Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV: England under the Norman Kings - The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, vol. 1
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CHAPTER IV: England under the Norman Kings - Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, vol. 1 
The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I. Reprint of 2nd edition, with a Select Bibliography and Notes by Professor S.F. Milsom. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 1.
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Select bibliography and notes by Professor S. F. C. Milsom, published here as an appendix, was originally published in Cambridge University Press’s 1968 reissue of The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I. Reprinted by permission of Cambridge University Press.
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England under the Norman Kings
Effects of the Norman conquest.The Norman Conquest is a catastrophe which determines the whole future history of English law. We can make but the vaguest guesses as to the kind of law that would have prevailed in the England of the thirteenth century or of the nineteenth had Harold repelled the invader. We may for example ask, but we shall hardly answer, the question, whether the history of law in England would not have closely resembled the history of law in Germany, whether a time would not have come when English law would have capitulated and made way for Roman jurisprudence. But it is slowly that the consequences of the great event unfold themselves, and they are not to be deduced from the bare fact that Frenchmen subjugated England. Indeed if we read our history year by year onwards from 1066, it will for a long time seem doubtful whether in the sphere of law the Conquest is going to produce any large changes. The Normans in England are not numerous. King William shows no desire to impose upon his new subjects any foreign code. There is no Norman code. Norman law does not exist in a portable, transplantable shape. English law will have this advantage in the struggle:—a good deal of it is in writing.
No mere mixture of two national laws.But then, the problem to which the historian must address himself should not be stated as though it were a simple ethnical question between what is English and what is French. The picture of two rivulets of law meeting to form one river would deceive us, even could we measure the volume and analyze the waters of each of these fancied streams. The law which prevails in the England of the twelfth century—this one thing we may say with some certainty—cannot be called a mixture of the law which prevailed in England on the day when the Confessor was alive and dead, with the law which prevailed in Normandy on the day when William set sail from Saint Valery. Nor can we liken it to a chemical compound which is the result of a combination of two elements. Other elements, which are not racial, have gone to its making. Hardly have Normans and Englishmen been brought into contact, before Norman barons rebel against their Norman lord, and the divergence between the interests of the king and the interests of the nobles becomes as potent a cause of legal phenomena as any old English or old Frankish traditions can be. Nor dare we neglect, if we are to be true to our facts, the personal characters of the great men who accomplished the subjection of England, the characters of William and Lanfranc. The effects, even the legal effects, of a Norman conquest of England would assuredly have been very different from what they were, had the invading host been led by a Robert Curt-hose. And in order to notice just one more of the hundred forces which play upon our legal history, we have but to suppose that the Conqueror, instead of leaving three sons, had left one only, and to ask whether in that case a charter of liberties would ever have been granted in England. We have not to speak here of all these causes; they do not come within the history of law; only we must protest against the too common assumption that the English law of later times must in some sort be just a mixture, or a compound, of two old national laws.
History of our legal language.If for a moment we turn from the substance to the language of the law, we may see how slowly what we are apt to think the most natural consequences of the Conquest manifest themselves. One indelible mark it has stamped for ever on the whole body of our law. It would be hardly too much to say that at the present day almost all our words that have a definite legal import are in a certain sense French words. The German jurist is able to expound the doctrines of Roman law in genuinely German words. On many a theme an English man of letters may, by way of exploit, write a paragraph or a page and use no word that is not in every sense a genuinely English word; but an English or American lawyer who attempted this puritanical feat would find himself doomed to silence. It is true, and it is worthy of remark, that within the sphere of public law we have some old terms which have come down to us from unconquered England. Earl was not displaced by count, sheriff was not displaced by viscount; our king, our queen, our lords, our knights of the shire are English; our aldermen are English if our mayors are French; but our parliament and its statutes, our privy council and its ordinances, our peers, our barons, the commons of the realm, the sovereign, the state, the nation, the people are French; our citizens are French and our burgesses more French than English. So too a few of the common transactions of daily life can be described by English verbs. A man may give, sell, buy, let, hire, borrow, bequeath, make a deed, a will, a bond, and even be guilty of manslaughter or of theft, and all this in English. But this is a small matter. We will say nothing of the terms in which our land law is expressed, estate, tenement, manor, mortgage, lease and the like, for though we have English freeholds and half-English copyholds, this is a region in which we should naturally look for many foreign terms. But let us look elsewhere and observe how widely and deeply the French influence has worked. Contract, agreement, covenant, obligation, debt, condition, bill, note, master, servant, partner, guarantee, tort, trespass, assault, battery, slander, damage, crime, treason, felony, misdemeanour, arson, robbery, burglary, larceny, property, possession, pledge, lien, payment, money, grant, purchase, devise, descent, heir, easement, marriage, guardian, infant, ward, all are French. We enter a court of justice: court, justices, judges, jurors, counsel, attorneys, clerks, parties, plaintiff, defendant, action, suit, claim, demand, indictment, count, declaration, pleadings, evidence, verdict, conviction, judgment, sentence, appeal, reprieve, pardon, execution, every one and every thing, save the witnesses, writs and oaths, have French names. In the province of justice and police with its fines, its gaols and its prisons, its constables, its arrests, we must, now that outlawry is a thing of the past, go as far as the gallows if we would find an English institution. Right and wrong we have kept, and, though we have received tort, we have rejected droit: but even law probably owes its salvation to its remote cousin the French lei.1
Struggle between Latin, French and English.But all this is the outcome of a gradual process; we cannot say that it is the necessary result of the conquest of England by French-speaking men. Indeed for some time after the conquest the English language seems to have a fair chance of holding its own in legal affairs. In the first place, the combat between English and French, if it must begin sooner or later, can for a while be postponed or concealed, for there is a third and a powerful rival in the field. Latin becomes the written language of the law. It was a language understood and written by the learned men of both races: it was the language of such legal documents as the Normans knew, and, though it was not the language of the English dooms or the English courts, still it was the language of the English charters or land-books. In the second place, English had long been a written language, and a written language which could be used for legal and governmental purposes, while French was as yet hardly better than a vulgar dialect of Latin:—French would become Latin if you tried to write it at its best. And so the two languages which William used for his laws, his charters and his writs were Latin and English.2 Again, there were good reasons why the technical terms of the Old English law should be preserved if the king could preserve them. They were the terms that defined his royal rights. On the whole he was well satisfied with the goodly heritage which had come to him from his cousin King Edward. If only he could maintain against his followers the rights of the old English kingship, he would have done almost as much as he could hope to do. And so his rights and their rights must be registered in the Old English terms. His clerks must still write, if not of sacu and socne, still of saca et soca. Many foreign words have made their way into Domesday Book, but many Old English words which had definite legal meanings were preserved.3
Latin as a legal language. During the century that follows, Latin keeps its preeminence, and when, under Henry II. and his sons, the time comes for the regular enrolment of all the king’s acts and of all the judgments of his court, Latin becomes the language of our voluminous official and judicial records. From this position it is not dislodged until the year 1731, when it gives place to English.4 It were needless to say that long before that date both French and English had been used for some very solemn, perhaps the solemnest legal purposes; but seemingly we may lay down some such rule as this, namely, that if a series of records goes back as far as the twelfth or the first half of the thirteenth century, it will until the reign of George II. be a series of Latin records. It is only in the newer classes of authoritative documents that either English or French has an opportunity of asserting its claims. French becomes the language of the privy seal, while Latin remains the language of the great seal. French expels Latin and English expels French from the parliament rolls and the statute rolls, but these rolls are new in Edward I.’s day.5 In particular, Latin remains the language in which judicial proceedings are formally recorded, even though they be the proceedings of petty courts. In Charles I.’s day the fact that the Star Chamber has no proper Latin roll can be used as a proof that it is an upstart.6
Struggle between French and English.But, though throughout the middle ages some Latin could be written by most men who could write at all, and the lord of a manor would still have his accounts as well as his court rolls made up in Latin, still only the learned could speak Latin readily, and it could not become the language of oral pleading or of debate. Here was a field in which French and English might strive for the mastery. There could for a long while be no doubt as to which of these two tongues would be spoken in and about the king’s court. The king spoke French, his barons French, his prelates French, and even when barons and prelates were beginning to think of themselves as Englishmen, some new wave of foreign influence would break over the court; the new French queen brings with her a new swarm of Frenchmen. And “the king’s court” was not then a term with several meanings; the language of courtiers and courtliness was of necessity the language of business, discussion, pleading. All this might well have happened, however, and yet the English language, which was in the future to be the language even of courtiers, might have retained its stock of old and its power of engendering new legal terms. A French-speaking royal tribunal might have been merely superimposed upon an English substructure. But here what is perhaps the main theme of our legal history decides the fate of words. Slowly but surely justice done in the king’s name by men who are the king’s servants becomes the most important kind of justice, reaches into the remotest corners of the land, grasps the small affairs of small folk as well as the great affairs of earls and barons. This is no immediate and no necessary effect of the Norman Conquest. It would never have come about if the nobles who helped William to conquer England could have had their way; William himself can hardly have dared to hope for it. The destiny of our legal language was not irrevocably determined until Henry of Anjou was king.
