Chapter 6

S. A. Reilly

The Times: 1154-1215

King Henry II and Queen Eleanor, who was twelve years older, were both intelligent, educated, energetic, well-traveled, and experienced in affairs of state. Henry was the first Norman King to be fully literate. Eleanor often served as regent during Henry's reign and the reigns of their two sons: Richard, the Lion-Hearted, and John. Henry II was a modest, courteous, and patient man with an astonishing memory and strong personality. He was indifferent to rank and impatient of pomp to the point of being careless about his appearance. He usually dressed in riding clothes and was often unkempt. He was thrifty, but generous to the poor.

Henry revived and augmented the laws and institutions of his grandfather, Henry I, and developed them to a new perfection. Almost all legal and fiscal institutions appear in their first effective form during his reign. For instance, he institutionalized the assize for a specific function in judicial proceedings, whereas before it had been an ad hoc body used for various purposes.

Henry's government practiced a strict economy and he never exploited the growing wealth of the nation. He abhorred bloodshed and the sacrifice of men's lives. So he strove diligently to keep the peace, when possible by gifts of money, but otherwise with armed force. Foreign merchants with precious goods could journey safely through the land from fair to fair. These fairs were usually held in the early fall, after sheep-shearing and harvesting. Frankpledge was revived. No stranger could stay overnight (except for one night in a borough), unless sureties were given for his good behavior. A list of such strangers was to be given to itinerant judges.

Henry had character and the foresight to build up a centralized system of government that would survive him. He learned about the shires' and villages' varying laws and customs. Then, using the model of Roman law, he gave to English institutions that unity and system which in their casual patch-work development had been lacking. Henry's government and courts forged permanent direct links between the King and his subjects which cut through the feudal structure of lords and vassals.

He developed the methods and structure of government so that there was a great increase in the scope of administrative activity without a concurrent increase of personal power of the officials who discharged it. The government was self- regulating, with methods of accounting and control which meant that no official, however exalted, could entirely escape the surveillance of his colleagues and the King. At the same time, administrative and judicial procedures were perfected so that much which had previously required the King's personal attention was reduced to routine.

The royal household translated the royal will into action. In the early 1100s, there had been very little machinery of central government that was not closely associated with the royal household. Royal government was largely built upon what had once been purely domestic offices. Kings had called upon their chaplains to pen letters for them. By Henry II's reign, the Chancery was a highly efficient writing office through which the King's will was expressed in a flow of writs, and the Chancellor an important and highly rewarded official, but he was still responsible for organizing the services in the royal chapel. Similarly, the chamberlains ran the household's financial departments. They arranged to have money brought in from a convenient castle-treasury, collected money from sheriffs or the King's debtors, arranged loans with the usurers, and supervised the spending of it. It was spent for daily domestic needs, the King's almsgiving, and the mounting of a military campaign. But they were still responsible for personal attendance upon the King in his privy chamber, taking care of his valuable furs, jewels, and documents, and changing his bedlinens. There were four other departments of the household. The steward presided over the hall and kitchens and was responsible for supplying the household and guests with food supplies. The butler had duties in the hall and cellars and was responsible for the supply of wine and ale. The marshall arranged lodgings for the King's court as it moved about from palaces to hunting lodges, arranged the pay of the household servants, and supervised the work of ushers, watchmen, fire-tenders, messengers and huntsmen. The constable organized the bodyguard and escorts, arranged for the supply of castles, and mustered the royal army.

Henry brought order and unity by making the King's Royal Court the common court of the land. Its purpose was to guard the King's peace by protecting all people of free status throughout the nation and correct the disparity in punishments given by local courts. Heretofore, the scope of the King's peace had varied to as little as the King's presence, his land, and his highway. The royal demesne had shrunk to about 5% of the land. The Common Law for all the nation was established by example of the King's Royal Court.

A system of writs originated well-defined actions in the royal courts. This system determined the Royal Court's jurisdiction as against the church, lords, and sheriffs. It limited the jurisdiction of all other courts and subordinated them to the Royal Court. Inquests into any misdeeds of sheriffs were held, which could result in their dismissal.

Before Henry's reign, the church had become more powerful and asserted more authority. Henry tried to return to the concept of the King being appointed by God and as he head of the church as well as of the state, as in Henry I's time. Toward this end, he published the Constitutions of Clarendon. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, refused to agree to them. The disageement came to a head in Henry's attempt to establish the principle of "one law to all" by having church clerics punished by the civil courts as before, instead of having "benefit of clergy" to be tried only in ecclesiastical courts, even for secular crimes. Clerics composed about one-sixth the population. The church courts had characteristically punished with a fine or a penance, and at most defrocking, and never imposed a death penalty, even for murder. When Archbishop Becket was murdered and became a martyr, "benefit of clergy" became a standard right. Appeals could be made to the Pope without the King's permission. The King could take a criminal cleric's chattels, but not his life. However, though theoretically the bishops were elective, as a practical matter, the King appointed the bishops and the abbots.

Henry and Eleanor spoke many languages and liked discussing law, philosophy, and history. So they gathered wise and learned man about them, who became known as courtiers, rather than people of social rank. They lived in the great and strong Tower of London, which had been extended as had other castles, so that the whole castle and grounds were defended instead of just the main building. On the west were two strongly fortified castles surrounded by a high and deeply entrenched wall, which had seven double gates. Towers were spaced along the north wall and the Thames River flowed below the south wall. To the west was the city, where royal friends had residences with adjoining gardens near the royal palace at Westminster. The court was a center of culture as well as of government. The game of backgammon was played. People wore belts with buckles, usually brass, instead of knotting their belts.

