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Travel obligations and internet issues are going to be interfering with daily posts for at least some of the next 10 days to two weeks. So nobody will go into withdrawal, however, The Legal Genealogist offers…

The term of the day:


wyteYou absolutely have to love it when, to understand the definition of one word, you have to understand the definition of another. Or even more than one other.

And wyte is a perfect example. Black’s defines wyte as an old English law term that means “acquittance or immunity from amercement.”1


Now all we need to know is what amercement means:

A pecuniary penalty, in the nature of a fine, imposed upon a person for some fault or misconduct, he being “in mercy” for his offense. It was assessed by the peers of the delinquent, or the affeerors, or imposed arbitrarily at the discretion of the court or the lord.

The difference between amercements and fines is as follows: The latter are certain, and are created by some statute; they can only be imposed and assessed by courts of record; the former are arbitrarily imposed by courts not of record, as courts-leet.

The word “amercement” has long been especially used of a mulct or penalty, imposed by a court upon its own officers for neglect of duty, or failure to pay over moneys collected. In particular, the remedy against a sheriff for failing to levy an execution or make return of proceeds of sale is, in several of the states, known as “amercement.”2

Um… courts-leet? Mulct?


A court-leet was an “English court … held once in the year, and not oftener, within a particular hundred, lordship, or manor, before the steward of the leet; being the king’s court granted by charter to the lords of those hundreds or manors. Its office was to view the frankpledges,—that is, the freemen within the liberty; to present by jury crimes happening within the jurisdiction; and to punish trivial misdemeanors.”3

And a mulct was a “penalty or punishment imposed on a person guilty of some offense, tort, or misdemeanor, usually a pecuniary fine or condemnation in damages.”4


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1249, “wyte.”
  2. Ibid., 67, “amercement.”
  3. Ibid., 288, “court-leet.”
  4. Ibid., 792, “mulct.”
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