High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England

High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England

High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England

High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England

Excerpt

The High Court of Chivalry is unique in that it is the only surviving civil law court in England. It owed its escape from the Victorian law reformers to the fact that it had never sat since the early part of the eighteenth century and so attracted no attention in the nineteenth. Had it then been active there can be little doubt that its jurisdiction would have been transferred with the secular jurisdictions of all other courts in which the advocates in Doctors' Commons had formerly practised to the new High Court of Justice created by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873. If the framers of that Act had been entirely logical; we should now have a Probate, Divorce, Admiralty, and Chivalry Division of the High Court.

The long dormancy of the Court of Chivalry during the two centuries before its sleep was broken in 1954 by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of the City of Manchester has not only secured its survival but has also caused its true nature to be largely forgotten. The vacuum has been filled by a variety of misconceptions, some of which will be dealt with hereafter. The only truth to survive in common currency is that it is a court for the settlement of disputes as to armorial bearings. That truth is rather like the visible fraction of an iceberg: it reveals less than it conceals. In its origin and in its hey-day the Court of Chivalry was much more than an heraldic tribunal. As a result of a series of vicissitudes which left it with a jurisdiction confined to heraldic matters the Court has primarily attracted the attention of those interested in the antiquities of heraldry, so that the emphasis in what has been written concerning it has been upon heraldry rather than upon the wider aspects of the place which the Court formerly held in the practice of the civil law. As will appear, to regard it as a court of heraldry is to misunderstand its true nature. The essential distinction between the Court of Chivalry and other courts is not that it has . . .

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