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.


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