Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300

Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300

Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300

Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300

Synopsis

Reynolds focuses on the collective values and activities of lay society over several centuries, offering a new approach to the history of medieval Europe. This edition incorporates a new introduction which amplifies the arguments of recent research.

Excerpt

To start a study of medieval lay communities by considering the law that lay behind them may imply that law is to be looked on as an independent, autonomous cause of social cohesion. That is not what is implied here. Medieval law was not handed down to medieval society on stone tablets from Sinai or Rome or on wooden tablets from the forests of Germany. Whatever the ultimate origin of medieval ideas on custom and justice and the methods used to apply them, both the content and procedures of medieval law were continually shaped and reshaped--if belatedly--by economic, social, religious, and political forces. This continual reshaping was all the easier in the early middle ages, when so much of the law was unwritten and customary and was not the preserve of professional lawyers. For that reason, therefore, the records of law and litigation in the tenth and eleventh centuries, sparse as they are, provide invaluable evidence of the social norms that also shaped collective activity. It is the argument of this chapter that all the forms of communal activity that become so noticeable in the records of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries reflected ideas about justice, and the proper means of achieving it, that took for granted a great deal of collective responsibility. The legal records of the preceding centuries, moreover, show that these ideas were already well established at that stage. Law therefore forms the starting-point of the enquiry, not because communities were created by law as an independent variable, but because the surviving records of traditional law reflect the society in which the communities originated well enough to explain quite a lot about the distinctive characteristics which they shared.

It is, of course, a commonplace of the textbooks that medieval political thought was based on ideas of law, custom . . .

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