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COMMONPLACE—COMMONS

deal of variety at different times and in different localities. Early in the 17th century under the twofold influence of the Dutch Church, with which the Scottish clergy were in close connexion, and of James I.’s endeavours to “justle out” a liturgy which gave the liberty of “conceiving” prayers, ministers began in prayer to read less and extemporize more.

Turning again to the legislative history, in 1567 the prayers were done into Gaelic; in 1579 parliament ordered all gentlemen and yeomen holding property of a certain value to possess copies. The assembly of 1601 declined to alter any of the existing prayers but expressed a willingness to admit new ones. Between 1606 and 1618 various attempts were made under English and Episcopal influence, by assemblies afterwards declared unlawful, to set aside the “Book of Common Order.” The efforts of James I., Charles I. and Archbishop Laud proved fruitless; in 1637 the reading of Laud’s draft of a new form of service based on the English prayer book led to riots in Edinburgh and to general discontent in the country. The General Assembly of Glasgow in 1638 abjured Laud’s book and took its stand again by the Book of Common Order, an act repeated by the assembly of 1639, which also demurred against innovations proposed by the English separatists, who objected altogether to liturgical forms, and in particular to the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria Patri and the minister kneeling for private devotion in the pulpit. An Aberdeen printer named Raban was publicly censured for having on his own authority shortened one of the prayers. The following years witnessed a counter attempt to introduce the Scottish liturgy into England, especially for those who in the southern kingdom were inclined to Presbyterianism. This effort culminated in the Westminster Assembly of divines which met in 1643, at which six commissioners from the Church of Scotland were present, and joined in the task of drawing up a Common Confession, Catechism and Directory for the three kingdoms. The commissioners reported to the General Assembly of 1644 that this Common Directory “is so begun ... that we could not think upon any particular Directory for our own Kirk.” The General Assembly of 1645 after careful study approved the new order. An act of Assembly on the 3rd of February and an act of parliament on the 6th of February ordered its use in every church, and henceforth, though there was no act setting aside the “Book of Common Order,” the Westminster Directory was of primary authority. The Directory was meant simply to make known “the general heads, the sense and scope of the Prayers and other parts of Public Worship,” and if need be, “to give a help and furniture.” The act of parliament recognizing the Directory was annulled at the Restoration and the book has never since been acknowledged by a civil authority in Scotland. But General Assemblies have frequently recommended its use, and worship in Presbyterian churches is largely conducted on the lines of the Westminster Assembly’s Directory.

The modern Book of Common Order or Euchologion is a compilation drawn from various sources and issued by the Church Service Society, an organization which endeavours to promote liturgical usages within the Established Church of Scotland.


COMMONPLACE, a translation of the Gr. κοινὸς τόπος, i.e. a passage or argument appropriate to several cases; a “common-place book” is a collection of such passages or quotations arranged for reference under general heads either alphabetically or on some method of classification. To such a book the name adversaria was given, which is an adaptation of the Latin adversaria scripta, notes written on one side, the side opposite (adversus), of a paper or book. From its original meaning the word came to be used as meaning something hackneyed, a platitude or truism, and so, as an adjective, equivalent to trivial or ordinary. It was first spelled as two words, then with a hyphen, and so still in the sense of a “common-place book.”


COMMON PLEAS, COURT OF, formerly one of the three English common law courts at Westminster—the other two being the king’s bench and exchequer. The court of common pleas was an offshoot of the Curia Regis or king’s council. Previous to Magna Carta, the king’s council, especially that portion of it which was charged with the management of judicial and revenue business, followed the king’s person. This, as far as private litigation was concerned, caused great inconvenience to the unfortunate suitors whose plaints awaited the attention of the court, for they had, of necessity, also to follow the king from place to place, or lose the opportunity of having their causes tried. Accordingly, Magna Carta enacted that common pleas (communia placita) or causes between subject and subject, should be held in some fixed place and not follow the court. This place was fixed at Westminster. The court was presided over by a chief (capitalis justiciarius de communi banco) and four puisne judges. The jurisdiction of the common pleas was, by the Judicature Act 1873, vested in the king’s bench division of the High Court of Justice.


COMMONS,[1] the term for the lands held in commonalty, a relic of the system on which the lands of England were for the most part cultivated during the middle ages. The country was divided into vills, or townships—often, Early history.though not necessarily, or always, coterminous with the parish. In each stood a cluster of houses, a village, in which dwelt the men of the township, and around the village lay the arable fields and other lands, which they worked as one common farm. Save for a few small inclosures near the village—for gardens, orchards or paddocks for young stock—the whole township was free from permanent fencing. The arable lands lay in large tracts divided into compartments or fields, usually three in number, to receive in constant rotation the triennial succession of wheat (or rye), spring crops (such as barley, oats, beans or peas), and fallow. Low-lying lands were used as meadows, and there were sometimes pastures fed according to fixed rules. The poorest land of the township was left waste—to supply feed for the cattle of the community, fuel, wood for repairs, and any other commodity of a renewable or practically inexhaustible character.[2] This waste land is the common of our own days.

It would seem likely that at one time there was no division, as between individual inhabitants or householders, of any of the lands of the township, but only of the products. But so far back as accurate information extends the arable land is found to be parcelled out, each householder owning strips in each field. These strips are always long and narrow, and lie in sets parallel with one another. The plough for cultivating the fields was maintained at the common expense of the village, and the draught oxen were furnished by the householders. From the time when the crop was carried till the next sowing, the field lay open to the cattle of the whole vill, which also had the free run of the fallow field throughout the year. But when two of the three fields were under crops, and the meadows laid up for hay, it is obvious that the cattle of the township required some other resort for pasturage. This was supplied by the waste or common. Upon it the householder turned out the oxen and horses which he contributed to the plough, and the cows and sheep, which were useful in manuring the common fields,—in the words of an old law case: “horses and oxen to plough the land, and cows and sheep to compester it.” Thus the use of the common by each householder was naturally measured by the stock which he kept for the service of the common fields; and when, at a later period, questions arose as to the extent of the rights on the common, the necessary practice furnished the rule, that the commoner could turn out as many head of cattle as he could keep by means of the lands which were parcelled out to him,—the rule of levancy and couchancy, which has come down to the present day.

In the earliest post-conquest times the vill or township is found to be associated with an over-lord. There has been much controversy on the question, whether the vill originally owned its lands free from any control, and was subsequently Status of township. reduced to a state of subjection and to a large extent deprived of its ownership, or whether its whole history has been one of gradual emancipation, the ownership of the waste,

  1. For the commons (communitates) in a socio-political sense see Representation and Parliament.
  2. There is an entry on the court rolls of the manor of Wimbledon of the division amongst the inhabitants of the vill of the crab-apples growing on the common.