Introduction: Procedure of the mayor's court

Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1924.

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'Introduction: Procedure of the mayor's court', in Calendar of Early Mayor's Court Rolls: 1298-1307, (London, 1924) pp. xxvii-xlv. British History Online [accessed 15 April 2024]

In this section



Much light on early borough procedure has been afforded by the two volumes of Borough Customs published by the Selden Society, and it will be sufficient here to note only new details or usages peculiar to London. The plaint by which actions were initiated was a written document delivered to the attorneys of the Court. In the 14th century there was little to distinguish it from the petitions which led to proceedings in equity (fn. 1), beyond the fact that the plaint contained pledges for prosecution at the foot, while the petition was marked supplicacio. Both were in French, and began with the customary formula: "As treshonorable & tresgracious seigneur le Mair de Loundres moustre & se pleynt," etc. Sometimes the Aldermen and Recorder are mentioned and the terms of courtesy are varied. But in actions where a legal remedy could be applied, the original plaint was not produced in Court, being merely a preliminary for the summons of the defendant. The Court acted on a brief note handed in by the attorney (fn. 2), and the substance of the plaintiff's grievance was explained by him or his attorney in the declaration made in Court. In the next century it was no longer usual for the plaintiff to produce any actual plaint at all, except in actions relating to apprentices. Meanwhile the petitions for equitable remedies approximated to the common form known to students of Chancery proceedings.

Mainprise and Bail.

The City rules as to mainprise, except in the case of persons charged or appealed for felony or grievous trespass in the Husting, were not elaborated according to any definite scale. As regards felony, the liberation of the accused person on mainprise was a dearly-prized City privilege. "If any man," says the Custumal of 1216 (fn. 3), "be killed in London or the Portsoken the Sheriff ought to go thither and find out who killed him. If the neighbourhood names any one or suspects any one, or if the dead man himself has accused any one before he died, the Sheriffs ought to attach the accused and mainprise him by twelve good pledges-failing which he should take his body-for if the suspect were found elsewhere, he would not be let go in spite of finding pledges." This rule was recognised by the King's clerks, for in 1226 a Letter Close directed that a man accused of murder should be bailed by twelve good men to appear before the Itinerant Justices (fn. 4). Though there was a disposition to confine the privilege to men who were found not guilty by juries on the ground of self-defence and were awaiting pardon (fn. 5), the City custom was generally allowed in the 13th century, notably in the case of Laurence Duket (fn. 6), who was suspected of the murder of Master William Lefremont, the physician. But as the disposition of the Crown to deal sternly with crime and to expend money on prisons became stronger, the City custom appeared to be an anachronism. The matter came to a head at the Session of the Justices at the Tower in 1321, when it was found that John de Gisors during his mayoralty had not only liberated a man indicted of felony, but had even admitted him to the freedom of the City by falsifying the date, in order that he should enjoy the citizen's right of mainprise. The Justices declared that the custom was contrary to the law and custom of the realm, tended to retard and suffocate justice and to encourage crime, and they adjudged that the Mayor and Commonalty should lose this liberty or custom for ever (fn. 7).

In less serious charges, the City seems to have been content to take sufficient mainprise, according to their view of sufficiency at the moment. A curious case in the Husting in 1278, where a man appealed for felony another who had thrust him in the left eye with a lance, shows that a single mainpernor was judged enough (fn. 8). In the Mayor's Court, however, more substantial surety was generally required. Though one mainpernor might be allowed for the payment of a fine, the rendering of account, or even for keeping the peace in the case of responsible defendants (fn. 9), two was the usual number required for appearing to hear judgment, making proof by oaths, the payment of amercements or the restoration of goods (fn. 10). Four or six were demanded in assaults and offences against civic ordinances, and such matters as charges of maintenance, and fines due to the King (fn. 11). When a defendant appeared to be a source of disorder in the City, he might be called upon to find twelve mainpernors (fn. 12) -as for instance in the case of Roger de Lincoln, draper, who was bound over to keep the peace between himself and his following and the Sheriff and Alderman of the Ward. In one action of assault and defamation, the defendant needed no fewer than fifteen mainpernors (fn. 13). In none of these cases does it appear that a man's mainpernors had any connection with the system of Frankpledge, as suggested by Miss Bateson.

Proof By Oath-Helpers.

When the plaintiff had declared his grievance and the defendant had denied or otherwise controverted the statement, the question of proof arose. The ancient method of proof in the City was by an oath, known as a lex or law, and the party which offered to prove his case by an oath was said to wage his law. It consisted of an oath denying the facts alleged, which might be supported by the oaths of a number of persons, who swore, not as to the facts, but as to the credibility and good faith of their principal (fn. 14). A brief account of the different oaths waged in the City will illustrate those forms which survived in the Mayor's Court in our period.

