Plea Rolls for Staffordshire: Introduction

Pages 1-4

Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 7, Part 1. Originally published by Staffordshire Record Society, London, 1886.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section

Plea Rolls of the Reign of Edward I. A. D. 1293 to A. D. 1307.

Continued from Part I., Vol. VI.


The preface to the Plea Rolls in Vol. VI., Part I., of these Collections carried the sketch given of the History of the Law as far as the Statute of "Quia emptores" of the 18th year of Edward I. Between this year and the end of the reign of this Sovereign, the only Statutes of any importance are the confirmations of the Great Charter, and of the Charter of the Forest, in the 25th and 28th years of Edward I.

The general discontent produced by the arbitrary conduct of the King, and the heavy burdens thrown upon all classes for the support of the King's warlike policy, culminated at length into open resistance to the Royal authority at the period of the proposed expedition to Flanders in 1297. A large body of the Barons refused to accompany the King, on the ground that they were not bound to serve him beyond the seas, and they shortly afterwards delivered to him a formal remonstrance complaining of the violation of Magna Charta and of the Charter of the Forests, and demanding a confirmation of the two Charters, and a renunciation of the King's claim to impose aids and tallages without the consent of Parliament. The dissensions between the King and his subjects continued for nearly three years, but the firm attitude assumed by the Barons, and the necessities of the King's position arising from the number of his foreign enemies, at length prevailed, and after a fruitless effort on the King's part to introduce the words, "salvo jure coronœ nostrœ," in the 28th year of his reign, he affixed the Great Seal of England to an absolute confirmation of the great and lesser Charters without any reservation of the Royal prerogative.

The historian Hume goes very fully into these transactions, following closely the text of Walter Hemingford's chronicle; but the first writer who showed a full appreciation of their importance is Hallam, who, in his "Constitutional History," styles the confirmation of the Charters by Edward I. one of the pillars of the English Constitution. In this statute the King renounced for himself and his heirs for ever all claim to make aids and tallages without the assent of the whole realm (par commun assent de tut le royeume), saving the ancient aids and prises due and accustomed, which would be the aids such as scutage due by tenure, and the prises for the King's household or royal fortresses. This is the first mention in the Statute Book of a renunciation of right to levy taxes without the assent of Parliament. There had been a similar renunciation in the Great Charter of King John, but it had been omitted in the revised Charter issued by Henry III.

This statute, being in the form of a charter, was sealed with the Great Seal at Ghent in Flanders on 5th November, in the 25th year of his reign. Complaints, however, having been made that the Charter was not observed, an additional Act, known as the Articuli super Chartas, was passed in 28 E. I. In these additional articles the King remits all his anger against Humfrey de Bohun, the Constable, Roger Bigod, the Earl Marshal, and all the other Earls, Barons, Knights, and others, and also the tenants of land to the yearly value of £20 who had not obeyed his summons to pass over into Flanders. The same articles also contained a provision that three Knights should be elected in every county to redress all acts done against the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest.

In pursuance of these articles, a close writ was directed to the Sheriff of Staffordshire, dated from Westminster, 27th March, 1300, directing him to cause three Knights of the county to be elected, who were to appear before the King and Council at York on the morrow of the Ascension (20th May), to perform whatsoever should be enjoined of them for the better performance of the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forests.

By Letters Patent dated from St. Edmunds on the 10th May following, William de Stafford, Robert de Pype, and William de Wrottesleye, were appointed Justiciaries for the due observance of the articles contained in the Great Charter and the Statute of Winchester, within the county of Stafford, and to hear and determine all pleas and plaints arising thereon.

In describing this Court of three Knights, which were elected by the freeholders of each county, to hear and determine offences against the two Charters, Hume observes: "Three Knights were appointed to be chosen in each county, and were invested with the power of punishing, by fine and imprisonment, every transgression or violation of the Charters, a precaution which, though it was soon disused, as encroaching too much on the Royal prerogative, proves the attachment which the English, in that age, bore to liberty, and their well grounded jealousy of the disposition of Edward I."

One of the consequences of these disputes between the King and his Barons, was the perambulations of the forests of 28 E. I., which have been given in Part I. of Vol. V. of these Collections, the object being to define the bounds of the jurisdiction of the forest officers.

The Statute of Winchester was enacted in 1285 for the better security of the subject, and the more prompt pursuit and capture of felons. It directed that the hue and cry, the hutesium et clamor, should be made in all County Courts, Hundred Courts, markets, fairs, or other places where there was great resort of people, so that none might excuse himself out of ignorance. Inquisitions were to be made when necessary by the lord of the vill, and afterwards in the Hundred and County, and in two or more counties in the case of felonies committed in the marches of shires, so that the offenders might be attainted. If the county would not answer for the bodies of such offenders, the people of the county were to be responsible for the robberies committed and the damages sustained, so that the whole Hundred where the robbery was committed should be answerable. The Hundred was to have only forty days allowed them to agree for the damages or answer for the bodies of the robbers. It is upon this provision of the Statute of Winchester that the right has originated that compensation might be recovered against the Hundred for loss sustained by a breach of the peace.

It was also enacted that in walled towns the gates should be closed from sunset till sunrise, and that watches were to be kept, as had been used in former times, viz., in every walled town six men at each gate; in every borough twelve men; in every vill six or four, according to the number of the inhabitants; and these were to watch continually from sunset till sunrise. If any stranger passed by, the watch was to arrest him till the morning, and if any suspicion appeared, he was to be delivered to the Sheriff. If anyone resisted the arrest, hue and cry was to be raised, and those who kept watch were to follow the hue and cry from town to town till the offender was taken. (fn. 1)

It was directed that highways should be cleared from woods, bushes or dykes for two hundred feet on each side of the road, in order to prevent malefactors from lurking there, but ash and oak and other large trees were not to be felled to make a clearance. If a park was made by the side of a highway, it was to be at the distance of two hundred feet, or such a wall or fence was to be made that malefactors might not come out to commit offences and then escape back again. It was further ordered that every man should have harness and arms according to his degree and the ancient assize of arms.

In the 28th year of Edward I. was likewise passed the Statute of "Wards and Reliefs," which seems to be nothing more than a declaration of the common law upon those subjects. It states that whenever a relief was given, wardship was incident to the tenure, and the contrary; and that in all tenures by sergeanty with an obligation to go with the King when under arms, wardship and marriage were an incident thereto; but that those who held by petit sergeanty should not be liable for wardship, marriage, nor relief; that a free sokeman was not to give ward nor relief, but was to pay double rent after the death of an ancestor, or according to what he had been accustomed to pay to his lord. As regards wards, it declared that the wardship and marriage of a tenant by Knight's service belonged to the lord till the heir was 21 years of age, and that the marriage, as ordained by Magna Charta was to be without disparagement, and that in the case of a tenure by soccage, the wardship of the heir, if the land descended ex parte matris, belonged to the nearest relative on the father's side, and so vice versâ. In the event of an heir holding by Knight's service of more than one lord, the wardship belonged to the lord who made the first feoffment.


  • 1. The hue and cry was raised by the blowing of a horn, and the horn thus became a common symbol of jurisdiction. See on this subject a very interesting account of the Tutbury Horn, by the Rev. Dr. Charles Cox, in the last volume (January, 1886) of the Derbyshire Archæological Society. Note also the proceedings in the suit of Richard de Bentley versus Philip de Montegomeri, at p. 255, Vol. VI., and the proceedings when William de Parles raised the hue and cry in the suit at p. 174 of Vol. IV., of these Collections.