Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England

ISBN : 9780198786313

Tom Lambert
416 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Feb 2017
Send mail
  • The only modern book-length account of Anglo-Saxon legal culture and practice
  • Offers an original interpretation of a fundamental period in the history of English law
  • Treats law not as an isolated intellectual artefact but an integrated part of Anglo-Saxon society, economy, politics, and culture
  • Describes a distinctive legal order with no close modern analogies; neither state-like nor stateless, it needs to be understood on its own terms

Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England explores English legal culture and practice across the Anglo-Saxon period, beginning with the essentially pre-Christian laws enshrined in writing by King Æthelberht of Kent in c. 600 and working forward to the Norman Conquest of 1066. It attempts to escape the traditional retrospective assumptions of legal history, focused on the late twelfth-century Common Law, and to establish a new interpretative framework for the subject, more sensitive to contemporary cultural assumptions and practical realities.

The focus of the volume is on the maintenance of order: what constituted good order; what forms of wrongdoing were threatening to it; what roles kings, lords, communities, and individuals were expected to play in maintaining it; and how that worked in practice. Its core argument is that the Anglo-Saxons had a coherent, stable, and enduring legal order that lacks modern analogies: it was neither state-like nor stateless, and needs to be understood on its own terms rather than as a variant or hybrid of these models. Tom Lambert elucidates a distinctively early medieval understanding of the tension between the interests of individuals and communities, and a vision of how that tension ought to be managed that, strikingly, treats strongly libertarian and communitarian features as complementary. Potentially violent, honour-focused feuding was an integral aspect of legitimate legal practice throughout the period, but so too was fearsome punishment for forms of wrongdoing judged socially threatening. Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon Englandcharts the development of kings' involvement in law, in terms both of their authority to legislate and their ability to influence local practice, presenting a picture of increasingly ambitious and effective royal legal innovation that relied more on the cooperation of local communal assemblies than kings' sparse and patchy network of administrative officials.


Introduction: Approaching Law and Order in the Early Middle Ages
1: Law before Æthelberht
2: Kingship, Legislation, and Punishment in the Seventh Century
3: Royal Administration and Legal Practice to the Early Tenth Century
4: Substantive Legal Change
5: Ideals of Kingship and Order
6: Local Legal Practice and Royal Control
7: Rights and Revenues
Conclusion: Continuity, Change, and the Norman Conquest

About the author: 

Tom Lambert, Fellow in History, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Tom Lambert was born and grew up in York. He spent nearly a decade based at the University of Durham, as an undergraduate, postgraduate, and seminar tutor. Since gaining his doctorate in 2009, he has held a Past and Present Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and spent five very happy years teaching and researching in Oxford. Much of the work for Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon Englandwas carried out between 2012 and 2015, when he was the Bennett Boskey Fellow in History at Exeter College, Oxford. He is now a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Shortlisted for the 2018 Longman-History Today Book Prize


"Tom Lambert has produced an enormously rich book - essential reading for anyone interested not just in the law, but in the society and rule of early England." - Pauline Stafford, Times Literary Supplement

"Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England makes good on its promises, persuasively demonstrating the role of Anglo-Saxon communities in enforcing law, and the role of legal assemblies in constituting communities, over the course of four centuries. It is precisely because it able to draw these imaginative connections, engaging with matters of identity and community as much as it does legal and social order, that this book deserves a wide audience." - Philippa Byrne, Reviews in History

"this book is an important contribution to the scholarship on Anglo-Saxon law and legal culture, one that deserves a place in bibliographies and classrooms, and will certainly have a place in my own." - Jay Gates, H-Law

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.