Friday, December 17, 2021

Question from Arthur - Early Tudor laws

Hi, I was wondering if a list of early Tudor or pre- tudor laws that might still of been followed exists anywhere? I particularly want to know if Fighting or brawling in the streets of London or a Tavern would of been considered a breech of peace back then or not?


PhD Historian said...

The question is slightly confusing. Are you asking about laws passed before the Tudors assumed the throne that were still enforced during the later Tudor period, or that are still "on the books" and enforced today?

First we must define terms. "Brawling" was a legal term that applied very narrowly to fighting in a church or churchyard, usually over religious beliefs. See the Brawling Act of 1551. Those charged were tried in church courts, not civil courts.

Other fights or disturbances in public areas were handled by local courts, especially local courts of assizes. Recall that there was no police force in the Tudor period, nor any other formal governmental mechanism for controlling misbehavior. That control was instead asserted by individuals of the community bringing charges against an offender at the regular court of assizes.

An excellent resource on this topic is "Controlling Misbehavior in England 1370-1600" by Marjorie K McIntosh.

Arthur said...

Thank you for your answer its much appreciated. What I mean is if a person was alive in 1495 what laws would they be bound to follow? I have tried looking it up online, but cannot find any list as such, so I was wondering if there was one place where I could view them or have to know all the different Acts that there were.

Did places like London, Bristol and other big cities have city guards that would help keep the peace?

PhD Historian said...

My own historical research is not in legal history, but I do know that a book was printed in 1497 that enumerated the new laws enacted under Henry VII. It was called "Nova Statuta Angliae" and was printed by Richard Pynson. But that covered only *new* laws, not pre-existing laws.

I am not aware of any single resource that will answer your question about laws that people were bound to follow. And even if there is a single resource, it is extremely likely to be in numerous volumes that would take weeks to read. As is so often the case with history from this period, a great deal of research in multiple sources may be required to arrive at an answer to your question.

Most parishes did have one or two elected but unpaid constables, but they did not function in the same way as modern police forces. Constables gathered evidence for presentation in the courts (both ecclesiastical courts and secular courts). They did not patrol the streets and their work was only part-time, at best. Yes, walled cities might have gates and guards on the gates at night, but they were not responsible for keeping the peace within the city.

Again, I urge you to have a look at McIntosh's "Controlling Misbehavior." It is available in most university libraries. I think you will be very surprised at the extent to which the community itself was responsible for keeping the peace. And you will likely be surprised at the enormous amount of legal control that was held by the church rather than by secular government.