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The growth of legal consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants’ Revolt
Author: Anthony Musson

This book is intended as both a history of judicial developments in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and as a contribution to the intellectual history of the period. The dates 1215 and 1381 mark significant turning points in English history. The product of legal culture and experiences, 'legal consciousness' can be seen both as an active element shaping people's values, beliefs and aspirations and also as a passive agent providing a reserve of knowledge, memory and reflective thought, influencing not simply the development of the law and legal system, but also political attitudes. Focusing on the different contexts of law and legal relations, the book aims to shift the traditional conceptual boundaries of 'law', portraying both the law's inherent diversity and its multi-dimensional character. By offering a re-conceptualisation of the role of the law in medieval England, the book aims to engage the reader in new ways of thinking about the political events occurring during these centuries. It considers the long-term effects of civil lawyer, Master John Appleby's encounter with forces questioning royal government and provides a new explanation for the dangerous state of affairs faced by the boy-king during the Peasants' Revolt over a century and a half later. The book puts forward the view that the years subsequent to the signing of Magna Carta yielded a new (and shifting) perspective, both in terms of prevailing concepts of 'law' and 'justice' and with regard to political life in general.

Anthony Musson

The acquisition and development of legal consciousness among those who were not themselves lawyers or judges are significant features of the political history of the period 1215-1381. An individual's obligations within a particular community and his or her awareness of those obligations contributed further to the level of consciousness of the law. Attendance at public courts was an important way of acquiring legal knowledge. Attendance at church, required by the 1215 Lateran Council, provided various opportunities for the acquisition of legal knowledge. At all levels of the court system, legal knowledge was a concomitant of experience gained from, and in many cases a necessary requirement for, employment as a court official and service as a juror. Finally, an understanding of the law could be acquired either directly or indirectly from the growing documentary culture, from book learning and/or from exposure to literature relating to legal matters.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

The emergence of a distinct legal profession was one of the defining features of the development of law in the period 1215-1381. This chapter examines the extent to which the professionalisation of the law inculcated and encouraged ways of thinking about the law and legal practice. It looks, first, at the provision of legal education and the growth of an intellectual domain and, secondly, at avenues of promotion or advancement within the profession and its sense of identity and collegiality. The chapter then investigates the relationship between the legal profession and the wider population, especially the position of judges and lawyers within society. The ethical behaviour and general conduct of members of the legal profession was the subject of deliberation and official scrutiny in the profession's early years. The chapter considers how 'popular' perceptions of judges and lawyers affected the development of the legal profession.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

Law is seen to be a vehicle for royal jurisdiction and royal propaganda as well as providing the catalyst and underlying reason for civil disobedience and popular complaint. This chapter shows the necessity of examining the workings of the mind and the psychological elements of law as a means of identifying the dynamic role of legal consciousness in the prevailing political culture. By emphasising the contexts in which law operated and the ways in which it was represented and understood, it is possible to gain an insight into how law had the capacity to form, affect and direct political attitudes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The complexity of the medieval experience of law should be seen as a key component in the growth of legal consciousness. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

This chapter maintains that the key concerns and political debates during the period 1215-1381 invariably rested on issues of legal import, among them ways of defining the legitimate exercise of royal power, matters of jurisdiction, law and order, and the functioning of the judicial system. It examines some of the contexts in which law entered the political arena and the processes by which royal authority was transmitted to, and received by, subjects. The chapter focuses on kingship and particularly the use of image and rhetoric in upholding public order and maintaining confidence in the law. It considers the attempts on the part of successive monarchs to legitimise their actions on the national and international stage by applying legal concepts and processes. The chapter looks at 'popular' attitudes towards the law and the assimilation of legal concepts as manifested in the Peasants' Revolt.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

Royal jurisdiction through the common law increased exponentially during the period 1215-1381. Participation in the royal courts was therefore an important way in which people became increasingly familiar with the processes of law. A mixture of royal policy, experience of litigation and feedback from lawyers and litigants shaped the development of the royal courts. The effects of changes are assessed by four criteria: availability, actionability, accountability and accessibility. The chapter first considers the availability of royal justice and provides the reader with a snapshot of the judicial system. Accountability was an important feature of the Crown's policy towards the administration of justice and one that had political and financial implications as well as purely legal ones. The Crown's role in the prosecution of individuals was not restricted to the identification of offenders through the use of local juries.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

The emergence of parliament as an important forum for legal and political matters was a significant feature of the period 1215-1381. Parliament provided a focal point where views were expressed on issues of constitutional import connected to the Crown's jurisdiction and the nature of royal governance, on problems of law and order and on issues within a judicial context. This chapter considers the judicial importance of parliament, which lay in its role as a forum for petitions, as a court of appeal, as a tribunal for the resolution of difficult cases and as a venue for state trials. Assessing the extent and impact of the legal expertise among parliament's constituent members, it is argued that those with legal knowhow and parliamentary experience played an important part in consultative exercises and in the passage of statute legislation at every juncture. The chapter looks at the interaction between local and national legislation.

in Medieval law in context
Anthony Musson

This chapter provides an overview of the dynamics of the administration of justice in late medieval England and an insight into the judiciary at work. It offers a refocusing of the divergent historiographical trends, arguing against an artificial separation between 'central' and 'local' justice. The chapter interrogates the conventional notion of a dichotomy between the 'professional' element drawn from the central courts and the 'amateur' contingent recruited from the shires. The justices of the central courts played an equally important role in provincial justice through their presence on commissions of assize and gaol delivery and on ad hoc commissions of general and special oyer and terminer. The most useful and practical book for men of law involved in the administration of criminal justice was the anonymous Placita Corone, which gives instruction on how cases should be conducted at gaol delivery.

in Judicial tribunals in England and Europe, 1200–1700

This book provides an introduction to the English legal system and its development during the period c 1215-1485. It affords a valuable insight into the character of medieval governance as well as revealing the complex nexus of interests, attitudes and relationships prevailing in society during the later Middle Ages. The book considers the theoretical and ideological aspects of medieval law and justice, examining the concepts and discourses to be found in official and non-official circles. It concentrates on manifestations of crime and disorder and the royal response to this in the form of the development of judicial institutions. The book then looks at the dispensation of justice both inside and outside the courtroom. It examines in detail the machinery and functioning of criminal justice both in the royal courts and in those autonomous areas exercising delegated powers. The book also considers the use of extra-judicial methods, such as arbitration and 'self-help', to illustrate the interaction of formal and informal methods of dispute settlement. It focuses on the personnel of justice, the justices of the central courts and the local officials who carried out the day-to-day administrative tasks. The smooth and successful operation of the judicial system was challenged and sometimes hindered by the existence of corrupt practices and abuse of its procedures.

Abstract only
Anthony Musson and Edward Powell

This chapter concentrates on recorded instances of crime and disorder and so does much to confirm the reputation of the late medieval period for unparalleled violence and lawlessness. Descriptions of crime and disorder can afford a valuable perspective on reality and although the cases recorded are telescoped chronologically and provide only a brief snapshot, they do reveal something of the nature of criminal activity amongst different classes of society. The examples included in this chapter provide illustrations of all the serious crimes and also, in various contexts, the lesser offence of trespass. Inevitably many of the examples focus on high-profile crimes of violence amongst the upper strata of society.

in Crime, Law and Society in the Later Middle Ages