A Study of the Justice of the Peace and His Importance to the Judicial and Administrative Systems of Henry VII
Staff, Martha J.
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When Henry VII came to power in 1485, he found in existence a system of local government which needed only fresh vigor and development. The Justices of the Peace, local and virtually unpaid gentlemen appointed and supervised by the crown, soon became "the mainstay of the Tudor system of law-enforcement. With the decline of the powers of the old popular courts of hundred and shire, and those of the old rulers of the county, the Sheriff, the Justices were rapidly promoted to exclusive control of the countryside. Henry VII was perhaps the most instrumental of the Tudors in legislating both to enlarge their duties and to control them. Indeed, even a casual glance at the Statute Rolls and the records of the Privy Council proceedings will reveal that the Justice of the Peace (or J.P.) was fast becoming the "State's man-of-all-work," to coin a term by Charles A. Beard. An enumeration of the powers of the Justice of the Peace would, in fact, be in large part a summary of the greater portion of the legislation of the Tudor period, and more specifically, the reign of Henry VII. Not only is the British Justice of the Peace of national importance, he is also significant in the international sphere. We must always keep in mind when we discuss the development of the Justice of the Peace that we are focusing on the growth of an institution that has a British imperial and not merely an English significance. Not only is the Justice of the Peace significant on the national and international levels of judicial and administrative history, but he is equally (if not more so) important on the local level. For the Justice of the Peace was the pivotal point of local life in all its aspects at a time when the neighborhood and its affairs mattered more to the inhabitants of Britain than any other organ of the central government. One must remember that England was essentially local, both in feeling and in organization, right up until the last century. Even today, the Justices still preserve their judicial functions. So if one is to consider local life in England at all significant in her history, so, too, must one consider that most important of all local figures, the Justice of the Peace. The development of the Justice of the Peace should be of interest, not only to historians, but also to lawyers, sociologists, and present Justices--indeed, to all who concern themselves with English institutions.