(a) The Great Law was used in charges of murder and housebreaking before the Justiciar and the Itinerant Justices. A passage in the Custumal of 1216, which from its mention of the Justiciar may be dated before 1160, tells us that a citizen charged with murder, by hue and cry and witness, or with manifest housebreaking, with doors broken and hacked and obvious wounds, should be put to the Great Law at a time fixed by the Justiciar (fn. 15). To support him, he must have thirty-six oath-helpers, eighteen from each side of Walbrook. He swore the oath once and was followed by his helpers. If a single one broke down in swearing or withdrew from the oath, the accused was liable to death or mutilation. There are several recorded cases of this method of trial. At the Iter of 1226 John Herlisun (fn. 16), accused of the death of Lambert de Legis, failed in his law, but was granted his life and limb at the prayer of the women of the City, and became a Hospitaller of the Hospital of Jerusalem. Before the Iter of 1244, the procedure had changed to six oaths by the accused, in each of which he was supported by six of his compurgators, making the total of thirty-six helping oaths. In this way, William Bertone cleared himself of a charge of having caused an abortion by assault (fn. 17). At the Iter of 1251 there were several further instances of the Great Law performed both with success and failure (fn. 18). But at the next Iter of 1276 only one accused person was submitted to the Great Law, namely a certain Christiana de Dunelmia who had been appealed of causing the death of her husband by administering poison to him. She was acquitted (fn. 19). By this time, citizens who could not or would not find twelve mainpernors for their appearance before the Itinerant Justices were imprisoned and tried at Newgate, where there was a regular Gaol Delivery by Justices appointed for the purpose (fn. 20). The City still claimed the Great Law at the Iter of 1321, but no one was submitted to it. The old method of proof had little to recommend it in comparison with the ordinary trial by jury (fn. 21).

(b) The Middle Law of eighteen oath-helpers mentioned in the Custumal of 1216 (fn. 22) was applicable to charges of mayhem or maiming, as we learn from a later document in the Liber Horn written shortly before 1321 (fn. 23). We are told that the method of proof was a threefold oath by the accused "himself the sixth hand," which would mean three oaths by himself, each supported by five oath-helpers. The only known case comes from the 12th century, when a certain John Bucquinte, accused of felony, was adjudged to the oath, himself the eighteenth, i.e. with seventeen oath-helpers (fn. 24). In the Liber Horn it is said that the accused swore three times with six oath-helpers, eighteen in all. As there seems so little certainty as to the numbers, it may be concluded that the oath was seldom sworn, and even in 1216 was nothing but a dim memory. The same uncertainty is found with regard to an oath by twelve men. In 1257 in connection with a charge of unjust tallages against the Mayor and others, John Maunsel the King's Justice asked what was the custom of the City, and was told that for trespass against the King a citizen was wont to clear himself by twelve men (fn. 25). But next day the populace at the Folkmoot was induced to deny this custom-a disavowal which the annalist records with indignation.

(c) The Third Law of six oath-helpers was applicable in several circumstances. In the early 12th century a citizen charged with having slain a man belonging to the Court of the King or of the barons, who had billeted himself upon the citizen by force, might swear with six of his kinsmen that he had killed the intruder on this account-and so clear himself (fn. 26). A similar oath about the same period was adjudged where the king prosecuted a man in a plea of the crown, in which no private appellor accused him, and if the accused person failed in his sevenfold oath, he suffered loss of life or limb or a fine of 100s., as the seriousness of the crime warranted (fn. 27). An illustrative case is found at the Iter of 1244. A woman had appealed a man for a violent assault, and afterwards died by her injuries. The crown took up the prosecution and desired information from the Mayor and citizens as to the custom of the City, which was reported as being the sevenfold oath. The man was released on finding twelve mainpernors, and apparently the custom was then allowed (fn. 28).

The above forms of the Third Law in felony were clearly exceptional and the proper sphere of this comparatively easy method of proof was in the lesser forms of trespass and civil wrong, where it survived for several centuries.

(d) The Third Law in Trespass was claimed in 1257, when the citizens declared that a man could clear himself of trespass against any other person by making oath, himself the seventh hand (fn. 29). All trespass, it should be noted, had two aspects. It was a wrong done by one man to another; it was also a breach of the King's Peace. According to the so-called Laws of Edward the Confessor, probably representing the law of the early 12th century (fn. 30), the King's Peace covered, among other times, the eight days of each of the three great festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Doubtless trespasses committed at such periods were regarded as within the province of the King's Justices; and the compiler of the Liber Horn, writing just before the Iter of 1321 (fn. 31), had this in mind when he tells us that the Third Law was used in charges of assaults, batteries, tolts, wounds, blows, bloodshed and other injuries committed during the above three festivals. But long before this time, the conception had taken root that all trespasses, committed at any time, involved some breach of the King's Peace, and although the local Courts continued to deal with them, the Crown keeps a close watch over them. By the Statute of Wales, c. 11, 1280 (fn. 32), it was enacted that men should no longer wage their law either in felonies or in personal trespass, but go to juries in accordance with the law of England. In 1285, when the City of London was in the King's hands, he took the opportunity of abolishing the wager of law in trespasses where there was bloodshed or battery except by consent of the plaintiff (fn. 33).

