Countdown to Leeds IMC

It is hard to believe, but this year’s Leeds International Medieval Congress is only three weeks away! The Voices of Law committee is gearing up for a busy IMC, with four sessions on the books taking place on the Wednesday (4 July). The overall theme of this year’s IMC is ‘Memory’, which links perfectly with some of the questions explored by Voices of Law. We are pleased to have sessions, therefore, considering: how legal facts are turned into legal memory (session 1036); the relationship between legal memory, orality and performance (session 1136); the ways writing shapes distinctive forms of legal memory (session 1236); and how ‘remembering’ particular types of ecclesiastical law brings about the reorganisation of legal memory (session 1336).

Twelve papers will make for an exciting and stimulating series of conversations to pursue throughout the day. We are delighted to have such a wide range of speakers, coming from across Europe, Britain, and North America. Voices of Law’s own Han Nijdam will be contributing a paper of his own, addressing ‘Traces of Orality and Literacy in the Old Frisian Laws’; and we are especially pleased to see a number of postgraduate students who have attended various VoL activities in the past, such as the translation workshop hosted at the University of Cardiff in January 2017.

We hope that you will be able to join us for our sessions at Leeds. We’re certainly looking forward to them!


Busy Bees

You may be forgiven for thinking that there has been a pause in the activities of the network since our final conference in January. As all scholars will know, such “lulls” usually mean that there is frenetic activity in the background, and indeed this has also been the case for the network. However, a short update is perhaps in order.

You may already be aware that the network published its online postgraduate guide to translation of medieval documents in February of this year. The booklet summarises the main papers and discussions from the successful PG workshop on translation held at Cardiff University in January of 2017, and the hope is that the network will in the future be able to put on some further workshops on this particular topic, with which all researchers of medieval things are familiar.

This year will also see the publication of Law and Language in the Middle Ages: a collection of papers from the conference of the same name held in Copenhagen in 2015. Law and Language in the Middle Ages investigates the encounter between law and legal practice from the linguistic perspective. The essays explore how legal language expresses and advances power relations, along with the ways in which the language of law legitimates power. The wide geographical and chronological scope showcases how power, legitimacy and language interact, moving the discussion beyond traditional issues of identity or the formation of nation-states and their institutions. What emerges are different strategies reflective of the diverse and pluralistic political, legal, and cultural worlds of the Middle Ages. Contributors to this volume include Bruce O’Brien, Michael H. Gelting, Dirk Heirbaut, Ada Maria Kuskowski, Anders Leegaard Knudsen, André Marques, Werner Schäfke, Anette Kremer & Vincenz Schwab, and the committee’s very own Carole Hough, Matthew McHaffie and Paul Russell.

Various committee members are also continuing the editing of forthcoming volumes. For instance, in May, we will be holding an editorial meeting in Copenhagen to progress work on articles exploring law and ritual, and in June, the committee will travel to Rome to begin the planning for a Voices of Law volume, exploring the full range of issues and findings discussed over the last two years. Additionally, editing will also begin on the volume of essays from the network’s final conference on law and legal agreements.

Finally, the network will be sponsoring four sessions at IMC Leeds this year, with speakers from the UK, Europe and the US. Hope to see you there!

Conference Report: #LLA2018

We had a great time in Cambridge for the Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250 Conference! This time we were more heavily focused on the so-called Celtic fringe, with lots of papers on Wales and two on Ireland, which was an interesting counterpoint to the Spanish, Italian, Frankish, English and Scandinavian papers.

Our Keynote speaker, Prof. Robin Chapman Stacey (Washington State), started us off with a linguistic slant on binomials and binaries in Welsh law, and how we can use the binaries presented in the lawcodes to reverse engineer the concerns of the time they were written/edited.

The first panel was on Agreements and Disagreements, which featured several themes that were picked up throughout the conference. Alice Taylor (Cambridge) began by looking at an Irish text that was most likely used within the classroom to explore legal disputes and loopholes, and the use of legal dialogue as a teaching tool.

