Voices from Shetland #2 – Sara Ponz-Sans

For the next few weeks we will be sharing the summaries of the talks given at the workshop that took place in Lerwick, Shetland. Our second guest post is a summary of Dr Sara Ponz-Sans (Cardiff University)’s discussion, ‘Old English and Old Norse/Danish, where is the research today? What can new research gain?

Sara Pons-Sanz presented first an overview of the lexical impact of Old Norse on English, focusing particularly on the difference between French and Norse loans in medieval English in terms of number and character. She then discussed the methodological advances for the identification of Norse-derived terms that are being pioneered as part of the AHRC-funded Gersum Project: The Scandinavian Influence on English Vocabulary https://www.gersum.org/.


The project, involving Pons-Sanz as well as Drs Richard Dance and Brittany Schorn (University of Cambridge), focuses mainly on nine Middle English texts associated with the so-called ‘Alliterative Revival’, but its findings can be applied to the identification of any Norse terms in English and, more widely, to the lexical effects of other contact situations involving closely related languages. In the final part of her presentation, Pons-Sanz spoke about the need for collaboration among scholars working on a wide array of disciplines and languages in order to gain a better understanding of the impact that the Anglo-Scandinavian contact might have had on specific lexico-semantic fields, such as the field of PROTECTION (mainly in relation to the native frið and the Norse-derived grið.


The thorough study of such legal terms requires the input of linguists and legal historians working on Old English and Old Norse materials, as well as other Germanic languages so that comparisons between cognate terms can be duly established. Our network, Voices of Law, is ideally suited for such academic endeavours.

You can read more about the Gersum project here in our #SpotlightOn series of posts.

Voices From Shetland #1 – Carole Hough

For the next few weeks we will be sharing the summaries of the talks given at the workshop that took place in Lerwick, Shetland. First, here is Prof. Carole Hough (University of Glasgow), discussing the Mapping Metaphor project. Each summary will be brief, and offer a glimpse into the perspective of a variety of academics approaching the subject from different angles.


Mapping Metaphors of Law

Carole Hough, University of Glasgow


Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus was a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2012 to 2015 (PI Wendy Anderson), which compiled a near-comprehensive picture of metaphor throughout the history of the English language. Word meanings were grouped into semantically-coherent categories such as “Faith”, “Law” and “Punishment”, and the project team analysed all occurrences of word forms with more than one meaning in order to identify metaphorical connections between categories. One of the outputs is an online resource that enables users to view and to explore metaphors in different ways. My presentation at the Shetland Workshop focused on demonstrating the resource, and on discussing some of the new perspectives that it offers on legal language.

mappingmetaphor_arts_gla_ac The online resource is in two parts. The Metaphor Map of English covers the history of English from 1150 onwards (http://mappingmetaphor.arts.gla.ac.uk/), while the Metaphor Map of Old English covers the preceding Anglo-Saxon period (http://mappingmetaphor.arts.gla.ac.uk/old-english/). The decision to keep them separate was made partly to avoid swamping the Old English data with the much fuller data available for later English, and partly to avoid obscuring the differences in worldview reflected in metaphors from different periods. For instance, our monarchy does not issue laws, whereas Anglo-Saxon monarchs did. That means that the concepts within category 3D02 “Rule and Government” are much closer to 3E “Law” in the Metaphor Map of Old English than in the Metaphor Map of English. Other categories that abut closely on Law, particularly in Old English, include 3A05 “Marriage”, 3F01 “Morality and Immorality”, 3A09 “Social Position” and 3C02 “Armed Hostility”.

mappingmetaphor_arts_gla_ac 2

The resource displays the direction of metaphorical transfer, the strength of the connection between categories, the period from which the metaphor is first recorded, and selected examples. Some categories characteristically function as the source of metaphors; others, as the target. 3E “Law” falls within the latter group. In other words, law tends to be conceptualised in terms of other areas of experience. However, there are exceptions, and the Metaphor Maps provide some fascinating insights into changing perceptions of law through time.

Calling Cardiff University Students!

Calling Cardiff University Students!

CUROP Placement Call for Voices of Law

  • Are you a Second Year student?
  • Have you taken a Medieval Module in 2nd year? (This can include your EHD)
  • Are you available from 17 July 2017 – 25 August 2017? (You don’t have to be in Cardiff – you can work from home and have meetings via Skype!)

If so, you may want to apply for our research placement funded through the CUROP scheme.

