Maintenance was a legal concept describing conduct that involved assisting or supporting the litigation of another person. By the 13th century, individuals began to complain to the crown and parliament about such conduct and it became a common complaint. Although maintenance was also a word commonly associated with various types of legitimate support, these complaints now frequently used that word to describe various types of wrongdoing, often related to litigation or legal issues. Moreover, these complaints often targeted the use of power and influence of powerful individuals and officials to pervert the justice system.
Starting in 1275 and continuing through the sixteenth century, numerous statutes prohibiting maintenance were enacted. A 1377 statute was critical as it authorized private maintenance actions. Yet the statutes did not define illegal maintenance nor in any way indicate what particular types of conduct were illegal. In general, maintenance was thought to consist of any type of meddling in the litigation of another person, if a plea were already pending in court. However, a detailed investigation of actual maintenance actions in the plea rolls and Year Books shows that this notion of maintenance was overbroad and the actual offense was narrower.
Understanding the law of maintenance involves analyzing the judicial treatment of the justifications asserted by defendants in their pleas for involvement in the litigation of another person. In some actions, the plaintiff would deny the facts alleged by the defendant or challenge whether it justified the defendant’s conduct. But often the plaintiff replied that the defendant had engaged in other more egregious conduct. None of these notions were in the statutes themselves and were solely the product of the parties’ pleading and judicial treatment of their allegations.
Common justifications approved by the justices included some relationship between the maintenance defendant and the litigant such as master and servant or kinship or having a legal interest in the land in dispute such as a lord in his tenant’s land. But if the plaintiff’s replication alleged other conduct such as giving money to a juror, the judges would then decide whether or not the conduct was excessive and, therefore, a violation of the statute. A number of types of special maintenance were illegal.
This paper is based on extensive research in the plea rolls and Year Books, focusing on the period 1377-1485. The plea roll research produced almost 2,000 entries related to maintenance and close to 1000 separate individual actions. The most revealing are those actions where the parties appeared and made detailed allegations. The Year Book research produced about 150 actions in which the justices ruled or expounded on the law of maintenance.