Statutes of Westminster
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Statutes of Westminster
(13th-14th centuries), the general designation for a series of varied legislative acts passed by the English feudal state.
The term “Statutes of Westminster” comes from the location of the residence of the English kings at Westminster Palace. The most famous statutes were issued in 1275, 1285, 1290, and 1295.
The Statutes of Westminster, which generalized the practice of the royal courts and the results of governmental inspections, were directed at extending and strengthening large-scale feudal ownership of land. They legalized enclosures and forbade the transfer of fiefs to subvassals (subinfeudation), as well as the transfer of secular lands to the church. The statutes limited the possibilities for splitting up estates, provided for the year-round responsibility of the peasants for damage borne by the landowner in connection with enclosure, legalized a strict order of real guarantees of claims by landlords on the holders of lands (including confiscation of property), and permitted confiscation of land in cases where there had been a two-year delay in the payment of obligations, and so forth.
Although he made so many essential concessions to the feudal aristocracy, King Edward I attempted to give support to the small-scale landowners—the knights and free peasants—hoping to find in them a bulwark in his struggle against the decentralizing tendencies of the landlords. Thus, the Statute of Westminster of 1290 permitted freemen to sell land (with the proviso, however, that the new owner would assume the same obligations toward the landlord as had previously prevailed); this stimulated the concentration of lands. The Statute of Westminster of 1285 established that enclosures must not encroach upon freeholders.
For the purpose of strengthening the royal power, the Statutes of Westminster obligated the landlords to appear upon summons at the king’s courts and laid down strict penalties for noncompliance. The standards of criminal law contained in the Statutes of Westminster provided punishments for bribery, slander, the spread of dangerous rumors, and so forth and introduced the assize courts.
REFERENCESVestminsterskie statuty. Moscow, 1948. (Translated from Latin and Old French.)
Khrestomatiia pamiatnikov feodal’nogo gosudarstva i prava stran Evropy. Moscow, 1961.
Z. M. CHERNILOVSKII