OUR LEGAL HERITAGE The first thousand years: 600 - 1600 King AEthelbert - Queen Elizabeth
Part 5 out of 7
Each goldsmith shall have an identifying mark, which shall be
placed on his vessel or work only after inspection by the King's
No one shall give anything to a beggar who is capable of working.
Vagrants begging in London were banned by this 1359 ordinance:
"Forasmuch as many men and women, and others, of divers counties,
who might work, to the help of the common people, have betaken
themselves from out of their own country to the city of London
and do go about begging there so as to have their own ease and
repose, not wishing to labor or work for their sustenance, to the
great damage of the common people; and also do waste divers alms
which would otherwise be given to many poor folks, such as
lepers, blind, halt, and persons oppressed with old age and
divers other maladies, to the destruction of the support of the
same - we do command on behalf of our lord the King, whom may God
preserve and bless, that all those who go about begging in the
said city and who are able to labor and work for the profit of
the common people shall quit the said city between now and Monday
next ensuing. And if any such shall be found begging after the
day aforesaid, the same shall be taken and put in the stocks on
Cornhill for half a day the first time, and the second time he
shall remain in the stocks one whole day, and the third time he
shall be taken and shall remain in prison for forty days and
shall then forswear the said city forever. And every constable
and the beadle of every ward of the said city shall be empowered
to arrest such manner of folks and to put them in the stocks in
The hundred year cry to "let the King live on his own" found
fruition in a 1352 statute requiring consent of the Parliament
before any commission of array for militia could be taken and a
1362 statute requiring purchases of goods and means of conveyance
for the King and his household to be made only by agreement with
the seller and with payment to him before the King traveled on,
instead of at the low prices determined unilaterally by the
Every man who has wood within the forest may take houseboot and
heyboot in his wood without being arrested so long as it take
such within the view of the foresters.
English was made the official language of the courts, replacing
French and Latin, and schools in 1362 and of Parliament,
replacing Anglo-Norman, in 1363.
No fecal matter, dung, garbage, or entrails of animals killed
shall be put into ditches or rivers or other waters, so that
maladies and diseases will not be caused by corrupted and
infected air. The penalty is 400s. to the King after trial by the
Gifts or alienation of land to guilds, fraternities, or towns are
forbidden. Instead, it escheats to its lord, or in his default,
to the King.
No man will be charged to go out of his shire to do military
service except in case of an enemy invasion of the nation. Men
who chose to go into the King's service outside the nation shall
be paid wages by the King until their return.
Admiralty law came into being when ancient naval manners and
customs were written down as the "Black Book of the Admiralty".
This included the organization of the fleet under the Admiral,
sea-maneuver rules such as not laying anchor until the Admiral's
ship had, engagement rules, and the distribution of captured
goods: one-fourth to the vessel owner, one-fourth to the King if
the seamen were paid by the King's wages, and the rest divided
among the crew and Admiral. Stealing a boat or an anchor holding
a boat was punishable by hanging. Stealing an oar or an anchor
was punishable by forty days imprisonment for the first offense,
six months imprisonment for the second, and hanging for the
third. Desertion was punishable by loss of double the amount of
wages earned and imprisonment for one year. Cases were tried by
jury in the Admiral's court.
Wines, vinegar, oil and honey imported shall be gauged by the
A man may not hire another man to fight in his place in a
quarrel, except one living in his household or his esquire.
- Judicial Procedure -
The office of Justice of the Peace was developed and filled by
knights, esquires and gentlemen who were closely associated with
the magnates. There was no salary nor any requirement of
knowledge of the law. They were to pursue, restrain, arrest,
imprison, try, and duly punish felons, trespassers, and rioters
according to the law. They were expected to arrest vagrants who
would not work and imprison them until sureties for good behavior
was found for them. They also were empowered to inspect weights
and measures and enforce the new law against hiring another to
fight one's quarrel. Trespass included forcible offenses of
breaking of a fence enclosing private property, assault and
battery, false imprisonment, and taking away goods and chattels.
Private suits for murder or personal injury were falling into
disuse and being replaced by the action of trespass.
Pardons may be given only for slaying another in one's own
defense or by misfortune [accident], and not for slaying by lying
in wait, assault, or malice aforethought.
Justices of Assize, sheriffs, and Justices of the Peace and
mayors shall have power to inquire of all vagabonds and compel
them to find surety of their good bearing or be imprisoned.
Treason was tried in Parliament, by bill of "attainder". It was
often used for political purposes. Most attaints were reversed as
a term of peace made between factions.
A reversioner shall be received in court to defend his right when
a tenant for a term of life, tenant in dower, or by the Law of
England, or in Tail after Possibility of Issue extinct are sued
in court for the land, so as to prevent collusion by the
A person in debt may not avoid his creditors by giving his
tenements or chattels to his friends in collusion to have the
profits at their will.
Where there was a garnishment given touching a plea of land, a
writ of deceit is also maintainable.
Actions of debt will be heard only in the county where the
contract was made. The action of debt includes enforcement of
contracts executed or under seal, e.g. rent due on a lease, hire
of an archer, contract of sale or repair of an item. Thus there
is a growing connection between the actions of debt and contract.
Executors have an action for trespass to their testators' goods
and chattels in like manner as did the testator when alive.
If a man dies intestate, his goods shall be administered by his
next and most lawful friends appointed. Such administrators shall
have the same powers and duties as executors and be accountable
as are executors to the ecclesiastical court.
Children born to English parents in parts beyond the sea may
inherit from their ancestors in the same manner as those born in
A person grieved by a false oath in a town court proceeding may
appeal to the King's Bench or Common Pleas, regardless of any
The Court of the King's Bench worked independently of the King.
It became confined to the established common law. The King
proclaimed that petitions for remedies that the common law didn't
cover be addressed to the Chancellor, who was not bound by
established law, but could do equity. With the backing of the
council, he made decisions implementing the policy of the Statute
of Laborers. Most of these concerned occupational competency, for
instance negligent activity of carriers, builders, shepherds,
doctors, clothworkers, smiths, innkeepers, and jailers. For
instance, the common law action of detinue could force return of
cloth bailed for fulling or sheep bailed for pasturing, but could
not address damages due to faulty work. The Chancellor addressed
issues of loss of wool, dead lambs, and damaged sheep, as well as
dead sheep. He imposed a legal duty on innkeepers to prevent
injury or damage to a patron or his goods from third parties. A
dog bite or other damage by a dog known by its owner to be
vicious was made a more serious offense than general damage by
any dog. A person starting a fire was given a duty to prevent the
fire from damaging property of others. These new forms of action
came to be known as assumpsit, which provided damages for breach
of an oral agreement and a written agreement without a seal, or
trespass on the case, which did not require the element of force
of the trespass offense.
Decisions of the common law courts are appealable to Parliament,
which can change the common law by statute.
No attorney may practice law and also be a justice of assize.
Champerty [an outsider supporting or maintaining litigation in
which there is an agreement for him to share in the award] is
forbidden because court officials have
maintained and defended a party which has resulted in another
party being cheated out of his land.
Whereas it is contained in the Magna Carta that none shall be
imprisoned nor put out of his freehold, nor of his franchises nor
free custom, unless it be by the law of the land; it is
established that from henceforth none shall be taken by petition
or suggestion made to the King unless by indictment of good and
lawful people of the same neighborhood where such deeds be done,
in due manner, or by process made by writ original at the common
law; nor that none be out of his franchise, nor of his freeholds,
unless he be duly brought into answer and forejudges of the same
by the course of law. (forerunner of indictment grand juries and
trial juries for criminal cases)
There were so many cases that were similar to, but not in
technical conformity with, the requirements of the common law
for a remedy by the reign of Edward III, that litigants were
flowing into the Chancery, which had the power to give swift and
The King will fine instead of seize the land of his tenants who
sell or alienate their land, such fine to be determined by the
Chancellor by due process.
The King's coroner and a murderer who had taken sanctuary in a
church often agreed to the penalty of confession and perpetual
banishment from the nation as follows: "Memorandum that on July
6, , Henry de Roseye abjured the realm of England before
John Bernard, the King's coroner, at the church of Tendale in the
County of Kent in form following: 'Hear this, O lord the coroner,
that I, Henry de Roseye, have stolen an ox and a cow of the widow
of John Welsshe of Retherfeld; and I have stolen eighteen beasts
from divers men in the said county. And I acknowledge that I have
feloniously killed Roger le Swan in the town of Strete in the
hundred of Strete in the rape of Lewes and that I am a felon of
the lord King of England. And because I have committed many ill
deeds and thefts in his land, I abjure the land of the Lord
Edward King of England, and [I acknowledge] that I ought to
hasten to the port of Hastings, which thou hast given me, and
that I ought not to depart from the way, and if I do so I am
willing to be taken as a thief and felon of the lord King, and
that at Hastings I will diligently seek passage, and that I will
not wait there save for the flood and one ebb if I can have
passage; and if I cannot have passage within that period, I will
go up to the knees into the sea every day, endeavoring to cross;
and unless I can do so within forty days, I will return at once
to the church, as a thief and a felon of the lord King, so help
Property damage by a tenant of a London building was assessed in
a 1374 case: "John Parker, butcher, was summoned to answer
Clement Spray in a plea of trespass, wherein the latter
complained that the said John, who had hired a tavern at the
corner of St. Martin-le-Grand from him for fifteen months, had
committed waste and damage therein, although by the custom of the
city no tenant for a term of years was entitled to destroy any
portion of the buildings or fixtures let to him. He alleged that
the defendant had taken down the doorpost of the tavern and also
of the shop, the boarded door of a partition of the tavern, a
seat in the tavern, a plastered partition wall, the stone
flooring in the chamber, the hearth of the kitchen, and the
mantelpiece above it, a partition in the kitchen, two doors and
other partitions, of a total value of 21s. four pounds, 1s. 8d.,
and to his damage, 400s. 20 pounds. The defendant denied the
trespass and put himself on the country. Afterwards a jury ...
found the defendant guilty of the aforesaid trespass to the
plaintiff's damage, 40d. Judgment was given for that amount and a
fine of 1s. to the King, which the defendant paid immediately in
The innkeeper's duty to safeguard the person and property of his
lodgers was applied in this case:
"John Trentedeus of Southwark was summoned to answer William
Latymer touching a plea why, whereas according to the law and
custom of the realm of England, innkeepers who keep a common inn
are bound to keep safely by day and by night without reduction or
loss men who are passing through the parts where such inns are
and lodging their goods within those inns, so that, by default of
the innkeepers or their servants, no damage should in any way
happen to such their guests ...
