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Medieval Sourcebook:
Statuta de Mercatoribus (Statutes of Merchants),
11 Edw. I (1283) & 13 Edw. I (1285).

[Arkenberg Introduction]

The 1283 Statute of Acton Burnell, provided for the protection of creditors by the enrollment of debts in London, York, Bristol, Lincoln, Winchester, and Shrewsbury. It provided that if the debtor failed to pay on the date due, the mayor of any of these six towns, would, with the help of the local sheriff, seize and sell the debtor's goods to the value of the debt. If the debtor had no goods at that place, a writ from Chancery would issue to the mayor and sheriff of the place where the debtor had his or her goods, in order to seize and sell such goods to pay the obligation. If the debtor had no goods, the debtor would suffer imprisonment until he or his friends paid the debt.

But the statute proved unworkable almost from the start, as many sheriffs and officials apparently refused to implement the terms of the statute, as stated in the preamble to the subsequent Statute of Merchants. This latter instrument, promulgated in 1285, both reiterated and superseded Acton Burnell. Now debt registration spread to many towns, and seizure and sale of the debtor's goods no longer served as the creditor's first resort. Instead of first trying to get the mayor and sheriff to seize and sell the debtor's goods, the creditor could immediately have the debtor seized and incarcerated. If the debtor then refused to pay the debt, a creditor could get a writ for the seizure and sale of the still imprisoned debtor's goods and lands, up to the value of the debt. Like Acton Burnell, Merchants provided that no writ of debt might abate, and the courts would not be estopped from taking recognizances of debts, in the manner provided by the Law Merchant. Acton Burnell thus regularized the heretofore informal and hence irregular mercantile practice of recognizances throughout the realm. Yet, Merchants reiterated this provision and authorized enrolling recognizances at fair courts.

The Statute of Merchants, an important statute, thus appears in a little over half of all Common Law statute books produced through the mid-fourteenth century, most frequently in books written in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. Yet, Acton Burnell, despite its quick supersession, nonetheless appears in a little over a quarter of all Common Law statute books written through 1350, even as late as the fourteenth century's second quarter. For it seems that not only merchants, but soon non-merchant creditors took advantage of these provisions. Indeed, so many non-merchant creditors required their non-merchant debtors to enroll their debts, often quite petty ones of half-pennies and farthings, that Chapter 33 of the New Ordinances restricted Acton Burnell to recognizances made between merchants for their merchandise (See also: M. M. Postan, "Private Financial Instruments in Medieval England," in his Medieval Trade and Finance (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 37-38; T.F.T. Plucknett, Legislation of Edward I: The Ford Lectures Delivered in the University of Oxford in Hilary Term 1947, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), pp. 140-142).

Statute of Acton Burnell, 11 Edw. I (1283): Forasmuch as merchants, which heretofore have lent their goods to divers persons, be greatly impoverished, because there is no speedy law provided for them to have recovery of their debts at the day of payment assigned; and by reason hereof many merchants do refrain to come into this Realm with their merchandises, to the damage as well of the merchants, as of the whole realm: the King by himself and by his Council has ordained and established, that the merchant which will be sure of his debt, shall cause his debtor to come before the Mayor of London, or of York, or Bristol, or before the Mayor and a clerk, which the King shall appoint for the same, for to acknowledge the debt and the day of payment; and the recognizance shall be entered into a roll with the hand of the said clerk, which shall be known. Moreover, the said clerk shall make with his own hand a Bill Obligatory, whereunto the seal of the debtor shall be put, with the king=s seal, that shall be provided for the same purpose, the which seal shall remain in the keeping of the mayor and clerk aforesaid; and if the debtor does not pay at the day to him limited, the creditor may come before the said Mayor and clerk with his Bill Obligatory; and if it be found by the roll, and by the Bill, that the debt was acknowledged, and that the day of payment is expired, the Mayor shall incontinent cause the moveables of the debtor to be sold, as far as the debt does amount to, by the appraisal of honest men, as also chattels, and burgages devisable, until the whole sum of the debt be reached; and the money, without delay, shall be paid to the Creditor.

