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Rival Courts in United Kingdom

History of Rival Courts

In the thirteenth century, there existed not one source of justice, but many. Rival courts, eagerly competing to extend their own sphere of usefulness and to increase their own fees, existed in a bewildering multitude. See more about Rival Courts below, including Local or District Courts, Feudal Courts and Royal Courts.

Putting aside for the moment the Courts Christian, the Borough Courts, the Forest Courts, and all exceptional or peculiar tribunals, there existed three great rival systems of jurisdiction which may be named in the order in which they became in turn prominent in England.Too absolute a line must not be drawn between the three types of court. In one sense all tribunals were, or tended to become, royal courts. The king’s representatives presided in the “popular courts,” and the king received a share of the fines levied there; while, in Prof. Vinogradoff’s words (English Society, 108), “all the well–known franchises or liberties of the feudal age were chips from the block of royal authority.”

Local or District Courts

Justice was originally a local product, administered in rude tribunals which partook more or less of a popular character. See about District Courts.

Feudal Courts

Centuries before the Norman Conquest, the system of popular or district justice found itself confronted with a rival scheme of jurisdictions—the innumerable private courts belonging to the feudal lords. These private tribunals, known as feudal, manorial, or seigniorial courts, slowly gained ground on the older public courts of shire, hundred, and wapentake. See about Feudal Courts.

Royal Courts

Originally, the King’s Court had been merely one among many feudal courts—differing in degree rather than in kind from those of the great earls or barons. The King, as feudal lord, dispensed justice among his tenants, just as any baron or freeman dispensed justice among his tenants, bond or free. Henry II was the first king to reduce the old district courts so thoroughly under the control of royal officials as to turn them practically into royal courts.
See about Royal Courts.

Source: Part II. Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction, by William Sharp McKechnie (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1914).

See Also

Magna Carta
History of Magna Carta in the Encyclopedia
Royal Justice in the Feudal Period
Civil Justice under Henry II
Criminal Justice under Henry II
English Court System

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Rival Courts
  • Author: International
  • Description: History of Rival Courts In the thirteenth century, there existed not one source of justice, but many. Rival courts, eagerly [...]

This entry was last updated: November 12, 2013

Magna Carta


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