This article is based on a court book for the manor of Ascott D’Oilly covering the period 1587-1603.1 A note by W.O. Hassall attached to it says that he found it in a box of papers relating to the Charlbury property of Mr Watney of Cornbury. The full text of the note is in the appendix. The book records the proceedings of the courts baron and courts leet. A manor existed in law only where a landlord had acquired the right to hold a court baron for his tenants.2 This court was presided over by the lord or his steward and presentments were made by officials or by the manorial jury or homage, a group of usually about a dozen tenants.
The court baron enforced the customs of the manor relating to land tenure and land use. It therefore dealt with such matters as admission to or surrender of a holding, the payment of a heriot, that is the tenant’s best beast, when a holding was surrendered, the admission of an heir, the ordering of all customary services, rights and payments, the detailed regulation of agriculture and the election of the lord’s officials.
The landlord might also hold a court leet which exercised certain judicial rights delegated by the Crown. This court was often described as the view of frankpledge, one of the court leet’s more important original functions, namely an enquiry into the observance of the system whereby males over the age of twelve were placed in groups of ten or tithings responsible for each other’s behaviour. The expression tithing was still used in the sixteenth century though by then it was an anachronism and had come to mean no more than the tenants of a manor in a particular village or hamlet; and the court had lost its power to deal with indictable offences.
There was also an increasing overlap with the justices of the peace; but in general the court leet continued to function and to deal with minor offences, with the assize (standards) of bread and ale, with the appointment of constables and other officials, and with various other matters. There was a clear distinction in law between the courts baron and the courts leet but in practice the distinctions were not always observed and sometimes the records confuse the two .
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