Forgery in the market place: A study of six medieval English towns
By Catherine Casson
Paper given at the Urban History Conference, Nottingham, 27 March 2008
Abstract: Forgery was a major transgression to which historians have paid relatively little attention. It was committed by many different sections of society, and across a range of products. Offences were often organised and intentional. As a crime, forgery contested the legitimacy of the political and economic boundaries developed by the authorities.
Covering the period 1250 to 1400, this paper focuses on prosecutions for weights and measures forgery in six towns: London, Norwich, Colchester, Great Yarmouth, Leicester and Nottingham. The towns were selected on the grounds of the availability of their primary sources, and to allow an examination of any differences and similarities in prosecutions of forgery between the towns. The long period is intended to address the issue of change over time, in particular whether forgery prosecutions were related to short-term factors, such as periods of inflation and deflation, or long-term factors, such as changes in codes of behaviour.
Evidence relating to forgery has been collected from manuscript and published primary source material from the borough and merchant guild courts of the six towns discussed above. While the focus is on prosecutions for false weights and measures, the cases are considered in the context of prosecutions for the infringement of other trade regulations, and of the regulations themselves. The paper examines how, when and why the Crown and civic authorities enforced these administrative boundaries. It will suggest that prosecutions for forgery reflected the interaction between the social aspirations of the town and the economic activities going on within it.