Institute of Historical Research



Francis Collins (editor)

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'Preface', Register of the Freemen of the City of York: Vol. 1: 1272-1558 (1897), pp. VII-XVIII. URL: Date accessed: 17 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Among the Records belonging to the City of York are six Registers containing a list of the Freemen of that City from 1 Edward I., 1272, to the present time. This list, generally known as the 'Freemen's Roll,' is supposed to contain the names of all persons who took up the freedom of the city during that period, and this is probably the case if, perhaps, the reign of Edward I. be excepted.

The earliest volume, commencing in 1272, extends into 1671. The second, commencing in 1671, extends into 1800. The fourth, commencing in 1800, extends into 1812. The fifth, commencing in 1812, extends into 1847. The sixth, commencing in 1847, extends to the present time. The third, arranged alphabetically, is a duplicate of parts of Volumes I. and II., covering the years 1651 to 1742.

As the Corporation, under the editorship of the late Mr. Robert Davies, their Town Clerk, published, in 1835, in a pamphlet of eighty pages in extent, a list of those who took up their freedom from 1760 to 1835, this work is limited to such as were enrolled during the previous 488 years, and contains, in round numbers, the names of 36,500 freemen. In this volume, which terminates with the reign of Philip and Mary and covers the first 286 years, the names of 19,900 freemen are to be found, and Volume II., covering the subsequent 202 years, to the end of the reign of George II., will contain the remaining 16,600. Together they include all those entered in the earliest register, and in the first 125 folios of the second.

It is perhaps desirable, before going further, that the contents of the earliest register should be described, for it is not only a register of freemen, but also of other officials, interspersed with matters of more or less interest relating to the government of the city. To the other five registers it is unnecessary to allude, for they are devoted to the one purpose only.

In the first three folios of the earliest register, are to be found the oaths required of those taking up the freedom and of the various officials of the city on their election to office; the heading to each being in Latin, the oaths in English. They are arranged as follows:—
Sacramentum pro intrantibus Libertatem.
Juramentum servientis ad Clavam.
Juramentum Clerici Communis.
Juramentum Majoris.
Juramentum Aldermanorum.
Juramentum Civium Civitatis adtune in Guildhall ejusdem Civitatis congregatorum.
Juramentum Camerariorum.
Juramentum Custodum Pontium Use et Fosse.
[Decretum] contra disoperientes et revalentes consilium.
Juramentum Armitorum.
Juramentum Constabulorum.
Juramentum Aldermanorum et XXIV.
Juramentum Scrutatorum Artificiorum (twice).
Sacramentum Vicecomitis.
Juramentum Communis Councilii.

Folios 4 to 27 contain a list of the mayors from 1 Edward I. to 7 Henry VIII., when the separate list is discontinued and reference is made to the head of the Freemen's Roll of each year for those subsequently chosen. With the mayors are to be found from the 39 Edward III. to the same date, the names of the officers annually chosen as their attendants, and from the 48th of the same reign, the common clerks. (fn. 1) Originally, the mayor appears to have had but one officer as his attendant, the first being described thus: 'Johannes de Moreby electus est in servientem maioris et capiet pro feodo xls.' In 12 Richard II. the King presented the mayor with a sword of state to be carried before him, and this rendered it necessary that a second officer should be appointed, Thomas Barneby being the first who was chosen, 'ad portandum gladium coram maiore,' with a salary of six marks. To his colleague, 8 Henry IV., the duties of mace-bearer 'pro clavam portando,' are here (fn. 2) first ascribed. These officers are both at first described as 'Sergeants,' subsequently as 'Gentlemen,' and very shortly afterwards as 'Esquires of the Mayor,' a title they still hold. They appear at first to have been elected for one year only, but once elected their re-election seems to have been assured; and as the appointments carried with them a certain dignity, they were eagerly sought after by men belonging to families of good position in the city.

On folios 28 to 30 are to be found certain ordinances of the mayor and council, in one of which, dated 16 Henry VIII., it is resolved that no citizen shall take the office of chamberlain without having first been a bridgemaster, under a penalty of 4l., and this penalty was thirteen years later increased to 6l. 13s. 4d. In another dated 3 Edward VI., it is decreed that the sheriff must previously have served as a bridgemaster and as a chamberlain, and should he not have filled these offices, or, on his election, refuse to serve as sheriff, in either case he was to pay a certain sum of money to the Common Chamber 'such as the mayor and his brethren shall determine.' There is another relating to a dispute with the town of Hull, concerning dock dues, which was carried to such a pitch that the citizens of York were warned to have no dealings with the town of Hull, and were threatened with heavy penalties should they disobey. An account of this dispute has been already printed in certain histories of the city.

