This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The nationalization of England was finally accomplished during the reign of Henry II. From the first landing of Hengist and Horsa, the unification of the various divergent races inhabiting England had constantly been one of the great problems presented to all English rulers. Scarcely had the task seemed to be performed than a new immigration would create a new aspect of the same problem. Scarcely had Angles, Saxons, and Jutes been united under a common rule than the invasion from the north brought the contest between Anglo-Saxon and Dane. The fusion of these races only slightly preceded the Norman invasion. The bitterest of all contests, that between Saxon and Norman, had not yet ceased to exist by the time of the accession of Henry II. The Angevin descent of Henry II had the fortunate effect of causing the new King to sympathize neither with the Norman or the Saxon as against the other, with the result that during his reign all disturbances between the two races gradually passed away and the two became gradually fused into a new united nation.
The first great problem presented to the new ruler was the subjugation of the English barons, who during the recent disturbances had attempted to advance their position from that of English subjects, into that of semi-independent feudal lords. The successful termination of this task left him at liberty for his greatest work of organizing and developing the English judicial system. A brief summary of the work done along this line during his reign is as follows: the judicial duties of the Curia Regis were first separated from its legislative and executive duties, and a further division of that judicial body was made into the three branches of the Exchequer, Common Pleas, and King's Bench. The itinerant justices or justices in eyre were regularly established, later in this reign being succeeded by the judges of Assize and Nisi Prius. In 1176 the country was first divided into regular judicial circuits. To Henry Second can also be ascribed the introduction of trial by jury and other legal reforms, and the wide extension and regular establishment of the system of recognition by sworn inquest, i. e., the finding of facts by a body of impartial witnesses who represented the sentiment of the local community, and who were summoned and examined by an official, who acted under power of the King's writ. From this institution our present trial by jury is lineally descended.
Much new legislation in the various branches of private law was enacted during this reign which will be considered in Chapter VII (The English Common Law. Section 57. The Norman Conquest); there is little, however, of importance in the line of Constitutional law. The reign of Henry the Second may best be described as a benevolent despotism. The reforms of this period were enacted by, and were the work of Henry the Second, rather than of the Great Council.