Land Tenure in Early England: A Discussion of Some Problems

Land Tenure in Early England: A Discussion of Some Problems

Land Tenure in Early England: A Discussion of Some Problems

Land Tenure in Early England: A Discussion of Some Problems

Excerpt

Maitland once remarked of the Anglo-Saxon period: "Many an investigator will leave his bones in that desert before it is accurately mapped." Perhaps we now think of the period as a maze rather than a desert, but much of its general shape and many of its details remain uncertain, unclear. The main difficulty is still what it was in Maitland's day: the lack of a comprehensive, definitive edition of the Anglo-Saxon charters. However, some progress has been made. We now have excellent editions of the vernacular documents, and a remarkable number of the Latin charters have been the subject of informed and expert scrutiny. No historian, therefore, writing today on Anglo-Saxon history, is compelled, as Maitland was, to investigate the authenticity of his evidence as he goes along. It is possible, now, to take up again with more ease, if not more confidence, some of the vexed questions of Anglo-Saxon social and legal history which depend particularly on charter evidence for their solution.

It is of course not yet possible to write anything like a definitive account of the development of early English law, and I have not attempted to do so. For this at least I shall not be blamed. I have been more concerned with asking questions than proposing final solutions, though I have put forward what seem to me possible answers to some of the questions I have raised. However, my aim has been primarily disputatious. If in turn what I have written elicits criticism from the student of Anglo-Saxon antiquities, it will have achieved its purpose, especially if afterwards we find ourselves on firmer ground.

I have profited by the kindness and learning of a number of scholars. Professor C. R. Cheney, Mr E. Stone, and Professor J. M. Wallace-Hadrill read several sections of the book in draft, and made valuable suggestions and criticisms. Dr H. P. R. Finberg read the whole book in draft and gave a great deal of improving advice: it is due to his encouragement that the book was put together at all. Mr P. H. Sawyer read the book in proof, and made a number of helpful criticisms. I should like to acknowledge here a debt of a more general kind. Many pages of the book . . .

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