Dr Jenny Benham (SHARE) and Dr Sara Ponz-Sans (SHARE) are supervising a CUROP project on “Law, Marriage and the Household 600-1250” with Dr Melissa Julian-Jones (SHARE/CPE).

The Successful Candidate Will:

  • Be paid £200 per week for the 6 weeks of the project to undertake original research
  • Compare 10 Anglo-Saxon and Welsh Laws through the period 600-1250, data-mining for terminology relating to marriage and the household
  • Enter this information into a database for future researchers to use
  • Compile the information in the form of a poster to display at the CUROP Presentations the following term
  • Turn the information into an educational workshop aimed at KS4-5 students, enriching the school curriculum with their own original research
  • Write a blog post about your experiences

(Want to know more about what it’s like? Read last year’s CUROP placement student’s post, here.)

Criteria for Candidates:

  • Cardiff University 2nd year student who has taken a medieval module in 2nd year
  • Selection will be made based on academic performance
  • Due to the translation and linguistic elements of the work, and the fact that it will be in its original languages, preference may be given to bilingual Welsh/English students, or students that have a modern foreign language up to A-Level standard. However, no language experience in Old/Middle Welsh or Old English is strictly necessary.

How to Apply:

Email voicesoflaw (at) gmail (dot) com with your supporting statement of 400 words explaining why you are suitable for the role, and a CV.

Address applications to Dr Jenny Benham and Dr Melissa Julian-Jones.

Deadline for applications is 01 June 2017.

Summer 2017 – Law, Marriage and Household 600-1250 Mini-Project

We are very happy to announce that Voices of Law has been awarded another CUROP award!

This award will be for one Cardiff University Undergraduate student to do some original research into the marriage laws and marriage legal terminology from the Welsh and Anglo-Saxon law codes.


The project is entitled: ‘Law, Marriage and the Household, 600-1250: creating an impact case-study for the Voices of Law Network’.


The Principal Supervisor on the project will be Dr Jenny Benham; the Secondary Supervisor will be Dr Sara Ponz-Sans. The student will be further supported in the project by Dr Melissa Julian-Jones in the development of the engagement task.


Project Summary

The aim of the placement is to create a database of terminology from c.10 surviving laws, seeking out similarities and differences in language and practice. Using this material the student will then develop a 20-min presentation on the topic and a practical task for use in engagement and outreach activities.

The placement will enhance the student’s digital skills, in particular the ability to use a range of tools for the text mining and advanced use of excel and access to develop the database; analytical skills, by identifying, comparing and contrasting provisions; linguistic skills, by comparing modern English to specific terminology in Old English, Latin and Welsh; organisational skills; and oral and written communication, in particular through the engagement task and the writing of a blog entry at the end of the placement.

We are currently looking for a suitable opportunity for the student to implement this engagement task during the autumn of 2017.



The CUROP project is only open to current Cardiff University students.

Student applicants must have taken a module in Medieval History in their second year.

Although languages are not a specific requirement for the placement, because of the nature of the work undertaken, preference may be given to a student who have studied any modern foreign language to A-level standard or who is a bilingual Welsh-English speaker.

Students will be asked to submit a 400-word statement outlining their suitability for the placement and selection will be based on this and academic performance.

Enriching Student Life 2017


Well done to everyone, and especially to the project’s lead, Dr Jenny Benham, for being nominated for the Enriching Student Life Awards 2017! Jenny has been shortlisted in the ‘Most Innovative Staff Member’ category!

Enriching Student Life

Part of Enriching Student Life at Cardiff is CUROP – Cardiff University Research Opportunties Programme.

About CUROP:

Considered one of the largest research programmes in the UK, CUROP offers students a stipend of £200 a week, for up to eight weeks – to take part on a placement within their School, working on an original research project led by members of staff. Their task is to undertake original research, share their experiences and disseminate their research findings to the University audience (and a wider audience, in some cases).

More than 500 students have undertaken Programme placements since 2008, working on such diverse projects as historical archival work, searches for new planets and cancer research.

Over the summer of 2017, three Cardiff University UG students worked on two of our CUROP projects, two on the Treaties project (proposed by Jenny) and the other on the Voices of Law trade terminology databas, working with Jenny, Sara Ponz-Sans and Melissa Julian-Jones.

See our previous posts on the 2016/17 CUROP projects, here, here and here.

This year, Voices of Law have proposed another CUROP project, led by Dr Jenny Benham, Dr Sara Ponz-Sanz, and Dr Melissa Julian-Jones, looking at kinship, marriage and inheritance terms in various legal codes, including the Cyfraith Hwyel and the Anglo-Saxon Laws. The outcomes will be a poster display, as last year, at the CUROP exhibition, and the creation of a public engagement activity that can be rolled out to schools.