Victory of French.If we must choose one moment of time as fatal, we ought to choose 1166 rather than 1066, the year of the assize of novel disseisin rather than the year of the battle of Hastings. Then it was that the decree went forth which gave to every man dispossessed of his freehold a remedy to be sought in a royal court, a French-speaking court. Thenceforward the ultimate triumph of French law terms was secure. In all legal matters the French element, the royal element, was the modern, the enlightened, the improving element. The English stock of words is stricken with barrenness, the French stock can grow. The things of the law which have English names are things that are obsolete or obsolescent, sake and soke, wer and wite: —already men hardly know what these words mean.7 It is difficult for us to believe that in the local courts, the suitors, who were for the more part peasants, pleaded their causes and rendered their judgments in French; still from the thirteenth century we get books of precedents for pleadings in manorial courts which are written in French, while we look in vain for any similar books written in English.8 We may suspect that if the villagers themselves did not use French when they assailed each other in the village courts, their pleaders used it for them, and before the end of the thirteenth century the professional pleader might already be found practising before a petty tribunal and speaking the language of Westminster Hall.9 Then in 1362 a statute, itself written in French, declared that as the French tongue was but little understood, all pleas should be “pleaded, shown, defended, answered, debated and judged” in the English tongue.10 But this came too late. It could not break the Westminster lawyers of their settled habit of thinking about law and writing about law in French, and when slowly French gave way before English even as the language of law reports and legal text-books, the English to which it yielded was an English in which every cardinal word was of French origin. How far this process had gone at the end of the thirteenth century we may learn from Robert of Gloucester’s historical poem. He sets himself to translate into English verse the Constitutions of Clarendon, and in so doing he uses the terms which we now write as custom, grant, lay fee, service, pleading, assize, judgment, traitor, chattels, felon, patron, advowson, court, plea, purchase, amendment, hold in chief, bailiff, homage, confirm, appeal, debt.11 Down to the end of the middle ages a few Old English terms perdured which, at least as technical terms, we have since lost: English “domes-men” might still “deem dooms in a moot hall”; but the number of such terms was small and the blight of archaism was on them.12
French documents.Meanwhile men had begun to write French and to write it for legal purposes. Legal instruments in French come to us but very rarely, if at all, from the twelfth century;13 they become commoner in the thirteenth and yet commoner in the fourteenth, but on the whole Latin holds its own in this region until it slowly yields to English, and the instruments that are written in French seldom belong to what we may call the most formal classes; they are wills rather than deeds, agreements rather than charters of feoffment, writs under the privy seal, not writs under the great seal.
Language of Statute law.From the royal chancery Latin is not to be driven. The example set by the Conqueror when he issued laws in English as well as in Latin was not followed; Latin is the language for laws and ordinances until the middle of the thirteenth century. Then for one brief moment the two vulgar tongues appear on an equality; in 1258 Henry III. declared both in French and in English his acceptance of the provisions which were forced upon him in the parliament at Oxford.14 But while this English proclamation long remains unique, French forces its way to the front. It wrestles with Latin for the possession of the statute roll and the parliament rolls. By the end of Edward II.’s reign it has fairly won the statutes roll,15 and is fast gaining a mastery over the parliament rolls. For about two centuries, from the reign of Edward I. to the reign of Richard III., it is the usual language of the enacted law. Late in the fourteenth century English begins to make an insidious attack. Petitions to parliament are sometimes presented in English, and the English petition is sometimes put upon the roll without being translated. However, the middle ages are just at an end before the records of the En glish legislature are written mainly in English, and to this day, as all know, what a lawyer must regard as the most solemn of all our formulas is French— La reine le veult.16
French law-books. Again, in the thirteenth century French slowly supplanted Latin as the literary language of the law. It is very possible that the learned Bracton thought about law in Latin; he wrote in Latin, and the matter that he was using, whether he took it from the Summa Azonis or from the plea rolls of the king’s court, was written in Latin. But the need for French text-books was already felt, and before the end of the century this need was being met by the book that we call Britton, by other tracts,17 and by those reports of decided cases which we know as the Year Books. Thenceforward French reigns supreme over such legal literature as there is. We must wait for the last half of the fifteenth century if we would see English law written about in the English tongue, for the sixteenth if we would read a technical law-book that was written in English.18
Language and law.This digression, which has taken us far away from the days of the Norman Conquest, may be pardoned. Among the most momentous and permanent effects of that great event was its effect on the language of English lawyers, for language is no mere instrument which we can control at will; it controls us. It is not a small thing that a law-book produced in the England of the thirteenth century will look very like some statement of a French coutume and utterly unlike the Sachsen-spiegel, nor is it a small thing that in much later days such foreign influences as will touch our English law will always be much rather French than German. But we have introduced in this place what must have been said either here or elsewhere about our legal language, because we may learn from it that a concurrence of many causes was requisite to produce some of those effects which are usually ascribed to the simple fact that the Normans conquered England.19
Preservation of Old English law.We may safely say that William did not intend to sweep away English law and to put Norman law in its stead. On the contrary, he decreed that all men were to have and hold the law of King Edward—that is to say, the Old English law—but with certain additions which he, William, had made to it.20 So far as we know, he expressly legislated about very few matters.The Conqueror’s legislation. He forbad the bishops and archdeacons to hold in the hundred courts pleas touching ecclesiastical discipline; such pleas were for the future to be judged according to the canons and not according to the law of the hundred; the lay power was to aid the justice of the church; but without his leave, no canons were to be enacted and none of his barons or ministers excommunicated.21 He declared that his peace comprehended all men both English and Normans.22 He required from every freeman an oath of fealty.23 He established a special protection for the lives of the Frenchmen; if the slayer of a Frenchman was not produced, a heavy fine fell on the hundred in which he was slain. He declared that this special protection did not extend to those Frenchmen who had settled in England during the Confessor’s reign.24 He defined the procedural rules which were to prevail if a Frenchman accused an Englishman, or an Englishman a Frenchman.25 He decreed that the county and hundred courts should meet as of old. He decreed that every freeman should have pledges bound to produce him in court.26 He forbad that cattle should be sold except in the towns and before three witnesses. He forbad that any man should be sold out of the country. He substituted mutilation for capital punishment.27 This may not be an exhaustive list of the laws that he published, nor can we be certain that in any case his very words have come down to us; but we have good reason to believe that in the way of express legislation he did these things and did little more.
