32. THE ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON (1176)
1. If, by the oath of twelve knights of the hundred — or, should
knights not be present, by the oath of twelve lawful freemen — and by the
oath of four men of every vill in the hundred, any one has been accused in the
presence of the lord king's justices of murder or theft or robbery, or of
receiving men who have committed such [crimes], or of falsification
or arson, he shall go to the ordeal of water; and if he fails [in the ordeal],
he shall lose one foot. And to increase the severity of the law, it was added
at Northampton that with the foot he should lose his right hand, and that he
should abjure the realm and depart from it within forty days. And if he should
be cleared by the [ordeal of] water, let him find sureties and remain in the
kingdom, unless he has been accused of murder or other disgraceful felony by
the community (commune) of the county and the lawful knights of his own
countryside (patria). If [now] he has been accused in the aforesaid
manner of this [sort of crime], although he has been cleared by the [ordeal of]
water, let him nevertheless go out of the kingdom within forty days and take
with him his chattels, saving the rights of his lords; and let him abjure the
realm [on pain of being] in the lord king's mercy. This assize, moreover, shall
hold good for all the time since the assize was made at Clarendon down to the
present, and henceforward during the lord king's pleasure, with regard to
murder, treason, and arson, and with regard to all [offenses in] the preceding
chapters, except minor thefts and robberies which were committed in time of
war, as of horses, oxen, and lesser things.
2. Item, no one, either in a vill or in a borough, shall be permitted to
give lodging within his house for more than one night to any stranger for whom
he is unwilling to be legally responsible, unless such lodger has a reasonable
excuse which the master of the house may prove to his neighbours. And when he
leaves, let him leave by day and in the presence of the neighbours.
3. If any one has possessed [the proceeds] of murder or theft or robbery
or falsification, or of any other felony that he has committed, and confesses
it before the reeve of a hundred or a borough and before lawful men, he may not
afterwards deny it before the justices. And if, without [such] possession, he
admits anything of the same sort in their presence, this likewise he may not
deny before the justices.
4. Item, if any freeholder dies, his heirs shall remain in such seisin
as their father had of his fee on the day that he was alive and dead; and they
shall have his chattels, with which to carry out the testament of the deceased.
And afterwards they shall go to their lord and shall perform to him their
obligation for relief and other things owed from their fee. And if the heir is
under age, the lord of the fee shall receive his homage and have wardship over
him so long as is right. The other lords, if there are several, shall [also]
receive his homage and he shall perform to them whatever obligations he owes.
And the wife of the deceased shall have her dowry and the portion of his
chattels to which she is entitled. And if the lord of the fee denies to the
heirs of the deceased the seisin of the said deceased ['s property] which they
demand, the justices of the lord king shall have recognition made in the matter
by twelve lawful men, as to what seisin in this respect the deceased had on the
day that he was alive and dead. And according to the recognition
thus made, those [justices] shall make restitution to his heirs. And if any one
acts contrary to this [command], and is convicted of so doing, let him remain
in the king's mercy.
5. Item, the justices of the lord king shall have recognition made of
disseisins contrary to the assize from the time that the lord king first came
to England after the peace made between him and the king his
6. Item, from the first Sunday after Easter to the first Sunday after
Pentecost, the justices shall receive oaths of fealty to the lord king from all
who wish to dwell in the kingdom: namely, from earls, barons, knights,
freeholders, and even peasants. And whoever refuses to swear fealty is to be
seized as an enemy of the lord king. The justices are also to command that all
those who have not yet performed their homage and allegiance to the lord king
shall come at the time assigned them and perform homage and allegiance to the
king as to their liege lord.
7. Item, the justices, by writ of the lord king or of those acting in
his place, shall enforce all rights and claims pertaining to the lord king and
his crown to the amount of half a knight's fee and less, unless the case is so
important that it cannot be decided without the lord king or [unless it is]
such as, through their own uncertainty, the justices may report to him or to
those acting in his place. They should, however, to the best of their ability
strive to assure the king's interest. Also they shall hold assize concerning
wicked thieves and [other] malefactors of the land — which assize, by the
counsel of the king his son and of his men, is [to be held] throughout the
counties to which they shall go.
8. Item, the justices shall see to it that the castles
[supposed to have been] razed are totally razed, and that those to be razed are
well pulled down. And if they fail to do this, the lord king wishes them
brought to judgment in his court as men in contempt of his command.
9. Item, the justices shall make inquiry concerning the escheats,
churches, lands, and women who are in the gift of the lord
10. Item, the bailiffs of the lord king shall be answerable
at the exchequer both for their fixed rents and for all sums acquired within
their bailiwicks, except those belonging to the [farm of the] county.
11. Item, the justices shall make inquiry concerning the custody of
castles: as to who owe [payments in this connection], how much [is owed], and
where [it should be paid]. And afterwards they shall give the information to
the lord king.
12. Item, [it is ordered that] a thief, from the time that he is
captured, shall be delivered to the sheriff to guard. And if the sheriff is
absent, he shall be taken to the nearest castellan, and the latter
shall guard him until he is turned over to the sheriff.
13. Item, the justices shall have investigation made, according to the
custom of the land, as to those who have left the kingdom; and unless they are
willing to return within a stated time and to stand trial in the court of the
lord king, they shall then be outlawed; and the names of the outlaws shall be
brought to the exchequer at Easter and Michaelmas, and shall thence be sent to
the lord king.
(Latin) Ibid., pp. 179 f.
 The document, as reported by the chronicler, is headed,
"These are the assizes made at Clarendon and afterwards recorded at
Northampton." That is to say, the earlier ordinance is regarded as still in
effect, with certain amendments. But what is here stated about the Assize of
Clarendon does not entirely agree with the text that we have.
Falsoneria, meaning either counterfeiting or
 This is known in law as the assize mort d'ancestor;
see no. 33A.
 Apparently a reference to the assize of novel
disseisin, the ordinance establishing which has not come down to us; see
 The so-called adulterine castles — those built without
royal authorization during the anarchy under Stephen.
 Heiresses whom the king could bestow in marriage. For
examples, see no. 40.
 Henceforth the ordinary title of an official in charge of a
district less than a county. Bailiffs might be subordinates of the sheriff, but
certain boroughs, escheated honours, and the like were regularly farmed as
 The official in charge of a castle, often called a