English Legal History and its Materials

Paper Title

You might want one.

-- By JustinMaffett - 28 Nov 2017

What Maitland called the “Englishery of English law” lies precisely in its diversity of origin. This diverse origin of English law can be traced to Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Frankish, and, in come cases, even Roman law. It would be foolish to try to evaluate England’s legal history without first engaging and grappling with its diverse origin, for it is precisely because of England’s history of being conquered and influenced by foreign powers that there was a movement in the twelfth century to form a distinctively British system, devoid of foreign legal influence. To understand this development, it is necessary to first explore that diverse history.

The Anglo-Saxons ruled over England from 600 to 1100, a period of 500 years. Starting with King Aethelberht I of Kent in about 600 AD, the Anglo-Saxons were the first to introduce written laws in England, a practice which itself is of Roman origin. Before, there was no written law such that England was governed by unwritten custom. Similarly procedural, the Anglo-Saxons also made use of Latin phrases with regards to charters and landbooks. The Anglo-Saxons’ use of seals and written instruments was one of the more significant innovations of the period. But the Roman influences extended into substantive areas of the law too. For example, as Maitland points out, Anglo-Saxon law reflected Roman law as it concerned crimes of treason, homicide, wounding and assault (Maitland 51).

However, over the course of their 500-year rule, the Anglo-Saxons developed a system of courts of public justice where commoners could plead their case and seek relief. There was the county court, which was held twice a year, and the hundred court, which was held every four weeks. (Maitland 42). For his part, the king had royal jurisdiction over civil cases and parallel jurisdiction over criminal (Baker 9). Additionally, there was a practice called the “court baron” where lords would hold court in their homes to create the opportunity for their tenants to settle their own local disputes. Though the Anglo-Saxon period surly left an indelible mark on English law, it was not the only foreign power to leave its mark during this time.

The Danish invasion of the ninth century exposed England to a Scandinavian influence, specifically Danelaw. In fact, the word “law” itself is Norse (Baker 3). Similarly, the structure of the English aristocracy itself was infused with Danish influence, as illustrated by the word for noble born men, earl, coming from the Danish world eorl (Maitland 32). Moreover, the Danish King Cnut ruled over England, Norway, and Denmark from 1016 to 1035. Not only were his laws popular at the time, but they remained well-regarded in the centuries to come, long after his death (Plucknett 11). But comparatively speaking, it was the Norman Conquest that marked that major inflection point in English legal history.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 ushered in the rule of William the Conqueror and with it changes to England’s legal landscape. When William arrived, he promised the English that he would leave their old laws in place (Baker 12). But as Plunkett notes, the Norman Conquest brought about the induction of “precise and orderly methods into the government and law of England” (Plunkett 11). For example, William reorganized the treasure as the Exchequer, an institution that survives to this day. The Normans also worked to strengthen the criminal justice system that the Anglo-Saxons had created. One of the major innovations in this space was the use of the writ, which became the means through which the Crown was able to extend the King’s power. At the time, the power dynamic between the king and the county and hundred courts started to shift, as the King’s justice –the practice where the king would hold court for the aggrieved—became more organized. Usually the King would have to sit in person, but through the writ, the Crown extended the King’s legal reach without having to involve him personally. Eventually it was such that the King’s justice started to supersede the functions of the other two courts. It was through the King’s court that the common law of England began to develop. The court, which was composed of a body of advisers who helped supervise the kingdom. According to Maitland, “the custom of the king’s court is the custom of England, and becomes the common law” (Maitland 184).

The strength of the draft is that the facts you want are in place. What the draft doesn't have is any animating individual theme, voice, or point of view. "Discuss," as an invitation to discourse, has been declined. To make it better, make it more your own. Add your thinking to your collection of the factual material. Without an idea of your own, the draft is not sufficiently alive.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r2 - 20 Dec 2017 - 16:05:26 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM