Purveyance is the feudal right of the Crown to requisition goods and services, purchased on credit, for royal use whilst his household travelled through the country or during military campaigns. The sheriffs or royal officials would buy food at a set price in the shires and the sellers had to sell at the government price. The government then created a system to store the food. It developed in Britain over the course of the late eleventh through the fourteenth centuries and was part of Norman Feudalism. The English court had of old, a right of customary purchase of food for the poor. The right was called prise. Reputably Edward I took this and Norman aspects of Feudalism and grossly expanded it to make into an English institution of purveyance. However given William Purveys of Mospennoc was already identified as a Purveyor for Alexander III (1249-1286) purveyance was an existing concept in Scotland initiated in the late 11 century but with its pace quickening with David I (1124-1153) who introduced many Norman ‘innovations’ such as Feudalism .

Purveyance is not to be confused with a Purveyor.

The primary problem with the system was that it was open to abuse from corrupt royal officials, who would often requisition goods and sell them for profit, or use extortion and other means to obtain items or money that was not passed on or divulged to the King. It was deeply resented by its victims. Accordingly, English Kings established numerous, though somewhat ineffectual, statutes in an attempt to limit the corruption – the first being in the Magna Carta (1215) and in the next three centuries several statutes and petitions were issued against its excesses.

The most problematic obligations exacted from the common people was the Norman kings’ method of obtaining men and provisions for their frequent military expeditions. Purveyance actually amounted to seizure without consent, it raised food prices, created local famine and violently disrupted both local economies and regional trade. Whereas local lords’ teinds were mostly recurrent and predictable, royal demands in respect to purveyance, taxation and military service were arbitrary and irregular and therefore all the more disruptive

When Edward I and the English Army invaded Scotland in 1296, which led to the signing of the Ragman Rolls. The borders were not famous for its agricultural productivity and as such the English 1296 invasion had to use purveyances in the English midlands. Edward created a convoy system to move mountains of food from the English midlands to southern Scotland. Administrative historians say this was a real triumph in organizational power of government, but also a racket because Edward only paid late and he paid low.

Edward I also employed purveyances for his many Welsh campaigns, utilizing the produce of both the Isle of Anglesey and Ireland. Purveyance was largely the cause for intense dissatisfaction over Edward’s campaign in Gascony of 1294–8, and in 1298, a nationwide investigation was held into abuses of royal administrators, including purveyors.

Purveyance continued to be the favoured method of the English kings for obtaining food and other necessities for feeding their armies, supplying their castles and garrisons, and supporting their itinerant households. Both Edward II and Edward III used the system heavily: the former in his unsuccessful campaign against Scotland and then in the civil war against Thomas of Lancaster, and the latter in his relatively successful campaign against Scotland and then in France during the Hundred Years’ War.
It was under Edward III that the issue of corruption and abuses that accompanied the collection of goods for military use particularly came to a head. Complaints reached such a feverish pitch in the opening years of the Hundred Years’ War that Edward III launched another nationwide investigation, and effectively removed most purveyors from office. However, purveyance was too valuable a royal privilege to surrender, and it was only in 1362, under intense pressure from Parliament, that Edward III agreed to discontinue purveyance for military use.

When Henry V was preparing for war against France during the Hundred Years’ War, he ordered the continuance of purveyance for military purposes, but with the supposed order for all purveyors to be fair and reasonable; not to take any goods from Church property or without paying a fair price. However, many of the purveyors behaved notoriously badly, extorting many foodstuffs from the peasants and either buying at a low price and selling at a high price for a profit, or not paying at all. Faced by a purveyor with armed men backing him, most peasants did not dare to resist. King Henry, acknowledging the corruption of his purveyors, included in a proclamation that anyone harassed or aggrieved by any captain or soldier should present themselves to the seneschal of the king’s treasury. Complete justice, the king proclaimed, would be given on his arrival at Southampton. The retention of purveyance as a tool for supplying the growing royal household would eventually come under fire with the Stuarts.

In the 17th century, purveyance was worth about £40,000 per year to the crown. However, Parliament wanted to put an end to it, and Francis Bacon spoke against purveyors, though the King (James I) would not relinquish that control without being financially compensated by Parliament. Parliament feared this would only lead to further corruption and no changes were made to the system during the reign of James I. It was finally abolished in 1660 at the Restoration.

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