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 leading principle of the Norman procedure was undoubtedly the King's writ. It replaced the ancient summons, by the party injured, to the accused.
'The Court of Common Pleas had no jurisdiction without the King's writ. In the lesser courts, however, as in the Court Baron or the Sheriff's County Court, there was no original writ, but a plaint only, and the judge in such courts was bound by common right to administer justice without a special mandate from the King.
"The writ was enforced by the King's deputy, the sheriff, backed by all the powers of the Crown. Hence the claim of the King to be recompensed for his trouble and expense in maintaining the necessary officers to enforce his orders.
"Further, a writ was not a matter of right, but an act of grace from the King, and had to be paid for. This custom of payment developed into the open sale of writs, and was finally met by the famous clause of Magna Charta, 'nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus rectum aut justiciam.' We can trace the survival of it at the present day in the shape of court fees and stamps.
"A writ in its primitive form does not appear to have had any connection with a particular suit, but was a general direction to do right. All writs were anciently original writs, that is, writs which passed under the great seal, and they were issued out of Chancery (the chancellor's office, he being secretary to the King), where was kept a register of the original writs.
"Original writs were either optional or preemptory. The optional writ was called a praecipe, because it was in the form of a 'command' to the defendant to redress the injury or stand the suit, giving him his choice. The preemptory writ was called a writ si fecerit te securum, because 'if the plaintiff gave security' to the sheriff to prosecute his suit, the sheriff compelled the defendant to appear in court, without giving him any option. If the defendant could not appear he might put in essoins (essonium) or excuses for not taking a step in the suit."6
As time went on the original writ became more important and determined the whole course of the cause of action. Even the rules governing the introduction of evidence would vary in different causes in accordance with the character of the writ which marked the beginning of the litigation. The number of these original writs was very large, the exact number it is impossible to determine. For example, the Writ of Entry, may be considered as a single writ or as a general term for a dozen or more separate writs. The following list of writs which we find on the roll of the common bench of the Easter Term of 1271 will serve to illustrate the multiplicity and diversity of these writs: Miscellaneous Actions for Land, 185; Writ of Right, 12; Writ of Entry, 21; Novel Disseisin, 5; Mort d'Ancestor, 7; Aiel, Besail, Cosinage, 8; De Rationabili Parte, 2; Nuper Obiit, 1; Little Writ of Right, 1; Monstraver-unt, 2; Right of Adowson, 1; Darrein Presentment, 15; Quare impedit, Quod permittat presentare, Quare non admisit, 14; Assize Utrum, 6; Quare eiecit infra-terninum, 3; Dower, 189; Escheat, 1; Quod permittat habere, 7; Quod permittat fugare, 1; Quare levavit mercatum, 1; Quod reparari faciat stagnum, 1; Quo iure, 1; Customs and Services, 15; Mesne, 17; Writs relating to wardships, 12; De nativo habendo, 10;
6 White's Outline of Legal History, pages 64 and 65.
Quare non permittat se talliari, 1; Warantia Cartae, 26; Per quae servicia, 1; De Fine Facto, 9; Waste, 1; Account, 8; Annuity, 18; Quare subtrahit, 1; Covenant, 35; Debt, 53; Detinue, 11; Deceit, 1; Rescue, 2; Replevin, 35; Statutory Actions for unlawful distress, 11; Trespass, 85; Actions analogous to Trespass, 3; Appeal of homicide, 3; Appeal of robbery, 4; Appeal of wounds and mayhem, 1; Appeal of imprisonment, 1; Appeal of felony (unspecified), 1; False judgment, 6; Error, 1; Prohibition, 11.
The following additional forms of writs which do not appear during the Easter Term of 1271 are to be found in near-by terms:
De Rationabilibus Divisis, 1; Formedon, 1; Quod permittat prosternere, 3; De secta ad Molendium, 2; Quod capiat homagium, 2; De libertate probanda, 2; Appeal of larceny (by approvers), 3; Appeal of rape, 11; Attaint, 3; Certification, l.7