London extended about a mile along the river and about half a mile inland. Most of its houses were two stories, the ground floor having booths and workshops, and the upper floor living space. Most of the houses were wooden structures. The richer merchants' and knights' houses were built of stone. Walls between houses had to be stone and thatched roofs were banned because there had been many fires. So roofs were tiled with red-brick tiles. There were over a hundred churches in the city, which celebrated feast days, gave alms and hospitality to strangers, confirmed betrothals, contracted marriages, celebrated weddings, conducted funerals, and buried the dead. Fish and no meat was eaten on Fridays and during lent. There was dark rye bread and expensive white wheat bread. Vegetables included onions, leeks, and cabbage. Fruits included apples, pears, plums, cherries, and strawberries. Water was obtained from streams running through the town to the river and from springs. There were craft guilds of bakers, butchers, clothworkers, and saddlers, as well as of weavers. Vendors, craftsmen, and laborers had their customary places, which they took up every morning. Some vendors walked the streets announcing their wares for sale.

In London, bells heralded the start and finish of all organized business. At sunset, the gates of the town were closed for the night. Only the rich could afford wax candles; others had home-made tallow or fat lights which smelled and gave off smoke. Most people washed their bodies. Few babies survived childhood. If a man reached 30, he could expect to live until age 50. The sellers of merchandise and hirers of labor were distributed every morning into their several localities according to their trade. Outside one of the gates, a horse market was held every week. They wore horseshoes made of iron or of a crude steel. In other fields, countryfolk sold pigs, cows, oxen and sheep. London Bridge was built of stone for the first time. It was supported by a series of stone arches standing on small man-made islands. It had such a width that a row of wood houses and a chapel was built on top of it. In the spring it was impassable by ships because the flow of water under it varied in height on either side of the bridge by several feet at half tide.

Men began weaving cloth, which formerly had been done by women.
Some of the cloth was exported.

The weavers guild of London received a charter by the King in 1155, the first granted to any London craft: "Know that I have conceded to the Weavers of London to hold their guild in London with all the liberties and customs which they had in the time of King Henry [I], my grandfather; and that none may intermeddle with the craft within the city, nor in Southwark, nor in other places pertaining to London except through them and except he be in their guild, otherwise than was accustomed to be done in the time of King Henry, my grandfather …So that each year they render thence to me two marks [26s.8d.] of gold at the feast of St. Michael. And I forbid that any shall do injury or contumely to them on this account under penalty of 10 pounds [200s.]. Witness T[homas], Chancellor, and Warinus, son of Gerard, Chamberlain, at Winchester." The liberties obtained were: 1) The weavers may elect bailiffs to supervise the work of the craft, to punish defaulters, and to collect the ferm [amount owed to the King]. The bailiffs were chosen from year to year and swore before the mayor of London to do and keep their office well and truly. 2) The bailiffs may hold court from week to week on pleas of debt, agreements, covenants, and minor trespasses. 3) If any of the guild members are sued in any other court on any of the above pleas, the guild may challenge that plea to bring it to the guild court. 4) If any member is behind in his share of the payment to the King, the bailiffs may distrain his loom until he has paid this.

Paying an annual payment freed the weavers from liability to inconsequent royal fines. Failure to make this payment promptly might have led to loss of the right, hence the rigorous penalty of distraint upon the looms of individual weavers who fell into arrears.

The weavers' guild punished members who used bad thread in their weaving or did defective weaving by showing the default to the mayor, with opportunity for the workman to make entreaty, and the mayor and twelve members of the guild then made a verdict of amercement of 1/2 mark [6s. 8d.] and the workman of the cloth was also punished by the guild bailiffs according to guild custom.

The weavers' guild tradition of brotherliness among members meant that injury to a fellow weaver incurred a severe penalty. If a weaver stole or eloigned [removed them to a distance where they were unreachable] any other weaver's goods falsely and maliciously, then he was dismissed from the guild and his loom was taken by the guild to fulfill his portion of the annual payment to the King. The weavers were allowed to buy and to sell in London freely and quietly. They had all the rights of other freemen of the city.

Thus from the middle of the 1100s A.D., the weavers enjoyed the monopoly of their craft, rights of supervision which ensured a high standard of workmanship, power to punish infractions of their privileges, and full control of their members. In this they stand as the prototype of English medieval guilds. These rights represented the standard which all bodies of craftsmen desired to attain. The right of independent jurisdiction was exceptional.

On the north side of the city was a great forest with fields and wells where students and other young men from the city took walks in the fresh evening air. Vendors on the river bank sold cooked fish caught from the river and wine from ships and wine cellars.

London's chief magistrate was the port-reeve, who was appointed by the King, until 1191. Then the port-reeve was replaced by a mayor, who was elected yearly by the city wards. Each ward was headed by an alderman and there were city sheriffs and councilors. The mayors were typically rich merchant princes. There were three ways to become a citizen of London: being the son of a citizen, apprenticeship in a craft for seven years, and purchase of citizenship. London growth led to its replacing Winchester as the capital. Over its history, it generally chose or elected its own mayor every year. (This was not a popular election.) But there were many periods when royal authority was asserted over it.

St. Barthomew hospital was established in London for the care of sick pilgrims traveling to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury.