Keith Ruiter (Aberdeen) took us to Scandinavia to discuss the violent power of language in Scandinavian disputes, picking up the linguistic theme that Robin had brought out in her talk. Verbal insults were seen as ‘metaphysical’ violent and just as insulting as physically violent actions such as arson or robbery. The power of words to create or to prove something was discussed too – if a man were insulted by being called ‘effeminate’ and failed to turn up to a duel once he had challenged his accuser, he would ‘become what he had been called’.

Paul Russell (Cambridge) returned to Wales to discuss the power of insult there – in particular the use of words like ‘sarhaed’, used both as a noun and a verb, and articulated to trigger legal process versus the use of other synonyms for ‘insult’ which would not. While Robin primarily considered the binomials, Paul considers the prose works such as the Second Branch of the Mabinogi (Branwen ferch Lyr) and legal triads.

The second panel took Agreements and Borders as its theme. We were sorry to lose a speaker from this panel, but we had a good macro and micro approach with Jenny Benham (Cardiff) and Alex Stigson (Cambridge) presenting two interesting papers that contrasted in scale.

Jenny discussed international treaties, defining and reconstructing the international laws that were present at this period, with particular focus on exiles, how they were treated and what restrictions were placed upon them, considering treaties and charters as evidence for the period 700-1250.

Alex Stigson’s paper picked up the treatment of border crossings, but with the alltud, the aliens, looking particularly at the border of Wales and England. He looked at the alltud as an exile from their home country [of Wales] living elsewhere and as a foreigner living in Wales. The position of children of a union between an alltud (foreigner) and a Welsh woman was also considered, or an alltud woman and a Welsh father. In this case study, the idea of exile as introduced in Jenny’s paper was looked at with greater depth.

Our third panel also had two speakers and we were sorry that the third speaker couldn’t join us, but we nevertheless had a good pair of papers to discuss in the Q&A. The third panel took Witnesses and Testimony as its theme, and David Peterson (Universidad de Burgos) and Rebecca Searby (York) took us through these aspects of legal agreements.

David discussed the trio of ‘generic’ witnesses that appear in Spanish charters, and the possibility that these generic names, once thought to be the equivalent of ‘Tom Dick and Harry’ to give the same effect as the English charter witness clause …et multiis aliis, could be Semitic names from Arabic or Hebrew, or a mix of both, a testimony in their own way of Spain’s pre-conquest history.

Rebecca picked up on this and discussed the appearance of England’s minority Jewish community in the Coram Rege rolls of the thirteenth century, looking at where they appeared as witnesses and for whom. In cases where the Crown wished to prosecute a case against individuals like Segrave, Jewish witnesses came forward to support the Crown with their testimony – yet in other records, particularly where the community or individuals within that community are facing prosecution, their voices are edited or erased. Rebecca interprets this as the Crown’s patronage being used to manipulate minority communities that require legal and socio-political protection, and considers these sources as ways of glimpsing the status of and issues faced by minority communities, particularly non-Christian communities, in the Middle Ages.

The next day of the conference began with the panel on Law, Sin and Judgement, which focused on the Ordeal and the evolution of guilt from group to individual regarding the payment of wergild. Stefan Jurasinski (State University of New York) began with a reassessment of Prof. Liebermann’s Iudicia Dei, a more linguistic and general discussion whose topic was picked up in the last paper of the panel by Gwynedd Parry (Swansea).  Lukas Bothe (Free University of Berlin) was positioned between the two, considering the progress from debt to sin, regarding the evolution of individual guilt in Frankish law in the sixth to ninth centuries.

Stefan’s paper brought up the issue of a lack of discussion in the historiography regarding the theology of the ordeal and the liturgy of the ordeal, and questioned Liebermann’s translation or transliteration choices in the Iudicia Dei. The semantic range of the words picked out in Old English were discussed in the Q&A which came after the paper and after the panel.

Lukas followed with a discussion of the wergild, a work in progress based on his work on kin guilt in Frankish culture. Lukas is most familiar with the seventh century lawcode, Lex Ribuaria, and discusses the importance of corporate responsibility in small homogeneous communities. Issues with actual legal practice versus written law, which had appeared throughout the papers we heard the previous day, in Paul and Keith’s papers especially, came to the fore again here.

