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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Norwich legal procedure felony customs compurgation jury trial charters models informers

Subject: London custom for waging law adapted to Norwich
Original source: Norfolk Records Office, Roll of Crown Pleas, 34 Henry III
Transcription in: William Hudson and John Cottingham Tingey, eds. The Records of the City of Norwich, vol.1 (Norwich: Jarrold, 1906), 201-02.
Original language: Latin
Location: Norwich
Date: 1250


William Ribald, a thief and informer, accuses William Noche of Norwich of being a receiver of stolen goods, associating with thieves, and having in his own home in the town of Norwich killed a man in his [i.e. Ribald's] presence; with his agreement, advice and help, William Ribald took the corpse out of the city to Thorp wood [to bury it]. That he did this feloniously and with evil intent as his accomplice he offers to prove by his body. William Noche comes and denies [receiving] stolen goods or associating etc., and that he was ever his accomplice in carrying out any homicide or theft or any other felony, or the entirety etc. He offers to defend himself against such [charges] according to the custom of the city of London, which ought to be valid in this city according to the charter of liberties they use. [He states that?] The city of London's custom concerning a man brought to trial for homicide is that they should select 12 jurors from one side of the Walbrook and 12 from the other side, and then the one accused of homicide goes before the justices etc. and swears his oath that the man of whose death he is accused was never by him, or by his procurement, brought closer to death or further from life. If those 36 [jurors] chosen and voluntarily sworn bear witness to the soundness of his oath, he is acquitted of the death. If that method of proof fails, in that one of the 36 jurors is unwilling to join him in his oath, then judgement may be passed on him etc. The same method is applicable in this city. And William Noche came and made his oath, and 18 jurors from one side of Norwich's river and 18 jurors from the other side supported his oath. William completed his own oath through the support of the 36 jurors. Therefore it is decided that he be acquitted of the death of Jocelin. Afterwards, asked how he wished to clear himself of theft, associating [with thieves], and receiving stolen goods, he said that he submitted himself to 12 jurors of the city, for better or worse. The jurors say that he is not guilty of any wrongdoing. Therefore he is acquitted.


This case presents an example of how the development of rights and privileges in London provided a model for other towns to emulate. The royal charter of 1194 had granted Norwich citizens "that none of them need undertake combat and that as regards pleas of the crown they may clear themselves according to the custom of the city of London", along with other privileges based on those already obtained by London.



Criminals who turned "approver", by pointing the finger at other criminals, could hope to win a pardon if their accusation were upheld; if not, informing might at least delay their own execution.

"by his body"
I.e. trial by combat.

"charter of liberties"
In 1250 the most current charter held by the city was that of Henry III (1229), which was largely a confirmation of his predecessors' grants, including that of Richard I (1194).

"London's custom"
Known as the Great Law

"12 jurors"
A scribal error for 18.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 23, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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