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Legal Culture in the Early Medieval West
The history of early medieval law is not and cannot be the same as the history of legislation. Law-codes and edicts in the post-Roman West were indeed statements of law. But they were a better reflection of what kings and churchmen wished society to be than of what society experienced. Up to a point, this is true of any legal system. But the situation of...
The history of early medieval law is not and cannot be the same as the history of legislation. Law-codes and edicts in the post-Roman West were indeed statements of law. But they were a better reflection of what kings and churchmen wished society to be than of what society experienced. Up to a point, this is true of any legal system. But the situation of the post-Roman West was unparalleled, in that a 'barbarian' ruling-class, whose law had hitherto been unwritten, had taken over the immortal legal heritage of the Roman Empire. Thus, the leges issued by the Franks and Anglo-Saxons tended to be fosslised memorials of the time when they were written, or else idealised versions of a social order that was actually upheld at local level by traditional means.Patrick Wormald's collected essays argue that the values of sub-Roman society were at odds with the images cultivated by the texts. At the same time, there is a risk that scepticism about the relevance of the texts will encourage the view that early medieval law never broke out of the constraints imposed by immemorial tradition and elite consensus. Wormald's case is that, on the contrary, the same stimuli as encouraged the writing down of law could also foster an aggressively interventionist approach to social behaviour. Its effect was that at least some western authorities had a much stronger sense of crime and punishment by the twelfth century than they had had in the sixth. Among the realities obscured by legal texts is the extent of legal change.Based on a knowledge of early medieval legislation built up over more than quarter of a century and now unequalled in the English-speaking world, Wormald's essays seek to establish that legal history is not just the history of law, nor even that of society, but also that of elite and popular culture in complex and creative symbiosis. This collection is therefore considerably more than a companion to his eagerly awaited study of English law before the twelfth century, which will be published by the same time. It will appeal to all interested in the institutions and ideologies of the premodern world.
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