On Monday after the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary
in the fourth year of the now King by default of the said John,
certain malefactors took and carried away two small portable
chests with 533s. and also with charters and writings, to wit two
writings obligatory, in the one of which is contained that a
certain Robert Bour is bound to the said William in 2,000s. and
in the other that a certain John Pusele is bound to the same
William in 800s. 40 pounds ... and with other muniments [writings
defending claims or rights] of the same William, to wit his
return of all the writs of the lord King for the counties of
Somerset and Dorset, whereof the same William was then sheriff,
for the morrow of the Purification of the Blessed Mary the Virgin
in the year aforesaid, as well before the same lord the King in
his Chancery and in his Bench as before the justices of the
King's Common Bench and his barons of his Exchequer, returnable
at Westminster on the said morrow, and likewise the rolls of the
court of Cranestock for all the courts held there from the first
year of the reign of the said lord the King until the said
Monday, contained in the same chests being lodged within the inn
of the same John at Southwark
And the said John ... says that on the said Monday about the
second hour after noon the said William entered his inn to be
lodged there, and at once when he entered, the same John assigned
to the said William a certain chamber being in that inn, fitting
for his rank, with a door and a lock affixed to the same door
with sufficient nails, so that he should lie there and put and
keep his things there, and delivered to the said William the key
to the door of the said chamber, which chamber the said William
William says that ... when the said John had delivered to him the
said chamber and key as above, the same William, being occupied
about divers businesses to be done in the city of London, went
out from the said inn into the city to expedite the said
businesses and handed over the key of the door to a certain
servant of the said William to take care of in meantime, ordering
the servant to remain in the inn meanwhile and to take care of
his horses there; and afterwards, when night was falling, the
same William being in the city and the key still in the keeping
of the said servant, the wife of the said John called unto her
into her hall the said servant who had the key, giving him food
and drink with a merry countenance and asking him divers
questions and occupying him thus for a long time, until the
staple of the lock of the door aforesaid was thrust on one side
out of its right place and the door of the chamber was thereby
opened and his goods, being in the inn of the said John, were
taken and carried off by the said malefactors ... The said John
says ...[that his wife did not call the servant into the hall,
but that] when the said servant came into the said hall and asked
his wife for bread and ale and other necessaries to be brought to
the said chamber of his master, his wife immediately and without
delay delivered to the same servant the things for which he asked
... protesting that no goods of the same William in the said inn
were carried away by the said John his servant or any strange
malefactors other than the persons of the household of the said
On the Coram Rege Roll of 1395 is a case on the issue of whether
a court-crier can be seized by officers of a staple:
"Edmund Hikelyng, 'criour', sues William Baddele and wife Maud,
John Olney, and William Knyghtbrugge for assault and imprisonment
at Westminster, attacking him with a stick and imprisoning him
for one hour on Wednesday before St. Martin, 19 Richard II.
Baddele says Mark Faire of Winchester was prosecuting a bill of
debt for 18s. against Edmund and John More before William
Brampton, mayor of the staple of Westminster, and Thomas Alby and
William Askham, constables of the said staple, and on that day
the Mayor and the constables issued a writ of capias against
Edmund and John to answer Mark and be before the Mayor and the
constables at the next court. This writ was delivered to Baddele
as sergeant of the staple, and by virtue of it he took and
imprisoned Edmund in the staple. Maud and the others say they
aided Baddele by virtue of the said writ.
Edmund does not acknowledge Baddele to be sergeant of the staple
or Mark a merchant of the staple or that he was taken in the
staple. He is minister of the King's Court of his Bench and is
crier under Thomas Thorne, the chief crier, his master. Every
servant of the court is under special protection while doing his
duty or on his way to do it. On the day in question, he was at
Westminster carrying his master's staff of office before Hugh
Huls, one of the King's justices, and William took him in the
presence of the said justice and imprisoned him.
The case is adjourned for consideration from Hilary to Easter."
- The Times: 1399-1485 -
This period, which begins with the reign of the usurper King,
Henry IV, is dominated by war: the last half of the 100 year war
with France, which, with the help of Joan of Arc, took all
English land on the continent except the port of Calais, and the
War of the Roses in England. The barons and earls returned from
France with their private fighting units. Nobles employed men who
had returned from fighting to use their fighting skill in local
defense. All the great houses kept bands of armed retainers.
These retainers were given land or pay or both as well as
liveries [uniforms or badges] bearing the family crest. They came
to fight for the cause of one of the two royal family lines
competing for the throne. In the system of "livery and
maintenance", if the retainer was harassed by the law or by
enemies, the lord gave him protection [maintenance].
In both wars, the musket was used as well as the long-bow. Cannon
were used to besiege castles and destroy their walls, so many
castles were allowed to deteriorate.
Barons and earls settled their disputes in the field rather than
in the royal courts. And men relied increasingly on the
protection of the great men of their neighborhood and less on
the King's courts for the safety of their lives and land. Local
men involved in court functions usually owed allegiance to a lord
which compromised the exercise of justice. Men serving in an
assize often lied to please their lord instead of telling the
truth. Lords maintained, supported, or promoted litigation with
money or aid supplied to one party to the detriment of justice.
It was not unusual for lords to attend court with a great force
of retainers behind them. Royal justices were flouted or bribed.
The King's writ was denied or perverted. For 6-8s., a lord could
have the King instruct his sheriff to impanel a jury which would
find in his favor. A statute against riots, forcible entries,
and, excepting the King, magnates' liveries of uniform, food, and
badges to their retainers, except in war outside the nation, was
passed, but was difficult to enforce because the offenders were
lords, who dominated the Parliament and the council.
Since the power of the throne changed from one faction to
another, many bills of attainder caused lords to lose their lands
to the King. Fighting between lords and gangs of ruffians holding
the roads, breaking into and seizing manor houses, and openly
committing murders continued. The roads were not safe. People
turned to mysticism to escape from the everyday violent world.
They had no religious enthusiasm, but believed in magic and
With men so often gone to fight, their wives managed the
household alone. The typical wife had maidens of equal class to
whom she taught household management, spinning, weaving, carding
wool with iron wool-combs, heckling flax, embroidery, and making
garments. There were foot-treadles for spinning wheels. She
taught the children. Each day she scheduled the activities of the
household including music, conversation, dancing, chess, reading,
playing ball, and gathering flowers. She organized picnics, rode
horseback and went hunting, hawking to get birds, and
rabbit-ferreting. She was nurse to all around her. If her husband
died, she usually continued in this role because most men named
their wives as executors of their wills with full power to act as
she thought best.
For ladies, close-fitting jackets came to be worn over
close-fitting long gowns with low, square-cut necklines and
flowing sleeves, under which was worn a girdle. All her hair was
confined by a hair net. Headdresses were very elaborate and
heavy, trailing streamers of linen. Some were in the shape of
hearts, butterflies, crescents, or long cones. Men also were
wearing hats rather than hoods. They wore huge hats of velvet,
fur, or leather. Hair was short and later shoulder-length. They
wore doublets with thick padding over the shoulders or short
tunics over the trucks of their bodies. Their sleeves were long
concoctions of velvet, damask, and satin, sometimes worn wrapped
around their arms in layers. Their legs were covered with hose,
often in different colors. Shoes were pointed with upward pikes
at the toes. At another time, shoes were broad with blunt toes.
Both men and women wore much jewelry and ornamentation. Cooking
and the serving of meals was also elaborate. There were many
courses of a variety of meats, fish, stews, and soups, with a
variety of spices. The standard number of meals was three:
breakfast, dinner, and supper. The diet of an ordinary family
such as that of a small shopholder or yeoman farmer included
beef, mutton, pork, a variety of fish, both fresh and salted,
venison, nuts, peas, oatmeal, honey, grapes, apples, pears, and
fresh vegetables. Cattle and sheep were driven from Wales to
English markets. This droving lasted for five centuries.
Many types of people besides the nobility and knights now had
property and thus were considered gentry: female lines of the
nobility, merchants and their sons, lawyers, auditors, squires,
and peasant-yeomen. The burgess grew rich as the knight dropped
lower. The great merchants lived in mansions which could occupy
whole blocks. Typically, there would be an oak-paneled great
hall, with adjoining kitchen, pantry, and buttery on one end and
a great parlor to receive guests, bedrooms, wardrobes, servants'
rooms, and a chapel on the other end or on a second floor. The
beds were surrounded by heavy draperies to keep out cold drafts.
Master and servants ceased to eat together in the same hall. In
towns these mansions were entered through a gate through a row of
shops on the street. A lesser dwelling would have these rooms on
three floors over a shop on the first floor. An average Londoner
would have a shop, a storeroom, a hall, a kitchen, and a buttery
on the first floor, and three bedrooms on the second floor.
Artisans and shopkeepers of more modest means lived in rows of
dwellings, each with a shop and small storage room on the first
floor, and a combination parlor-bedroom on the second floor. The
humblest residents crowded their shop and family into one 6 by 10
foot room for rent of a few shillings a year. All except the last
would also have a small garden. The best gardens had a fruit
tree, herbs, flowers, a well, and a privy. There were common and
public privies for those without their own. Kitchen slops and
casual refuse continued to be thrown into the street. Floors of
stone or planks were strewn with rushes. There was some tile
flooring. Most dwellings had glass windows. Candles were used for
lighting at night. Torches and oil-burning lanterns were portable
lights. Furnishings were still sparse. Men sat on benches or
joint stools and women sat on cushions on the floor. Hall and
parlor had a table and benches and perhaps one chair. Bedrooms
had a curtained bed and a chest. On the feather bed were pillows,
blankets, and sheets. Better homes had wall hanging and cupboards
displaying plate. Laundresses washed clothes in the streams,
rivers, and public conduits. Country peasants still lived in
wood, straw, and mud huts with earth floors and a smoky hearth in
the center or a kitchen area under the eaves of the hut.
In 1442, bricks began to be manufactured in the nation and so
there was more use of bricks in buildings. Chimneys were
introduced into manor houses where stone had been too expensive.
