The Assizes of King Roger

Text of Cod. Vat. Lat. 8782.


It is right and proper, barons, that we should not be presumptuous either concerning ourselves or about the condition and deserts of our whole kingdom, and that if we have received anything from the generosity which has resulted from Divine grace, then we should repay these Divine benefits through which we have our strength with humble service, lest we be entirely ungrateful for such great favor. If then holy God has through His mercy laid our enemies low and restored peace, and if He has made our kingdom whole once again by means of His most gracious tranquillity, both in matters fleshly and spiritual, we are compelled to renew the paths of both justice and piety, when we see that this has become miserably crooked. This very thing which is called inspiration we have received by a gift from the Giver himself, when he says: 'By me kings reign, and legislators decree justice' [Proverbs viii, 15]. For we consider that nothing is more pleasing to God than if we straightforwardly offer Him that which we have learnt Him to be, namely mercy and justice. In this oblation the office of kingship claims for itself a certain privilege of priesthood; from this a certain wise man skilled in the law calls the interpreters of the law priests. Therefore we who through His grace possess the authority of justice and law ought in part to improve them and in part redraft them, and those of us who have secured mercy should in all matters handle them more mercifully and interpret them in a more kindly way, especially where their severity contains a degree of inhumanity. And we do not claim this on the basis of pride as if we were more just or more moderate than our predecessors in the establishment or interpretation of laws through our vigilance, but because we have erred in many things and because we are more inclined to err, we take the view that it is appropriate that those who do wrong should be spared in keeping with the moderation that is appropriate to our times. For the Holy One himself has instructed us as follows, saying:  'Be ye also merciful as your Father also is merciful' [Luke vi, 36], and the King and Prophet says: 'All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth'  [Psalm xxv. 10], and without doubt we shall take the view that the man who has given judgement without mercy shall receive judgement without mercy.  We therefore desire and order that you should faithfully and enthusiastically receive the provisions which we make public in the present code whether they have been promulgated by us or [simply] re-enacted.

I                                   About the Interpretation of Laws

We order that the laws newly promulgated by our majesty, mitigating through piety excessive harshness and thus encouraging benevolent rule, and elucidating what is obscure, should be fully observed by all. Because of the variety of different people subject to our rule, the usages, customs and laws which have existed among them up to now are not abrogated unless what is observed in them is clearly in contradiction to our edicts here.

II                                 About the Privilege of Holy Churches

Let all those subject to our power know that it shall always be our intention to protect, defend and augment in every way the churches of God, for which the Lord Jesus Christ, shed his blood, as our predecessors were at pains to do,  with their traditional generosity.  As a result many and uncountable benefits have always been granted by God to their advantage. Thus we shall defend and guard inviolate all the property and possessions of the holy churches which have been entrusted to our custody, after that of God and the saints, with the temporal sword which has been granted to us by God.  We commend this to [our] princes, counts barons and all our faithful subjects, who should know that whomsoever should attempt to violate our decree shall incur the wrath of our majesty.

III                                            General Admonition

We advise princes, counts, greater and lesser barons, archbishops, bishops, abbots, and all those who have subject to them citizens, burgesses, peasants and men of any sort that they should treat them decently and show themselves merciful, particularly when collecting the tax [adiutorium] owed, they should demand this in moderation, for [by doing this] they render thanks to God and great joy to us, under whose power and rule Divine providence has subjected both prelate and subject.  If this should be neglected, it will be examined by our solicitude with a view to reforming for the better what has been done ill.

IV                                            About Royal Property

We desire that our princes, counts, all barons, archbishops, bishops, and abbots should know that whoever holds any property great our small from our regalia can in no way and by no ingenuity alienate, grant or sell, or diminish in whole or in part anything belonging to our regalia in such a way that our regalian rights are diminished or abolished or suffer any injury.

V                                             About the Sale of Holy Relics

We permit no one to sell or barter relics of martyrs or of any other saint. If anyone shall presume to do this, and the price has not yet been fixed, then nothing shall follow, if the vendor wishes to agree with the purchaser; if however money has been paid restitution shall not be made to the purchaser, who is to hand [them] over to the fisc.  It shall be the concern of our providence to punish anyone daring to infringe this, and, with the advice of the bishops, to place the relics where it shall be most suitable.

