AND CONSTABLES: THE ROLE OF LOCAL OFFICIALS IN KEEPING THE PEACE IN
14TH CENTURY ENGLAND
BY A. J. MUSSON
in medieval England has long been portrayed in terms of a grand centralized
design as kings strove to meet the ideological goal and uphold their
coronation vow to maintain public order. (1) To a large extent this view has
been conveyed and reinforced through focus on the apparent conflict between
central government and the localities over the administration of justice and
in the powers accorded to the keepers/ justices of the peace. (2) As a
result of a resurgence of interest in the evolution and functioning of the
justices of the peace, the exhaustive research work carried out by Professor
Bertha Putnam and continued by her disciples, Rosamund Sillem and Elizabeth
Kimball, has been revisited and a more contextual approach taken. This new
analysis, taking into consideration the wider judicial, political and social
context in which the justices of the peace evolved as well as the personnel
of `local' and `central' justice, has arguably yielded a fuller, balanced,
more three-dimensional picture of a crucial phase in legal history. (3)
One of the important
conclusions emerging from this new approach is that to draw a sharp
distinction between `central' and `local' is in fact to misunderstand and
misrepresent the whole nature of law enforcement. (4) Indeed, it has been
convincingly demonstrated that the processes or agencies of peacekeeping
operated as an entire system. This paper adds a further dimension to these
new accounts by examining the officials responsible for maintaining the
peace who were operating below the generally more closely analysed county
level. The county keepers of the peace were never the sole agents
responsible for maintaining law and order in the shire: there were
keepers/constables of the peace for hundreds, keepers of the peace for towns
and liberties and, at a lower level still, constables of townships and
neighbourhoods. (5) The county keepers were thus only part of a wider circle
of peacekeeping officials functioning at differing levels and within varying
jurisdictions, whose duties usually coincided with or aided the sheriff (who
in government terminology was custos of the shire) and his staff. (6) They
do not simply represent layers of bureaucracy. The need for a hierarchy of
local officials employed in a peacekeeping capacity was a natural adjunct to
the community responsibility entailed in the frankpledge system, which
supplied an awareness and alertness at the truly local level, and in the
watch, a nocturnal vigilance against unwanted or dangerous outsiders. (7)
Much of the ordinary work
of these peacekeeping officials took place within the context of the county
courts and the manorial or hundred courts. Since Professor Helen Cam
provided detailed studies on the administration of the latter (8) and
Professor Robert Palmer has researched the operation of the county courts,
(9) this paper assesses instead the importance of these shire officials in
the arena of royal justice. First, it considers the methods by which they
were appointed and the authority under which they operated, and then goes on
to examine the judicial and administrative context of their work. The
political and social ramifications of their duties are also highlighted
where appropriate. In spite of the problems presented by a scarcity of
detailed information on the personnel functioning at this level, it is
possible to view them at work through a careful perusal of the surviving
plea rolls and by using the texts of commissions enrolled on the dorses of
the manuscript patent rolls. While it is clear from the sources that there
was a distinction between the level at which an official operated and his
area of jurisdiction, there does not appear to have been a perceptible
difference between the terms `constable of the peace', `keeper of the peace
for the hundred' or `sub-keeper'. (10) Indeed, they seem to have been
interchangeable and occasionally used jointly, as in the case of John
Carelton and Reginald Worstead, described as capitales constabularii et
custodes pacis of Worstead hundred. (11)
In examining the
appointment and employment of local peacekeeping officials, this study
argues that they played a significant role not just in local justice, but in
the microcosm of shire politics and society. Their existence and activities
should be included in a comprehensive vision of the local administration of
justice and their development viewed in parallel with that of the county
keepers. It should be acknowledged that they were not `rivals' of the
justices of the peace, as has been alleged, (12) but partners. It is
apparent from this and other studies that they played an important part in
the prosecution and punishment of crime, not just in their capacity as
arresting officers, but through service as presenting jurors, witnesses at
trials and even as trial jurors. In political and social terms as well as
the purely administrative, the position of these men was significant. Their
independence and capacity for initiative was vital, as was their ability to
maintain a balance between the king's interests and sensitive local issues.
(13) The networks of service and patterns of friendship subsisting at the
level of the hundred and even of the village could achieve compromises, but
also harbour tensions. The ambiguity of their position is highlighted by the
responses of certain members of officialdom to local crises. Their reactions
indicate, on the one hand, that the authority they legitimately wielded was
not always respected and, on the other, that at critical moments it was not
necessarily possible for the Crown to guarantee their unswerving loyalty.
This paper stresses, however, that royal justice was an integrated system
and demonstrates that the office of keeper of the peace (at whatever level)
was only one manifestation of the work of highly competent and valued local
officials, just as the office itself was only one weapon in the armoury of
By the fourteenth century,
authority for local law-enforcement derived primarily from the Statute of
Winchester (1285), which, although essentially a codification of much
earlier measures, encompassed instructions on the communities' obligations
regarding the possession of weapons and maintenance of the king's peace.
(14) As a precaution against violent assaults, robberies and other criminal
activity, there were provisions concerning watch-keeping, while highways
were to be widened and ditches filled in if they did not fulfil the
statutory requirements in width or otherwise. The statute specifically gave
the power to arrest suspicious strangers, who were to be kept under guard
until further investigation by the eyre justices or, as was the norm by the
fourteenth century, at gaol delivery. Two constables in each hundred, who
were responsible to the county keepers of the peace, were entrusted with the
view of arms and on two occasions each year were to check that the men were
arrayed according to their competence. (15)
It is not clear how the
constables of the peace for the hundred were generally appointed. They may
have been elected or simply put themselves forward. When subjected to
investigation, some hundreds and liberties claimed that they had never had
any constables (or had never appointed any). (16) Certainly in the early
fourteenth century, when replacements were needed as a result of continued
illness, death or mere laxity, they were `elected' and, in the presence of
royal justices, swore to carry out their office according to the Statute of
Winchester. (17) Their period of service was often lengthy. Robert le Palmer
was constable for the town of Bridgewater in Shropshire for ten years, while
John Smethcote and John Remington were constables of the peace for the
hundred of Condover in the same county for about twenty years. (18) Although
probably not all of these men were as assiduous as they ought to have been,
their durability in office and consequent accumulation of local knowledge
and experience were undoubtedly advantageous for the Crown. (19)
A `second chapter' in the
code administered by the keepers/justices of the peace and their
subordinates was founded on the Statute of Northampton (1328), which, in
particular, made it an infringement of the peace for anyone to ride armed by
day or night, in fairs and markets, in the presence of the king's justices
or elsewhere. (20) The power to enforce this provision was given to the
king's justices, sheriffs and other ministers, lords of franchises and their
bailiffs, mayors and bailiffs of cities and boroughs, borough-holders, and
constables and keepers of the peace. Representing all those who in their own
areas of jurisdiction (and at differing levels) were responsible for
preserving the peace, it does not imply subordinate status for the keepers
of the peace, as Professor Putnam thought: it underlines the fact that the
keepers of the peace at county level were not the sole agents for law
enforcement, but were involved in a partnership with other office-holders
within the shire. This statute was shortly followed by one in 1331 (also
known as the Statute of Westminster) which conferred on town constables and
bailiffs of liberties responsibility for the arrest of `people that be
called roberdesmen, wastors and draw-latches' who were suspected of criminal
activity during the day or at night, a duty which had previously been a
collective one. (21)
responsibilities accorded constables and bailiffs after the Black Death
brought their duties into the economic sphere. The Ordinance (1349) and
Statute of Labourers (1351) appointed them to control the movements, conduct
and service arrangements of labourers and servants within their
jurisdiction. In particular, local officials were directed to compel
labourers to take an oath to uphold the statutory provisions, while the
legislation empowered them to imprison any who refused or disobeyed and
broke their agreements. Workers who left the village could be arrested. (22)
The labour legislation thus gave constables the means to maintain (or at
least attempt to maintain) the status quo in their various regions following
the dislocating effects of the plague, and provided a substratum of
enforcement below the level of justices of the peace/special justices of
The Statute of Winchester
offered a new direction to the office of keeper of the peace at county level
in that the commissions issued to enforce its provisions became more
judicial in character, but the statute contained no specific
responsibilities for constables other than general policing and military
array, essentially inquisitorial and supervisory tasks. (24) There was an
attempt to remedy this, however, early in Edward II's reign. In the
aftermath of the countrywide general oyer and terminer (or `trailbaston')
visitations of 1305-7, during which local peacekeeping measures came under
intense scrutiny, local officials were informed (following the issue of
peace commissions to all counties in March 1308) that in due course they too
would be receiving specific instructions regarding the keeping of the peace.
(25) Unfortunately, as far as it is possible to discover, there are no
surviving indications of the Crown's intentions in this respect. However,
royal commissions to keepers of the peace at hundred level recorded in the
patent rolls for the 1320s provide some evidence of the powers, duties and
expectations accorded these officials.
