Expectations of the Law in the Middle Ages

Expectations of the Law in the Middle Ages

Expectations of the Law in the Middle Ages

Expectations of the Law in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

This book represents the first systematic examination of the expectations people had of the law in the middle ages. Up until now historians have used medieval legal records to demonstrate the operation of legal rules, the functioning of legal institutions and the development of the legal profession, but they have rarely considered the attitudes that arose as a result of the processes of law. The papers in this volume investigate the way expectations of the law were generated, captured, revealed or replayed for posterity in medieval Europe in jurisprudential reasoning, the activity of charter writing, the framing of definitions of 'liberty', the concern for historical justifications, and the phraseology of various forms of legislation and chancery bills. Attitudes and perceptions are also considered with regard to the active role played by rulers of European states in law-giving and in the organisation of legal institutions. Contextualising some of the developments in medieval law, this volume not only enables generalisations to be made about expectations of the law, but also highlights the existence of national and supra-national similarities as well as differences arising in medieval Europe. Dr ANTHONY MUSSON teaches in the School of Law at the University of Exeter. Contributors: RICHARD W. KAEUPER, D. HEIRBAUT, M. KORPIOLA, JUDITH EVERARD, CYNTHIA J. NEVILLE, JULIA C. CRICK, H. SUMMERSON, G. SEABOURNE, G. DODD, T. HASKETT, ANTHONY MUSSON, C. STEBBINGS, P. TUCKER

Excerpt

In the history of law, at least as far as the Middle Ages are concerned, no one had focused systematically on what expectations people had of it until March 2000 when Anthony Musson convened the conference which has now produced this book to mark the millennium. A millennial year has everything to do with expectations, whether for better or worse. In 1250 Matthew Paris brought his chronicle of world history to a close, as he waited to see what divine portents would be revealed to signal the passage of 25 half centuries since the birth of Christ. He soon resumed writing, however, when nothing more cataclysmic than usual occurred. Christianity committed medieval people, including inquisitive monks like Matthew Paris and professional men such as lawyers, to look forward to cataclysmic and providential change. St Augustine and other Fathers of the Church had argued that true peace and justice were not attainable on earth; not even the Pax Romana had succeeded in overcoming the consequences of original sin. Nevertheless, the yearning for a new holy Roman Emperor, who would right all wrongs and embody justice persisted as an aspiration throughout the Middle Ages and came closest to realization in the reigns of the emperors Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick II. In place of the Pax Romana, the clergy exhorted their flocks to prepare for the Last Judgement foretold in the New Testament. A recurrent image in churches showed the angel of the Lord weighing each soul in the balance, as Christ in Majesty holds open the book of judgement. 'Who shall not fear that trial', Bracton's lawbook of the 1230s rhetorically demanded, 'when the Lord shall be the accuser, the advocate and the judge?' In the belief that everyone — whether rich or poor — would ultimately be judged by due process, medieval religion demonstrated its exalted expectations of the law.

Belief in divine law reinforced confidence in the laws of the successor states of the Roman Empire because they were understood to participate — however feebly and fallibly — in the Christian dispensation. Legal theorists repeatedly invoked the Old and New Testaments, and oaths in courts of law were taken on the Gospels. It was widely believed that God revealed himself in the judicial process through the ordeals of iron and water, even after Pope Innocent III's Lateran Council in 1215 had prohibited priests from sanctioning them. Epitomizing the confidence of scholastic philosophers in fundamental law, Thomas Aquinas placed 'human law' within a hierarchical structure comprising the eternal law of the universe, the divine law of revelation and the natural law of creation; under God's providence these all sustained the diverse laws and customs of contemporary societies and governments.

Hitherto, historians have not paid much attention to expectations of the . . .

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