Trading was facilitated by the stabilization of the amount of silver metallic content of the English coinage, which was called "sterling" [strong] silver. The compass assisted the navigation of ships and London became a major trading center for foreign goods from many lands.

About 5% of the knights were literate. Wealthy men sent their sons to school in monasteries to prepare them for a livelihood in a profession or in trade or to the town of Oxford, whose individual teachers had attracted disciples for a long time. These schools grew up around St. Mary's Church, but had not been started by the church as there was no cathedral school in Oxford. Oxford had started as a burh and had a royal residence and many tradesmen. It was given its basic charter in 1155 by the King. This confirmed to it all the customs, laws and liberties [rights] as those enjoyed by London. If became a model charter for other towns.

Bachelors at Oxford studied the arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and then music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, until they mastered their discipline and therefore were authorized to teach it. Teaching would then provide an income sufficient to support a wife. The master of arts was analogous to the master craftsman of a guild. From 1190, the civil law was studied, and shortly thereafter, canon law. Later came the study of medicine. The use of paper supplemented the use of parchment for writing. Irregular edged paper was made from linen, cotton, straw, and/or wood beaten to a pulp and then spread out over a wire mesh to dry.

In this era, the English national race and character was formed. Stories of good King Arthur were popular and set ideals for behavior and justice in an otherwise barbaric age where force was supreme. His last battle in which he lay wounded and told a kinsman to rule in his place and uphold his laws was written in poem ("Layamon's Brut"). Romantic stories were written and read in English.

The only people distinguishable as Anglo-Saxon by their look and speech were manor villeins who worked the farm land, who composed over half the population. Intermarriage had destroyed any distinction of Normans by look or speech alone. Although the villeins could not buy their freedom or be freed by their lord, they became less numerous because of the preference of landholders for tenants motivated to perform work by potential loss of tenure. Also, the Crown's protection of all its subjects in criminal matters blurred the distinction between free and unfree men.

The boroughs were dominated by lords of local manors, who usually had a house in the borough. Similarly, burgesses usually had farmland outside the borough. Many boroughs were granted the right to have a common seal for the common business of the town. Each borough was represented by twelve reputable burgesses. Each vill was represented by a reeve and four reputable men. Certain towns sponsored great seasonal fairs for special goods, such as cloth. Less than 5% of the population lived in towns. Some windmills were used.

London guilds of craftsmen such as weavers, fullers, bakers, loriners (makers of bit, spurs, and metal mountings of bridles and saddles), cordwainers (makers of leather goods such as shoes), pepperers, and goldsmiths were licensed by the King, for which they paid him a yearly fee. There were also five Bridge Guilds (probably raising money for the future construction of London Bridge in stone) and St. Lazarus' Guild. The wealthy guilds, which included the goldsmiths, the pepperers, and three bridge guilds had landholding members who had been thegnes or knights and now became a class of royal officials: the King's minters, his chamberlain, his takers of wines, his collectors of taxes.

Sandwich was confirmed in its port rights by this charter: "Henry II to his sheriff and bailiffs of Kent, greeting. I will and order that the monks of the Holy Trinity of Canterbury shall have fully all those liberties and customs in Sandwich which they had in the time of King Henry my grandfather, as it was adjudged in pursuance of his command by the oath of twelve men of Dover and twelve men of Sandwich, to wit, that the aforesaid monks ought to have the port and the toll and all maritime customs in the same port, on either side of the water from Eadburge-gate as far as markesfliete and a ferry-boat for passage. And no man has there any right except they and their ministers. Wherefore I will and firmly command you and the men of Sandwich that ye cause the aforesaid monks to have all their customs both in the port and in the town of Sandwich, and I forbid any from vexing them on this account." "And they shall have my firm peace."

Henry gave this charter to the town of Bristol in 1164: "Know ye, that I have granted to my burgesses of Bristol, that they shall be quit both of toll [a reasonable sum of money or portion of the thing sold, due to the owner of the fair or market on the sale of things tollable therein. It was claimed by the lord of the fee where the fair or market was held, by virtue of a grant from the Crown either ostensible or presumed] and passage [money paid for crossing a river or for crossing the sea as might be due to the Crown] and all custom [customary payments] throughout my whole land of England, Normandy, and Wales, wherever they shall come, they and their goods. Wherefore I will and strictly command, that they shall have all their liberties and acquittances and free customs fully and honorable, as my free and faithful men, and that they shall be quit of toll and passage and of every other customs: and I forbid any one to disturb them on this account contrary to this my charter, on forfeiture of ten pounds [200s.]."

John, when he was an earl and before he became King, granted these liberties to Bristol about 1188:

1) No burgess may sue or be sued out of Bristol.

2) The burgesses are excused from the murder fine (imposed by the King or lord from the hundred or town where the murder was committed when the murderer had not been apprehended).

3) No burgess may wage duel, unless sued for death of a stranger.

4) No one may take possession of a lodging house by assignment or by livery of the Marshall of the Earl of Gloucester against the will of the burgesses (so that the town would not be responsible for the good behavior of a stranger lodging in the town without first accepting the possessor of the lodging house).

5) No one shall be condemned in a matter of money, unless according to the law of the hundred, that is, forfeiture of 40s.

6) The hundred court shall be held only once a week.

7) No one in any plea may argue his cause in miskenning.

8) They may lawfully have their lands and tenures and mortgages and debts throughout my whole land, [from] whoever owes them [anything].

