine here someone stating they are free from passage but been told that they have to pay pedage.
65The 50s. John de Little paid each quarter, in 1312, for the farm of murage would have a bag of coins weighing about 0.75Kg.