As the word frankpledge denotes, these societies were originally concerned only with freemen; but the unfree were afterwards admitted, and during the 13th century the frankpledges were composed chiefly of villains.
Ultimately the laws of the 10th and 11th centuries show the beginnings of the frankpledge associations, which came to act so important a part in the local police and administration of the feudal age.
A court leet and view of frankpledge have been held here from time immemorial.
In a formal fashion courts leet for the view of frankpledge were held in the time of the jurist Selden, and a few of these have survived until the present day.
As a royal possession it appears to have enjoyed various privileges in the 12th century, among them the right of choosing a bailiff to collect the toll and render it to the king, and to elect six burgesses and send them to the view of frankpledge twice a year.
In some districts the men who were bound to be in frankpledge were grouped in associations of ten, twelve or more individuals called tithings.
In the 14th century it passed to the Courtenays, and in 1698 Sir William Courtenay was confirmed in the right of holding court leet, view of frankpledge and the nomination of a portreeve, these privileges having been surrendered to James II.
This court was held twice a year, but in 1217 it was ordered that the view of frankpledge should only be taken once - at Michaelmas.
From petitions presented to parliament in 1376 it seems that the view of frankpledge was in active operation at this time, but it soon began to fall into disuse, and its complete decay coincides with the new ideas of government introduced by the Tudors.
There are also indications that in the ancient kingdom of Mercia the tithing was originally a district and not a mere association of persons; but in Northumbria it is doubtful whether the system of frankpledge and tithing, either personal or territorial, was ever established.