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Law

 This is not an attempt to write the history of the British legal system but it is an attempt to explain some legal terms and roles that appear in the history of the Chewton Mendip. We now think in terms of civil and criminal law but the main division used to be between the common law of the liaty and the canon law of the clergy.
 Common law dealt with issues such as land ownership and most of the issues covered by modern criminal law. Cannon law was based on the teachings of the church so it covered issues of morality and was constrained by the sixth commandment, ‘thou shall not kill’.
 This did not stop heretics being executed. People condemned of heresy by the ecclesiastical courts were passed to the common law courts to be condemned to death.
 Many common law crimes carried the death penalty in the medieval period but anyone who could read could claim ‘benefit of clergy’. The assumption was that only the clergy could read and write at the time so if someone accused of a crime they could escape death by reading a passage from the bible. If they passed that test, they were branded on the thumb to show they had used their ‘get out of jail free card’, this lead to the term ‘being burnt in the hand’. The literate suspect was then tried by the ecclesiastical courts who would impose a suitable penance.
 This system was used to provide  more humane treatment for some people. The accused were taught to memorise passages and similar tricks were used. This right was reduced as education became more widespread but gentlemen who killed somebody in a duel of honour were still able to scape death by claiming their clergy. They were not even branded, they were touched by a cold iron in a symbolic act.
 Another anomaly was that the clergy held land under common law so disputes about tithes were dealt with by the lay legal profession.
 The conflict between common and common law persisted until the civil war in the 17h century but some aspects persist until today.
 Property transactions provide information about who lived were and when.  Some roles such as the Escheater and Court of Wards and Liveries needs some explanation.
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