Assize of Northampton - Encyclopedia

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ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON, a short code of English laws issued in 1176, is drawn up in the form of instructions to six committees of three judges each, which were to visit the six circuits into which England was divided for the purpose. Though purporting to be a reissue of the Assize of Clarendon (1166), it contains in fact many new provisions. As compared with the earlier assize it prescribes greater severity of punishment for criminal offences; arson and forgery were henceforth to be crimes about which the jurors are to enquire; and those who failed at the ordeal were to lose a hand as well as a foot. In what is perhaps the most important section we may probably see the origin of the possessory action of moil d'ancestor, an innovation scarcely less striking than the institution of the novel disseisin in the winter of 1166. The justices were also ordered to try proprietary actions commenced by the king's writ for the recovery of land held by the service of half a knight's fee or less. In their fiscal capacity they were to enquire into escheats, churches, lands and women in the king's gift. The royal bailiffs were to answer at the exchequer for rents of assize and all the perquisites which they made in their offices, and apparently the duty of enforcing this provision was entrusted to the justices. As a result of the rebellion of 1173-1174 it was provided that an oath of fealty should be taken by all, to wit, barons, knights, freeholders and even villeins (rustici)", and that any one who refused should be arrested as the king's enemy, and the justices were to see that the castles whose demolition had been ordered were completely razed.

Authorities. -Sir F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, History of English Law before the Time of Edward I. (Cambridge, 1898); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England (Oxford, 1895). The text of the Assize occurs in Cronica Rogeri de Howden (Rolls Series), ii. 89, and Gesta Henrici Regis Secundi (Rolls Series), i. 108. It has been reprinted from the latter by W. Stubbs in Select Charters (Oxford, 1 895). (G. J. T.)

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