Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 October 2017
This selection of essays deals with some linked aspects of the history of Scots law in the early modern period, with a particular focus on the role of the Roman or Civil Law. The volume thus initially deals with the reformation of the legal system in the Renaissance period under the impact of the continuing Reception of Roman law, while also following further transformations in the era of the Enlightenment and beyond; it proceeds to consider the impact of late Dutch Humanism on Scots lawyers, and the dominant place of Roman law in their education, while finally using evidence from Scotland and other Civil-Law legal systems to help explain and understand aspects of English law in the eighteenth century. While not a continuous narrative, the selection gives a strong sense of my views on the development of law in Scotland, and of the continuing importance of the Civil Law in its formation – an importance almost impossible to exaggerate, though it has been at times unduly denigrated.
The elements and influences that came together to create Scots law were similar to those that created the legal systems of most of early modern western Europe in the high and later Middle Ages: local customs, learned feudal law, Canon Law, and Civil Law. In each jurisdiction, of course, the mix was to be unique. Moreover, travel and foreign study along with the circulation of books and ideas meant that there were mutual influences among the legal systems of Europe. One ends up with complex histories, not always easy to disentangle.
The essays in the present volume are by one who is an early modern scholar, who has focused mainly on the eighteenth century, and whose primary interests have been in the legal profession and legal education. This means there is little in the way of discussion of, for example, medieval Scots law. I have considered the medieval law in the relevant part of my short, but monograph-length, contribution to Ken Reid and Reinhard Zimmermann's History of Private Law in Scotland; but this was primarily a work of synthesis, and the only originality lies in that synthesis. Readers can much more usefully be referred to the work of Hector MacQueen, David Sellar, and a number of others on medieval Scots law.