The panel ended with a return to the ordeal, again from a closer case study perspective, and again from Wales, which did not have the ordeal as a feature of native Welsh law. Nevertheless, Gwynedd took us through the awdl (poem) ‘Ode to the Hot Iron’, where the bard praises the hot iron and the justice of Divine Judgement, and demands to undergo the ordeal of hot iron to prove his innocence after being accused of murdering a man. This intriguing evidence was discussed in the Q&A as well, immediately following the paper, and most likely represents the influence of the Marches of Wales and the merging of legal cultures during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

N.B.: For this panel the Q&A came at the end of each paper and is featured in the twitter thread for that paper. 

The final panel was on Legal Agreements and Property Rights, and the themes of evolving legal practices, and practice versus letter of the law came out again. Our final panel featured Jacqueline Bemmer (Vienna), Gianmarco de Angelis (Padua) and Emma Cavell (Swansea).

Jacqueline returned to Ireland, to discuss the possibility of discovering pledge contracts that were made by women c. 650-750. She discussed the relative status of women to their husbands depending on their property at the time of their marriage, and which partner brought more to the marriage. This generated much discussion, which I was unable to tweet as I was chairing!

Gianmarco took us forward in time, to c. 800 – c. 1100, to discuss the impact of charters and the theft of charters in Italy. The discussion was on false charters and the truth of charters, the acceptance of charters as proof of ownership, and the complications to these readings of sources by other examples. His main example was the case of a monastic charter being stolen and destroyed so that another priest could take up a position at a parish church, and the consequences of this action particularly in regards to the court case that followed.

Finally, Emma took us back to Wales so that we ended where we began, and discussed the issues around changes to the Welsh legal system with the introduction of English and Norman law that resulted from intermarriage at this time (twelfth to thirteenth centuries). Her talk was on foreign practices and native agreements in post-conquest Wales, with a particular focus on widows’ dower. This was a paper distilled from a much larger, 20,000 word article that is due to be published.

Finally, Helle Vogt (Copenhagen) chaired our roundtable to close the conference, which tied all the threads together. Themes discussed included the nature of ‘agreements’.

We were delighted with the helpful feedback we received.

Many thanks to all at Cambridge ANSC Dept and to the Leverhulme Trust, and Cardiff University’s AHSS-Finance department, for everything they did to ensure the conference’s success.

Bursaries Available! #LLA2018

We have bursaries available for our upcoming conference in January. They are available to PhD students or unwaged ECRs who would be interested in attending Law and Legal Agreements 600-1250 in Cambridge, 12-13 January 2018.

The bursaries will cover travel and accommodation for two nights.

We can recommend booking via the UniversityRooms site to get college accommodation, which is competitively priced. The conference is taking place at the English Faculty, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP. Colleges within walking distance of the venue include Clare College (10 mins on foot) and Westminster College (20 mins on foot). There is also a centrally located Travelodge and Premier Inn in the city.

You do not have to live in the UK or be a UK citizen to be eligible – they are open to all, but are limited.

We regret that if visas are required to enter the UK, we cannot cover the visa costs or travel costs to obtain said visa. There is a conference fee to cover catering costs, and this should be booked and paid for online by delegates, including bursary recipients, via the Conference Registration webpage.

The cost for students/unwaged is £25 total, which covers both days.

The cost for students/unwaged for a single day is £20.

Full price tickets are £35 for two days and £25 for one day. 

Please email Voices of Law at voicesoflaw at gmail dot com or the Network Facilitator, Melissa Julian-Jones, to request a bursary application form and for any further enquiries.

Deadline for bursary applications: 22nd Dec 2017.

Deadline to register for the conference: 04 Jan 2018.

Click on the hyperlinks above for more information. To view a [printable] online .pdf of the conference programme, click here.




Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past

Project Lead Jenny Benham will be giving a talk in December at Charles University, Prague, in the guest lecture series on Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past.

From the website:

The guest lecture series Digital Humanities and the Study of the Past (part of the Medieval Social Conflicts and Contrasts project) attempts to bring scholars working in the emerging field of Digital Humanities with the focus on Medieval or Early Modern topics to both local and international audience at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. We hope to cover a number of a wide field of approaches and angles through presentations of successful digital projects or notable works in progress.