9) With regard to debts which have been lent in Bristol, and mortgages theremade, pleas shall be held in the town according to the custom of the town.

10) If any one in any other place in my land shall take toll of the men of Bristol, if he does not restore it after he is required to, the Prepositor of Bristol may take from him a distress at Bristol, and force him to restore it.

11) No stranger-tradesman may buy within the town from a man who is a stranger, leather, grain, or wool, but only from a burgess.

12) No stranger may have a shop, including one for selling wine, unless in a ship, nor shall sell cloth for cutting except at the fair.

13) No stranger may remain in the town with his goods for the purpose of selling his goods, but for forty days.

14) No burgess may be confined or distrained any where else within my land or power for any debt, unless he is a debtor or surety (to avoid a person owed a debt from distraining another person of the town of the debtor).

15) They shall be able to marry themselves, their sons, their daughters and their widows, without the license of their lords. (Lords had the right of preventing their tenants and mesne lords and their families from marrying without his consent.)

16) No one of their lords shall have the wardship or the disposal of their sons or daughters on account of their lands out of the town, but only the wardship of their tenements which belong to their own fee, until they become of age.

17) There shall be no recognition [acknowledgement that something done by another person in one's name had one's authority] in the town.

18) No one shall take tyne [wooden barrel with a certain quantity of ale, payable by the townsmen to the constable for the use of the castle] unless for the use of the lord Earl, and that according to the custom of the town.

19) They may grind their grain wherever they may choose.

20) They may have their reasonable guilds, as well or better than they had themin the time of Robert and his son William [John's wife's grandfather and father, who were earls of Gloucester when the town and castle of Bristol were part of the honor of Gloucester].

21) No burgess may be compelled to bail any man, unless he himself chooses it, although he may be dwelling on his land.

We have also granted to them all their tenures, messuages, in copses, in buildings on the water or elsewhere to be held in free burgage [tenant to pay only certain fixed services or payments to his lord, but not military service (like free socage)]. We have granted also that any of them may make improvements as much as he can in erecting buildings anywhere on the bank and elsewhere, as long as the borough and town are not damaged thereby. Also, they shall have and possess all waste land and void grounds and places, to be built on at their pleasure.

Newcastle-on-Tyne's taxes were simplified in 1175 as follows:

"Know ye that I have granted and by this present charter have confirmed to my burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne, and to all their things which they can assure to be their own, acquittance from toll and passage and pontage and from the Hanse and from all other customs throughout all my land. And I prohibit all persons from vexing or disturbing them therein upon forfeiture to me."

We grant to our upright men on Newcastle-on-Tyne and their heirs our town of Newcastle-on-Tyne with all its appurtances at fee farm for 100 pounds to be rendered yearly to us and our heirs at our Exchequer by their own hand at the two terms, to wit, at Easter 50 pounds and at Michaelmas 50 pounds, saving to us our rents and prizes and assizes in the port of the same town.

Ranulph, earl of Chester, made grants to his burgesses of Coventry by this charter: "That the aforesaid burgesses and their heirs may well and honorably quietly and in free burgage hold of me and my heirs as ever in the time of my father and others of my ancestors they have held better more firmly and freer. In the second place I grant to them all the free and good laws which the burgesses of Lincoln have better and freer. I prohibit and forbid my constables to draw them into the castle to plead for any cause, but they may freely have their portimote [leet court] in which all pleas belonging to me and them may be justly treated of. Moreover they may choose from themselves one to act for me whom I approve, who a justice under me and over them may know the laws and customs, and keep them to my counsel in all things reasonable, every excuse put away, and may faithfully perform to me my rights. If any one happen to fall into my amercement he may be reasonably fined by my bailiff and the faithful burgesses of the court. Furthermore, whatever merchants they have brought with them for the improvement of the town, I command that they have peace, and that none do them injury or unjustly send them into court. But if any foreign merchant shall have done anything improper in the town that same may be regulated in the portimote before the aforesaid justice without a suit at law."

Henry confirmed this charter of the earl's by 1189 as follows: I have confirmed all the liberties and free customs the earl of Chester granted to them, namely, that the same burgesses may well and honorably hold in free burgage, as ever in the time of the father of the beforesaid earl, or other of his ancestors, they may have better or more firmly held; and they may have all the laws and customs which the citizens of Lincoln have better and freer [e.g. their merchant guilds; all men brought to trade may be subject to the guild customs and assize of the town; those who lawfully hold land in the town for a year and a day without question and are able to prove that an accuser has been in the kingdom within the year without finding fault with them, from thence may hold the land well and in peace without pleading; those who have remained in the town a year and a day without question, and have submitted to the customs of the town and the citizens of the town are able to show through the laws and customs of the town that the accuser stood forth in the kingdom, and not a fault is found of them, then they may remain in peace in the town without question]; and that the constable of the aforesaid earl shall not bring them into the castle to plead in any case. But they may freely have their own portmanmote in which all pleas appertaining to the earl and to them may be justly treated of. Moreover they may choose one from themselves to act for the earl, whom I approve, who may be a justice under the earl and over them, and who to the earl may faithfully perform his rights, and if anyone happen to fall into the earl's forfeiture he shall be acquit for 12 pence. If by the testimony of his neighbors he cannot pay 12 pence coins, by their advice it shall be so settled as he is able to pay, and besides, with other acquittances, that the burgesses shall not provide anything in corrody [allowance in food] or otherwise whether for the said earl or his men, unless upon condition that their chattels shall be safe, and so rendered to them.

