San Diego Sarah • Link
Deborah Swift is the author of some 17th century novels. In 2022 she posted about the unenviable role of the local constable during the 1600s. Obviously some of these duties were more common in the country, but roughly speaking, they applied throughout the nation.
I'm only highlighting the activities Pepys would have known. Read her article at https://aspectsofhistory.com/law-and-order-in-the…
In the 17th century the responsibility for law and order fell on the community constables, but only a section of the community was eligible for the job – householders. Tenants were not allowed to be constables. The office was rotated annually by the wealthiest householders who were obliged to serve, or to provide a deputy.
The dangerous and cumbersome position was strictly amateur, with the constable receiving no pay for his services. This promotes a shared experience of citizenship, but also left the way open for abuse without accountability.
Once a year, the constables from neighboring parishes were sworn in at the local Justice’s office or residence by the High Constable of the County.
Their duties were primarily in disputes over land and territory, particularly with regard to tenancies, but also after the Excise Act of 1642 they were also charged with collecting tax and duty on goods. A duty was put on provisions coming into the cities from the country, on beer and cider and soap, salt, hats, starch, and copper goods. This law was extremely unpopular, as these were not imported items from abroad, as before, but everyday necessities, and the enforcing of this law, and the collection of these monthly excise duties must have been a great burden on the elected constables.
The constables were constantly ‘on call’, meaning they often had to leave their dinner or their sleep to deal with the drunk and disorderly, street fights, or criminal activities.
If a murder or robbery was committed, or a criminal had escaped, the Constable was responsible for recruiting a search party. The pay for chasing a criminal was anything from one penny to one shilling, depending on the perceived danger. The constable could call upon the villagers or townspeople for help, and anyone who refused to give chase or lend his horse to the party, was fined.
These chases were known as Hue and Cry: ‘given to Richard Taylor for going to Aram with a Huincri in ye night 2d’ -- Upton Constable's Account Book.
When the miscreant was caught, if no gaol or lock-up was available, the constable had to provide suitable premises and a watchman to keep the wrong-doer confined. Usually the prisoner was charged for his lodgings and food and security.
Minor offences could be punished by a stay in the stocks, but more serious crimes had to wait for the Justice at the Quarterly Assizes, known as the Quarter Sessions.
Justice could be compromised as the constable was often responsible for choosing the jurymen, to his own advantage in disputes.
Log in to post an annotation.
If you don't have an account, then register here.