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Site last updated
26 June, 2013

Statute of Merchants
(1283)

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.
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