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Bailiffs and Stewards

Alongside the ‘great book’ containing the excerpts from Brunetto Latini, Andrew Horn had a large collection of English statutes and other materials copied out, the Liber Horn, which was likewise left to the Guildhall in his will. It contains two French texts that include discussion of a manorial bailiff’s duties: the father-son dialogue, Walter of Henley, and the Seneschauncy} Horn, we have seen, had an interest in Italian communal as well as manorial accountability. The Liber Horn itself is part of a striking and distinct English tradition of didactic estate management texts, and invites reflection on the relationship between changing twelfth- and thirteenth-century practices and rules for manorial officials’ accountability, and texts such as Walter of Henley and Seneschauncy. That is this chapter’s focus. In particular the chapter examines the development of a legal action (‘writ’) for securing bailiffs’ accountability—the ‘action of account’.

Changes in manorial official’s accountability in England during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are reflected in these treatises and reinforced by those legal changes—themselves reflecting broader social and economic developments over the period. What follows addresses this first by describing two lawsuits, one from the early twelfth, the other from the late thirteenth century. Robert of Chilton’s lawsuit (the first case), shows the early existence of some basic expectation of bailiffs’ liability to account, one where scriptural precept gives the key warrant and whose legal life is relatively simple. John de Valle’s (the second), shows how far this had evolved by 1291. It is a case bristling with writs that qualify, respond, and extend the initial legal action—the product of significant legislative work between 1259 and 1285 on the ‘action of account’. Fully worthy of Bleak House’s Chancery, the writ’s legal potential grants the case an improvised life of its own, ultimately quite abandoning the original intent of holding John de Valle himself accountable. Both cases also beg questions about what a ‘bailiff’ was. Robert of Chilton refused to be treated like a manorial official. John de Valle’s responsibilities look more like a steward’s, yet he was held to account legally as a ‘bailiff’. Both indicate how broad and contested a bailiff’s responsibilities, and liabilities, might be. These legal developments—and the political economy that produced them—are examined after discussing the cases, together with an examination of non-legal texts such as Seneschauncy which are their satellites. [1]

Bailiffs and Stewards

  • [1] London Guildhall, MS Liber Horn, fos. 158r-168r (Walter), 168r-176r (Seneschauncy). See Walterof Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting, ed. Dorothea Oschinsky (Oxford,1971), 22, 53. I am indebted to Paul Brand and David Carpenter for discussion of the material thatfollows.
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