(e) The Third Law in Trespass in the Mayor's Court. In our rolls we see this principle exemplified on several occasions. A plaintiff who complained of two assaults was willing to allow the defendant to clear himself by his law, but the latter refused on the ground that he acknowledged having pushed the plaintiff away, and thus having used battery (fn. 34). Probably he intended to shelter himself under an exception that the assault was in self-defence. All other assaults were submitted to juries, except in an action where the plaintiff was a foreigner, and the Court adjudged that the defendant make his law, possibly because the assault was merely technical (fn. 35). On the other hand, wager of law was frequently granted in non-violent forms of trespass, as for instance in defamation, disrespect to the Mayor, enhancing prices, and unjust attachment (fn. 36). Occasionally a plaintiff would be required to make his law on some allegation contained in the defence. A poulterer charged the Sheriff with unjust forfeiture of his geese, and was ordered to make his law on the Sheriff's reply that the plaintiff was selling them unlawfully to retailers (p. 18). A Guildhall official complained that a man had slandered him by saying that he had taken bribes, and when the defendant answered that he believed the charge, the plaintiff was adjudged to clear himself by his law (p. 147). Where a law was refused, the offences were probably statutory. Certain defendants charged with forestalling were refused their law; and an assault on the King's bailiffs without battery was treated in the same fashion (fn. 37). A plaintiff in an action for fraud objected to the defendant's law on the ground that he could prove the facts by a jury, and after consideration, the Court allowed the objection (fn. 38). There appears to have been a feeling that a law was applicable only where damages were claimed, and as the punishment for fraud was the pillory, a jury was necessary. The same idea may have been in the mind of a plaintiff who objected to the defendant's law, because the offence, if proved, involved imprisonment (fn. 39). But, generally speaking, wager of law in trespass was on the decline at this period. In 1301, the King's Justices, sitting under a special commission at the Leadenhall refused to allow a wager of law (fn. 40) to two prominent citizens, who had been accused of wounding John le Chaucer to the risk of his life, because such a defence was contrary to the Common Law of England. Again in 1329, another commission at Guildhall would not admit oath-helpers in a charge of conspiracy (fn. 41).

(f) Wager of Law in Civil Actions had a long history in the City, being found as early as the 10th century. In the Laws of Aethelred it was provided that a man, who had been charged by the Portreeve or Tunreeve or other reeve with withholding toll, could swear with the seventh hand that he withheld no toll which he was bound to pay (fn. 42). Further mention of the custom in the 12th century shows that the foreigner in London enjoyed the privilege in pleas of debt and trespass (fn. 43). It was defined in 1285 as applicable to breach of contract and debt, where the party plaintiff had no writing or tally to prove his claim (fn. 44). The custom was not peculiar to London: it was a favourite method of proof in the Law Merchant at this period, and numerous instances are to be found in the proceedings of the Piepowder Courts (fn. 45). Both in London and elsewhere it was tolerated by the common law in civil actions till long after the close of the Middle Ages, and was not abolished till the Act of 3 & 4 William IV, c. 42, s. 13.

(g) Wager of Law in Civil Actions in the Mayor's Court. Before dealing with the ordinary seventh-hand oath, mention should be made of two other oaths used in the City.

(i) The Peremptory Oath. According to the Liber Albus (fn. 46), if any person makes demand of a certain debt or other contract, and the party defendant says that his demand or his suit is not a true one, and thereupon puts himself on the oath of the plaintiff forthwith, with his single hand, in case the plaintiff will not make oath that his demand is a true one, then the party defendant is adjudged to go quit, and the plaintiff is amerced. Several cases in the Mayor's Court illustrate the custom. A plaintiff in an action of debt who had no tally to support his plea, offered to verify his claim by his corporal oath and by consent of the defendant did so successfully (fn. 47). In another case of debt, where the plaintiff had a tally, the defendant alleged a condition in the sale and put himself on the oath of the plaintiff, who accepted the challenge and won his case (fn. 48). In all other cases, including one where the plaintiff put himself on the oath of the defendant (fn. 49), a deadlock seems to have arisen, neither party having evidence beyond his bare word.

