Slavery and Comparative Law in Eighteenth Century England

6 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2017

Date Written: June 19, 2017


This paper addresses the contemporary criticism to the European Court of Human Rights in the UK by underscoring how the English law on human rights has been positively influenced by the laws of other European countries, in the same fashion as English law has traditionally influenced such foreign laws. The means for this analysis is a case-study on the introduction of the French law on slavery and the subsequent implementation of such principles in England. Slavery had been abolished in France since the early 1300s. Moorish slaves brought to France were being freed from at least 1571, as was recorded by Jean Bodin in 1576. In England, slavery had practically disappeared at the sunset of the Middle Ages. It resurfaced in the French and American colonies in the New World in the 1600s. In the period 1730-1790 French courts, citing Bodin, freed over 200 slaves brought to France from the colonies. In Somerset v Stewart, 1772, English courts finally held that slavery was not recognised by English law, which led to the termination of slavery in England once and for all; and it was the influence of French courts’ decisions on the bestowal of freedom to foreign slaves that led to the reasoning of the English Court.

Keywords: Slavery, English Law, French Law, Legal History, Comparative Law, Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights

Suggested Citation

Tugendhat, Michael, Slavery and Comparative Law in Eighteenth Century England (June 19, 2017). University of Leicester School of Law Research Paper No. 17-08. Available at SSRN:

Michael Tugendhat (Contact Author)

Leicester Law School ( email )

University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH, LE1 7RH
United Kingdom


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