The legal process in medieval land courts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries consisted of a range of activities regulated by land law applicable to about 8-12%
of the population, the so-called szlachta (nobility) (Uruszczak 2015: 71-72; 78-81). The process differed from our modern legal experience in several important
ways, for example there was no fixed place at which the court would convene, or, in the case of land courts, where its records could have been safely preserved. Land
courts assembled four times a year (the assembly was called rok sądowy) in selected local administrative centres. However, minor courts (roczki sądowe)
could take place even once a fortnight (Doroszewski; SXVI t. XXXV: 300). Several types of legal cases (rozprawy or sprawy sądowe) were heard at the
assembly (Sstp t. VII, s. 557): civil cases to do with inheritance, sale, and any other activities concerning property, and criminal cases involving nobles: murders,
rapes, theft, etc. The court consisted of the judge (sędzia; Lat. iudex), underjudge (podsędek, Lat. subiudex) and the royal court scribe (pisarz,
Lat. notarius)  who were elected at the local assembly and appointed by the king (Gąsiorowski 1970: 51-55). Other officials, such as the
representatives of podkomorzy (Lat. subcamerarius), chorąży (Lat. advocatus), wojewoda (Lat. comes palatinus) and burgrabia (Lat. burgravius)
could also take part in the minor courts in Greater Poland (Gąsiorowski 1970: 50).
The scribes or notaries (Pl. pisarz) who compiled the record of legal proceedings in medieval land courts are rarely known by name. There is also little clarity
about their professional and educational background. Kowalewicz and Kuraszkiewicz maintain that the skill of writing in Polish must have been acquired at school or
directly at the court chancellery (1959: 18). It is indeed reasonable to assume that the scribes were educated in some way but the format and level of their training
is not transparent. Before the mid-fifteenth century it could have been, indeed, the chancelleries, as some of them were appended to parish schools responsible mainly
for literacy skills (reading and writing) (cf. Bartoszewicz 2001: 8-9). In the fifteenth century, the scribes could have graduated from university (Bartoszewicz 2001:
16), however more recent research suggests lower levels of education (Bartoszewicz 2014: 179), which seems to be corroborated by the lack of detailed references to the
scribes, or other information on them, in Greater Poland land books (Gąsiorowski 1970: 55-56; 78-79). Legal historians have drawn attention to the fact that the court
scribe had helpers – auxiliary scribes (Pl. podpisek), whose task was to ensure the correct format of the documentation rather than to take part in the litigation
(cf. Moniuszko 2013: 175). Equally, the scribe appointed by the king could well have been treated as a higher official and taken part in the proceedings on a par with
the judge and the underjudge, instead of keeping the record and taking care of the documentation. The record-keeping procedure is still relatively unknown. The earliest
extant records have a narrow and long folio fracto format (Pl. dutka), which corresponds more or less to an A4 page folded vertically in half (Jurek 1991: III-IV,
Bukowiec and Zdanek 2012: 8). It is noteworthy that in the later periods (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), the legal importance of the record has been growing;
the very act of recording is referred to in Latin (actico, connoto, ingrosso) or by means of Latin borrowings into Polish legal discourse: aktykować,
konnotować, ingrosować (cf. Makarowa 2017: 106-107). However, in eROThA no such terms occur. Medieval land court books can thus be treated as a record of the
proceedings, possibly the basis for the issuing of official documents, rather than as a collection of binding documents in its own right (cf. Gąsiorowski 1970: 54-55;
Jurek 2002: 16).
The record of the court proceedings was subject to proof-reading and copying, most probably from slips of paper onto the sheets of paper in folio fracto format,
and sometimes between existing court books. There is one case of a draft book and the clean copies in other books (Kościan Z.5, i.e. Land Book V for 1416-1425), Presentation of Koscian oaths which
may indicate a more common drafting practice. Crossing out large sections of text is important from a procedural and legal point of view, as it makes the text null and
void (Jurek 1991: x and passim; cf. Bukowski and Zdanek 2012: 14). This practice was known as zniesienie, kasowanie or sterminowanie 'annulment'
(Makarova 2017: 108). The annulment could have covered whole oaths as well as their fragments, for example names of witnesses (cf.
Ka.218, Ka.200, Ka.595). Some
instances of strikethroughs need not have procedural consequences and may simply be scribal corrections (cf. Ka.627 where
the context of the case was crossed out).
The role of Latin
The linguistic character of court chancelleries was undergoing important changes in medieval Greater Poland as well as in the rest of Europe. Latin was the most important
language of the record but vernacular languages were also attested in the documents. In some Polish-speaking and neighbouring regions (Silesia, Bohemia, Cracow), the
German language also played a prominent role (Adamska 2013: 355). According to Samsonowicz, written Latin functioned as a lingua franca in ethnically and socially diverse
Poland, providing a communication platform for “Poles and Germans, the clergy and the laity, the locals and the Jews, the peasants, the knighthood and the townsfolk"
(1993: 157) [translation by eROThA team].
Latin spread gradually in the late Middle Ages through the growing network of schools, even though still remained relatively limited to the clergy, higher rank
administrators and merchants. Latin was treated as a default administrative language, regardless of the language of the actual oral proceedings, as reflected in the
linguistic make-up of court records across the legal system (cf. Bedos-Rezak 1996). The vernaculars in writing were limited to certain auxiliary functions
(Doležalová 2015: 161; cf. Adamska 2013 on Polish, Czech and Hungarian texts). In contrast to a considerable degree of vernacularisation of the legal record in other
areas, especially in Western Europe (but also in Bohemia; Adamska 2013: 356), in the Greater Poland land court books, after a period of incorporating Polish oaths into
the Latin text, the books revert wholesale to Latin. It seems that complete Polish inscriptions are an exception and that Polish was typically employed to render short
notes, witness statements and oaths (the first extant ones date back to 1386 in the Poznań land court books). The choice of the vernacular for these functions, and
especially for the oath, may have been related to the necessity to preserve the original text of a legally binding compurgation ritual.
According to the assessment of the scope of latinisation (Kowalewicz and Kuraszkiewicz 1959: 10; 1960: 6; 1981: 7), the oaths in the vernacular started giving way to
Latin records of the ritual around 1430-1440. The earliest wholesale switch to Latin is attested in Konin (1432), and the latest – in Gniezno (1448). It is noteworthy,
however, that the initiating (tako mi pomoży Bog) and closing formulae (Jako to świadczą) were still rendered in Polish, which reflects the oral employment
of the vernacular during land court proceedings (Kowalewicz and Kuraszkiewicz: 1967: 5).
Uruszczak (2015) provides Latin counterparts of Polish office names, while a glossary
www.brepolsonline.net/doi/abs/10.5555/M.USML-EB.4.2018012 provided in a
recent monograph (Bartoszewicz 2017) may be consulted for English translations of the Old Polish names of officials of the royal and princely administration and
contemporary legal terminology.