It was a period of rebellion, worldwide dispute and enormous social modification. However what sort of legal system governed the land in medieval England and how was criminal law performed? Here, Dr Jens R hrkasten, a speaker in middle ages history at the University of Birmingham, examines.
English law in the time of Magna Carta was based upon two traditions, one going back to the time prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, the other created in the 12th century. The older custom had roots in old customizeds and in texts, among which is thought to have been composed between 601 and 604 ADVERTISEMENT.
A vast array of problems was covered by these early laws, including punishment for criminal activity and compensation payments for injuries. One of the kings who contributed to this legal system was Alfred, king of the West Saxons (c849 899), who laid the foundations for an unified kingdom of England. The counties into which England was divided, most likely since the ninth century, were management units under royal officials shire reeves who were likewise delegated with the job of jurisdiction. They convened the county courts, and it was here and in the communities of the counties (of which there were hundreds) that a lot of trials took place.
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The law dispensed here was popular law. It had actually been developed further through written royal laws, which are typically credited to individual rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Many people needed to take their litigation to the county court and just members of the social elite had direct access to the king.
The 2nd custom, created by the legal changes in the 12th century, produced a brand-new legal system based on royal justice. It was enforced by royal judges who were sent out into the counties, where they utilized the standard county courts as a forum for a slowly establishing new royal law.
The jury system
Among the legal developments was the jury, which was presented in civil cases mostly those about the belongings of land as well as in the criminal law. Juries were expected to be made up of well-informed individuals who would provide details with the pledge made before God to speak the truth. This responsibility offered them their name: jury, from Latin jurare, suggesting to offer an oath.
In the evolving land law, juries were utilized to determine questions of reality, answerable merely by yes or no, in procedures about inheritance or in disagreements about seisin, a form of direct control of land and buildings. Was the claimant s forefather really the last person to be seised and is the claimant really that tenant s successor? Had an individual who had been seised of a particular piece of land been forcibly evicted without judgement?
These and comparable treatments were popular, and part of the beginnings of a common law that was based upon royal authority and which applied to all parts of the kingdom in the exact same method. The mechanisms of this law were first described by Ranulf de Glanvill, one of the administrators of Henry II (king of England from 1154 89), who also worked as a military leader and diplomat, his profession culminating when he got the highest office in royal service, that of justiciar.
Glanvill s writing, On the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England, exposes a pragmatic and in lots of ways modern-day legal system. During Henry II s reign royal justice was offered to all totally free subjects, and since the king and his court tended to be mobile (not simply in England however also in other territories, especially Normandy), a royal law court independent of the royal family was set up in England.