restricted access Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe (review)
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Reviewed by
Ruth Mazo Karras, Joel Kaye, E. Ann Matter, eds., Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Pp. 328. ISBN: 978–0–8122–4080–1. $59.95.

In a Festschrift for Edward M. Peters, one expects an important collection of talent. Yet this volume impresses nonetheless with its essays by some of the most influential scholars in their specialties. For literary critics, Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe will be particularly useful as a statement of the field of medieval culture, a fresh addition to the 'New Legal History.' The essays in Law and the Illicit make both broad claims based on previously published research and present more narrowly focused new research. In short, for literary critics this is an accessible survey with an impeccable pedigree.

That said, Law and the Illicit will be more useful to some critics than others. Its timeframe, predominantly the late Carolingian period through the thirteenth century, provides critics working with earlier texts excellent background information, but there are several excellent chapters for critics working in the late Middle Ages as well. Essays by William Chester Jordan and James Brundage cover the practices of sanctuary and professional legal ethics based on Roman law and serve as excellent introductions for newcomers, while at the same time correcting some common misperceptions of these practices. Law and its practice are explored in a number of essays: using narrative sources Patrick Geary argues strongly for widespread, if debated, use of judicial torture in the Carolingian empire. Similarly, Stephen White's analysis of Anglo-Norman law and literature leads him to argue with Maitland for a flexible definition of treason ending only in 1352 in England. Ruth Mazo Karras fills in our knowledge of the legal issues surrounding concubinage in later medieval Europe, and Alan Stahl offers an introduction to fraud in his exploration of crimes related to Venetian coinage in the fourteenth century. The interactions of politics and society with the law are examined in William Courtenay's exploration of Philip the Fair's first use of the Paris theological faculty to assist his political aims, and Alex Novikoff delves into the rhetoric used by both sides of the investiture conflict. Jessalyn Bird outlines how social networks could make all the difference for Crusader families attempting to exercise their mandated privileges in early thirteenth-century France. [End Page 139]

Several essays provide much-needed interventions in the scholarship. The essays by Henry Ansgar Kelly and Joel Kaye concerning natural philosophy and magic provide important additions to the critical corpus. Either too common to be thought worth adding to the written record, or designed to remain obscure mysteries to the uninitiated, 'magic' formed an element of medieval culture modern scholars have traditionally had a difficult time engaging: Kelly and Kaye make important additions to our knowledge here, Kelly in examining several Chaucerian examples, and Kaye in describing Nicholas Oresme's struggles to define licit science and illicit magic. Furthermore, it would be remiss of me in reviewing this collection for a literary journal to fail to mention Susan Mosher Stuard's essay on a startling saint's life written about an upper-middle-class wife. Stuard's chapter, together with one by John Van Engen, stand as examples of the expanding scholarship about beguines and tertiaries. From surveys to reevaluations, Law and the Illicit will prove its worth to many scholars in a range of areas.

Kathleen E. Kennedy
Penn State-Brandywine