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Twelve Good Men and True

Twelve Good Men and True: The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200-1800

J. S. Cockburn
Thomas A. Green
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Twelve Good Men and True
    Book Description:

    Twelve Good Men and Truebrings together some of the most ambitious and innovative work yet undertaken on the history of an English legal institution. These eleven essays examine the composition of the criminal trial jury in England, the behavior of those who sat as jurors, and popular and official attitudes toward the institution of jury trial from its almost accidental emergence in the early thirteenth century until 1800. The essays have important implications for three problems central to the history of criminal justice administration in England: the way in which the medieval jury was informed and reached its verdict; the degree and form of independence enjoyed by juries during the early modern period when the powers of the bench were very great; and the role of the eighteenth-century trial jury, which, although clearly independent, was, by virtue of the status and experience of its members, arguably a mere extension of the bench.

    This extensive collection marks the first occasion on which scholars working in several different time periods have focused their attention on the history of a single legal institution. Written by J. M. Beattie, J. S. Cockburn, Thomas A. Green, Roger D. Groot, Douglas Hay, P.J.R. King, P. G. Lawson, Bernard William McLane, J. B. Post, Edward Powell, and Stephen K. Roberts, the essays utilize sophisticated techniques to establish from a variety of manuscript sources the wealth, status, and administrative experience of jurors.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5920-7
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    J. S. Cockburn and Thomas A. Green
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  7. One The Early-Thirteenth-Century Criminal Jury
    (pp. 3-35)
    Roger D. Groot

    The most important event in the history of the criminal jury was the abolition of the ordeal by edict of the Roman church in 1215. That act removed the most common method of proof from the English criminal process and so necessitated a search for its successor. The trial jury was that successor.

    My contribution to this volume is about the decision to use a jury verdict in place of the ordeal and about the problems faced and the solutions found in implementing that decision. Because the post-1215 events depended so heavily and directly upon the jury forms extant before...

  8. Two Juror Attitudes toward Local Disorder: The Evidence of the 1328 Lincolnshire Trailbaston Proceedings
    (pp. 36-64)
    Bernard William McLane

    Thomas Brinton, the late-fourteenth-century bishop of Rochester, believed that criminals were not punished as they should have been. In one of his surviving sermons he complained that:

    If a voluntary murderer or most notorious thief who according to every law ought to pay the just penalty of his wickedness, is captured in order that justice may be done upon his person, as though in compassion, they strive to keep him from danger, some saying, “He is young: if a youth has gone wrong, the old man will be able to amend.” Others declare, “He is of our blood: if the...

  9. Three Jury Lists and Juries in the Late Fourteenth Century
    (pp. 65-77)
    J. B. Post

    It is a commonplace among lawyers that the behavior of juries is unpredictable and their motives unfathomable. In the retrospect of centuries, the problems of perception are greatly magnified, since the mechanisms of trial procedure are shadowy, and the interplay of personalities and private interests can be discerned only rarely. The formal enrollments are sparing in their clues to the functions of the jury. What follows is a preliminary attempt to evaluate the evidence of jury lists—which survive in large numbers, although they are small and uneven by comparison with the plea rolls—and to draw tentative inferences about...

  10. Four Jury Trial at Gaol Delivery in the Late Middle Ages: The Midland Circuit, 1400–1429
    (pp. 78-116)
    Edward Powell

    It is a maxim of English legal history that the medieval jury was self-informing. That orthodoxy was established at the turn of the century through the immensely durable work of F. W. Maitland and J. B. Thayer, and it has recently been restated by Professors J. H. Langbein and T. A. Green.¹ Trial jurors were, in Thayer’s words, “men chosen as being likely to be already informed.”² They were drawn from the visne, the neighborhood of the offense, and were thus supposed to be witnesses rather than triers of fact. Presentation of evidence to the jury therefore played no part...

