'The Court Leet' ... article below, link

Vol. LXXIV. Three Lancashire Documents of the Fourteenth And Fifteenth Centuries
comprising :
I — The Great de Lacy Inquisition, Feb. 16, 1311.
II — The Survey of 1320-1346.
III — Custom Roll and Rental of the Manor of Ashton-under-Lyne,  November 11, 1422. (transcribed)


UNDER the feudal system, as developed in England from the period of the Norman conquest, all land was held directly or indirectly of the king, who was the supreme lord of all the territory of the kingdom. When the king granted a tract of land to any noble, or knight, he required that certain services should be rendered to him in return. These services being usually military, - the contribution of men and arms and horses to the king in his wars, - it became necessary from time to time that the king should know the quantity and quality of the land, and the amount of service renderable, in respect of every holding of land throughout his kingdom. The means of ascertaining these particulars, though various, were to some extent alike in their general principle and their organization of machinery. A general survey throughout the kingdom being commanded, it was effected by certain high commissioners, few in number, calling to their aid the chief functionaries in counties, the earls or counts, and the sheriffs; and these in turn apportioned out the task among the hundredors of each wapentake or hundred; these again subdividing the labour; so that ultimately the great survey

was effected by an aggregation of juries of inquiry in every lordship or manor, nay even in every village throughout the land. Such was the character of the great Survey of all the lands throughout England, made twenty years after the Norman conquest, and commonly known as the Domesday Survey, which was completed in the year 1086, and has remained ever since the oldest register extant of the value, tenure and services of the lands therein described. It is stated by an old chronicler1 that William the Conqueror caused this survey to be made in imitation of the policy of Alfred the Great, who, at the time he divided the kingdom into counties, hundreds and tithings, had inquisition taken and digested into a register, called, from the place in which it was deposited, the Roll of Winchester. However this may be, we find that the task of making the great Norman survey of England was entrusted to four commissioners, styled the king's justiciaries, who seem to have associated with themselves some principal person or persons in each shire. The inquisitors were to inquire, upon the oaths of the sheriffs of counties, the lords of each manor, the presbyters or priests of every church, the reeves of every hundred, the bailiffs and six villeins of every village, - into the name of the place; who held it in the time of king Edward the Confessor ; who was the present possessor; how many hides of land there were in the manor; how many carucates, carves or plough-lands in demesne; how many homagers; how many villeins; how many cotarii; how many servi; what freemen; how many tenants in socage; what
1 Ingulphus.

p. v
quantity of wood; how much meadow and pasture; what mills and fish-ponds; how much added or taken away; what the gross value in king Edward's time; what the present value; and how much each freeman or soc-man had or has. All this was to be estimated - first, as the estate was held in the time of the Confessor; secondly, as it was bestowed by the Conqueror; and thirdly, as its value stood at the taking of the survey. The jurors were further to state whether any advance could be made in the value. These very numerous inquisitions being taken all over the country, the record of each was sent by the justiciaries to Winchester, and there the whole were arranged, classed, methodized, and entered in a register, such as we now see it in the admirable photographic facsimiles of the original Domesday survey.

Such was the record of the first great English survey of the lands of the kingdom in the eleventh century, and it long remained the great authority on all the subjects embraced in its inquiry. But various causes would naturally arise in course of time to render other inquiries desirable or necessary, either extending over the entire kingdom, or over a county, a hundred or wapentake, an honor or great lordship, or even limited to a single manor. Traces remain of several such inquiries as to Lancashire in the thirteenth century. In the printed copy of the Testa de Nevill (fol. 808) is an entry recording an inquisition of the county of Lancaster which sets forth that.

This is an Inquisition made by the oath of the faithful knights of the tenements given and alienated within the Lime, in the county of Lancaster, to wit by Roger Gerneth de Burg, Robert

de Lancaster, Adam de Middleton, Richard de Burg, Walter Fitz-Osbert, Walter Fitz-Swane, William de Wynewye, Richard Fitz-Swane, Richard Fitz-Robert, William Blundel, Robert de Anielsdale, Richard de Orhull (Orrell), Richard de Perpont, Alan de Rixton, William de Radeclive, Alexander de Pilkington and Henry de Trafford.
From the names of these seventeen knights who held this undated inquisition, we are enabled to limit the time at which it was taken to some year within the eight years 1200-1207. Again, we find a perambulation of the forests of Lancashire was made by twelve knights, and recorded in 1227 or 1228.