Character of William’s laws.In the long run by far the most important of these rules will be that which secures a place in England for the canonical jurisprudence. And here we have a good instance of those results which flow from the Norman Conquest—a concrete conquest of England by a certain champion of Roman orthodoxy—which are in no wise the natural outcome of the mere fact that Englishmen were subju-gated by Normans. For the rest, there are some rules which might have come from a king of the old race, could such a king have been as strong a ruler as William was. He would have had many precedents for attempting to prevent the transfer of stolen goods by prohibiting secret sales.28 It was old, if disregarded, law that men were not to be sold over sea.29 It was law of Cnut’s day that every freeman should be in pledge.30 A wave of religious sentiment had set against capital punishment.31 Whether the king could exact an oath of fealty from all men, even from the men of his men, was a question of power rather than of right.32 Only two rules drew a distinction between French and English. We may doubt, however, whether the murder fine had not its origin in the simple principle that the lives of the Normans were to be as well protected in England as the lives of strangers were in Normandy; at any rate the device of making a district pay if a stranger was murdered in it and the murderer was not produced in court, was not foreign to Frankish nor yet to Scandinavian law. We are also told, though the tale comes from no good source, that Cnut had protected his Danes by a fine similar to that which was now to protect the Normans.33 Again, the procedure in criminal cases is by no means unfavourable to the men of the vanquished race. The Englishman whom a Frenchman accuses has the choice between battle and ordeal. The Englishman who brings an accusation can, if he pleases, compel his French adversary to join battle; otherwise the Frenchman will be able to swear away the charge with oath-helpers “according to Norman law.” Certainly we cannot say that the legislator here shows a marked partiality for one class of his subjects. In this matter mere equality would not be equity, for English law has not known the judicial combat, and perhaps the other ordeals have not been much used in Normandy. As it is, the Englishman, whether he be accuser or accused, can always insist on a wager of battle if he pleases; he is the Norman’s peer.34
Personal or national law.In different ages and circumstances the pride of a conquering race will show itself in different forms. Now-a-days the victor may regard the conflict as one between civilization and barbarism, or between a high and a low morality, and force his laws upon the vanquished as the best, or the only reasonable laws. Or again, he may deliberately set himself to destroy the nationality of his new subjects, to make them forget their old language and their old laws, because these endanger his supremacy. We see something of this kind when Edward I. thrusts the English laws upon Wales. The Welsh laws are barbarous, barely Christian, and Welshmen must be made into Englishmen.35 In older and less politic days all will be otherwise. The conquerors will show their contempt for the conquered by allowing such of them as are not enslaved to live under their old law, which has become a badge of inferiority. The law of the tribe is the birthright of the men of the tribe, and aliens can have no part or lot in it. Perhaps we should be wrong were we to attribute any large measure of either of these sentiments to the generality of the Norman invaders; but probably they stood nearer to the old and tribal than to the modern and political point of view. A scheme of “personal laws” would have seemed to them a natural outcome of the conquest. The Norman will proudly retain his Norman law and leave English law to the English. We have seen that in matters of procedure William himself favoured some such scheme, and to this idea of personal law may be due what is apt to look like an act of gross iniquity. Roger of Breteuil and Waltheof conspired against William; Waltheof was condemned to death; Roger was punished “according to the law of the Normans” by disherison and perpetual imprisonment.36 But it was too late for a system of “personal,” that is of racial laws. Even in France law was becoming territorial, and a king of the English who was but duke of the Normans was interested in obliterating a distinction which stood in his way if he was to be king of England. The rules which mark the distinction between the two races rapidly disappear or are diverted from their original purpose. Murder fines will swell the royal treasure, and early in Henry I.’s reign it is already law that every slain man is a Frenchman unless his Englishry can be proved.37 Outside the towns, Englishmen seem to have taken to trial by battle very kindly, and already in the first years of the twelfth century William’s ordinance about procedure had lost its force.38 No doubt William and his sons distrusted the English; even Henry would suffer no Englishman to be abbot or bishop.39 No doubt too the English were harshly and at times brutally treated; but harshness and brutality are one thing, an attempt to rule them by Norman law would have been another.
Maintenance of English land law.Indeed the capital instance of harsh treatment consists in an application of the theory that they have not been conquered by foreign enemies, but, having rebelled against one who was de iure king of the English, are to be lawfully punished for their unlawful revolt. Those who fought by Harold’s side forfeited their lands, and so of course did those who resisted William after he was crowned. These forfeitures, so far from clearing the way for pure Norman land law, had the effect of bringing even the Norman barons under English land law. Here a combination might be made of all that was favourable to the duke in the Norman, with all that was favourable to the king in the English system. William’s tenants in chief were to owe him definite quantities of military service; the somewhat vaguely territorialized scheme which had produced Harold’s army was to be superseded by a set of determinate contracts, more determinate perhaps than any that had as yet been concluded in Normandy. On the other hand, the king was going rigorously to exact the old English land tax, the danegeld. With geld in view he achieved the most magnificent of all his feats, the compilation of Domesday Book. It is very possible that he purposed to reform the capricious assessment which had come down to him from his ancestors. In the meantime, however, each Norman baron was to stand in the geld system just where some one Englishman or some definite group of Englishmen had stood. For the purpose of taxation the Frenchman succeeded to the duties of his English antecessores. Moreover, what the Frenchman succeeded to was in many cases a superiority over free tenants of the soil. The rights of these tenants might be left to the uncovenanted mercies of their new lord; but the superiority often included rights of a jurisdictional kind, rights of sake and soke, and in this matter the king had an interest. The French lord was not to get other fines and forfeitures than those which his antecessor had received. For a long time after the Conquest a serious attempt was made to maintain the old law of sake and soke despite its archaisms.
The English in court.All this made English testimony and English tradition of importance; the relative rights of the various Norman magnates were known only to Englishmen. Englishmen were mixed up with Frenchmen at the moots and often spoke the decisive word. The aged Æthelric, Bishop of Chichester, “a man very learned in the laws of the land,” was brought by the Conqueror’s command to Penenden Heath that he might hear Lanfranc wax eloquent over sake and soke and flymena-fyrmð.40 Eadric the steersman of the Confessor’s ship, and Kineward who had been sheriff of Worcestershire, Siward of Shropshire, and Thurkill of Warwickshire were ready to attest the sake and soke which the church of Worcester had over Hamton and Bengeworth; but the Abbot of Evesham dared not face them.41 Godric, Godwin and Colswein were among the “approved knights French and English” who heard the Abbot of Ely’s suit at Kentford, and that suit, in which many Normans were concerned, was decided under the king’s command by a verdict of English jurors who knew how the disputed lands lay in the time of King Edward.42 The Abbot of Abingdon was protected in his possessions by the learning and eloquence of lawyerly English monks, whose arguments were not to be withstood.43
Norman ideas and institutions.On the other hand, it is not to be denied that the few legal ideas and institutions which we can confidently describe as imported from Normandy, were of decisive importance. This is preeminently true of the transplanted Frankish inquest. It has in it the germ of all that becomes most distinctively English in the English law of the later middle ages, the germ of trial by jury and of a hard and fast formulary system of actions which will be tough enough to resist the attacks of Romanism. However, the fate of the inquest was still in the balance a century after the Conquest, and, but for the comprehensive ordinances of Henry II., it might have perished in England as it perished in its original home. Whether any definitely new idea is introduced into the English land law is a more disputable question, that cannot be here discussed, but undoubtedly the conquest, the forfeiture, the redistribution of the land gave to the idea of dependent and derivative tenure a dominance that it could not obtain elsewhere, and about that idea in its Norman or French shape there clung traditions of the old Frankish world, which in the subjugated country under its foreign kings might bear fruit in a land law of unexampled simplicity. As to the institutes of private law we know much too little to justify dogmatic ascriptions of this to an English and that to a French origin; and when the French origin may be granted, we are far from being able to say that here is something which the Normans brought with them in the year 1066. French influences had been at work in the court of Edward the Confessor; Frankish influences had been at work in the courts of much earlier kings; after the Conquest England lay open for two centuries and more to the latest Parisian fashions. For example, the style of the English chancery—and this in England becomes the model for all legal documents—goes back by one path and another through the Frankish chancery to Rome. But the paths are very various. Some of the Conqueror’s charters are very like those which Edward and Cnut had issued, and very unlike those of Henry II.44 We may say, if we please, that the seal, of which our law made much in the later middle ages, of which it makes much at the present day, is French. But the Confessor had a seal, and in all probability but very few of the men who fought by the side of the Norman duke had seals. The chief result of the Norman Conquest in the history of law is to be found not so much in the subjection of race to race as in the establishment of an exceedingly strong kingship which proves its strength by outliving three disputed successions and crushing a rebellious baronage.45
Rufus.During the whole Norman period there was little legislation. We have spoken of the Conqueror’s laws. It seems probable that Rufus set the example of granting charters of liberties to the people at large. In 1093, sick and in terror of death, he set his seal to some document that has not come down to us. Captives were to be released, debts forgiven, good and holy laws maintained.46 Whatever promises he made, he broke. His claim upon the historians of English law is of another kind: for he surely built her an house to dwell in. Englishmen were proud of his work at Westminster. Search the wide world round, they said, there is no such hall for feast and plea.
The verses are rude but have the right ring in the ears of English lawyers.
