This book provides an introduction to the English legal system and its development during the period c 1215-1485. It affords a valuable insight into the character of medieval governance as well as revealing the complex nexus of interests, attitudes and relationships prevailing in society during the later Middle Ages. The book considers the theoretical and ideological aspects of medieval law and justice, examining the concepts and discourses to be found in official and non-official circles. It concentrates on manifestations of crime and disorder and the royal response to this in the form of the development of judicial institutions. The book then looks at the dispensation of justice both inside and outside the courtroom. It examines in detail the machinery and functioning of criminal justice both in the royal courts and in those autonomous areas exercising delegated powers. The book also considers the use of extra-judicial methods, such as arbitration and 'self-help', to illustrate the interaction of formal and informal methods of dispute settlement. It focuses on the personnel of justice, the justices of the central courts and the local officials who carried out the day-to-day administrative tasks. The smooth and successful operation of the judicial system was challenged and sometimes hindered by the existence of corrupt practices and abuse of its procedures.
Surveying some of the material covered here – particularly laments about judicial partiality – it is worth dwelling on where this book fits into a longue-durée argument about the development of accountability. As a topic, the growth of accountability in medievalgovernance stretches across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and indeed outruns the period covered by this book. Its study was re-energised by Bisson, and more recently discussed (especially in relation to England) by John Sabapathy. Sabapathy has sketched out a developing (and sometimes tense) relationship
a system of government. Power, unchecked and untrammelled for much of the century, was brought under control not by idealists, but by pragmatists, by kings interested in controlling their officers, rather than living up to moral expectations. 44
It cannot be denied that Crisis makes an important point about the dangers of anachronism when discussing medievalgovernance. It warns against viewing the past through a teleological lens which warps our reception of terms such as administrare , gubernare , regere or res publica , as they