Furthermore, whatever merchants they have brought with them for the improvement of the town they may have peace, and none shall do them injury or unjustly send them into suit at law. But if any foreign merchant has done anything improper in the town that shall be amended [or tried] in the portmanmote before the aforesaid justice without a suit. And they who may be newcomers into the town, from the day on which they began to build in the town for the space of two years shall be acquit of all charges.

Mercantile privileges were granted to the shoemakers in Oxford thus: "Know ye that I have granted and confirmed to the corvesars of Oxford all the liberties and customs which they had in the time of King Henry my grandfather, and that they have their guild, so that none carry on their trade in the town of Oxford, except he be of that guild. I grant also that the cordwainers who afterwards may come into the town of Oxford shall be of the same guild and shall have the same liberties and customs which the corvesars have and ought to have. For this grant and confirmation, however, the corvesars and cordwainers ought to pay me every year an ounce of gold."

A guild merchant for wool dominated and regulated the wool trade in many boroughs. In Leicester, only guildsmen were permitted to buy and sell wool wholesale to whom they pleased or to wash their fells in borough waters. Certain properties, such as those near running water, essential to the manufacture of wool were maintained for the use of guild members. The waterwheel was a technological advance replacing human labor whereby the cloth was made more compact and thick, "fulled". The waterwheel turned a shaft which lifted hammers to pound the wet cloth in a trough. Wool packers and washers could work only for guild members. The guild fixed wages, for instance to wool wrappers and flock pullers. Strangers who brought wool to the town for sale could sell only to guild members. A guildsman could not sell wool retail to strangers nor go into partnership with a man outside the guild. Each guild member had to swear the guildsman's oath, pay an entrance fee, and subject himself to the judgment of the guild in the guild court, which could fine or suspend a man from practicing his trade for a year. The advantages of guild membership extended beyond profit in the wool trade. Members were free from the tolls that strangers paid. They alone were free to sell certain goods retail. They had the right to share in any bargain made in the presence of a guildsman, whether the transaction took place in Leicester or in a distant market. In the general interest, the guild forbade the use of false weights and measures and the production of shoddy goods. It maintained a wool-beam for weighing wool. It also forbade middlemen from profiting at the expense of the public. For instance, butchers' wives were forbidden from buying meat to sell again in the same market unless they cooked it. The moneys due to the King from the guilds of a town were collected by the town reeve.

A baron could assemble an army in a day to resist any perceived misgovernment by a King. Armed conflict did not interfere much with daily life because the national wealth was still composed mostly of flocks and herds and simple buildings. Machinery, furniture, and the stock of shops were still sparse. Life would be back to normal within a week.

Henry wanted to check this power of the barons. So he restored the older obligation of every freeman to serve in defense of the realm, which was a military draft. At the King's call, barons were to appear in mail suit with sword and horse, knights in coat of mail with shield and lance, freeholders with lance and hauberk [coat of armor], burgesses and poorer freemen with lance and helmet, and such as millers with pike and leather shirt. The master of a household was responsible for every villein in his household. Others had to form groups of ten and swear obedience to the chief of the group. This was implemented in a war with France.

However, the nobility who were on the borders of the realm had to maintain their private armies for frequent border clashes. The other nobility now tended towards tournaments with mock battles between two sides.

A new land tax replaced the Danegeld tax. Freeholders of land paid taxes according to their plowable land ("hidage", by the hide, and later "carucage", by the acre). It was assessed and collected for the King by knights with little or no remuneration. The villein class, which in theory included the boroughs, paid a tax based on their produce ("tallage"). Merchants were taxed on their personal property, which was determined by an inquest of neighbors. Clergy were also taxed. This new system of taxation increased the royal income about threefold.

At the end of this period was the reign of King John, a short man. After his mother Eleanor's death, John ruled without her influence. He had a huge appetite for money. He imposed levies on the capital value of all personal and moveable goods. (This idea was taken from the tenth of rents and income from moveable goods which had been imposed for King Richard II's crusade to recover Jerusalem. It began the occasional subsidies called "tenths and fifteenths" from all people on incomes from moveables.) He sold the wardships of minors and the marriages of heiresses to the highest bidder, no matter how base. He appointed unprincipled men to be both sheriff and justice, enabling them to blackmail property holders with vexatious writs and false accusations. Writs were withheld or sold at exorbitant prices. Crushing penalties were imposed to increase the profits of justice. The story of Robin Hood portrays John's attempt to gain the crown prematurely while Richard was on the Crusades to recover Jerusalem for Christendom. In 1213, strong northern barons refused a royal demand for scutage, arguing that the amount was not within custom or otherwise justified. John's heavy-handed and arbitrary rule quickly alienated all sectors of the population. They joined the barons to pressure him to sign the Magna Carta correcting his abuses. For instance, since John had extracted many heavy fines from barons by personally adjudging them blameworthy in disputes with others, the barons wanted judgment by their peers under the established law of the courts. In arms, the barons confronted John demanding that he sign the Magna Carta correcting his abuses, which he did.

The Law

The peace of the sheriff still exists for his shire. The King's peace may still be specially given, but it will cease upon the death of the King.

Law required every good and lawful man to be bound to follow the hue and cry when it was raised against an offender who was fleeing. The village reeve was expected to lead the chase to the boundary of the next jurisdiction, which would then take the responsibility to catch the man.