(ii) Verification of Goods. A single oath was also occasionally allowed where a man's goods had been attached in the hands of another person for a debt owed by the latter (fn. 50). Possibly the single oath was a concession to citizens only, since the general rule both in London and elsewhere seems to have been an oath with the third hand, and even a sixth hand was not unknown (fn. 51). The custom was analogous to that of identifying waifs and strays (fn. 52), where a third-hand verification was allowed. Somewhat similar was the usage in Foreign Attachment. A plaintiff might cause money or goods to be attached in the hands of a third person, on the ground that they belonged or were owed to his debtor. The third person's remedy, if he had any grievance, was to appear in Court and swear with the third hand that the goods and moneys attached were not the property of the debtor to the value of fourpence (fn. 53).

The ordinary seventh-hand oath is illustrated in many cases in our Rolls, in such actions as breach of contract, covenant, debt and detinue, where the plaintiff had no writing or tally, or where the writing did not cover the matter in dispute (fn. 54). Citizens were generally given an interval of a fortnight in which to produce their oath-helpers, while foreigners were expected to have them ready and to take the oath incontinenti-a provision probably intended to prevent delays in doing justice to passing merchants (fn. 55). Already, as in the peremptory oath, the seventh-hand oath was beginning to be regarded as a proof faute de mieux. Plaintiffs could forbar a defendant's oath by producing witnesses, or a bond or deed (fn. 56). At its best a law was merely a sworn testimonial to a litigant's credibility by one whose own credibility might not be above question. Mediaeval men made the oath as intricate and formal as possible in the hope that the divine powers would cause a perjured oath-helper to make some slip. Thus a defendant might fail in his law, because one of the oath-helpers called him Robert instead of Henry (fn. 57).

Trial by Witnesses.

Another method of proof in use in the Mayor's Court has been called "trial by witnesses." Professor Maitland tells us that "for a moment it threatened to be a serious rival of trial by jury" (fn. 58), and that we should nowadays call it a trial by a judge without jury. Our rolls are particularly informative in certain details, of which little evidence is to be found in other borough records (fn. 59) -namely, the calling and examination of these witnesses. The custom was of ancient origin in London. In the 12th century (fn. 60) it was ruled that when a foreigner impleaded a citizen he could not prove against him by foreigners unless one of the two witnesses was of the city, and conversely a citizen could not prove against a foreigner unless one of his witnesses was of the country in which the foreigner dwelt. We may imagine this rule proved difficult in working, for it is not repeated. At the end of the 13th century either party could call witnesses, in such actions as debt, detinue and covenant, but apparently not both parties. The plaintiff after hearing the defendant deny the accusation, proffered his witnesses, by saying that the defendant defended unjustly and that he had good and lawful men, John and John, who were present, etc. On the rarer occasions when a defendant produced witnesses, it was usually to support some issue which had arisen in the pleadings (fn. 61). Citing of witnesses would debar a defendant from his law. If the Court agreed to accept them, the party must take an oath immediately in Court that he would not call others than those he had named, nor suborn them (fn. 62). The requisite qualifications for witnesses were that they had not suffered judgment for perjury, or been excommunicated, or put in the pillory (fn. 63). In the case of foreigners vouching witnesses, the latter must be produced incontinenti -a rule which foreigners sometimes found to be a hindrance rather than a help, as in the case of a foreign defendant who produced one witness and caused the other to be essoined (excused) for his appearance, and lost his action for so doing (fn. 64). The witnesses were examined by two aldermen, who put questions to them to ascertain whether their testimony agreed on all points (fn. 65). In an action where one witness said that a bond was given at Paris, and the other at Nogente, the hearing was adjourned in order that the parties might come to an agreement meanwhile (fn. 66). In another case heard on appeal in the Mayor's Court, the proof of the witnesses was annulled owing to a divergence of testimony (fn. 67). A slight divergence might be passed over, as when one witness testified that a hawk was entrusted to the defendant, and the other witness called the bird a goshawk (fn. 68). But in actions of debt, they were expected to testify and agree as to the contract out of which the debt arose, and if their testimony showed that a different sum was owed than what was claimed, the action was null (fn. 69). The testimony of witnesses must be fully recorded by the aldermen who examined them, otherwise the record and process of the action would be found faulty (fn. 70). In none of these actions was rebutting evidence called, or the testimony submitted to a jury. From the point of view of the unsuccessful litigant, trial by witnesses must have been unsatisfactory at the best of times. The matter was worse when witnessing became a trade. An ordinance was passed in 1345 (fn. 71) to ensure that witnesses should be "men of good fame and not common suitors or provers before the Ordinaries of St Paul's or elsewhere, or suspected of evil." A few years later it was complained that witnesses were proved false in their examination, to the great slander of the City, and that others had been so well primed, selected and bribed that it was impossible to get at the truth. In future such witnesses must not be received (fn. 72).

