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Law and Punishment


If someone saw a person committing a crime they could raise a hue-and-cry by shouting. This alerted others to come and help either arrest the criminal or chase them across the boundaries of the community. Without a police force it was the communities responsibility to catch or chase off criminals. Today we shout 'Stop, thief!' in a similar way.

Hundred and Shire courts

The local Manor had a court used to oversee local disputes but every few weeks the Hundred and Shire court came around to deal with more important matters. This court was controlled by a judge. A hundred was an area of land large enough to support a hundred homes. The shire contained several hundreds and was controlled by a shire reeve or sheriff. There was also a Shire Moot. This court was held in the open a couple of times a year and all the local people had to attend to pass judgement on the accused. If a person did not attend they could be fined.


If a criminal was being chased he could flee to a church where he could claim sanctuary. Once in the church the criminal was protected from arrest. He was able to stay in the church for forty days while he decided what to do. After that time he had to either turn himself in and get arrested or abjure the realm which meant agreeing to leave the country by an arranged route. Forty days was a long time and there was always a chance to escape if no one was watching the church at all times.


Towns were generally self-governing because there was no police force as we know it in the Medieval period. The person in charge of keeping law and order within the town was called a bailiff and there were several sub-bailiffs and sergeants to assist him. In some larger towns there was more than one bailiff. Bailiffs were elected each year and this was commonly done on St. Gile's day in September. The Bailiff was allowed to collect taxes.