Philippa Byrne
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This chapter introduces the central argument of the book: that one of the most important and most vexed questions in theological, legal and political discussions in twelfth-century England was how to reconcile the conflicting principles of justice and mercy, and how to judge ‘correctly’ – avoiding charges of partiality, corruption or vice. The significance of these discussions, however, has gone unrealised because of the assumptions brought by modern scholars to the relationship between medieval theology and medieval law. This chapter provides a historiographical overview of the ways in which medieval justice has been discussed. It then moves to analyse the biographies of several twelfth-century English judges, arguing that they were more than merely royal functionaries and were sensitive to moral arguments and reflected on their position, especially when it came to matters of virtue and punishment.

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Justice and mercy

Moral theology and the exercise of law in twelfth-century England


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