The Photograph shows a Manor of Brierley Court Leet meeting on 1st
November 1961. On the left seated George Michael Foljambe, stood up on the
left is Thomas Moxon (b.1877) who is next to Arthur Hargreaves.
Photograph reproduced from an old newspaper
At the court baron, appointments made were
those of hay wards (inspectors of hedges and fences), swineherds, hedge
cutters and so on. It was an accepted principle of feudal life that
service in such offices was compulsory, and unpaid.
By the late
13th century, there were two main types of manorial jurisdiction in
evidence. One arose directly from the lord's ownership of the manor, which
gave him the right to administer the estate and control the tenants. The
other was the jurisdiction conferred upon the lord by the right to hold a
"view of frank pledge" (originally a mutual surety in which members of the
same tithing were made responsible for one another) and a court leet.
'Many of the manors
were held by the great lords or by high ecclesiastical dignitaries who
were unable to attend the courts in person, so they were presided over by
a steward. When the notice of the court was given, all bondsmen had to
attend, and the freemen had to do so if it was laid down in their charter
when they were granted the land that they held.
'The matter was
settled by the Statute of Marlborough in 1267, when it was laid down that
"no freeholder" is bound to suit at his Lord's demands unless this was
imposed upon him by the rules of his charter, or was done before King
Henry went to Brittany in the year 1230".
'Custom decided the
exact site of the court. Some were held out of doors, others in huge barns
on the estate, others in the manorial halls or, as in Brierley for the
last 600 years, in the village inn.
'There can be little
doubt that the manorial courts played a very big part in the development
of the jury system which which we know today. The swearing-in of a jury
was usually the first business on the court sheet, and it is so today at
'At these old courts,
there were two juries. One, the jury of presentment, was charged with
enquiring into offences against the franchise. The other, the jury of
inquisition, looked into manorial offences and matters concerning the
working of the manor. This jury decided on matters of fact, and decided
the customs of the manor and both the lord and tenant were bound by the
customs they laid down.
'This jury of
inquisition is, I think, the type which operates at the Brierley Court to
this day. In the old days, the jury made surveys, and were empowered to
draw up byelaws for the due regulation of the common fields and meadows.
That is largely the only duty of the Court of Brierley today.
'It will be seen,
therefore, that at one time, the courts tried a wide variety of offences,
including civil disputes between tenants. Each side was allowed to state
its case and then the verdict was given. Breaches of contract and failure
to keep promises were considered, and damages assessed.
such as libel and slander came under their jurisdiction and,
interestingly, wounded pride could be claimed and monetary solace granted.
In those days, not only the man and his family cheapened by unfair
criticism, but also his beast and crops. Men were fined for vilifying a
man's pig or for defaming his corn so that he lost the sale of it. Another
offence which came under the purview of the courts, and one which is no
longer with us, was the clipping of coins.
'What were these
courts worth to the Lord of the Manor? In prestige they were worth a great
deal, apart from being instruments for dealing with law breakers. The
courts also gave him considerable financial benefit because he assessed
the fines, which were called in Latin misericordia, because were
supposed to be assessed "mercifully". Fortunately in this respect, the
culprit was not left solely to the mercy of the lord, because there was
the "custom of the manor" and the clemency of his fellows on the jury to
cling to. The revenues from the court were enough to warrant a separate
paragraph in the annual account sheet.
'I was amused to read
that another court which leet which still meets has managed to vary this
ruling, and a share of the fines is given to the members of the court with
which to buy refreshments. That's a refinement which, as a modern justice
of the Peace, I should not object to in, modern courts.
'These courts had
many weaknesses, not the least that they were often comparatively
powerless to enforce their own rulings. But they also served many useful
purposes, one of which as that they were a barrier against any violent
changes of policy. They also provided a speedy and comparatively
inexpensive way of obtaining redress for injury or wrong.
'The decline of the
courts began with the passing of an Act in 1361 which introduced the
office of Justice of the Peace and set up the petty sessional courts that
we know today, to deal with the offences against the peace. Three hundred
years later, the manorial courts were gradually superseded by other forms
of social organisation. Individualism in farming took over from the
communal system. Copyholders and customary tenants were replaced by
leaseholders and the enclosure movement did away with much of the
remaining business of the courts.
'And now, it is
believed, only about half a dozen courts remain in operation in the
country, and that in Brierley is one.
'That brings us along
through 600 years or so, and back to the bar parlour at the Three Horse
Shoes, where the jury, having been sworn in, elect their foreman. For some
time their unanimous choice has been old Tom Moxon, of South Hiendley,
who, now 85, is the third generation of his family to hold the office.
Jacob Moxon, back in 1770s, was one of the first Moxons to serve as
'He answers "I do" in
a firm voice and kisses the book he holds as the clerk of the court bids
him "as foreman of this homage you shall well and truly present all
such matters and things as are here presentable at this court as the same
are already known to you or during this sitting shall come to your
knowledge. You shall present nothing out of hatred or malice, nor shall
you conceal anything out of fear, favour or affection, but in all things
present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, according
to the best of your information and belief. So help you God".
'One cannot help but
notice that oaths administered in present day courts bear a strong
resemblance in their make-up to that old oath.
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