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Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe

Edited by Ruth Mazo Karras, Joel Kaye, and E. Ann Matter

Publication Year: 2013

In the popular imagination, the Middle Ages are often associated with lawlessness. As historians have long recognized, however, medieval culture was characterized by an enormous respect for law, legal procedure, and the ideals of justice and equity. Many of our most important modern institutions and legal conceptions grew out of medieval law in its myriad forms (Roman, canon, common, customary, and feudal).

Institutional structures represent only a small portion of the wider cultural field affected by—and affecting—law. In Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe such distinguished scholars as Patrick Geary, William Chester Jordan, R. I. Moore, Edward M. Peters, and Susan Mosher Stuard make the case that the development of law is deeply implicated in the growth of medieval theology and Christian doctrine; the construction of discourses on sin, human nature, honor, and virtue; the multiplying forms governing chivalry, demeanor, and social interaction, including gender relations; and the evolution of scholasticism, from its institutional context within the university to its forms of presentation, argumentation, and proof.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xviii

Although the general public may well associate the medieval period with lawlessness, it is rather the case that law, both as practice and as intellectual discipline, occupied a central and privileged place in medieval culture. Secular and religious authorities alike proclaimed justice and equity...

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Introduction: The Reordering of Law and the Illicit in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Europe

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pp. 1-14

The subject of law and the illicit in medieval western Europe is broader than any single academic discipline and requires the study in combination of subjects that have usually been considered separately, from formal legal history and the academic and governmental structures that taught, defined, and applied...

Part I: Legal Systems

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pp. 15-68

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1. A Fresh Look at Medieval Sanctuary

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pp. 17-32

One meaning that attached to the word ‘‘sanctuary’’ in the thirteenth century was that of a refuge for criminals trying to avoid legitimate and illegitimate attempts at vengeance.1 For a thousand years ecclesiastics had been routinely claiming that churches, because of their holiness, should be recognized...

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2. Heresy as Politics and the Politics of Heresy, 1022–1180

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pp. 33-46

‘‘Of the three great twelfth-century institutions that transformed the whole of European life,’’ Edward Peters remarked in The Magician, the Witch, and the Law, ‘‘the court has been discussed the least. Cities and universities, perhaps because they have survived into the modern world, have...

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3. Legal Ethics: A Medieval Ghost Story

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pp. 47-56

Sir Paul Vinogradoff (1854–1925) nearly a century ago described the twelfth-century renewal of interest in Roman law as a ghost story on the grounds that it dealt with ‘‘a second life of Roman law after the demise of the body in which it first saw the light.’’1 Later scholars have questioned...

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4. The Ties That Bind: Legal Status and Imperial Power

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pp. 57-68

To speak of the legal history of European expansion would seem to express an oxymoron. How could the expansion of Europe and the creation of the great overseas empires of the early modern world have anything to do with legality?1 While expansion does call up images...

Part II: Writing the Law

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pp. 69-129

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5. Licit and Illicit in the Yarnall Collection at the University of Pennsylvania: Pages from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX

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pp. 71-78

By the early thirteenth century the Latin church possessed two collections of papal letters that were in some sense considered to be official. The compilation of letters of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216), prepared by Peter of Benevento in 1209–10, was endorsed by a papal bull from...

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6. Judicial Violence and Torture in the Carolingian Empire

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pp. 79-88

Medieval scholars of judicial procedure, particularly those concerned with the Early Middle Ages, have in the past two generations brought enormous clarity to our understanding of how the operation of Frankish justice was deeply embedded within the context of Frankish...

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7. The Ambiguity of Treason in Anglo-Norman-French Law, c. 1150–c. 1250

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pp. 89-102

In a celebrated and much-quoted passage on treason in England before the late thirteenth century, F. W. Maitland called it ‘‘a crime which has a vague circumference, and more than one centre.’’ Drawing primarily on a close analysis of the Latin legal texts...

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8. Illicit Religion: The Case of Friar Matthew Grabow, O.P.

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pp. 103-116

Medieval religion acted inherently as a monopoly. For contemporaries this seemed broadly self-evident, a part of the cultural landscape, the Christian church claiming truth in matters divine and human, the Roman church authenticity in upholding it. We today may find those who...

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9. Marriage, Concubinage, and the Law

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pp. 117-129

It took modern American society from the late 1960s to the turn of the millennium to come up with a term for the person with whom one lives outside marriage, finally settling on ‘‘partner.’’ Medieval society, on the other hand, did have a term: the woman in such a relationship was a...

Part III: Cases and Trials

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pp. 131-179

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10. Crusaders' Rights Revisited: The Use and Abuse of Crusader Privileges in Early Thirteenth-Century France

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pp. 133-148

Although the legal and spiritual privileges theoretically accorded to crucesignati have long been mapped out, their practical implementation in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries remains far less explored.1 Enforcing the privileges claimed...

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11. Learned Opinion and Royal Justice: The Role of Paris Masters of Theology During the Reign of Philip the Fair

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pp. 149-163

In March 1308, masters of theology at the University of Paris responded to a series of questions posed by the king, Philip the Fair, regarding the nature and extent of royal judicial authority over the Templars. At first glance it seems strange that the king consulted theologians...

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12. Coin and Punishment in Medieval Venice

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pp. 164-179

On 3 November 1395, a Venetian mint worker named Giovanni Plaxentio, who went by the nickname Mazorana, was brought before doge Antonio Venier and confessed to making Venetian torneselli of pure copper in his home.1 Though it may seem inconceivable to anyone...

Part IV: Law Beyond the Law

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pp. 181-201

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13. Licit and Illicit in the Rhetoric of the Investiture Conflict

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pp. 183-196

Two historical episodes of enduring significance loom large in the last quarter of the eleventh century: the investiture controversy between the German emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII and the launching of the first crusade by Pope Urban II. Following...

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14. Satisfying the Laws: The Legenda of Maria of Venice

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pp. 197-210

The Dominican Tommaso di Antonio da Siena (Thomas Caffarini) arrived in Venice after pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1394 and began his assigned task of composing a rule for Dominican penitents (his Tractatus, then folded into the bull...

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15. Canon Law and Chaucer on Licit and Illicit Magic

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pp. 211-224

Natural magic was considered a legitimate science in the Middle Ages, one that had as its object the hidden properties and powers of the cosmos. It was sanctioned by the Gospel itself, which told of Magi who sought out the infant Jesus through their reading of the heavens, and who...

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16. Law, Magic, and Science: Constructing a Border Between Licit and Illicit Knowledge in the Writings of Nicole Oresme

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pp. 225-237

As Edward Peters makes clear in the introduction to this volume, the growth of law in medieval society, and the definitions of licit and illicit that followed from it, influenced developments in widely disparate areas of medieval life and culture: from governmental, church, and...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 239-259


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pp. 241-303


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pp. 305-306


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pp. 307-315


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pp. 317-336

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208856
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221060

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013