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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

11 - ‘Thrifty Men of the Country’? The Jurors and Their Role

Summary

Royal government in medieval England relied on the assistance and cooperation of local people. That was true not only of the crown's principal officers in the localities – sheriffs, escheators, commissioners and the like – but of the local juries on whose information so much of government relied. As royal government became increasingly intensive, from the thirteenth century, so the volume of work done by juries grew proportionately, and increasing numbers of people became directly engaged with the state. Recent work has emphasised that the growth of the state depended on the work of juries, and that jury service was ‘one of the state's biggest demands’. The scale of those demands required the involvement of a great number of jurors, many of them relatively humble. Juries were thus a forum where a wide range of local society, including peasants, actively interacted with central government. Or to put things more provocatively, peasants ‘participated in the crown's provincial politics’ through jury service, and ‘probably devoted more time to [the king's] provincial administration than did any other group in society’.

Yet we still know relatively little about the jurors at royal inquisitions in the fifteenth century. In general, these jurors have received less attention than their colleagues in the royal civil or, still more, the criminal courts; and the jurors of manorial courts have been still more intensively studied. More broadly, it can crudely be said that ‘peasants’ have largely been studied from the perspective of the manor, and that royal local government has been studied from the perspective of the gentry.