RESEARCH: IMC at Leeds 2013 had “Law” as one of its prominent topics. A new publication on Early Medieval Law should inspire legal and medieval historians
In 1977 Patrick Wormald voiced a fundamentally new idea, that early Medieval Law codes were not so much “written and codified laws” – Lex Scripta – as signs of the oral (royal) proclamation of the laws – the Verbum Regis; this was the constitutive act to which the written texts bore witness.
According to Wormald the reasons for promulgating and copying these texts were largely ideological. Later this idea was fully exposed in a series of his articles, which were collected and reprinted in a publication: “Legal Culture in the Early Medieval West” (The Hambledon Press 1999). Finally it was the linchpin in the first part of his long awaited opus magnum: The Making of English Law I: “King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and its Limits” from Wiley 2001. Due to his untimely death the second volume was never finished (but has been promised to be published by his former wife in 2020).
Although the so-called “Wormald thesis” never achieved full acceptance, it has kept on inspiring medieval and legal historians to rethink their understanding of how medieval laws came about, and to what extent the written texts should be understood as legal codes for judicial reference or rather ethnographic texts used by the compilers to navigate in a complex world, oral in its character.
At the memorial conference for Patrick Wormald in 2006 the idea was conceived to carry on his work by providing a new edition of laws, treatises etc. up until 1215 –– and make this edition available at the internet; hence the “Early English Law” project. In 2011 the team behind the project met in Copenhagen with representatives from two other digitisation projects: “Nordic Medieval Laws” and “Relmin” at an interdisciplinary conference in Copenhagen.
A collection of very interesting papers from this conference has recently been published on the internet and as a special volume in the journal: Historical Research. Ranging from reflections on early Visigothic law to the creation of a legal language in Scania in late 12th century Scandinavia, the articles all seem some way or other to be infused by the spirit of the late Patrick Wormald.
The editor and contributors are to be congratulated on this fascinating collection of stimulating and nuanced articles presenting the (texts) of early laws in their ideological, social and practical context.
List of articles:
Social structures and social change in seventh-century England: the law codes and complementary sources (pages 394–407)
How did the authors of the Breviarium Alaricanum work? The example of the laws on Jews (pages 408–415)
Forest laws in England and Normandy in the twelfth century (pages 416–431)
Judith A. Green
The creation of a Scandinavian provincial law: how was it done? (pages 432–442)
Carolingian kings and the leges barbarorum (pages 443–464)
Thomas Faulkner DOI
Law codes and legal norms in later Anglo-Saxon England (pages 465–486)
Law or treaty? Defining the edge of legal studies in the early and high medieval periods (pages 487–497)
Riht in earlier Anglo-Saxon legislation: a semasiological approach (pages 498–504)
Creating a Danish legal language: legal terminology in the medieval Law of Scania (pages 505–514)
Ditlev Tamm and Helle Vogt
‘Ge mid wedde ge mid aðe’: the functions of oath and pledge in Anglo-Saxon legal culture (pages 515–535)
The twelfth-century rubrication of Anglo-Saxon legal texts in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS. 383 (pages 536–549)