The 'Freemen's Roll, from 1 Edward I. to 4 Philip 5 Mary is entered on folios 31 to 209, and on the back of folio 209 are the names of the sheriffs elected in the 23, 24, 25 years of Henry VIII. The list of freemen from 5 Philip 6 Mary to A. D. 1650 is continued on folios 210 to 287, and on the face of folio 288 are the names of those citizens who from 12 to 30 Edward III. were chosen to act for the city before the Justices de Banco. On the back of the same folio and on those following, to 294, is a list of the bailiffs of the city from 1 Edward I. to 19 Richard II., when this office was abolished and that of sheriff substituted for it. The names of the latter to 4 Philip 5 Mary follow on folios 294 to 810, except that there is no record in this register of those who were elected during the 19, 20, 21, 22 Henry VIII., and, as stated above, the names of the sheriffs for the 23, 24, 25 years of the same reign are to be found on folio 209.

Folios 311 to 317 are devoted to certain miscellaneous extracts, chiefly from the Great Rolls, some of which have already been published, and 318 to 320 to the names of the custodians of the bridges from 1 Edward III. to 12 Henry IV. On folio 321 there is a list of chamberlains from 18 Edward I. to 9 Edward III., and of the custodians of the bridges from 13 Henry IV. to 11 Henry VIII. on 322 to 329. The names of the chamberlains from 10 Edward III. to 6 Henry V. occupy folios 330 and 331, and those of the sheriffs from 5 Philip 6 Mary to 9 James I., folios 332 to 338. The Freemen's Roll from 1651 to 1661 is continued on folios 339 to 351, and here a slip has been inserted into the register, the 5 first folios being renumbered 344 to 348. On these the names of those who claimed their freedom by patrimony from 11 Henry IV. to 9 Henry VI. are entered, but not in regular order, and on the back of folio 348 there is a complaint against the Scrutatores Artificiorum. The nine folios following are unnumbered; they contain the names of the freemen admitted during the years 1662 to 1670, and then the renumbering is continued, folio 349 containing the names of certain citizens who were appointed to arbitrate in a dispute between the city of York and one Thomas Santon. On folio 350 and the face of folio 351 are the names of those who claimed their freedom by patrimony during 3 Edward II., 2, 3, 4 Richard II., and from the twentieth of the latter King's reign to 9 Henry IV., and here it should be noted that such portions of the Roll as are out of place in the register are to be found under their proper years in the text, with references to the folios from which they were taken. The remaining folios 351 to 356 are occupied by matters relating to the defence of the city and with a short but imperfect list of the custodians of the walls.

The register contains nominally 356 but actually 374 folios of two pages each, and in addition to the Freemen's Roll, which is to be found on folios 31 to 209, 210 to 287, 339 to 351, duplicate folios 344 to 348, and the 9 unnumbered folios following, and on the renumbered folios 350 to 351, there is a complete list of mayors from 1272 to 1670; of bailiffs and their successors, the sheriffs, from the same date to 9 James I. (except for the four years above named); of chamberlains from 18 Edward I. to 1670; and of custodians of the bridges from 31 Edward III. to 11 Henry VIII., as well as other matters. There is not only a separate list of mayors to the 7 Henry VIII. but the name of the mayor, in office, heads the list of freemen for each year, and at the end of the separate list the searcher is referred to the Roll of freemen for its continuation. The list of mayors given herein differs somewhat from those previously printed, none of which seem to agree in every respect, probably from being copied from different sources.

