Lex Scripta and the Problem of Enforcement: Anglo-Saxon, Welsh and Scottish law compared

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The gap between written law (lex scripta) and legal practice has long been a problem for medieval historians. The content of law does not necessarily envisage structures for its own enforcement, nor were the texts themselves cited in court proceedings. This chapter offers a different perspective on enforcement. It examines three legal traditions and argues that all contain common expectations that individuals in the locality should actively maintain order, particularly when transgressions occurred; indeed, there could be explicit consequences for not doing so. These individuals, however, were not autonomous but were necessarily attached to others: friends, kin, and lords. The content of written law thus absorbed and was informed by the values and socio-legal networks of an abstracted local community. Seeing enforcement as a ‘problem’ that the drafters of written law did not confront is thus to misunderstand the communal logics that informed the prescriptions and norms of written law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLegalism
Subtitle of host publicationJustice and Community
EditorsFernanda Pirie, Judith Scheele
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780191785108
ISBN (Print)9780198716570
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2014


  • Law
  • Statute law
  • Written law
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Enforcement

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