This was necessary if a second floor was added, so the smoke
would not damage the floor above it and would eventually go out
of the house.
Nobles and their retinue moved from manor to manor, as they had
for centuries, to keep watch upon their lands and to consume the
produce thereof; it was easier to bring the household to the
estate than to transport the yield of the estate to the
household. Also, at regular intervals sewage had to be removed
from the cellar pits.
Jousting tournaments were held for entertainment purposes only
and were followed by banquets of several courses of food served
on dishes of gold, silver, pewter, or wood on a linen cloth
covering the table. Hands were washed before and after the meal.
People washed their faces every morning after getting up. Teeth
were cleaned with powders. Fragrant leaves were chewed for bad
breath. Garlic was used for indigestion and other ailments. Feet
were rubbed with salt and vinegar to remove calluses. Good
manners included not slumping against a post, fidgeting, sticking
one's finger into one's nose, putting one's hands into one's hose
to scratch the privy parts, spitting over the table or too far,
licking one's plate, picking one's teeth, breathing stinking
breath into the face of the lord, blowing on one's food, stuffing
masses of bread into one's mouth, scratching one's head,
loosening one's girdle to belch, and probing one's teeth with a
Fishing and hunting were reserved for the nobility rather than
just the King.
As many lords became less wealthy because of the cost of war,
some peasants, villein and free, became prosperous, especially
those who also worked at a craft, e.g. butchers, bakers, smiths,
shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, and clothworkers.
An agricultural slump caused poorer soils to fall back into
waste. The better soils were leased by peasants, who, with their
families, were in a better position to farm it than a great lord,
who found it hard to hire laborers at a reasonable cost. Further,
peasants' sheep, hens, pigs, ducks, goats, cattle, bees, and crop
made them almost self-sufficient in foodstuffs. They lived in a
huddle of cottages and pastured their animals on common meadows.
They subsisted mainly on boiled bacon, an occasional chicken,
worts and beans grown in the cottage garden, and cereals. They
wore fine wool cloth in all their apparel. Brimless hats were
replacing hoods. They had an abundance of bed coverings in their
houses. And they had more free time. Village entertainment
included traveling jesters, acrobats, musicians, and bear-baiter.
Playing games and gambling were popular pastimes.
Most villeins were now being called "customary tenants" or
"copy-holders" of land because they held their acres by a copy of
the court-roll of the manor, which listed the number of teams,
the fines, the reliefs, and the services due to the lord for each
landholder. The Chancery court interpreted many of these
documents to include rights of inheritance. The common law courts
followed the lead of the Chancery and held that copyhold land
could be inherited as was land at common law. Evictions by lords
The difference between villein and free man lessened but
landlords usually still had
profits of villein bondage, such as heriot, merchet, and chevage.
A class of laborers was arising who depended entirely on the
wages of industry for their subsistence. The cloth workers in
rural areas were isolated and weak and often at the mercy of
middle-men for employment and the amount of their wages.
Rural laborers went to towns to seek employment in the new
industries. They would work at first for any rate. This deepened
the cleavage of the classes in the towns.
The townspeople did not take part in the fighting of the War of
the Roses. Many boroughs sought and obtained formal incorporation
with perpetual existence, the right to sue and be sued in their
own name. Often, a borough would have its own resident Justice of
the Peace. Each incorporation involved a review by a Justice of
the Peace to make sure the charter of incorporation rule didn't
conflict with the law of the nation. Henry IV granted the first
charter of incorporation. A borough typically had a mayor
accompanied by his personal sword-bearer and serjeants-at-mace
bearing the borough regalia, bailiffs, a sheriff, and
chamberlains or a steward for financial assistance. At many
boroughs, aldermen, assisted by their constables, kept the peace
in their separate wards. There might be coroners, a recorder, and
a town clerk, with a host of lesser officials including beadles,
aletasters, sealers, searchers [inspectors], weighers and keepers
of the market, ferrymen and porters, clock-keepers and criers,
paviours [road pavers], scavengers and other street cleaners,
gatekeepers and watchmen of several ranks and kinds. A wealthy
borough would have a chaplain and two or three minstrels.
In all towns, the wealthiest and most influential guilds were the
merchant traders of mercers, drapers, grocers, and goldsmiths.
From their ranks came most of the mayors. Next came the
shopholders of skinners, tailors, ironmongers, and corvisors
[shoemakers]. Thirdly came the humbler artisans, the sellers of
victuals, small shopkeepers, apprentices, and journeymen on the
rise. Lastly came unskilled laborers, who lived in crowded
tenements and hired themselves out. The first three groups were
the free men who voted and paid the tax of scot and lot, and
belonged to guilds.
In the towns, many married women had independent businesses and
wives also played an active part in the businesses of their
husbands. Wives of well-to-do London merchants embroidered, sewed
jewelry onto clothes, and made silk garments. Widows often
continued in their husband's businesses, such as managing a large
import-export trade, tailoring, brewing, and metal shop. Socially
lower women often ran their own breweries, bakeries, and taverns.
It was possible for wives to be free burgesses in their own right
in some towns.
Some ladies were patrons of writers. Some women were active in
prison reform in matters of reviews to insure that no man was in
jail without due cause, overcharges for bed and board, brutality,
and regulation of prisoners being placed in irons. Many men and
women left money in their wills for food and clothing for
There was much overlapping in the two forms of association: the
craft guild and the religious fraternity.
Paved roads in towns were usually gravel and sometimes cobble.
They were frequently muddy because of rain and spillage of water
being carried. Iron-shod wheels and overloaded carts made them
very uneven. London was the first town with paviors. They were
organized as a city company in 1479. About 1482, towns besides
London began appointing salaried road paviors to repair roads and
collect their expenses from the householders because the policy
of placing the burden on individual householders didn't work
well. London streets were lighted at night by public lanterns,
under the direction of the mayor.
The King granted London all common soils, improvements, wastes,
streets, and ways in London and in the adjacent waters of the
Thames River and all the profits and rents to be derived
therefrom. Later the King granted London the liberty to purchase
lands and tenements worth up to 2,667s. yearly. Each ward
nominated two men for alderman, the final choice being made by
the mayor and the other aldermen.
There were many craft guilds. In fact, every trade of twenty men
had its own guild. The guild secured good work for its members
and the members maintained the reputation of the work standards
of the guild. Bad work was punished and night work prohibited as
leading to bad work. The guild exercised moral control over its
members and provided sickness and death benefits for them.
Apprentices were taken in to assure an adequate supply of
competent workers for the future. When these apprentices had
enough training they were made journeymen with a higher rate of
pay. Journeymen traveled to see the work of their craft in other
towns. Those journeymen rising to master had the highest pay
But the guilds were being replaced by associations for the
investment of capital. In associations, journeymen were losing
their chance of rising to be a master. Competition among
associations was starting to supplant custom as the mainspring of
The Merchant Adventurers was chartered in 1407. A share in the
ownership of one of their vessels was a common form of investment
by prosperous merchants. By 1450, they were dealing in linen
cloths, buckrams [a stiffened, coarse cloth], fustians [coarse
cloth made of cotton threads going in one direction and linen
threads the other], satins, jewels, fine woolen and linen wares,
threads, drugs, wood, oil, wine, salt, copper, and iron. They
began to replace trade by alien traders. (The history of the
"Merchant Adventurers" was associated with the growth of the
mercantile system for more than 300 years. It eventually replaced
the staples system.)
In London, shopkeepers appealed to passers-by to buy their goods,
sometimes even seizing people by the sleeve. The drapers had
several roomy shops containing shelves piled with cloths of all
colors and grades, tapestries, pillows, and 'bankers and dorsers'
to soften hard wooden benches. A rear storeroom held more cloth
for import or export. Many shops of skinners were on Fur Row.
There were shops of leather-sellers, hosiers, gold and silver
cups, and silks. At the Stocks Market were fishmongers, butchers,
and poulterers. London grocers imported spices, canvas, ropery,
drugs, unguents, soap, confections, garlic, cabbages, onions,
apples, oranges, almonds, figs, dates, raisins, dye-stuffs, woad,
madder, scarlet grains, saffron, iron, and steel. They were
retailers as well as wholesalers and had shops selling honey,
licorice, salt, vinegar, rice, sugar loaves, syrups, spices,
garden seeds, dyes, alum, soap, brimstone, paper, varnish,
canvas, rope, musk, incense, treacle of Genoa, and mercury. The
Grocers did some money-lending, usually at 12% interest. The
guilds did not restrict themselves to dealing in the goods for
which they had a right of inspection, and so many dealt in wine
that it was a medium of exchange.
Grocers sold herbs for medicinal as well as eating purposes.
Breadcarts sold penny wheat loaves. Foreigners set up stalls on
certain days of the week to sell meat, canvas, linen, cloth,
ironmongery, and lead. There were great houses, churches,
monasteries, inns, guildhalls, warehouses, and the King's Beam
for weighing wool to be exported. The Mercers and Goldsmiths were
in the prosperous part of town. The Goldsmiths' shops sold gold
and silver plate, jewels, rings, water pitchers, drinking
goblets, basins to hold water for the hands, and covered
saltcellars. The grain market was on Cornhill. Halfway up the
street, there was a supply of water which had been brought up in
pipes. On the top was a cage where riotous folk had been
incarcerated by the night watch and the stocks and pillory, where
fraudulent schemers were exposed to ridicule.
Outside the London city walls were tenements, Smithfield cattle
market, Westminster Hall, green fields of crops, and some marsh
On the Thames River to London were large ships with cargoes;
small boats rowed by tough boatmen offering passage for a penny;
small private barges of great men with carved wood, gay banners,
and oarsmen with velvet gowns; the banks covered with masts and
tackle; the nineteen arch London Bridge supporting a street of
shops and houses and a drawbridge in the middle; quays;
warehouses, and great cranes lifting bales from ship to wharf.
Merchant guilds which imported or exported each had their own
wharves and warehouses. Downstream, pirates hung on gallows at
the low-water mark to remain until three tides had overflowed
The large scale of London trade promoted the specialization of
the manufacturer versus the merchant versus the shipper.
Merchants had enough wealth to make loans to the government or
for new commercial enterprises. Some London merchants were
knighted by the King. Many bought country estates and turned
themselves into gentry.
