November 5, 2010


Ross, Charles, Edward IV (Yale English Monarchs) (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1998) ("To maintain effective order and to enforce his laws were among the more intractable problems confronting a medieval king. Violence was endemic in English society. This was scarcely surprising in a land where men normally carried arms, where there was neither police force nor standing army, and where the machinery of justice was cumbrous, slow-moving and open to corruption. The result was a crime rate of appalling proportion. Self-help was a constant temptation which few chose to resist." "If medieval men accepted a high level of violence as a normal feature of social life, they were a good deal less complacent about the ease and frequency with which so many criminals escaped justice. Complaints about lack of justice and failure by the Crown to enforce the laws were bitter and frequent and only too fully justified by the facts. . . ." Id. at 388. "There is a variety of reasons--legal, social and political--why so many wrongdoers escaped the clutches of the law. Contemporary English law contained a number of devices to protect the accused, and many of these could be used improperly to delay or divert the course of justice. It was often very difficult to apprehend indicted men, and sheriff's officers sometimes went in fear of their lives. Forcing a messenger to eat the parchment writ of summons he carried was not uncommon practice amongst those who thumbed their noses at the law. . . . Id. at 389. "Many wrongdoers, even when tried and found guilty, escaped the penalties of their crimes by procuring a royal pardon. The Crown itself contributed to the problem of lawlessness by its readiness to grant pardons even for major crimes. Purchasing a pardon (it has be claimed) was a routine pecuniary transaction for many offences including murder. For those with influence at court, pardons could be obtained for even the most scandalous offences. . . . Id. at 390.).