Sunderland – Bishop Pudsey’s Charter


Bit of a diversion from my usual sources today.  This is from “History of Sunderland” by William Cranmer Mitchell, published in 1919.  I decided to share the translation of Bishop Pudsey’s Charter of Privileges for Wearmouth (Wearmue) which was an event of great importance for Sunderland.  The Charter was issued in 1154 in the reign of King Henry II (Thomas Becket and all that!).  Bishop Pudsey (or Puiset to give him his Norman French name) was the nephew of King Stephen, and was a very successful Bishop of Durham, commissioning many of the buildings and bridges which define Durham to this day.  The Bishops of Durham ruled the Palatinate of Durham much like Kings in their own right and followed the example of Royal patronage by granting Charters to important towns within their control.  This is the translation of the Charter.

Hugh, by the grace of God, Bishop of Durham.

To the Prior, Archdeacons, Barons, and all the men in the whole of his diocese, both French and English, Greeting.  Be it known that we, by this present charter, concede and confirm to our burgesses of Wearmue, free customs in their borough, similar to the customs of the burgesses of Newcastle, nameley: –

  1.  That is is lawful for them to judge in a court of law peasants and other rural inhabitants, within their borough if they be indebted to them, without the license of the Bailiff, unless perhaps they may have been placed there by the Bishop or Sheriff, for some matter of the Bishop’s own.
  2. If a burgess accredited anything to a villein (bondman) within the Borough.  However a burgess must no on any reason harass a villein by unlawful speech.
  3. All pleas arising within the Borough except those of the Crown, shall be determined there.
  4. If any burgess be accused within the Borough, he must comply, unless he makes his escape into another Borough, when he shall be retained or placed in security, but if the same Borough do not fail in their duty, and if the plea does not pertain to the Crown, he shall not be called upon to answer within an appointed day, unless it has been formerly fixed by an unwise council in law.
  5. If a ship touch at Weremue, and it is about to depart, any Burgesses may purchase whatever merchandise he wishes from the ship, if anyone be willing to sell to him; and if a dispute arise between the burgess and the merchant, they must settle it within the third influx of the tide.
  6. Merchandise being brought into the Borough by sea, ought to be landed, except salt and herrings, which may be sold either in the ship or in the Borough, at will of the seller.
  7. Should anyone hold land in the borough for one year and a day without accusation, while the claimant has been within the realm, and not under age, if then accused he ought not to give it up.
  8. If a burgess has his son boarded in his own house, the son may enjoy the same liberties as his father.
  9. If a villein come to live in the borough and hold land and tenements for a year and a day without accusation, by desire of his landlord, he may remain to any time in the Borough as a burgess.
  10. It is lawful or a burgess to sell his lands, and go where he pleases, unless his lands be under a bond.
  11. If a burgess be complained against, in a matter where battle ought to be waged, by a villein or free inhabitant, he may defend or clear himself by the civil law, or by the oath of thirty-six men, unless the value in suit be one hundred pounds, or the crime imputed to  him ought to be tried by battle.
  12. A burgess ought not to fight against a villein if he should force him, unless before the accusation he should have forfeited his office as a burgess.
  13. Blodwite (a fine paid as compensation for the shedding of blood), nor Merchet (a payment made by a villein to his lord for liberty to give his daughter in marriage), nor Heriot (a tribute or fine payable to the lord of the fee on the decease of the owner, landowner, or vassal), nor Stengesduit (a fine inflicted for an assault committed with a stick or similar instrument) ought not to exist in the borough.
  14. It is lawful for any burgess to have his own oven and handmill, saving the right of the Lord Bishop.
  15. If anyone fall into forfeiture to the Bailiff touching bread or beer, the Bailiff alone can allow him to escape, but if he fall the third time let justice be administered to him by the common consent of the burgesses.
  16. A burgess may bring in his corn from the country when he pleases, except at a time of prohibition or embargo.
  17. A burgess may give or sell his land to whom he pleases, without the voice or consent of his heir, if he bought it with his own money.
  18. Every burgess is a liberty to buy timber and firewood equally with the burgesses of Durham.
  19. The burgesses may enjoy their common pasturage, as was originally granted to them, and which we have caused to be perambulated.
  20. We shall hold the same customs arising from fish being sold at Weremue as Robert de Brus held from his people at Hartlepool.
  21. We will therefore and more firmly determine that the burgesses have and hold the before mentioned customs and privileges freely, quietly, and honourably from us and our successors.

These being Witnesses: –

Germanus – Prior of Durham

Burchard – Archdeacon of Durham

Symon – Treasurer of Durham

Richard De Coldingham – Vical of St. Oswald’s

Master Stephen Lincoln

Master Bernard

Henery Marescall

Arnold Adam and Simon – Chaplains

Gilbert De Ley

Philip the Sheriff

Jordan Escolland – Lord of Dalton

Alexander De Hylton – Baron of Hylton

Gaufrid, son of Richard – Lord of Horton

Roger De Eppleton; and others.


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