As early as the reign of Henry II. that king instituted justices in eyre, or justices itinerant, who were to go through all the counties of England2 with a general commission wider than the special one usually given to justices of oyer et terminer. For instance, it was a function of the justices in eyre to inquire of knights' fees, escheats, wardships, marriages, presentations to churches, the usurpation of the rights of the crown, as well as into any oppressions and frauds of the king's ministers and officers. The mode of procedure was for the justices in eyre, in each county in which they held their court, to deliver to the hundredors, or officers in charge of each hundred or wapentake, certain articles of inquiry, termed "Capitida Itineris" to which the hundredors had to make written replies or returns.3 During the turbulent reign of Henry III., the revenues of the crown
2 The king divided the kingdom into six parts or districts, and assigned three justices to each such district.
3 Bracton, lib. ii. foll. 116, 117.

had been considerably diminished by tenants in capite alienating without license, and by ecclesiastics, as well as laymen, withholding from the crown, under various pretexts, its just rights, and usurping the right of holding courts and other jura regalia. Numerous exactions and oppressions of the people had also been committed in this reign by the nobility and gentry claiming the rights of free chase, free warren and fishery, and demanding unreasonable tolls in fairs and markets; and again by sheriffs, escheators, and other officers and ministers of the crown, under colour of law. Edward I., who was on his return from the Holy Land on the death of his father, did not reach England till towards the end of the second year of his reign, and these abuses remained uncorrected till his return. One of the first acts of his administration after his arrival, was to institute an inquiry into the state of the demesnes, and of the rights and revenues of the crown, and concerning the conduct of the sheriffs and other officers and ministers who had defrauded the king and severely oppressed the people. The "Capitula Itineris" would have embraced nearly all these abuses; but it was found that the circuit of the justices itinerant - generally once in seven years - would not return till the sixth year of this new reign (1278), and it was necessary to afford a speedy remedy to the crown and the subject. The king, therefore, on the 11th October, in the second year of his reign (1274), appointed special commissioners for the whole kingdom, as appears from the patent rolls of this year,4 whereon are
4 "Do inquirendo per totum regnum de omnibus libertatibus ac de articulis eorundem."

enrolled thirty-five articles of inquiry. Twelve other articles not on the patent rolls are among the returns, making in all forty-seven articles. The commissioners made their return in the third year of the reign (1275), and then it became necessary for the court of exchequer to have in one view such part of the returns as affected the rights of the crown and the abuses of its officers. To this end certain rolls were drawn up, containing a selection under the denomination of "Extracts," and thus the crown was furnished with evidence, upon the oath of a jury of each hundred and town of every county, as to the various matters under inquiry. From these sources the public records termed "Rotuli Hundredorum" were compiled, and have been printed in two thick folio volumes; but it is not a little remarkable that these hundred rolls, as printed, do not contain any entry or extract relative to the county of Lancaster, though the inquiries were made some seventy-six years before the creation of the duchy of Lancaster, and the vesting of its jura regalia in its duke for the time being. It may be added that the first chapter of the statute of Gloucester (6 Edward I.1278), as to the liberties, franchises, quo warranto, &c., was founded upon the previous inquiries under this commission. Immediately after the passing of the statute of Gloucester, the circuit of the justices in eyre returned, and they had the rolls delivered to them, to inquire into the matters therein set forth; and it would seem that in many cases these later inquiries were made before the same juries of the hundreds who had made the returns to the royal commissioners.5
5 See Introduction to Rotuli Hundredorvm.

The enumeration of the various inquiries respecting land, its tenure and services, during the latter part of the thirteenth century, would not be complete were we to omit to mention what is generally known as "Kirkby's Inquest" of Yorkshire in the years 1284-5, a general survey of Yorkshire in its several wapentakes, conducted by Sir John de Kirkeby, then the king's treasurer. There were also the pleas of quo warranto - inquiries by what warrant lords, knights, and others claimed to hold manors and estates, and to exercise certain priviliges and franchises, and to enjoy certain immunities. These Placita de quo warranto were held before Hugh de Cressingham and his brother justiciaries, as regards Lancashire, in Trinity term (May and June) 1292.

The statute "Extenta Manerii," passed in 1276, rendered it imperative to survey or "extend" manors under its provisions, and to this legislative act we are inclined to attribute the survey of a considerable part of Lancashire, including the barony, lordship, or manor of Manchester in 1320-46, and the extent of the manor in 1322. Indeed, it is not improbable that to this statute we owe the later portions of the Testa de Nevill (a.d. 1325-30) and some parts, at least, of the Birch Feodary (ranging from a.d. 1307 to 1380), and of the Lansdowne Feodary (1349-51).