No one, including the lord of a manor, may take land from anyone else, for instance, by the customary process of distress, without a judgment from the Royal Court. This did not apply to London, where a landlord leasing or renting land could take distress in his fee.

No one, including the lord of a manor, shall deprive an heir of the land possessed by his father, i.e. his birthright.

A tenant may marry off a daughter unless his lord shows some just cause for refusing to consent to the marriage. A tenant had to pay an "aid" to his lord when the lord's daughter married, when the lord's son was knighted, or when the lord's person was ransomed.

A man [or woman] may not will away his land, but he may sell it during his lifetime.

The land of a knight or other tenant of a military fee is inherited by his eldest son. The socage land of a free sokeman goes by its ancient custom before the Norman Conquest.

If a man purchased land after his marriage, his wife's dower is still one-third of the land he had when they married, or less if he had endowed her with less. But he could then enlarge her dower to one-third of all of his lands. The same rule applied if the man had no land, but endowed his wife with chattel or money instead.

Dower law prevented a woman from selling her dower during the life of her husband. But he could sell it or give it away. On his death, its possessor had to give the widow the equivalent worth of the property.

A widower had all his wife's lands by curtesy of the nation for his lifetime to the exclusion of her heirs.

The Capital Messuage [Chief Manor] could not be given in dower or divided, but went in its entirety to its heir.

Heirs were firstly sons, then daughters, then grandsons per stirpes, then granddaughters per stirpes, then brothers, and then sisters of the decedent. Male heirs of land held by military service or sons of knights who were under the age of twenty-one were considered to be in custody of their lords. The lord had wardship over the heir's land, excluding the third that was the widow's dower for her life. He had to maintain the heir in a manner suitable to his dignity and restore to him when he came of age his inheritance in good condition discharged from debts. Male heirs of sokemen who were under the age of fifteen were in the custody of their nearest kindred. The son of a burgess came of age when he could count money, measure cloth, and manage his father's concerns.

Female heirs remained in the custody of their lords until they married. The lord was bound to find a marriage for his ward when she became fourteen years of age and then deliver her inheritance to her. She could not marry without her lord's consent, because her husband was expected to be the lord's ally and to do homage to him. But if a female heir lost her virginity, her inheritance escheated to her lord.

Bastards were not heirs, even if their father married their mother after their birth.

Any adult inheriting land had to pay a "relief" to the lord of the land. For a knight's fee, this was 100s. For socage land, this was one year's value. The amount for a barony depended upon the King's pleasure.

Heirs (but not widows) were bound to pay the debts of their fathers and ancestors. A man who married a woman who had inherited land could not sell this land without the consent of its heirs.

When a man dies, his wife shall take one-third and his heirs shall take one- third of his chattels [moveables]. The other third he may dispose of by will. If he had no heirs and no will [intestate], all his chattels would escheat to his lord. Any distribution of chattels would take place after all the decedent's debts were paid from the property.

A will required two witnesses. The testator could name an executor, but if he did not, the next of kin was the executor. A will could not be made by a man on his death bed because he may well have lost his memory and reason. Also, he could not give to a younger son if in so doing, he would deprive his lawful heir. But he could give a marriage gift to a daughter regardless of the lawful heir.

Usury was receiving back more than what was lent, such as interest on a loan of money. When a usurer died, all his moveables went to the King.

A villein may not buy his own freedom (because all that he has is his lord's), but may be set free by his lord or by someone else who buys his freedom for him. He shall also be freed if the lord seduced his wife, drew his blood, or refused to bail him either in a civil or criminal action in which he was afterwards cleared. But a freed villein did not have status to plead in court, even if he had been knighted. If his free status were tried in court, only a freeman who was a witness to his being set free could avail himself of the duel to decide the issue. However, if the villein remained peacefully in a privileged town a year and a day and was received into its guild as a citizen, then he was freed from villeinage in every way.

A freeman who married a villein lost his freedom. If any parent of a child was a villein, then the child was also a villein.

All shipwrecked persons shall be treated with kindness and none of their goods or merchandise shall be taken from them.

If one kills another on a vessel, he shall be fastened to the dead body and thrown with it into the sea.

If one steals from another on a vessel, he shall be shaven, tarred and feathered, and turned ashore at the first land.

Passage on the Thames River may not be obstructed by damming up the river on each side leaving a narrow outlet to net fish. All such wears shall be removed.

Judicial Procedure

Henry II wanted all freemen to be equally protected by one system of law and government. So he opened his court, the Royal Court, to all people of free tenure. A court of five justices professionally expert in the law sat in permanence, traveled with the King, and on points of difficulty consulted with him. Other professional justices, on eyre [journey], appeared periodically in all shires of the nation. They came to perform many tasks besides adjudging civil and criminal pleas, including promulgating and enforcing new legislation, seeking out encroachments on royal rights, reviewing the local communities' and officials' performance of their public duties, imposing penalties for failure to do them or for corruption, gathering information about outlaws and non- performance of homage, and assessing feudal escheats to the Crown, wardships to which the King was entitled, royal advowsons, feudal aids owed to the King, tallages of the burgesses, and debts owed to the Jews. assessing feudal escheats to the Crown, wardships to which the King was entitled, royal advowsons, feudal aids owed to the King, tallages of the burgesses, and debts owed to the Jews; The decision-making of justices in eyre begins the process which makes the custom of the Royal Court the common law of the nation. The shire courts, where the travelling justices heard all manner of business in the shires, adopted the doctrines of the Royal Court, which then acquired an appellate jurisdiction. The three royal courts and justices in eyre all drew from the same small group of royal justices.

