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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 127   2007 page 64

The Kent Hundred Rolls: Local Government and Corruption
in the Thirteenth Century.
By Jennifer Ward

At the same time sheriffs were in a position of showing favour or hostility to the people of the county. Complaints about sheriffs and bailiffs are found throughout the Middle Ages, from the Inquest of Sheriffs of 1170 to the demands put forward by the rebels in Cade’s rebellion of 1450. The complaints of the Hundred Rolls echo those found in Hugh Bigod’s eyre of 1259. In view of the infrequency of eyres, there was no effective check on officials’ activities. The jurors only tell one side of the story but there is little doubt that offences occurred.
   According to the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, at the start of the baronial reform period, the sheriff was to be a substantial landholder (vavassour) of the county. He was to take no reward and only to hold office for a year. The reformers considered that his landholding would provide him with the money needed for his duties, so that he would not be tempted to resort to corruption. Fulk Payforer served as sheriff in 1258-9, 1264-5 (between the battles of Lewes and Evesham when Simon de Montfort was ruling the country) and 1267-8. He was also appointed a collector of the twentieth. Many of the sheriffs of the 1260s, such as Roger de Leyburn, John de Cobeham and Stephen de Penecestre, held land in Kent but also had connections with the court; Roger acted as Edward’s lieutenant in Kent after the battle of Evesham, while Stephen became Warden of the Cinque Ports.
   Lathes and hundreds were generally held at farm and there were widespread complaints about increases in the farm. Roger Viniter of Malling was said to have farmed Aylesford lathe from John de Wattun, described as sheriff, for £10 a year, but in 1273-4 the present bailiff, Thomas de Ho, farmed it for over £25. John de Wattun handed over the lathe of Shepway to John de Kemesing for £16 who is said to have committed many evil deeds. It was farmed for £30 in the early 1270s. John de Wattun handed over the lathe of Scray to his bailiffs for £20, whereas the sum had earlier been £10, and all subsequent sheriffs had taken the higher sum. Sutton at Hone lathe used to be demised at £12 but in 1274-5 at £18.24 All this looks like a case of outright oppression, but the king, by demanding increments on the county farm from the sheriff, was putting pressure on him to produce more money. The thirteenth century was an age of inflation, war and costly foreign projects, and, although the county farm only comprised a small proportion of the royal revenue, the king was anxious to secure what he could.
   Juries were increasingly used in the thirteenth century to present suspects, provide information for royal assizes (concerning freehold property), and determine guilt or innocence; in addition, juries were used in private courts. Crimes were presented at the tourn by twelve lawful men of the hundred. A hundred jury of twelve appeared before the justices in eyre to answer the questions posed in the articles of the eyre; a similar procedure was adopted for the Hundred Rolls.25 Jury and

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