Trial by Battle

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trial by battle. Before the Norman Conquest, guilt or innocence in legal disputes were decided by compurgation, where a party would summon a number of ‘oath helpers’ to swear to the reliability of his oath, or especially in cases of ‘criminal’ accusation by one of the ordeals, fire, cold water, hot water, or accursed morsel (see trial by ordeal). To these methods the Normans, with their strong militaristic tradition, added trial by battle. The parties, or champions on their behalf, would fight in formal single combat and the winner would be deemed to be the successful party in the case. Trial by battle fell into disuse, especially with the decline of the appeal of felony and the decline of writ of right in disputes over freehold land. However, it was not abolished until 1819, after the accused was challenged to combat in the case of Ashford v. Thornton.

Maureen Mulholland