display | more...
This act is almost a code by itself; it contains fifty-one clauses, and covers the whole ground of legislation. Its language now recalls that of Canute or Alfred, now anticipates that of our own day; on the one hand common right is to be done to all, as well poor as rich, without respect of persons; on the other, elections are to be free, and no man is by force, malice or menace, to disturb them.
William Stubbs The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development

The Statute of Westminster 1275, technically known as 3 Edw. ch. 15, although not quite the oldest1, is one of the earliest examples of English law. It was the work of Edward I's first Parliament which met at Westminster on the 22nd April 1275 and was almost entirely concerned with the project of codifying the existing body of law into one comprehensive statute.2

Edward I succeeded to the throne in 1272 against the background of a series of disputes between the barons and the monarchy that had bedeviled the reigns of his father Henry III and his grandfather king John. He was thus concerned with making efforts to establish a working relationship between crown and baronage that would avoid such problems in the future, and so was born the grand project of codification which drew on previous attempts to define this relationship such as the Great Charter of 1215 as well such as the Provisions of Oxford and the Statute of Marlborough. The Statute of Westminster became therefore the first step in a programme of legal reform which led over a period of twenty years, to the establishment of a what is generally regarded as the first formal and properly constituted Parliament of 1295.

Naturally its contents betray its thirteenth century origins as many of its provisions sought to regulate the feudal relationship between the crown and the baronage and thus dealt with such matters as amercements, wardship, and demands for feudal aids but it also dealt with such issues as defining the procedure in civil and criminal cases and setting the qualifications for the office of coroner.3

Amongst its most notable provisions where;

  • The clarification of the concept of bail; the statute contained a detailed list of offenses, distinguishing between those that were bailable and those that were not. (There was previously a tendency for individual sheriffs to grant bail in accordance to their own wims and for their own personal gain.)
  • The definition of time immemorial, the time beyond living memory beyond which the law would not concern itself, which was set as the 3rd September 1189, the day on which Richard I acceded to the throne.
  • It introduced the offence of scandalum magnatum, which sought to reduce the level of disorder by making it an offense to slander the great men of the kingdom.

It also contains what is often considered the oldest piece of English constitutional law which reads:

Pur ceo µ elections deivent estre fraunches, le Rey defent sour sa greve forfeture µ nul, haut home ne autre, par poer de armes ne par malice ne desturbe de fere fraûche election.4

Or as one might say today,

And because elections ought to be free, the King commands upon great forfeiture that no man, great man or other, by force of arms, nor by malice, or menacing, shall disturb any to make free election.

Other statutes of Westminster

In addition to the Statute of Westminster 1275 there has been other pieces of legislation passed at Westminster which bear the same name;


1 The oldest law is the Distress Act 1267 (52 Hen. 3 c.1), which stated that damages may only be recovered by order of a court.
2 One can only wonder at the fact that the entire body of thirteenth century law could be codified into fifty-one clauses.
3 That is, qualification in terms of the ownership of land rather than any technical expertise.
4 The original language of the Statute of Westminster was of course Norman French, being the language then spoken by the crown and nobility.


  • Legal oddities at www.davros.org/legal/oddities.html
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for WESTMINSTER, STATUTES OF
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • EDWARD I (r. 1272-1307) at http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page61.asp
  • Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (OUP 1957)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.