Frankpledge - Encyclopedia

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FRANKPLEDGE (Lat. francum plegium), an early English institution, consisting (as defined by Stubbs) of an association for mutual security whose members, according to Hallam, "were perpetual bail for each other." The custom whereby the inhabitants of a district were responsible for any crime or injury committed by one of their number is old and widespread; it prevailed in England before the Norman Conquest, and is an outcome of the earlier principle whereby this responsibility rested on kinship. Thus a law of Edgar (d. 975) says "and let every man so order that he have a borh (or surety), and let the borh then bring and hold him to every justice; and if any one then do wrong and run away, let the borh bear that which he ought to bear"; and a law of Canute about 1030 says "and that every one be brought into a hundred and in borh, and let the borh hold and lead him to every plea." About this time these societies, each having its headman, were called frithborhs, or peace-borhs, and the Normans translated the Anglo-Saxon word by frankpledge. But the history of the frankpledge proper begins not earlier than the time of the Norman Conquest. The laws, which although called the laws of Edward the Confessor were not drawn up until about 1130, contain a clause about frithborhs which decrees that in every place societies of ten men shall be formed for mutual security and reparation. And before this date William the Conqueror had ordered that "every one who wishes to be regarded as free must be in a pledge, and that the pledge must hold and bring him to justice if he commits any offence"; and the laws of Henry I. ordered every person of substance over twelve years of age to be enrolled in a frankpledge. This association of ten, or as it often was at a later date of twelve men, was also called a tithing, or decima, and in the north of England was known as tenmanne tale. The view of frankpledge (visus franciplegii), or the duty of ascertaining that the law with regard to frankpledges was complied with, was in the hands of the sheriffs, who held an itinerant court called the "sheriff's tourn" for this and other purposes. This court was held twice a year, but in 1217 it was ordered that the view of frankpledge should only be taken once - at Michaelmas. Introduced at or before the time of Henry I., the view was regulated by the Assize of Clarendon of 1166 and by Magna Carta as reissued in 1217. Although the former of these lays stress upon the fact that the sheriff's supervisory powers are universal many men did not attend his tourn. Some lords of manors and of hundreds held a court of their own for view of frankpledge, and in the 13th century it may be fairly said "of all the franchises, the royal rights in private hands, view of frankpledge is perhaps the commonest." At the end of the same century the court for the view of frankpledge was generally known as the court leet, and was usually a manorial court in private hands. However, the principle of the frankpledge was still enforced. Thus Bracton says "every male of the age of twelve years, be he free be he serf, ought to be in frankpledge," but he allows for certain exceptions.

As the word frankpledge denotes, these societies were originally concerned only with freemen; but the unfree were afterwards admitted, and during the 13th century the frankpledges were composed chiefly of villains. From petitions presented to parliament in 1376 it seems that the view of frankpledge was in active operation at this time, but it soon began to fall into disuse, and its complete decay coincides with the new ideas of government introduced by the Tudors. In a formal fashion courts leet for the view of frankpledge were held in the time of the jurist Selden, and a few of these have survived until the present day. Sir F. Palgrave has asserted that the view of frankpledge was unknown in that part of the country which had been included in the kingdom of Northumbria. This statement is open to question, but it is highly probable that the. system was not so deeply rooted in this part of England as elsewhere. The machinery of the frankpledge was probably used by Henry II. when he introduced the jury of presentment; and commenting on this connexion F. W. Maitland says "the duty of producing one's neighbour to answer accusations (the duty of the frankpledges) could well be converted into the duty of telling tales against him." The system of frankpledge prevailed in some English boroughs. Sometimes a court for view of frankpledge, called in some places a mickleton, whereat the mayor or the bailiffs presided, was held for the whole borough; in other cases the borough was divided into wards, or into leets, each of which had its separate court.

See Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law (1895); G. Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte, Band i. (1880); and W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. i. (1897).

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