The Court Leet of the Worshipful Town Mayor and Chief Burgesses of Warwick Founded in 1554 by Royal Charter



A Court Leet was a Royal Franchise, but in the case of Warwick, as in the case of many similar towns, it was granted to the great feudal Lord who, in Warwick, lived in the Castle and who was also Lord of the Manor.

 

The Steward of the Lord of the Manor and of the Leet presided over both Courts. In the Court Baron (Manor Court) he presided over the free tenants or freeholders of the Manor and in the Court Leet he was assisted by a Jury composed of twelve or more Burgesses. In our times, we are accustomed to regard a Jury as a body of persons whose duty it is to hearken to evidence placed before them and to come to a decision upon such evidence. Nowadays it would be a disqualification if a Juryman knew or was told anything, about the matter he is to try before the public airing of it. The original idea, first used by the Normans in England for the compilation of the Domesday Survey of a Jury was a form of inquest of persons who from their local knowledge were most likely to know facts concerning the town and the area.

 

Besides having the power to determine matters placed before them, including petty crime, they had a duty to 'present' to the Lord or his Steward, all matters amiss within the Borough or matters which they considered to be for its improvement or good government.     They had the right to bear "presentments" made by individual Burgesses and to submit these to the Lord of the Manor together with their own "presentments". They appointed their own officers who in many ways correspond with those of a modern local authority.  Thus we have Constables, Overseers of Pavements, Ale, Fish and Flesh tasters, Bread Weighers and Searcher and Sealer of Leather and Brook Looker.  Their modern counterparts are not difficult to relate to.

 

Before the creation of the Corporation in Warwick, the Court Leet in conjunction with the Guilds, played a great part in the government of Warwick, but its criminal jurisdiction was gradually superseded by a more convenient jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace.

 

At the time of the Grant of the Charter of Queen Mary to Warwick in 1554, the Estates of the Earl of Warwick were in the hands of the Crown due to the execution of John Dudley and other members of his family for complicity in the plot to place Lady Jane Grey upon the Throne. In order therefore, to strengthen the powers of the Corporation, the Lordship of the Leet was granted to the Corporation by that Charter. This effectively gave the Mayor the appointment of High Bailiff; and the Town Clerk the Stewardship.  The Court Leet of Warwick has never ceased to function and until 1948 performed certain administrative functions relating to the Commons and St Mary's Lands. This particular function is now in the hands of the District Council.

 

The Court Leet has always been used and still is today, as an advisory body in calling attention of the elected representatives to anything amiss or for the betterment of the town. The present Jury is fixed at 24 persons.

 

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