Front Page Titles (by Subject) 10.: THE ASSISES OF JERUSALEM — ( P. 265 ) - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 10
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10.: THE ASSISES OF JERUSALEM — ( P. 265 ) - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 10 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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THE ASSISES OF JERUSALEM — (P. 265)
It is agreed by most competent critics of the present century that Godfrey of Bouillon neither drew up the Assises of Jerusalem as they have come down to us nor put into writing any code of law whatever. This is the opinion of such special students of the Crusades as Wilken, Sybel, Stubbs, Kugler, and Prutz; and recently it has been very forcibly put by M. Gaston Dodu in his Histoire des Institutions monarchiques dans le royaume Latin de Jérusalem 1099-1291 (1894). In the first place, we find no mention of such a code in contemporary sources; the earliest authorities who mention it are Ibelin and Philip of Novara in the 13th century. Then, supposing such a code had been compiled, it is hard to understand why it should have been placed in the Holy Sepulchre and why the presence of nine persons should have been necessary to consult it. For the purpose of a code is that it should be referred to without difficulty. Thirdly, the remark of William of Tyre as to the experience of Baldwin III. in judicial matters makes distinctly against the existence of a code. He says: juris consuetudinarii, quo regnum regebatur Orientale, plenam habens experientiam: ita ut in rebus dubiis etiam seniores regni principes eius consulerent experientiam et consulti pectoris eruditionem mirarentur (xvi. 2, cp. on Amalric i. xix. 2). The expression “the customary law by which the kingdom was governed” suggests that no code existed.
Fourthly, if the code existed, what became of it? Ibelin and Philip of Novara say that it was lost when Jerusalem was taken by Saladin in 1187. But the circumstances of that capture are inconsistent with the probability of such a loss. There were no military excesses and Saladin allowed the inhabitants a delay of forty days to sell or save their property before he entered the city (Ernoul, c. 18; cp. Dodu, p. 45). It is highly unlikely that the Christians would have failed to rescue a possession so valuable and portable as their Code. The Patriarch could not have overlooked it when he carried forth the treasures of the churches (as Ibn al-Athīr mentions). And, if it were unaccountably forgotten, we should have to suppose that Saladin caused it to be destroyed afterwards when it was found. And had he done so, it is highly unlikely that the act would not have been mentioned by some of the Frank chroniclers.
The conclusion is that the kings of Jerusalem in the twelfth century did not give decisions according to a code drawn up at the time of the foundation of the kingdom, but themselves helped to build up a structure of Customary Law, which in the following century was collected and compiled in the book of the Assises by John Ibelin, 1255.
This book of Ibelin has not come down to us in its original form. There were two redactions: (1) at Nicosia in Cyprus in 1368 under the direction of an assembly of Cypriote lords, and (2) in the same place in 1531, by a commission appointed by the Venetian government. Both these rehandlings introduced a number of corrections into the Assise de la haute cour.
The Assises de la cour des bourgeois stand on a different footing. This work seems to have existed perhaps from the end of the twelfth century. It was not supposed to have been destroyed in 1187; it was not, so far as we know, edited by Ibelin; nor was it revised at Nicosia in 1368. (Cp. Dodu, p. 54, 55.)
The study of the Assises of Jerusalem may now be supplemented by the Assises of Antioch, preserved in an Armenian version, which has been translated into French (published by the Mekhitarist Society, Venice, 1876).
How far is the policy of Godfrey of Bouillon represented in the Assises? In answer to this question, the observations of Bishop Stubbs may be quoted:1 —
“We trace his hand in the prescribing constant military service (not definite or merely for a certain period of each year), in the non-recognition of representation in inheritance, in the rules designed to prevent the accumulation of fiefs in a single hand, in the stringent regulations for the marriages of widows and heiresses. These features all belonged to an earlier age, to a time when every knight represented a knight’s fee, and when no fee could be suffered to neglect its duty; when the maintenance of the conquered country was deemed more important than the inheritances of minors or the will of widows and heiresses. That these provisions were wise is proved by the fact that it was in these very points that the hazard of the Frank kingdom lay. . . . Other portions of the Assizes are to be ascribed to the necessities of the state of things that followed the recovery of Palestine by the Saracens; such, for instance, as the decision how far deforcement by the Turks defeats seisin; and were of importance only in the event of a reconquest.”
[1 ]Itinerarium Regis Ricardi (Rolls series), Introduction, p. xc., xci.