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Medieval Sourcebook:
William Clito, Count of Flanders:
Charter for Town of St. Omer, 1127

The communal movement, subject to many vicissitudes, developed in France in the twelfth century with the aid of the Capetians. The rise of the city of St. Omer coincided with the development of its merchant gild. Two noteworthy features of this charter are freedom from tolls and the payment of an annual rent or ferm. Later in the twelfth century the gild of St. Omer became a member of the Flemish Hanse of London.

I, William, by the grace of God, Count of Flanders, not wishing to reject the petition of the citizens of St. Omer---especially as they have willingly received my petition about the consulate of Flanders, and because they have always been honest and faithful to me---grant them the laws written below, and command that those laws remain inviolate.

1. First that to every man I will show peace, and I will protect and defend them with good will just as I do my other men. And I grant that justice be done to all of them by my bailiffs, and I wish that they do justice to me also. I grant liberty to my bailiffs such as my other bailiffs have.

2. If any citizen of St. Omer lend money to any one, and the borrower freely acknowledge this in the presence of lawful men of that town and of his heirs, if the debt be unpaid on the agreed date, he or his goods may be detained until all be paid. If he be unwilling to pay, or deny the agreement, he shall be detained until he pay the debt if he be convicted on the testimony of two bailiffs or two sworn men.

5. All those who have their gild and belong to it, and who reside within the limits of the town, I make free of toll at the port of Dixmude and at the port of Gravelines; and throughout all the land of Flanders I make them free of sewerp. I grant them the toll which the people of Arras pay at Bapaume.

6. If any of them go to the land of the Emperor for trade, he shall not be forced to lose his gild by any of my people.

7. If it should happen that at any time I should acquire land outside of Flanders, or if a treaty of peace be made between me and my uncle, Henry, King of the English, I will cause them to be made free of all toll in the land acquired, or in the whole land of England, or I will make them free of all customs by the terms of such treaty.

9. All who dwell within the walls of St. Omer, or who dwell there in the future, I make free from cavagium, i.e., from head-tax, and from suit of court.

1l. Moreover they have asked the king of France and Ralph of Peronne that wherever they go in their lands they may be free of toll, transit dues, and passage; I wish this to be granted to them.

13. As I wish the citizens of Flanders to be free henceforward from all customs, I shall require from them no scot, or taille, or forced loan.

14. The thirty pounds a year I had from St. Omer and whatever I ought to have from there, I grant for the restoration of their damaged property, and for the maintenance of their gild. The burgesses shall see to it that there is good and stable coinage during my life whereby the town may be improved.

15. Since the guards who nightly watch the castle of St. Omer have had a fee decreed from of old to be in oats, cheeses, and goatskins, and since they have been accustomed to take bread and one or two denarii from every house unjustly on the feasts of St. Omer and St. Bertin and at the Nativity, or to take guarantees from the poor for these things, we decree that they shall not dare in the future to take anything above their stipend.

16. Whoever comes to Nieuport from any place shall have permission to come to St. Omer with his goods in whatever ship he pleases.

17. If I make peace with Stephen, Count of Boulogne, I shall make them free of toll and sewerp throughout all his lands and at Wissant.

18. I grant for their use the pasture in the wood near St. Omer, which is called Lo, and the marshes, meadows, whins and fallow lands, except the land of the lepers, just as it was in the time of Count Robert the Bearded.

19. I make free from all toll the houses which are in the care of the advocate of the Abbey of St. Bertin, namely, those which are inhabited. Each gives twelve denarii at the feast of St. Michael, twelve denarii as brotban, and twelve denarii as byrban. Those which are empty pay nothing.

25. The following have promised that this agreement shall be observed by all, and they have sealed their promise with an oath: Louis, King of the French; William, Count of Flanders; Ralph of Peronne, etc.

Additions and changes made in the preceding charter by Count Thierry of Alsace [1128 A.D.]

1. The money which the burgesses of St. Omer had they have paid to the count so that he may treat them well and administer their laws for them well and freely. Moreover, they thereby set an example to other Flemings to pay promptly.

2. In place of a toll on the city they give a hundred solidi annually as a perpetual tax.


From: J. M. Kemble, The Saxons in England, (London: Quaritch, 1876), Vol. II, Appendix, p.528,reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 200-202.

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© Paul Halsall, September 1998
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