In schools, there was a renaissance of learning from original
sources of knowledge written in Greek and rebirth of the Greek
pursuit of the truth and scientific spirit of inquiry. There was
a striking increase in the number of schools founded by wealthy
merchants or town guilds. Merchants tended to send their sons to
private boarding schools, instead of having them tutored at home
as did the nobility. At the universities, the bachelor's degree
came into existence to denote a preliminary stage in the course
of becoming a master.
The book "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" was written about an
incident in the court of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere in which
a green knight challenges Arthur's knights to live up to their
reputation for valor and awesome deeds. The knight Gawain answers
the challenge, but is shown that he could be false and cowardly
when death seemed to be imminent. Thereafter, he wears a green
girdle around his waist to remind him not to be proud.
Other literature read included "London Lickpenny", a satire on
London and its expensive services and products, "Fall of Princes"
by John Lydgate, social history by Thomas Hoccleve, "The King is
Quair"" by King James I of Scotland about how he fell in love,
"The Cuckoo and the Nightengale", and "The Flower and Leaf" on
morality as secular common sense. Chaucer, Cicero, and Ovid were
widely read. Malory's new version of the Arthurian stories was
popular. Margery Kempe wrote the first true autobiography. She
was a woman who had a normal married life with children, but one
day had visions and voices which led her to leave her husband to
take up a life of wandering and praying in holy possession. The
common people developed ballads, e.g. about their love of the
forest, their wish to hunt, and their hatred of the forest laws.
About 30% of the people could read English. Books were bought in
London in such quantities by 1403 that the organization of
text-letter writers, book-binders, and book sellers was
sanctioned by ordinance. "Unto the honorable lords, and wise, the
mayor and aldermen of the city of London, pray very humbly all
the good folks, freemen of the said city, of the trades of
writers of text-letter, limners [illuminator of books], and other
folks of London who are wont to bind and to sell books, that it
may please your great sagenesses to grant unto them that they may
elect yearly two reputable men, the one a limner, the other a
text-writer, to be wardens of the said trades, and that the names
of the wardens so elected may be presented each year before the
mayor for the time being, and they be there sworn well and
diligently to oversee that good rule and governance is had and
exercised by all folks of the same trades in all works unto the
said trades pertaining, to the praise and good fame of the loyal
good men of the said trades and to the shame and blame of the bad
and disloyal men of the same. And that the same wardens may call
together all the men of the said trades honorably and peacefully
when need shall be, as well for the good rule and governance of
the said city as of the trades aforesaid. And that the same
wardens, in performing their due office, may present from time to
time all the defaults of the said bad and disloyal men to the
chamberlain at the Guildhall for the time being, to the end that
the same may there, according to the wise and prudent discretion
of the governors of the said city, be corrected, punished, and
duly redressed. And that all who are rebellious against the said
wardens as to the survey and good rule of the same trades may be
punished according to the general ordinance made as to rebellious
persons in trades of the said city [fines and imprisonment]. And
that it may please you to command that this petition, by your
sagenesses granted, may be entered of record for time to come,
for the love of God and as a work of charity."
The printing press was brought to London in 1476 by a mercer:
William Caxton. It supplemented the text-writer and monastic
copyist. It was a wood and iron frame with a mounted platform on
which were placed small metal frames into which words with small
letters of lead had been set up. Each line of text had to be
carried from the type case to the press. Beside the press were
pots filled with ink and inking balls. When enough lines of type
to make a page had been assembled on the press, the balls would
be dipped in ink and drawn over the type. Then a sheet of paper
would be placed on the form and a lever pulled to press the paper
against the type. Linen usually replaced the more expensive
parchment for the book pages.
The printing press made books more accessible to all literate
people. Caxton printed major English texts and some translations
from French and Latin. He commended different books to various
kinds of readers, for instance, for gentlemen who understand
gentleness and science, or for ladies and gentlewomen, or to all
good folk. There were eyeglasses to correct near-sightedness.
Old-established London families began to choose the law as a
profession for their sons, in preference to an apprenticeship in
trade. Many borough burgesses in Parliament were lawyers.
Many carols were sung at the Christian festival of Christmas.
Ballads were sung on many features of social life of this age of
disorder, hatred of sheriffs, but faith in the King. The legend
of Robin Hood was popular. Town miracle plays on leading
incidents of the Bible and morality plays were popular. Vintners
portrayed the miracle of Cana where water was turned into wine
and Goldsmiths ornately dressed the three Kings coming from the
east. Short pantomimes and disguising, forerunners of costume
parties, were good recreation. Games of cards became popular as
soon as cards were introduced. The king, queen, and jack were
dressed in contemporary clothes. Men bowled, kicked footballs,
and played tennis. May Day was celebrated with crowns and
garlands of spring flowers. The village May Day pageant was often
presided over by Robin Hood and Maid Marion.
The church was engendering more disrespect. Monks and nuns had
long ago resigned spiritual leadership to the friars; now the
friars too lost much of their good fame. The monks got used to
life with many servants such as cooks, butlers, bakers, brewers,
barbers, laundresses, tailors, carpenters, and farm hands. The
austerity of their diet had vanished. The schedule of divine
services was no longer followed by many and the fostering of
learning was abandoned. Into monasteries drifted the lazy and
miserable. Nunneries had become aristocratic boarding houses. The
practice of taking sanctuary was abused; criminals and debtors
sought it and were allowed to overstay the 40-day restriction and
to leave at night to commit robberies. People turned to the
writing of mystics, such as "Scale of Perfection" and "Cloud of
Unknowing", the latter describing how one may better know God.
People relied on saint's days as reference points in the year,
because they did not know dates of the year. But townspeople knew
the hour and minute of each day, because mechanical clocks were
in all towns and in the halls of the well-to-do. This increased
the sense of punctuality and higher standards of efficiency.
Important news was announced and spread by word of mouth in
market squares and sometimes in churches. As usual, traders
provided one of the best sources of news; they maintained an
informal network of speedy messengers and accurate reports
because political changes so affected their ventures.
A royal post service was established by relays of mounted
messengers. The first route was between London and the Scottish
border, where there were frequent battles for land between the
Scotch and English.
The inland roads from town to town were still rough and without
signs. A horseman could make up to 40 miles a day. Common
carriers took passengers and parcels from various towns to London
on scheduled journeys. Now the common yeoman could order goods
from the London market, communicate readily with friends in
London, and receive news of the world frequently. Trade with
London was so great and the common carrier so efficient in
transporting goods that the medieval fair began to decline. First
the Grocers and then the Mercers refused to allow their members
to sell goods at fairs. There was much highway robbery. Most
goods were still transported by boats along the coasts, with
trading at the ports.
Embroidery was exported. Imported were timber, pitch, tar, potash
[for cloth-dying], furs, silk, satin, gold cloth, damask cloth,
furred gowns, gems, fruit, spices, and sugar. Imports were
restricted by national policy for the purpose of protecting
Single-masted ships began to be replaced by a two or three masted
ship with high pointed bows to resist waves and sails enabling
the ship to sail closer to the wind. The increase in trade made
piracy, even by merchants, profitable and frequent until merchant
vessels began sailing in groups for their mutual protection. The
astrolabe was used for navigation by the stars.
Consuls were appointed to assist English traders abroad.
Henry IV appointed the first admiral of the entire nation and
resolved to create a national fleet of warships instead of using
merchant ships. In 1417, the war navy had 27 ships. In 1421,
Portsmouth was fortified as a naval base.
For defense of the nation, especially the safeguard of the seas,
Parliament allotted the King for life, 3s. for every tun of wine
imported and an additional 3s. for every tun of sweet wine
The most common ailments were eye problems, aching teeth,
festering ears, joint swelling and sudden paralysis of the
bowels. Epidemics broke out occasionally in the towns in the
summers. Leprosy disappeared.
Hospitals were supported by a tax of the King levied on nearby
counties. The walls, ditches, gutters, sewers, and bridges on
waterways and the coast were kept in repair by laborers hired by
commissions appointed by the Chancellor. Those who benefited from
these waterways were taxed for the repairs in proportion to their
Alabaster was sculptured into tombs surmounted with a recumbent
effigy of the deceased, and effigies of mourners on the sides.
Few townsmen choose to face death alone and planned memorial
masses to be sung to lift his soul beyond Purgatory. Chantries
were built by wealthy men for this purpose.
Gold was minted into coins: noble, half noble, and farthing.
The commons gained much power in Parliament under Henry IV
because he needed so much taxes that the commons had a hold over
him. Also, as a usurper King, he did not carry the natural
authority of a King. The lords who helped his usurpation felt
they should share the natural power of the kingship. Also, the
commons gained power compared to the nobility because many nobles
had died in war. Shakespeare's histories deal with this era. The
Commons now has a speaker.
The Commons established an exclusive right to originate all money
grants to the King in 1407. The commons announced its money grant
only on the last day of the parliamentary session, after the
answers to its petitions had been declared. It tied its grants by
rule rather than just practice to certain appropriations. For
instance, tonnage and poundage were appropriated for naval
defenses. Wool customs went to the maintenance of Calais, a port
on the continent, and defense of the nation. It also put the
petitions in statutory form, called "bills", to be enacted
without alteration. It forced the King's council appointees to be
approved by Parliament, and auditors to be appointed to audit the
King's account to ensure past grants had been spent according to
This was the first encroachment on the King's right to summon,
prorogue, or dismiss a Parliament at his pleasure, determine an
agenda of Parliament, veto or amend its bills, exercise his
discretion as to which lords he summoned to Parliament, and
create new peers by letters patent [official public letters].
The King lost Parliamentary power. The magnates asserted that
their attendance at one Parliament established a hereditary right
to attend the others. The consent of the Commons to legislation
became so usual that the judges declared that it was necessary.
In 1426, the retainers of the barons in Parliament were forbidden
to bear arms, so they appeared with clubs on their shoulders. The
clubs were forbidden and they brought in stones concealed in
The authority of the King's privy seal had become a great office
of state which transmitted the King's wishes to the Chancery and
Exchequer, rather than the King's personal instrument for sealing
documents. Now the King used a signet kept by his secretary as
his personal seal. The position of secretary rose in power under
King Edward IV introduced an elaborate spy system, the use of the
rack to torture people to confess, and other interferences with
justice, all of which the Tudors later used.