Henry erected a basic, rational framework for legal processes which drew from tradition but lent itself to continuous expansion and adaptation.

The Royal Court was chiefly concerned with 1) the due regulation and supervision of the conduct of local government, 2) the ownership and possession of land held by free tenure, 3) the repression of serious crime, and 4) the relations between the lay and the ecclesiastical courts.

The doctrine of tenure applied universally to the land law formed the basis for judicial procedure in determining land rights. Those who held lands "in fee" from the King in turn subinfeudated their land to men of lesser rank. The concept of tenure covered the earl, the knight (knight's service), the church (frank-almoin [free alms]), the tenant who performed labor services, and the tenant who paid a rent (socage). Other tenures were: serjeanty [providing an implement of war or performing a nonmilitary office] and burgage. All hold the land of some lord and ultimately of the King.

Henry was determined to protect lawful seisin of land and issued assizes [legal promulgations] giving the Royal Court authority to decide land law issues which had not been given justice in the shire or lord's court. These included issues of disseisin [ejectment] of a person's free tenement or of his common of pasture which belonged to his freehold. The writ praecipe directed the sheriff to order the overlord of any land seized to restore it immediately or answer for his failure in the royal court. Though this petty assize of disseisin only provided a swift preliminary action to protect possession pending the lengthy and involved action [grand assize] on the issue of which party had the more just claim or ultimate right of seisin, the latter action was only infrequently invoked. The temptation of a strong man to seize a neighbor's land to reap its profits for a long time until the neighbor could prove and enforce his right was deterred. Any such claim of recent dispossession [novel disseisin] had to be made within three years of the disseisin.

An assize [now a judicial body] of recognition viewed the land in question and answered these questions of fact: 1) Was the plaintiff disseised of the freeholdin question, unjustly and without judgment? 2) Did the defendant commit the disseisin? Testimony of a warrantor (or an attorney sent by him in his place) or a charter of warranty served to prove seisin by gift, sale, or exchange. No pleadings were necessary and the action could proceed and judgment given even without the presence of the defendant. The justices amerced the losing party with a monetary penalty. A successful plaintiff might be awarded damages to compensate for the loss of revenue. Eventually royal justices acquired authority to decide the ultimate question of right to land using the grand assize and the alternative of an assize instead of the traditional procedures which ended in trial by battle.

There was also a writ for issues of inheritance of land. By law the tenure of a person who died seised of a tenure in a lord's demesne which was hereditary [seisin of fee] returned to the lord, who had to give it to the heir of the decedent. If the lord refused and kept it for himself or gave it to someone else, the heir could sue in the Royal Court, which would decide whether the ancestor was seised as of fee in his demesne, if the plaintiff was the nearest heir, and whether the ancestor had died, gone on a crusade but not returned, or had become a monk.

Issues of seisin were brought to the Royal Court by a contestant in a local court who "put himself [or herself] upon the King's grand assize". Then his action would be removed to the Royal Court. The assize would consist of twelve knights from the district who were elected by four knights and who were known as truthful men and who were likely to possess knowledge of the facts.

The tenant could object to any of the twelve knights for just cause as determined by the court. Each of the twelve gave an oath as to whether the plaintiff's or the defendant's position was correct. If any did not know the truth of the matter, others were found until twelve agreed [the recognitors] in favor of one side. Perjury was punished by forfeiture of all one's goods and chattels to the King and at least one year's imprisonment.

Alternately, the tenant-defendant could still chose trial by duel. A duel was fought between the parties or their champions. The losing party of a duel had to pay a fine of 60s.

However, if the parties were relatives, neither the assize nor the duel was available to them, but the matter had to be decided by the law of inheritance. Nor was burgage tenure usually decided by assize.

This assize procedure extended in time to all other types of civil actions.

Also removable to the Royal Court from the shire courts were issues of a lord's claim to a person as his villein (duel not available), service or relief due to a lord, dower rights, a creditor's refusal to restore a gage [something given as security] to a debtor who offered payment or a deposit, money due to a lender, a seller, or a person to whom one had an obligation under a charter, fish or harvest or cattle taken from lands unjustly occupied, cattle taken from pasture, rights to enjoy a common, to stop troubling someone's transport, to make restitution of land wrongfully occupied, to make a lord's bailiff account to him for the profits of the manor.

A person who felt he had not had justice in the manor court could appeal to the King for a writ of right after the manor court's decision or for a writ praecipe during the manor court's proceeding.

The Royal Court also decided disputes regarding baronies, nuisance or encroachments on royal land or public ways or public waterways, such as diverting waters from their right course and issues of nuisance by the making or destroying of a ditch or the destruction of a pond by a mill to the injury of a person's freehold. Other pleas of the Crown were: insult to the royal dignity, treason, breaches of safe-conducts, and injury to the King's servants.