And if the Mayor can find no buyer, he shall cause the moveables to be delivered to the Creditor at a reasonable price, as much as does amount to the sum of the debt, in allowance of his debt: and the king=s seal shall be put unto the sale and deliverance of the burgages devisable for a perpetual witness. And if the debtor have no moveables within the jurisdiction of the Mayor, whereupon the debt may be levied, but has some otherwhere within the Realm, then shall the Mayor send the Recognizance, made before him and the clerk aforesaid, unto the Chancellor, under the King=s seal, and the Chancellor shall direct a writ unto the sheriff, in whose bailiwick the moveables of the debtor be, and the sheriff shall cause him to agree with his Creditor, in such form as the Mayor should have done in case that the moveables of the debtor had been within his power; and let them that shall appraise the moveable goods, to be delivered unto the Creditor, take good heed that they do set a reasonable price upon them, for if they do set an over high price for favor born to the Debtor, and to the damage of the Creditor, then shall the Thing so appraised be delivered unto themselves at such price as they have limited, and they shall forthwith be answerable unto the Creditor for his debt. And if the debtor will say, that his moveable goods were delivered or sold for less than they were worth, yet shall he have no remedy thereby; for when the Mayor or the sheriff has sold the moveable goods lawfully to him that offered most, he may blame himself that before the day of the debt coming due he had it in his power to have sold his moveable goods, and to have levied the money with his own hand, and yet he would not.

And if the Debtor have no moveables whereupon the debt may be levied, then shall his body be taken where it may be found, and kept in prison until that he have made agreement, or his friends for him; and if he have not wherewith he may sustain himself in prison, the Creditor shall find him bread and water, to the end that he die not in prison for default of sustenance, the which costs the debtor shall recompense him with his debt, before that he be let out of prison. And if the Creditor be a Merchant Stranger, he shall remain at the costs of the Debtor for so long time as he tarries about the suit of his debt, and until the moveable goods of the debtor be sold or delivered unto him. And if the Creditor do not take the debtor alone for the surety of his payment, by reason whereof pledges or mainpernors be found, then those pledges or mainpernors shall come before the Mayor and clerk abovesaid, and shall bind themselves by writings and recognizances, as aforesaid of the debtor. And in like manner if the debt be not paid at the day limited, such execution shall be awarded against the pledges or mainpernors, as before is said of the debtor, provided, nonetheless, that so long as the debt may be fully taken and levied of the goods moveable of the debtor, the mainpernors or pledges shall be without damage: notwithstanding, for default of moveable goods of the debtor, the Creditor shall have execution of his recognizance upon the mainpernors or pledges, in such manner and form as before is limited against the principal debtor.

And to defray the charge of the aforesaid clerk, the King shall take out of every Pound one penny. This Ordinance and Act the King wills to be holden from henceforth throughout all his realm of England, among all persons whosoever they may be, who shall freely choose to make such recognizance; except Jews, to whom this statute does not extend.

And by this statute a Writ of Debt shall not be abated. And the Chancellor, Barons of the Exchequer, Justices of the one bench and of the other, and Justices in Eyre, shall not be estopped to take Recognizances of Debts of those who shall choose to do so before them; but the Execution of Recognizances before them shall not be made according to the form aforesaid, but according to the law, usage, and manner heretofore used. Given at Acton Burnell, the twelfth day of October in the eleventh year of our Reign.

Like Statutes have the Mayors of York and Bristol, Lincoln and Winchester, and Shrewsbury.


