Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State

Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State

Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State

Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State

Synopsis

The state is the most powerful and contested of political ideas, loved for its promise of order but hated for its threat of coercion. In this broad-ranging new study, Alan Harding challenges the orthodoxy that there was no state in the Middle Ages, arguing instead that it was precisely thenthat the concept acquired its force. He explores how the word 'state' was used by medieval rulers and their ministers and connects the growth of the idea of the state with the development of systems for the administration of justice and the enforcement of peace. He shows how these systems provided new models for government from the centre, successfully in France and England but less so in Germany. The courts and legislation of French and English kings are described establishing public order, defining rights to property and liberty, and structuring commonwealths by 'estates'. In the finalchapters the author reveals how the concept of the state was taken up by political commentators in the wars of the later Middle Ages and the Reformation Period, and how the law-based 'state of the king and the kingdom' was transformed into the politically dynamic 'modern state'.

Excerpt

Tracing the growth of the State has become something of an historical industry, but the subject still needs definition. The history of the State has to be more than a history of strong government: it must show how an abstraction, a piece of metaphysics, came to dominate political consciousness as a thing not only believed to have real existence but loved for its promise of social order and hated for its threat of coercion. The power of the State rests on an idea which is unique in commanding both the levels of political thought discerned by Charles Taylor: the 'common-sense … pre-theoretical understanding of what is going on among the members of society' which is necessary for any political activity, and the high theory of the philosophers who criticize and systematize these working notions. Graffiti urge the smashing of the same State about which Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Hegel theorized.

This book is primarily concerned with the 'pre-theoretical understanding' of what constituted a 'state' among rulers and ruled in the middle ages. It is not a history of state-theory and therefore makes little use of 'the learned laws', i.e. Roman and Canon Law, but an account of the complex of procedures and institutions perceived as constituting 'the state of the realm' in a medieval kingdom, and of how that perception developed into the early modern idea of the State. The introductory chapter does, however, seek to define the meaning of the word 'state' as it has been used in political thought back to the middle ages, and finds that its use in a theoretical way begins with Thomas Aquinas in the later thirteenth century. The following chapters trace the growth of systems of justice in the period before that time, when ideas of state must be looked for in the legislation and written acta of kings and their ministers. This is where 'state' appeared as part of a constellation of 'constitutional' words and notions, along with peace and custom, fiefholding and liberty, statute and 'the common good'. In the main part of the book the sources are therefore the volumes of charters and laws in such printed series as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, the Recueils des Actes and Ordonnances of French rulers, the Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, and the English Statutes of the Realm, along with the records of the administration of justice and the lawbooks which summed up a country's legal practice. The final chapters

C. Taylor, 'Political theory and practice', in Social Theory and Political Practice, ed. C.
Lloyd (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.