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5 - Magna Carta and Statutory Law

from Part I - Legal Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2019

Candace Barrington
Central Connecticut State University
Sebastian Sobecki
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands
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Traditionally the impetus for legislation came from the sovereign. The law-codes attributed to Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman kings exemplified the monarch’s apparent lead in promulgating laws for the good of his subjects. Royal confirmation of the laws of the realm (especially the laws of St Edward the Confessor) was expected of a monarch at his coronation. The experience during the thirteenth century of calling extraordinary assemblies of representatives to discuss the affairs of the realm and approve royal edicts was reflected in Edward II’s coronation oath (1308), which included an obligation on the king to uphold ‘the laws and rightful customs which the community of your realm shall have chosen’. The consensual element to royal legislation developed further during the fourteenth century with the frequent summoning of parliaments and general recognition that this was where adjustments to the law of the land should be deliberated and enunciated. The commons’ request for remedy of specific matters deemed to be for the welfare to the realm in return for their assent to taxation became an established part of parliamentary procedure. The common petitions in which the knights and burgesses attending parliament articulated their demands were frequently used as a basis for legislation. By Richard II’s reign it could be declared that ‘the law of the land was made in parliament by the king and the lords spiritual and temporal and all the commons of the kingdom’. As Bishop Alcock expressed in his sermon at the opening of parliament in 1485, it was a cooperative enterprise uniting the sovereign and his people in pursuit of ‘good governance’.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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Further Reading

Brand, P., Kings, Barons and Justices: The Making and Enforcement of Legislation in Thirteenth-Century England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Cavill, P., The Early English Parliaments of Henry VII, 1485–1504, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Doig, J. A., ‘Political Propaganda and Royal Proclamations in Late Medieval England’, Historical Research 71 (2002), 253–75.
Hanbury, H. G., ‘The Legislation of Richard III’, American Journal of Legal History 6 (1962), 95113.
Holt, Sir James, Magna Carta, 3rd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Maddicott, J. R., ‘The County Community and the Making of Public Opinion in Fourteenth Century England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 18 (1987), 2743.
Musson, A., Medieval Law in Context: The Growth of Legal Consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants’ Revolt, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
Musson, A. and Ormrod, W. M., The Evolution of English Justice: Law, Politics and Society in the Fourteenth Century, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999.
Ormrod, W. M., ‘On and Off the Record: The Rolls of Parliament, 1337–1377’, Parliamentary History 23 (2004), 2956.
Ormrod, W. M.“Common Profit” and “The Profit of the King and Kingdom”: Parliament and the Development of Political Language in England, 1250–1450’, Viator 46 (2015), 219–52.
Richardson, H. G. and Sayles, G. O., ‘The Early Statutes’, Law Quarterly Review 50 (1934), 201–23, 540–71.
Rowland, D., ‘The End of the Statute Rolls: Manuscript, Print and Language Change in Fifteenth-Century English Statutes’, in The Fifteenth Century IX: Concerns and Preoccupations, ed. Clark, Linda, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2012, 107–26.
Skemer, D. C., ‘Reading the Law: Statute Books and the Private Transmission of Legal Knowledge in Late Medieval England’, in Learning the Law: Teaching and the Transmission of English Law, 1150–1900, ed. Bush, Jonathan and Wijfels, Alain, London: Hambledon, 1999, 113–31.
Thompson, F., Magna Carta: Its Role in the Making of the English Constitution, 1300–1629, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1948; repr. 1978.

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