VI                                Concerning Flight to a Church

We order by the present law, which shall, God willing, remain in force in perpetuity, that in all parts of our kingdom nobody in flight of whatsoever condition shall be expelled or dragged out of the most holy churches, nor shall anyone because of them exact from the venerable bishops or yconomi that which is owed by them. Anyone who shall endeavor or do this shall be face capital punishment or the loss of all their property. Meanwhile food shall not be denied to the fugitives. However if a serf or colonus or serf of the glebe shall have fled from his lord or shall have fled with stolen property to holy places, he shall be returned to the lord with the property which he has taken, that he may be punished according to the nature of the crime which he has committed, or, if intercession has occurred, restitution shall occur piously and freely.  No one shall have his right taken away from him.


VII                              About Not Violating the Privileges of Churches

Whosoever shall dare to violate the privileges of holy church shall, once the offence is removed, pay compensation according to the harm done to the church; if he shall not be able to pay the fine to which he is condemned the matter shall be committed to the judgement of the king or the arbitration of his officials.  Nevertheless he shall be subject to the providence of the king and the arbitration of his officials about the scale of the offence.

VIII                                         About the Privilege of Bishops

The bishops shall not be compelled to give testimony unless however in ecclesiastical or state cases, when authorised by necessity or royal authority.

Priests shall not be compelled to make corporal oath in [secular] matters. We order that deacons, subdeacons and below placed as ministers to the holy altar shall be strangers to vile restrictions, and we quite prohibit that priests, though not the others, be subject to personal servile dues [angaria].


IX                                            Concerning Illicit Conventicles

We forbid illicit conventicles to be celebrated outside a church in private houses; under threat of the immediate demolition of the house if its lord has knowingly received clerics in it who celebrate new and unruly conventicles.

X                                             About Serfs Wishing to Become Clerics

No bishop should presume to ordain serfs [adscriptitii] without the desire and assent of the persons to whose right and power they are subject, nor  [somebody] from another diocese  [parrochia] with letters of commendation either from a bishops or from their own chapter, following the institutes of the canons.

If those with whom they are enrolled [as serfs] should be convicted of having received any reward for having given permission for their ordination, they will lose the right of adscription and the one who has given the money shall be degraded from his orders and sold with all his property on behalf of the fisc.

It so happens that on sacred occasions wickedness obstructs sacred desires and disturbs the service of God and the ministry of the church. But no evil should be allowed to hinder or laws at any time. If, for example, there shall have been priests assigned to a church in the country or in a village, and after their deaths others must be substituted, and the lords of the country place or village refuse to allow the bishop to make a substitution from among the serfs, especially when the bishop is looking for a suitable person from among these serfs; it appears worthy and most just to our clemency that on the just petition of the church the lord of the serfs should be corrected by the law. But the sons of a deceased priest should be returned to the condition of serfs, without any appeal.

XI                                            About the Rape of Virgins

If anyone presumes to rape holy virgins veiled by God, even for the purpose of marriage, he shall suffer capital punishment, or other penalty which royal censure shall decree.


No Jew or pagan shall dare either to buy or sell Christian servants, or to possess them by any title [whatsoever], or to hold them as a pledge. If he should presume to do this all his property will be confiscated to the fisc, and he shall become the servant of the Court.  If he should by some wicked trick or persuasion have the servant circumcised or make him deny his faith, then he shall be punished by capital penalty.

XIII                                         About Those Apostatising

We curse thoroughly those who apostatise from the Catholic faith. We pursue them with vengeance. We despoil them of all their goods. We withdraw the protection of our laws from those who break a promise or vow, we abolish their right of inheritance and cancel their every legitimate right.

XIV                                         About Jesters

Players and those who make jokes by bodily writhing shall not use in public either the habits of virgins dedicated to God or monastic or clerical vestments. If they should do so they shall be publicly flogged.

XV                                           About Wards and Orphans

Through considerations of piety many privileges are confirmed by ancient laws to wards and orphans which through passage of time have fallen into disuse. We entrust and favorably commend [these laws] to our judges since their abandonment is intolerable.

In addition we settle the equity of the laws on women, who are not less disadvantaged by the fragility of their sex. We order that they should be aided from the depths of piety both by us and by our officials, as is right and proper,

XVI                             About Those Unworthily Aspiring to the Priesthood

No one should dare to seek the dignity of the priesthood by paying money, and they should receive disgrace and punishment [in recompense] for the price paid as soon as this [crime] is by their own action detected. For he who seeks this honor by such an importunate and impudent manner should be deprived of it.