King Richard III prohibited the seizure of goods before
conviction of felony. He also liberated the unfree villeins on
It was declared under Parliamentary authority that there was a
preference for the Crown to pass to a King's eldest son, and to
his male issue after him. Formerly, a man could ascend to the
throne through his female ancestry as well.
- The Law -
The forcible entry statute is expanded to include peaceful entry
with forcible holding afterwards and to forcible holding with
departure before the justices arrived. Penalties are triple
damages, fine, and ransom to the King. A forceful possession
lasting three years is exempt.
Women of age fourteen or over shall have livery of their lands
and tenements by inheritance without question or difficulty.
Purposely cutting out another's tongue or putting out another's
eyes is a felony [penalty of loss of all property].
No one may keep swans unless he has lands and tenements of the
estate of freehold to a yearly value of 67s., because swans of
the King, lords, knights, and esquires have been stolen by yeomen
The wage ceiling for servants is: bailiff of agriculture 23s.4d.
per year, and clothing up to 5s., with meat and drink; chief
peasant, a carter, chief shepherd 20s. and clothing up to 4s.,
with meat and drink; common servant of agriculture 15s., and
clothing up to 3s.4d.; woman servant 10s., and clothing up to
4s., with meat and drink; infant under fourteen years 6s., and
clothing up to 3s., with meat and drink. Such as deserve less or
where there is a custom of less, that lesser amount shall be
For laborers at harvest time: mower 4d. with meat and drink or
6d. without; reaper or carter: 3d. with or 5d. without; woman
laborer and other laborers: 2d with and 4d. without.
The ceiling wage rate for craftsmen per day is: free mason or
master carpenter 4d. with meat & drink or 5d. without; master
tiler or slater, rough mason, and mesne carpenter and other
artificiers in building 3d. with meat and drink or 4d. without;
every other laborer 2d. with meat and drink or 3d. without. In
winter the respective wages were less: mason category: 3d. with
or 4d. without; master tiler category: 2d. with or 4d. without;
others: 1d. with or 3d. without meat and drink.
Any servant of agriculture who is serving a term with a master
and covenants to serve another man at the end of this term and
that other man shall notify the master by the middle of his term
so he can get a replacement worker. Otherwise, the servant shall
continue to serve the first master.
No man or woman may put their son or daughter to serve as an
apprentice in a craft within any borough, but may send the child
to school, unless he or she has land or rent to the value of 20s.
per year. [because of scarcity of laborers and other servants of
No laborer may be hired by the week.
Masons may no longer congregate yearly, because it has led to
violation of the statute of laborers.
No games may be played by laborers because they lead to murders
Apparel worn must be appropriate to one's status to preserve the
industry of agriculture. The following list of classes shows the
lowest class, which could wear certain apparel:
1. Lords - gold cloth, gold corses, sable fur, purple silk
2. Knights - velvet, branched satin, ermine fur
3. Esquires and gentlemen with possessions to the value of 800
s. per year, daughters of a person who has possessions to the
value of 2,000s. a year - damask, silk, kerchiefs up to 5s. in
4. Esquires and gentlemen with possessions to the yearly value
of 800s. 40 pounds - fur of martron or letuse, gold or silver
girdles, silk corse not made in the nation, kerchief up to 3s.4d
5. Men with possessions of the yearly value of 40s. excluding
the above three classes - fustian, bustian, scarlet cloth in
6. Men with possessions under the yearly value of 40s. excluding
the first three classes - black or white lamb fur, stuffing of
wool, cotton, or cadas.
7. Yeomen - cloth up to the value of 2s., hose up to the value
of 14s., a girdle with silver, kerchief up to 12d.
8. Servants of agriculture, laborer, servant, country craftsman
- none of the above clothes
Gowns and jackets must cover the entire trunk of the body,
including the private parts. Shoes may not have pikes over two
Every town shall have at its cost a common balance with weights
according to the standard of the Exchequer. All citizens may
weigh goods for free. All cloth to be sold shall be sealed
according to this measure.
There is a standard bushel of grain throughout the nation.
There are standard measures for plain tile, roof tile, and gutter
throughout the nation.
No gold or silver may be taken out of the nation.
The price of silver is fixed at 30s. for a pound, to increase the
value of silver coinage, which has become scarce due to its
higher value when in plate or masse.
A designee of the King will inspect and seal cloth with lead to
prevent deceit. Cloth may not be tacked together before
inspection. No cloth may be sold until sealed.
Heads of arrows shall be hardened at the points with steel and
marked with the mark of the arrowsmith who made it, so they are
Shoemakers and cordwainers may tan their leather, but all leather
must be inspected and marked by a town official before it is
Cordwainers shall not tan leather [to prevent deceitful tanning].
Tanners who make a notorious default in leather which is found by
a cordwainer shall make a forfeiture.
Defective embroidery for sale shall be forfeited.
No fishing net may be fastened or tacked to posts, boats, or
anchors, but may be used by hand, so that fish are preserved and
vessels may pass.
No one may import any articles which could be made in the nation,
including silks, bows, woolen cloths, iron and hardware goods,
harness and saddlery, and excepting printed books.
The following merchandise shall not be brought into the nation
already wrought: woolen cloth or caps, silk laces, corses,
ribbons, fringes, and embroidery, gold laces, saddles, stirrups,
harnesses, spurs, bridles, aundirons, gridirons, locks, hammers,
pinsons, fire tongs, dripping pans, dice, tennis balls, points,
purses, gloves, girdles, harness for girdles of iron latten steel
tin or of alkemine, any thing wrought of any tawed leather, towed
furs, buscans, shoes, galoshes, corks, knives, daggers,
woodknives, bodkins, sheers for tailors, scissors, razors,
sheaths, playing cards, pins, pattens, pack needles, painted
ware, forcers, caskets, rings of copper or of latten gilt,
chaffing dishes, hanging candlesticks, chaffing balls, sacring
bells, rings for curtains, ladles, scummers, counterfeit basons,
ewers, hats, brushes, cards for wool, white iron wire, upon pain
of their forfeiture. One half this forfeiture goes to the King
and the other half to the person seizing the wares.
No sheep may be exported, because being shorn elsewhere would
deprive the King of customs.
No wheat, rye, or barley may be imported unless the prices are
such that national agriculture is not hurt.
Clothmakers must pay their laborers, such as carders and
spinsters, in current coin and not in pins and girdles and the
The term "freemen" in the Magna Carta includes women.
The election of a knight from a shire to go to Parliament shall
be proclaimed by the sheriff in the full county so all may attend
and none shall be commanded to do something else at that time.
Election results will be sealed and sent to Parliament.
To be elected to Parliament, a knight must reside in the county
and have free land or tenements to the value of 40s. per year,
because participation in elections of too many people of little
substance or worth had led to homicides, assaults, and feuds.
(These "yeomen" were about one sixth of the population. Most
former voters and every leaseholder and every copyholder were
excluded. The requirement lasted for 400 years.)
London ordinances forbade placing rubbish or dung in the Thames
River or any town ditch or casting water or anything else out of
a window. The roads were maintained with tolls on carts and
horses bringing victuals or grains into the city and on
merchandise unloaded from ships at the port. No carter shall
drive his cart more quickly when it is unloaded than when it is
loaded. No pie bakers shall sell beef pies as venison pies, or
make any meat pie with entrails. To assist the poor, bread and
ale shall be sold by the farthing.
Desertion by a soldier is penalized by forfeiture of all land and
The common law held that a bailee is entitled to possession
against all persons except the owner of the bailed property.
Former judge Sir Thomas Littleton wrote a legal textbook
describing tenancies in dower; the tenures of socage, knight's
service, serjeanty, and burgage; estates in fee simple, fee tail,
and fee conditional. For instance, "Also, if feoffment be made
upon such condition, that if the feoffor pay to the feofee at a
certain day, etc., 800s. forty pounds of money, that then the
feoffor may re-enter, etc., in this case the feoffee is called
tenant in mortgage, ... and if he doth not pay, then the land
which he puts in pledge upon condition for the payment of the
money is gone from him for ever, and so dead as to the tenant,
Joint tenants are distinguished from tenants in common by
Littleton thus: "Joint-tenants are, as if a man be seised of
certain lands or tenements, etc., and thereof enfeoffeth two, or
three, or four, or more, to have and to hold to them (and to
their heirs, or letteth to them) for term of their lives, or for
term of another's life; by force of which feoffment or lease they
are seised, such are joint-tenants. ... And it is to be
understood, that the nature of joint-tenancy is, that he that
surviveth shall have solely the entire tenancy, according to such
estate as he hath, ..." "Tenants in common are they that have
lands or tenements in fee-simple, fee-tail, or for term of life,
etc., the which have such lands and tenements by several title,
and not by joint title, and neither of them knoweth thereof his
severalty, but they ought by the law to occupy such lands or
tenements in common pro indiviso, to take the profits in common.
...As if a man enfeoff two joint-tenants in fee, and the one of
them alien that which to him belongeth to another in fee, now the
other joint-tenant and the alienee are tenants in common, because
they are in such tenements by several titles, ..."
- Judicial Procedure -
People took grievances outside the confines of the rigid common
law to the Chancellor, who could give equitable remedies under
authority of a statute of 1285 (described in Chapter 8). The
Chancery heard many cases of breach of faith in the "use", a form
of trust in which three parties were involved: the owner of land,
feofees to whom the owner had made it over by conveyance or
"bargain and sale", and the beneficiary or receiver of the
profits of the land, who was often the owner, his children,
relatives, friends, an institution, or a corporation. This system
of using land had been created by the friars to get around the
prohibition against owning property. Lords and gentry quickly
adopted it. The advantages of the use were that 1) there was no
legal restriction to will away the beneficial interest of the use
although the land itself could not be conveyed by will; 2) it was
hard for the King to collect feudal incidents because the
feoffees were often unknown 3) the original owner was protected
from forfeiture of his land in case of conviction of treason if
the Crown went to someone he had not supported. Chancery gave a
remedy for dishonest or defaulting feofees.
Chancery also provided the equitable relief of specific
performance in disputes over agreements, for instance, conveyance
of certain land, whereas the common law courts awarded only
monetary damages by the writ of covenant.
