The Court Leet originated in England in the Court Baron, a Court authorised by the King and presided over by the Baron or landowner. It mainly dealt with matters relating to the duties and services owed by the peasants or villeins (not Freemen) to the Lord of the Manor or Baron.
The Court Baron’s records, for example, would have details of how many day’s service to the Baron each villein/serf owed, and how and when it was paid. It also would have dealt with personal actions within the Manor – one person against another – up to a claim amount of 40 shillings. (£2). Freeholders were not usually subject to its jurisdiction, but were liable under Common Law in other Manorial Courts.
The Court Leet or “The View of Frank Pledge” to give it the proper name (See below) had extra powers to that of the Court Baron. It was a Recording Court granted to a Hundred, Lordship, Manor, or Borough by the Kings Charter. The term Leet is noted in Domesday Book (in East Anglia) as a division of a Hundred which was self-governing. Other Records show, however, that it had been self governing and separate from any other place long before that. Court Leet judgements all those centuries ago are often responsible for the base content of what we call today “The Local Bye-laws”.
The Court Leet’s duties were:
“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”
Any citizen, or the Jury itself, could indict another by a presentment to the Leet jury, and action would be taken accordingly, usually a fine. The Leet Jury in the main was made up of Burgesses and other Freemen. Freemen of the town were also enrolled at the Court Leet on Law Day. No person, you see, not born and bred in the town, and on reaching adulthood, who was not proposed and accepted by the Burgesses could legally carry on his or her trade without special permission; strangers had to be outside the town walls by nightfall; everyone had to be indoors ditto except with special dispensation or for watch duty; a strict laid down dress code was adhered to quite rigidly throughout England (eg only certain colours and fabrics were allowed to be worn by certain classes of people and woe betide the lower class woman who dared to wear a white hat instead of a cap); and householders and tenants had to keep their boundaries, businesses, rubbish pits; and so on to an acceptable standard.
Court Leet Archives
- Visit our archives page for articles and photos of years gone by.
- View a list of Past Bailiffs from 1424 to the present day.
- Read the Altrincham “Charge” or description of Court Leet Officer Duties as written hundreds of years ago.
- View some archive footage of an ale tasting in 1978 (Alcester and District Local History Society)
- Further information about the history can be found here
Southampton Court Leet – The View of Frank Pledge by Viktoria Turner. This is an excellent history of the Court Leet and is recommended reading.