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
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gradually superseded by a more convenient jurisdiction of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.
Functions of a Town Council
Warwick Court Leet