Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 16 Hours. two one hour lectures per week
Seminars / Tutorials 3 Hours. Three one hour seminars during the semester


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 1.5 Hours   100%
Supplementary Exam 100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

To gain knowledge of seminal events in the foundation of the English legal system. To analyse factors which are important in the process of legal development and to demonstrate an awareness of and a capacity to engage in legal historical analysis. To acquaint students with the sources of knowledge in this area and problems with their use.

Brief description

This course examines legal history from a jurisprudential rather than simply an antiquarian angle - it aims, that is, to investigate in detail a particular period of legal change and to see the development of rules and institutions as responsive to and generative of wider social development. To examine such events properly we must avoid the temptation of seeing the past simply as a step on the road to the present. To do our predecessors justice we must understand what law meant to them, not what it came to mean to us. Only in this way will our understanding of the role and technique of law in society be broadened. It is a little like trying to work out how an octopus functions - get too close to a live one and you may get disastrously entangled, but look closely at a slice of a dead one and you may learn a lot about what makes them work. Such considerations inform this course. It concentrates on the period from roughly 1066-1307 to examine the events that may be described as "the birth of the common law".
Students will be encouraged to become acquainted with the nature of the legal records of the time (in facsimile!) and to work with primary sources (cases, statutes, treatises) in translation where necessary. "The past is a foreign country" is by now a cliche, but remember that travel broadens the mind. No previous knowledge of history or of language is required to study this course, merely interest, application and imagination. Then you may consider such cases as that of Richard Fitznigel and the scabby monk. The cast list is fabulous, the plots are amazing.


To consider law from a historical perspective in order to investigate its role in responding to and initiating wider social change. In the light of such consideration a critical and inquiring approach to legal phenomena is developed.



1. The Court System
Local and central courts, itinerant justices, ecclesiastical courts. The nature, jurisdiction and inter-relationship of these bodies will be considered.

2. Civil Procedures
The writ system, the process before and at trial, pleading, proof (the trials by ordeal, battle and oathhelping, the rise of the jury), execution of judgement.

3. Legal Literature
Treatises, rolls, reports, the nature of, and difficulties with, legal literature of the period and a consideration of its authors and readership.

4. Land Law
The social significance and jurisprudential structure of landholding tenures and incidents, estates and the actions for recovery of real property.

Reading List

Recommended Text
J H Baker Introduction to English Legal History 4th Primo search S F C Milson Historical Foundations of the Common Law 2nd Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6