1610, the town of Tewkesbury petitions the king to escape a legal bond

The bailiffs, burgers and commonalty of Tewkesbury. SP 14/53 f. 61 (1610)

To the right honourable the Erle of Salisbury Lord Highe Threasurer of England.

The humble peticion of the bayliffes burgers and commonaltie of Tewkesbury in the countie of Gloucester.

Sheweth unto your honourable lordship that where they have bought of your lordship and others the comissioners for sale of his majesties landes the mannours boroughe and hundred of Tewkesbury in the countie of Gloucester which consiste altogether of free rentes burgars and tenementes which have noe land belongeinge unto them except garden plottes and such like notwithstanding uppon the passing of the said mannours ther is bond demaunded to pay for the tymber groweinge uppon the premisses, as it shalbe valued by comission accordinge to the usuall forme in that case which wold be a greate troble and charge to your poore suppliantes and noe benefitt at all to his majestie there being nether tymber nor firewood uppon the premisses and the inhabitantes have noe fuell but such as they fetch 40 or 50 myles by water.

May it therefore please your good lordship out of your accustomed favor towardes them to give order to Master Cartwright that the premisses may passe without entering of bond for the woodes and they as their humble duty is shalbe ever bound etc.

[Paratext:] Let Master [Hercy?] forthwith certefie me his knowledge concerning the truth of theis suggestions 24 March 1609/ R Salisbury

[Paratext:] May it please your good lordship I have perused the survey of the sayd mannour and borrough and finde that the same concisteth cheifly of freehold tenementes and burgages and very fewe by coppy or lease not having any other then smale quantities of grownde for backsids and gardens some the 10th parte of an acre of grownd some the 8 parte somme halfe a rode and somme a rode or two of growde and none exceeding 1 acre 1 rode on which likewise I doe not finde any woods or underwoods to be expressed in the same survey albeyt the jury had it expressly in chardge to present the nomber of trees and quantitie of timber and firewood yf any were soe noe doubt they would if there had bene any thereon 2 April 1610. / John [Herryss?] …

Report by Penny Bidgood

The day before this petition i.e. 23 March 1610, two important events occurred, namely, Tewkesbury was granted a charter by James I(1), and the bailiffs, burgers and commonality bought the manor and borough of Tewkesbury, as mentioned in their petition.

Tewkesbury had been granted its first charter in 1575, in the reign of Elizabeth I.  In this it gained corporate status, succeeded to the titles of the Lords of Tewkesbury and had its own court of Quarter Sessions. The council consisted of 2 bailiffs and 12 principal burgers. The borough corporation was important as it regulated trade both through control of markets and fairs and through authority over guilds and companies.

In 1605, James I granted Tewkesbury’s second charter, confirming the former corporate status and associated liberties.  It raised the number of burgers to 24 and increased the limit for debts to be decided in its court from 40 shillings to £30.  The borough was given custody of orphans and could appoint its own coroner and justices of the peace, the latter being the 2 bailiffs and 2 of the principal burgers.

The Charter of 1610 increased the number of justices to 6, added 24 assistant burgers and raised the debt limit to £50.  In addition the borough was to have its own gaol, a free school and the power to press and muster men within the borough.  For the first time the borough of Tewkesbury was to be represented in Parliament.  Most importantly this charter enlarged the borough to extend over the whole” liberty and hundred” i.e. various administrative divisions, of Tewkesbury.

The corporation bought the manor and borough of Tewkesbury for £2453.7s.41/2d.(2)  It had also bought the abbey church from the Crown which gave the borough greater influence than it would have otherwise in parish matters.(1)   This purchase left the corporation with a large debt.

This petition on behalf of the bailiffs, burgers and commonality, mentions the purchase but challenges that a bond should be paid for timber, as there is none in the area.

Salisbury, in response, refers the matter to Master John Hercy, a surveyor working in the Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer office at the time.

John Hercy, although of Nottinghamshire stock, was born at Cruchfield near Maidenhead in Berkshire.  He, and his son, another John, worked initially for the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Thomas Sackville, Ist Earl of Dorset who was Lord Treasurer before Salisbury initiated a survey of Crown lands; this was partly to bring the Crown estates into order and partly because Dorset wanted general enfranchisement of the estates.  John Hercy was his most prominent surveyor and by May 1608, when Dorset died, Hercy had surveyed 300 manors in 25 counties.  Hercy wrote to Salisbury, when he became Lord Treasurer, explaining his work and to defend its costs.(3)

Salisbury on discovering 300 surveys “scattered in corners” ordered them to be lodged in the Remembrancer’s Office and it was here that Hercy worked.  The Remembrancer was a subordinate of the English Exchequer and the Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer office included review and pursuit of Crown debts.(4)

Given that Salisbury refers this petition to Hercy we assume that he thought highly of his work.  Hercy replies that he cannot find timber on the lands.  Thus he finds in favour of the bailiffs, burgers and commonality of Tewkesbury and Salisbury agrees.


  1. ‘The borough of Tewkesbury: Local government’, in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 8, ed. C R Elrington (London, 1968), pp. 146-153. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol8/pp146-153
  2. James Bennett, The History of Tewkesbury (1830), appendix 6
  3. English Rural Society 1500-1800: Essays in honour of Joan Thirsk, edited by John Chartes and David Hey (1990), Chapter 4, ‘”Vain Projects”: the Crown and its copyholders in the reign of James I’ by Richard Hoyle
  4. The National Archives, Records of the Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C566


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.