Assizes of Clarendon 1166

Thursday, February 10, 1166

In early 1166, from his hunting lodge at Clarendon in Wiltshire, Henry II issued a series of instructions to his judges on how they were to conduct criminal trials. The exact date is unknown but it was most probably between late January and late February 1166 as Henry left England on March 3rd and did not return until 1170.1

 

These instructions have become known as the Assizes of Clarendon. The Assizes established a Grand Jury to consist of 12 lawful men from each Hundred and 4 from each village who were to report to the Sherrif and county Judges any crimes committed within their area and who the suspects were.2

 

The sherrif was instructed to arrest the suspects and hold them until the royal justices arrived. The suspects were to undergo the Ordeal of Water and if convicted their property confiscated, and they were to be hanged or have a foot amputated. Additionally those that were acquitted by the Ordeal of Water that nevertheless had a bad reputation were to be banished.

 

The Assizes were an important step in the establishment of public prosecution of crime within the King's Courts. Previously prosecution had been left to the Baronial  courts which could be slow to prosecute some crimes.3

 

Text of the Assizes