General history: Justices itinerant

Pages 229-231

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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Justices itinerant

WHEN ALFRED new modelled the government of this realm, he divided the office of præfect, or governor of the several counties into distinct offices, one of which he put under certain judges, or justices, and the other under the vice-comites, or sheriffs. By the former of these justice was, in some measure, administered to the people throughout the realm from that time; but from the troubles that ensued, both before and after the conquest, there was no regular administration of it settled in this kingdom; the king sending them, at his own pleasure, and not in any constant course, to ride into the several counties for this purpose, from whence they were called justices itinerant. Sometimes they had power to hear all causes in general, and at others only special matters, as assises and the goals, &c. But peace and quiet beginning to flourish in the reign of king. Henry II. in order that the people might have justice with more ease administered to them on all occasions, and be enabled the better to attend their domestic business, that prince, by the advice of his great council, assembled at Northampton, on the feast of St. Paul, in the 23d year of his reign, anno 1176, divided this realm into fix parts, or circuits; into each of which he sent three of these justices itinerant, requiring of them at the same time an oath, for the due performance of their duties.

After this, in the 21ft of Edward I. 1293, that king having, by his last statute of Westminster, given command that there should be special justices assigned for taking of assises, &c. at certain times within the several counties of this realm, and no other. Eight were appointed for this purpose; two of which were for the counties of Kent, Essex, Hertford, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Bedford, and Buckingham. Which justices were diligently to attend that service on such days throughout the year, and at such places as might most conduce to the advantage of the people. (fn. 1) Notwithstanding this appointment of justices for the purpose of assise and goal delivery, the justices itinerant still continued to be appointed, and made their itinerary progress for particular purposes, such as the trial of quo warrantos, and the disputes arising from grants, charters, liberties, and the like, either brought on at the suit of the crown, or on the claim of individuals. After the 7th year of king Edward III. I. find no more appointments of these justices itinerant, their place being afterwards wholly supplied by the justices of assise and nisi prius.

A list of these justices itinerant may be seen in Dugdale's Origines, as well as of the justices of the assise, lord-chancellors, and treasurers, with other great officers of the law; among which the reader will find many great and respectable persons of this county, clergy as well as laymen, continually named; but the number of them is so great, that it will well excuse the addition of them in this place.


  • 1. Dugd. Orig. 8, 52, 53. Decim. Script. Col. 1410.