Medieval justice at the local level depended on community action. In English towns and villages, petty offences, including assaults and quality-of-life problems such as selling bad meat or obstructing streets, were usually adjudicated in leet courts in which men of the neighborhood both reported offences and judged guilt. The nominal authority behind leet courts was the lord of the manor or the borough, but the bulk of decision-making was in the hands of local men. A number of studies have sketched the social, economic, and political standing of the manorial juries, which served in rural courts, but we know far less about their urban counterparts. This article aims to redress this lacuna by drawing on the records of the Norwich leet courts from 1288 to 1313 and a tithing roll (ca. 1311) to conduct a prosopographical study of the jurors—called capital pledges in Norwich—to determine the role they played in keeping the peace. The capital pledges were drawn from among well-off merchants and artisans who often owned property in the parishes they represented at court, but who were generally not among the civic elite. Most capital pledges served for several years in a row and on the whole they seem to have taken their responsibility to report misdeeds seriously, as is evident in their commitment to attend court regularly and to report their own criminal activities. The article concludes that at the turn of the fourteenth century the capital pledges provided an effective mechanism for policing Norwich.
"A Prosopography of the Capital Pledges of Medieval Norwich,"
Medieval People: Vol. 31:
1, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/medpros/vol31/iss1/6