The Statute of Merchants, 13 Edw. I (1285): Forasmuch as Merchants, which heretofore have lent their Goods to divers persons, be fallen in poverty, because there is no speedy remedy provided, whereby they may shortly recover their debt at the day of payment; and for this cause, many merchants do refrain to come into the realm with their merchandise, to the damage of such merchants and of all the realm; the King and his Council at his Parliament held at Acton Burnell, after the Feast of St. Michael, the eleventh year of his reign, has ordained these establishments thereupon for the remedy of such merchants; which ordinances and establishments the King commands that they shall be firmly kept and observed throughout this Realm, whereby merchants may have remedy and less trouble and business to recover their debts, than they have had heretofore: But forasmuch as merchants after complained unto the King, that sheriffs misinterpreted his statutes, and sometimes by malice and false interpretation delayed the execution of the statute, to the great damage of merchants; the King at his Parliament held at Westminster after Easter, the thirteenth year of his reign, caused the said Statute made at Acton Burnell to be rehearsed; and for the declaration of certain articles in the statute aforesaid, has ordained and established that a merchant who will be sure of his debt, shall cause his debtor to come before the Mayor of London, or before some chief warden of a city or of another good town, where the King shall appoint; and before the Mayor and chief Warden, or other sufficient men chosen and sworn thereto, when the Mayor or chief Warden cannot attend, and before one of the clerks, that the King shall thereto assign, when both cannot attend, he shall acknowledge the debt and the day of payment; and the recognizance shall be enrolled by one of the clerks= hands being known, and the Roll shall be double, whereof one part shall remain with the Mayor or chief Warden and the other with the Clerks, that thereto shall be first named; and further, one of the said clerks with his own hand shall write an obligation, to which writing the seal of the debtor shall be put with the King=s seal, provided for the same intent; which seal shall be of two pieces, whereof the greater piece shall remain in the custody of the mayor or chief warden, and the other piece in the keeping of the foresaid clerk.

And if the debtor do not pay at the Day of Payment limited unto him, then shall the Merchant come to the Mayor and clerk with his obligation; and if it be found by the Roll or writing, that the debt was acknowledged, and the day of payment expired, the Mayor or chief warden shall cause the body of the debtor to be taken, if he be Lay, whensoever he happens to come into their power, and shall commit him to the prison of the town, if there be any, and he shall remain there at his own costs until he has agreed for the debt. And it is commanded that the Keeper of the Town Prison shall retain him upon the delivery of the mayor or warden; and if the Keeper shall not receive him, he shall be answerable for the debt, if he have whereof; and if he have not whereof, he that committed the prison to his keeping shall answer. And if the debtor cannot be found in the power of the mayor or chief warden, then shall the mayor or chief warden send unto the Chancery, under the king=s seal, the recognizance of the debt; and the Chancellor shall direct a writ unto the sheriff in whose shire the debtor shall be found, for to take his body, if he be Lay, and safely to keep him in prison until he has agreed for the debt; and within a quarter of a year after that he is taken, his Chattels shall be delivered him, so that by his own he may levy and pay the debt; and it shall be lawful unto him, during the same quarter, to sell his lands and tenements for the discharge of his debts, and his sale shall be good and effectual.

And if he do not agree within the quarter next after the quarter expired, all the lands and goods of the debtor shall be delivered unto the merchant by a reasonable extent, to hold them until such time as the debt is wholly levied; and nevertheless the body shall remain in prison as before is said; and the merchant shall find him bread and water; and the merchant shall have such seisin in the lands and tenements delivered unto him, or his assignee, that he may maintain a writ of novel disseisin, if he be put out, and re-disseisin also, as of freehold, to hold to him and his assigns until the debt be paid; and as soon as the debt is levied the body of the debtor shall be delivered with his lands. And in such writs as the Chancellor does award mention shall be made, that the sheriff shall certify the justices of the one bench or of the other, how he has performed the King=s Commandment, at a certain day; at which day the merchant shall sue before the justices, if agreement be not made; and if the sheriffs do not return the writ, or do return that the writ came too late, or that he has directed it to the bailiffs of some franchise, the justices shall do as it is contained in the latter statute of Westminster.

