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Law as Literature in the Vernacular Codes of Early Medieval England

Lund, Arendse; (2021) Law as Literature in the Vernacular Codes of Early Medieval England. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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This thesis argues that the involvement of figures like Bishop Æthelwold, Ælfric of Eynsham, and Archbishop Wulfstan of York transformed how legal language was used and understood in early medieval England, and that they spread specific terms across royal legislation, through literary works, and even abroad. Law as Literature investigates the legal prologues and then focuses on individual words that highlight social and political issues of the time — words that serve as evidence of changing notions of royal power and authority, and the role of the king as mediator and divine representative. On a lexical level, these terms position violations committed in the kingdom as an affront to the crown itself, building upon nascent ideas of the king as wronged by otherwise civil offenses. Beginning in medieval England and expanding out to Scandinavia and beyond, Law as Literature traces the spread of specific Old English legal language into Latin, Old Norse, and Anglo-Norman. Among the terms examined are: cynescipe “royal dignity,” which is used to flatter a king but also came to stand for royalty’s innate responsibility to both the people and god; cynehlaford “royal lord,” which is employed as a flattering address to the king and became a political way to signify hierarchy between kings, past and present; and berstan “oath-breaking,” which is a general Old English literary term adapted as a specific legal transgression, and was so successful that it appeared in Scandinavian law codes centuries later. Each subsequent term, and chapter of this thesis, broadens the scope of the discussion, both geographically and through the legal and literary language analyzed. These terms are all instruments for a larger analysis on royal authority and social situations that allow for words to catch on and flourish among legal writers. Law as Literature concludes with a discussion of which Old English legal terms survive into modern legislation and why.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Law as Literature in the Vernacular Codes of Early Medieval England
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: Old English, Old Norse, Middle Ages, medieval law, medieval literature, Wulfstan, Aethelwold
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10138205
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