Henry involved the Royal Court in many criminal issues, formerly decided in the shire and hundred courts. To detect crimes, he required royal officers to routinely ask selected representatives: knights or other landholders, of every neighborhood if any person were suspected of any murder, robbery, etc. A traveling royal justice or a sheriff would then hold an inquest, in which the representatives answered by oath what people were reputed to have done certain crimes. They made such inquiries through assizes of presentment, usually composed of twelve men from each hundred and four men for each township. (These later evolved into grand juries). These assizes were an ancient institution in many parts of the country. They consisted of representatives of the hundreds, usually knights, and villages who testified under oath to all crimes committed in their neighborhood, and indicted those they suspected as responsible and those harboring them. What the assize did was to insist upon the adoption of a standard procedure everywhere systematically. The procedure was made more regular instead of depending on crime waves. If indicted, the suspected persons were then sent to the ordeal. There was no trial by compurgation, which was abolished by Henry. If determined guilty, he forfeited his chattels to the King and his land reverted to his landlord. If he passed the ordeal but was ill-famed in the community, he could be banished from the community. Later the ordeal was abolished.

As before, a person could also be brought to trial by the accusation of the person wronged. If the accused still denied the charge after the accuser testified and the matter investigated by inquiries and interrogation and then analyzed, a duel was held, unless the accuser was over the age of sixty or maimed, in which case the accused went to the ordeal.

Criminal matters such as killing the King or sedition or betraying the nation or the army, fraudulent concealment of treasure trove [finding a hoard of coins which had been buried when danger approached], breach of the King's peace, homicide, murder (homicide for which there were no eye-witnesses), burning (a town, house, men, animals or other chattel for hatred or revenge), robbery, rape and falsifying (e.g. false charters or false measures or false money) were punishable by death or loss of limb. House-breaking, harboring outlaws, the royal perquisites of shipwreck and the beasts of the sea which were stranded on the coast were also punishable in the Royal Court.

The Royal Court had grown substantially and was not always presided over by the King. To avoid court agents from having too much discretionary power, there was a systematic procedure for bringing cases to the Royal Court. First, a plaintiff had to apply to the King's Chancery for a standardized writ into which the cause had to fit. The plaintiff had to pay a fee and provide a surety that the plea was brought in good faith. The progress of the suit was controlled at crucial points by precisely formulated writs to the sheriff, instructing him for instance, to put the disputed property under royal protection pending a decision, to impanel an assize and have it view the property in advance of the justices' arrival, to ascertain a point of fact material to the plea, or to summon a 'warrantor' to support a claim by the defendant.

The Royal Court kept a record on its cases on parchment kept rolled up: its "rolls". The oldest roll of 1194 is almost completely comprised of land cases.

Anyone could appoint an agent, an "attorney", to appear in court on his behalf, it being assumed that the principal could not be present. The principal was then bound by the actions of his agent. The common law system became committed to the "adversary system" with the parties struggling judicially against each other.

The Royal Court took jurisdiction over issues of whether certain land was civil or ecclesiastical [assize utrum], and therefore whether the land owed services or payment to the Crown or not. It also heard issues of disturbance of advowson, a complex of rights to income from a church and to the selection of a parson for the church [assize of darrein [last] presentment]. Many churches had been built by a lord on his manor for his villeins. The lord had then appointed a parson and provided for his upkeep out of the income of the church. In later times, the lord's chosen parson was formally appointed by the bishop. By the 1100s, many lords had given their advowsons to abbeys.

As before, the land of any person who had been outlawed or convicted of a felony escheated to his lord. His moveable goods and chattels became the King's.

The manor court heard cases which arose out of the unfree tenures of the lord's peasantry.

The honorial court, part of the manor court, heard distraint, also called "distress", issues. Distraint was a landlord's method of forcing a tenant to perform the services of his fief. To distrain by the fief, a lord first obtained a judgment of his court. Otherwise, he distrained only by goods and chattels without judgment of his court. A distraint was merely a security to secure a person's services, if he agreed he owed them, or his attendance in court, if he did not agree that he owed them. Law and custom restricted the type of goods and chattels distrainable, and the time and manner of distraint. For instance, neither clothes, household utensils, nor a riding horse was distrainable. The lord could not use the chattels taken while they were in his custody. If cattle in custody were not accessible to the tenant, the lord had to feed them at his expense. The lord, if he were not the King, could not sell the chattel. The action of replevin was available to the tenant to recover property which had been wrongly distressed. This court also determined inheritance and dower issues.

The court of the vill enforced the village ordinances. The hundred court dealt with the petty crimes of lowly men in the neighborhood of a few vills. The shire and borough courts heard cases of felonies, accusations against freemen, tort, and debts. The knights make the shire courts work as legal and administrative agencies of the Crown.

Admiralty issues (since no assize could be summoned on the high seas), and tenement issues of land held in frankalmoin ["free alms" for the poor to relieve the King of this burden], where the tenant was a cleric were heard in the ecclesiastical courts.

The church copied the assize procedure developed by the Royal Court to detect ecclesiastical offenses. Trial was still by compurgation. Bishops could request the Chancery to imprison an offender who had remained excommunicant for forty days, until he made amends. Chancery complied as a matter of course. This went on for six centuries.

The delineations of jurisdiction among these courts was confused and there was much competing and overlapping of jurisdictions. However, the court could appoint arbitrators or suggest to the parties to compromise to avoid the harshness of a decisive judgment which might drive the losing party to violent self-help.

The office of coroner was established in the last years of Richard's reign to determine if sudden deaths were accidental or due to murder.

Chief Justice Ranulph Glanville wrote a treatise on the writs which could be brought in the Royal Court and the way they could be used. It was a practical manual of procedure and of the law administered in the Royal Court.

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