Trial by compurgation
(in which the winning litigant was the one who could bring a designated number of respected people to court willing to swear to the truth of his oath) was generally limited in post-Conquest England to minor civil disputes and misdemeanor criminal offenses....
, the accuser and accused swore oaths, aided by compurgators who were enlisted on their behalf to vouch for the oaths.
(30.) Trial by compurgation, also known as the wager of law, was grounded on ancient and medieval confidence in the sanctity of the oath.
Compurgation is probably not quite as old or ubiquitous as battle or ordeal, but it was practiced in various forms by some ancient peoples, including the Babylonians and Israelites.
Additionally, the wager of law or compurgation, in which the plaintiff produced complaint witnesses and the defendant, oath-helpers, whose role was to support the plea or defence of each party by swearing to that party's character, gave way to the inquest jury as the dominant mode of proof.(31)
That Robert had been put to compurgation to prove his innocence suggests that the affair between Robert and Alice was a matter of public discussion, because, according to canon law, no one could undergo compurgation for a matter that was not an issue of public fame, and, secondly, an intention to admit the accused to purgation was frequently made by public proclamation in the parish church.(103) `Every stage of canonical purgation', writes R.
as a mode of trial in common law criminal cases did not survive the Assize of Clarendon in 1166.
The other irrational modes of proof were ordeals, casting lots, and compurgation
. (12) By these modes of proof, an appeal was made to divine authority to decide the guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime or to choose between disputants.
The carter's repeated but fractured pledges echo the late medieval practice of "wager of law" or "compurgation," which provided one avenue for resolving promissory, contractual, or other conflicts in both civil and ecclesiastical court.(24) When a plaintiff brought a grievance against a defendant, the defendant controverted the plaintiff's charge by swearing an oath denying the allegation.
Press, 1924), xxx-xxxix, gives an excellent overview of compurgation in London during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Finally, the Church court's method of trial, compurgation
, depended far less on the displaying and weighing of evidence than on the assessment of the public's opinion of the defendant: this procedure required the accused to take a formal oath testifying that he was innocent of the crime and enlist a number of compugators or oath-helpers to swear--not to the truth of the underlying facts--but to the trustworthiness of his oath.(8)
Even before facing God's judgment, Adam, realizing that he can enter no "plait" in God's court, recognizing that compurgation
, at least for the moment, is impossible, and acknowledging that protection and aid are no longer his right, declares: