The Medieval English Borough: Studies on Its Origins and Constitutional History

The Medieval English Borough: Studies on Its Origins and Constitutional History

The Medieval English Borough: Studies on Its Origins and Constitutional History

The Medieval English Borough: Studies on Its Origins and Constitutional History

Excerpt

As its sub-title indicates, this book makes no claim to be the long overdue history of the English borough in the Middle Ages. Just over a hundred years ago Mr. Serjeant Merewether and Mr.Stephens had The History of the Boroughs and Municipal Corporations of the United Kingdom, in three volumes, ready to celebrate the sweeping away of the medieval system by the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835. It was hardly to be expected, however, that this feat of bookmaking, good as it was for its time, would prove definitive. It may seem more surprising that the centenary of that great change finds the gap still unfilled. For half a century Merewether and Stephens' work, sharing, as it did, the current exaggeration of early "democracy" in England, stood in the way. Such revision as was attempted followed a false trail and it was not until, in the last decade or so of the century, the researches of Gross, Maitland, Mary Bateson and others threw a flood of new light upon early urban development in this country, that a fair prospect of a more adequate history of the English borough came in sight. Unfortunately, these hopes were indefinitely deferred by the early death of nearly all the leaders in these investigations. Quite recently an American scholar, Dr. Carl Stephenson, has boldly attempted the most difficult part of the task, but his conclusions, in important respects, are highly controversial.

When in 1921 an invitation to complete Ballard's unfinished British Borough Charters induced me to lay aside other plans of work and confine myself to municipal history, I had no intention of entering into thorny questions of origins. A remark of Gross in the introduction to his Bibliography of British Municipal History (1897) that "certain cardinal features of the medieval borough, such as the firma burgi, the judiciary and the governing body, still need illumination" suggested the studies, printed, chiefly in the English Historical Review, between 1925 and 1930, which, with some revision . . .

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