A more limited kind of inquiry was that made after the death of any baron, lord, knight, or other tenant in capite of the crown. These were termed Inquisitiones post mortem, and they were usually held before the sheriff of a county, or the king's escheator, who summoned a jury, whose finding

as to the possessions of the deceased, the name, kinship, and age of the heir, &c., were all recorded on the inquisition, which was returned by the presiding officer to the king's chancery or exchequer. Of this class of inquiries was the celebrated "De Lacy Inquisition" of 1311, the first of the three records printed in the present volume. It was not, however, of the ordinary character, but included the whole estates of the earl of Lincoln, and amongst others, the entire extent of the honor of Clitheroe.6 It was also taken with
6 The modern honor of Clitheroe, the seat and centre of which is the castle of Clitheroe, is of great extent, and covers a large tract of country, both in Lancashire and Yorkshire. That part of the honor which is in Lancashire has for its lord his grace the duke of Buccleuch. It comprises the whole of the hundred of Blackburn, being that portion of the county which, by "the Representation of the People Act, 1867," forms the parliamentary north-eastern division of Lancashire. The honor also includes the boroughs of Clitheroe, Blackburn, and Burnley. The manor of Tottington -- comprising the two quarters of Tottington-higher- end and Tottington-lower-end -- in the hundred of Salford, is also within the honor of Clitheroe. A considerable area within the honor is copyhold, and held either of the wapentake of Blackburn, or of one of the several forests or manors within it, for which courts are held half-yearly at Easter and Michaelmas. The Yorkshire portion of the honor, of which Charles Towneley of Towneley, esq., is now the lord, is called "the "Wapentake or Liberty of Bowland," and comprises the several townships of the higher and lower divisions of the Forest of Bowland, - Slaidburn, Newton, Easington, Grindleton, West Bradford, Waddington, Bashall and Great Mitton. The townships of Slaidburn, Newton, Grindleton and West Bradford, are principally copyhold, and held of the manor of Slaidburn. The steward of the honor, Dixon Bobinson, esq., by virtue of his office, is coroner for the Liberty of Bowland. The official residence of the steward is at Clitheroe castle, where the court rolls are kept. Some of these date as far back as the reign of Henry the Seventh.

much more care, accuracy, and minuteness of specification than was usual in these inquiries, for the reason given in page 3. It is now printed for the first time. The second record in the volume is of the nature of an extent or survey which probably, in its perfect state, included every hundred of Lancashire. Of the original record nothing is known; and the portions of the document now first printed are derived from a copy made late in the sixteenth century. It is remarkable that there is not known to exist any full survey of Lancashire at all resembling in character "Kirkby's Inquest" of Yorkshire, of 1284-5, which has just been printed for the first time by the Surtees Society. It cannot be doubted that under the special commission of Edward I. in 1 274, Lancashire was included; yet, in the hundred rolls, the product of that commission, Lancashire finds no place.

It may be suggested that this survey, so far as parts of it have reached us, like the Testa de Nevill, the Birch and the Lansdowne Feodaries, - all, so far as they can be traced, relating to the fees and the land during the first half of the fourteenth century, - may be fragments of some general record of survey, at least as to Lancashire, the original of which has long since perished. The Testa de Nevill7 has been printed by direction of the Record commissioners, and a copy of its Lancashire portions is also to be found in Gregson's Portfolio of Fragments, where is also printed a copy of Birch's MS. Feodary. A copy of the Lansdowne
7 Besides the list of inquisitions for the whole county, already noticed, the Testa contains like lists for every hundred or wapentake except Lonsdale.

Feodary,8 has been printed in Baines's History of Lancashire9 and to these is now first added this MS. extent or survey, taken within the years 1320-46. Though the portion of it now printed only includes three of the six hundreds of Lancashire (all that remains of Salford hundred being printed in Mamecestre), viz., West Derby, Amounderness, and Lonsdale, yet, as far as it extends, there can be no doubt that it is a valuable addition to our scanty and meagre records of the state of land tenures in Lancashire in the earlier part of the fourteenth century.

The third document in the volume is a record of survey of a different kind, - what is termed a Rentale, rental or rent-roll of a manor. This was us ally a long and narrow parchment roll, wherein the rents of a manor were written down, and by which the lord's bailiff collected such rents at the terms at which they were fixed to be payable. The Rental usually contained the quantities of land in each holding; the land and tenements let to each tenant; the names of the tenants; the several rents apportioned and for what time, usually a year; and the times of payment, which varied in different manors, some being at two, some at three, terms in the year, - and others, and this most generally, at the four quarterly terms of Lady-day, Nativity of John the Baptist, St. Michael's-day, and the Birth of the Lord, - or March 25th, June 24th, September 29th, and December 25th. One example of the old manorial rental will be found in Mamecestre,10 being the rental of Thomas West,
8 See Lansdowne MSS., cod. 559, fol. 23.
9 Edition of 1836, vol. iv. p. 756.
10 Vol. iii. p. 476.

p. xiii
lord la Warre and baron of Mamecestre, of his manor of Mamecestre, in May 1473.