XVII                                        About Those Who Commit Sacrilege

There should be no dispute about the judgement, plans, decrees or deeds of the king, for to dispute his judgements, decrees, deeds and plans, or if he whom he has chosen or appointed is worthy, is comparable to sacrilege.

Many laws have punished sacrilege most severely, but the penalty must be moderated by the decision of the one who is judging, unless perhaps the temples of God have been openly and violently despoiled, or gifts and sacred vessels have been stolen at night, for in that case the crime is capital.

XVIII                          About the Crime of Treason

Whosoever should start a plot, whether with one knight or with many, or on his own, or should give an undertaking or oath to a plot, that plans and prepares the murder of one of the illustrious men who are among our councillors and advisors - they have by their wish to commit evil chosen for themselves severe legal punishment. The culprit should be struck down by the sword as guilty of treason and all their property should be confiscated by the state.  Their sons should indeed receive no benefit whether by our generosity or by legal right. Let death be a blessing to them and life a punishment. If however anyone shall have denounced what has been done by the conspirators without delay, he shall promptly receive pardon and grace.

The crime of treason also encompasses those who discuss and attack the reputation of the king after his death, so that anyone who should do or be a party to this will from that day on be treated as a criminal and have no protection, but everything that they have shall be sold according to the laws of the fisc.

He who shall purge a relative of a crime deserves succession to them.

All those by whose advice hostages escape, citizens are armed, plots are fomented, tumults excited, magistrates killed, men desert from the army or flee from the enemy, allies are betrayed, military formations are cloven asunder by wicked tricks, battles lost, fortresses abandoned, help denied to allies, and other things of this type [done], shall be considered guilty of this crime, as will he who spy on, corrupt or publish the king's counsels, as well as he who knowingly gives shelter and renders assistance to the enemies of the kingdom.

XIX                                         About New Knighthood

Consenting to divine justice, we approve what must be approved and reject the contrary. For just as the good must not be exasperated so the evil should not be benefited. Therefore we order and propose this edict, that if someone should seize new knighthood contrary to the happiness, peace and integrity or our kingdom, will lose completely the name and profession of knight, unless perhaps he is descended from the stock of a knightly family. We order the same about those who receive the order of any profession, as for example if they obtain the authority of a judge or the office of a notary, or others similar.

XX                                           About Forgers

A person who alters royal letters or seals what he has written with a spurious seal should suffer capital punishment.

XXI                                         About Coining Money

We impose capital punishment on and confiscate the property of those coining adulterine money or knowingly receiving it; we inflict this penalty [also] on those conspiring [in this].

We deprive those who shave gold or silver coins, dye them, or in anyway diminish them of their property and their lives.


Where a case of forgery occurs, diligent inquiry shall follow promptly, with proofs, witnesses, comparison of scripts and other indications of the truth; not only shall the accuser be examined for proofs, but the judge shall be the arbiter between both parties, that when all the evidence finally agrees he shall impose sentence, When proved, capital punishment shall follow, if a punishment of that magnitude is merited, or another penalty depending on the seriousness of the offence.

XXIII                                      About a Forged Document

Whoever uses a false document unwittingly shall not be punished for the crime of forgery.

Whoever furnishes a falsehood with witnesses should be punished with the penalty for forgery.

XXIV                                      About the Concealment of Wills

Someone who removes, conceals, destroys or alters wills and public instruments shall be subject to the same penalty.

If anyone destroys his father's will, in order to succeed as though to one [who died] intestate, shall be deprived of the inheritance from his father.

XXV                                        About Public Officials

The status of the person aggravates or diminishes the punishment for fraud. Officials of the state or judges who have, during their period in office, stolen public revenues  [are guilty of] the grave crime of embezzlement and shall be punished capitally, unless royal piety spares them.

XXVI                                      About Public Properties

Anybody who has allowed public property to be lost or diminished through his own negligence should be considered guilty and liable through his own person and property, at the discretion of royal piety.

Anybody who knowingly gives assent to what has been done shall be liable to the same legal penalty.