Chancery ordered accounts to be made in matters of foreign trade
because the common law courts were limited to accounts pursuant
to transactions made within the nation. It also involved itself
in the administration of assets and accounting of partners to
The Chancellor took jurisdiction of cases of debt, detinue, and
account which had been decided in other courts with oathhelping
by the defendant. He did not trust the reliance on friends of the
defendant swearing that his statement made in his defense was
true. An important evidentiary difference between procedures of
the Chancery and the common law courts was that the Chancellor
could orally question the plaintiff and the defendant under oath.
He also could order persons to appear at his court by subpoena
[under pain of punishment].
Whereas the characteristic award of the common law courts was
seisin of land or monetary damages, Chancery often enjoined
certain action. Because malicious suits were a problem, the
Chancery identified such suits and issued injunctions against
taking them to any court.
The Chancery was given jurisdiction by statute over men of great
power taking by force women who had lands and tenements or goods
and not setting them free unless they bound themselves to pay
great sums to the offenders or to marry them. A statute also gave
Chancery jurisdiction over servants taking their masters' goods
at his death.
Justices of the Peace, appointed by the Crown, investigated all
riots and arrested rioters, by authority of statute. If they had
departed, the Justices certified the case to the King. The case
was then set for trial first before the King and his council and
then at the King's Bench. If the suspected rioters did not appear
at either trial, they could be convicted for default of
appearance. If a riot was not investigated and the rioters
sought, the Justice of the Peace nearest forfeited 2,000s.
Justices of the peace were not paid and need not have a legal
background. For complex cases and criminal cases with defendants
of high social status, they deferred to the Justices of Assize,
who rode on circuit once or twice a year.
Manor courts still formally admitted new tenants, registered
titles, sales of land and exchanges of land, and commutation of
services, enrolled leases and rules of succession, settled
boundary disputes, and regulated the village agriculture.
All attorneys shall be examined by the royal judges for their
learnedness in the law and, at their discretion, those that are
good and virtuous shall be received to make any suit in any royal
court. The attorneys shall be sworn to serve well and truly in
Attorneys may plead on behalf of parties in the hundred courts.
A qualification for jurors was to have an estate to one's own use
or one of whom other persons have estates of fee simple, fee
tail, freehold in lands and tenements, or freehold, which was at
least 40s. per year in value. In a plea of land worth at least
40s. yearly or a personal plea with relief sought at least 800s.,
jurors had to have land in the bailiwick to the value of at least
400s., because perjury was considered less likely in the more
Jurors were separated from witnesses.
Justices of the Peace were to have lands worth 267s. yearly,
because those with less used the office for extortion and lost
the respect and obedience of the people.
A Sheriff was not to arrest, but to transfer indictments to the
Justices of the Peace of the county. He had to reside in his
bailiwick. The sheriff could be sued for misfeasance such as
bribery in the King's court.
- The Times: 1485-1509 -
Henry and other exiles defeated and killed Richard III on
Bosworth field, which ends the War of the Roses. As King, Henry
VII restored order to the nation. He was readily accepted as King
because he was descended from both royal lines who were fighting
each other and married a woman who also was in the royal
bloodline. Henry was intelligent and sensitive. He weighed
alternatives and possible consequences before taking action. He
was convinced by reason on what plans to make. His primary
strategy was enacting and enforcing statutes to shore up the
undermined legal system, which includes the establishment of a
new court: the Court of the Star Chamber, to obtain punishment of
persons whom juries were afraid to convict. It had no jury. The
Star Chamber was the room in which the King's council had met
since the 14th century. In his reign of 24 years, Henry applied
himself diligently to the details of the work of government to
make it work well. He strengthened the monarchy, shored up the
legal system to work again, and provided a peace in the land in
which can later flourish a renaissance of the arts and sciences,
culture, and the intellectual life.
The most prevalent problems were: murder, robbery, rape or forced
marriage of wealthy women, counterfeiting of coin, extortion,
misdemeanors by sheriffs and escheators, bribing of sheriffs and
jurors, perjury, livery and maintenance agreements, idleness,
unlawful plays, and riots. Interference with the course of
justice was not committed only by lords on behalf of their
retainers; men of humbler station were equally prone to help
their friends in court or to give assistance in return for
payment. Rural juries were intimidated by the old baronage and
their armed retinues. Juries in municipal courts were subverted
by gangs of townsmen. Justices of the Peace didn't enforce the
laws. The agricultural work of the nation had been adversely
Henry made policy with the advice of his council and implemented
it by causing Parliament to enact it into legislation. He
dominated Parliament by having selected most of its members. Many
of his council were sons of burgesses and had been trained in
universities. He chose competent and especially trusted men for
his officers and commanders of castles and garrison. The fact
that only the King had artillery deterred barons from revolting.
Also, the baronial forces were depleted due to war. If Henry
thought a magnate was exercising his territorial power to the
King's detriment, he confronted him with an army and forced him
to bind his whole family in recognizances for large sums of money
to ensure future good conduct. Since the King had the authority
to interpret these pledges, they were a formidable check on any
activity which could be considered to be disloyal. The earl of
Kent, whose debts put him entirely at the King's mercy, was bound
to "be seen daily once in the day within the King's house". Henry
also required recognizances from men of all classes, including
clergy, captains of royal castles, and receivers of land. The
higher nobility now consisted of about twenty families. The heavy
fines by the Star Court put an end to conspiracies to defraud,
champerty, livery, and maintenance. The ties between the nobility
and the Justices of the Peace had encouraged corruption of
justice. So Henry appointed many of the lesser gentry and
attorneys as Justices of the Peace. Also he appointed a few of
his councilors as non-resident Justices of the Peace. There were
a total of about thirty Justices of the Peace per county. Their
appointments were indefinite and most remained until retirement
or death. Henry had yeomen serve as personal bodyguards night and
Many bills of attainder caused lords to lose their land to the
King. Most of these lords had been chronic disturbers of the
peace. Henry was also known to exhaust the resources of barons he
suspected of disloyalty by accepting their hospitality for
himself and his household for an extended period of time.
Henry built up royal funds by using every available procedure of
government to get money, by maximizing income from royal estates
by transferring authority over them from the Exchequer to
knowledgeable receivers, and from forfeitures of land and
property due to attaints of treason. He also personally reviewed
all accounts and initialed every page, making sure that all
payments were made. He made a regular practice of ordering all
men with lands with 800s. 40 pounds per year to receive
knighthoods or pay a high fee. As a result, the Crown became rich
and therefore powerful.
Queen Elizabeth was a good influence on Henry's character. Her
active beneficence was a counteracting influence to his
avaricious predisposition. When Henry and his Queen traveled
through the nation, they often stopped to talk to the common
people. They sometimes gave away money, such as to a man who had
lost his hand. Henry paid for an intelligent boy he met to go to
Henry had the first paper mill erected in the nation. He fostered
the reading of books and the study of Roman law, the classics,
and the Bible. He had his own library and gave books to other
The age of entry to university was between 13 and 16. It took
four years' study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric to achieve the
Bachelor of Arts degree and another five before a master could
begin a specialized study of the civil law, canon law, theology,
or medicine. Arabic numbers repaced Roamn numberals, making
multiplication and division possible. Humanist studies were
espoused by individual scholars at the three centers of higher
learning: Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Inns
of Court in London. The Inns of Court attracted the sons of
gentry and merchants pursuing practical and social
accomplishments. The text of 'readings' to members of the inns
survive from this time. In the legalistic climate of these times,
attorneys were prosperous.
The enclosure of land by hedges for sheep farming continued,
especially by rich merchants who bought country land for this
purpose. Often this was land under the plough. The tenants at
will were thrown off it immediately. That land held by
copyholders of land who had only a life estate, was withheld from
their sons. Only freeholders and copyholders with the custom of
the manor in their favor were secure against eviction. The real
line of distinction between rural people was one of material
means instead of legal status: free or unfree. On one extreme was
the well-to-do yeoman farmer farming his own land. On the other
extreme was the agricultural laborer working for wages.
Other land put to use for sheep breeding was waste land. There
were three sheep to every person. The nearby woodlands no longer
had wolves or lynx who could kill the sheep. Bears and elk are
There were still deer, wild boar, wildcats and wild cattle in
vast forests for the lords to hunt. Wood was used for houses,
arms, carts, bridges, and ships.
The villages were still isolated from each other, so that a
visitor from miles away was treated as warily as a foreigner.
Most people lived and died where they had been born. A person's
dialect indicated his place of origin. The largest town, London,
had a population of about 70,000. Other towns had a population
less than 20,000. The population was increasing, but did not
reach the level of the period just before the black death.
In most large towns, there were groups of tailors and hatmakers,
glovers, and other leatherworkers. Some towns had a
specialization due to their proximity to the sources of raw
materials, such as nails, cutlery, and effigies and altars.
Despite the spread of wool manufacturing to the countryside,
there was a marked increase of industry and prosperity in the
towns. The principal streets of the larger towns were paved with
gravel. Gild halls became important and imposing architecturally.
London had some houses of stone and timber and some mansions of
brick and timber clustered around palaces. In these, bedrooms
increased in number, with rich bed hangings, linen sheets, and
bolsters. Bedspreads and nightgowns were introduced. Fireplaces
became usual in all the rooms. Tapestries covered the walls.
Carpets were used in the private rooms. Some of the great halls
had tiled floors. The old trestle tables were replaced by tables
with legs. Benches and stools had backs to lean on. Women and men
wore elaborate headdresses. There are guilds of ironmongers,
salters, and haberdashers [hats and caps]. On the outer periphery
are mud and straw taverns and brothels.
The Tailors' and Linen Armorers' Guild received a charter from
the King as the "Merchant Tailors" to use all wares and
merchandise, especially wool cloth, as well wholesale as retail,
throughout the nation. Some schooling was now being made
compulsory in certain trades; the goldsmiths' company made a rule
that all apprentices had to be able to read and write.
The Merchant Adventurers created a London fellowship confederacy
to make membership of their society and compliance with its
regulations binding on all cloth traders. Membership could be
bought for a large fee or gained by apprenticeship or by being
the son of a member.
Foreign trade was revived because it was a period of comparative
peace. The nation sought to sell as much as possible to foreign
nations and to buy at little as possible and thereby increase its
wealth in gold and silver, which could be used for currency.
