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convenient for the perusal of the visitor, when viewing the celebrated spot.
But while the storm, which at this time spread over Britain, affected the Island in some measure, and from the imprisonment of Charles at Carisbrook, made it a place of very deep interest and excitement, yet compared with other parts of the kingdom, it enjoyed a very considerable degree of peace; this was so evident, that during the raging of the civil war, many families came here to settle, and the rent of farms increased twenty per cent. The Commonwealth having at length been superseded, the Island from the period of the restoration to the present time has been more celebrated for its natural beauty than for its political character.
The Charters, Laws, and Immunities of the Island.
It is difficult, after the lapse of centuries, to ascertain precisely the period when every town had its origin, every borough its immunities, and every court its special laws. The boroughs of the Island have had a variety of changes from the character sustained by the different lords of the Island.
Newport, which is the metropolis of the Island, and a borough of considerable importance, had its first charter of immunities granted by Richard de Redvers, Earl of Devon, the son of Earl Richard; the date of this is not known, probably it was in the reign of Henry II. The charter contains nothing very important, being only a grant of liberties in general terms. A second charter was granted to this town by Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, in the customary terms.*
*The common liberties of a borough were of the following nature. A liberty of trade under protection of its lord; which was granted by the lord, whether he was the king or a subject; and for this license every burgess paid a yearly rent. 2. To pay this rent per manum suam; that is, by an officer of their own choosing, either mayor, bailiff, or other compier. 3. A liberty to receive tolls of all goods sold in the town; with many other privileges, as markets, fairs, fisheries, &c. The farm or rent of the borough arose from the issues and profits of these liberties, and often left a surplus to the community of the borough.
The charter of Isabella received several royal confirmations and additions.
During the reign of Edward I. this ancient borough sent its representatives to parliament. There is, however, an uncertainty whether they represented this town only, or the Island at large.
In the reign of James I. a charter of incorporation was granted to this borough: the bailiff and burgesses were constituted a body politic; to consist of a mayor, twenty-four burgesses, and a recorder, with power to choose a town clerk. The mayor to be sworn into his office in the presence of the captain of the Island or his steward. The mayor, recorder, or his deputy, with two burgesses, are empowered to hold a court one day in every week, for the trial of all causes of debt, trespass, &c. arising within the borough, according to the laws of England.
At the suit of the mayor and burgesses, another charter was granted in the thirteenth year of Charles. II. This recognized the corporation under the names of mayor, aldermen, and burgesses. A mayor to be chosen from among the aldermen, who are to be twelve in number; the aldermen are to be chosen by the mayor and aldermen out of the chief burgesses.
The representation of the borough was lost for some time. It does not appear to have sent any members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till the reign of Elizabeth, when they received precepts to send burgesses to Parliament.
The borough of Newtown, small as it now is, was once a town of considerable importance. In tracing. back its immunities, its first charter, which was granted by Aymer, bishop of Winchester, then lord of the borough, was dated at Swanston, and afterwards confirmed by royal authority. Ancient deeds state, that this borough bought and sold lands as a corporate
body, under a common town seal. In the charter granted by Edward II. a market was allowed every Wednesday, and a fair for three days, annually, on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, on the eve preceding and the day following. This borough sent members to Parliament, first during the reign of Elizabeth; but became disfranchised in 1832, when the Reform Bill was passed.
The old town of Yarmouth received its first charter of immunities from Baldwin, Earl of Devon. It was afterwards re-incorporated by James I. The charter grants a market to be kept every Wednesday, and a fair to be held yearly, on St. James's day, the eve before and the day after, together with the court of pie-powder, &c. In this charter, the castle, ditches, and trenches, and limits belonging to the town, are exempt from the power and authority of the mayor and burgesses. It sent members to Parliament from the time of Elizabeth; but was disfranchised in common with many other boroughs in 1832.
The jurisprudence of the Island has had its variations by the revolutions of time. The ancient lords of the Island had all the power and character of feudal barons. They had their own courts of judicature, and to these the tenantry were liable in all cases of offence, except treason and murder. They possessed the right of nomination to all offices requisite to the peace of the community, and the return of all the king's writs. The tenantry were held chargeable to aid their lords alone. If the barons were taxed, each of the feudatories contributed his proportion to the assessment. The lands were held as of the castle of Carisbrook. If that fortress were attacked, they were bound to defend it at their own cost for the space of forty days. Their attendance was required on the baron, both on his entering and departing from the Island, as well as on various other occasions.
There is still a remnant of feudal times existing under the name of Knight's Court or Knighton Court. It is so called from those who held a knight's fee or part of a knight's fee in capite, being the judges. The judgment was given, according to the Norman mode of trial, without jury. This court is held by the captain's steward of the Island, or his substitute, in the town-hall of Newport, once in three weeks. The usual court day is Monday; but when that day is a festival it is adjourned for six weeks. The whole Island, with the exception of the corporation of Newport, is subject to its jurisdiction. All actions of debt and trespass, under the value of forty shillings, are subject to its cognizance. In cases of actions for debt or trespass, the defendant is made to appear by summons, attachments, and distringas. Certain authorized attornies enter the actions, and are engaged in prosecuting or pleading. The actions of debt are tried by proof of plaintiff or defendant, or by the defendant's wager of law with two hands, if he pray it; and in trespass, by proof only. All actions are adjudged by the court without jury. The judges are freeholders, who hold of her Majesty's castle of Carisbrook.
The above statement contains the outline of this court, as represented to the Privy Council by Lord Conway, in 1626.
There is also a court held in which small debts, not exceeding five pounds, may be recovered. This court was established by Act of Parliament in 1806.
Since the abolition of the feudal system here, by the purchase which Edward made of the Island, it has been governed by wardens or captains, appointed by the crown, who bear the modern title of Governor of the Island.
*Those who held lands immediately under the king, in right of his crown and dignity, were called his tenants in capite.