Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction - The Story of the Law
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Introduction - John Maxcy Zane, The Story of the Law 
The Story of Law, 2nd ed., Introduction by James M. Beck. New Foreword, Annotations, and Bibliographies by Charles J. Reid, Jr. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
The “five ages” to which Zane refers is intended as an allusion to classical literature: “The fable of the ancients, which school boys read in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, divided the history of the world into a golden, a silver, a bronze, and an iron age.” But Zane does not follow the classical periodization slavishly; while Ovid’s history of the world had four ages and ended in irreversible decay, Zane’s account of the English bar consists of five ages and closes with the promise of law reform and the restoration of a bench and bar marked by a renewed sense of professionalism and integrity.
Zane chose 1066 as the commencement of the golden age of English law because that year featured the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror. The Anglo-Saxon regime that William overthrew was, in Zane’s estimation, a “barbarous” one, entirely devoid of lawyers and law.
In advancing this chronology, Zane boldly challenged the deeply cherished status the Anglo-Saxon past held in the minds of generations of Anglophile historians and political writers. English law and constitutional order had their roots, according to this older line of thought, in the primitive folk assemblies of the Teutonic peoples who conquered Britain after the Romans departed. The Norman Conquest subjected this happy warrior culture to a tyrannous yoke, but this oppression eventually resulted in the forging of a great people and the creation of a great legal system.
Zane implicitly rejected this school of thought when he attributed the origin of English law to Norman practices and institutions. The monarchy William established was stronger than anything the Anglo-Saxons experienced, and a series of powerful kings—William himself, Henry II, Edward I, Edward III—knew how to make use of lawyers and advisers trained in the law and thereby created a system of law capable of rendering justice.
“Five Ages” is a recounting of the signal events and important personages in the history of the common law from 1066 down to the Victorian Age and the enactment of that age’s procedural and judicial reforms. It is a story that is told in a lively fashion and with all of the passion of The Story of Law. Zane’s ability to present always fascinating vignettes of the personalities involved in the shaping of the law (see, for example, his account of Lord Eldon) enlivens what would have been, in lesser hands, a dull recitation of biographical detail. It is a worthy complement to the larger work.
C. J. R., Jr.