The Jury, an 1861 painting by John Morgan
Jury trials originated with King John and the Magna Carta in 1215, right? The nobles wanted to be tried by juries of other nobles, rather than by the King, thus giving rise to the modern day jury of a trial by one’s peers.
Actually, the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans and even the Vikings all had provision for determination of legal proceedings by juries of sorts.
Given the focus on England as the home of trial by one’s peers, or “equals” to use Magna Carta terminology, it is of interest to consider the earliest recorded jury trial in England, one predating the Magna Carta by hundreds of years.
There is a small village in Wales called Hawarden.
Nearby is the village of Chester, which is noted for its racing season and extensive race course. The centre of this area is marked by a raised mound, decorated with a small cross, known as a "rood". This has given the site of the race course the name "Roodee", a corruption of "Rood Eye", meaning "The Island of the Cross".
The Hawarden Visitors' Hand-Book (1890) by William Henry Gladsone (1840-1891) gives the story of the jury trial and the explanation of the above Chester cross.
Some explanations of items appearing in the Hawarden account:
· "Sixth year of the reign of Conan": 804 AD.
· "Rood": cross or crucifix, especially a large one in a church.
· "Rood loft": the loft area in medieval churches used for display, often for display of statues of the Virgin Mary (see pic of rood loft below)
· "Holy Rood": the statue of the Virgin Mary
In the sixth year of the reign of Conan, King of North Wales, there was in the Christian Temple at a place called Harden, in the Kingdom of North Wales, a Roodloft, in which was placed an image of the Virgin Mary, with a very large cross, which was in the hands of the image, called Holy Rood. About this time there happened a very hot and dry summer; so dry that there was not grass for the cattle; upon which most of the inhabitants went and prayed to the image or Holy Rood, that it would cause it to rain, but to no purpose. Among the rest, the Lady Trawst (whose husband's name was Sytsylht, a nobleman and governor of Harden Castle) went to pray to the said Holy Rood, and she praying earnestly and long, the image or Holy Rood fell down upon her head and killed her; upon which a great uproar was raised, and it was concluded and resolved upon to try the said image for the murder of the said Lady Trawst, and a jury was summoned for this purpose, whose names were as follows:--
Hincot of Hancot, Span of Mancot,
Leech and Leach, and Cumberbeach.
Peet and Pate, with Corbin of the gate,
Milling and Hughet, with Gill and Pughet.
The Jury--so continues the story--found the Holy Rood guilty of wilful murder, and the sentence was proposed that she should be hanged. This was opposed by Span, who suggested that, as they wanted rain, it would be best to drown her. This, again, was objected to by Corbin, who advised to lay her on the sands of the river and see what became of her. This was done, with the result that the image was carried by the tide to some low land near the wall of Caerleon--(supposed to be Chester)--where it was found by the Cestrians drowned and dead, and by them buried at the gate where found, with this inscription:--
The Jews their God did crucify,
The Hardeners theirs did drown,
'Cos, with their wants she'd not comply,
And lies under this cold stone.
Hence the said low land, or island, as it may have been, is supposed to have become named Rood-Eye, or Roodee as at present.
Chester's Roodee Cross
This ancient 'cross', which is known to have existed in the Middle Ages, is situated in the middle of Chester Racecourse. In fact it gave the name to the area as the Saxon for cross is rood, and the Norse for island is eye, hence rood eye, island of the cross. Apparently very old maps show it in a slightly different location, but the 1891 and modern maps record it in its present position at the corner of an invisible parish boundary. The city walls and the steps up to Nuns Road can be seen behind the stone, and the white barriers are the part of the actual racecourse circuit.