Customary law in English manorial courts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
This essay examines various aspects of the legal protection
available to English peasants in manorial courts in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centurie s. The chronological limits have been determined
by the documentary evidence itself. The earliest manorial courts for
which records of proceedings are known to exist were held in 1237, and
by 1400 diplomatic tendencies towards abbreviation and omission of
facts produced court rolls which are stereotyped and jejune.
The first main theme is the effect of procedural innovations on the
quality of justice dispensed in manor courts. A common need for more
rational and more efficient ways of ascertaining what had happened in
the past led to changes in the theory and practice of oath-swearing and
the introduction in many courts of jury trial and documentary prc of,
while seignorial desire for a better way of prosecuting breaches of
manorial custom led to the widespread adoption of presentment procedure.
These innovations immediately led to greater efficiency but ultimately
undermined the traditional position of the suitors of the court. This
development, in turn, was clo aely related to the inability of many courts
to provide adequate justice in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The second theme is the way in which manor courts enforceddistinctions
of personal status and maintained security of land tenure.
By focusing on the anomalous instances which cloud the distinction
between freedom and servitude, an effort is made to see what difference
the distinction made in practice.
The third theme is the theory and practice of litigation in manor
courts. The effects of pleading by plaint are considered through an
analysis of terms frequently met with in counts, exceptions, and
Documents reproduced in the four appendices illustrate matters
of pleading, procedure, and jurisdiction in manorial courts.