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The Origins of the Medieval English Jury: Frankish, English, or Scandinavian?

  • Ralph V. Turner

Serious study of the origins of the jury began in the time of William Stubbs and F. W. Maitland, when the work of the German historical school of jurisprudence reached England. Until then knowledge of the medieval English jury before the time of Henry II had been more legendary than real. William Blackstone had traced the common law to a compilation that King Alfred supposedly commanded to be made. Blackstone had written in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, “Some authors have endeavoured to trace the original of juries up as high as the Britons themselves, the first inhabitants of our island; but certain it is that they were in use among the earliest Saxon colonies.”

In the mid-nineteenth century the Anglo-Saxon origin of the jury was still a popular legend in England, but the German school of legal history sought a more scientific study of the problem. A representative of that group, Heinrich Brunner, in his book, Die Entstehung der Schwurgerichte, rejected the traditional teaching that the jury was Germanic and popular in origin. Instead, he believed it to be royal in origin, an authoritarian means of gathering information, particularly information of a financial nature. It first appeared as the inquest of the Frankish kings, inherited from the imperial Roman fisc. It passed from them to the Norman dukes and then was introduced to England with William. According to Brunner the Norman kings reserved this fact-finding technique for themselves, extending it to their subjects in only a few cases.

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1. Blackstone, William, Commentaries on the Laws of England (London, 1823), I, 6770: Introduction, sec. iii.

2. Ibid., III, 381: Bk. III, ch. xxiii.

3. Brunner, Heinrich, Die Entstehung der Schwurgerichte (Berlin, 1872).

4. Ibid., p. 87.

5. Stubbs, William, Constitutional History of England (Oxford, 18741878), I, 246. For an analysis of Stubbs's point of view, see Cantor, Norman F. (ed.), William Stubbs on the English Constitution (New York, 1966), Introduction.

6. Printed as Maitland, F. W., The Constitutional History of England (Cambridge, 1908, reprinted 1961), p. 120.

7. SirPollock, Frederick and Maitland, F. W., The History of English Law (2nd ed.; Cambridge, 1895), I, 140–42.

8. Haskins, C. H., Norman Institutions [Harvard Historical Studies, XXIV] (Cambridge, Mass., 1918), ch. vi, “The Early Norman Jury,” pp. 196-238; Haskins, C. H., “The Early Norman Jury,” A.H.R., VIII (1903), 613–40. The Brunner thesis has continued to find acceptance in English constitutional and legal histories. E.g., Holdsworth, W. S., A History of English Law (London, 1903), I, 145; Plucknett, T. F. T., A Concise History of the Common Law (5th rev. ed.; London, 1956), pp. 107–12; Adams, G. B., Constitutional History of England (rev. ed.; New York, 1934), p. 86; Jolliffe, J. E. A., The Constitutional History of Medieval England (3rd ed.; London, 1954), pp. 207–09; Lyon, Bryce, A Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England (New York, 1960), pp. 183–84.

9. Whitelock, Dorothy (ed.), English Historical Documents, c. 500-1042 (Oxford, 1955), p. 7.

10. Brunner, , Schwurgerichte, pp. 402–04; Vinogradoff, Paul, English Society in the Eleventh Century (Oxford, 1908), p. 7.

11. Stubbs, , Constitutional History, I, 427.

12. Ibid., I, 655.

13. Pollock, and Maitland, , History of English Law, I, 142. Hurnard, Naomi D., “The Jury of Presentment and the Assize of Clarendon,” E.H.R., LVI (1941), 374410. Hurnard took issue with Maitland and wrote that there was no reason why the Danish example should not have been followed in Saxon areas, even though the Wantage code did not apply to them directly. Ibid., LVI, 376-77.

14. Holdsworth, , History of English Law, I, 147.

15. Pollock, and Maitland, , History of English Law, I, 143.

16. Vinogradoff, , English Society, p. 6.

17. Ibid., p. 7.

18. Hurnard, , “Jury of Presentment,” E.H.R., LVI, 378.

19. Richardson, H. G. and Sayles, G. O., Law and Legislation from Aethelberht to Magna Carta (Edinburgh, 1966), p. 25.

20. Van Caenegem, R. C., Royal Writs in England from the Conquest to Glanvill [Selden Society, LXXVII] (London, 1959), p. 58 and n. 3.

21. Ibid., p. 59.

22. Stenton, Lady Doris M., English Justice between the Norman Conquest and the Great Charter 1066-1215 [Memoirs of Amer. Phil. Soc., LX] (Philadelphia, 1964), p. 17.

23. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

24. SirStenton, F. M., Anglo-Saxon England [Oxford History of England] (2nd ed.; Oxford, 1947), p. 503.

25. Ibid., p. 643.

26. Stenton, Doris M., English Justice, p. 15; Stenton, F. M., Anglo-Saxon England, p. 643, n. 2; Richardson, H. G. and Sayles, G. O., The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta (Edinburgh, 1963), p. 205; Douglas, David, William the Conqueror (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964), p. 309. Van Caenegem, , Royal Writs, p. 57, n. 2, admits the lack of documentary evidence, but he does not conclude from this that there could not have been inquests under the Normans.

27. Fauroux, Marie (ed.), Recueil des Actes des Dues de Normandie (911-1066) [Mémoires de la Socièté des Antiquaires de Normandie] (Caen, 1961).

28. Bouard, Michel, “De la Neustrie Carolingienne à la Normandie féodale: continuité ou discontinuité?Bull. Inst. Hist. Res., XXVIII (1955), 114. Neither does Douglas, David, “The Rise of Normandy,” Proc. Br. Academy, XXXIII (1947), 101–31, find much continuity. Boussard, Jacques, Le Gouvernement d'Henri II Plantagenet (Paris, 1956), pp. 292–93, acknowledges the survival of the Carolingian inquest in Flanders and Normandy, but he finds it surviving too in the feudal procedure of Aquitaine, which he feels may be the source of Henry II's juries.

29. Bougert, Yvonne, Recherches sur les cours laïques du Xe au XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1946), pp. 262–65.

30. Hurnard, , “Jury of Presentment,” E.H.R., LVI, 395–96.

31. Haskins, , Norman Institutions, pp. 237–38.

32. d'Anisy, Lechaude, Grands Rôles des Échiquiers de Normandie (Caen, 1846), pp. 196–97, case concerning the priory of Belleme. Gallia Christiana, XI (Paris, 1759), cols. 61-65, case concerning the abbey of Fontenay.

33. Stenton, Doris M., English Justice, p. 15.

34. Richardson, and Sayles, , Governance of Mediaeval England, p. 205; Richardson, and Sayles, , Law and Legislation, p. 117, an inquest into the fiefs of the Bishop of Bayeux.

35. Richardson, and Sayles, , Law and Legislation, p. 117.

36. Douglas, , William the Conqueror, p. 309.

37. Stenton, F. M., Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 644–49, summarizes what may be considered the standard account of the method of compiling Domesday Book.

38. Bigelow, Melville Madison, Placita Anglo-Normanniea (London, 1879), pp. 3436. The case is discussed in Richardson, and Sayles, , Governance of Mediaeval England, pp. 207–08, and in Van Caenegem, , Royal Writs, pp. 6263.

39. Davis, H. W. C. (ed.), Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum (Oxford, 1913), I, No. 528; Van Caenegem, , Royal Writs, p. 83.

40. Brunner, , Schwurgerichte, pp. 463–66; Pollock, and Maitland, , History of English Law, I, 144.

41. Haskins, , Norman Institutions, p. 215; Haskins, , “The Early Norman Jury,” A.H.R., VIII, 618.

42. Haskins, , Norman Institutions, pp. 196238, suit brought by Osmund Vasce and suit between William Fitz Thetion and the church of St.-Etienne.

43. Ibid., p. 226.

44. Sayles, G. O., The Medieval Foundations of England (London, 1948), p. 336. Haskins's theory about the church courts is also rejected by Hurnard, , “Jury of Presentment,” E.H.R., LVI, 395.

45. Pollock, and Maitland, , History of English Law, I, 42-43, 151–53.

46. Hurnard, , “Jury of Presentment,” E.H.R., LVI, 378; Pipe Roll H Henry I, pp. 28, 34, 69, 103.

47. Hurnard, , “Jury of Presentment,” E.H.R., LVI, 378-79, 382–83.

48. Ibid., LVI, 383; Pipe Roll 2-4 Henry II, p. 127.

49. Stewart-Brown, Ronald, The Serjeants of the Peace in Medieval England and Wales (Manchester, 1936), p. 79.

50. Sayles, , Medieval Foundations, p. 335.

51. Richardson, and Sayles, , Governance of Mediaeval England, pp. 182–84. Cam, Helen, Liberties and Communities in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1944), ch. iv, “Suitors and Scabini,” p. 52, also thought that the twelve thegns were doomsmen, much like the scabini of the Carolingian courts.

52. Van Caenegem, , Royal Writs, pp. 6061.

53. Ibid., pp. 69-71. Two versions of the dispute survive: Hart, W. H. and Lyons, P. A. (eds.), Cartularium Monasterii de Rameseia [Rolls Series] (London, 18841893), I, 188, No. 115, and III, 38-39, No. 544. Cambridge University Library, Red Book of Thorney, II, fol. 372.

54. Van Caenegem, , Royal Writs, p. 59.

55. Ibid., pp. 72-76.

56. Stenton, Doris M., English Justice, p. 17.

57. Richardson, and Sayles, , Law and Legislation, p. 118.

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