The commission of 1321
directed to James Lambourn and Edmund Baddow to keep the peace in the
hundred of Chelmsford, which unusually for this period was written in
French, begins with formulaic language bemoaning the state of the peace (26)
and assigns them a garder et sauver le hundred avauntdit. Offenders were to
be conveyed to Colchester castle and delivered to the sheriff or his deputy.
Further, the keepers were to prevent illegal assemblies and make sure all
roads of the county were guarded. The differing levels of the peacekeeping
network and the need for cooperation in the pursuit of their duties are
encapsulated in the phrase: `in all the things written above pay attention
to our faithful and loyal [Robert FitzWalter, Thomas de Vere and Nicholas
Engayne] ... chief guardians of our peace throughout the said county of
Essex.' (27) A list of two or three names for each of the respective
hundreds in Essex (and similarly in Hertfordshire) then follows. (28)
In November 1323 up to six
men described in the commission as subcustodes pacis were appointed for the
Lancashire wapentakes of Leyland, Derby, Salford, Amounderness, Lonsdale and
Blackburn. (29) Unlike the keepers of the peace for hundreds in Essex and
Hertfordshire, the Lancashire sub-keepers were given powers for the pursuit
and arrest of those committing felonies and trespasses against the peace
throughout the wapentake under their jurisdiction (de villa in villam in
Wapentachio predicto tam infra libertates quam extra). The ability to enter
liberties in pursuit of alleged wrongdoers was thus a significant
enhancement of their powers. Like their southern counterparts they were to
ensure offenders were kept in prison in the safe custody of the sheriff and
were similarly answerable to capitales custodes pacis, though again the
cooperative nature of the undertaking was made clear. (30)
It is arguable that the
powers accorded to the sub-keepers of 1321 and 1323 were atypical and, given
the context of the early 1320s (a period during which the country was beset
with civil war, the disorder and disruption of which was acutely felt in
Lancashire among other places), (31) merely symptomatic of the need for
special peacekeeping measures. This contention is seemingly underlined by
the general paucity of chancery enrolments of commissions to hundredal
keepers. While the unusualness of the contemporary political situation
cannot be denied, it does not necessarily follow that the powers contained
in the royal commissions were substantially at variance with powers already
being exercised. The issuing of commissions at such a time should probably
be seen as a reflection of the belief that the mere possession of a royal
commission perceptibly enhanced an individual's authority and enabled him to
carry out his duties more confidently. (32)
The patent rolls contain
other commissions that were issued during the fourteenth century, which
further shed light on the pivotal role of officials below county level. In
February 1330, for instance, Robert Bereford and Walter Woburn were
appointed keepers of the peace for the hundreds of Banbury and Bloxham in
Oxfordshire. (33) Rather than inscribing the whole text of the commission,
the chancery clerk indicated that it followed the formula of the enrolment
immediately above, a commission to Robert Bracy and John Sapy appointing
them keepers of the peace for Worcestershire. (34) In addition to normal
powers of pursuit and arrest, this commission apparently endowed the hundred
keepers with the power to hear and determine felonies and trespasses and to
deal with suits of the party in keeping with the general commissions of the
peace issued for all counties in May 1329. (35) This may of course have been
a mistake by the enrolling clerk, blithely assuming that the previous peace
commission would apply equally to the sub-keepers. On the other hand, in the
light of the riots that had recently occurred in Abingdon and Oxford, and
given the climate of judicial experiment existing at this time, (36) it is
possible that Bereford and Woburn were actually accorded these powers.
Indeed, government concern for the state of the peace in Oxfordshire is
evinced by the dispatching of the highest judicial body, the court of king's
bench, to hold sessions later in 1330. (37)
A second example comes from
Lancashire, where in May 1345 individual wapentakes once again received a
commission of the peace. (38) The text provides no specific reason for the
issue, though it may have been at the request of Henry, Earl of Lancaster,
as a precaution against his absence from the country owing to his
involvement in Edward III's campaign on the continent and his appointment in
1345 as the king's lieutenant in the duchy of Aquitaine. (39) The measure
may also be related to an incident at Liverpool during Lent of the same
year, where a riot allegedly resulted in the deaths of nearly thirty people.
(40) Reciting the familiar catalogue of disorder and violence, the
commission assigned men to keep the peace and enforce the statutes of
Winchester and Northampton; they were accordingly empowered to pursue,
arrest and take those in the wapentake who formed congregations,
confederations, or illicit conventicles, raped women and committed other
felonies and crimes. (41) It is clear that this commission offered a broader
scope than its predecessor of 1323, taking steps to curb organized violence
and particularly brutal offences and indeed was wider than the 1344 peace
commission for the county. (42) Special attention was also paid to the area
where the disorder was supposed to have occurred: twelve men were
commissioned for the wapentake of Derby, while only four to seven men were
named for the other wapentakes.
Royal commissions were also
issued to towns and liberties during the fourteenth century, though rarely
during its opening decades. Unlike the commissions to sub-keepers,
appointments usually stated specific reasons for the grant and probably
resulted from borough petitions. (43) Moreover, up to 1350 the form and
content tended to differ from county commissions, although the relevant
clauses of the Statute of Winchester concerning the pursuit and arrest of
suspects were generally cited. (44) The commissions enrolled for the early
years of the century appear to have been extraordinary appointments usually
linked with the keepership of the town and its castle. In January 1312, for
instance, Henry Beaumont and Robert Umfraville were given custody of the
castle and town of Newcastle upon Tyne `to enable them as keepers of the
peace to discharge their office more efficiently'. (45) Later in July of the
same year, Maurice Berkeley was appointed keeper of the town of Gloucester
and keeper of the peace for the town. (46) Such appointments may have been
more symbolic than functional and it is not clear to what extent the
custodial powers granted were used. The apparent lack of formal appointments
for other years does not appear to have compromised local peacekeeping, as
there is evidence that the task was generally undertaken by the mayor and
borough officials. (47)
Since the commissions to
towns were sent out in response to specific concerns there is no overall
pattern for issues, though there were sudden spates (four in 1338 and eleven
in 1344-6), often as a result of the need to ensure peaceful conditions at
home during the King's pursuit of his claim to the French throne. In 1338,
for example, Henry Tideswell, William Apethorpe, William Fleming and William
Norman were appointed `in view of the king's speedy departure to parts
beyond the seas to defend the realm' to keep the peace pursuant to the
statutes of Winchester, Northampton and Westminster in the town and suburbs
of Stamford. (48) The reason was reiterated in a commission for the same
town in 1346. (49) The increasing number of commissions for urban
jurisdictions issued during the fourteenth century was also a reflection of
the growing importance of towns such as Norwich, York, Hull and Bristol as
trade centres; as well as the potential jurisdictional difficulties that
could be encountered in areas where county borders overlapped. (50)
Commissions for liberties also began to be enrolled in the patent rolls,
particularly during the 1360s, though they were often held jointly with
towns in the same geographical area. (51)
After 1350 the peace
commissions issued to towns were essentially similar in their form and
content to the county ones of the corresponding date and type. (52) It is
clear, however, that the mayor and borough officials to whom the commissions
were usually addressed not only cherished the exclusion of the county
justices of the peace (when so empowered by royal charter), but also
utilized their powers in the organization of local government and in the
internal regulation of merchants and craftsmen. (53) Commissions of the
peace in urban jurisdictions thus took on an additional element of
The judicial and
administrative context in which hundredal officials operated was closely
linked to the work of the sheriff, the linchpin of central and local
government. One of the major responsibilities for constables and bailiffs
was, therefore, the arrest of persons prosecuted by appeal or indictment and
upon whom process had been served in the county court. (54) Occasionally,
however, there were conflicts in the perceived jurisdiction over prisoners.
In 1315, Ralph Giffard, sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, sued
Richard Caperoun, bailiff of the town of Huntingdon and others (presumably
constables) for trespass to his person and contempt for the king. He argued
that while the justices were in session Caperoun had abducted from Giffard's
charge a certain John, son of Richard of Cottenham (indicted for burglary by
the keepers of the peace). Defending the action, Caperoun replied that among
the liberties claimed by the borough was the ancient right to its own prison
and the freedom for the bailiff to present before the justices all prisoners
taken in the said borough for any felony or trespass committed there. He
added that he had arrested John son of Richard on the orders of the keepers
of the peace and would have taken him before the justices that day. (55)
Responsibility to the
sheriff did not mean that constables acted solely under central direction
and were unable to exercise any initiative or carry out summary arrests.
