The Old English Penitentials and Anglo-Saxon Law by Stefan Jurasinski

By Stefan Jurasinski

A number of the earliest examples of medieval canon legislation are penitentials - texts enumerating the sins a confessor may possibly come across between laypeople or different clergy and suggesting technique of reconciliation. frequently they gave recommendation on concerns of secular legislations to boot, providing judgments at the right technique to agreement a wedding or at the therapy of slaves. This ebook argues that their significance to extra normal legal-historical questions, lengthy suspected by means of historians yet hardly ever explored, is most blatant in a tremendous (and usually misunderstood) subgroup of the penitentials: composed in outdated English. although in line with Latin assets - largely these attributed to Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 690) and Halitgar of Cambrai (d. 831) - those texts recast them into new ordinances intended to higher swimsuit the desires of English laypeople. The previous English penitentials hence witness to how one early medieval polity tested a practice of written vernacular legislation.

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It seems fair to wonder whether Alfred’s defensiveness is in proportion to his ambition. Both the Kentish and West-Saxon prefaces to royal legislation suggest that kings in the period before the Conquest enjoyed quite limited authorization to issue laws in their own name. 49 What were they, and where are they to be found? Here again, the evidence of legislation is likely deceptive. 50 As Wormald (Making, 279) has noted most recently, Alfred’s claim to have appropriated these earlier laws, not daring to add any of his own, should be read skeptically; the ordinances of the domboc appear almost entirely of Alfred’s own devising.

15 Though it is customary to attribute the two-book penitential (hereafter PT, with provisions cited by book, chapter, and clause) and related compilations that circulated under his name to Theodore – a practice that will be continued in the present study given the lack of convenient alternatives – the appearance in writing of judgments attributed to the prelate no earlier than the middle of the eighth century makes their direct descent from his instruction rather unlikely. On the transmission of Theodorean judgments, see John T.

But its connotations were in all likelihood not those of the Modern English words with which it is rendered. The verb, along with its “inchoative” variant eacnan, had associations with pregnancy. 37 We can see how carefully the scribe has chosen his words. Hloþhere and Eadric have “extended” the ancestral law of the Kentish people in such a way that their codification bears the same relation to what came before it as children to their parents. While the laws of these kings may have differed in appearance from those of their ancestors, they nonetheless perpetuated their most essential properties.

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