  11. Five Lawless Juries? The Composition and Behavior of Hertfordshire Juries, 1573–1624
    (pp. 117-157)
    P. G. Lawson

    Historians of English criminal justice have long puzzled over the behavior of juries. In particular they have puzzled over the apparent willingness of juries to reach verdicts contrary to the law—what Roscoe Pound called “jury lawlessness.”¹ Legal historians have seen this trait as one of the virtues of the common-law system. S.F.C. Milsom’s view is typical: “So far as justice was done throughout the centuries, it was done by jurors and in spite of savage laws.”² According to this view, juries were a force for moderation in the application of the criminal law, regularly overriding harsh legal codes to...

  12. Six Twelve Silly Men? The Trial Jury at Assizes, 1560–1670
    (pp. 158-181)
    J. S. Cockburn

    It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt. That maxim finds no place in the literature of the law, but it may help to explain why by the middle of the sixteenth century praise for the criminal trial jury, a familiar institution for three centuries, was limited to the formal panegyrics of legal writers.¹ Criticism of the jury in action was, on the other hand, almost universal. Even Sir Thomas Smith—never slow to extol English institutions—could find few wholly praiseworthy features in the mid-sixteenth-century jury trial. Rather, he was concerned to play down the worrying anomalies that by...

  13. Seven Juries and the Middling Sort: Recruitment and Performance at Devon Quarter Sessions, 1649–1670
    (pp. 182-213)
    Stephen K. Roberts

    In the seventeenth century the jury was the most representative institution available to the English people. More than any other organ of local government, it attracted the attention of princes and parliaments and was the focus of much rhetoric and polemical debate. For the Levellers the jury could become a powerful measure of liberty and a concrete prototype for a new political order. For others it was a symbol of decay in the body politic.¹ Yet despite its potency as a symbol, no other institution of government depended so much on the good will of obscure officials and on a...

  14. Eight London Juries in the 1690s
    (pp. 214-253)
    J. M. Beattie

    The late seventeenth century was the heroic age of the English jury, for in the political and constitutional struggles of the reigns of Charles II and fames II, trial by jury emerged as the principal defense of English liberties. The grand jury that refused to indict the earl of Shaftesbury and the trial jury of twelve citizens who acquitted the Seven Bishops were to be celebrated as saviors who had prevented the establishment of tyrannical government and had confirmed the jury, as Blackstone was to say, as the “sacred bulwark of the nation.”¹ But the constitutional significance of the right...

  15. Nine “Illiterate Plebeians, Easily Misled”: Jury Composition, Experience, and Behavior in Essex, 1735–1815
    (pp. 254-304)
    P. J. R. King

    When Smollett’s Lismahago described the juries of the later eighteenth century as “generally composed of illiterate plebeians, apt to be mistaken, easily misled,”¹ he was attacking one of the central components of the criminal justice system. The eighteenth-century criminal trial jury operated at a vital crossroads in the judicial process. The jurors’ decisions both affected and were affected by the attitudes and behavior of prosecutors, witnesses, and committing magistrates. Although their verdicts were to all intents and purposes sentencing decisions in some types of cases,² jurors’ findings might also be deeply influenced by the sentencing options open to the court...

  16. Ten The Class Composition of the Palladium of Liberty: Trial Jurors in the Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 305-357)
    Douglas Hay

    In 1789 William Hutton described the English jury in most unflattering terms:

    What was and what is a Jury? It was instituted by Alfred, one of the best of kings, who appointed, that a number of people should be summoned, all men of property, equal at least, in that day to two or three thousand pounds in this; and as knowledge is often attendant upon property, they were justly supposed to be tolerable judges, who, by deciding the interest of others decided their own. . . . But time, that great corrupter of things, which is every moment working changes,...

  17. Eleven A Retrospective on the Criminal Trial Jury, 1200–1800
    (pp. 358-400)
    Thomas A. Green

    My recent book¹ provided an overview of the history of the institutional aspects of the English criminal trial jury upon which all of the contributors to this volume have, tacitly or otherwise, commented. That tentative institutional background was intended both to stand on its own terms and to provide a framework for the studies on the relationship between law and society and on the history of ideas regarding the jury that made up the larger part of the volume.² The two aspects of my book were joined: the socio-legal analysis and the history of ideas were to a large extent...

  18. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 401-402)
  19. Index
    (pp. 403-413)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 414-414)