Indeed, Professor Putnam was not only misleading, but also clearly mistaken,
in believing that `the inherent weakness in medieval criminal law procedure'
lay in the fact that offenders had to be indicted before they could be
arrested. (56) Frequently felons were caught in the act or apprehended with
stolen goods and produced at trial for gaol delivery. (57) At the basic
level arrests were achieved by the victim or someone raising the hue and
cry, a posse led by village constables that was responsible for the pursuit
and arrest of wrongdoers when a felony was discovered. (58) Indeed, an entry
in a Northamptonshire gaol delivery roll explains that `the tithing-men of
the vill (decennarii) and the constables of the peace of the king, by right
and authority of their office and according to the law and custom of the
realm ... have jurisdiction and power to attach malefactors and disturbers
of the peace and those who are pursued by the hue and cry for felony and
Arrests which were made on
suspicion of a felony, but not based on prior indictment or appeal could,
therefore, be carried out by local officials as part of their routine
duties. (60) In the early fourteenth century at least, a sizeable proportion
of prisoners appeared at gaol delivery `arrested with the goods', `arrested
on suspicion' or simply `arrested' without any indictment or appeal (which
presumably the clerk would have included if there had been one). The lengthy
processes engendered by more formal methods of arrest and prosecution (such
as issuing writs of capias on presentment by a jury) were thus circumvented
by the ability of local officials to make arrests on the spot. The lack of
precision in terminology in evidence in the opening decades of the century
contrasts with the need for indictments insisted upon in later years which
culminated in the formalities for indictments stipulated in the Statute of
Additions of 1413. (61)
There were, however,
objections to this practice. A petition from Cumberland (dateable to the
1330s) complained that `touz sount attachez par suspecioun un de baillie'
rather than by indictment. The reply was couched in somewhat vague terms,
that sheriffs and coroners were to hold inquests according to law and custom
and according to the form of the Statute of Winchester. (62) By the 1370s
the words per suspicionem were used to make it clear that no appeal or
indictment had been made, citing the Statute of Winchester as the relevant
authority. (63) This is indicative of a change in attitude that was already
becoming apparent during the second quarter of the fourteenth century: the
indictment was being preferred as the normal method of prosecution. From
around the beginning of Edward III's reign, those who were neither
prosecuted by an individual nor indicted of a felony, only `taken on
suspicion', were generally spared trial unless they were of a bad
reputation. In 1328 Walter le Bray and Adam Godard were taken for the theft
of twenty-three sheep. It was proclaimed that if anyone wished to prosecute
for these sheep they should come forward, but nobody came. The sheriff
testified that the two men were not indicted for stealing, or any other
felony, nor were they taken for felony at the suit of anybody and so they
were allowed to go without delay. (64) Similarly, in the case of John
Fairday, even though he had been arrested with stolen goods by the
constables of Gretewell and his crime proclaimed on three occasions, nobody
came forward to prosecute him. Since there was neither indictment nor appeal
against him, and because it was testified in court before the justices that
he had languished in prison for some time, he was dismissed through
This change of attitude may
reflect the fact that with the re-establishing of regular gaol deliveries by
assize justices following the Statute of Northampton (1328) and the Statute
of 1330, the central court justices staffing the circuits were insisting on
the formalities of indictment. (66) Nonetheless, the initiative displayed by
sub-keepers and constables bears witness to the important part the local
community played in policing itself and in ensuring trial of those who might
otherwise have escaped the net. More elaborate channels were occasionally
employed in the interests of peacekeeping and there are examples where a
suspected criminal was prosecuted through an appeal of felony made by
constables of the peace or an official of similar status. In 1296, for
example, Robert Loverich of Wendlingburgh, taken at the suit of Michael le
Freman, constable of the peace, was convicted for burglaries and thefts
occurring right across Northamptonshire. (67) In 1325, William Brom of
Seaton, William le Fisher of South Luffenham and Henry Broning of Dodington
were arrested carrying beef at Dodington at the suit of the constables of
the vill of Clyne, who alleged that these men had stolen the meat at Clyne.
The accused said in their defence that the meat belonged to them and they
were eventually acquitted. (68)
The more formal methods
were sometimes bypassed altogether. The plea rolls also provide an
indication that an informal summary justice (which, although traditionally
allowed, was by the fourteenth century regarded as illegal) (69) was
occasionally carried out on outlaws, abjurors and felons caught in the act.
In 1299, for example, Thurston Peyteuyn, William son of Beatrice, Roger le
Fort, John Holt and Robert le Peyntour of Honingham in Norfolk were arrested
by the sheriff for possession of the head of an unknown person which they
had cut off and taken to Norwich Castle. In the trial it became clear that
the head was that of William le Yonne of Honingham, who had abjured the
realm before the coroner, but then returned by night three days later.
Peyteuyn and the others had pursued him, raising the hue and cry, and while
he was escaping, decapitated the same William as a fugitive felon. The
coroner, Philip de Lenne, confirmed their account of events and the accused
were acquitted on his testimony of committing any felony by their actions.
(70) The raising of the hue and cry was an important part of the process
because participation broadened public knowledge of the case. In 1331
because Walter of Winnington was a known robber, it was decided that his
death, which occurred in the course of the hue and cry against him, was not
an infringement of the peace and that John Corte, Peter in the Willows,
Wiliam Corndon and Thomas Lote should be acquitted of homicide. (71)
There had to be a valid
reason for beheading a felon. It was inappropriate to do so, for instance
(at least in Lincolnshire), when his limbs were bound or once he had been
arrested since he was (theoretically) not in a position to escape. The
exercising of summary justice, however, may have been commoner than is
usually supposed, and in some instances even those who had no real
justification and did not fulfil the necessary requirements appear to have
succeeded in avoiding punishment. In a case that reached the court of king's
bench in 1319, the constables of the vill of Canwick were called upon by
Ellis Martel to behead Thomas Leure of Kirby under what emerged to be the
falsely raised justification that he had stolen a mare belonging to Ellis.
In actual fact Ellis had refused to pay Thomas, his servant, the wages owed
to him and along with two accomplices had attacked Thomas with knives and a
pole-axe, mortally wounding him. They then tied him up and summoned the
constables. The constables refused the demand to behead Thomas made by Ellis
and advised him to take Thomas to the sheriff (along with the stolen mare).
Instead Ellis took the matter into his own hands, dragged the profusely
bleeding Thomas to a field in Bracebridge and, when the latter had
eventually died, cut off his head. The constables were later handed the head
and took it to the sheriff in Lincoln, apparently as a result of threats and
intimidation, where they explained that Thomas had been beheaded at night
without their knowledge and without the hue and cry being raised. Ellis,
described as a retainer of the Earl of Lancaster, produced a pardon and was
allowed to go free. (72)
It appears that officials
who carried out informal executions were obliged to come to court to submit
themselves to royal justice for remission of guilt and exoneration before
the community. This was also necessary on occasions when it was considered
that a felon was unlikely to return to the king's peace and was determined
to stand and fight his pursuers. In fairness to them, therefore, the
justices were willing to acquit the group (including those who had
administered the coup de grace) when it was clear (as in a case from 1360)
that they were only doing their job (pro lege manutenenda et pace
conservanda). (73) In spite of its supposed illegality and the need to seek
absolution for the death, the practice of summary execution still seems to
have been a continuing feature of the justice system as administered at the
local level. The extent to which it was acknowledged in judicial circles and
the frequency with which it was employed is, however, a matter for
In addition to making
arrests and carrying out informal executions, there is evidence that (during
the first half of the fourteenth century at least) keepers of the peace at
hundred level were regularly hearing indictments. Indeed, indictments taken
before them proceeded to trial in a cross-section of liberties, boroughs and
shires, suggesting that this practice was not a peculiar, localized
phenomenon occurring only at a particular point in time. Indictments, for
example, are recorded in 1299 as having been taken before constables of the
peace in Northamptonshire, (74) in 1309 before constables and keepers of the
peace in York, (75) and in 1316 before John Randolf, a keeper of the peace
in the hundred of Copthorne in Surrey. (76) Felons appearing for trial at
Oxford in 1320 were indicted before Ralph Chastiloun and John Lomire,
keepers of the peace for the hundred of Chadlington, (77) at Hertford in
1326 before Walran Rochford and John le Chamberleyn, keepers of the peace
for the hundreds of Oddingsley and Edminster, (78) and at Bristol in 1330,
before the bailiffs and constables of the peace for the city. (79) In 1339
indictments came to trial that had been made before John Monemith and Henry
Clyneshale, constables of the peace for the liberty of Bisley in
Gloucestershire, (80) and in 1344 before William Henry, one of the
constables of the peace for the hundred of Happing in Norfolk. (81)
Significantly, there are
extant rolls of gaol deliveries effected in Essex and Hertfordshire in the
1320s which contain indictments taken before keepers of the peace for
hundreds in the two counties, some of whom are described as operating per
commissionem domini regis. (82) In Essex, indictments before the county
keepers were differentiated from the those of the hundredal keeper by
reference to Robert FitzWalter as capitalis custodes pacis. (83) Even when
sessions were predominantly taken up with indictments made before other
officials such as keepers of the peace or justices of oyer and terminer,
indictments heard by lesser officials still appeared. (84) Sometimes,
though, the indictments taken by constables of the peace were endorsed by
other officials such as the sheriff or hundredal bailiffs, as in the cases
of Stephen Denyel of Walsoken, indicted of theft before the bailiffs of the
bishop of Ely `de Mershland' and the constables of the peace, (85) and
Joanna Willes, indicted before John Daundelyn (sheriff of Northamptonshire)
and Richard Foxley (keeper of the peace in the hundred of Towcester). (86)
Walter Crask was indicted before John Leem and John Carleton (constables of
the hundred of Tunstead in Norfolk) and before the hundred bailiff, (87)
while Robert Launcy was indicted before Nicholas Golafre (bailiff of Queen
Isabella for the hundred of Fawsley) and a keeper of the peace in that
hundred, John Tewe. (88)
Despite the widespread
evidence available in both chronological and geographical terms for the
practice of hundredal keepers hearing indictments and, moreover, the
acceptance of these indictments by numerous justices, some controversy and
uncertainty seems to have existed (as reflected in the plea rolls) as to the
competence of sub-keepers in taking indictments. In 1310, for instance,
Gilbert Pentyng and his daughter, Margery, were indicted before the
constables of the hundred, but the justices decided the latter did not have
the power and warrant (potestatem et warantum) to inquire of felonies. (89)
In 1330 John le Porter of Worstead and John Nottingham were indicted for
theft by Roger Breton and Thomas Milham, constables of the hundred of
Brothircross, but were released sine die after the sheriff testified that
the defendants were not brought to court at the suit of anyone, nor taken
with stolen goods and, furthermore, the indictment had not been made
recently: it appeared to the court that an indictment taken before
constables was not sufficient to bring persons to trial in a judgment of
blood (ad deducendum in iudicium vite seu membrum). (90) The hearing of
indictments by local officials was still regarded as a problem in 1371. When
four men appeared in court who had been indicted for theft before John
Lomere and Roger Upham, constables of the peace for the hundred of Munstoke
in Hampshire, the justices decided that the constables did not have the
requisite authority to take the indictment and ordered a diligent inquiry as
to whether the men were guilty of felony. (91)
While there are some
instances of court rulings against indictments heard before hundredal
keepers, many royal justices were content to allow them. Indeed, there
appears to have been neither legislation against the practice nor any
evidence of a decided policy in this matter. (92) This seems to underline
the measure of participation in the administration of justice afforded those
operating at hundred level. It also illustrates the extent to which local
justice could operate without definite policy, or permission from above.
