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Terms [1]

in law, are the periods in England when the courts of law hold their sittings at Westminster for the discharge of their judicial functions. There are four in every year, namely, Hilary term, Easter term, Trinity term, and Michaelmas term; but the last of these is usually at the commencement of the legal year. They were supposed by Selden to have been established by William the Conqueror; but Spelman has shown that they originated in the observances of the Church, and were no more than those leisure periods when there was neither fast nor festival nor rural avocation to withhold the suitor from attending the court. At first the courts in Christian countries continued open all the year round, but the Church interposed. The sacred season of Advent and Christmas originated the winter vacation; the time of Lent and Easter gave rise to that of the spring; the third we owe to Pentecost; and the requisitions of agricultural pursuits account for the long space that intervenes between Midsummer and Michaelmas. Sundays and other holydays were included in the prohibition which, in 517, was established by a canon of the Church, and, says Blackstone, fortified by an imperial constitution of the younger Theodosius, comprised in the Theodosian Code. In the commencement and duration of these terms, these regulations of the Church were kept in view. Edward the Confessor, in one of his laws, says that from Advent to the octave of Epiphany, from Septuagesima to the octave of Easter, from the Ascension to the octave of Pentecost, and from four in the afternoon of every Saturday until the end of the succeeding Monday, the peace of God and holy Church should be kept throughout the realm (Ancient Laws and Institutions of England, p. 190). We learn from Britton that in the reign of Edward I no secular plea could be held, nor .any man sworn on the evangelists, during Advent, Lent, Pentecost, or the times of harvest and vintage, and the days of the great litanies and all solemn festivals. The bishops, however, he adds, granted dispensations that assizes and juries might be taken at these seasons; and afterwards, by statute Westminster 1, 3 Edward I, c! 51, it was enacted that assizes of novel disseisin mort d'ancester and darrein presentment should be taken in Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent. The portions not included in the prohibitions became what are called terms, and were denominated according to the saint to whose feast they occurred most nearly.