Few relics of Jersey’s feudalistic past remain in operation in the 21st century, but one which does is the Assize d’Heritage, a twice-yearly sitting of the Royal Court at which the Seigneurs of the major fiefs are required to answer for their fiefs, which are held directly from the Crown.
Today this is a formality, accompanied by the ceremony of a guard of halbardiers, but in earlier times the ceremony, which involves the seigneurs in paying the comparence they owe to the Crown through a process known as suite de cour had great importance.
The ceremony is now held twice a year, in May and October.
If a seigneur defaulted on three successive occasions the fief would revert to the Crown. The exact origins of the Assise d’Heritage are not known, but it may be that it was introduced in the wake of Jersey’s split from Normandy in 1204 and that the presence of the Seigneurs was required to prove that they were not resident in Normandy while still claiming ownership of their Jersey fiefs.
The Lieut-Governor is usually present on behalf of the bishops, abbots and abbesses whose Alien Priories were confiscated by Henry V in 1413. The other Seigneurs, known as franc tenants, who must pay comparence by answering "Je garde" when their names are called, are those of St Ouen, Rosel, Mélèches, Samarès, Trinity, St Germains, Diélament, St Jean la Hougue Boete, Augrès, Luce de Carteret, La Hague, des Arbres, Franc Fief, ès Hormans and ès Poingdestres.
The Prévôts du Roi and Chef Sergents of the parishes are called at the Assise to declare anything which may have come to their notice which would add to Crown revenues, such as tenants dying without heirs; confiscation of property of criminals convicted of treason, murder, striking or threatening a judge; vacant land; wreckage and treasure trove; and other potential sources of revenue. The Prévôts hand in a written declaration with a list of people who have died without direct heirs and of those who are presumed to be dead.
The Seigneurs who owe comparence at the Assise d'Heritage are:
- The Lieut-Governor, for the Bishops, Abbots and Abbesses
- The Seigneur of St Ouen
- St Germains
- St Jean la Hougue Boëte
- Luce de Carteret
- La Hague
- des Arbres
- Franc Fief in St Brelade
- ès Hormans
- ès Poingdestres
Renewal of oaths
The Advocates of the Royal Court renew their oaths of office and arpenteurs (land surveyors) are appointed and sworn in.
The Court of Heritage had considerable importance before the States came into being. It was the means of raising money for the Crown through the feudal system for the upkeep of the Castle, the Court House, the Prison and the salaries of Crown officials. The Seigneurs had great powers in Medieval times and the most senior had virtually automatic places among the 12 jurats. The other senior seigneurs formed part of the Court and were consulted on all major matters, as well as being part of the law-making process. This ended in 1771 when a Code of Laws was drawn up and took away the legislative function of the Royal Court. The seigneurs were still consulted on major issues as recently as the beginning of the 20th century.
The francs tenants are invited to a dinner held in the Queen's name after the sitting Edere cum Regeter in Anno, a custom which is said to date back before the Norman Conquest.