Introduction to the History of Law Blog

Law has been around for a long time and the development and history of law is an important part of our cultural heritage. However little is known about it (compared to, for example, military history) and I don’t think it is studied much nowadays.

English coat of armsMy husband, when I said this to him, gave a hollow laugh and said that there was probably a reason for this. Meaning of course that it is boring.

But the history of law is not really boring. It seems boring as the documents it is recorded in are hard if not impossible for us to read nowadays (unless you understand Latin and Norman French – which incidentally I don’t), and even modern textbooks are not an easy read, due largely to to the unfamiliar terminology involved.

The study of law, on its own, divorced from its application, is always dull and dusty. It is when you look at what people do with it, that it suddenly becomes fascinating.

Law and the history of law is really all about people. The mad bonkers things that they argue about, and their deviousness in trying to outwit authority. The history of law is also the story of the King (or occasionally the Queen) trying to impose their will on the people, and the people trying with equal determination to avoid this and do things their own way. Preferably without paying taxes.

To me the history of law is far more interesting than all those dreary battles we had to learn about at school.

I write another blog called the Landlord Law Blog, and I have recently finished a series Foundations in Landlord and Tenant Law. In writing that series I touched on legal history from time to time. In my research I found all sorts of other interesting ‘nuggets’ which did not really fit into the foundation series, but which I still wanted to write about. So the idea of a history series was born.

“There won’t be an audience for it” warned my husband. But I am just going to ignore him (which is, anyway, what husbands are for). I can’t be the only person who finds legal history interesting.

So I am starting on a journey. A journey through English legal history. Starting (more or less) at the time of the Norman conquest and moving (more or less) forward chronologically, with jumps backwards and forwards In time as the fancy takes me.

My guide will be the excellent An Introduction to English Legal History by JH Baker, which I was introduced to long ago when I did my law degree. I also have all the resources of the internet at my finger tips, to review and research. And of course, find pictures.

I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, and the posts won’t be learned dissertations, just my own interpretation and comments, based on a bit of background reading. I want to look particularly at the development of legal ideas which eventually came to form part of our modern landlord and tenant law, and at the original meaning of words which have legal connotations today.

And to shed a bit of light into a little known area of our history, and tell a few funny stories.

If any reason is necessary for this blog, other than the fact that the suject is interesting in itself, it is that a study of the past helps us better understand the present, and may also give us greater resources to glimpse into the future.

English coat of arms picture from Wikipedia commons

Please feel free to add a comment. All comments are moderated but this is just to make sure no spam gets through. 6 Responses to Introduction to the History of Law Blog
  1. ObiterJNo Gravatar
    September 20, 2011 | 5:21 pm

    Brilliant. I am delighted to find that someone else is interested enough in this to actually write something. I have a couple of posts on my blog and will supply links in the hope that are of some assistance. Good luck with all of this. There may (or may not) be a vast audience but this is a neglected topic and much of value could be learned from it and still applied today.

  2. ObiterJNo Gravatar
    September 20, 2011 | 5:29 pm

    Our legal heritage – No. 1 – Early times and the Anglo-Saxon period

    Our legal heritage – No.2 – The formative period

    Westminster Hall – a place of history

    Reflections on Church and State

  3. Tessa SheppersonNo Gravatar
    September 20, 2011 | 8:54 pm

    Thank you! Its something that has always interested me.

    Quite a few people have come out of the woodwork and confessed that actually they do find it quite interesting, so maybe a few of them will read the blog.

    I enjoy doing it anyway. Having a blog to write gives me an reason and excuse to do the research.

  4. Hari RamanathanNo Gravatar
    September 21, 2011 | 9:13 am

    Thanks so much for dedicating a blog to a most fascinating subject! I can assure you that there is at least one person who doesn’t find legal history boring at all. Unfortunately as a student of law who came through the conversion course process, I never had any exposure to the historical aspects of our legal system besides what I discovered for myself in my spare time – much of which I didn’t have. However I did borrow a copy of Baker’s book during my LPC and read as much of it as I could. I found it very difficult to understand and have since been looking for resources that explained the difficult bits in modern terminology. I like the fact your blog will follow a largely chronological order, as that will help structure the history in my mind as well. I think it’s great there will be a bias towards land law. After all, it’s not equity, trusts, employment, intellectual property and other types of law even existed at that time. It was basically just constitutional, tort, criminal and land law to begin with.

