IX. THE FREE TOWNS
Sometimes the victory rests with the lord, and sometimes with the burgesses. Accordingly, there are two kinds of chartered town. The larger class includes communities enjoying certain privileges under the rule of seignorial functionaries. A smaller class consists of those which are not only privileged but "free," that is, self-governing bodies corporate. The distinction between the two classes is not precise enough to satisfy a modern lawyer. Often a "free" town is obliged to allow the lord some voice in the appointment of magistrates; while the humblest body of traders may enjoy the right of doing justice in a market-court without the interference of a bailiff. The one class shades off into the other, if only for the reason that "freedom" is usually won by a gradual process of bargaining or encroachment on the part of towns which are already privileged. The higher type is simply a later stage in the natural course of municipal development.
If we analyse the privileges of those towns which remain in leading-strings, the first in order of time and of importance is the town-peace, which only the king or his delegate can grant. Invested with this peace the town becomes, like a royal palace or the shrine of a saint, a sanctuary protected by special pains and penalties; the burgess stands to the king in the same relation as the widow and the orphan; to do him wrong is an outrage against the royal majesty. Next comes the right of trade. The burgesses are allowed to commute their servile dues and obligations for a fixed money-rent, that they may be at liberty for pursuits more lucrative than agriculture. They also receive a licence to hold a weekly market, and possibly a yearly fair as well; it is agreed that all disputes of traders, which arise in fair or market, shall be decided according to the law of merchants, the general usage of the commercial world; and a safe-conduct is granted to all strangers who resort to either gathering for lawful purposes. At first the tolls of the fair and market are collected by the lord, and the law-merchant is administered in the court of his bailiff. Often, however, he ends by leasing both the tolls and the commercial jurisdiction to the townsmen. When they are permitted (as in Flanders and in England) to form a merchant-gild, it is with this body that such bargains are concluded; and the gild usually purchases from the lord a quantity of other privileges - the monopoly of certain staple industries in the town and neighbourhood; rights of pre-emption over all imported wares; and the power of making by-laws to regulate wages, prices, the hours of labour, and the quality of manufactured goods. Where the lord is a sovereign prince, he is often induced to make concessions of a wider scope: freedom from inland tolls and from customs at the seaports; the right of making reprisals upon native and foreign enemies who rob the merchants or infringe the privileges of the town; immunity, in civil suits, from every jurisdiction but that of the town-court.
It would be easy to multiply examples of this type of town, but we can only mention here a few whose history and customs are particularly instructive. One of the oldest is St. Riquier in Ponthieu, a notable instance of an industrial community dating from Carolingian times and fostered by the policy of a great religious house. The second half of the eleventh century is remarkable for the speculative acumen displayed by lay and secular lords in fostering the development of new commercial centres; the Norman bourg of Breteuil, founded in 1060 by a seneschal of William the Conqueror, deserves special consideration as a model extensively imitated in England, Wales, and Ireland; the Suabian towns of Allensbach and Radolfszell, chartered by the great Abbey of Reichenau a few years later, are monuments of German seignorial enterprise. Lorris en Gatinais, a town on the demesne of the French monarchy, received from Louis VI a set of privileges which became the standard for the numerous villes de bourgeoisiefounded under the immediate sway of the Capetian dynasty.
But the charters thankfully accepted by new colonies or embryonic market-centres were insufficient to satisfy the aspirations of older and greater cities. At the very time when far-sighted seigneurs are scattering commercial privileges broadcast, there begins among the urban classes of North France, of Flanders, and of some Italian provinces, an agitation for more extensive rights, for "free" municipal constitutions of our second type. In these regions the popular cry is "Commune," novum ac pessimum nomen; and it is blended with complaints of feudal tyranny, which often develop, since the seigneur of the town is commonly a bishop or an abbot, into complaints against the Church. The commune is a sworn confederacy (conjuratio), which bears some resemblance both to the fraternities established for the enforcement of the Truce of God (supra, p. 103) and to the merchant-gilds. But it has also new and striking features. It is formed in defiance of authority, and for the purpose of seizing rights which are legally vested in the seigneur or the Crown. It is hostile to the ruling classes of society; and the object of the members is to establish a republican form of government within their city. They are largely merchants or artisans; but they concern themselves with wider interests than those of trade, and often insist that no man, of whatever avocation, shall remain in the city unless he joins the commune.