The reign of Henry II is considered one of the most important in the legal history of England. While the groundwork was laid by Henry I who was his grandfather, it was Henry II’s reign which brought the great common law to England.
Henry II extended the use of writs which spread the king’s peace into the shires. The king’s peace claimed that no sword could be drawn in the presence of the king, because to do so would be to challenge his authority, a treasonous act. The extension of the king’s peace meant that no fighting should take place in areas where the king’s authority had gone. Henry II also continued sending out the justices in eyre who were royal justices who judged the hard cases for the shire courts. They could not be bribed, were concise and quick in their judgments, and were knowledgeable men who made fair judgments for everyone. Henry II passed the Assize of Clarendon which permanently linked these royal justices to the shire courts.
The land disputes following Stephen’s reign of civil war were solved by the justices in eyre. If a man could prove ownership of the disputed land prior to the civil war, he would receive his lands back despite who currently held them.
The common law came into being during the quarterly sessions held by the justices in eyre. They would discuss the hard cases and write down the judgments they had made. The laws which were based on local precedent were made common to all of England through Glanville’s book The Laws and Customs of the English Kingdom. Glanville made legal briefs of all the cases and published them so new lawyers could study them at the Inns of Court.
Through writs, the king’s peace, land resolutions, and cases revisions, a great legal system started to form during Henry II’s reign. His innovation laid the groundwork for the future compiling of all court cases into digests under Edward I.
– Hannah S. Bowers