In a medieval village, my understanding is that disputes (of a legal nature, as we view them today) could be settled in the manor court. But what about in urban centers? If two people living in a town had a disagreement, what authority would they appeal to? Was there a legal body established for this purpose or is that a later development?

Please note that I am asking specifically about the High Middle Ages.

  • I believe this was answered comprehensively here (2014). In particular, the links below on civil litigation (i.e. "disputes").
    – J Asia
    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:10
  • @JAsia Isn't the question you linked to about Roman law, rather than medieval? Jul 25, 2017 at 10:29
  • Ah, yes, I read this as Roman too. My mistake. Which part of medieval Europe by the way?
    – J Asia
    Jul 25, 2017 at 13:44
  • 1
    England, although if I can't find sufficient info then Continental comparisons will suffice. I'm trying to model an RPG system more closely on actual history. The answers so far have been very helpful.
    – peacetype
    Jul 25, 2017 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


Most medieval kings had a court system spread throughout their lands. They maintained "High" Courts for issues of national importance.

For courts to decide "local" matters, they maintained local magistrates. In the case of England, these included sheriffs in cities, and justices of the peace, who were country squires. Other European countries had similar structures. In many cities, there were guild courts maintained by trade guilds, who decided cases of economic crimes.

  • 1
    I think you have that confused. A sheriff was associated with a county (not a city). Roughly speaking each county had a sheriff and held a court. The justices of the peace were a parallel system not an alternative one. In fact things are complicated because there were both courts of communities ("communal courts") such as those of vil, hundred and county, as well as feudal courts starting with the manorial courts. But even this massively oversimplifies. Eg, the relationship between writs, Royal courts and the Sheriff. Aug 4, 2017 at 23:10

Town charters were a development of the High Middle Ages, and defined the privileges enjoyed by towns in Europe. Often, these charters explicitly established law courts to allow legal disputes to be settled quickly. Charters would also usually establish trade guilds in towns which maintained their own system of courts.

Before that, the responsibility for settling legal disputes lay with the sheriff, or shire reeve, who was the king's representative in a city, town or shire. The reeve was responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing the law locally.

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