XXVII                         About the Legitimate Celebration of Marriages

Since it belongs to the care and solicitude of the kingdom to draft laws, govern the people, instruct them in morals, extirpate evil customs, it seems right and equitable to our clemency to rescind by the sterness of our edict a certain evil custom which, as though some damage or pestilence, has for a long time and up to the present crept into use by part of our people, to prevent burgeoning vices spreading to the rest. For it is contrary to custom, inconsistent with what is laid down by the holy canons, and unheard of to Christian ears to desire to contract matrimony, to procreate legitimate progeny and bind oneself indissolubly to a consort, unless seeking the favor and grace of God in these matters of marriage and 'concerning Christ and the Church’ as the Apostle says' [Ephesians v. 32], by confirming the sacrament through the priestly ministry. Thus we decree by the present law, which (God willing) shall last in perpetuity, that it is necessary for all those wishing to contract a legitimate marriage to have the marriage solemnly celebrated after the betrothal and each for his own measure and comfort to take the path to a church and priestly blessing.

After the examination he shall place a ring of price and they shall submit to priestly prayer, if they wish to bequeath succession [to their property] to their future heirs.  Otherwise they should know that they are acting against our royal precept and would have no legitimate heirs either by will or by intestacy from those born to an illicit marriage contrary to our law; the women would have no right to the dowers proper for those legitimately married. We relax the rigor of this law to all those who have already contracted marriage at the time of its promulgation.  We also relax the chain of this necessity for widows desiring to [re] marry.

XXVIII                                   About Adulteresses

Moved by the piety to which we owe our whole being, we decree by the present general law that whenever a charge of adultery or fornication is put before those who, through our foresight and enactment, control our laws, they should pay no attention to status, but should clear-sightedly note the conditions and ages, and investigate the state of mind [of the parties] to establish whether [it was] of set purpose or from advice received or because of the perils of youth that they have rushed into the act, or whether they are fallen women; [to establish] whether the womens’ financial means are weak or strong, and whether they have been motivated by wilfulness or by a particularly unhappy marriage; in order that, once all these factors have been investigated, proven and clarified, either a more lenient or a more severe sentence may be passed on the crimes committed, not on the basis of the severity of the law but on that of the balance of fairness. For, if we proceed in this way, justice will tally perfectly with divine justice; nor will we be departing from that divine verdict, ‘with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you once again'.  [Matthew vii. 1]

The harshness of the laws has been softened so that she shall not, as once, be struck down by the sword but that the property belonging to her shall be subject to confiscation, if she shall have no legitimate children from this marriage or another. For it is most unjust that those who were born at a time when the law of the marriage was legally preserved should be defrauded of their inheritance. And she should certainly not be handed over to her husband whose anger would imperil her life, but rather the punishment for the violation of a marriage should be slitting of her nose, which [punishment] has been most sternly and cruelly introduced.  However neither her husband nor her relations should be permitted to harm her further.  If her husband is unwilling that such a penalty be inflicted on her, we will not allow a crime of this sort to go unpunished, and we order her to be publicly flogged.

Whoever allows his wife to be wanton with debauched men while he looks on or by his arrangement cannot easily accuse her in court, since he who consents to what he could forbid opens the way to fraud.

We shall not condemn everyone who has a suspect wife as a pimp; for who rightfully disturbs the peace of another's marriage? But if we learn clearly that someone has a lascivious wife, we shall immediately from this time hold her worthy of strict punishment, and we condemn him to the penalty of infamy.

Known prostitutes shall not be though worthy to observe these laws and shall stand absolutely immune from the judicial punishments for adultery and fornication.

XXIX                                      About the Same Issue

A woman who has frequently exhibited her body for sale and revealed herself publicly as a prostitute is freed from accusation of this crime [i.e. of adultery], however [while] we prohibit violence to be done to her, we forbid her to dwell among women of good reputation.

An adulterer and an adulteress cannot be charged together. Each should be charged separately and the outcome of the matter awaited; for if the adulterer is able to clear himself, the woman is free and need make no further defence. If however he shall be found guilty then let the woman in turn be accused.

The law does not make a choice of who should be first tried, but if both are present then the man shall be tried first.

Divorce [repudium] must always be permitted in this accusation, and neither violence nor detention should be employed.

XXX                                        About Pimping

We decree by the present law that that madams, namely those who solicit the chastity of another, which is the worst type of crime, should be punished as adulteresses.

We punish mothers who prostitute their virgin daughters and abandon the bonds of marriage as madams, thus their noses should be slit. For it is cruel and inhuman for them to sell the chastity of their own offspring. But if a daughter prostitutes herself and the mother only consents, the matter shall be left to the decision of the judge,

XXXI                                      About the Violation of Marriage

If our royal majesty's providence refuses in any way to permit one of our barons to invade the castrum of another within the bounds of our kingdom, or to plunder it, to make an armed attack on it or to take anything from it by fraud, to prevent him by this act depriving him of its property; then by how much more do we hold him punishable if he should presume to violate the marriage of a fellow and neighbor? It seems that the law must not tolerate this. Therefore we decree that if anyone shall be accused to us of such a deed, and it be clearly proved, they shall be deprived of all their property.