Henry I.Henry at his coronation, compelled to purchase adherents, granted a charter full of valuable and fairly definite concessions.48 He was going back to his father’s ways. The abuses introduced by his brother were to be abolished, abuses in the matter of reliefs, wardships, marriages, murder fines and so forth. Debts and past offences were to be forgiven. The demesne lands of the military tenants were to be free from the danegeld. Above all the laga Eadwardi as amended by William I. was to be restored. Though the king required that concessions similar to those which he made in favour of his barons should be made by them in favour of their tenants, we can hardly treat this charter as an act of legislation. It is rather a promise that the law disregarded by Rufus shall henceforth be observed. This promise in after times became a valuable precedent, but it could not be enforced against the king, and Henry did not observe it. The other great record of his reign, the Pipe Roll of his thirty-first year, shows that rightfully or wrongfully he was able to extend the rights of the crown beyond the limits that had been assigned to them in 1100, and the steady action of the exchequer under the direction of his able minister, Bishop Roger of Salisbury, evolved a law for the tenants in chief which was perhaps the severest in Europe.49 This was done in silence by the accumulation of precedent upon precedent. For the rest, we know that Henry, early in his reign, issued a writ declaring that the county and hundred courts should be held as they were held in the time of King Edward, straitly enjoining all men to attend them in the ancient fashion whenever royal pleas were to be heard, and in some measure defining the relation of these old tribunals to the feudal courts.50 We are told that he legislated about theft, restoring capital punishment, that he issued severe laws against the utterers of bad money, that he prohibited the rapacious exactions of his courtiers, who had made the advent of his peripatetic household a terror to every neighbourhood, that he legislated about measures taking his own arm as the standard ell; but we depend on the chroniclers for our knowledge of these acts, and as yet they are not careful to preserve the words of the lawgiver.51 We have, however, a writ in which he speaks of the “new statutes” which he had made against thieves and false moneyers.52
Stephen.Stephen on his accession conceded to his subjects in vague phrase “all the liberties and good laws which King Henry had given and granted to them, and all the good laws and good customs which they had enjoyed in the time of King Edward.”53 Later on he had to promise once more that he would observe “the good laws and just and ancient customs, as to murder fines, pleas and other matters,” and that he would extirpate the unjust exactions introduced by the sheriffs and others. More specific promises made to the church, besides the large and dangerous promise that she should be “free.”54 In the ecclesiastical sphere there had been a good deal of legislation. With the assent of the king, stringent canons had been enacted and enforced; in particular, the rule of celibacy had been imposed upon a reluctant clergy. It was in the ecclesiastical council, rather than the king’s court, that the spirit of reforming legislation was once more active.55
The law-books or “Leges.”The best proof, however, of the perdurance of the Old English law is given by what we may generically call the law-books of the Norman period. The Conqueror had amended and confirmed the laga Eadwardi; Henry I. had confirmed the laga Eadwardi and his father’s amendments of it. Where then could the law of Edward, that is to say, the law of Edward’s time, be found? No doubt a good deal of it was to be found in the code of Cnut and in the yet earlier dooms. But the language in which they were written was unintelligible to Frenchmen, and was fast becoming unintelligible even to Englishmen, for just at this time the English language was undergoing a rapid change. What is more, it was plain that, despite the large words of the Norman kings, the old dooms in their integrity could not fit the facts of the new age. Thus what was wanted was no mere translation of ancient texts, but a modernized statement of the old law, a practicable laga Eadwardi. Divers men in divers parts of the country tried to meet this want. The result of their efforts is a curious and intricate group of writings, which even at the end of the nineteenth century will hardly have been unravelled. We shall here speak very briefly of it, adopting what we believe to be the soundest results of recent criticism.56
Genuine laws of William I.In the first place, we may put on one side certain documents which profess to give us, not the old law, but the results of William’s legislation, the documents from which we have already extracted our account of his edicts. We probably have in its original form, that of a writ sent into the various counties, the ordinance which severed the ecclesiastical from the temporal courts.57 We have in English as well as in Latin the ordinance about criminal accusations brought by men of the one race against men of the other.58 Lastly, we have a set of ten brief paragraphs dealing with the oath of fealty, the murder fine, the abolition of capital punishment and the other matters which have already come before us. These ten laws may not have been collected until some time after the Conqueror’s death, and it is more than probable that we have not the words that he used; but the collection seems to have been made early in the twelfth, if not before the end of the eleventh century, and the result is trustworthy. At a much later date some one tampered with this set of laws, interpolated new matter into it and threw it into the form of a solemn charter.59
The Quadripartitus.But we must pass to the attempts which were made to state the laga Eadwardi. In the reign of Henry I. some one set himself to translate the old dooms into Latin. To all seeming he was not an Englishman by race and English was not his natural tongue. He may have been a secular clerk living at Winchester and employed in the king’s court or exchequer. He was closely connected by some tie or another with Archbishop Gerard of York. We have more than one edition of his work; these can be distinguished from each other by the author’s increasing mastery of the English language, though to the end he could perpetrate bad mistakes. As the work went on, he conceived the project of adding to his Latin version of the ancient dooms three other books and calling the whole Liber Quadripartitus. The first book was to contain the Old English laws done into Latin; the second was to contain some important state papers of his own day; the third was to be about legal procedure; the fourth about theft. If the two last books were ever written, they have not come down to us. The first and second books we have. The second opens with the coronation charter of Henry I. Then apparently it purposes to give us the documents which relate to the quarrel about the investitures; but it gradually degenerates into a defence of Archbishop Gerard. The author seems to have been at his work between the years 1113 and 1118; but, as already said, he returned to it more than once.
Whatever grander projects he may at times have entertained, what he has left as a monument of English law is in the main a laborious but not very successful translation of the old dooms. He translated after his fashion most of the dooms that have come down to us, except the very ancient Kentish laws, and he translated a few which have not come down to us save through his hands. He translated for the more part without note or comment, translated honestly if unintelligently. But he aspired to be more than a mere translator. He put Cnut’s code in the forefront; this was the latest and most authoritative statement of English law; the earlier dooms—they go back even to Alfred and to Ine—come afterwards as being of less practical value. He does not regard himself as a mere antiquarian.60
Leges Henrici.Closely connected with the Quadripartitus is a far more important book, the so-called Leges Henrici. It seems to have been compiled shortly before the year 1118. After a brief preface, it gives us Henry’s coronation charter (this accounts for the name which has unfortunately been given in modern days to the whole book), and then the author makes a gallant, if forlorn, attempt to state the law of England. At first sight the outcome seems to be a mere jumble of fragments; rules brought from the most divers quarters are thrown into a confused heap. But the more closely we examine the book, the more thoroughly convinced we shall be that its author has undertaken a serious task in a serious spirit; he means to state the existing law of the land, to state it in what he thinks to be a rational, and even a philosophical form. But the task is beyond his powers. For one thing, his Latin is of the worst; he learnt it in a bad school and it will hardly suffer him to express his meaning; probably his mother tongue was French. Then the books from which he copies overweight him; he cannot adhere to any one plan or pursue any one line of thought. Nevertheless he is in earnest, and when he can leave his books alone and succeed in explaining himself, he tells us many things that are of great value. He had a good many books at his command. He took much from the code of Cnut and from some of the older dooms, but unless (this is not impossible) he himself was the author or projector of the Quadripartitus, he seems to have been dependent on the first book of that work for his text of these Old English laws. His object being to state the laga Eadwardi as amended by the Conqueror and Henry I., he naturally made great use of this English matter; but he dipped at times into other springs. He had found a source of “general jurisprudence” in Isidore’s Origines. Ecclesiastical causes were no longer subject to native English law; the Conqueror had handed them over to the canones, and for the canones of the catholic church our author had to look to foreign books, in particular to that compiled by Burchard of Worms. He took a few passages from the venerable Lex Salica, from the Lex Ribuaria, from the Frankish capitularies; we may safely say that, had these ancient authorities been regarded by the Normans in England as practicable written law he would have taken more. He took one little sentence out of an epitome of the West Goths’ version of the Theodosian Code.61 But the most interesting parts of his work are those which we can trace to no remoter fount. If they paint English law as a wonderful confusion, they may yet be painting it correctly, and before we use hard words of him who wrote them, we should remember that he was engaged on an utterly new task, new in England, new in Europe: he was writing a legal textbook, a text-book of law that was neither Roman nor Canon law. To have thought that a law-book ought to be written was no small exploit in the year 1118.62
The Consiliatio and Instituta Cnuti.The writer of the Leges Henrici is in some sort the champion of West Saxon, or rather of Wessex law. Wessex is in his opinion the head of the realm, and in doubtful cases Wessex law should prevail.63 Other attempts to state the old law were made elsewhere. In the early years of the twelfth century two Latin translations of Cnut’s dooms, besides that contained in the Quadripartitus, were made, and in each case by one who tried to be more than a translator; he borrowed from other Anglo-Saxon documents, some of which have not come down to us, and endeavoured to make his work a practicable law-book. One of the most remarkable features of all these books is that their authors seem to be, at least by adoption and education, men of the dominant, not men of the subject race; if not Frenchmen by birth, they are Frenchmen by speech.64 At a later date, some forest laws were concocted for Cnut, but to describe these we must use a harsh term; to all seeming they are the work of a forger, who was inventing a justification for the oppressive claims of those mighty hunters, the Norman kings.65