There are more navy ships, and they have cannon. Ships weighed
200 tons and had twice the cargo space they had previously. Their
higher prows made them better able to withstand gales. The
mariners' compass with a pivoted needle and compass card was
introduced. Ships had three masts; the three sails make possible
the use of almost any direction of wind to go in the direction
sought. This opened the seas of the world to navigation.
Adventurous seamen went on voyages of discovery, such as John
Cabot to North America in 1497, following Italian Christopher
Columbus' discovery of the new world in 1492.
There were morality plays in which the seven deadly sins: pride,
covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, fought the
seven cardinal virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence,
temperance, justice, and strength, respectively, for the human
soul. The play "Everyman" demonstrates that every man can get to
heaven only by being virtuous and doing good deeds in his
lifetime. It emphasized that death may come anytime to every man,
when his deeds will be judged as to their goodness or sinfulness.
Card games were introduced.
- The Law -
Royal proclamations clarifying, refining or amplifying the law
had the force of parliamentary statutes. One of the first things
Henry did as King was make this proclamation against false rumors
"Forasmuch as many of the King our sovereign lord's subjects
[have] been disposed daily to hear feigned, contrived, and forged
tidings and tales, and the same tidings and tales, neither
dreading God nor his Highness, utter and tell again as though
they were true, to the great hurt of divers of his subjects and
to his grievous displeasure: Therefore, in eschewing of such
untrue and forged tidings and tales, the King our said sovereign
lord straitly chargeth and commandeth that no manner person,
whatsoever he be, utter nor tell any such tidings or tales but he
bring forth the same person the which was author and teller of
the said tidings or tales, upon pain to be set on the pillory,
there to stand as long as it shall be thought convenient to the
mayor, bailiff, or other official of any city, borough, or town
where it shall happen any such person to be taken and accused for
any such telling or reporting of any such tidings or tales.
Furthermore the same our sovereign lord straitly chargeth and
commandeth that all mayors, bailiffs, and other officers
diligently search and inquire of all such persons tellers of such
tidings and tales not bringing forth the author of the same, and
them set on the pillory as it above said."
Lords holding castles, manors, lands and tenements by knight's
service of the King shall have a writ of right for wardship of
the body as well as of the land of any minor heir of a deceased
person who had the use [beneficial enjoyment] of the land for
himself and his heirs as if the land had been in the possession
of the deceased person. And if such an heir is of age, he shall
pay relief to the lord as if he had inherited possession of the
land. An heir in ward shall have an action of waste against his
lord as if his ancestor had died seised of the land. That is,
lands of "those who use" shall be liable for execution of his
debt and to the chief lord for his relief and heriot, and if he
is a bondsman, they may be seized by the lord.
Any woman who has an estate in dower, or for a term of life, or
in tail, jointly with her husband, or only to herself, or to her
use, in any manors, lands, tenements, or other hereditaments of
the inheritance or purchase of her husband, or given to the said
husband and wife in tail, or for term of life, by any of the
ancestors of the said husband, or by any other person seised to
the use of the said husband, or of his ancestors, who, by herself
or with any after taken husband; discontinue, alienate, release,
confirm with warranty or, by collusion, allow any recovery of
the same against them or any other seised to their use, such
action shall be void. Then, the person to whom the interest,
title, or inheritance would go after the death of such woman may
enter and possess such premises. This does not affect the common
law that a woman who is single or remarried may give, sell, or
make discontinuance of any lands for the term of her life only.
All deeds of gift of goods and chattels made of trust, to the use
of the giver [grantor and beneficiary of trust], to defraud
creditors are void.
It is a felony to carry off against her will, a woman with lands
and tenements or movable goods, or who is heir-apparent to an
ancestor. This includes taking, procuring, abetting, or knowingly
receiving a woman taken against her will.
A vagabond, idle, or suspected person shall be put in the stocks
for three days with only bread and water, and then be put out of
the town. If he returns, he shall spend six days in the stocks.
(A few years later this was changed to one and three days,
respectively.) Every beggar who is not able to work, shall return
to the hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born
and stay there.
No one may take pheasants or partridges by net snares or other
devices from his own warren [breeding ground], upon the freehold
of any other person, or forfeit 200s., one half to the owner of
the land and the other half to the suer. No one may take eggs of
any falcon, hawk, or swan out of their nest, whether it is on his
land or any other man's land, on pain of imprisonment for one
year and fine at the King's will, one half to the King, and the
other half to the owner of the land, or owner of the swan. No man
shall bear any English hawk, but shall have a certificate for any
hawk imported, on pain for forfeiture of such. No one shall drive
falcons or hawks from their customary breeding place to another
place to breed or slay any for hurting him, or pay 200s. after
examination by a Justice of the Peace, one half going to the King
and one half to the suer.
Any person without a forest of his own who has a net device with
which to catch deer shall pay 200s. for each month of possession.
Anyone stalking a deer with beasts anywhere not in his own forest
shall forfeit 200s. Anyone taking any heron by device other than
a hawk or long bow shall forfeit 6s.8d. No one shall take a young
heron from its nest or pay 10s. for each such heron. Two justices
may decide such an issue, and one tenth of the fine shall go to
No man shall shoot a cross-bow except in defense of his house,
other than a lord or one having 2,667s. of land because their use
had resulted in too many deer being killed. (The long-bow was not
No beasts may be slaughtered or cut up by butchers within the
walls of a town, or pay 12d. for every ox and 8d. for every cow
or other beast, so that people will not be annoyed and
distempered by foul air, which may cause them sickness.
No tanner may be a currier [dyed tanned leather] and no currier
may be a tanner. No shoemaker [cordwainer] may be a currier and
no currier may be a shoemaker. No currier shall curry hides which
have not been tanned. No tanner shall sell other than red
leather. No tanner may sell a hide before it is dried. No tanner
may tan sheepskins.
No long bow shall be sold over the price of 3s.4d.
Good wood for making bows may be imported without paying customs.
No grained cloth of the finest making shall be sold for more than
16s., nor any other colored cloth for more than 11s. per yard, or
forfeit 40s. for every yard so sold. No hat shall be sold for
more than 20d. and no cap shall be sold for more than 2s.8d., or
forfeit 40s. for each so sold.
Silver may not be sold or used for any use but goldsmithery or
amending of plate to make it good as sterling, so that there will
be enough silver with which to make coinage.
Each feather bed, bolster, or pillow for sale shall be stuffed
with one type of stuffing, that is, dry pulled feathers or with
clean down alone, and with no sealed feathers nor marsh grass,
nor any other corrupt stuffings. Each quilt, mattress, or cushion
for sale shall be stuffed with one type of stuffing, that is,
clean wool, or clean flocks alone, and with no horsehair, marsh
grass, neatshair, deershair, or goatshair, which is wrought in
lime-fats and gives off an abominable and contagious odor when
heated by a man's body, on pain of forfeiture of such.
Salmon shall be sold by standard volume butts and barrels, or
forfeit 6s.8d. Large salmon shall be sold without any small fish
or broken-bellied salmon and the small fish shall be packed by
themselves only, or forfeit 6s.8d. Herring shall be sold at
standard volumes, or forfeit 3s.4d. The herring shall be as good
in the middle and in every part of the package as at the ends of
the package, or forfeit 3s.4d. Eels shall be sold at standard
volumes, and good eels shall not be mixed with lesser quality
eels, or forfeit 10s. The fish shall be packed in the manner
prescribed or forfeit for each vessel 3s.4d.
Fustians shall always be shorn with the long shear, so that it
can be worn for at least two years. If an iron or anything else
used to dress such injures the cloth so that it wears out after
four months, 20s. shall be forfeited for each default, one half
to the King and the other half to the suer.
Pewter and brass ware for sale shall be of the quality of that of
London and marked by its maker, on pain of forfeiture of such,
and may be sold only at open fairs and markets or in the seller's
home, or forfeit 200s. If such false ware is sold, its maker
shall forfeit its value, one half to the King and one half to the
searchers. Anyone using false weights of such wares shall forfeit
20s., one half to the King and one half to the suer, or if he
cannot pay this fine, to be put in the stocks until market day
and then be put in the pillory all the market time.
No alien nor denizen [foreigner allowed to reside in the nation
with certain rights and privileges] may carry out of the nation
any raw wool or any woolen cloth which has not been barbed,
rowed, and shorn.
Silk ribbons, laces, girdles, and corses of silk may not be
imported, since they can be made in the nation.
No one shall import wine into the nation, but on English ships,
or forfeit the wine, one half to the King and one half to the
seizer of the wine.
No one may take out of the nation any [male] horse or any mare
worth more than 6s.8s. or under the age of three years, upon pain
of forfeiture of such. However, a denizen may take a horse for
his own use and not to sell. This is to stop losing horses needed
for defense of the nation and to stop the price of a horse from
Freemen of London may go to fairs and markets with wares to sell,
despite the London ordinance to the contrary.
Merchants residing in the nation but outside London shall have
free access to foreign markets without exaction taken of more
than 133s. sterling by the confederacy of London merchants, which
have increased their fee so much, 400s., that merchants not in
the confederacy have been driven to sell their goods in London
for less than they would get at a foreign market. Exacting more
is punishable by a fine of 400s. and damages to the grieved party
of ten times the excess amount taken.
For the privilege of selling merchandise, a duty of scavage shall
be taken of merchant aliens, but not of denizens. Any town
official who allows disturbing of a person trying to sell his
merchandise because he has not paid scavage, shall pay a fine of
Coin clipped or diminished shall not be current in payment, but
may be converted at the King's mint into plate or bullion. Anyone
refusing to take coins with only normal wear may be imprisoned by
the mayor, sheriff, bailiff, constable or other chief officer.
New coins, which have a circle or inscription around the outer
edge, will be deemed clipped if this circle or inscription is
The penalty for usury is placement in the pillory, imprisonment
for half a year, and a fine of 400s. (The penalty was later
changed to one half thereof.)
