« AnteriorContinuar »
ealdor. The judges of the court were originally the whole The Hun
dred-moot. body of freeholders within the hundred ; but, probably from motives of convenience, it soon became the custom to delegate the judicial powers of the whole body of suitors to a representative committee, generally twelve or some multiple of twelve in number, and cither chosen for the occasion or permanently appointed. The court of the hundred exercised jurisdiction both civil and criminal, voluntary and contentious: and litigants were bound to scek justice in this court before applying to a higher tribunal. Is the King was entitled to a cili, or finc, for every ofience, his reeve was accustomed to attend the court twice in cach ycar.
On the institution of the frithborh or frankpledge, the hundred court, on the tio yearly occasions when it was attended by the recve, undertook the duty of seeing that every man was regularly enrolled in his tithing, a practice which continued long after the Norman Conquest as the Sheriff's Tourn, or Leet, and View of Frankpledge.
From an early period certain districts within the hundred Private were detached from its jurisdiction and subjected to the jurisdictions. socn' of the Church or of the secular hlafords to whom they belonged. Such districts formed private franchises or libertics, and the name' sithesocna,' by which they were sometimes denoted, points to their origin in grants made by the King to his sith or gesith, and at a period before the title of gesith had been supplanted by that of thegn. The hlaford possessing a private soken over his lordship, or manor as it was subsequently termed, was wont to dispense justice in the hall of his mansion, whence his court was called a hall-mote, the progenitor of the feudal courtbaron, which is not even now extinct. Sometimes the jurisdiction of a whole hundred, or of several hundreds, was granted to churches or private individuals. In this way the organization of the hundred was considerably weakened, and the administration of justice became to a
· Supra, p. 17.
large extent not national or royal, but territorial and feudal.
The Scir-gemôt, or, as it was called after the Norman Conquest, the County Court, was not only the court of the shirc, but also thc Folc-gamót, the gcncral assembly of the folk of the shirc, a name which points to the original independence of the population of each shire. The shircmoot was convened by the sheriff twice in the year. It was attended by the caldorman, the bishop, and all other public officers, by all lords of lands, and by the representative rceve and four men and the parish priest from each township. Thesc, collectively, formed the judges of the court; but as in the hundred, so in the shire, the twelve senior thegns acted as a body of councillors or assessors, and declared the report of the shire. The jurisdiction of the shircmoot extended to cuery kind of suit, except such as concerned a high officer of state, or a king's thegn, which were reserved for the King's immediate cognizance. But the shiremoot could not be resorted to until justice had first been sought and denied in the court of the hundred ; and on the same principle no appeals could be carried to the King, unless the shirenoot had previously failed to do justice. The court of the shire, though it gradually lost much of its importance after the Norman Conquest, especially after the institution of the justices itinerant, long continued to exercise an extensive civil jurisdiction in small causes, and remained the general assembly of all the freeholders of the shire for county purposes. As an in
The Shire. moot.
1 'If the shire be the ancient under-kingdom, or the district whose administrative system is created in imitation of that of the under-kingdom, the shiremoot is the folkmoot in a double sense, not merely the popular court of the district, but the chief council of the ancient nation who possessed that district in independence, the witenagemot of the pre-heptarchic kingdom. Such a i heory would imply the much greater preponderance of popular liberties in the earlier system, for the shiremoot is a representative assembly, which the historical wirenagemot is not; and this is indeed natural, for the smaller the size of the districts and the more nearly equal the condition of the landowners or sharers in the common land, the more easy it would be to assemble the nation, and so much the less danger of the supreme authority falling into the hands of the king and the magistrates without reference to the national voice. But this can only be matter of conjecture.'-Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 116.
strument in limiting the power of the feudal aristocracy, it 'contributed in no small degree to fix the liberties of England upon a broad and popular basis.'
Nearly all the work of judicature consisted in the decla- Procedure. ration of the law applicable to each case, as distinguished from the finding of the facts. The lat was declared by the presiding magistrates-the caldorman, or sheriff, and the bishop-and the select body of assessors. The facts Facts, low
decicicil. (except in a certain class of civil causes to be presently noticed) were decided cither by compurgation or by ordcal.
1. The accused might clear himself by his own oath, Compurgastrengthened by the oaths of certain compurgators, usually twelve in number, and either his relatives or immediate neighbours, who testified to the trustworthiness of the person on whosc bchalf they came forward. The compurgators were in reality witnesses to character.'' But the oaths of different men varied in legal value and credit, according to the rank and property of the swearer. The oath of one ealdorman counterbalanced that of six thegns; the oath of one thegn that of twelve ceorls. If the accused were subject to a hlaford, the lord or his gerefa might offer to swear on behalf of the vassal. But if the testimony of the lord were not in his favour, the accused vassal was bound either to produce a triple number of compurgators, or to undergo an ordeal of threefold rigour. Not only the accused, but the accuser also, was bound to take an oath (for-ath) that he was not actuated by interested or vindictive motives.