And if in case the sheriff return that the debtor cannot be found, or that he is a Cleric, the merchant shall have writs to all the sheriffs where he shall have land, and that they shall deliver unto him all the goods and lands of the debtor by a reasonable extent, to hold unto him and his assigns in the form aforesaid; and at the last he shall have a writ to what sheriff he will, to take his body, if he be Lay, and to retain it in manner aforesaid. And let the keeper of the prison take heed, that he must answer for the Body or for the Debt. And after the debtor=s lands be delivered to the merchant, the debtor may lawfully sell his land, so that the merchant have no damage of the Approvements. And the merchants shall always be allowed for their damages and all costs, labors, suits, delays, and expenses reasonable. And if the debtor find sureties, which do acknowledge themselves to be principal debtors, after the day passed, the sureties shall be ordered in all things as is said of the principal debtor, as to the arrest of the body, delivery of lands, and other things. And when the lands of the debtors be delivered unto the merchant, he shall have seisin of all the lands that were in the hand of the debtor, the day of the recognizance made, in whose hands soever that they come after, either by feoffment or otherwise. And after the debt paid, the debtor=s lands and the issues of lands of debtors by feoffment shall return again, as well to the feoffee, as the other lands unto the debtors.

And if the debtor or his sureties die, the merchant shall have no authority to take the Body of his Heir, but he shall have his lands, as before is said, if he be of age, or when he shall be of full age; until he has levied of the lands the amounts and value of the debt. And a Seal shall be provided, that shall serve for Fairs, and the same shall be sent unto every Fair under the King=s seal by a clerk sworn, or by the Keeper of the Fair, and of the Commonalty of the merchants of the City of London two merchants shall be chosen, that shall swear, and the Seal shall be opened before them; and the one Piece shall be delivered unto the foresaid merchants, and the other shall remain with the clerk; and before them, or one of the merchants, if both cannot attend, the recognizances shall be taken, as before is said. And before that any recognizance be enrolled, the pain of the Statute shall be openly read before the debtor, so that after he cannot say that any did put another penalty than that whereto he bound himself.

And to maintain the costs of the said clerk, the King shall take of every Pound a penny, in every town where the Seal is, except Fairs, where he shall take one penny halfpenny of the Pound. This Ordinance and Act the King wills to be observed from henceforth throughout his realm of England and Ireland, amongst the which people they that will may make such recognizances, except Jews to whom this Ordinance shall not extend. And by this Statute a Writ of Debt shall not be abated; and the Chancellor, Justices of the one Bench and the other, the Barons of the Exchequer, and Justices Errant, shall not be estopped to take Recognizances of Debts before them acknowledged and made. But the Execution of Recognizances made before them shall not be done in the Form aforesaid, but by the law and manner before used, and otherwise provided in other statutes.

The New Ordinances, 5 Edw. II (1311), c. 33 ("Of The Statute of Merchants"):

Forasmuch as many persons, other than known merchants, do feel themselves much aggrieved and fined by the Statute of Merchants made at Acton Burnell; We do ordain, that henceforth that Statute shall not hold except between Merchants and Merchants, and of Merchandises made between them, and that the Recognizance be made like as is contained in the said Statute, and by the testimony of four good and lawful men, who are known, and that their names be entered in the Recognizance to testify the fact, and that to no one shall other lands be delivered, to hold in the name of Free Tenement by virtue of the said Statute, except the Burgages of Merchants and their moveable chattels, and that is to be understood between Merchants and Merchants, known Merchants. Moreover, We do ordain, that the Seals of the King which be assigned to testify the said Recognizances be delivered to the most rich and the most sage, in the undermentioned Towns, chosen to such custody by the Commonalties of the same Towns; that is to say, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, York, and Nottingham, for the Counties beyond Trent, and the merchants there coming and abiding; at Exeter, Bristol, and Southampton for the Merchants coming to and abiding in parts of the South and West; at Lincoln and Northampton, for merchants there coming and abiding; at London and at Canterbury, for the merchants coming to and abiding in those parts; at Shrewsbury, for the merchants coming to and abiding in those parts; at Norwich, for the merchants coming to and abiding in those parts. And Recognizances made elsewhere than in the said towns, shall not hold place from henceforth.


From: A. Luders, ed., The Statutes of the Realm: Printed by Command of His Majesty King George the Third, in Pursuance of an Address of the House of Commons of Great Britain, From Original Records and Authentic Manuscripts, 11 vols., (London: Record Commission, 1810-1828), Vol. I, pp. 53-54, 98-100, 165.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text may have been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
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