The 2017/18 Winter Term is convened by: Ondřej Tichý.

Jenny will be giving her talk on The Early English Laws project, which we’ve highlighted in one of our #SpotlightOn posts.

Jenny’s talk will take place on 06th December 2017.

Details on Jenny’s Talk:

‘Early English Laws ( is a project to publish online and in print new editions and translations of all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to the time of Magna Carta 1215.

This lecture explores some of the approaches, questions and tools designed to study these medieval law texts, while also highlighting the difficulties of developing sustainable research resources, possible solutions, and future needs.’

You can find more information about Early English Laws via the link to the website:




Tales of the Unexpected: Shedding New Light on the Medieval Family

Our CUROP student Richard Bowen blogs on his experiences as our six-week research placement student over the summer of 2017. Richard was looking at the Anglo-Saxon law codes and the laws in the Cyfraith Hywel, specifically concerning the nature of marriage and the household. He entered his information, using the relevant dictionaries to provide the taxonomy of the headwords in their respective languages. He was guided in his work by Dr Jenny Benham, Dr Sara Ponz-Sans and Dr Melissa Julian-Jones. Dr Melissa Julian-Jones added in a few Old Frisian and Scandinavian words for comparison from their respective law codes, provided in translation and original by Voices of Law Committee members Dr Han Nijdam and Dr Helle Vogt. The completed database will contain around 200 entries.

Richard’s work will be displayed in poster form at the CUROP & CUSEIP exhibition on Wednesday 18 Oct 2017, which will take place in City Hall, Cardiff, in the Assembly Room and Marble Hall between 14:00-17:00. Tickets for the event are free but registration via Eventbrite is essential. Richard will be on hand to explain his work and answer questions.

In addition to his work on the database, Richard has also developed a workshop for school students based on the research he has undertaken for Voices of Law this summer. The first workshop delivery will be in November for the SEREN Network, and will be attended by A-Level students interested in both History and Law.



Tales of the Unexpected: Shedding New Light on the Medieval Family

– Richard Bowen

I spent the summer of 2017 working. This work was of a different nature to that I undertook the previous year at a local supermarket, it was immeasurably more challenging and rewarding. The work in question was my first experience of independent historical research.

When asked about the object of my research by family and friends, my answer of medieval family law was met with the same mix of facial expressions. They either conveyed pity at the thought of me drowning in such ‘dry’ source material, or boredom at the prospect of listening to me explain it. However, once I began to discuss how the medieval family household could incorporate many unexpected people and objects, along with examples of separation between married couples and adultery, they appeared considerably more interested.


Image 1 RB
An Anglo-Saxon nuclear family as depicted in The Last Kingdom. Source: Source:

The project gave me the opportunity to work with Old English and Old Welsh laws dating from c.600 – c.1250 and translate relevant words from the original language by comparing them to English translations. I began by datamining the Old English laws and recording words that corresponded with my own definition of the family, a task I thought simple at first. However, I quickly realised within the first few days of the project that the medieval family was far broader and more complicated than I had anticipated. Certain words had multiple meanings, like the Old English hlafurd (lord) that can mean a head of a household, a master of slaves and servants, or a husband in the sense of being lord over his wife. Similarly, I was surprised by the variety of household types that are mentioned in the Old English laws. For instance, hæmed is used to refer to marital unions between foreigners, while another law mentions households consisting of a man living with both a rhitwif (rightful wife) and a ciefes (concubine).


Image 2 RB
Part of Alfred’s Domboc (the code of King Alfred) c.866-890 within the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript E, in Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 173. Source:

The Welsh laws I studied were the laws of Gwynedd (c.1240-1300) within the Venedotion code, more commonly known as the Iorwerth redaction after the alleged redactor. The Iorwerth redaction is one of multiple versions of the Welsh law codes, thus it must be acknowledged that the other versions would vary somewhat due to regional language differences. The manuscript I searched within was Peniarth 29, one of multiple manuscripts that the Iorwerth text can be found in.

I found these laws considerably more challenging than their English counterparts, mainly because I had not read a word of Welsh since my GCSEs, apart from on road signs. Interestingly, I noticed how many modern Welsh words could be recognised in the medieval laws, despite variations in spelling, something not possible in the Old English laws. The obvious explanation for this preservation of the Welsh language is that England was subjected to total Norman rule after 1066, whereas parts of Wales remained under Welsh control. Realising this simplified the process of translation. I could now scan the laws for words resembling modern Welsh words associated with the family (with the aid of a Welsh dictionary). This allowed me to use the Welsh cefnder, meaning first cousin, to identify similar words as relative to my research before I had translated them. The similarity is made visible by examples like cenedl, meaning kindred, cyfyrder (second cousin) and ceifn (third or distant cousin).

Image 3 RB
The Laws of Court in the Venedotian Code. Source: The British Library Online Gallery,

The language of the Welsh laws was not their only interesting feature. The content of the laws shed new light on medieval marriages, with numerous references to separation and marriage clauses I had not expected to find. The word esgar appears frequently, and means to separate from one’s spouse. This is surprising, given the influence religion is thought to have had over early medieval society. While the separation of married couples is discussed in the Welsh laws without any rebuke, laws that mention the distribution of the household property between separated spouses may have served as a deterrent to married people looking for a divorce, as a public division of the property could be humiliating.

These findings in the English and Welsh law codes contradicted my preconceptions of the medieval family household as a reflection of a modern nuclear family, a naïve notion I am glad to have proven wrong. Considering the issues I faced and the revelations I had during my research, I can say without any doubt that my summer was well spent. Not only did I learn a great deal and thoroughly enjoy the experience, it has given me insight into the world of historical research and provided me with essential research skills that my course mates will struggle with when the dissertation looms.

Finally, I would urge any students considering such a project to apply and seize the opportunity to produce a piece of independent research, the finished project could not feel more rewarding.


Committee News

The Nordic “Civil Wars” in the High Middle Ages in a comparative perspective


Cardiff’s Dr Jenny Benham, project lead for Voices of Law: Language, Text and Practice, and Voices of Law committee member Dr Helle Vogt, University of Copenhagen, are both currently involved in the Nordic “Civil Wars” project, based in the Centre for Advanced Studies [CAS], at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Oslo, Norway.

This project, led by Prof. Hans Jacob Orning and Prof. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, brings together an international interdisciplinary group of scholars, and seeks to answer some fundamental questions regarding the Nordic “civil wars” and how modern political science and anthropology can be used to explore and understand these events.

Upcoming events relating to this project include the seminar on 05 Oct 2017 – Conflict and (dis)order, and an open seminar on 09 Nov 2017 – Are there “good” civil wars? Both seminars will be held at CAS.


Project Abstract

In this project, international scholars from humanistic disciplines and social sciences will study the Nordic “civil wars” in the period c. 1130-1260 in a comparative perspective. The project is guided by the following hypotheses:

– The Nordic “civil wars” were less chaotic than has been asserted when labelling them “civil war”, “anarchy”, or “breakdown of order”.
– These conflicts should be studied as regional conflicts, not as national ones.

In order to investigate these theories, we will adopt a cross-disciplinary and comparative perspective:

– By including medieval scholars working on English, French and German medieval history, we will gain a deeper understanding of how the Nordic “civil wars” can be situated in a broader contemporary European context, something which is almost completely lacking in medieval scholarship.
– Our aim in involving political scientists and anthropologists working on civil wars in a more contemporary setting is to obtain insight into new approaches and theoretical perspectives on civil wars, and to utilise these perspectives on medieval civil wars. This arises from the idea that modern and medieval civil wars share many characteristics, and that by bringing specialists dealing with these separate fields together it will give new insight.

During Fall 2017, a group of social scientists and medieval historians will discuss and develop a theoretical framework applicable for studying civil wars in the Middle Ages. In Spring 2018, medieval historians working with Nordic as well as Continental Europe will work together on the issues of comparing civil wars in different places in Europe, and tracing patterns of interaction between these various areas, taking care to analyse the conflicts at both local, regional, national and supranational levels.

The main goal of the project is to write two books on Nordic civil wars in a European context incorporating a cross-disciplinary approach.