That the register is a transcript from other documents seems evident, for long periods have been written by the same person and in a few instances the name, presumably, of the writer may be found in the margin with the word 'hic' before it. There are errors too, especially in the earlier portions, which could not have occurred had the names of the freemen been entered at the end of each year. The date of the year is one of the most prominent of these and does not, for years in succession, particularly during the Plantagenet period, correspond with the date of the King's reign or with the date the mayor for the time being held office; and in one or two instances the name of the mayor at the head of the list is inaccurate. The correction of these errors caused no little trouble, but the separate list of mayors, with the date of the election of each, was a most valuable guide. There are also many short and, often, unfinished notes following the names of several of the freemen the meaning of which, in certain cases, it is difficult to understand; in others, however, it is clear that they refer to matters that occurred some years subsequent to the dates on which the persons to whom they allude took up their freedom. These notes were undoubtedly written at the same time as the Roll and by the same copyist. Moreover had it not been a transcript there could hardly have been a gap of five years, between the 6th and 12th Edward I., and the entries from the 13th to the 17th and the 21st and 22nd of the same reign, look much as if documents which ought to have been forthcoming had been lost, and lead to the supposition, as stated above, that the list for that reign is imperfect.

The Roll is very legibly written and in good preservation. There are one or two blanks, and three names only so rubbed or faded that they could not be deciphered. There are of course the usual difficulties in the correct reading of certain names, but every endeavour has been made to get as near to the true rendering as possible.

In order to avoid confusion as to dates, it should be borne in mind that the days on which the annual lists of freemen commence do not correspond with the dates the mayors assumed the government of the city, but with those on which the newly elected chamberlains came into office. The actual day is not mentioned on the Roll until 20 Edward III. when the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel is named. In the forty-sixth year of the same King it was changed to the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mary, in the year comprising 22 Edward IV. and 1 Richard III. to the Feast of St. Blaise, in 5 Henry VII. to the Feast of St. Maurice, and so continued until 1737, when it was again changed to the Feast of St. Blaise. It should also be remembered that all dates mentioned in this work, down to and including 1751, are according to the old style of reckoning.

As stated above, the name of the mayor heads the list of freemen for each year; this is followed by the names of the chamberlains, part of whose duties it was to receive the fees of those who took up their freedom, to see that no person carried on any trade in the city without first obtaining the franchise, and to keep a full and correct list of all those who were admitted to the same during their year of office. It is probable that the 'Freemen's Roll' was copied from the chamberlains' account-books, for, in such as are still perfect, their names are to be found with the sum each paid on taking up his or her freedom.

From the earliest records it would appear that the number of chamberlains elected annually was three, and that no alteration in this respect was made until 22 Henry VIII. from which time it varied considerably. In the 23rd of the same reign there were five, in the 25th six, in the 26th seven, in the 27th eight, and in the 28th the number rose to twenty, dropping to six in the 29th; in the 32nd it was nine, in the 35th eight, in the 4th Edward VI. four. It then continued to fluctuate from six to eight until the reign of George II. and ended with six in 1760. As it is doubtful if any attempt to publish a list of the chamberlains of the city has been previously made, their names will be followed with some interest.

The freedom of the city is to be obtained in three different ways. First, by servitude; that is, the applicant must have served his full time as an apprentice before his enrolment; secondly, by patrimony; that is, the children of a freeman can claim their freedom as their heritage; thirdly, by redemption; that is, by order of the Mayor and Court of Aldermen, which means that the recipient obtained it either by purchase or that it was given to him, without payment, as a reward for some more or less important services rendered to the city. The fees varied from time to time; in the earliest chamberlains' account-books the charge for those who had served their apprenticeship seems to have been either 3s. 4d. or 6s. 8d., but there are cases where only 20d. was paid. As time went on the amount was considerably increased, and in many instances paid by instalments which, as the accountbooks, through age, are very imperfect, makes the exact sum difficult to be got at. In cases of poverty the fee was entirely remitted, but for those purchasing their freedom there seems to have been no fixed rate, the sum paid depending upon the position and means of the applicant or the caprices of the Court, and there are cases recorded when as much as £200 or £300 was paid for this honour.

Women as well as men were bound to take up the franchise if they desired to carry on any trade, and the names of several are to be found on the Roll. Married women were not allowed to prosecute any trade, independent of their husbands, without having first obtained their freedom.

Each freeman had to take the oath of fealty which, as before stated, is given on the first folio of the earliest register and is indeed the first entry on it. It runs as follows:—

'Sacramentum pro intrantibus libertatem.

'This here ye mair chamberleyns & gudemen that I fro' noweforthe shall be trustye and true to the Kynge our Sou'eyne lord to this Citie of York And ye same Citie & shall saue and maynteyne to oure saide sou'eyne ye Kynge and his heyres and successors And all the ffrauncheys & fredoms of ye saide Citie maynteyn & upholde at my power & Counyng wt my bodye & my gudes als ofte tymez as yt hathe myster of helpe so helpe me god and holy dome.

