SECTION I
THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD

Our most valuable source for early English institutions is the matchless series of Anglo-Saxon dooms, which begin with the enactments of the first Christian king of Kent and end with those of Canute. Spanning close upon five centuries, they cannot be expected to reflect a uniform pattern either of state or of society. Furthermore, it must be remembered that in the main they are fragments of customary law rather than a code. Their tantalizing obscurity is due to the fact that the great body of familiar usages remained unwritten. So, although the present selection is at best a set of meagre excerpts, it is no more disconnected than the entire compilation. The student may be sure that he has before him all very significant references to the organs of government, especially those statements which are first of their kind. And he will find in addition a number of passages chosen to illustrate the working of the customary law and the status within it of the various social classes.

Compared with the dooms, the charters of the Anglo-Saxon period are of minor importance in the study of English constitutional history. From the great mass of such instruments that have come down to us, only seven are translated in the following pages. They may be regarded as typical examples, showing primarily how legal documents were drafted, how the formal decisions of courts were rendered, and how, through the alienation of public rights, the kings created immunities for their favoured subjects.

The definitive edition of the dooms is F. Liebermann's Gesetze der Angelsachsen, which is accompanied by a German translation and a wealth of learned comment. Text and English translation of nearly all the following excerpts are available, with useful notes, in F. L. Attenborough's Laws of the Earliest English Kings and A. J. Robertson's Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I. There is, unfortunately, no well-edited general collection of Anglo-Saxon charters. Neither Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici nor Birch's Cartularium Saxonicum is at all adequate to meet the needs of modern scholars. The seven charters here given are all from Thorpe's Diploinatarium Anglicum Aevi Saxonici — a convenient volume of documents taken from Kemble's edition and provided with translations from the Anglo-Saxon, free use of which has here been made. For a much wider selection of such material, the student is referred to Miss Robertson's Anglo-Saxon Charters.1

As may be realized by glancing through the first few of the Supplementary Studies by Petit-Dutaillis,2 the work of Stubbs on the earlier centuries of English constitutional history has been largely superseded; but as yet no single essay has been written to take its place. For the advanced student an indispensable guide to all phases of Anglo-Saxon institutions is provided by Liebermann's exhaustive notes and Sachglossar (Gesetse. vols. I-II). And any one who hopes to understand the dooms and other pre-Conquest sources should read F. W. Maitland's Domesday Book and Beyond and H. M. Chadwick's Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions. The latter is especially valuable for specific comment on courts, officials, coinage, and social classes. Much illuminating criticism of these same matters will also be found in the chapters by W. J. Corbett in the Cambridge Medieval History, vols. II and III. On the controversial subject of the borough two recent books may be consulted: J. Tait, The Medieval English Borough, and C. Stephenson, Borough and Town. The standard accounts of Anglo-Saxon law are those in Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, I, ch. ii, and W. A. Holdsworth, History of English Law, II, bk. i; the earlier works are now antiquated. Other references on special topics are from time to time given in the footnotes.


1 To be published by the Cambridge University Press.

2 The first two volumes of these Studies and Notes Supplementary to Stubbs' Constitutional History (1908, 1914), are by Petit-Dutaillis; the third (1929) by G. Lefebvre. Since all three are now published as one volume, the work will henceforth be referred to as Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre.


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