Denbigh, Beaumaris and Harlech Castles


bullet Henry III died 16 November 1272, while Edward was in Sicily. So assured was Edward I that his claim to the throne would not be contested that he showed no hurry to return. He landed in Dover 2 August 1274, and was crowned seventeen days later, aged 35.
bullet Edward was first cousin to Philip III (King of France 1270-85), and his second wife was Philip III's daughter, Margaret.

Edward I's first wife was the sister of Alfonso the Wise (king of Castile and Leon 1252-84): - chess-player, patron of the arts and scholar, who supposedly remarked "Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe."

bullet Edward I was later called the "English Justinian," (after the Byzantine Emperor who codified Roman Law in the Institutes.)
bullet In 1274, Edward I launched an extensive investigation of local government and administration. He was particularly concerned to discover where royal rights had been infringed or royal property misappropriated. Local juries of substantial citizens were formed to make the enquiries and they took advantage of the opportunity to complain about local magnates' abuse of power.
The results of the survey were recorded in "Hundred Rolls" (a hundred was a subdivision of the shire with its own Hundred Court which dealt with petty offences.)
bullet The First Statute of Westminster (1275) attempted to remedy these problems. It also codified and consolidated many existing laws (some of them dating back to Magna Carta.)

Monk Bar - part of the York City Wall once used as prison.

One reform put in place by the Statue of Westminster was to limit sheriffs' discretion over which criminals should be released on bail. It listed which offenses were bailable and which not.

Jury trial was instituted for all criminal trials, and this Statute also reformed land law.

"This act is almost a code by itself; it contains fifty-one clauses and covers the whole ground of legislation. on the one hand common right is to be done to all, as well poor as rich, without respect of persons; on the other, elections are to be free, and no man is by force, malice, or menace, to disturb them. The spirit of the Great Charter is not less discernible:  excessive amercements, abuses of wardship, irregular demands for feudal aids, are forbidden in the same words or by amending enactments."

(Stubbs, Constitutional History).


bullet Edward I called a second Parliament in 1275 simply to raise money. He looked to his barons and knights for taxation - not personal military service. Feudalism  - as a system of land in exchange for military service - had by now effectively ceased to exist, though in practice for long afterwards major military commands were still held almost entirely by members of the nobility. (Royal wardship of the underage heirs of tenants-in-chief continued as a profitable source of royal patronage and revenue.)
bullet The Statute of Gloucester 1278 took the investigations of 1274 a step further. Itinerant justices were appointed to investigate quo warranto (by what warrant/right) nobles claimed local powers and privileges. Any privilege for which a royal grant could not be proved was recovered by the crown.

The investigations aroused fierce baronial opposition and a compromise was reached in 1290, embodied in the Statute Quo Warranto. Even without a charter or documentary evidence, the lord could continue to hold a right or privilege if he could show that it had been exercised by his ancestors without interruption since 1189 (the last year of Richard I's reign).
The principle that a custom or right was valid if held since 1189 - called "time our of mind' or "time immemorial" - became enshrined in English Common Law.

A typical early 14th Century parish church

bullet In 1279, the Statute of Mortmain (also called the Statute de Religiosis) made it illegal to donate land to the church without royal permission. (Mortmain means "dead hand" - land that passed into the grasp of the church being held forever - by the dead hand of the church - unlike land held by an individual whose family might die out at any time, and revert to the crown.)
bullet The Second Statute of Westminster, 1285 instituted a number of further land law reforms affecting the inheritance of widows, the presentation of clergy to livings, and - most importantly - the provision de donis conditionalibus (about conditional gifts).

The clause de donis conditionalibus aimed to ensure that the conditions on which owners gave or bequeathed land were actually implemented. It made possible the entailment of estates, i.e. land could be bequeathed on condition that it later passed entire to the heir's eldest son - so the heir could not alienate the land. This helped consolidate land-holding and prevent feckless children dissipating their estates.
(Some ambiguities in the drafting made this statute less effective than the barons hoped.)

bullet The Second Statute of Westminster also reformed appeal for felonies and added to the duties of Justices of Assize.
bullet The Third Statute of Westminster, 1290, like the Second, aimed at addressing the problems of great landowners. Its clause Quia emptores (Because those who buy) required that if feudal tenants sold land those who bought it must hold the same feudal relationship with the lord as the previous tenant. It prevented subinfeudation and so ensured that the magnates (and ultimately the king) would not lose any feudal rights.
bullet In 1285 Edward I issued the writ Circumspecte agatis to his judges. It forced church courts to restrict themselves to ecclesiastical cases.

Laws and lawyers

bullet The late 13th Century was a period of legislation and legal codification, and increasing numbers of professional lawyers emerged to deal with the developing Common and Statute Law.
bullet Professional experts in Roman or Civil Law and Canon Law had been educated at universities since the late 12th Century, but these were almost all in clerical orders. (These students were  said to be graduates utriusque juris - of both laws, i.e. civil and canon. However, as the separation of clergy and laity grew more pronounced they were increasingly unwilling and unfitted to practice in secular courts.

It was also during the reign of Edward I (1292) that Year Books began to report and record the arguments and decisions of English Courts. These are the primary source for evidence on English Law until the reign of Henry VIII.

A 14th Century legal manuscript.

The influence of Civil and Canon law on English Common Law gradually decreased as fewer clerics staffed the law courts and as Statute Law and Common Law precedents grew more extensive.

bullet The term "Common Law" dates from the reign of Edward I or soon afterwards.

Edward I is probably not entitled to be classed with Justinian. He himself was no expert in law. Despite some very important legislation, his reign saw no real systematization of English law as a whole.

"The statutes were not the outcome of systematic reflection about first principles, pursued in learned ease. They were intended to meet practical difficulties within the ambit of common law."

(Powicke, Thirteenth Century)




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