Philippa Byrne
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The problem with mercy
The courts
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The chapter begins with a comparison of how mercy was discussed in the early common law and in twelfth-century canon law, and suggests what one legal tradition might reveal about the other. It examines in full the discussions of mercy in common law texts (including the Leges Henrici Primi and Glanvill), as well as the historical evidence for legal mercy found in reported cases and pardon records. The chapter argues that there was more space for the exercise of judicial mercy in the common law than is sometimes assumed, and that exhortations to mercy were more than window dressing. However, in order to understand what mercy meant to English judges, medievalists need to go beyond the traditional documentary sources for the history of the common law. The chapter concludes by emphasising that the role of the judge and the complexity of the judge’s moral role should not be overlooked in the history of the early common law.

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Justice and mercy

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


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