The refusal to accept the
indictments may have been related not so much to the standing of the
officers involved as to the fact they were hearing felonies (as opposed to
trespasses). Since the gaol delivery rolls are for the most part concerned
solely with felonies and the surviving records of early fourteenth-century
peace sessions (which include trespasses) are few in number, this hypothesis
cannot adequately be tested. Alternatively, it may have been the type of
felony that exercised the concern of the justices: whether the indictment
was for a violent or non-violent offence. Analysis of indictments that were
taken by local officials (and accepted by the justices) indicates that the
majority were property-related, involving the theft of horses or other
important articles or the alleged burglary of a house. (93) With certain
exceptions, (94) they were not felonies involving death or violence to the
person. Endorsement by other officials (as noted above) may perhaps have
provided legitimation in the eyes of some doubting justices, but there were
instances when even bailiffs and stewards, who were allowed to hear
indictments in hundreds in private hands, were held to be acting illegally.
In 1349, for example, Robert Boseville, steward of the bishop of Ely, was
held to be in mercy for taking an indictment for homicide without warrant.
(95) Similarly, an indictment for rape taken before John Tower, a steward of
the earl of Salisbury, was held by the justices to have been heard without
the requisite warrant in 1367. (96) Both were indictments for felonies where
violence to the person was the principal component of the offence.
Reflecting other changes in the judicial system, such as the institution of
the `quorum' for felonies tried by the justices of the peace, (97) the Crown
may have been taking a particular interest in the judicial processes
surrounding serious crimes.
Officials involved in the
processes of indictment and arrest, such as the sheriff, coroners,
constables and bailiffs, were obliged to attend gaol deliveries in the line
of duty. This was not simply because they held such posts, but primarily
because they would (or should) have been present at the sessions of the
hundred and county courts and attended the sheriff's tourn or courts leet
and would thus have had knowledge and information about suspects, either at
first hand or from communication with the tithing men or other local
officials. (98) Sometimes they could provide evidence crucial to the
continuance or outcome of a trial. Richard Oliver of Buckenham, charged with
stealing a cap and other goods, said he had bought the cap from John Austin
of South Walsham for 1 1/2d. in Norwich marketplace. John Austin appeared in
court and admitted that he had sold the cap to Oliver as the latter had
alleged. Roger Hakeford, bailiff of Blofield, then testified that Austin was
indicted of the theft before the sheriff. (99) John Rust and John son of
Isabel were remanded because the constables who arrested them were not
present in court to testify as to the cause of their capture. (100) In cases
of prison breach the keeper (or constable) of the gaol was required to
provide details of the escape and recapture. (101) The discovery of some
procedural anomaly or an insufficiency of evidence that could not be
rectified without the presence of the official might also cause delay in the
trial or result in the acquittal of the accused. Matilda at Gate was
released on bail because the indictment taken by William Bredon, steward of
William Ingwardly, did not indicate the inquest by which she was indicted
nor show any offence for which she ought to have been arrested or
imprisoned. (102) In 1325 a trial was delayed because John Fleming,
constable of the peace for the hundred of Kistesgate in Gloucestershire had
not come with his indictments. (103) Hugo le Bercher was similarly remanded
because the constable who issued the indictment was not present in court
with it. (104)
The reliance on local
officials in court proceedings extended further than this: they frequently
played a vital role as presenting jurors. Indeed, in 1306 at least eight of
the seventeen new constables of the peace for hundreds in Shropshire were
elected from the ranks of the jurors presenting offences at the trailbaston
sessions. (105) This practice seems to have been common throughout the
fourteenth century, although the paucity of rolls that identify jurors make
its frequency difficult to quantify. One third of the hundred keepers
appointed in Hertfordshire in 1321 had served as jurors in the peace
sessions held in the county in 1314-15. (106) Four of the men appointed
sub-keepers for Lancashire in 1323 were in a jury of combined wapentakes
presenting offences in the king's bench sessions of that year, while another
three were included in a `grand jury'. (107) One third of the sub-keepers
then served as presenting jurors in the sessions held before keepers of the
county in 1332-3. (108) Nearly 40 per cent of the men appointed in 1345 had
served as jurors in major sessions, seven having been jurors for the 1332-3
peace sessions and eleven for those of 1338-9. (109) At sessions held in
Coventry before the city justices of the peace, a jury of borough constables
(constables empowered to keep the peace) provided presentments at sixteen
out of the nineteen surviving sessions held between 1377 and 1381 and at
most of those between 1395 and 1397. (110) They also acted as jurors before
the county justices when they held sessions there. (111) In the later
fourteenth century constables played an important role in presenting
defaults under the labour legislation. (112) In acting simultaneously as
peacekeeping officials and jurors they to some extent constituted an
attenuated form of public prosecuting agency, though not of course in the
systematic and organized way that we would understand it.
A comparison between jurors
and offences presented at the two sets of Lancashire peace sessions provides
evidence that there could be a link between one or more members of the panel
and the victim of an offence. A jury containing one of the sub-keepers for
Amounderness, Laurence Travers (1323 and 1345) accused William Dilleward of
stealing at Fishwick a black ox belonging to Thomas, son of Laurence
Travers. Similarly, William Heton, a sub-keeper in 1323 and a juror in both
the 1332-3 and 1338-9 sessions, was among those who presented that William
son of Roger Burgh had beaten and wounded John Heton. It would appear,
therefore, that constables had no hesitation in putting forward offences of
which they themselves or relatives had allegedly been victims, in itself a
practice that was not entirely unusual among jurors at peace sessions. (113)
Constables and other
officials such as coroners often served on trial juries and it may have been
their knowledge of the case and involvement in forensic matters that
clinched their position on the jury panel. (114) The undertaking of
`considerable detective work ... by such figures of the local legal
establishment as justices of the peace, undersheriffs, and constables' can
sometimes be gleaned from details contained in an indictment; for example,
one recorded the manner in which a grave (to hide a body) was dug (slicing
through tree roots), the grave's location and the replanting of the area to
confuse any searchers. (115) A one-time mayor of Lincoln, the aptly named
Peter Belassise, served as a presenting juror and was named on the gaol
delivery panel at Lincoln in the 1350s. (116) Three of the five Salford
sub-keepers of 1323 and two of the four sub-keepers for Lonsdale formed a
trial jury for their respective wapentakes at Lancaster gaol delivery
sessions held in 1324-6. (117) Indeed, a quarter of the 1323 sub-keepers
were trial jurors at those sessions. (118) The apparent self-interest was
not necessarily prejudicial to the person indicted. At a Surrey gaol
delivery session in 1317, Emma Manning, who had been indicted before the
constables of the peace, John Matham and James Woodham, for theft of meat,
corn and other goods belonging to James Woodham, was acquitted of the
alleged crime. (119) A local official presiding as a justice could be
equally benign. Thomas Milham, constable of the peace for the hundred of
Brothircross in Norfolk, sat (with assize justice, Simon Hethersett) as a
gaol delivery justice for the liberty of North Elmham in 1332, but the sole
prisoner before him was acquitted. (120) Milham's brief appearance as a
justice (probably an ad hoc co-option in order to provide a second member on
the gaol delivery panel) indicates that sub-keepers could be called upon to
serve the Crown in a surprising number of capacities, some of which were
directly related to the administration of royal justice. The proper (and
continued) functioning of the criminal justice system was thus in large
measure a direct result of their substantial.
