Hankins, Jeffery R.
Doctor of Philosophy, History, Louisiana State University, December (2003)
This administrative and social history of Hertfordshire and Essex tracks the careers, social relationships, and personal tribulations of justices of the peace and other county officials from 1590 through 1630. The study addresses the nature of the relationship between local government and the central government, the social structure of the two counties as reflected in the annual lists of the justices of the peace, and any administrative or social connections between Hertfordshire and Essex.
Office holding was not only an administrative duty but also intertwined the lives of real people. Did local officials rise or fall because of central government actions, or did inter-county faction drive the successes or failures of the ruling elite? Was there any underlying social connection among the gentry of the two contiguous counties that influenced local administration? Finally, how did local government function? What role did it play on the lives of the people?
The study was accomplished through first examining the annual commissions of the peace for each county; from these lists, information was compiled regarding the nature of local office holding as well as the individuals likely to serve in county government. Manuscript sources revealed the social backgrounds and personal stories of individual justices of the peace. Local records showed the workings of county administration and the jurisdiction of the shires’ ruling elite.Other printed sources tied the counties to the Crown and explored issues of religion, economics, and politics.
Local governance in Hertfordshire and Essex was successful to the extent that it provided order and stability to the Crown, the ruling elite, and the inhabitants of the counties. For the most part, the magistracy did fulfill this function and the result was a marked continuity in local government and society. Although disorder could erupt on occasion, changes initiated by the central government caused the most tension in the shires. By the late-1620’s, the lords lieutenant, their deputies, and the justices of the peace were stretched to the breaking point by the open-ended threat of economic, political, religious, and social innovations imposed from above.