Les Leis Williame. Then we have another document which professes to give us the old laws, the laws which King Edward held and which King William granted to the people of England. We have it both in French and in Latin, and to distinguish it from its fellows it has been called the bilingual code. We shall call it the Leis Williame. Its history is obscure and has been made the more obscure by contact with the forgeries of the false Ingulf. The Latin text is a translation of the French text, though not an exact translation of any version of the French text that has come down to modern times; but the French text may have been made from a Latin or from an English original. That we have here no authoritative code but mere private work will scarcely be disputed. It falls somewhat easily into three parts. The first seems to consist of certain rules of the Old English law as they were understood under the Norman kings together with some of the Norman novelties. It is an intelligent and to all seeming a trustworthy statement. It harmonizes well with the ancient dooms, but is not made up of extracts from them. Its author may have been specially familiar with the Danelaw. The last part of the document is a pretty close translation of certain parts of the code of Cnut. Then between these two parts there come a few articles which betray the influence of Roman law. If the whole document comes from one man, we cannot well suppose him to have done his work after the early years of the twelfth century; his statement of the old law seems too good to be of later date. We must further suppose that, having come to the end of the English rules that were known to him as living law, he taxed his memory for other rules and succeeded in remembering some half-dozen large maxims which had caught his eye in some Roman book, and that finally, being weary of trying to remember and to define, he took up the code of Cnut and translated part of it. The first section of his work is far from valueless; it is one more proof that attempts were being made to state the laga Eadwardi in a rational form. As to the middle section, it shows us how men were helplessly looking about for some general principles of jurisprudence which would deliver them from their practical and intellectual difficulties.66
Leges Edwardi Confessoris. Lastly, we have a book written in Latin which expressly purports to give us the law of Edward as it was stated to the Conqueror in the fourth year of his reign by juries representing the various parts of England.67 However, the purest form in which we have it speaks of what was done in the reign of William Rufus,68 and probably was compiled in the last years of Henry I.69 It is private work of a bad and untrustworthy kind. It has about it something of the political pamphlet and is adorned with pious legends. The author, perhaps a secular clerk of French parentage, writes in the interest of the churches, and, it is to be feared, tells lies for them.70 He professes to hate the Danes of the past and the Danelaw. According to him, William, being himself of Scandinavian race, was on the point of imposing the Danelaw upon the whole country, but at length was induced by the suppliant jurors to confirm the law of Edward. This, it is explained, was really the law of Edgar, but, from Edgar’s death until the accession of the Confessor, law had slumbered in England—thus does this romancer strive to blacken the memory of Cnut, the great lawgiver. Little, if any, use is made of the Anglo-Saxon dooms; loose, oral tradition is the author’s best warrant. Unfortunately, however, the patriotic and ecclesiastical leanings of his book made it the most popular of all the old law-books.71 In the thirteenth century it was venerable; even Bracton quoted from it.72 A second and more polished edition of it was soon made by its author’s or another’s hand; also there is a French version. And then men added to it other pious legends about the good old days when sheriffs were elective and the like. It has gone on doing its bad work down to our own time. It should only be used with extreme caution, for its statements, when not supported by other evidence, will hardly tell us more than that some man of the twelfth century, probably some man of Henry I.’s day, would have liked those statements to be true.73
Character of the law disclosed by the Leges.The picture that these law-books set before us is that of an ancient system which has received a rude shock from without while within it was rapidly decaying. The men who would state the existing law are compelled to take the old English dooms as the basis for their work, even though they can hardly understand the Old English language. The old dooms are written law; they have not been abrogated; they have been confirmed; other written law there is none or next to none; Normandy has none; northern France has none, or none that is not effete. At a pinch a man may find something useful in the new science of the canonists, in the aged Lex Salica, in vague rumours of Roman law which come from afar. Any rule that looks authoritative and reasonable is welcome; we may say that it is law because it ought to be law. But in the main we must make the best of the dooms of Cnut and the older dooms. And the difficulty of making much that is good of them is not caused merely by the collision of two races, or by any preference of the Normans for laws that are not English. No doubt in the local courts confusion had been confounded by the influx of conquering Frenchmen; but there were causes enough of confusion which would have done their work even had there been no ethnical conflict to aid them. Everywhere in western Europe new principles of social and political order were emerging; new classes were being formed; the old laws, the only written laws, were becoming obsolete; the state was taking a new shape. If from the northern France or from the Germany of the first years of the twelfth century we could have a law-book, it would not be very simple or elegant or intelligible. As it is, our neighbours have little to show between the last of the capitularies and those feudal law-books which stand on a level with our own Glanvill. While the complex process which we call feudalism is transmuting the world, no one issues laws or writes about law. If in England it is otherwise, this seems to be chiefly due to two causes:—In England the age of the capitularies had not ended; but lately Cnut had legislated on a scale which for the eleventh century must be called magnificent. And then that very collision between two races which makes the law-books disorderly and obscure has made them necessary. The laga Eadwardi is confirmed. Even clerks of Norman race wish to know what the laga Eadwardi is.
Practical problems in the Leges.These law-books have, we may say, one main theme. It is a very old theme. An offence, probably some violent offence, has been committed. Who then is to get money, and how much money, out of the offender? It is the old theme of wer and wíte and bót. But the criminal tariff has become exceedingly complex, and is breaking down under its own weight. In the first place the old tribal differences, which have become local differences, cannot yet be disregarded. A text writer must still start with this, that England is divided between three laws, Wessex law, Mercian law, Danelaw. We must not make light of the few variances between these three laws which are expressly noticed by the books. If in the eleventh century a middle finger is more valuable than a first finger among the men of the Danelaw and less valuable among the men of Wessex, here is a difference which would have its equivalent in modern England if the law of Lancashire differed from the law of Yorkshire about the negotiable qualities of a bill of exchange, a difference fruitful of knotty problems. The law of Herefordshire, as settled by Earl William FitzOsbern, was that no knight should have to pay more than seven shillings for any offence.74 Becket asserted even in the king’s court that the heaviest amercement known to Kentish law was forty shillings.75 But the country was becoming covered with small courts; every one who could was acquiring or assuming sake and soke. The courts rose one above the other; the great old tribal customs were breaking up into multitudinous petty customs. This introduced new complexities. We can see that for the writer of the LegesHenrici the grand central problem of the law is the question, Who in the myriad of possible cases has sake and soke, the right to hold a court for the offender and to pocket the profits of jurisdiction? The claims of the lords, the claims of the church, the claims of the king are adding to the number of the various fines and mulcts that can be exacted, and are often at variance with each other. Let us suppose that a man learned in the law is asked to advise upon a case of homicide. Godwin and Roger met and quarrelled, and Godwin slew Roger. What must be paid; by whom; to whom? Our jurist is not very careful about those psychical elements of the case which might interest us, but on the other hand he requires information about a vast number of particulars which would seem to us trivial. He cannot begin to cast up his sum until he has before him some such statement as this:—Godwin was a free ceorl of the Abbot of Ely: Roger, the son of a Norman father, was born in En gland of an English mother and was a vavassor of Count Alan: the deed was done on the Monday after Septuagesima, in the county of Cambridge, on a road which ran between the land which Gerard a Norman knight held of Count Eustace and the land of the Bishop of Lincoln: this road was not one of the king’s highways: Godwin was pursued by the neighbours into the county of Huntingdon and arrested on the land of the Abbot of Ramsey: Roger, when the encounter took place, was on his way to the hundred moot: he has left a widow, a paternal uncle and a maternal aunt. As a matter of fact, the result will probably be that Godwin, unable to satisfy the various claims to which his deed has given rise, will be hanged or mutilated. This, however, is but a slovenly, practical solution of the nice problem, and even if he be hanged, there may be a severe struggle over such poor chattels as he had. The old law consisted very largely of rules about these matters; but it is falling to pieces under the pressure of those new elements which feudalism has brought with it. For a while there must be chaos and “unlaw”; every lord may assume what jurisdictional powers he pleases and will be able to find in the complicated tangle of rules some plausible excuse for the assumption. The Normans, hallowed and lay, have thrown themselves with all their native ardour into the warfare of litigation and chicane over rights which have Old English names; “nullus clericus nisi causidicus.”76
Custom of the king’s court.Only to one quarter can we look hopefully. Above all local customs rose the custom of the king’s court, “the tremendous empire of kingly majesty.”77 Of the law that this court administered we know little, only we may guess that in a certain sense it was equity rather than strict law. On the one hand, the royal tribunal cannot have held itself straitly bound by the Old English law; the men who sat in it were Frenchmen, few of whom could understand a word of English. On the other hand, it must often have happened that the traditional Norman customs would not meet the facts, for a Norman count and a Norman bishop would be quarrelling over the titles of their English antecessores, and producing English land-books. Besides, the king did not mean that England should be another Normandy; he meant to have at least all the rights that his cousin and predecessor had enjoyed. The jurisprudence of his court, if we may use so grand a phrase, was of necessity a flexible, occasional jurisprudence, dealing with an unprecedented state of affairs, meeting new facts by new expedients, wavering as wavered the balance of power between him and his barons, capable of receiving impressions from without, influenced by the growth of canon law, influenced perhaps by Lombard learning, modern in the midst of antique surroundings. In retrospect it would appear to a statesman of Henry II.’s day as something so unlike the laga Eadwardi, that it must be pronounced distinctively un-English and therefore distinctively Norman, and Norman in a sense it was.78 It was not a jurisprudence that had been transplanted from Normandy; but it had been developed by a court composed of Frenchmen to meet cases in which Frenchmen were concerned; the language in which men spoke it was French; and in the end, so far as it dealt with merely private rights, it would closely resemble a French coutume.