This paper has tried to
provide a vignette of the world below the well-researched county keepers of
the peace, indicating a parallel evolution and a role in peacekeeping that
was at least as important as theirs. Constables and keepers of the peace did
not exist in separate worlds, however, nor were they necessarily competing
for jurisdiction. Indeed, the careers of sub-keepers reflected changes that
were taking place in the personnel and status of county commissions. In the
early fourteenth century the peace commissions were initially very small,
consisting of a panel of two or three men. Occasionally hundredal keepers
were appointed to these: Ralph St. Lawrence, a keeper of the peace for the
hundred of Ringslo in Kent in 1318, was elevated to county keeper in 1323;
(121) Andrew St. Lucio, a keeper of the peace for the hundred of Stotfold in
Buckinghamshire in about 1316 joined the county bench in 1326. (122) A
doubling in the size of county commissions, which occurred from 1332,
brought in people from various counties who had previously been subordinate
keepers: Thomas Lovaine, a keeper of the peace for the hundred of Dunmow in
Essex in 1321, was appointed a keeper of the county for Suffolk in 1332;
(123) in the same year Nicholas Langford, a sub-keeper in the Lancashire
wapentake of Salford in 1323, became first a keeper of the peace for
Derbyshire and then keeper of the county. (124) It was by then quite normal
to find sub-keepers progressing to the county bench. Richard Keighley, a
sub-keeper for Amounderness in 1323, became a justice of the peace for
Lancashire in 1338, (125) while Adam Houghton and Roger Pilkington
(appointed effectively as sub-keepers in a commission of 1350) became
justices of the peace in 1361. (126)
It has been beyond the
scope of this present investigation, however, to produce a comprehensive
analysis or to compare changes within the county commissions over a lengthy
time period. The effects of further expansion (and occasional reduction) in
their overall size, the advent of `honorary' positions and a core of
`working' justices, as well as the power to appoint deputies will have to be
examined on a future occasion. From the later fourteenth century there was
also a corresponding increase in the business accepted by the justices of
the peace at their quarter sessions, particularly as a result of the labour
legislation and other statutory economic offences, which may have led to
some of this burden being placed on the shoulders of the hundred constables.
In order to provide a
deeper understanding of the peacekeeping network and its relationship with
the authority stemming from status and position, some examination is
required of the social background of keepers operating at hundred level.
Although no detailed account can as yet be given (partly a reflection of the
scarcity of available information on the status and landholding of some
families), it is apparent that the social range was fairly varied: some
sub-keepers came from recognizable county families (some were styled
knights, some were distrained to knighthood), (128) but most were perhaps
minor gentry and included some who were substantial peasants. Their work
undoubtedly required an element of legal knowledge and understanding as well
as the necessary standing locally to carry out the tasks successfully. Ralph
Chastiloun, for example, one of the keepers of the peace for the hundred of
Chadlington in Oxfordshire in the 1320s, was a coroner of the county in the
1330s. (129) While some men achieved `promotion' to county office, it is
equally apparent that others had no such ambitions. Further, within this
spectrum there were no doubt some aspiring lawyers, although it is unlikely
that people in this group went on to later careers in the higher judiciary.
Analysis of men serving at hundred level not only indicates a blurring of
distinctions between members of landed society and `men of law', but also
exemplifies the wide social background of appointments to local offices.
This analysis has sought to
highlight not simply the importance and the sheer weight of the sub-keepers'
involvement in local law enforcement, but also their valuable contribution
to the administration of justice through service on juries, in taking
indictments (even if this practice was sometimes frowned upon) and in
exercising their own initiative when necessary. Indeed, it was the variety
of decisions and choices made by constables in their different capacities
that had a profound influence on the functioning of the criminal justice
system at the local level. (131) The system of peacekeeping was not immune
from negligence, wilful default or plain laziness and the agents of local
law enforcement were clearly not perfect. For the less scrupulous, the
position of sub-keeper or constable increased the opportunity for malicious
prosecution and wrongful arrest, deliberate cruelty or the working out of
personal vendettas. There is some suggestion of this in sermon exempla,
(132) while Langland in Piers Plowman criticized local officials who
obtained payment for releasing prisoners (`unfetere the fals and fle wher
hym lyketh') and for indulging in malicious prosecution (`And hangeth hym
for hatrede'). (133) Judicial investigations into the administration of the
shires frequently produced allegations of misconduct by officials.
Overzealous officials risked amercement for false imprisonment, (134) but
the accusations often proved to be unfounded or were not prosecuted. (135)
They could also face judgment for letting a prisoner escape, even if the
offender made off while the constables had permitted him to eat or relieve
his bladder. (136)
During the trailbaston
visitations of 1305-7, investigations as to whether watches had been kept
and gates closed and whether the constables of the peace had held the view
of arms twice a year as required by statute, revealed that in some hundreds
all was well (omnia bene sunt). (137) In others, however, the watch had not
been kept, the gates were left open, and although lack of diligence might be
strenuously denied in some cases, constables admitted that they had not
regularly carried out the view of arms. (138) Yet to what extent were the
complaints indicative of failure in the system? We should be careful not to
judge the effectiveness of the constables' work simply on these
presentments. Although the vills and hundreds of at least four counties
admitted in 1314 that the provisions of the Statute of Winchester concerning
roads and ditches had not been carried out or that watches were not being
kept regularly, they nevertheless maintained that nobody had suffered as a
consequence. (139) Furthermore, it was surely not in the inhabitants'
interests to allow lawlessness or the activities of suspicious strangers to
go unchecked. Perhaps the local community balked at the cost of local
policing, which in addition to expenditure in terms of time was possibly
funded by levy. Certainly the 1321 Essex and Hertfordshire keepers of the
peace for hundreds were granted an allowance towards their expenses (and
those of the persons selected by them to keep guard) by an assessment on the
inhabitants of the particular hundred. (140) Similarly, all householders and
inhabitants in London had to pay charges for the guarding of the City. (141)
The shortcomings of local
peacekeeping are easily highlighted in literary works and government
investigations. The perception of local officialdom as disruptive and
corrupt appears for instance in a sermon which offers an image of royal
administration as various beasts of prey attacking a corpse: the lesser
officials (constables, bailiffs and castellans) are unflattering portrayed
as kites and crows. (142) Yet, while the sheriff and his officers are
targeted in Piers Plowman, the sermon literature concentrates more on
bailiffs and other manorial officials, who are criticized extensively, being
regarded as predatory in nature and undertaking pacts with the devil. (143)
Some of this may have fed into real life as law-enforcement officers
frequently suffered abuse while they were trying to carry out their duties (quia
ipsi constabularii fecerunt officium suum), either from some form of
physical intimidation or accusations of malicious prosecution. Surviving
judicial records portray a culture of violent reaction: one constable of the
peace was allegedly killed, others were assaulted, had their attempts to
arrest offenders resisted or their attempts to obtain oaths from labourers
rebuffed. (144) One reason for the dissatisfaction may have been that
individuals on the ground found it difficult to distinguish legal violence
from the illegal variety, between legitimate arrests and what was an excuse
for an assault, between justified distraint of goods and what appeared to be
outright robbery. (145) In carrying out their duties, constables were in
fact caught between the wording of the statutes on the one hand, and the
reality at the local level on the other. It was not easy to maintain a
perfect balance when an official might have his commission disbelieved and
the warrant torn up in his face. In 1371, for instance, when local officials
in Lakenheath in Suffolk attempted to distrain certain chattels, a bailiff's
wand of office was broken in defiance as the villagers tried to take back
their property. (146) Moreover, the constant vigilance and immediacy of
response conceived of and required by the legal system to deal with any
suspicious persons or actions was not humanly possible twenty-four hours a
day. And even if the standard precautions were frequently ignored or
overlooked, some latitude towards failures in peacekeeping should be
accorded local officials and the communities they served. Sometimes informal
sanctions might be considered more appropriate. As one historian has put it,
`what really mattered was the maintenance of specific, local, personal
relationships, not conformity to impersonal law'. The most important quality
for local officers, therefore, was the ability to juggle the needs and
requirements of the shire community with those of royal government. (147)
Where this broke down, as
in times of political upheaval and economic stress, or as a result of
continuing royal or seigneurial demands, the local community often came
first. This was particularly true when, following the demands of the Statute
of Labourers and with the advent of poll taxes and searching judicial
inquiries, the loyalties of the `middle men' were stretched in opposing
directions. An unwillingness exhibited by constables of Lakenheath `to
answer for certain articles' at the king's bench visitation of Suffolk in
1379 exemplifies this dilemma. (148) It is not surprising to find that many
of the leaders of the peasant movements in 1381 were those who held
authority as bailiffs or constables. (149) While this was in many ways a
mark of their local power, more importantly it signalled their own
dissatisfaction or exasperation with the judicial system.
