Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: January 25, 2019
Webpage updated: January 25, 2019




In 1439 a petition to His Majesty King Henry VI set forth the grievances of the Plymouth townspeople and requested the amalgamation of the town of Sutton Prior, the tithing of Sutton Ralf (or Radcliffe) and the hamlet of Sutton Valletort (or Vautort) to make it a free borough outside of the control of the County, the Hundred Court and the Prior of Plympton.

The King granted this request by Royal Licence and on November 12th 1439 it was confirmed by Act of Parliament.  The Act provided that:

  • It was to be known as the mayor and commonalty;
  • It was to have perpetual succession;
  • It was to be capable of holding lands;
  • It was to have a common seal;
  • It could sue and be sued as a corporate body;
  • It had a defined boundary;
  • It had to pay forty shillings per annum to the Exchequer for the fee farm (instead of paying the Prior of Plympton);
  • It was to have Mr William Keterigge as its first mayor;
  • It was elect a mayor annually;
  • It was to have the power to remove the mayor for misbehaviour;
  • The mayor was to take an oath each year before the Prior of Plympton or his representative;
  • The mayor and commonalty was to receive all the property owned by Plympton Priory within the borough, except three messuages and three gardens, Saint Nicholas Island, and lands at Maker;
  • Plympton Priory reserved certain privileges for its servants in the borough;
  • It was to pay an annual pension to the Priory for taking over its land within the Borough;
  • The Borough was exempt from the jurisdiction of the Abbot of Buckland in respect of the Hundred of Roborough, which had been granted to the Abbey in 1278 by Amicia, Countess of Devon; and
  • There was to be an agreement between the Abbot of Buckland and Bath Priory concerning Bampton Rectory, Devon.  (This involved the transfer from Bath Priory to Buckland Abbey of the advowson of Bampton Rectory as a part of the surrender of the Priory's interests in Plymouth to the mayor and commonalty.)

On July 25th 1440, the King granted the first Charter.  Kingston-upon-Hull was the first town in England but their charter was granted by an act of Royal grace. Plymouth's was the first to be granted by Act of Parliament, making it the second municipal borough to be created in England.

The Charter granted certain privileges to the new borough:

  • That the mayor was to be a justice of the peace;
  • That the mayor and recorder were to be justices of oyer and terminor;
  • That the borough was to have a merchants' guild as at Oxford;
  • That the borough was to have cognisance of pleas as at Oxford;
  • That the borough was to have the return and execution of all royal writs;
  • That no county official was to act within the borough;
  • That no burgesses were to be summoned outside the borough;
  • That a coroner was to be elected;
  • That the borough was to hold two fairs each year (on the feast of Saint Matthew (September 21st) and the conversion of Saint Paul (January 25th)) and two markets each week (on Mondays and Thursdays);
  • That it was to have all rights and amercements within the borough; and
  • That it was to have freedom from tolls.

Thus the divided and unprivileged market town of Plymouth acquired its legal rights to become a borough, beholden only to itself and the Monarch, a status that remained until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.