Nevertheless, there were signs that a system more in consonance with modern ideas was in the making. When a rector was charged with avowing four putrid wolves in a cask, and pleaded that he bought them as medicine for lupus, all the physicians and surgeons of the City were summoned and gave evidence that in none of their medical and surgical writings was any disease mentioned for which the flesh of wolves could be used (fn. 73). A man whose goods had been wrongfully attached abroad brought forward six witnesses who, in answer to the Mayor and Aldermen, declared that no one except the plaintiff had any property in those goods (fn. 74). A City collector, charged with having uttered disrespectful words about the King, put himself on a jury and called to witness four persons who were present, and who were added to the jury for their information (fn. 75).

The Jury in The Mayor's Court.

The commonest method of proof in the City at our period was the Jury, which, though not a native growth, was soon recognised to have great advantages. An early example of its use was the jury of forty-two persons by which a foreigner accused of murder could clear himself. Two Middlesex men at the Iter of 1244, being accused of murder by a man's widow, put themselves on a jury drawn from the three Aldermanries nearest to the place where the body was found, and were acquitted (fn. 76). At the same Iter two citizens were also tried by juries for deaths caused by violent blows. In the one case, the appellor's accusation was so flimsy that the Justices would not order the accused to the law of thirty-six, but for their own satisfaction ordered a jury of the Mayor and citizens to inquire and give a verdict, as the result of which the man was found not guilty (fn. 77). In the other, the appellors having died and the Crown taking up the prosecution, the accused person voluntarily put himself on the oath of the Mayor and citizens and was acquitted (fn. 78). A Grand Assize or a jury was the normal procedure in the Husting in 1272; our rolls show that the latter was equally general in the Mayor's Court.

In dealing with the other forms of proof, the law and witnesses, we have seen that a law was possible in the majority of actions except trespass with bloodshed or battery, or where there were deeds or witnesses, and that when witnesses were called there was no jury. On what principle then could a jury be summoned? Apparently all serious assaults, all offences against the King and his bailiffs, and all public prosecutions were jury-actions. But in many other actions, where it would seem that they were entitled to their law, defendants were content to go to a jury. In no case was a man who wanted a jury forced to make his law. It has been said that the consent of both parties was necessary before a jury could be called (fn. 79), and perhaps for this reason the clerk is generally careful to say, when one party demanded a jury, that the other did likewise. But in case of disagreement between the litigants as to the method of proof, the Court gave judgment on this point (fn. 80), and the parties had no choice but to accept it. The main idea which guided the Court seems to have been a desire to arrive at the facts of the case by the best possible means. In an action of fraud, the defendant wished to wage his law, and the plaintiffs objected on the ground that they were ready to prove the alleged receipt and sale by a jury (fn. 81) -an objection which was upheld by the Court. In another action (fn. 82) where the alleged wrong, i.e. delay in the delivery of a consignment of wine from Bordeaux, was done on a voyage, and the plaintiffs objected to the defendant's law, the Court gave judgment against the former, because they had no power to summon any jury from which the facts could be better elicited than by the defendant's law.

It has been said that originally, when a defendant gave a direct denial to the plaintiff's story, proof by oath was the most appropriate course (fn. 83). But when a defendant admitted the whole or part of the facts alleged, and then gave reasons to show that the plaintiff had no real grievance, or that the facts provided no ground of action, then the pleading was more properly submitted to a jury (fn. 84). This kind of defence was called an exception, and the defendant who raised it might desire either to delay the action by a dilatory exception, or altogether to exclude the plaintiff from his plea. Undoubtedly pleading by exception played a great part in the general history of law, as regards the development of the jury. It will be noticed that it was very frequently used in the Mayor's Court, and that sometimes the parties continued to plead against each other until they reached an issue, which seemed to them, but not perhaps to us, to touch the heart of the matter, after which they went to a jury.

Although these may have been the original reasons which led to the one or the other method of proof, they do not appear to have swayed the Mayor's Court in its decisions. A defendant will bluntly deny the plaintiff's declaration and, without more ado, the parties are allowed a jury (fn. 85). Or the defendant will admit the facts, and then raise his exception to show that the plaintiff suffered no wrong, or was not entitled to sue him. In so doing he lays himself open to the retort of the plaintiff that he has not denied the facts, and that the action is undefended (fn. 86). But though such a retort might be dangerous in other Courts, the Mayor's Court is not greatly influenced by it. They continue the hearing, and where we might expect that they would submit an exception or issue to a jury, they adjudge that either the plaintiff or the defendant shall prove his case by making his law (fn. 87). Doubt less, where either a law or a jury was admissible, the Court had definite rules on which to act, but it is not easy to deduce any rule, further than a desire to learn the truth and a predilection in favour of the jury. These two feelings had a close correspondence in the 13th century.

