John I, King of England:
Charter Granted to the Citizens of Cambridge, 1201
The oppression of the towns by the sheriffs, especially in legal
cases, led to a desire for freedom from their control. The annual ferm was to be paid
direct to the king and the town was to have its own courts, both of which facts tended to
destroy the abuses of government at the hands of the sheriff. Freedom from tolls at fairs
and markets and elsewhere was a direct contribution to freedom of trade within the
country, and to the breaking down of feudal restrictions.
John, by the grace of God, King of England, etc. Know that we have
granted, and by this our present charter have confirmed to our citizens of Cambridge a
gild merchant, and that none of them shall make any plea outside the walls of the borough
of Cambridge save pleas of foreign tenures, except for our moneyers and our servants. We
have also granted to them that none of them shall fight a duel, and that they shall be
able to plead in our courts concerning pleas of our crown according to the ancient custom
of the borough. This also we have granted to them, that all burgesses of Cambridge who are
members of the gild merchant shall be quit of thelony and passage and lastage and pontage
and stallage in fairs and without, and throughout all the seaports of England and of all
our lands on this side of the sea, and beyond the sea, saving in all things the liberties
of the city of London; and no one shall be judged for a money penalty save according to
the ancient custom of the borough which they had in the times of our predecessors; and
that they have justly their lands and tenures and pledges and all debts, whoever may owe
them; and for their lands and tenures within the borough let right be done to them
according to the custom of the borough: and for all their debts incurred at Cambridge and
for pledges made there let their pleas be heard in Cambridge; and if any one in all our
land take thelony or customs from the men of Cambridge who are of the gild merchant, after
he has failed to do right, let the sheriff of Cambridge or the borough reeve take distress
at Cambridge, saving in all things the liberties of the city of London.
Moreover we have granted to them for the repair of the borough of
Cambridge a fair to be held in Rogation week with their liberties, just as they have been
accustomed to have them; and that all the burgesses of Cambridge be quit of jierescheve and of scot-ale if our sheriff or other bailiff exact scot-ale. We grant all these said
customs to them and all other liberties and free customs which they have had in the times
of our predecessors but with more freedom and more liberty; and if some customs were
unjustly raised as tithe let them be abolished, and whoever seeks the city of Cambridge
with his merchandise, from whatever place he be, whether foreigner or other person, let
him come, stay and depart in our secure peace, paying due customs, and let no one disturb
him upon this our charter; and we forbid any one to do injury, damage, or hurt to our said
burgesses of Cambridge upon pain of forfeit to us of ten pounds.
Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the said burgesses and their
heirs shall have and hold all the said liberties by hereditary right from us and our
heirs, well and in peace, freely and quietly, wholly and honorably, just as is written
above. Witnesses, etc.
From: T. D. Hardy, ed., Rotuli Chartarum, (London: PRO & Eyre &
Spottiswoode, 1837), Vol. I, Part I, p. 83, reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H.
Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce
Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 210-211.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, September 1998