Royal justice.The future was to make the jurisprudence of the king’s court by far the most important element in the law of England, but we can hardly say that it was this during the reigns of the Norman kings. In the main that court was a court only for the great men and the great causes. It is true that these foreign kings did not allow their justiciary powers to be limited by any of those hedges which might have grown up in an unconquered country and confined the scope of royal justice to certain particular fields. The list of the “pleas of the crown” was long, disorderly, elastic;79 the king could send a trusted baron or prelate to preside in the county courts; he could evoke causes into his own court.80 But evocatory writs must be paid for and they were not to be had as matters of course. The local courts, communal and seignorial, were the ordinary tribunals for ordinary causes; the king’s justice was still extraordinary, and even the pleas of the crown were for the more part heard by the sheriffs in the shire-moots.81 Then, again, the king’s court was not in permanent session. Under the two Williams the name curia Regis seems to be borne only by those great assemblages that collect round the king thrice a year when he wears his crown. It was in such assemblages that the king’s justice was done under his own eye, and no doubt he had his way; still it was not for him to make the judgments of his court.82 Under Henry I. something that is more like a permanent tribunal, a group of justiciars presided over by a chief justiciar, becomes apparent. Twice a year this group, taking the name of “the exchequer,” sat round the chequered table, received the royal revenue, audited the sheriffs’ accounts and did incidental justice. From time to time some of its members would be sent through the counties to hear the pleas of the crown, and litigants who were great men began to find it worth their while to bring their cases before this powerful tribunal. We cannot say that these justiciars were professionally learned in English law; but the king chose for the work trusty barons and able clerks, and some of these clerks, besides having long experience as financiers and administrators, must have had a tincture of the new canonical jurisprudence.83 But, for all this, when Henry died little had yet been done towards centreing the whole work of justice in one small body of learned men. And then a disputed succession to the throne, a quarrel between the king and the officers of his exchequer, could impair, or for a while destroy, all such concentration as there was. In the woful days of Stephen, the future of English law looks very uncertain. If English law survives at all, it may break into a hundred local customs, and if it does so, the ultimate triumph of Roman law is assured.84
[1 ] The connexion between our law and the French lei or loi (Lat. legem) is for the etymologist a remote one, and Henry I. knew what he was about when he restored to us the lagam (not legem) Eadwardi. But the two words attracted each other. We preserve the French droit in our “droits of admiralty.”
[2 ] The French set of Leges Willelmi will be mentioned below; it is private work. The well-known passage about the English and French languages in the would-be Ingulf’s History of Croyland (Scriptores post Bedam, p. 512 b) is one of that forger’s clumsiest falsehoods.
[3 ] Maitland, Domesday Book, 8.
[4 ] Statute 4 Geo. II. c. 26.
[5 ] Our first parliament roll comes from 1290 and there is some French on the roll of 1293; Rot. Parl. i. 101. The very first entry on our statute roll as it now exists, the Statute of Gloucester 1278, is in French, and if, as seems probable, a membrane containing the Statute of Westminster 1275 has been lost, this also was covered with French writing.
[6 ] Stat. 16 Car. I. c. 10, abolishing the Star Chamber, solemnly recites the Statute 36 Edw. III. Stat. i. c. 15, which says that (despite the use of English as a medium for oral pleading) all pleas are to be enrolled in Latin.
[7 ] Even the earliest and purest glossaries of A.-S. law terms, the Expositiones Vocabulorum, prove this ignorance. As to these glossaries, see Hall, Red Book of the Exchequer, vol. iii. Introduction.
[8 ] The Court Baron (Seld. Society).
[9 ] The Court Baron, pp. 38, 42.
[10 ] 36 Edw. III. Stat. i. c. 15.
[11 ] Robert of Gloucester, lines 9650–730.
[12 ] Wycliffite Translation of the Bible; Matth. vii. 1 “for in what dome Z e demen, Z e sculen ben demed”; Matth. xxvii. 19 “and while he [Pilat] sat for domesman”; Mark xv. 16 “the porche of the mote halle.”
[13 ] The volume of Sarum Charters (Rolls Series), p. 5, contains what at first looks like an early example, a French document executed by a Bishop of Salisbury and apparently ascribed by a copyist of the fourteenth century to the year 1120. But there is some mistake here. A French charter of Stephen Langton entered on the Charter Roll of 10 John is given in facsimile by Hardy, Rot. Cart. p. xli.
[14 ] The proclamations will be found in the Select Charters.
[15 ] The exceptions are rather apparent than real; e.g. the Ordinance for Ireland of 31 Edw. III., though on the statute roll, is in the form of letters patent, and is also on the patent roll.
[16 ] The transition from French to English statutes seems to occur suddenly at the accession of Richard III. and to be contemporaneous with a change in the method of enrolment. We pass at this date from the “statute rolls” preserved at the Tower to “enrolments of Acts of Parliament.” As early as 1386, and it may be earlier—for but few of the extant petitions are printed or dated—a petition to parliament might be written in English (Rot. Parl. iii. 225), and the English words which Henry IV. spoke when he met his first parliament are enrolled (iii. 423); then petitions in English appear on the roll; but on the whole it is not until 1425 or thereabouts that the parliament roll has much English on it. To the very last (1503) the formal parts of the roll are written either in French or in Latin.
[17 ] Court Baron (Seld. Society), p. 11. See also the Brevia Placitata which are now being edited by Mr. Turner.
[18 ] The honour of being the first books concerning English law that were written in the English language must probably be given to some of Sir John Fortescue’s treatises, but they cannot be called legal text-books. Before a deliberate judgment can be passed on the question as to which is our first English text-book, an intricate group of little tracts on pleading etc., some of which may not yet have been printed, must be examined.
[19 ] The French that is a literary language in England under Henry III. and Edward I. should not be called “Norman-French”; Parisian French, the French of the Isle of France, is already its model; but there is some difference of opinion among philologists as to how far “Anglo-French” is entitled to be considered as a dialect which has a history of its own. See Behrens in Paul’s Grundriss d. German. Philologie, i. 807. To dignify with the name “Norman-French” the mere “dog-French” that we find in law reports of the sixteenth century is ridiculous.
[20 ] Laws of William (Select Charters), c. 7.
[21 ] Leg. Willelmi, iv; Eadmer, Hist. Nov. p. 10.
[22 ] Laws of William (Select Charters), c. 1.
