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courts leet

courts leet were originally held as a form of franchise by the lord of the manor. Unlike the seigneurial (feudal) courts, the jurisdiction of the leet did not belong to the lord by right but had to be granted to him by the king. However such a grant entitled the lord to hold the hundred court, dealing with all minor criminal matters within the district, and to receive the fines paid to the court. This passing of hundred courts into private hands was widespread and although Edward I by his ‘quo warranto’ inquiry clamped down on the holders of franchises, he eventually allowed a lord to hold the court if he could show a specific grant from the crown or that he had held the court from the date of the accession of Richard I (1189). Courts leet declined with the advent of the justices of the peace but many remained and some became the kernel of a new local government for the growing boroughs which incorporated an existing manor. Courts leet were sometimes combined in one gathering with the court customary (the ‘halmote’ or ‘hallmoot’), presided over by the lord's steward or bailiff.

Maureen Mulholland

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