'And by this buke Ye shall be obeyynge to ye mair & shirriff of this Citie yt er or shall be for ye tyme beyinge & justifyed after ye lawe accustumez & ordynauncez of yis same Citie. And no man knowe yt usez byyng or sellynge in ony crafte or occupacon as Maistr & not franchesst but ye shall make it knowyn to ye mayer Chamberleyns or the Com[m]on Clerk for the tyme beynge. Nor ne gudes of Anie Straunger ne of man unfraunchest ye shall not avowe for youre owne by ye whilk the Kyng or the Mayor & Shirraff myght lose ye Tolles custumez chargez or ony oyer maner of Dewtez yt longys unto theyme. The counseyle and privatez of this sade Citie ye shall kepe. And all thees poyntez & articlez afore Rehersyd ye shall hold enenst yowe and for nothinge lett. But ye shall so do. So helpe you God and Holy dome & be this buke.'

It has been stated above that no person could carry on any trade in the city without having obtained his or her freedom. This was the first and principal advantage to be gained, so far as the individual was concerned, but how far this may have been of advantage to the city is doubtful. There were certainly those who looked upon the closing of the city in this manner as detrimental to its prosperity; that this was the case in later times there can be little doubt, and in confirmation the opinion of a stranger may here be given. The Rev. William MacRitchie, a Scottish clergyman, in describing a journey from London to Edinburgh as late as 1795, the account of which was published in the 'Antiquary' (see November number, 1896, p. 332), wrote thus:—'Friday, August 21st. This city has little trade, because no man can set up in business here without purchasing the freedom of the city, which is an expensive matter and to beginners in business altogether unattainable.' Having obtained the franchise the door was open to any citizen who was desirous of holding office to push his way and ultimately, if successful, reach the highest post of honour in the city. To help him on there is an ordinance to the effect that a freeman has the right to claim and hold any office in the gift of the Corporation in preference to any stranger or unfranchised person. As may be supposed there are many ordinances amongst the City Records relating to the rights of freemen. In one, 10 Henry VIII., it was enacted that all franchised men being free of one occupation shall henceforth be free of all occupations they may wish to carry on. This looks as if they had previously to become free in respect of each occupation they were desirous of following; and the same ordinance makes it lawful for every franchised man to take as many apprentices, servants, and journeymen as he pleased. This ordinance does not seem to have worked satisfactorily, for it was repealed 5 Elizabeth, or a little over forty years later.

We find in an ordinance 9 Elizabeth that a franchised man, if he absented himself from the city, lost his claims to any benefit he might receive, as such, as long as he remained absent, and there are instances of those who had thus lost their freedom being readmitted at subsequent dates. Citizens were liable to a heavy fine if they allowed a foreigner or stranger to sell by retail any wares or goods brought into the city, in any place save in the full and open market, and they themselves by an ordinance 4 Edward VI. were prohibited from setting up a stall within the market-place, but might only sell their wares within their own shops; and at the same date it was decreed that 'No person or persons which are common sellers of woollen cloth or linnen cloth, or any other manner of wares, shall put to sale such wares to any stranger or strangers within the city, as are commonly called Foreign bought and Foreign sold, under pain of forfeiture of the same to the use of the Common Chamber.' But this was not to extend to woollen or linen cloth of 'their own proper making,' of 'small quantity of substance,' with which they could resort to Thursday market and there sell without penalty. It would be outside the limits of this work to go to any length in these matters which indeed would require a separate volume, and there is plenty of material to be found amongst City Records, to fill one or more volumes with interesting matters relating to the manners and customs of the city and the duties of its officials and citizens.

The Freemen's Roll, as might be expected, is from the very first a curious mixture of Latin and English, especially in its later portions, but from the first, where the name is rendered in Latin, the trade is often given in English. Further on, when we come to where the names of those who took up their freedom by patrimony are separated from such as obtained it otherwise, we often find the Christian name or trade, or both, of the son, in Latin, while those of the father are in English, and vice versâ. In certain instances, too, where both are rendered in English, the word 'filius' is used instead of 'son of' as might have been expected.