There is an application process, and the selected candidate is chosen based on their grades, (although extenuating circumstances are taken into account), as well as the quality of their application letter.

We are looking forward to showing you the results and catching up with the students over the summer!

A Day In Court (1)

The idea behind our #DayinCourt posts is to highlight a particular law, and look at a corresponding court case that demonstrates how that law was put into practice, and examines the surrounding context of that case in varying degrees of detail. Tweet us your #DayinCourt cases, and we could blog about your favourite medieval eyre records and other court cases (ecclesiastic, county, royal, etc) here! 

Before We Start:

To help with terminology and source material, there are several online guides out there that can assist you if you’re looking at this material for the first time. The National Archives, Kew, have a good guide on General Eyres 1194-1348, and Court of the King’s Bench 1200-1600. The guides are useful for navigating these sources, of which none of the original documents are online.

By contrast, some of the land conveyances by feet of fines are online, and the National Archives has a research guide for these records too. This is a good place to start if you’re new to this topic, and looking for something to help you with the source material. For feet of fines for Wales, you will have to go to the National Library of Wales.

Let’s take a look at the concept of ‘secret killing’ – murder by person or persons unknown – and have a look at some examples of this.

Secret Killing, Homicide and Juries

For our first post we’re highlighting an article by Bruce O’Brien, looking at the pre-Conquest origins of the murder fine.

From Morðor to Murdrum: The Preconquest Origin and Norman Revival of the Murder Fine

Bruce R. O’Brien
Vol. 71, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 321-357
[Access provided by JSTOR]
That it is a Cnut law at the root of William I’s ‘murdrum’ fine is difficult to prove incontrovertibly, but one argument presented by O’Brien is that since its scope did not extend to areas where William would want to protect his men (North and West) but was primarily collected in the South, which makes sense only if this is a law of Cnut being repurposed. A tighter, linguistic argument considering the root and compounds of morð and morðor follow, making this article a great one to read if you are a fan of the Gersum Project or Law and Language more generally.
Note that secret killing, or murder proper as opposed to manslaughter, was one of the most heinous crimes as far as Welsh law was concerned, and similarly for Irish law. The murder of a person by an unknown assailant threatened the integrity of an entire community, and presented the problem of a mysterious, internal, enemy, nursing evil thoughts in their breast… and who could potentially escape [human] justice by dint of going unidentified as the perpetrator of their crime.
There was also the question of the value of human life – quite literally, as different classes or statuses of people were compensated at varying amounts for maiming or killing. In some cases, no payment was necessary if they were not native-born, etc.

Who Killed Sir William?

In later centuries, the murdrum fine had become a means to extort money from the countryside, and consequently it is possible that the number of violent deaths went underreported; coroners, however, were instituted to ensure that this did not happen between eyre courts. [See, James Buchanen Given, Society and Homicide in Thirteenth Century England, p. 10]. Aside from the murdrum fine as an incentive to cover up the discovery of murder victims in a locality, there was also the pressure on jurors when the lord or other high-status noble was implicated or directly involved in the killing.
The case of William Cantilupe, murdered in 1375, is one such example of collusion and truth-stifling, with the Sheriff implicated in the murder by his relationship with William’s wife/widow. The involvement of Ralph Paynel, with whom the widow took refuge after the killing, which went unreported, was also not greatly discussed, and Paynel was certainly not implicated in the event itself. Frederick Pedersen has an interesting take on the whole event in his article, Murder, Mayhem and a Very Small Penis, arguing that Paynel’s involvement was due to his daughter Katherine’s treatment as wife of William’s brother, Nicholas Cantilupe. Pedersen argues, based on the annulment records of Katherine and Nicholas’ marriage, that Katherine Paynel discovered her husband had no male genitalia and was threatened by Nicholas keep this quiet and refute her claims. Ralph Paynel, the enraged father, had every reason to bear a grudge against the Cantilupe family, and after Nicholas died young while on campaign, supporting another Cantilupe wife seemed a natural course of action.
The ins and outs of the complicated case would make for an excellent period mystery-drama; Dr Melissa Julian-Jones has blogged about making this case public engagement-friendly and ideas on how to present a murder case in an interactive lecture format here and here.

Let’s Talk Law

Please share with us any cases you find particularly interesting in the comments (with references, preferably) and let’s talk about murder, lecturing on law, engagement with the public and enriching the curriculum.