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English Medieval Legal Documents Database

A Compilation of Published Sources from 600 to 1535

Itenerant Court-Assizes

As early as 1179, Henry II inaugurated the grand assize, which enabled certain civil cases to be settled by jury rather than by battle. All the writs issued to persons permitting them to obtain jury trial were recorded on rolls kept in the chancery.

The assizes were very closely associated with the King's Bench, employing the same judges and process, and dealing with similar cases. The assize commissions could try common pleas in the counties by a process of nisi prius, and in this role they heard primarily possessory actions touching land. They also came to hold commissions of oyer and terminer (to deal with treasons, felonies and trespasses) and cases of gaol delivery. This enabled them to hear pleas of the crown.

Many of the extant records of the assizes are published by local historical societies.