The 1258–9 Special Eyre of Surrey and Kent
An edited transcription of the above by Dr. A.H. Hershey has been published by the Surrey Record Society as volume 38. To quote from the dust jacket: ‘In 1258 High Bigod was appointed Justiciar (chief administrator of justice) of England. In November he began an eyre – a judicial visitation – covering Surrey and Kent. The record of this eyre throws considerable light on life in the two counties, including the effects of misgovernment by relations of Henry III, royal officials and the great magnates, as well as a host of local offences ranging from the stopping up of roads to seizures of property. The introduction sets the eyre in the context of the contemporary political scene, and the edition is an important successor to that of the 1235 Surrey eyre, published by the Society in 1979, 1983 and 2002’.
The powers of the chief justiciar as set out in his ‘job description’ were formidable: he had the power to put right the wrongs done by all other justices, and by officials, by earls, barons and all other persons, according to the law and justice of the land.
At the period in question justice in each county was administered under ‘four prudent and law-worthy knights’ who were elected by county worthies. In effect, the task of the justiciar was to oversee the work of the four knights.
Bigod began his itinerary in Surrey, sitting at Bermondsey, and later departed for Canterbury, probably along Watling Street. The transcription and introduction by Dr. Herrshey provide a great deal of information on the administration of justice at the time, but only two cases relate specifically to Epsom and Ewell.
In one case, ‘the jurors present that the prior of Merton collected a fine from the men of the vill of Ewell for the assize of bread and ale. The abbot of Chertsey did likewise in Epsom, by what warrant they do not know. The jurors fully examined (on this matter) say that since time out of mind they made use of the aforesaid liberty. So nothing shall be done’.
In the second case ‘the jurors present that the priors of Merton in former times were accustomed to have view of frankpledge from William de Buttel’s men and his ancestors in Ewell or the priors were accustomed to collect 2 shillings yearly. Afterwards, Henry, a prior of Merton, took 4 shillings from the men for the view. Since the jurors testify that this was at Henry’s will the present prior is henceforward prohibited from taking the 4 shillings, rather he is to collect the 2 shillings at most or have view of frankpledge as his predecessors were accustomed to do in former times’.
(Frankpledge was the system by which every member of a tithing or similar group was answerable for the good conduct of any one of the other members. The view of frankpledge was the court that regulated the system).
For information on the 1235 Surrey Eyre see the newsletter of November 2003.