The Rental in the present volume is that of Sir John de Ashton, knight, of his manor of Ashton-under-Lyne, in November 1422, thirty years earlier than that of Manchester. Besides the rental proper, this document contains the arrangement of the forms or benches in Ashton parish church, for the wives, daughters, and servants of the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne. It also contains a rental of the lands and tenements which Sir John Assheton gave to his son and heir, Thomas de Assheton, on his marriage; the yearly rent thereof being 9L. 2s. 7d., and the total of Sir John's own rental 27L. 12s. 11¾d. making the total rental of the manor so far as set down, 36L. 14s. 6¾d., to which, however, must be added the value of all the boon services and presents. 

Link  to .pdf document   ...  
Part III — Custom Roll and Rental of the Manor of Ashton-under-Lyne, 
November 11th, 
1422 (extracts transcribed) 

Link  to .pdf document :
The General Introduction & Internet Resource Links

Link  to .pdf document :
Index to Part lll

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From :
'The Court Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester'
Page 239 ... 'The Court Leet or View of Frank Pledge,15th October, 1819' 
Vol X, 1806 to 1820; Published 1889. Available from the Internet Archive

Follow this  LINK  to a .pdf transcription from the above book :
* pages 239-243, for a list of Jurors ,and Officers with their locations, for 1819-1820.
* pages 257 & 258 for a list of the Borough Reeves and Constables from 1807 to 1819

* a picture of Market Street, circa 1820

Follow this LINK to a .pdf copy of the 'Borough Reeves of Manchester from 1552 to 1846,'  pps. x, xi, xii taken from 'The Annals of Manchester : A Chronological Record'' by William E.A. Axon, Published 1886


Extracted From Wikipedia :
"Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License"

Early History           Jury and Officers

The court leet was a historical court baron (a manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the "view of frankpledge" and its attendant police jurisdiction, which was normally restricted to the hundred courts.

The word "leet", as used in reference to special court proceedings, dates from the late 13th century, from Anglo-French lete and Anglo-Latin leta of unknown origin ...

At a very early time in medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised or claimed certain feudal rights over his serfs and feudal tenants. The exercise of those rights was combined with manorial administrative concerns, in his court baron. However this court had no power to deal with criminal acts. Criminal jurisdiction was held by the hundred courts; the country was divided into hundreds, and there was a hundred court for each of them. Each hundred comprised 100 hides, with each hide being an area of land of variable size that is enough to support one entire household. A tithing was an area of 10 hides, which therefore originally corresponded to about 10 households. The heads of each household were judicially bound to the others in their tithing by an arrangement called frankpledge, which created collective responsibility for behaviour within their tithing. The hundred court monitored this system, in a process called 'view of frankpledge', with the tithing reporting any wrongdoing in their area, and handing over the perpetrators among them. If the wrongdoing was minor, it would be dealt with by the hundred court, but serious crimes were passed up to the shire court.

Early history

Before feudalism, hundred courts had also dealt with administrative matters within their area, such as bridge repairs, road conditions, and so forth, but the courts baron had largely superseded that in practice, and some manorial lords began claiming authority over criminal matters as well. Eventually, the king formally granted certain trusted lords with the legal authority that had been held by the hundred court over the tithings in the lord's manor, the most important of those being 'view of frankpledge.' The group of tithings that were located within each manor had come to be called a leet, and hence, in the later Middle Ages these judicial powers came to be called 'court leet'.

The quo warranto proceedings of Edward I established a sharp distinction between the court baron, exercising strictly manorial rights, and the court leet, exercising the powers formerly held by the hundred court, emphasising that the ability to hold court leet depended upon a royally granted franchise. However in many areas it became customary for the court baron and court leet to meet together, as a single operation.

The court leet was a court of record, and its duty was not only to view the pledges, which were the freemen's oaths of peacekeeping and good practice in trade, but also to try with a jury, and punish, crimes committed within the jurisdiction; more serious crimes were committed to the King's Justices. Despite the presence of a jury, it was not trial by jury as understood today. The court leet had developed while the jury system was still evolving; the jury indicted wrongdoers, stood witness, and helped decide on punishment.