[23 ] Laws, c. 2; A.-S. Chron. an. 1086; Florence, ii. 19.
[24 ] Laws, c. 3, 4; Leges Will. i. 22.
[25 ] Laws, c. 6; Leges Will. ii.
[26 ] Laws, c. 7, 8.
[27 ] Laws, c. 5, 9, 10.
[28 ] The precedents are collected in Schmid, Glossar, s.v. Marktrecht.
[29 ] Æthelred, v. 2; Cnut, ii. 3.
[30 ] Cnut, ii. 20.
[31 ] Æthelred, v. 3; vi. 10; Cnut, ii. 2.
[32 ] Edmund, iii. 1.
[33 ] Leg. Will. iii. 3; Leg. Will. i. 22; Leg. Henr. 91; Leg. Edw. 15, 16; Bracton, f. 134 b. In Swedish laws it is common to find the hundred charged with a fine of forty marks (the exact sum that the Conqueror demands) if the manslayer be not produced, more especially if the slain man be a stranger; Wilda, Strafrecht, 217–18. Some similar liability seems to be indicated by an early capitulary added to the Lex Salica; Hessels, Lex Salica, p. 408; with which should be compared Leg. Henr. 92 § 8. Henry I. in his Coronation Charter, c. 9, seems to speak as though the murder fine was known to the laga Eadwardi. Liebermann, Leges Edwardi, p. 112, rejects the story about Cnut.
[34 ] Laws of William, c. 6; Leges Willelmi, ii. Had William said to the Englishman, “If you accuse a Norman, you must adopt the Norman’s law and offer battle,” even this could not have been regarded as a tyrannous decree; it would have been an application of the principle of “personal law,” which would have looked plausibly equitable. As it is, the Norman has to purge himself even though the Englishman will not fight. He purges himself with “an unbroken oath,” “mid unforedan aðe,” “sacramento non fracto.” This is a difficult phrase. Apparently a “broken” or “breaking” oath is an oath sworn “in verborum observantiis,” and is an oath broken up into phrases, each of which must be repeated with punctilious accuracy by the swearer as it is dictated to him by his adversary. Dr. Brunner sees in William’s law a provision that the Norman need not swear in words dictated by an Englishman. Brunner, Zeitschrift d. Savigny-Stiftung, Germ. Abt. xvii, 128, and Pol. Science Quarterly, xi. 537; Forschungen, 328.
[35 ] Register of Abp. Peckham, i. 77: “leges Howeli Da quae Decalogo dicuntur in diversis articulis obviare.”
[36 ] Orderic (ed. le Prevost), ii. 264. Dr. Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 401, says of Roger’s punishment, “The same penalty must have followed if he had been tried by English law.” But under the Old English law conspiracy against the king was a capital crime; and Orderic (p. 262) makes Waltheof remark that this is so. Roger, so it seems, is treated as a Norman who has rebelled and levied war against the duke. Many examples of earlier and of later date show us that the duke rarely puts a vassal to death for rebellion. We must remember that William is merely duke or count of the Normans, while he is the crowned and anointed king of the English. It may be that under the Conqueror’s own ordinance Waltheof should have been, not decapitated, but mutilated; but “Interdico ne quis occidatur” does not bind the man who says it.
[37 ] Leg. Henr. 92 § 6.
[38 ] In Domesday Book Englishmen are offering proof by battle; Bigelow, Placita Anglo-Normannica, 43, 60. The Leges Henrici no longer make any distinction between the two races in this matter, though they still allow Frenchmen and aliens to swear with less accuracy than would be required of an Englishman: Leg. Hen. 64 § 3.
[39 ] Eadmer, Hist. Nov. 224.
[40 ] Selden’s Eadmer, 197; Plac. Anglo-Norm. 7.
[41 ] Heming’s Cartulary, i. 82; Plac. Anglo-Norm. 18.
[42 ] Hamilton, Inquisitio Cantabr. pp. xvii, xviii; Plac. Anglo-Norm. 22.
[43 ] Hist. Abingd. ii. 2; Plac. Anglo-Norm. 30: “sed et alii plures de Anglis causidici per id tempus in abbatia ista habebantur.” This does not imply the existence of men who are lawyers by profession.
[44 ] Stevenson, E. H. R. xi. 731: an important contribution to English diplomatics.
[45 ] Dr. Brunner, Zeitschrift d. Savigny-Stiftung, Germ. Abt. xvii. 125, in reviewing the first edition of this book, says that in his opinion we have underestimated the influence of Norman law and somewhat overrated the originality of Henry II.’s legislation. It may be so. The question is very difficult and we fully admit that in any case our private law and law of procedure have many French traits. The English element is at its strongest in political structure, e.g. in the non-feudal county court.
[46 ] Eadmer, Hist. Nov. pp. 31–32.
[47 ] These lines were probably written in John’s day. They occur in a legal compilation discovered by Dr. Liebermann: Leges Anglorum, Halle, 1894, p. 67.
[48 ] Charters of Liberties (Statutes of the Realm, vol. i.), p. 1; Select Charters. Liebermann, Trans. R. Hist. Soc. viii. 21, gives a critical text.
[49 ] The Pipe Roll of 31 Henry I. was edited by Hunter for the Record Commissioners. We shall hereafter have more than one occasion to remark on the relation that it bears to the charter of 1100.
[50 ] The writ is given in the Select Charters; see Liebermann, Quadripartitus, p. 165.
[51 ] Legislation in 1108 about theft and coining: Florence, ii. 57; comp. A.-S. Chron. an. 1124, and Foedera, i. 12. Legislation against abuses of royal purveyance and against bad money: Eadmer, Hist. Nov. 192–93; Will. Malmesb. Gesta Regum, ii. 476. Legislation about wreck: Chron. de Bello, 65; Plac. Anglo-Norm. 144. Legislation about measures, Will. Malmesb. Gesta Regum, ii. 487; in this last passage it is said that towards the end of his reign Henry inclined rather to pecuniary mulcts than to corporal punishment. The enactment of other rules has been ascribed to Henry merely because they appear in the text-book known as Leges Henrici, of which hereafter.
[52 ] Historians of Church of York, iii. 22: “et nova statuta mea de iudiciis sive de placitis latronum et falsorum monetariorum exequatur et finiat [archiepiscopus] per suam propriam iustitiam in curia sua.”
[53 ] Charters of Liberties (Statutes of the Realm, i.), p. 4; Select Charters; Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 346.
[54 ] Charters of Liberties, p. 5; Select Charters; Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 347. As to the date of these charters, see Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, 438.
[55 ] As to the ecclesiastical legislation, see Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 404.
[56 ] Dr. Liebermann has gradually been restoring the legal literature of this period. Lagam Eadwardi nobis reddit. His forthcoming edition of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman laws will probably override some sentences in the following brief summary.
[57 ] This is Leges Willelmi iv. of Thorpe and Schmid.
[58 ] This is Leges Willelmi ii. of Thorpe and Schmid.
[59 ] The set of ten laws is that printed by Dr. Stubbs in his edition of Hoveden, vol. ii. p. ci, and again in the Select Charters. It may be conveniently referred to as Hic intimatur. It also appears with some variants in the text of Hoveden’s Chronicle, vol. ii. p. 216, for Hoveden inserts it when, under the year 1180, he speaks of Glanvill’s appointment to the justiciarship. Liebermann, Quadripartitus, p. 145, mentions the mss which give it and says that it was compiled after 1087 and before 1135. A French version of it from the twelfth century he gives in Zeit-schrift für romanische Philologie, xix. 82. The expanded form of it is Leges Willelmi iii. of Thorpe and Schmid. Dr. Liebermann takes this to be the work of a Londoner of John’s reign, who deliberately tampers with his documents: Ueber die Leges Anglorum, p. 32 ff.
[60 ] We have here tried to sum up very briefly the results attained by Liebermann, Quadripartitus, Halle, 1892.
[61 ] Leg. Henr. 33 § 4. He cites Liber Theodosianae Legis, but what he really has under that name seems to be the Epitome Aegidii; see Hänel, Lex Romana Visigothorum, p. 228. This citation, which may be the outcome of literary vanity, has been offered as proof of the prevalence of Roman law in England; but the fact that our author had a Roman book and took but one sentence from it, is really a strong testimony to the thoroughly un-Roman character of the English law of his day. It is quite possible that he had but a single volume of foreign temporal law. The Salica and Ribuaria occur in ms along with epitomes of Alaric’s Breviary.
