The Assize of Clarendon 1166 King Henry II

The Assize of Clarendon 1166

Henry II (1133–1189)

The Assize of Clarendon
The Assize of Clarendon

The modern-day grand jury can be traced back to a royal hunting lodge in twelfth-century England, according to historians. The Assize of Clarendon was promulgated by King Henry II in Clarendon Palace in Wiltshire, laying the groundwork for one of the most important procedural aspects of criminal law.

In the past, anyone in England may charge someone with a crime, however the victim of the crime was usually the one who pursued the charges. In 1166, Henry II established the Assize of Clarendon to strengthen the crown’s authority by displacing ecclesiastical tribunals.

The Assize required twelve men from each town to announce publicly and under oath individuals they suspected of crimes such as murder, robbery, larceny, or harboring anyone who had committed those offences. The accused was subsequently put through an ordeal trial, which typically resulted in death. Ten years later, the Assize of Northampton added forgery and arson to the list of offences. Almost all significant crimes were eventually included.

The procedure experienced changes in the fourteenth century. Prosecutions were started by a group of twenty-four knights chosen by the county sheriff, known as le grand inquest. The initial group of twelve local men, on the other hand, had a new mission: they were known as the petit jury, and they were tasked with assessing guilt or innocence following a trial. William Blackstone stated in his Commentaries in the late eighteenth century that the Magna Carta required a grand jury judgment of probable cause and a petit jury vote at trial on whether there was enough evidence for guilt.

The grand jury’s role evolved over time, and by the seventeenth century, it had stopped acting as an enforcer for the crown and had instead evolved into a protection against arbitrary prosecutions. The English grand jury made its way to the American colonies by the mid-seventeenth century, where it was soon enshrined in the Bill of Rights.


The Magna Carta (1215);

The Star Chamber (c. 1350);

Bushel’s Case (1670);

The Trial of John Peter Zenger (1735);

The Bill of Rights (1791);

Peremptory Challenges to Jury Selection (1986).


Assize of Clarendon

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)