To argue for or against
their effectiveness as peacekeepers is an inconclusive and redundant
exercise since there are many areas of their activities for which we have
neither source material nor adequate comprehension. Moreover, an examination
of the lower echelons of the peacekeeping network should not result in an
over-concentration on their role, however integral to medieval law and order
it was. They were but a cog in the judicial machine, interacting with the
agencies of central government and other local agents as appropriate, to
enforce what was essentially everyone's right to a trouble-free existence,
but which was technically `the king's peace'. In the wider context,
therefore, it should be remembered that keeping the peace in late medieval
England relied at every level on the continued functioning of a complex
combination of law and office, obligation and influence, and upon the
coordination and coherence of the social structure, which itself ultimately
depended upon the role of the Crown, the stability of the regime and the
nature of the king's rule.
A. J. MUSSON
University of Exeter
by Oxford University Press
Copyright ©Oxford University Press 2003
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IN ENGLAND AND THE AMERICAN COLONIES -- PENNSYLVANIA
The office of constable was
introduced into British common law following the Norman invasion of the
British Isle in 1066 A.D. The Constable was one of many political
institutions introduced into English Law by the Norman conquerors whose
"Conestabulus" or "Count of the Stable" eventually
evolved into the institution we know today.
Originally, the Constable
was responsible for keeping the militia and armaments of the king, and those
of the individual villages, in a state of preparedness for the protection of
the village communities throughout England. The office eventually became an
integral arm of the military throughout Britain. During the reign of King
Stephen, the office of Lord High Constable was established, and those who
filled this position became the King's representatives in all matters
dealing with the military affairs of the realm and the overseeing of the
In 1285, the first written
records establishing the position of Constable appeared in the Statutes of
Winchester under the rule of Edward I. According to the Statutes "in
every hundred and franchise two constables shall be chosen to make the view
of the armour." But even earlier records exist which give evidence of
the Constable's internal peace keeping responsibility and his closeness to
the king himself: Henry King of
England and duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou son King henry to William
Velud greeting. I forbid you unjustly to molest or to have molested the
monks of Horton concerning the land of Huntbourne....And unless you do it
the keeper of the constablewick of saltwood shall have it done.... This
reference to a "constablewick" (custos constablilie) indicates
that the king had direct contact through his writs to the constables then
operating in Britain.
The constable, then, seems
to have been cloaked in a number of roles under the reigns of the early
Norman kings. He was in charge of military affairs for the king throughout
his realm and served as an enforcing agent of the king's writs. This
combination of duties reflect the medieval character of the office when
feudal government and its political institutions spread throughout Britain
to assure that peace was maintained even in the remotest corners of the
country far from the King's protection. During the Tudor period (Henry VIII
to Elisabeth I) the constable still maintained his position as a military
representative of the monarch. His duty was "to prepare the muster of
his district which the constable of the Shire would embody in the array of
the country to be in turn marshaled in the army of the realm by the high
constable of England."
Local settlements in
England depended on constables to assure the maintenance of the peace.
Election of petty constable as established under the reign of Edward became
the basis for local control of the "king's
In a manner similar to
their English counterparts the new American constable had his roots in the
military aspects of the community at least in New England. the constable of
the early New England settlements bore many of the same duties and
responsibilities of his counterparts in England. He was the keeper of the
peace and a marshal of the early militias, established to protect the
village in which he was administrator. By common law tradition, the
constable was the primary official in the community and a community was not
recognized as an established village or parish unless a constable was
present in the community.
Constables in the newly
forming colonies of America brought with them some of the trappings of the
English constable. But the duties of the office were not consistent in all
areas of the American colonies. In 1634 Joshua Pratt was chosen constable in
Plymouth. Among his duties were the carrying out of any punishments meted
out by local tribunals, sealer of weights and measurements, surveyor of the
land, responsibility for announcing any forthcoming marriages in the
community, and delivery and execution of all warrants. While many duties
were delegated to officials other than the constable, in general the
constable was responsible for the "Watch and Ward", the Ward
during the day, and the Watch at night in order to keep the community
peaceful. The New England settlers went as far as to appoint Indian
constables each holding office for a year and responsible for overseeing
nine other Indians under his command, and was obligated to report to
appropriate officials any acts of misconduct.
The constables of the New
England colonies bear great resemblance to the constables of Pennsylvania.
Originally, Pennsylvania was part of the holdings of the Duke of York whose
strict system of laws was administered by constables throughout his
holdings. Later, under King Charles II land was granted within the Duke's
realm to William Penn. Under Penn's governance, he and his functionaries
chose constables during the early organization of the colony. Unlike their
New England counterparts they were not appointed to oversee individual
communities, but were appointed to hold governance over a particular
geographic region. Later on with the incorporation of townships and boroughs
provisions were made for the election or appointment of constables within
The role of the constable
in any particular area in Pennsylvania depended largely on the form of
municipal government in that particular area. In the township or ward, the
constable's duties were established and uniform from one township or ward to
the next. Constables in townships and wards were chosen annually, and on the
same day as the selection of other local officers. The names of the men
chosen to be constable by the electorate were then submitted to their
governing court of Quarter Sessions. The man chosen by the local electorate
was then sent to the Court of Quarter Sessions where his eligibility was
determined by the Judge of that court.
Among other things, the
candidate had to have a freehold estate of the value of at least $1,000.
Those candidates chosen for the office in the township or ward were required
by law to make an appearance before the Court of Quarter Sessions in order
to accept the office and wait for Judge's determination eligibility. If the
man selected did not attend the court at the prescribed time, he was fined
forty dollars. If he declined to serve after election he was penalized
Constables of towns, wards
or townships were cloaked with the duties of local peacekeeper. They were
required to maintain the peace, execute all warrants directed to them by the
local justice and to assure that no unruly crowds were allowed to gather. If
while in office any constable refused to perform his duties heavy fines were
provided for in law.
While the office of
constable was fairly uniform within towns, townships, and wards, the duties
of the constable were not uniformly established in the borough system in the
colony of Pennsylvania. In the Borough of Bristol, established in the early
eighteenth century, the constable aside from all his peace-keeping duties
was also clerk of the market, and in addition, regulated the sale of bread,
wine, beer, and wood. In Lancaster and Carlisle boroughs the constable along
with the burgess and their assistants were permitted to convene town
meetings, to pass local ordinances and levy fines.
By 1830 with the
establishment of police forces in many of the larger municipalities in Pennsylvania
the dues and powers of the constables began to erode, out of disuse (not by
statue), in many of the larger cities.
By 1873 constables were
given uniform powers throughout the state.
The newly passed revision
of the Pennsylvania's constitution called for a regularization of all laws
dealing with borough government. Constables of the boroughs of Pennsylvania
were now given uniform authority to make arrests on view as their
counterparts in towns, townships and wards were allowed to do.
What is a Pennsylvania
State Constable today?
The Pennsylvania State
Constable is the law enforcement arm of the minor judiciary (District
Justices) of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Constable is the oldest
law enforcement branch of Pennsylvania and now since the enactment of Act
44-1994, we are fully certified by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and
The Constable may also act
as a local law enforcement officer of his bailiwick under supervision of the
A Constable is a Law
Enforcement Professional that performs private, civil and official services.
Constables date back to early English times, are described in the Magna
Carta, and were the first Peace Officers in Pennsylvania. Constables carry
the powers of arrest, both when executing Arrest Warrants, and for breaches
of the peace they witness within the boundaries of the Commonwealth.
Constables are required to attend and pass an 80 hour training academy to
receive certification through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and
Delinquency under Act 44, and to successfully complete 40 hours of yearly
updates on law and firearms training to maintain their certification.
All costs for training are
paid through a surcharge on the papers Constables serve from the District
Courts. All costs for equipment, bonds, insurance and expenses are borne
solely by the Constable. Constables earn their pay under a State Law called
the Constables Fee Bill, and these fee's are paid by the defendant in
criminal and summary cases, and up front by the plaintiff in civil cases.
The Taxpayer and his money normally do not incur the costs of the Office of
Harris County Constable
(1.) J. A. Sharpe, `The Law,
Law Enforcement, State Formation and National Integration in Late Medieval and
Early Modern England', in X. Rousseau and R. Levy (eds), Le penal dans tous ces
etats: Justice, etats et societes en Europe (XIIe-XXe siecles), Publication des
Facultes universitaires Saint-Louis, 74 (Brussels, 1997), pp. 65-7, 79-80.
