Englishry, or Englescherie, is a legal name given, in the reign of William the Conqueror, to the presentment of the fact that a person slain was an Englishman. If an unknown man was found slain, he was presumed to be a Norman, and the administrative district know as the hundred was fined accordingly, unless it could be proved that he was English. Englishry, if established, excused the hundred.
As after the Norman occupation, King William found that many of his soldiers would be found slain in outlying places, and no information could be obtained as to any criminal, he adopted this device. He varied an older custom by imposing a heavy fine on the district, were a man found slain, unless it was definitely proved that the deceased was of English blood. Therefore, unless the murdered man were proved to be of native descent, he was presumed to be a Norman, and in this case the record, as we have seen, would run: No Englishry presented, therefore murder (of a Norman) on the hundred (for which the fine must be paid).
In cases of death by violence, and in Somersetshire amongst other counties, also in cases of death by misadventure, it was further the duty of the coroner, as the King's officer, not to lose an opportunity of recovering the murdrum, or murder fine which the district could only escape by a proper presentment of Englishry. This was a fruitful source of revenue. How common these fines were in the rough days of the 13th century a glance through the pleas of the crown in the assize rolls suffices to show. It is usual to describe the "murdrum" as a fine imposed upon a district for the secret killing of a person. Glanvill speaks of secret killing, and Bracton states that the fine was not imposed where the killer was known. Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen has also clearly expressed the same view. Even if this were so in very early days, it certainly would be inaccurate as a full statement of the practice during the 13th century. There are many recorded cases of the infliction of the fine where the slayer was known.
— Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen, History of the Criminal Law Vol. III., p. 77. fo. 135.
It is thought that Danish invaders first introduced the practice in England, and that the Norman conquerors preserved and revived it. Dr. W. Stubbs (Constitutional History, I p. 196) suggests such measures may have been taken by King Canute. But there is no direct evidence for this of an earlier date than the 13th-century legal treatise Bracton.
... when Cnut had become established in England and had sent home the greater part of his army of invasion at the request of the English magnates, the latter guaranteed the safety of such of the Danes as remained. Thus if any Englishman killed a Dane and could not justify himself by the ordeal, justice was to be done upon him. If he fled, the township had a month and a day to seek him, and if it failed to find him and deliver him to justice it was fined 46 marks, 40 of which went to the King. What the township could not pay of this fine the hundred had to make good. It seems that if within a year the murderer was delivered to justice the fine was returnable. The Leges Willelmi Conquestoris varied the practice somewhat.[Note 1] The Frenchman, the "Francus homo" was substituted for the Dane. If he were killed and the men of the visne (vicinity) did not take the killer within a week they forfeited 46 marks. The King further enjoined that if any Norman or Frenchman was slain his lord should have the killer within a certain time; if he failed he should forfeit 46 marks, and what of this he could not pay should be made good by the hundred in which the murder was done.
The liability to the fine could only be escaped by proof in the prescribed manner that the person slain was English. This was the "presentment of Englishry." The presentment was made to the local court or the coroner, and in turn presented to the justices when they next came into the county.
Attempts to prove that a murdered Frenchman was English were understandably frequent:
In the Pipe Rolls of the latter part of the reign of Henry II., the ' false presentments,' which must, no doubt, be interpreted as false presentments of Englishry, are very frequent, as are 'concealments'; and 'false presentments of Englishry' by name are to be found on the Pipe Roll 34 Henry II., under Berkshire, Somersetshire, &c.
Englishry was abolished in 1340. However, the practice had continued for some 200 years after it was possible to distinguish Frenchmen from Englishmen because it was so profitable to the crown:
... says the writer of the Dialogue, "by reason of the English and Normans dwelling together, and constantly intermarrying, the two nations are so completely mixed one with the other, that, in so far as regards the portion of the community that is free, it can scarcely any longer be ascertained who is of English, who of Norman descent."
- In the twelfth century, especially in the time of Henry I., various Latin law-books were written in England, most of them by men of French birth, in order to expound the 'laga Edwardi,' i.e. the Anglo-Saxon legal system, which, as amended by William I. and Henry I., was still regarded as valid. These compilations are the so-called Leges Henrici Primi (the most valuable of the series), Leges Edwardi Confessoris, Leges Willelmi Conquestoris or the bilingual code, the Quadripartitus (which contains a Latin translation of the old dooms, with those of Cnut in the foreground), and two other translations of Cnut's laws, namely, the Consiliatio Cnuti and the Instituta Cnuti. To these should be added Pseudo-Cnut's Constitutiones de Foresta, a forgery of Henry II.'s time, and the untrustworthy Leges Anglorum of John's reign.
— Charles Gross (1900) The Sources and Literature of English History from the Earliest Times to About 1485 p. 197, Longmans, Green and Co.
- Transactions of the Greenwich Antiquarian Society Vols 1-2 p. 153 (1907) Charles North, London
- Somersetshire Pleas Vol. 11 p. lix (1897) Somerset Record Society from the Rolls of the Itinerant Justices (close of the 12th century – Henry III)
- Hon Dixon J. "The Development of the Law of Homicide". The Australian Law Journal (Supplement) (1935) 64. pp. 64-69.
- "Englishry, n." OED Online. DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2008. Oxford University Press[dead link]
- Luke Owen Pike (1873) A History of Crime in England, Smith, Elder & Company, London
- George L. Craik (1838) The Pictorial History of England p. 666, Knight and Company, London
- Charles Gross (1896) Select Cases from the Coroner's Rolls, A.D. 1265-1413, Bernard Quaritch, London