This essay has assumed much larger proportions than were originally intended. I set out with the purpose of writing a mere explanatory commentary upon the Southampton Court Leet Records, and especially on those portions of them which have already been put into print. But, as I got together my materials, so many difficult problems of more than local significance presented themselves for solution that I was forced to extend my enquiries, first, into the large, but ordered, realms of legal theory, and, secondly, into wide and encumbered regions of hitherto unexplored historic fact. I found that it was impossible to treat the court leet of Southampton as an isolated phenomenon, and that, in order properly to interpret the local evidence, it was imperatively necessary to make some investigation of the whole system of leet jurisdiction in England. Hence, as I pursued my studies, my point of view insensibly changed, and when at length I settled myself down to classify my notes and to write my thesis, I found myself dealing not with the "Court Leet of Southampton" as my single theme, but with "Leet Jurisdiction in England, especially as illustrated by the Records of the Court Leet of Southampton." The second is, of course, a much larger topic than the first, and it has drawn me into writing a much more bulky volume than I originally contemplated; but I trust that my readers will pardon me for laying so unexpectedly heavy a burden on their attention, and will believe that in no other way would it have been possible adequately to deal even with the local court and its mysteries.
Various references scattered over the following pages will make it evident that the writing of this essay has occupied several months.