The English so called high court of chivalry, archaic and now rarely used, is said by Wikipedia to follow civil law (ie not common law).

How does this work, and how did it come to be?


1 Answer 1


Because it missed the memo

The High Court of Chivalry (HCC) was established about 1350 specifically to deal with cases that fell outside of common law. At the time, England had several legal traditions with the common law being primarily concerned with property rights. This left “matters of honour, pedigree, descent, and coat armour” without a home.

Originally the HCC had a wider remit than just coats of arms but as the common law expanded, the jurisdiction of the HCC narrowed until it fell “into disuse by 1737 and therefore avoided the effect of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, which formed the modern High Court of Justice. The Court remained a separate jurisdiction, slumbering for some two hundred years.“ Basically all it had left was disputes over heraldry and they just don’t happen very often.

So, when the various courts of England were merged into what we call the common law of today, this one got missed. As it was never a common law court it follows the rules of royal courts, the closest analog today being the civil law tradition.

The reason that it hasn’t been swallowed up is that, while we might think of coats of arms as a type of intellectual property, IP is a creature of statute and Parliament has never made laws about them. If it did, then unless the law specified otherwise, it would move these disputes into the mainline judiciary and the HCC would have no function left. The reason it doesn’t is a) it’s not very important and Parliament has better things to do, and b) arcane, weird but harmless traditions are very English.

  • 1
    I see, so it is not a “civil law” court as such, but simply resembles such more closely than it does the common law system. Mar 16, 2023 at 23:03
  • @Seekinganswers it might be more correct to call it following the roman tradition of law than call it a proper civil law tradition, as it was established long before the Code Civil.
    – Trish
    Mar 17, 2023 at 10:02
  • What was the code civil? Mar 17, 2023 at 13:04
  • @Seekinganswers The Code Civile is a French collection of laws from revolutionary age, but you could make that a question.
    – Trish
    Mar 18, 2023 at 13:34
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    @Seekinganswers Wikipedia is a good starting place. The idea to codify all law into one single place was one of the Enlightenment ideas. The French project was not the first of its kind (for instance Prussia had a code in 1794) but it benefited from aggressive marketing to other Continental Europe countries, and from there diffused to those countries’ colonies.
    – KFK
    Mar 23, 2023 at 15:23

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