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(1) In medieval England this term had four meanings. First, it referred to sessions of the royal council and also general decrees and dispositions of the king. The best known of these royal assizes are those issued by Henry II (1133–89): the grand assize, which, with the help of jurors, investigated sworn statements in the right of seisin of land; the assize of Clarendon concerning the creation of the so-called grand jury (of indicting jurors) for trying cases involving capital crimes; and the assize on weapons. Second, it denoted special kinds of juridical investigations—for example, on novel disseisin (the recent, forceful usurpation of a freehold) and on the death of an ancestor (the assize of mort d’ancestor), which was held when hindrances arose in the inheritance of a fief—formulated in the specifically English system of court orders (writs), which were issued to the plaintiff by an official of the Crown. The term “assizes” could also be used for traveling (circuit) sessions of the courts or for the court of jurors.
(2) In medieval France the assizes were primarily dispositions of the great land-owning lords. Most notable were the assizes of Bretagne and Champagne on the inheritance of fiefs (12th-14th centuries).
(3) The term “assize” also existed in other countries. For example, the assizes of Jerusalem were a code of laws which served to guide the courts in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, established by the Crusaders in 1099. Also well-known were the assizes of Antioch in a 13th-century Armenian redaction; the Roman assize, which was in effect in the Latin empire (1204–61); and others.
(4) In present-day Britain the assizes are traveling sessions of the Court of the King’s Bench. In this same meaning of a traveling court which tries cases with the participation of jurors, the term “assize” is also used in present-day France.
Z. M. CHERNILOVSKII