If a husband catches his wife in the very act of adultery, then he shall be allowed to kill both the wife and the adulterer, provided that it is done without any further delay.

XXXII                                     About Adultery

The legal penalty for pimping binds a husband who shall seize his wife caught in the act of adultery but has allowed the adulterer to get away, unless however the latter escaped through no fault of his own.

XXXIII                       About Those Failing to Make an Accusation

He who receives back his wife after the crime of adultery has been proved seems to have abandoned the accusation, and thus cannot raise any further charge.

XXXIV                        About Injuries Inflicted on Private Persons

What is fully in agreement with law and reason is indeed welcome to all, and what is not agreeable to all on grounds of equity is manifestly unpleasing. For it is not to be wondered at if, when something which God has most carefully and properly placed in man is negligently and contemptuously held in no account by wrong judgement, the wise man and lover of honesty is rightly indignant. For is it any more absurd that a stricken mare be compensated when its tail is cut off, and when a most respectable man be deprived of his beard? Therefore on the suggestion and plea of the subject people of our kingdom, and realising the defects of its laws, we pronounce this law and edict, that if any ordinary person be deliberately and intentionally deprived of their beard, then those convicted of having done this shall have the following penalty imposed, namely a fine of six golden royal solidi. If however this was done in a fight, without being planned beforehand, then they shall be fined three solidi.

XXXV                         About Injuries Inflicted on Curiales

Judges should most diligently observe that they consider the dignity of curiales in any case of injury; and that they impose sentence according to the quality of the persons, both of those who were injured and of those who inflicted the injury, and where and when such a rash act was committed. They shall impose sentence according to the quality of the persons; for strictly speaking injury was done by them not to the persons themselves, but in fact should be seen as an offence to the royal dignity.

XXXVI                        About Those Wishing to Become Physicians

Whoever in the future desires to become a physician should present himself to or officials and judges, for an examination according to their judgement.  But, if he should rashly take this for granted, let him be consigned to prison and all his property confiscated. For this had been arranged so that subjects of our kingdom shall not be put at risk through physicians' inexperience.

XXXVII                                  About Kidnappers

Whoever knowingly sells a free man shall be subject to this legitimate penalty, that the person sold shall be redeemed from his property and that the criminal himself shall become a slave of our court, and the rest of his property shall be confiscated.  If the man who has been sold cannot be redeemed, then he should be handed over as a slave to the victim's parents, and his property awarded to the court. In any case where the man who has been sold shall return, the criminal shall become a slave of the court, and his sons born after this case shall be subject to the court in perpetual slavery.

XXXVIII                                 About Robbers

He who, thinking his life to be in danger, shall kill an attacker or robber, ought not to fear blame for his action.

XXXIX                                    About Children and Madmen

If a child or madman shall kill a man without evil intent, he shall not be held accountable. For the one is excused by reason of innocence, the other by their unfortunate condition.

XL                                           About Theft

He who shall kill a nocturnal thief shall remain unpunished, if the latter could not be arrested, while the hue and cry was raised.


XLI                                         About Arsonists

Whoever sets a house on fire by deceit should suffer capital punishment as an arsonist.

In criminal matters the intention shall be taken into consideration, not the result; for there is no difference between someone who kills and one who seeks to cause death.

XLII                                        About Those Who Throw Things

Whoever hurls himself down from on high and kills a man, and whoever incautiously and without shouting a warning hurls a branch or throws a stone or some other implement and kills a man, shall be subject to capital penalty.

XLIII                                      About Poison

Whoever gives, sells or possesses evil or harmful medicines which affect the mind, or poisons, shall be subject to capital penalty.

Whoever prepares a love potion or some other harmful food, even if he harms no one, shall not go unpunished.

XLIV                                    If a Judge Neglects His Duty

If a judge receives money and then declares someone guilty of a crime and of death, then he shall be subject to capital punishment.

If a judge fraudulently and deceitfully hands down a sentence contrary to the laws, then he shall lost his judicial authority without hope of recovery, be branded with infamy and all his property shall be confiscated.   However, if he makes a mistake in sentencing through ignorance of the law, he shall be punished for his simplicity of mind and be subject to our royal mercy and foresight.

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