Curia Regis, or Royal Courts

The problems with manor courts became problems for the new French kings. Feelings of injustice bred feelings of rebellion; and the system of manor courts meant that local lords were still very powerful. They were forces unto themselves in their jurisdictions and the policy of paying awards into court gave them a tidy flow of income.

Within a century of William I, Henry II (reigned from 11541189) decided to it was time to address the growing injustices created by customary law. More important, it was time that the money paid into court went to the king instead of local coffers.

Using his power as owner, Henry II would pay visits to manor courts and personally decide issues. As owner of the land, with the power to expropriate resistant lords, local nobles couldn't complain too much. This task took a lot of time, and so he delegated the responsibility of hearing matters to his own court. That is, he ordered some of his courtiers to go travel the land, listen to cases and make decisions in the king's name.

The Royal Courts (or King's Court, or, in Latin, Curia Regis) started off modestly enough. There were only five members of the curia; but they were powerful lords in their own right, and they spoke for the king when they "held court."

At first, litigants had a choice. They could continue to use the local manor court, or wait until the Curia Regis paid a visit. Litigants soon realized some important benefits of using the Curia Regis:

  • They were now professional judges; this was their only job, and they were getting good at it. For the lord of the manor, administering justice was just one of many jobs.
  • As lords from London, they had no axe to grind with locals. Once they ruled, they returned to London. They didn't have to please any party before them.
  • They were powerful on their own, and they spoke for the king. That meant they trumped the rulings of pretty much everyone else.

Litigants began preferring the Curia Regis to local manor courts, and were prepared to wait for the king's judges to make their visits.