July 8, 2009

n. A  circuit criminal court, common in medieval Europe.

Another term from Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death.  Apparently, the court still exists in some places today, but they were a common form of judicial procedure in medieval England.  Franklin’s book is set around the time of Henry II’s Assize of Clarendon in 1166.  The event is noteworthy, Franklin explains, because it marks a shift in the British judicial system, away from trial by ordeals and trial by battles toward the more modern model of evidence and testimony and trial by jury.

Trial by ordeal, the process of determining guilt by whether or not the accused survives a painful process, has been most famously parodied by Monty Python in this famous scene from the Quest For the Holy Grail.  Trial by battle is exactly what it sounds like, a Thunderdome form of meting out justice.  The Assize of Clarendon did not eliminate these forms entirely, but it was the beginning of the end for these barbaric systems of justice.