Medieval mentalities and primitive legal practice
in Law, laity and solidarities
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The argument from Kingdoms and Communities explains much of Susan Reynolds's approach to medieval history, both in that book and in Fiefs and Vassals. The interpretation of early medieval law as 'essentially formal and ritualised depends on assuming that it must have been, because primitive law must by definition be formal and ritualised and because the early Middle Ages look primitive'. Mentalities have been treated as entities with a distinctive life of their own. This chapter discusses a case which came before the royal judges in the court of King John in 1213, when the prior of Durham's attorney produced a charter with a broken knife attached to it instead of a seal. Legal practice in the recording of contracts differs from one society to another, as it is rooted in particular cultural traditions which are sanctioned by custom, though changes may come fast when a new technology obtrudes itself.

Law, laity and solidarities

Essays in honour of Susan Reynolds

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