THE Court Roll printed below is the first of a series
which has recently been deposited in the Museum of Beaumont College, Old
Windsor, Berks. It is printed separately here because it stands apart
from the remaining rolls both in date and in interest. It belongs to the
year 1408, whereas all but one of the remainder date from 1617 to 1755,
and it represents the manorial court in possession of real judicial and
administrative powers whereas the later rolls tell of desuetude with a
final "Gothic Revival".
In 1408 the Court is given the name of "View of
Frankpledge". This name refers to the practice dating at least from
the eleventh century,1 by which all men
were bound to form themselves into groups of ten, and each group to have
a Headman or "bors-ealdor". If one man broke the law the other
nine were held responsible for his production in court. The supervision
and maintenance of these groups became one of the chief duties of the
local court of petty criminal jurisdiction which was consequently given
the name of "View of Frankpledge", even after the actual
grouping had ceased and the Headman was simply the village constable.2
The Farnborough roll depicts firstly the appearance of the
Headman with all those who owe suit of court.3
He pays the "common fine"—a contribution towards the
of holding the court, and then presents to the Court
those who have neither appeared in person nor made their excuses for
non-appearance. After these have been fined the criminal cases are
heard: one man has been brawling, another has overcharged for leather or
the use of his mill; women have been breaking the Assize of Ale. They
are all fined by the common judgment of the suitors4
and the sums they are to pay are fixed by the "Affeerers"
whose names are added at the foot of the Roll.
The Roll thus reveals the normal working of mediæval
village life. As Vinogradoff has said, "The local unity does not
act through the personality of the lord of the manor, but through chosen
or customary representatives of a community ......... there is no
question of enforcing
1 See Select Pleas in Manorial Courts,
Vol. I, ed. F. W. Maitland, Introduction, p. xxxvi.
2 At the end of the Middle Ages, and still more
in the seventeenth century under the influence of Coke, the title
"View of Frankpledge" yielded to the title of "Court Leet",
cf. op. cit., Appendix A.
3 This, in spite of the fact that normally
either the chief pledges or the reeve and four men represented the
township (op. cit., p. xxx).
4 Maitland's considered view was that "the
whole body of suitors both free and unfree found the judgments".