One of the most interesting features of the Roll is the study of the surnames, a very large proportion in the earlier part of the Roll being place names, and the 'de' before the surname, in these, is in constant use until well into the reign of Henry IV. It is still later before we find the son invariably taking his father's name; one of the last, if not the last instance to the contrary, occurs in the eighth year of Henry VI., when we find Robertus de Lynby, fil. Thomæ Johnson.

Probably after the place names the trade names are the most frequent, and there are occasional instances of the son taking as his surname the father's trade (perhaps his own also), while the latter appears under a place name or a patronymic. There is, in the earlier portion of the Roll a fair sprinkling of nicknames, none of which, as in some parts of the country, are of an obscene nature. Some relate, no doubt, in some way or other to the calling of the person, others to some peculiarity in himself. Thus we find Ancus the fisher, Bray the goldbeater, Blakofmore, Brodstan the mason, Blyssetblode, Blodeworth, Blakehey the hostiller, Catstring, Dawndelyon, Dogeman, Forker the butcher, Floyter the fishmonger, Goddesbokes, Haripok, Heghscho, Hoppeshort, Heteblak the baker, Knightschankes, Kokke in le grene, Lenealday, Lyngteill, Lagheles, Neyrnoute, Nevergilt the goldsmith, Overdue, Pykell the fisher, Pyke the fishmonger, Payable, Paynot, Sarefote, Scrapetrough the miller, Spilblod, Scraggy, Stowte, Stere the shipman, Skutard the mariner, Tutbages, Trenchaud the turner, Whitebrow the plasterer, Windswift the mariner, Witheskirtes, Wynferthing, Whitehand, Whightblode, Wellefed, Whitekake, and Winship the mariner. There are many others, but these are some of the most notable. Patronymics are not very numerous in the early parts of the Roll, and it is not until the reign of Henry IV. that 'son' as an affix becomes really very frequent, and these come in at about the same time as the 'de' disappears from before the place name.

Christian names continue to be written almost entirely in Latin up to the reign of Edward VI., when a few are to be found in English, and from this date they gradually increase in number, but the Latin form does not cease entirely until the seventh of George II. There are but few Christian names, comparatively speaking, that are not ordinarily in use at the present time. Some may perhaps be a little more or less common, and some, but very few, have fallen into disuse.

To some persons the trades and callings will no doubt be of as great interest as the names. It is interesting to watch the disappearance of trades that were common in the earlier times, partly through being swallowed up by others of increasing importance but mainly through the changes constantly occurring in the habits and mode of living of the people; and the rapidity with which new trades spring up as civilisation advances, and with it the greater demand for luxuries is surprising. But to go thoroughly into these questions is too large a subject to be considered here.

To the genealogist interested in either the city or county families the Roll is invaluable. Many of the latter sprang from the city where the thrift and industry of the founder enabled him to fill high offices first in the city, then in the county, and finally to settle down in the latter as one of its magnates. Even those belonging to the smaller families, long resident in the city, will, if they desire to trace back their ancestors, derive the greatest assistance from this Roll. For this purpose Volume II. will be found of greater help than its predecessor, for, as time goes on, there is a large increase in the number of those taking up their freedom by patrimony. Though the separate list under this head is continuous from the end of the reign of Richard II., the numbers are few down to that of Queen Elizabeth, when compared with more recent times.

A few words of thanks are due to Mr. Alderman Clayton, Mr. Alderman Mackay, and Mr. Alderman Milward, the three Lord Mayors who were in office during the time the Roll was being copied, for their courtesy in giving the transcriber the use of their own private chamber in the Guildhall; also to Mr. Macguire, the town clerk, and Mr. Giles, the deputy town clerk, for often, and at considerable inconvenience to themselves, placing their services at his disposal; to Mr. William Brown, our present secretary, who was so good as to assist in many difficulties, and of his predecessor, the late Chancellor Raine, it is impossible here to pay a sufficient tribute. No matter how busily engaged, he was ever ready to lay aside his work and give the asked-for help or advice. As it would have considerably enhanced the value of this work, the progress of which he had watched with the greatest interest, the writer had hoped that he would have undertaken the task of writing the preface, which his great and unsurpassed knowledge of the ancient customs of the city rendered him so well fitted to do. This, however, was not to be; he was taken from us, and while we can but express our gratitude we have to mourn a loss the extent of which time only will enable us to realise.


1 The common clerk is known now as the town clerk.
2 The Mace was presented 16 Richard II. by the King.