An examination of the several actions brings out at once a radical difference between the ancient and the modern jury. To-day the Court submits the facts to a jury for its verdict: in the 14th century the Court was doubtful about the facts and expected the jury to supply them. Professor Maitland has warned us of the danger of saying that the early jury was merely a body of witnesses (fn. 88), for if so, they would have been examined separately and would have given, not one but twelve verdicts. Nevertheless the statement is nearly correct. Elsewhere Professor Maitland, speaking of the Middle Ages (fn. 89), says: "A man who had been summoned as a juror and who sought to escape on the ground that he already knew something of the facts in question would have been told that he had given a very good reason for his being placed in the jury-box." Knowledge of the facts was in the City highly desirable in a jury. When a man was charged with assaulting another person in Court at the Guildhall, a jury was impanelled of persons who were actually present and saw the dispute (fn. 90). Another complained that the Sheriff had not done him justice on a royal writ in his Court, to which the Sheriff replied that he had heard the action and the present plaintiff had lost his case. A jury was summoned of persons living round and frequenting the Guildhall (fn. 91). Similarly in maritime and commercial disputes, mixed juries of merchants, travellers, masters of ships and waterside men from Billingsgate were summoned (fn. 92). We find other juries of woodmongers, dyers and butchers (fn. 93), and juries of parishes, streets, and of people living round houses where assaults were said to have taken place. In the Plea and Memoranda Rolls, in an action against an unjust gaoler of Newgate, the duty of giving a verdict was entrusted to a jury of discharged prisoners, who would have the best of reasons for knowing the facts. But a jury must be not only well-informed but also impartial. Persons of the affinity of the plaintiff and defendant are excluded. On one occasion it is ordered that no skinner shall be impanelled (fn. 94). Either of the parties might challenge the jury-in which case a committee of four persons was chosen to examine the challenge and report on oath. So anxious is the Court for full and reliable information that, in an action where the plaintiff and defendant each demanded a jury from his own neighbourhood, the Court summoned both (fn. 95).

To what extent the Court directed the jury, as to the matters on which a verdict was required, is not clear. In many instances a single issue was before them, and their task was simple. Often, however, they appear to have had a general commission to tell all they knew, with the result that the verdicts occupy more space than the pleadings. The jury will say that a defendant did not expose putrid meat for sale, but that another person named had done so (fn. 96). In a dispute about a wardship they expatiate on the evil conduct of the plaintiff, acts of kindness by the defendant, and conclude by giving a description of the orphan's property (fn. 97). Where a special inquest was ordered as to affrays an informative report might be expected, but the ordinary juries were sometimes fully as communicative. On occasion they will say that they do not know and have no means of finding out (fn. 98); and sometimes when various allegations are made in Court, they will state in their verdict one fact only, which does not always seem to have a close connection with the dispute. In such a case, the Court asks the jury questions, and perhaps elicits further and valuable information (fn. 99). The jury was expected to know its own mind; and one which gave a verdict and afterwards repudiated it was amerced (fn. 100). On the other hand, they must be treated with respect. An angry woman who had lost her action, and said in the presence of the Mayor and Aldermen that the jury were lying was forthwith committed to prison (fn. 101); on two occasions the jury themselves appeared as prosecutors to vindicate their honour and impartiality (fn. 102).

Impartiality of the City Courts.

A final word may be said about the quality of the justice dispensed in the City Courts. That there should be occasional irregularities, as in other Courts of the period, might be expected. Walter Hervy, who is regarded by some writers as a democratic reformer, is said by the compiler of the Liber de Antiquis Legibus, to have allowed very few pleadings in the Husting during his Mayoralty, the reason being that he himself was impleaded as to a certain tenement (fn. 103). As Hervy was afterwards found guilty in the Husting, on the evidence of the King's Chancellor, of a piece of dishonest practice in the appointment of an attorney, it is not unlikely that his administration of justice was faulty (fn. 104). He and his Sheriffs are charged with receiving bribes from fraudulent bakers (fn. 105). Peter Cusin, Sheriff in 1273, was proved guilty of a like charge and dismissed (fn. 106). In the presentments of the Ward Inquests of 1276, preserved in the Hundred Rolls, bitter complaints were made of the conduct of Ralph Crepyn, described as the Mayor's Clerk or Clerk of the Husting (fn. 107). As will be seen from the following pages, unsuccessful litigants were not always satisfied with the judgments given. William de Leyre, an Alderman who served on several occasions as the Mayor's deputy, was charged by one impatient plaintiff with retarding justice in the interests of the defendant (fn. 108). Another person, who seems to have been a pleader, contrasted the diligence of the Court under the then Mayor and under the King's Warden, to the disadvantage of the former (fn. 109). In the Patent Rolls, as the result of the complaints of parties, there are recorded several appointments of justices to co-operate with the Mayor and Sheriffs in terminating actions which had been grievously delayed (fn. 110). The custom of giving gratuities to judges and lesser officials, which survived for several centuries, was not conducive to justice. At the session of the Itinerant Justices in 1321 opportunity was taken to prefer a large number of complaints against City officials, which it is fair to remember were found on examination to have little substance (fn. 111).

