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Paul Fouracre

This chapter considers the history of those polities that were formed across western Europe in the wake of the Roman Empire: many relatively short-lived, but others of much greater longevity, some of which are seen as the ancestors of modern European nation-states. It considers first their nature as ‘states’, questioning the utility of that term to describe what were often very large territories indeed, extensively governed but in a very shallow manner, with only limited purchase on the lives of the governed. It turns then to the question of identity, initially picking up the theme of ethnic labels raised in the first chapter, before turning to law and social status as arguably much more important markers of identity. Finally, it considers the religious life of the period: the great proliferation of holy men (and some women), the Christian saints, accounts of whose lives give us so much of our evidence for this period, and the widespread foundation of monasteries, in which those accounts were written and copied.

in Debating medieval Europe
Craig H. Caldwell

This first chapter sets out different approaches to the question of what survived in western Europe from the later Roman Empire, after its central institutions had ceased to exist in the mid-fifth century. How far and in what ways did the practices of Roman governmentality – notably taxation – survive and persist into the post-Roman world? The chapter next considers the emergence, to use a neutral term, of peoples with different ethnic labels in that post-Roman world – Goths, Lombards, Franks – and different theories of ethnic formation. Who were these people, and how can textual and material (archaeological) evidence identify them? Finally, the chapter considers the ‘glue’ that held late antiquity together and gave it coherence: Christianity, and the balance between centralization and regional difference in the Latin Church of Rome.

in Debating medieval Europe
Abstract only
Ottonian Germany
T. J. H McCarthy

The revival of the Western Empire in the tenth century in the German-speaking lands east of the Rhine, no longer in the Western Frankish heartlands of the Carolingian Empire, was described by contemporaries as its ‘translation’, and it is this new empire of the Ottonian Reich that is the subject of the fourth chapter. It considers first the nature of that empire as an extremely decentralized polity, a form of governmentality thoroughly different to other medieval conceptions of a ‘state’, and then turns to the way in which the late emergence of Germany as a united nation-state has conditioned, as nowhere else in Europe, the study of its medieval origins: the idea that Germany was on a ‘special path’ (Sonderweg). It considers then the identity of this empire, examining the idea of imperial ‘renovation’ and of the relationships that it constructed to its Carolingian and Roman precursors. Finally, it examines the relationship of Ottonian government to its Church, once seen as the tool through which it exercised power in the absence of any recognizable state structures; and to the real vibrancy of the Ottonian Church, evident in the great waves of monastic reform and in its resplendent manuscript culture.

in Debating medieval Europe
Robert Portass

This chapter begins with an extended discussion of what it means to speak of ‘vikings’, arguing in favour of the term being used in the lower case as a designation of a particular occupation, not as a catch-all ethnic label. It considers the associated issues with the source material: the absence of early medieval Scandinavian written texts, which requires a reliance on external perceptions of the vikings recorded in non-Scandinavian sources. After these prolegomena, it considers the evidence for social-political organization in Scandinavia and in areas of Scandinavian settlement, notably in the British Isles. It examines the question of the assimilation and/or acculturation of these new settlers, and the formation of regional identities among them. Finally, it considers the material evidence of pagan religiosity and of the gradual Christianization of viking Scandinavia.

in Debating medieval Europe
Brice Dickson

This chapter sets the scene for the book by explaining the evolution of the United Kingdom and highlighting some of the features of its unwritten Constitution. It touches on the civil wars of the seventeenth century, the revolutions in America and France, and the separate stories of how Wales, Ireland and Scotland were annexed by or united with England. The main constitutional features highlighted are the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the ability of judges to develop the common law, and the role of constitutional conventions. Given the current fragility of the Union, at least in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the chapter wonders if the creation of a written Constitution would help to strengthen the bonds within the Union. It states that the book’s main argument is a written Constitution would not of itself strengthen the Union. What is required is the federalisation of the UK. The chapter ends with a glimpse at some of the subsequent chapters.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution
Brice Dickson

Here attention is initially focused on the different national identities within the UK. Details are given of the current realities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland concerning the devolution of powers and the possible impact of Brexit on the devolution process. The fragility of the status of Northern Ireland is dwelt upon, given that there is statutory provision for a border poll if the British government thinks that there might be majority support for Northern Ireland joining the Republic in a united Ireland. The pros and cons of creating a federal UK as a way of reducing the chances of Scotland and Northern Irelands breaking away from the Union are canvassed and of nationalism more generally gaining ground. The chapter concludes with a plea not for the establishment of a United States of Britain but for the federalisation of the existing Kingdom so that the demands of devolutionists can be met while at the same time the bonds that unite the peoples of the nation can be tightened.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution
Brice Dickson

This chapter briefly summarises the experiences of the USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland in operating their written Constitutions. It highlights the difficulties involved in amending these documents and the contentiousness of their wording. IN some instances they are interpreted in accordance with the supposed intentions of their original drafters and so do not contain adequate sets of modern and clear rules. Relevant case law is cited and the role played by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 is emphasised. Until recently Ireland’s Constitution also struggled to keep up-to-date with society but in the last few years great strides have been made in that sphere. The chapter draws the conclusion that written Constitutions can be more problematic than they are worth.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution
Brice Dickson

This chapter reviews some of the many attempts that have been made in recent times to devise a written Constitution for the UK. It begins by looking at proposals made in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Charter 88 and the Institute for Public Policy Research before examining in more detail the suggestions made in three ‘illustrative blueprints’ produced by King’s College London for the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform in 2014. These are a Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation Act and a Written Constitution. The constitutional significance of the Brexit referendum in 2016 is then considered and there is discussion of whether the government had to obey the will of the people and whether Brexit could in law be triggered by the government or only by Parliament. The chapter concludes with an account of the steps being taken to enhance dialogue between the central government and the devolved governments in a post-Brexit era. The difficulties engendered by the withdrawal legislation as far as the devolved administrations are concerned are also addressed and views about the need for a written Constitution at this time are aired.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution
Brice Dickson

This chapter explains the way in which rights have traditionally been protected by law in the UK. It highlights the role of judges in making such laws but points out that unlike their counter-parts in the USA judges in the UK have not given themselves the power to declare Acts of Parliament to be invalid. The two central pillars of the UK’s Constitution are set out – the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and the principle of the rule of law – and a hypothetical scenario is presented to speculate on whether the latter could trump the former on a future occasion. While no court has yet held an Act of Parliament to be invalid it is possible that in future a court will issue a declaration of inva-lidity with suspensory effect or that a court will declare new common law that operates only prospectively and not at all retrospectively. The usefulness of creating a category of con-stitutional rights is raised and attention is the given to why there needs to be a new Bill of Rights for the UK to better guarantee a wider set of rights than are at present protected.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution
Abstract only
Brice Dickson

The final chapter picks up on the call in Chapter 5 for a via media, that is, not for the status quo or for a new comprehensive written Constitution for the UK, but for a discrete Act of Parliament – a Constitutional Reform Act – which will address pressing needs by formally re-constituting the UK as a federation of four parts, protecting a wider range of human rights and with better remedies for breaches of those rights, devising a fairer mechanism for distributing funds from the central government to the three devolved areas, and setting out what the goals of the new federation should be. The Brexit process is an opportunity to re-define the features which the new UK wishes to project in the world – a commitment to peace, democracy, security, human rights, equality and fairness. Maintaining a focus on that more limited reform agenda stands a better chance of strengthening the union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than a simple written Constitution will do, however comprehensive it claims to be.

in Writing the United Kingdom Constitution