(2.) B. H. Putnam, `The
Transformation of the Keepers of the Peace into the Justices of the Peace,
1327-80', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, 12 (1929),
(3.) E. Powell, `The
Administration of Criminal Justice in Late-Medieval England: Peace Sessions and
Assizes', in R. Eales and D. Sullivan (ed.), The Political Context of Law
(London, 1987), pp. 49-59; A. J. Verduyn, `The Politics of Law and Order during
the Early Years of Edward III', ante, 108 (1993), 842-67; A. Musson, Public
Order and Law Enforcement: The Local Administration of Criminal Justice in
England, 1294-1350 (Woodbridge, 1996); R. C. Palmer, English Law in the Age of
the Black Death: A Transformation of Governance and Law, 1348-1381 (Chapel Hill,
NC, 1994); S. Walker, `Yorkshire Justices of the Peace, 1388-1413', ante, 108
(1993), pp. 281-311.
(4.) A. Musson and W. M. Ormrod,
The Evolution of English Justice: Law, Politics and Society in the Fourteenth
Century (Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 72-4.
(5.) H. Cam, `Shire Officials:
Coroners, Constables and Bailiffs', in J. Willard, W. A. Morris, and W. H.
Dunham (ed.), The English Government at Work, 1327-1336 (3 vols; Cambridge,
Mass., 1945-50), vol. 3, pp. 165-7.
(6.) H. M. Jewell, English
Local Administration in the Middle Ages (Newton Abbott, 1972), pp. 37, 173-4; A.
Harding, `The Origins and Early History of the Keeper of the Peace',
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 10 (1960), 86, 88-90.
(7.) H. R. T. Summerson, `The
Structure of Law Enforcement in Thirteenth Century England', American Journal of
Legal History, 23 (1979), 315-17.
(8.) H. Cam, The Hundred and
the Hundred Rolls (London, 1930) and Liberties and Communities in Medieval
England (London, 1963).
(9.) Robert Palmer, The County
Courts of Medieval England, 1150-1350 (Princeton, NJ, 1982).
(10.) In the same way, there
was an overlap in the terminology employed for the county keepers which could
vary from the Latin `custos' or `conservator' to the French `guardein'.
(11.) Public Record Office,
JUST 3/50/2 m6 (1337 -- Norfolk). All subsequent ms references are also to
documents in the Public Record Office.
(12.) Proceedings before the
Justices of the Peace in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: Edward III to
Richard III, ed. B. H. Putnam, Ames Foundation (London, 1938), pp.
(13.) Cam, `Shire Officials',
pp. 166-7; Cam, Liberties and Communities, pp. 200-4; H. Summerson, `Maitland
and the Criminal Law in the Age of Bracton', Proceedings of the British Academy,
89 (1996), 136-7; P. King, `Decision Makers and Decision Making in the English
Criminal Law, 1750-1800', The Historical Journal, 27 (1984), 27, 55-6.
(14.) M. C. Powicke, Military
Obligation in Medieval England (Oxford, 1962), pp. 64, 119-20; H. R. T.
Summerson, `The Enforcement of the Statute of Winchester, 1285-1327', Journal of
Legal History, 13 (1992), 232.
(15.) Statutes of the Realm
(hereafter SR), 1101-1713, ed. A. Luders et al. (11 vols; London, 1910-28), vol.
1, pp. 96-8; Powicke, Military Obligation, p. 120.
(16.) JUST 1/746 m5 (Chirbury
Hundred), m6 (liberty of Shrewsbury).
(17.) For example: JUST 1/746
m4 (1306 -- Shropshire).
(18.) JUST 1/746 m5, 5d.
(19.) Summerson, `Maitland and
the Criminal Law', 137.
(20.) SR, vol. 1, p. 258 (c.
3); Cam, Liberties and Communities, p. 152.
(21.) SR, vol. 1, p. 268 (c.
14); Cam, `Shire Officials', pp. 169-70.
(22.) SR, vol. 1, pp. 307-9,
311-13; B. H. Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers during the
First Decade after the Black Death, 1349-59 (New York, 1908).
(23.) L. R. Poos, `The Social
Context of Statute of Labourers Enforcement', Law and History Review, 1 (1983),
(24.) Harding, `Early History',
99-100; Cam `Shire Officials', pp. 167-9.
(25.) Parliamentary Writs and
Writs of Military Summons, ed. F. Palgrave (2 vols in 2 parts; London, 1827),
vol. 2, pt. 2 (appendix), pp. 11-12.
(26.) A phrase found in the
Statute of Winchester and also used regularly in the preface to general
commissions of the peace and of oyer and terminer: come plusours maufesours et
destourbours de nostre pees ...
(27.) C 66/155 m7d.
(28.) C[alendar of] P[atent]
R[olls] 1321-4, pp. 60-1.
(29.) CPR 1321-4, p. 382.
(30.) C 66/159 m12d.
(31.) South Lancashire in the
Reign of Edward II, ed. G. H. Tupling, Chetham Society, 3rd series, 1 (1949),
pp. xxii, lviii; S. Waugh, `The Profits of Violence: The Minor Gentry in the
Rebellion of 1321-1322 in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire', Speculum, 52
(32.) R. Horrox, Richard III. A
Study of Service (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 11, 23.
(33.) CPR 1327-30, p. 481.
(34.) CPR 1327-30, p. 481 (25
(35.) C 66/172 m2d: ad felonias
et transgressione ... perpetractas ad sectam nostram vel aliorum versus eos inde
prosequi volencium audiendas et terminandas sumpto ad hoc si necesse fuerit
posse comitatu predicti.
(36.) Verduyn, `Politics of Law
and Order', 847.
(37.) The king's bench rolls
provide evidence of indictments heard before Richard Damory and his associates
(county keepers of the peace) and before the mayor and bailiffs and keepers of
the peace of the city of Oxford (KB 27/281 Rex mm 20d, 22).
(38.) CPR 1343-5, pp. 509-10.
(39.) K. Fowler, The King's
Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster, 1310-1361 (London,
1969), pp. 48-51.
(40.) R. Stewart Brown, `Two
Medieval Liverpool Affrays', Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire
Historical Society, 85 (1933), 71-81.
(41.) C 66/213 m15d.
(42.) A fresh county peace
commission was issued in 1346 and included an array clause (CPR 1345-8, pp.
(43.) For one of the few early
examples see A. J. Verduyn, `The revocation of urban peace commissions in 1381:
the Lincoln petition', Historical Research, 65 (1992), 108-111.
(44.) E. G. Kimball,
`Commissions of the Peace for Urban Jurisdictions in England, 1327-1485',
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 121 (1977), 449-51.
(45.) CPR 1307-13, p. 415.
(46.) Ibid., p. 480.
(47.) For example: JUST 3/51/4
m8 (Northampton); Rolls of the Warwickshire and Coventry Sessions of the Peace,
1377-1397, ed. E. Kimball, Dugdale Society, 16 (1939), pp. xxiv-xxv.
(48.) CPR 1338-40, p. 140 (12
(49.) CPR 1345-8, p. 176 (16
(50.) Kimball, Warwickshire
Rolls, pp. xxv-xxvi; W. M. Ormrod, `York and the Crown under the First Three
Edwards', in S. Rees Jones (ed.), The Government of Medieval York, Essays in
commemoration of the 1396 Royal Charter, Borthwick Studies in History, 3 (1997),
(51.) For example: CPR 1361-4,
pp. 530 (Beverley), 531 (Knaresborough and Stancliff), 531 (addressed to the
Chancellor of Oxford University and the Mayor of Oxford); Kimball, Warwickshire
Rolls, p. xxiii.
(52.) Kimball, Warwickshire
Rolls, p. xxiii.
(53.) S. Rees Jones, `York's
Civic Administration, 1354-1464', in S. Rees Jones (ed.), Government in Medieval
York, pp. 116-18.
(54.) W. A. Morris, `The
Sheriff', in Morris and Strayer (ed.), English Government at Work, vol. 2, pp.
57, 68-9; E. Powell, Kingship, Law and Society (Oxford, 1989), pp. 74-6.
(55.) JUST 1/353 m6.
(56.) B. H. Putnam, The Place
in Legal History of Sir William Shareshull (Cambridge, 1950), p. 63.
(57.) For example: JUST 3/96
m15d (1296 -- Warwickshire), 31/1 m1 (1307 -- Leicestershire), 51/4 m8 (1324 --
Northamptonshire), 32/1 m3, 3d (1329 -- Lincolnshire).
(58.) For example: JUST 1/96
m59d (1299 -- Cambridgeshire), JUST 3/48 m16 (1312 -- Norfolk), 32/1 m7d (1331
(59.) JUST 3/95 m6 (1295).
(60.) For example: JUST 3/51/3
m14 (constables of the peace in Peterborough).