It would, perhaps, be unreasonable to expect that the Rolls of the Husting and Mayor's Court should give direct evidence to confirm or deny the occasional accusations of injustice. But as far as one can judge, the pleadings are recorded quite fairly in these matter-of-fact documents, and the judgments which followed on the verdicts of juries and other methods of proof seem to represent an honest desire to do right. London citizens at this time were particularly vocal in their grievances. There is abundance of evidence to show that Edward I was deeply interested in the administration of justice, and that his Justices kept a close oversight on the proceedings of such important local courts as those of London. Moreover there was a continuous feud between the officials on either side-the royal and the civic clerks and lawyers. Thus the City authorities, subjected to constant criticism, had every motive to do their work well. The evidence of their Rolls would appear to show that their efforts had considerable success.

The Guildhall, London, May, 1924.


  • 1. Mayor's Court Files, 1, nos. 23, 29-32, 44, 76.
  • 2. An example is to be found sewn to membrane 3 of Roll 1: Johannes de Kent taillour queritur quod error interest Recordo & processu . . . . quare petit quod predicta Recordum & processus veniant coram vobis.
  • 3. Add. MS. 14,252, and Lib. Horn, fo. 255. A Latin version is given in Liber Alb. 1, p. 113. See E.H.R. XVII, pp. 721-2.
  • 4. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Comm.), 11, p. 160.
  • 5. Cal. Close Rolls, 1242-7, pp. 97, 278, 382.
  • 6. Rotuli Hundredorum (Record Commission), 1, p. 410. The same custom held good in 1285. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 296.
  • 7. Lib. Cust. 1, pp. 373-4. This right of mainprise by twelve was not confined to citizens at the Iter of 1276. Add. Chart. 5153, membr. 13 b.
  • 8. Cal. of Letter Book A, p. 194. In 1302 nine persons who had been appealed in the Husting for the death of a man were each mainprised by a single mainpernor. H.R.C.P. Roll 27, m. 10 b. We may suspect that the Court attached little weight to this appeal.
  • 9. See below, pp. 30, 84, 144, 124.
  • 10. pp. 3, 28, 7, 258.
  • 11. pp. 190, 234, 233, 180.
  • 12. p. 154.
  • 13. See below, p. 20.
  • 14. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 105.
  • 15. Add. MS. 14,252. For this passage see Lib. Alb. 1, p. 111. Borough Customs, 1, pp. 37-8.
  • 16. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 5. Cf. Iter Roll AA, membr. 4.
  • 17. Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 103-5. Iter Roll AA, membr. 4.
  • 18. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 18.
  • 19. Add. Chart 5153, membr. 10 b. Several citizens had been mainprised by twelve to appear before the Itinerant Justices. All of them, including the above Christiana, wished to put themselves on the verdict of juries. Ralph Parmenter was allowed to do so on payment of 20s.; others by the indulgence of the Justices, or because the suspicion against them was slight. The question was raised in Christiana's case as to whether a verdict of not guilty by a jury would be a sufficient acquittance, and it was decided that it would not be so.
  • 20. Ibid. passim; Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 99; Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1266-1272, p. 537; Rot. Hund. 1, p. 428; C.P.R. 1272-1281, p. 165.
  • 21. Lib. Cust. 1, 321. The citizens said that a man could clear himself by twelve jurors according to the Common Law or by the Great Law of the City. All accused persons put themselves on juries. During the forty-four years preceding the majority of citizens indicted or appealed of murder appear to have been content to undergo an ordinary trial at Newgate. See P.R.O. Assize Roll 547, passim.