- Judicial Procedure -
These changes in the judicial process were made by statute:
The Chancellor, Treasurer, keeper of the King's privy seal, or
two of them, with a bishop selected by them, and a temporal lord
of the King's council selected by them, and the two Chief
Justices of the King's Bench shall constitute the court of the
Star Chamber. It shall have the authority to call before it by
writ or by privy seal anyone accused of "unlawful maintenances,
giving of liveries, signs and tokens, and retainers by
indentures, promises, oaths, writings, or otherwise embraceries
of his subjects" and witnesses, and impose punishment as if
convicted under due process of law. These laws shall now be
enforced: If a town does not punish the murderer of a man
murdered in the town, the town shall be punished. A town shall
hold any man who wounds another in peril of death, until there is
perfect knowledge whether the man hurt should live or die. Upon
viewing a dead body, the coroner should inquire of the killers,
their abettors, and anyone present at the killing and certify
these names. In addition, the murderer and accessories indicted
shall be tried at the King's suit within a year of the murder,
which trial will not be delayed until a private suit is taken. If
acquitted at the King's suit, he shall go back to prison or let
out with bail for the remainder of the year, in which time the
slain man's wife or next of kin may sue. For every inquiry made
upon viewing a slain body coroners shall be paid 13s.4d. out of
the goods of the slayer or from a town not taking a murderer, but
letting him escape. If the coroner does not make inquiry upon
viewing a dead body, he shall be fined 100s. to the King. If a
party fails to appear for trial after a justice has taken bail
from him, a record of such shall be sent to the King.
If a Justice of the Peace does not act on any person's complaint,
that person may take that complaint to another Justice of the
Peace, and if there is no remedy then, he may take his complaint
to a Justice of Assize, and if there is not remedy then, he may
take his complaint to the King or the Chancellor. There shall
then be inquiry into why the other justices did not remedy the
situation. If it is found that they were in default in executing
the laws, they shall forfeit their commissions and be punished
according to their demerits.
Justices of the Peace shall make inquiry of all offenses in
unlawful retaining, examine all suspects, and certify them to the
King's Bench for trial there or in the King's council, and the
latter might also proceed against suspects on its own initiative
on information given.
Perjury committed by unlawful maintenance, embracing, or
corruption of officers, or in the Chancery, or before the King's
council, shall be punished in the discretion of the Chancellor,
Treasurer, both the Chief Justices, and the clerk of the rolls.
The Star Chamber, Chancellor, King's Bench and King and council
have the power to examine all defendants, by oath or otherwise,
to adjudge them convicted or attainted. They can also be found
guilty by confession, examination, or otherwise. If a defendant
has denied doing the acts of which he is convicted, he is subject
to an additional fine to the King and imprisonment.
Violations of statutes may be heard by the Justices of Assize or
the Justices of the Peace, except treason, murder, and felony.
Actions on the case shall be treated as expeditiously in the
courts of the King's Bench and his common bench as actions of
trespass or debt.
Proclamation at four court terms of a levy of a fine shall be a
final end to an issue of land, tenements, or other hereditaments
and the decision shall bind persons and their heirs, whether they
have knowledge or not of the decision, except for women in covert
[under the protection of a husband] who were not parties, persons
under the age of twenty-one, in prison, out of the nation, or not
of whole mind, who are not parties. These may sue within five
years of losing such condition. Also, anyone not a party may
claim a right, title, claim, or interest in the said lands,
tenements, or other hereditaments at the time of such fine
recorded, within five years after proclamations of the fine.
A defendant who appeals a decision for the purpose of delaying
execution of such shall pay costs and damages to the plaintiff
for the delay.
No sheriff, undersheriff, or shire clerk shall enter any
complaints in their books unless the complaining party is
present. And no more complaints than the complaining party knows
about shall be entered. The penalty is 40s. for each such false
complaint, one half to the King and the other half to the suer
after examination by a Justice of the Peace. This is to prevent
extortion of defendants by false complaints. The justice shall
certify this examination to the King, on pain of a fine of 40s. A
bailiff of a hundred who does not do his duty to summon
defendants shall pay a fine of 40s. for each such default, after
examination by a Justice of the Peace. Sheriffs' records of fines
imposed and bailiffs' records of fines collected may be reviewed
by a Justice of the Peace to examine for deceit.
Any sheriff allowing a prisoner to escape, whether from
negligence or for a bribe, shall be fined, if the prisoner was
indicted of high treason, at least 1,333s. for each escape.
However, if the prisoner was in their keeping because of a
suspicion of high treason, the fine shall be at least 800s.; and
if indicted of murder or petite treason, at least 400s.; and if
suspected of murder or petite treason, 200s.; and if suspected of
other felonies, 100s.
Any person not responding to a summons for jury service shall be
fined 12d. for the first default, and 2s. for the second, and
double for each subsequent default.
A pauper may sue in any court and be assigned an attorney at no
cost to him.
A Justice of the Peace to whom has been reported hunting by
persons disguised with painted faces or visors or otherwise, may
make a warrant for the sheriff or other county officer to arrest
such persons and bring them before the justice. Such hunting in
disguise or hunting at night or disobeying such warrant is a
felony. This is to stop large mobs of disguised people from
hunting together and then causing riots, robberies, and murders.
Benefit of clergy may be used only once, since this privilege has
made clerics more bold in committing murder, rape, robbery, and
theft. However, there will be no benefit of clergy in the case of
murder of one's immediate lord, master, or sovereign. (This
begins the gradual restriction of benefit of clergy until it
For an issue of riot or unlawful assembly, the sheriff shall call
24 jurors, each of lands and tenements at least 20s. of charter
land or freehold or 26s.8d. of copyhold or of both. For each
default of the sheriff, he shall pay 400s. And if the jury
acquits, then the justice, sheriff, and under-sheriff shall
certify the names of any jurors maintained or embraced and their
misdemeanors, or forfeit 400s. Any person proved to be a
maintainer or embracer shall forfeit 400s. to the King and be
committed to ward.
The principal leaders of any riot or unlawful assembly shall be
imprisoned and fined and be bound to the peace with sureties at a
sum determined by the Justices of the Peace. If the riot is by
forty people or heinous, the Justices of Peace shall certify such
and send the record of conviction to the King.
The penalty for giving or taking livery is 100s. per month. The
penalty for causing oneself to be retained is 40s. per day.
The King's steward, Treasurer, and comptroller have authority to
question by twelve discreet persons any servant of the King about
making any confederacies, compassings, conspiracies, or
imaginations with any other person to destroy or murder the King
or one of his council or a lord. Trial shall be by twelve men of
the King's household and punishment as by felony in the common
When a land holder enfeoffs his land and tenements to people
unknown to the remainderman in tail, so that he does not know who
to sue, he may sue the pernor [receiver] of the profits of the
land and tenements for a remedy. And the pernors shall have the
same advantages and defenses as the feoffees or as if they were
tenants. And if any deceased person had the use for himself and
his heirs, then any of his heirs shall have the same advantages
and defenses as if his ancestor had died seised of the land and
tenements. And all recoveries shall be good against all pernors
and their heirs, and the feofees and their heirs, and the
co-feoffees of the pernors and their heirs, as though the pernors
were tenants indeed, or feofees to their use, or their heirs of
the freehold of the land and tenements.
If a person feoffs his land to other persons while retaining the
use thereof for himself, it shall be treated as if he were still
seised of the land. Thus, relief and heriot will still be paid
for land in socage. And debts and executions of judgments may be
had upon the land and tenements.
The penalty for not paying customs is double the value of the
The town of London shall have jurisdiction over flooding and
unlawful fishing nets in that part of the Thames River that flows
next to it.
The city of London shall have jurisdiction to enforce free
passage of boats on the Severn River in the city, interruption of
which carries a fine of 400s., two-thirds to the King and one
third to the suer.
Jurors impaneled in London shall be of lands, tenements, or goods
and chattels, to the value of 133s. And if the case concerns debt
or damages at least 133s, the jurors shall have lands, tenements,
goods, or chattels, to the value of 333s. This is to curtail the
perjury that has gone on with jurors of little substance,
discretion, and reputation.
A party grieved by a false verdict of any court in London may
appeal to the Hustings Court of London, which hears common pleas
before the mayor and aldermen. Each of the twelve alderman shall
pick from his ward four jurors of the substance of at least
2,000s. to be impaneled. If twenty-four of them find that the
jurors of the petty jury has given an untrue verdict, each such
juror shall pay a fine of at least 400s. and imprisonment not
more than six months without release on bail or surety. However,
if it is found that the verdict was true, then the grand jury may
inquire if any juror was bribed. If so, such juror bribed and the
defendant who bribed him shall each pay ten times the amount of
the bribe to the plaintiff and be imprisoned not more than six
months without release on bail or surety.
The church may punish priests and clerics for any adultery,
fornication, incest, or any other incontinence of the flesh, by
Other changes in the judicial process were made by court
decision. For instance, the royal judges decided that only the
King could grant sanctuary for treason and not the church. After
this, the church withdrew the right of sanctuary from second time
The King's council has practically limited itself to cases in
which the state has an interest, especially the maintenance of
public order. Chancery became an independent court rather than
the arm of the King and his council. In Chancery and the King's
Bench, the intellectual revival brought by humanism inspires
novel procedures to be devised to meet current problems in
disputed titles to land, inheritance, debt, breach of contract,
promises to perform acts or services, deceit, nuisance,
defamation, and the sale of goods.
A new remedy is specific performance, that is, performance of an
act rather than money damages.
Evidence is now taken from witnesses.
Various courts had overlapping jurisdiction. For instance,
trespass could be brought in the Court of Common Pleas because it
was a civil action between two private persons. It could also be
brought in the Court of the King's Bench because it broke the
King's peace. It was advantageous for a party to sue for trespass
in the King's court because there a defendant could be made to
pay a fine to the King or imprisoned, or declared outlaw if he
did not appear at court. In a couple of centuries, trespass on
the case will extend all over the previous common law including
assumpsit, ejectment, trover, deceit, libel, slander, battery,
and assault. And the rigid writs with specific forms of action
for common law cases will fall into disuse.
Parliament's supremacy over all regular courts of law was firmly
established and it was called "the high court of Parliament",
paradoxically, since it came to rarely function as a law court.
The humanist intellectual revival also caused the church courts
to try to eliminate contradictions with state law, for instance
in debt, restitution, illigitimacy, and the age of legal
- The Times: 1509-1547 -
Renaissance humanism came into being in the nation. In this
development, scholars in London, Oxford, and Cambridge emphasized
the value of classical learning, especially Platonism and the
study of Greek literature as the means of better understanding
and writing. They studied the original Greek texts and became
disillusioned with the filtered interpretations of the church,
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