  5. Hari RamanathanNo Gravatar
    September 21, 2011 | 9:15 am

    Oh and ecclesiastical/canon law!

  6. Mira Tichenor
    December 13, 2011 | 8:45 am

    Mira Tichenor…

    Im obliged for the blog.Really looking forward to read more. Want more….

The Norman posts
What the Normans did for law in England

Looking back of over the Norman period and considering what impact they had on the English legal sys[more]

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall has over the past 900 years held a central place in the life of the nation. It was [more]

Cadfael and law in the reign of Stephen

The Cadfael books cast a light on law in the reign of Stephen as well as the political history of th[more]

Oaths and Ordeals

Ordeals by fire and water and trial by battle - how they were used and descriptions of the events [more]

Sheriffs in Norman times

Introducing the office of Sheriff, an important one in English legal history. We will be looking at[more]

Writs, law and the nature of lawyer DNA

There is a big difference between law now and in Norman times which this post covers, along with som[more]

Custom and courts before and after the conquest

Looking at how England was divided for administration before the conquest and the three levels of co[more]

Henry I – The Lion of Justice

Taking a look at Henry I, what he was like and what his reign meant for the country. Henry I was a [more]

The Domesday Book

The Doomsday Book has been called Britain s greatest treasure. It is certainly unique and has been[more]

The Lord of the Manor

In this post, I am going to take a look at the lower end of the feudal system. The end that you and [more]

The Estates of Man in Norman England

Taking a quick look at the different levels of society and their names. If you want to know about K[more]

The Kings Demesne

‘Demesne’ is the word for land a lord keeps for himself. This post looks at the land kept by th[more]

Norman Barons: Writs and Relief

Here we look at the ‘head lessors’, the Barons. There was a massive change at this level of soc[more]

Landlord and tenure

This was the very first history post, and looks at the word ‘landlord’ and what it means, and al[more]

The Angevin posts
The Constitutions of Clarendon and the Becket affair

If anyone knows anything about the reign of Henry II, they know about the Beckett affair. About the [more]

Towns in medieval England

Medieval towns and cities or boroughs, would have a charter from the King, Lord or Bishop/Abbot gran[more]

Medieval slavery and unfree villeinage

Slavery was by no means absent from Medieval England. Whether villeins were the equivalent of slave[more]

The Kings courts and the start of the common law

Looking at how the rise of the Kings Courts lead to a reduction in the power of the lords to decide [more]

The petty assizes and the development of the jury system

The petty assizes were the new forms of action designed to maintain the status quo - the writ of nov[more]

The General Eyre and the Court at Westminster

In my last post I said I was going to be looking the new forms of action developed by Henry II, but [more]

The Writ of Right and the start of Henry II’s legal reforms

Henry II was responsible for many important legal innovations. For example land disputes now had to[more]

Battle Abbey v. Gilbert de Balliol

Here we have an example of actual 12th century litigation - the long drawn out case of the Abbey at [more]

A confusion of courts

I looked briefly at courts in my post here. However, now we have reached Henry II it is time to look[more]

The Cartae Baronum of 1166 and the Elephant

How the survey of 1186, known as the Cartae Baronum, allowed Henry to claim more under this feudal d[more]

The Exchequer in the time of Henry II

A discussion of the workings of the Exchequer in Henry IIs time, and the duties of the sheriffs, tog[more]

The Kings household and the administration of government

Looking at how the members of the Kings household, such as his Chaplin and chamberlains, were involv[more]

Feudal incidents

The incidents which went with the feudal system are the real reason why it lasted so long, This pos[more]

Crowned King of England

Looking at the coronation of Kings and considering if this is where they get their legal authority [more]

The Young King Henry II

Introducing King Henry II, a king who ruled for 35 years and who had a profound influence on the gov[more]