It also developed as a means of proactively ensuring that standards in such matters as sales of food and drink, and agriculture, were adhered to. The Alcester Court Leet contained the following wording:

"To enquire regularly and periodically into the proper condition of watercourses, roads, paths, and ditches; to guard against all manner of encroachments upon the public rights, whether by unlawful enclosure or otherwise; to preserve landmarks, to keep watch and ward in the town, and overlook the common lands, adjust the rights over them, and restraining in any case their excessive exercise, as in the pasturage of cattle; to guard against the adulteration of food, to inspect weights and measures, to look in general to the morals of the people, and to find a remedy for each social ill and inconvenience. To take cognisance of grosser crimes of assault, arson, burglary, larceny, manslaughter, murder, treason, and every felony at common law."

The court generally sat only a few times each year, sometimes just annually. A matter was introduced into the court by means of a "presentment", from a local man or from the jury itself. Penalties were in the form of fines or imprisonment.

The jury and officers

Attendance at the court leet was often compulsory for those under its jurisdiction, with fines being meted out for non-attendance. The ability of the court to levy a fine was always subject to limitations, but the limits were never updated to account for inflation over the centuries; for those courts leet that still exist, the fine has effectively become merely nominal – 2p for example in the case of Laxton.

Courts leet generally had a jury formed from the freehold tenants, as bondsmen could not give an oath (jury means persons having taken an oath). The jury's role was similar to that of the doomsmen of the Anglo-Saxons and included electing the officers (other than the Steward who was appointed by the lord), bringing matters to the attention of the court and deciding on them. The officers of courts leet could include some or all of the following:

Steward, a stand-in for the lord of the manor, and hence his chief official. The steward thus acted as chairman of proceedings – in a comparable manner to a modern-day judge in a jury trial[.
Bailiff, the servant of the court. He was responsible for ensuring that the decisions of the court were enacted, including being responsible for summoning the jury, and performing any arrests that had been ordered by the court.
Reeve, the bailiff's deputy (originally the servant of the hundred court, from which the court leet had taken its jurisdiction)
Constable, to ensure order during court sessions
Bedel, the usher; typically referred to as mace bearer, in modern-day courts leet, since this is largely all he now does
Chapelayne, who provided prayers for the court
Crier or bellman, responsible for announcing of the court's decisions to the people of the manor in general
Affeerers, responsible for assessing amercements (setting the level of fines)

Specialist professional inspectors, in lieu of portions of the jury's responsibility:
Ale taster or ale conner, to ensure the quality of ale, and to check that true measures are used
Carniters or "flesh tasters", to ensure the freshness of meat and poultry
Bread weighers, responsible for verifying the freshness and weight of bread sold in the manor.
Searcher and sealer of leather, to ensure the quality of leather goods
Surveyor of the highways or overseer of pavements, and brook looker or ditchreeve, to ensure the proper condition of roads and waterways
Chimney peeper, to ensure chimneys were swept clean
Scavenger, to ensure standards of hygiene within the lanes and privies and to try and  prevent the spread of infectious disease
Overseer of the poor, to collect and distribute alms

Specialist enacting staff, in lieu of parts of the bailiff's responsibility
The Hayward, responsible for enclosures and fences on common land
The Woodward, responsible for patrolling woodlands and stopping poachers from hunting illegally
The Pinherd, to impound stray animals in the pinfold.

The introduction of magistrates gradually rebalanced power away from manorial lords. Magistrates were later given authority over 'view of frankpledge', which effectively negated the remaining significance of the court leet, and they gradually ceased to be held, largely dying out. Following the collapse of the feudal system, and subsequent rise of the Reformation, civil parishes had largely taken over the remaining authority of courts baron, and tithings were seen as a parish subdivision.

Nevertheless, courts leet technically survived into the late 20th century, though almost all of the small number which still operated had become merely ceremonial, simply forming a way of promoting or celebrating their local area. Despite this, their legal jurisdiction over crime was only abolished in 1977, by section 23 of the Administration of Justice Act 1977. However, one exception was allowed: the court leet for the manor of Laxton, Nottinghamshire, which had continued to operate judicially; Laxton retains the open-field system of farming, which had been replaced everywhere else by the 18th century (as a result of the process of enclosure), and required the court in order to administer the field system. Although the Administration of Justice Act had abolished the legal jurisdiction of the other courts leet, it emphasised that "any such court may continue to sit and transact such other business, if any, as was customary for it". Schedule 4 to the Act specified the "business" which was to be considered customary, which included the taking of presentments relating to matters of local concern and – in some cases – the management of common land.

Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_leet
This page was last edited on 11 March 2020, at 16:16 (UTC).
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My Note: original wikipedia website page contains more information and also has many links to definitions of terms used.

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