  • 22. Borough Customs, 1, pp. 37-9, where the passage is considered to belong to the period 1131-1155. Cf. Lib. Alb. pp. 110-11.
  • 23. Lib. Horn, fos. 211-12.
  • 24. Lib. Alb. p. 109. See E.H.R. xvii, p. 723.
  • 25. Lib. de Ant. Leg. pp. 33-4.
  • 26. Liebermann, Gesetze der Angelsachsen, p. 673; Borough Customs, 1, p. 47, quoting from Add. MS. 14,252.
  • 27. Ibid. See also Lib. Alb. 1, p. 112. A later section of the Add. MS. says that if an appellor is not of good character, the Justiciar can put a man to his oath with the seventh hand. Borough Customs, 1, p. 25.
  • 28. Iter Roll AA, membr. 2, which contains a fuller account than Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 91-2.
  • 29. Lib. de Ant. Leg. pp. 33-4.
  • 30. Maitland, Const. Hist. pp. 108-9.
  • 31. Lib. Horn, fos. 210-11; Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 58-9.
  • 32. Statutes of the Realm, 1, pp. 66, 68.
  • 33. Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 294-5.
  • 34. See below, pp. 138-9.
  • 35. p. 235.
  • 36. pp. 97-8, 146-7, 73.
  • 37. pp. 229, 145.
  • 38. p. 173.
  • 39. p. 175.
  • 40. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 249; Chron. of Reigns of Edward I and Edward II (Rolls Series), 1, p. 128.
  • 41. Ibid. 1, p. 244.
  • 42. Liebermann, Gesetze, 1, p. 234.
  • 43. Borough Customs, 1, p. 177.
  • 44. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 294.
  • 45. Select Cases on the Law Merchant (Selden Society).
  • 46. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 521. See also p. 217 for a rule that where the defendant raises a dilatory exception, the plaintiff can put him on his peremptory oath that the plea or exception was a true one.
  • 47. See below, pp. 13-14.
  • 48. pp. 122-3.
  • 49. pp. 66-7.
  • 50. pp. 95, 112-3.
  • 51. p. 68; Select Cases on the Law Merchant, 45, 5, 8, liv.
  • 52. Borough Customs, 11, pp. 163-4.
  • 53. See below, pp. 17-8.
  • 54. pp. 68, 121, 169, 170, 100, 105, 66, 113, 114, 187. See also Lib. Alb. 1, pp. 203, 294-5.
  • 55. Ibid. 1, pp. 295-6. For an instance, see below, p. 74.
  • 56. pp. 56, 123, 248.
  • 57. Select Cases on the Law Merchant, p. 20.
  • 58. History of English Law, 11, p. 637.
  • 59. Borough Customs, 11, pp. xxx-xxxii.
  • 60. Ibid. I, pp. 165-6.
  • 61. See below, p. 134.
  • 62. p. 125.
  • 63. p. 118.
  • 64. pp. 248-9.
  • 65. pp. 117, 120.
  • 66. p. 138.
  • 67. pp. 181-4.
  • 68. pp. 127-8.
  • 69. pp. 141, 183.
  • 70. Ibid.
  • 71. Lib. Alb. 1, p. 475.
  • 72. Letter Book G, fo. 92.
  • 73. See below, p. 51.
  • 74. p. 97.
  • 75. p. 58.
  • 76. Iter Roll AA, membr. 4 b; Lib. Alb. 1, p. 102.
  • 77. Iter Roll AA, membr. 2 b.
  • 78. Ibid.
  • 79. Pollock and Maitland, History Engl. Law, 11, p. 623. For an illustrative case, see Select Pleas on the Law Merchant, 1, pp. 44-5, and the rules of Leicester in 1277, Borough Customs, 1, p. 164.
  • 80. See below, p. 133.
  • 81. p. 173.
  • 82. pp. 168-9.
  • 83. P. and M. 11, pp. 609-10; Borough Customs, 1, p. 164.
  • 84. P. and M. 11, pp. 616, 620.
  • 85. See below, p. 14, etc.
  • 86. p. 90.
  • 87. p. 18.
  • 88. P. and M. 11, p. 622.
  • 89. Social England, 1, p. 291.
  • 90. See below, p. 15.
  • 91. p. 181.
  • 92. pp. 21, 39, 119, 193, 221.
  • 93. pp. 216, 230.
  • 94. p. 95.
  • 95. p. 97.
  • 96. See below, p. 56; cf. p. 14.
  • 97. pp. 171-2.
  • 98. pp. 13, 41.
  • 99. pp. 16, 31, 40.
  • 100. p. 13.
  • 101. p. 199.
  • 102. pp. 237, 252.
  • 103. Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 159.
  • 104. H.R.C.P. 2, membr. 6.
  • 105. Lib. de Ant. Leg., p. 159.
  • 106. Ibid. p. 162.
  • 107. Rot. Hund. 1, pp. 415, 416, 419, 427, 429.
  • 108. See below, pp. 187-8.
  • 109. pp. 146-7.
  • 110. Cal. Pat. Rolls, 1272-81, pp. 239, 246, 285, 406, 409, etc.
  • 111. P.R.O. Assize Roll 547.