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Littleton Tenures 1481 – Treatise on Tenures – The Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England
Thomas de Littleton (c.1422–1481)
In the mid-fifteenth century, the printing press ushered in revolutionary transformations in many elements of European culture and society.
The ability to communicate written content, ranging from one-page pamphlets to multivolume volumes, all teeming with knowledge to be spread and gained, lay the foundation for numerous profound breakthroughs that accumulated over the years.
Those revolutionary developments were felt in the legal field as well, albeit there was some initial resistance to textbooks.Long before the printing machine, two of England’s most illustrious jurists penned important legal documents.
The Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England, written by Ranulf de Glanville, chief justiciar during Henry II’s reign, was the first text on English law.
Jeanne d’Arc (1412–1431), Pierre Cauchon (1371–1442), Callixtus III (1378–1458)
Jeanne d’Arc claimed to have received visions of saints when she was twelve years old, encouraging her to help put an end to the horrific Hundred Years’ War that had already been raging for decades between Plantagenet England and Valois France for hereditary control of the latter realm. She began campaigning for a military position when she was sixteen years old. Her leadership on the battlefield is unknown in the historical record, but her dramatic presence helped the French turn the tide of the fight in their favor.
Despite this, a succession of military setbacks led to her capture and trial for heresy in Rouen, France, by an English-supported church led by Pierre Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais. Because of her male traits and defiant refusal to answer inquiries, church investigators suspected Joan of being a witch or sorceress during her trial. Despite the lack of evidence, Joan’s brief recollections of her visions and her aversion to wearing women’s clothing — most likely to prevent being raped in prison — were enough to persuade Church officials that she had an immoral nature.
“To name a case a ‘Star Chamber proceeding’ now is a dreadful insult—an accusation of severe procedural injustice and misuse of power,” writes legal expert Elizabeth G. Thornburg. However, the true narrative of the Court of Star Chamber is far more convoluted.” Historians date the Court of Star Chamber’s origins to the latter part of the fourteenth century, and attribute its name to the chamber’s ceiling, which is ornamented in the medieval style with gold-painted stars, according to one idea.
The Court of Star Chamber arose as an outgrowth of the King’s Council, through which individuals may seek legal assistance not available in current courts, allowing the poor to pursue claims against the wealthy.
The Statutes of Westminster The Palace of Westminster 1275
Edward I (1239–1307)
We now use the term statute to refer to an act or, as Black’s Legislation Dictionary defines it, “a law passed by a legislative body.” However, as English historians H. G. Richardson and George Sayles demonstrate, that term was not widely used until the late fourteenth century. Enactments were previously referred to as provisions or établissements.
King Edward I convened his first parliament at Westminster in 1275, shortly after returning from the Ninth Crusade and ascending to the throne, and produced the first Statute of Westminster, with fifty-one clauses in Anglo-Norman (Old French) covering a wide range of substantive legal areas as well as the administration of justice. Because it offered common rights to all and free elections, English historian William Stubbs dubbed the act “nearly a code by itself” in 1877. Law historian George Crabb commended Edward I’s work at the time, naming him “the English Justinian.”
When King Henry I of England ascended to the throne in 1100, he issued (and then largely ignored) the Charter of Liberties, or Coronation Charter, which redressed abuses of power by his brother William II by establishing royal directives regarding barons of the realm and church offices, among other things.
A century later, Henry’s great-grandson John had lost the majority of his French holdings, as well as a large sum of money, in an attempt to reclaim them. He taxed the barons in 1214 to fund an ultimately futile military campaign in France. The following year, a number of lords revolted, enraged by John’s frequent abuses of feudal and common law. The king agreed to sign The Magna Carta (“great charter”) at Runnymede, between Windsor and the rebels’ camp at Staines.
Trade expanded and commerce flourished in the thirteenth century as the Renaissance swept from southern Europe. Merchants created an informal set of rules based on their own commercial norms and practices as their firm grew. These laws, known as the lex mercatoria, or merchant law, established the standard for settling commercial disputes in merchant courts that emerged along key trade routes. Uniform rules minimized uncertainty among international merchants conducting business in the area, which was one of its main benefits.