Law | Book | Culture in the Middle Ages – an Edited Collection

Thom Gobbitt

April 15, 2021 | Thom Gobbitt | Historical Identity Research Blog

The edited collection which I produced over the course of my last research project (FWF No. P-29968), recently went into print. The collection is titled Law | Book | Culture in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2021), and was deliberately selected to allow the contributors to be a little playful when thinking about how those components could be mixed and matched. Consequently, the fifteen chapters within the collection approach the overall theme from multiple angles, combining the elements so that some look at “law-books”, “law cultures” or even “book cultures of law” (or “law cultures of books”). The geographical scope of the collection focuses mostly on the medieval west, but also extends into central Europe, and the temporal focus extends almost the entire span of the middle ages, often with emphasis on the transmission of earlier laws and documents in their later manuscript transmission. 

The study of law, legal texts and legal cultures is far from new, but to date relatively little attention has been given to the later literate cultures in which legal texts were augmented and updated, except when a distinctive intellectual moment occurs such as if a given legal text was redacted or systemized into a new form. Law and legal culture were varied and continuously and significantly reproduced, innovated and developed across this period, and a major aim of the collection was to synthesize the approaches of the history of law and the history of the book, and in so doing open up further avenues to approach medieval legal literacy and culture. The collection revolves around materially and literately engaged readings of laws and legal cultures spanning the Middle Ages, and the argument that the contextualization of legal texts within the materiality of the written word is fundamental for understanding how laws and related texts were actualized and adapted which are approached from numerous angle, each informing on the other and producing a multifaceted interpretation of legal literacies across the span of the Middle Ages.

The fifteen chapters, bringing together contributors at various stages of their academic careers, are arranged in the collection into four broad, and sometimes overlapping themes. The first, “Law-Books”, centres on book production, the selection and organisation of legal texts in their manuscript contexts, and the role of paratextual and intertextual elements to frame and augment the laws. The second, “Law & Society”, considers how law and law texts were used within their broader social contexts, which then transitions into the more closely focused third theme, “Legal Practice”, which examines evidence for the implementation of law and the role of legal practitioners. In the final theme, “Texts & Edition”, the collection concludes with the editing of law-texts, with one chapter providing a new edition of a manuscript fragment, and the other taking a biographical view to the preparation of a critical edition in the nineteenth century. 

Even a quick examination of the chapter titles, detailed below, reveals that the specific geographical coverage is not absolute, and some areas, such as the Iberian peninsula, are unfortunately missing entirely. When assembling an edited collection, one is of course subject to the research interests and availability of contributors, and as the route this collection took was long and winding, sadly a few contributors had to withdraw their chapters along their way. Some of the chapters which were initially proposed centred on a range of periods, locations and legal themes, including: West Roman vulgar law; early Irish peace treaties, maledictory sanction clauses; legal and colloquial phraseology in Reinhard Fuchs; mise-en-page and paratextual elements in Norwegian law-books; the formation of a city archive in Portugal; the development of copyright from letters to law; and a study of student laws and regulatory cultures at the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford. Each is sadly missed, but hopefully will find its own home elsewhere with the course of time! In addition to my Introduction which this blog post summarises (pp. 1-13), the research chapters that are included in the collection comprise:

Part I: Law-Books
Stefan DRECHSLER, “Production and Content of the Fourteenth-Century Norwegian Law Manuscript Lundarbók”, pp. 17-50.
Ben REINHARD, “Wulfstan and the Reordered Polity of Cotton Nero A.i ”, pp. 51-70.
Thom GOBBITT, “Liutprand’s Prologues in the Edictus Langobardorum”, pp. 71-97.
Rolf H. BREMMER Jr, “More than Language: Law and Textual Communities in Medieval Frisia”, pp. 98-125.
Fangzhe QIU, “Law, Law-Books and Tradition in Early Medieval Ireland”, pp. 126-46.

Part II: Law & Society
Jan VAN DOREN, “De Divortio et de Resignatione: A Case of Carolingian Legal Precedent?”, pp. 149-71.
Lucy HENNINGS, “Reading the Law in Royal Government: Ius Commune Texts and Administrative Mentalities in Thirteenth-Century England”, pp. 172-96.
Katherine J. HAR, “Discussing London and the Regnum Anglorum after the 1204 Loss of Normandy”, pp. 197-219.
Francesco SANGRISO, “The Inviolable Right: Property and Power in Medieval Scandinavian Laws and Society”, pp. 220-49.

Part III: Legal Practice
Sonia COLAFRANCESCO, “Juridical Dualism in Medieval Southern Italy: Studies on the Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis”, pp. 253-74.
Petar PARVANOV, “Mortuary Proxies: Archaeological Contextualization of Medieval Legal Practices”, pp. 275-95.
Hannah BURROWS, “Expertise and Experience: Nuancing Terms for Legal Practitioners in the Íslendingasögur”, pp. 296-316.
Daniela FRUSCIONE, “Two Lombard Charters and Their Writers”, pp. 317-43.

Part IV: Text & Edition
Chiara SIMBOLOTTI, “Lombard Juridical Tradition: A New Edition of Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, ms F.iv.1 fr. 11 (Turin, bnu), a Fragment of the Lombarda with Glosses”, pp. 347-75.
Sara Elin ROBERTS, “‘A Rather Laborious and Harassing Occupation’: The Creation of the Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales (1841)”, pp. 376-97.