A Medieval Book and Early-Modern Law: Bracton's Authority and Application in the Common Law C.1550-1640
Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis/Legal History Review, Vol. 79, p. 47, 2011
1 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2012
Date Written: February 1, 2011
This article considers the place of the thirteenth-century book known as Bracton in the early-modern common law. Using methods from the history of reading, it examines both the uses made of Bracton and the evidence to be found in the surviving copies of the first printed edition. It addresses the impediments to the use of Bracton, the printing of the first edition, the text’s readership and its place in the early-modern common-law canon.
The second half of the article identifies topics and material in Bracton which seem to have been of particular interest. Bracton was a recognized source for criminal law and there is some evidence of impact on the law of evidence, servitudes and a little for contract law. An examination of the early-modern law of treason shows that Bracton had an important role in changing the concept of treason from a crime against the monarch to something like the much broader classical crimen laesae maiestatis. The article demonstrates that legal historians should be concerned to identify not only what lawyers read, but how they read it.
Keywords: legal history, history of reading, Bracton, criminal law, treason
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