During the reign of Henry II (1154-89), some key changes in the English judicial system took place. One of these was the introduction of travelling judges:

In 1166, Henry issued a Declaration at the Assize of Clarendon...

The Assize of Clarendon ordered the remaining non-King’s Bench judges to travel the country – which was divided into different circuits – deciding cases.

In his article Medieval English government, Professor Johann P. Sommerville gives more details:

From the mid 12th Century, the crown sent royal judges to try legal cases throughout the country. The circuits of these Justices in Eyre (and later of the Justices of Assize) covered the whole realm and they heard both civil and criminal cases. They often also performed administrative duties, enquiring for example into the conduct of local royal officials.

There is no mention of any kind of remuneration in either of the above sources, nor in this source which also seems to be referring to the 1166 declaration. However, in the article Why Roman Law Did Not Succeed in England, Bernard W. Hoeter says:

The English Crown exercised supervision over local courts by dispatching itinerant, unpaid judges to preside during assizes.

(my highlighting)

It seems that Hoeter is referring to the same judges as the other sources (but I could be wrong). Later in the article he mentions "revenue from fines" but it's not clear from the context if that money went to the judges or to the crown. If to the former, this would surely be open to serious abuse.

  • Were these travelling / itinerant judges unpaid? If so, was this because they were already independently wealthy (e.g. lords)?
  • Did they get a percentage of the fines and, if so, did this lead to some judges abusing their power?
  • Were there any fringe benefits? Most obviously, I'm thinking that there might have been some kind of recognition or 'promotion' if they did a good job.
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    It's really not one of my specialist areas, but my reading of the section of A History of English Law that deals with itinerant judges suggests otherwise. The magistrates ("Justices of the Peace") and Sheriffs were certainly unpaid roles, but the itinerant judges seem to have been professional lawyers who would have been paid. Commented May 12, 2018 at 14:42
  • @sempaiscuba Hoeter is a Ph.D so he should know what he's talking about (!), but he only uses 'judges' even when it seems he should be using JP ('regional lords as judges'), whereas Sommerville does use JP. Confusing, but your comment makes sense even if we can't yet find a source to confirm it. Commented May 13, 2018 at 1:41
  • 1
    Zero evidence here but I suspect the answer is that they could charge fees for their services. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 3:00
  • I think Maitland's notes on Bracton suggest a "usual judicial salary" of L40 in the 13th century. I would be interested in a well-sourced answer. Commented Apr 14 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


From The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Chapter 5, V.1.56

Afterwards they universally found it convenient to delegate it to some substitute, bailiff, or judge. This substitute, however, was still obliged to account to his principal or constituent for the profits of the jurisdiction. Whoever reads the instructions which were given to the judges of the circuit in the time of Henry II. will see clearly that those judges were a sort of itinerant factors, sent round the country for the purpose of levying certain branches of the king's revenue. In those days the administration of justice not only afforded a certain revenue to the sovereign, but to procure this revenue seems to have been one of the principal advantages which he proposed to obtain by the administration of justice.

I believe that this, and some other things he says in that chapter, answer your 1st question. He goes on to explain that these judges were actually collectors of money and goods and legal fees for the king.

This scheme of making the administration of justice subservient to the purposes of revenue could scarce fail to be productive of several very gross abuses. The person who applied for justice with a large present in his hand was likely to get something more than justice; while he who applied for it with a small one was likely to get something less.

To answer your second question, in addition to the "abuses" mentioned above, he also discusses various ways the judges and sovereign could be corrupted.

For your third question, I believe the book does mention some fringe benefits (at least rank and prestige) that judges and bailiffs might receive, but I couldn't find it.

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