How did common people engage with law in Late Medieval England? New book explores the legal culture of its time and how it touched upon the lives of common men and women.
Law in Common. Legal Cultures in Late-Medieval England
By Tom Johnson
Oxford University Press 2019
There were tens of thousands of different local law-courts in late-medieval England, providing the most common forums for the working out of disputes and the making of decisions about local governance. While historians have long studied these institutions, there have been very few attempts to understand this complex institutional form of ‘legal pluralism’.
Law in Common provides a way of understanding this complexity by drawing out broader patterns of legal engagement. Tom Johnson first explores four ‘local legal cultures’ – in the countryside, in forests, in towns and cities, and in the maritime world- that grew up around legal institutions, landscapes, and forms of socio-economic practice in these places, and produced distinctive senses of law.
Johnson then turns to examine ‘common legalities’, widespread forms of social practice that emerge across these different localities, through which people aimed to invoke the power of law. Through studies of the physical landscape, the production of legitimate knowledge, the emergence of English as a legal vernacular, and the proliferation of legal documents, the volume offers a new way to understand how common people engaged with law in the course of their everyday lives.
Drawing on a huge body of archival research from the plenitude of different local institutions, Law in Common offers a new social history of law that aims to explain how common people negotiated the transformational changes of the long fifteenth century with, and through legality.