Description: All lords of manors had the right to
hold a court for their tenants, sometimes known as a court baron or small court, which regulated the affairs of the manor by the custom of the manor, but only some lords were entitled to hold a court leet, a quite separate jurisdiction, in essence a franchise of the king’s law. The abbey as any other lord could hold courts baron for its tenants and for the limited period of 1442-1449 were entitled also to hold courts leet. In 1442 John Wenlock who had been abbot since 1432 gained the privilege to hold the view of frankpledge on a plea to the crown of poverty.
The court leet involved certain rights and duties and was often named as a view of frankpledge which was really just one of these rights. Even in Shropshire where the frankpledge system was not used, courts leet were still frequently called the view of frankpledge. A court leet was required to perform the view of frankpledge twice a year. The frankpledge was a system whereby all the male inhabitants of the township of 12 years old and above were required to swear loyalty to the crown and to be put in a group of ten or twelve men who were responsible for each other’s behaviour. The oversight of this system was originally one of the functions of the hundred court. From about the 1160s to the 1260s this right became privatised in many township. There was a financial benefit to the lords who held this right as the fee which would have otherwise gone to the sheriff for holding the hundred court would go to them and they would also have the fines (amercements) for the various offences which could be presented at the court leet.
The court leet could hear minor criminal offences such as affrays and larceny and from the 1260s could also administer the assize of bread and ale which allowed lords to regulate the price, quality and measures used by bakers and brewers. This in practice was used by lords to charge what was in effect a small licence fee.
The right to hold a court leet was common; the right to take the goods of felons taken on the abbey’s lands was much less common.
To learn more about Medieval life in Shropshire, follow the link below to the article 'Aspects of Medieval Life: The Lilleshall Collection' written by Dr. Sylvia Watts and Robert Cromarty.
The transcripts and translations of Medieval deeds in the Lilleshall Collection and the stories written about Medieval life were produced by Dr. Sylvia Watts and Robert Cromarty at Shropshire Archives.