[62 ] The preface cannot have been written after 1118, since it treats Queen Matilda as living. The arguments of those who would give a later date to the body of the book seem to be sufficiently answered by Liebermann, Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte (1876), vol. xvi. p. 582. His conclusion is accepted by Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 533 (ed. 1883). Two mistakes should be avoided. (1) Our author is not forging laws for Henry I.; the title Leges Henrici refers only to the coronation charter with which he begins his book. (2) He is not pretending to set forth the laga Eadwardi as it stood in Edward’s day; he states it in what he thinks to be its modern and practicable shape. The inference that he was a man of English race has been drawn from a passage, 92 § 10, in which he speaks of a French thief resisting capture “more suo”; but he throws such phrases about in a hap-hazard way, and his knowledge of the Old English language seems to have been small.
[63 ] Leg. Henr. 70 § 1; 87 § 5.
[64 ] These two tracts are Consiliatio Cnuti, published by Liebermann at Halle in 1893, and Instituta Cnuti aliorumque Regum Anglorum, communicated by him to the Royal Historical Society in the same year; Transactions, vii. 77.
[65 ] Constitutiones de Foresta, Schmid, p. 318. Liebermann, Ueber Pseudo-Cnuts Constitutiones de Foresta, Halle, 1894.
[66 ] The document in question is the Leges Willelmi i. of Thorpe and Schmid. For the history of the mss which gave the French version see the article in Quarterly Review, No. 67, p. 248, in which Palgrave exposed the Ingulfine forgery, also Liebermann’s Ostenglische Geschichtsquellen. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Liebermann for a valuable letter dealing with these Leis. That the French text is the origin of the Latin is plain from several passages, in particular from c. 45 when compared with Cnut, ii. 24 (the Latinist thinks that voest means “let him see,” whereas it means “let him vouch”). On this point see Liebermann, Quadripartitus, p. 54. The Latin version is sometimes exceedingly stupid; see e.g. the “idoneos cultores” of c. 31. The text has 52 chapters. From c. 39 onwards we have a translation of Cnut. This, the third section of the work, is preceded by six articles, which, when taken together, seem to betray Roman influence:—c. 33, sentence of death on a pregnant woman is to be respited (Dig. 48, 19, 3); c. 35, a father may kill his daughter if he finds her committing adultery in his house or his son-in-law’s house (Dig. 48, 5, 22); c. 36, a poisoner is to be killed or exiled for ever (Dig. 48, 8, 3 § 5); c. 37, a reminiscence of the lex Rhodia de iactu (Dig. 14, 2); c. 38, the eviction of one co-parcener does not prejudice the rights of the others, being res inter alios acta (Cod. 7, 56, 2). To these we may add c. 34, the division of an inheritance among all the children; this, unless enfans means sons, can hardly be English or Norman law, and is surrounded by romanesque sentences. Perhaps we ought to place the beginning of the middle section as far back as the very important c. 29; for c. 29–32 seem destined to define the position of the English peasants as being similar to that of the Roman coloni. Thus we are brought to the end of c. 28, where the only now extant ms of the French version ends. As to the Danish traits of the earlier articles, see Steenstrup, Danelag, pp. 59, 306–319. The unauthoritative character of the document, if it be taken as a whole, is sufficiently proved by its style; see in particular c. 37, 38; but we shall not readily believe that even the first section of it comes from the Conqueror. As to the character of the French text, this must be left to philologists, but the result of recent discussions seems to be that, though the language has been much modernized by transcribers, it has some very ancient traits.
[67 ] This is the Leges Edwardi Confessoris of Thorpe and Schmid. See Liebermann, Leges Edwardi, Halle, 1896.
[68 ] Leges Edwardi Confessoris, c. 11.
[69 ] Liebermann, op. cit. 16.
[70 ] The exemption from Danegeld of ecclesiastical demesnes, as stated in c. 11, is, to say the least, exceedingly doubtful. See Round in Domesday Studies, i. 95–96.
[71 ] Hoveden, ii. 218, takes it up into his chronicle.
[72 ] Bracton, f. 134 b. Liebermann, op. cit. 122.
[73 ] Dr. Liebermann spoke of this work some time ago in his Einleitung in den Dialogus de Scaccario, pp. 72–77. He has lately written an exhaustive essay about it. It seems quite incredible that Glanvill had anything to do with the making of this book. The difference between the style of these Leges and the style of the treatise ascribed to Glanvill is the difference between darkness and light. The author of the Leges assumes the character of a patriotic Englishman as against the detested Danes, but Harold is for him an usurper, and he himself, if not French by race, seems to have regarded French as his natural tongue (c. 35 § 1) and may have known but little English. The account that he gives of “the peace of God” (c. 2) seems to take us back rather to French than to English traditions. Liebermann thinks that he must have had access to the library of some cathedral, perhaps that of Coventry, and probably lived in or near Warwickshire. A French translation of the work exists in ms but has not yet been printed. For specimens, see Liebermann, Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, xix. 83. The story that the Conqueror caused a solemn statement of the laga Eadwardi to be made by juries is not very probable. Had such a statement been made, it would, like Domesday Book, have been officially preserved, and there would have been no room for such works as the Leges Henrici and the Leis Williame. Since the first edition of our book was published Dr. Liebermann (Leges Edwardi, p. 45) has decisively rejected the tale.
[74 ] Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, ii. 314. Malmesbury says that in his own day FitzOsbern’s rule still prevailed.
[75 ] Will. FitzStephen (Materials for Life of Becket, iii.), p. 62.
[76 ] This famous phrase comes from a rhetorical passage in which William of Malmesbury is describing the days of Rufus; Gesta Regum, ii. 369: “Nullus dives nisi nummularius, nullus clericus nisi causidicus, nullus presbyter nisi, ut verbo parum Latino utar, firmarius.” He has just called Ranulf Flambard “invictus causidicus.” But, as noticed above, these causidici were not all of French race.
[77 ] Leg. Henr. 9 § 9: “Legis enim Angliae trina est partitio; et ad eandem distantiam supersunt regis placita curiae, quae usus et consuetudines suas una semper immobilitate servat ubique.” Ibid. 6 § 2: “Legis etiam Anglicae trina est partitio . . . praeter hoc tremendum regiae maiestatis titislamus [?] imperium.”
[78 ] Dialogus, lib. i. c. xvi: “Rex Willelmus . . . decrevit subiectum sibi populum iuri scripto legibusque subicere. Propositis igitur legibus Anglicanis secundum tripartitam earum distinctionem, hoc est Merchenelage, Denelage, West-saxenelage, quasdam reprobavit, quasdam autem approbans, illas transmarinas Neustriae leges, quae ad regni pacem efficacisimae videbantur, adiecit.”
[79 ] Leg. Henr. c. 10.
[80 ] Early instances of the king’s missi presiding in the local courts are these:— the Bishop of Coutances presides at the famous session on Penenden Heath: Plac. Anglo-Norm. p. 7; he and others preside over the county court of Worcestershire: ibid. p. 17; he and others preside over a combined moot of the eastern counties: ibid. p. 24; Lanfranc presides at Bury over a combined moot of nine shires: Memorials of St. Edmund’s Abbey, i. 65. The payments “pro recto” recorded on the Pipe Roll of Henry I. were probably payments made for evocatory writs; see Plac. Anglo-Norm. 140–42.
[81 ] Apparently as a general rule the sheriffs hear the pleas of the crown, but the profits go to the king and are not, unless some special compact has been made, covered by the ferms of the counties; Leg. Henr. c. 10 § 3.
[82 ] Even Rufus in his rage respects this rule. Anselm is before the court; the magnates are reluctant to condemn him. “Take heed to yourselves,” cries the king, “for by God’s face if you will not condemn him as I wish, I will condemn you.” Eadmer, Hist. Nov. 62.
[83 ] We have a life-like, though perhaps not an impartial, report of the trial of William of St. Calais, Bishop of Durham. There is a keen argument between the defendant, who knows his canon law, and Lanfranc, the great Lombardist, who presides over the court; but the barons are not silent, and Hugh de Beaumont gives judgment. See Symeon of Durham, i. 170. A little later Bishop William takes a leading part in what may perhaps be called the trial of Anselm; Eadmer, Hist. Nov. 60–62.
[84 ] As to the king’s court and exchequer, see Stubbs, Const. Hist. c. xi, and Gneist, Geschichte, § 10.