(61.) 1 Henry V c. 5; Powell,
Kingship, p. 67.
(62.) SC 8/41/2034.
(63.) For example: JUST 3/166
(64.) JUST 3/119 m10d
(65.) JUST 3/133 m1d (1341 --
(66.) Musson, Public Order and
Law Enforcement, pp. 107-22.
(67.) JUST 3/96 m16d.
(68.) JUST 3/51/4 m3.
(69.) F. M. Pollock and F. W.
Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I (2nd edn; repr.
Cambridge, 1968), vol. 2, pp. 578-80; R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robin
Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw rev edn (Stroud, 1997), p. 29.
(70.) JUST 3/47/3 m1 (Norfolk).
(71.) JUST 3/125 m8d (1331 --
(72.) Select Cases in the Court
of King's Bench, ed. G. O. Sayles, Selden Society, 74 (London, 1957), vol. 4,
(73.) JUST 3/145 m8d (1360 --
(74.) JUST 3/96 m42.
(75.) JUST 3/74/3 m1.
(76.) JUST 3/112 m12.
(77.) JUST 3/115B m4, 4d.
(78.) JUST 3/22/2 m2.
(79.) JUST 3/214/3 m16.
(80.) JUST 3/127 m15d.
(81.) JUST 3/134 m2.
(82.) Essex: JUST 3/18/5 m10;
Hertfordshire: JUST 3/22/2 mm2, 3d, 4d, 5d. Unfortunately, no indictments before
the Lancashire sub-keepers can be found on the surviving gaol delivery roll for
1324-6 (JUST 3/29/2).
(83.) JUST 3/18/5 m18d.
(84.) For example: JUST 1/333 (Hertfordshire),
JUST 3/50/2 (Norfolk), 51/4 (Northamptonshire).
(85.) JUST 3/117 m14 (1326 --
(86.) JUST 3/51/4 m7 (1324 --
(87.) JUST 3/119 m10 (1328 --
(88.) JUST 3/51/4 m7.
(89.) JUST 3/48 m12.
(90.) JUST 3/125 m1 (Norfolk).
(91.) JUST 3/156 m3.
(92.) A statute of 1327 refers
to `sheriffs and bailiffs of liberties and all others that do take indictments
in their turns or elsewhere' in the context of the correct procedure for making
indictments and presenting them to the gaol delivery justice (SR, vol. 1, p. 257
(c. 17)), but does not indicate that certain officers were preferred for hearing
them. Professor Cam considers the apparent vacillation to be the result of a
clash between the Crown's policy of `the more presentments the better' and the
desire among some judges that the hearing of indictments be restricted to
certain authorized or accepted personnel (Cam, `Shire Officials', pp. 168-9).
(93.) For example: JUST 3/31/2
mm5, 7 (Lincolnshire); 96 m47 (Warwickshire); 51/4 mm3, 6, 7 (Northamptonshire);
112 mm12-13d, 15, 16 (Surrey).
(94.) For example: an
indictment for homicide taken before the bailiffs of the town of Derby and
bailiffs of the Earl of Lancaster OUST 3/55/3 m2d); the indictment of John
Culverd for the death of Isolde, his wife, taken before the keepers of the peace
of the town of Oxford (JUST 3/115B m1); and the indictment of William son of
Matilda Maydenman for the death of Luke Marshal, heard before William Farnham,
constable of the peace for the hundred of Bocking in Surrey OUST 3/112 m23d).
(95.) JUST 3/134 m64d.
(96.) JUST 3/156 m2.
(97.) For such developments see
Musson and Ormrod, Evolution, pp. 51, 61-2, 66-8.
(98.) Summerson, `Structure of
Law Enforcement', pp. 318-24.
(99.) JUST 3/49/1 m21.
(100.) JUST 3/48 m4.
(101.) JUST 3/49/1 m49.
(102.) JUST 1/467 m14d.
(103.) JUST 3/116 m5d.
(104.) JUST 3/48 m6.
(105.) JUST 1/746 mm1, 2d-4d,
(106.) JUST 1/333 m4.
(107.) KB 27/254 mm11, 12;
Tupling, South Lancashire, pp. 37, 42.
(108.) JUST 1/428 mm2-3.
(109.) JUST 1/429 mm16, 16d,
(110.) Kimball, Warwickshire
Rolls, pp. li, liii: the writ to the sheriff in the 1395 commission specifically
instructed him to summon the borough constables. Generally the borough
constables presented three times as many offences as the ordinary presenting
jurors, though a third of these were economic trespasses and only one sixth were
(111.) Ibid., p. liv.
(112.) Putnam, Proceedings, p.
(113.) A. Musson, `Twelve Good
Men and True? The Character of Early Fourteenth-Century Juries', Law and History
Review, 15 (1997), 120-1.
(114.) Musson, `Twelve Good Men
and True', pp. 227-8.
(125.) P. C. Maddern, Violence
and Social Order: East Anglia 1422-1442 (Oxford, 1992), p. 52.
(116.) Sessions of the Peace in
the City of Lincoln, 1351-1354 and the Borough of Stamford, 1351, ed. E. G.
Kimball, Lincoln Record Society, 65 (1972), p. xxix.
(117.) JUST 3/29/2 mm32, 33.
(118.) JUST 3/29/2 mm12, 32,
(119.) JUST 3/112 m29d.
(120.) JUST 3/125 m15.
(121.) CPR 1317-21, p. 17;
1321-4, p. 370.
(122.) JUST 3/5/2; CPR 1324-7,
(123.) CPR 1331-4, p. 61;
1330-4, p. 293.
(124.) CPR 1321-4, p. 382;
1330-4, pp. 286, 295, 297.
(125.) CPR 1321-4, p. 382;
1338-40, p. 137.
(126.) CPR 1348-50, p. 533;
1361-4, p. 66.
(127.) This was certainly the
case by the sixteenth century (K. Wrightson, `Two Concepts of Order: Justice,
Constables, and Jurymen in Seventeenth-Century England', in J. Brewer and J.
Styles (ed.), An Ungovernable People: the English and their Law in the Sixteenth
and Seventeenth Centuries (London, 1980), p. 26).
(128.) Five of the 1345
Lancashire sub-keepers were styled as knights in the commission; at least two
others were distrained to knighthood: Gilbert Skaresbrek (C 47/1/8 m13) and
David Egerton (E 198/3/22 m3).
(129.) For the dispute between
the Chastiloun and Nowers families that erupted in the mid-1330s and culminated
in Ralph Chastiloun's death and Roger Nowers' disgrace, see Musson, Public Order
and Law Enforcement, pp. 259-60, 274-6.
(130.) This area is explored
more fully in Musson and Ormrod, Evolution, pp. 68-70.
(131.) M. K. McIntosh,
Controlling Misbehaviour in England 1370-1600 (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 27-8, 40-1;
King, `Decision Makers', p. 26.
(132.) G. R. Owst, Literature
and Pulpit in Medieval England, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1961), pp. 169-71.
(133.) `Piers Plowman' by
William Langland: an edition of the C-text, ed. D. A. Pearsall (London, 1978),
CIII ll. 175, 177.
(134.) JUST 1/850 m5.
(135.) JUST 1/850 m1d, m4
(Suffolk), 596 m6d (Norfolk).
(136.) JUST 3/145 m3 (1360),
m17 (1361 -- Yorkshire).
(137.) For example: JUST 1/891
(138.) For example: JUST 1/746
(139.) JUST 1/20 mm4-5
(Bedfordshire), 70 mm2-3 (Buckinghamshire), 596 mm1-4 (Norfolk), 850 mm6-8d
(140.) C 66/155 m7d.
(141.) CPMR 1323-64, p. 189.
(142.) Owst, Literature and
Pulpit, p. 326.
(143.) A. P. Baldwin, The Theme
of Government in Piers Plowman (Woodbridge, 1981), p. 28; Owst, Literature and
Pulpit, pp. 162, 169-70, 328-9.
(144.) For example: JUST 1/1395
m1; Sessions of the Peace for Bedfordshire, 1355-59, 1363-4, ed. E. G. Kimball,
Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 48 (1969), pp. 34, 47-8, 73, 74, 75;
Poos, `Social Context', pp. 31-3; Wrightson, `Two Concepts of Order', p. 31.
(145.) Maddern, Violence and
Social Order, p. 72.
(146.) C. Dyer, Everyday Life
in Medieval England (London, 1994), p. 231.
(147.) Summerson, `Structure of
Law Enforcement', 315-17, 325-7; Wrightson, `Two Concepts of Order', pp. 23-6
(quotation at p. 25).
(148.) Dyer, Everyday Life, p.
(149.) C. Dyer, `The Social and
Economic Background to the Rural Revolt of 1381', in R. H. Hilton and T. Aston
(ed.), The English Rising of 1381 (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 17-19; A. J. Prescott,
`Judicial Records of the Rising of 1381', unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University
of London (1984), p. 100.