Law after the Norman Conquest

The Normans inherited a well-ruled and orderly country in which tradition focused on the king as protector of the realm and righter of wrong. Law was either the law of rights over land or criminal law concerned with theft, murder or violent robbery or attack resulting in permanent injury or mutilation.

To this the Normans added the Forest Law, the law of vert and venison, enacted to protect the royal hunting grounds.

Barons' courts

The most common method of trial was to go before the local lord, who would sit in judgement over his peasants, freemen, and vassals. There is no appeal.


Since the coming of the Fae, the easiest way to settle a dispute has been to ensure both parties agree to and swear oaths, bound using the spell Oathbreaker's Lot. Many of the royal justices are Fae, or magicians who have learned Fae magics in order to perform the spell.

Trial by Ordeal

Ordeals represent an appeal to God through the saints, and as such are considered more truthful than results obtained through oaths. The irons or water used should be blessed by a priest and asked that true judgement be discerned by their use. There is no specific saint to invoke: whose aid is asked depends on which side of the case the priest is on.

  • Trial by Water involves throwing the accused into a pond or river: if they float, they are guilty, if they sink, innocent
  • Trial by Hot Iron involves pressing hot iron bars against the accused's bare skin. The wounds are then bound and inspected after three days time. If they are healing, the accused is innocent; if they are infected, the accused is guilty.

Owing to their nature, Fae can only be tried through Trial by Cold Iron. There are very few instances of this being tried. Three are known to have killed the Fae involved and one killed all the bystanders.

Trial by Battle

Only those of Norman descent are permitted to invoke their right to trial by battle. It is up to the combatants to decide if this is to first blood, to a significant wound, or to the death. Sometimes a magistrate will give permission for the parties concerned to hire champions to fight on their behalf: this is likely to involve a significant bribe to the magistrate from both parties.

The Laws of Henry II

Henry II harkened back to the Anglo-Saxon traditions and through his Courts of Assize (commonly called the Assizes) slowly transferred legal powers from the barons and lords to the king.

The Royal Justices

Henry took the power to judge cases from the barons for himself. He appointed royal justices who travel through the realm judging cases on his behalf, and claiming financial rewards for doing so for the Crown. The justices have the right to ask any subject to swear an oath that they know nobody accused or suspected of being a robber or murderer. Those accused undergo trial by ordeal. Even if acquitted by the ordeal, those of particularly ill repute have to leave the realm on penalty of death or being declared outlaw.

The royal justices seldom meet as a group, but when they do, they are known as the Court of Chancery.

Royal Writs

The royal justices are entitled to issue Royal Writs. Writs are official orders issued in the name of the monarch instructing a specified person to undertake a specified action. They are verified by being sealed with the official seals of the Court of Chancery. When a case is judged, the justices will issue a writ to detail what action should be taken.


Punishment is very much up to the magistrate who hears a particular case. They are bound to follow the code set out by Henry II; a small part is represented here:

  • Minor misdemeanours: these include selling short weight, stealing ears of corn from the fields, badmouthing your leige, brewing bad beer - local public humiliation, e.g. the stocks or the pillory
  • Major misdemeanours: these include stealing animals, or committing any sort of crime against someone of higher social standing than yourself - branding and mutilation - losing a hand or an eye is common
  • Capital crimes: these include murder, infanticide, betraying your liege, stealing from the Church, or a conviction of heresy - hanging, or a more gruesome form of public death, such as being torn apart by horses or burned at the stake

It should be noted that none of these can have the desired effect. People who have angered their local community seriously frequently die in the stocks or the pillory, whereas hanging is not a precise science and a felon can only be hung once - even if the rope breaks and they fall to the ground unharmed. Though someone convicted of a particularly horrendous crime should remember that being torn to pieces by an angry mob is a perfectly acceptable method of doing justice, as long as the local magistrate approves.

Also note that barons, unless they commit treason or murder a major figure, can expect to be let off with a fine.

Following the death of Henry II

Royal justices wield the power of the monarch in the name of the monarch. Writs are issued as orders from the monarch. As the throne of England stands empty, the justices have no official power. There is no law in England.

Those able to defend their lands are building strong fences and barricades and preparing arms; those unable to do so are hiring bands of mercenaries for huge fees or seeking protection from powerful local lords. Some, in desperation, are handing their lands over to the Church in return for protection from the rich monasteries; those whose faith lies in the gods of their ancestors are begging help in remote woodland shrines and bloodstained fountains.

Some of the royal justices are still attempting to enforce their powers. They have no royal authority to back them, and are said to be looking for other sources of power. Rumour has it the Court of Chancery is hiring mercanies. Other rumours mention the God Tiw.


To be outlawed is to be placed outside the protection of the law, including withdrawal from the laws of inheritance and property ownership. Outlaws can be killed with impunity and the price upon the head of an outlaw is the same as the price on the head of a wolf, from which the dehumanising nickname wolfshead comes. Usually, the only hope for restoration to personhood is to persuade the local magistrates who condemned you to reverse their decree of justice and restore the outlaw to their lands or possessions, though there are always hopeful, if rather fantastical, tales of outlaws who by some great service to a higher authority, including the monarch, managed to win back their good name.

Prior to the Norman Conquest, wrongdoers were punished by their community or pursued until captured by officials. The very concept of putting a person outside the law is seen as an admission of weakness by most - it means the law has failed to catch up to and deal with a wrongdoer and the only possible solution is to offer reward in the hope that a mercenary or public-spirited subject will do the sheriff's job for them.

law_and_justice.txt · Last modified: 2015/09/28 20:24 by gm_jonathan
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