2. But compurgation was not always allowed. In cer- Ordeal tain cases, as when a man was taken red-handed, or bearing other proofs of guilt, he was obliged to submit to the ordeal. The ordeal was also compulsory—(1) where the accused was unable to produce a sufficient number of
? Hallam, Midd. Ages, ii. 280.
· The system of compurgation was common to all the Teutonic nations, but the number of compurgators required varied in the different nations.
Legally appointed witnesses to bargains.
compurgators; (2) where he had been notoriously guilty of perjury on a previous occasion; (3) where he was not a freeman-unless his hlaford swore to his belief in the innocence of the accused, or bought him off by paying the wergild.
The ordeal, or judgment of God, was of tree kinds-hot iron, hot or cold water, and the corsnaed, or accursed morsel. It was to be undergone (except as to the cold water ordeal) in a church, and under the superintendence of the pricsts. It is very difficult for us to understand how even the most innocent could have cscaped condemnation under this process, except by the collusion of the officials; but there is no doubt that in its origin the ordeal was intended as a reverent appeal to God, in the firm belief that He would make the truth manifest.
3. Besides the compurgators, or witnesses to character, there was also, in civil causcs, a special class of witnesses appointed by law for the attestation of facts—bargains and sales. In some respects they are analogous to the public notaries of the present day. They are first mentioned in a law of King Ethelstan (...D. 924-940), which enacted that there should be named in every reeve's “manung” (district) as many men as are known to be unlying, that they may be for witness in every suit.'? But the most explicit information about these legal witnesses is contained in the laws of Eadgar (959-975) : ‘This, then, is what I will: that every man be under “borh” (surety) within the “burh (town) and without; and let witness be appointed to every “burh ” and to every hundred. To every “burh " let there be chosen xxxiii as witness. To small “burhs" and in every hundred xii, unless ye desire more. man, with their witness, buy and sell every of the chattels that he may buy or sell, either in a “burh” or in a wapontake ; and let every of them, when he is first chosen as witness, give the oath that he never, neither for money, nor for love, nor for fear, will deny any of those things of which
And let every
Conc. Exon. cap. I (Thorpe, Anc. Lars and Inst.).
he was witness, nor declare any other thing in witness save that alone which he saw or heard ; and of such sworn men let there be at every bargain two or three as witness.' The sworn testimony of these legally appointed witnesses was decisive or any dispute which might subsequently arisc.
The principle that every injury cither to person or pro- Punish. perty might be compensated by a money payment was ments. common to all the northern nations. It was introduced Ilirgill. into Gaul by thc conquering Franks, and into Britain by the English invaders. Every man's life had a fixed money valuc, called the wrrgrill. In the case of a freeman, this compensation for inurder was pavablu to his kindred ; in that of a slave, to his inaster. The amount of the wergild varied, according to a graduated scale, with the rank of the person slain. For a ccorl it was fixed at 200 shillings; for a lesser thcgn, 600 shillings; for a king's thegn, 1200 shillings. The ai'cr of an caldorman was double that of a king's thegn ; that of an ætheling three times, that of a king usually six times, as much. For bodily injuries a bót Bit. was payablc, being highest in amount where any disfigurement ensued. In every case the King was entitled to a lite. c'ite, or finc, for the breach of his peace. In the course of time capital punishments were introduced for offences Death. against the State, or the King as its representative. Elfred declared that treason against a lord he dared not pardon ; and fighting in the king's hall, coining, and several other state offences were made 'death-worthy' At a later period the severity of the laws increased, especially as to theft, which was sometimes capitally punished. But
Eaulgar, Secular Ordnance, Suppl. cap. 3, 4, 5, 6. . For a sketch of the ancient English judicial system, which, while fuller than that in the text, is yet concise, see Forsyth, Trial by Jury, pp. 54-92.
3 From the amount of his 'wer' a theyn was sometimes called a 'twelf. hynde man' (hynde, hund, here=a hundred), a lesser thegn was a 'six-hynde man,' and a ceori a “twy-hynde man.'
+ The bôt for the smallest disfigurement of the face was three shillings, the same as for breaking a rib. The breaking of a thigh was valued at only twelve shillings, the loss of a man's beard at twenty shillings, and of a front tooth at six shillings.