Living with the Law: Society and Legal Disputes c. 1200-1700 Conference Report


Photo attrib. Teddie Bridget Proctor, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blog post written by PhD student Sarah White

The Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research at the University of St Andrews hosted a conference over June 27-29, entitled “Living with the Law: Society and Legal Disputes, c. 1200-1700.” The goal of this conference was to provide a number of perspectives on how the practice of both secular and church courts was aided or hindered by the involvement of wider society. The second, perhaps overlapping question, is the effect of social relationships on the actual conduct of the parties to a dispute, both inside and outside the courtroom. The conference took an interdisciplinary approach to these questions by inviting papers on from the perspectives of law, legal history, constitutionalism, literature, and social history over a relatively broad period of time, in order to facilitate wide-ranging discussion.

The conference was organised by two PhD students at St Andrews, (now Dr) Will Eves and Sarah White, and papers were given by research students, early career researchers, and established and senior scholars. Papers covered the medieval and early modern periods, and concerned both the common law and ius commune. The two plenary lectures were given by Professor Paul Brand (“The Law and Social Mobility in Thirteenth-Century England: The Case of the Weyland Family”) and Professor Sir John Baker (“1616: ‘A Year Consecrate to Justice’”). Panels covered “The Manipulation of Legal Process in High Medieval Europe” (Felicity Hill, Kenneth Duggan, and Cory Hitt, chaired by William Ian Miller), “Legal Interpretation and Theory” (Danica Summerlin, Joanna McCunn, and Lorenzo Moniscalco, chaired by Emanuele Conte), “Edinburgh Law School Session” (Hector MacQueen and John W. Cairns, chaired by Colin Kidd), “Law and Legal Practice in Early Modern Europe” (Kelsey Jackson-Williams, Julia Kelso, and Saskia Limbach, chaired by Magnus Ryan), “Lordship, Loyalty and the Law” (Matt McHaffie and Josh Hey, chaired by George Garnett). On the final day of the conference, John Hudson, William Ian Miller, and Magnus Ryan led a roundtable discussion, with a closing summary by Caroline Humfress.

The conference was designed to bring together postgraduate students, early-career researchers and established academics who are working in the field of legal history. The goal was to allow delegates to discuss their work with other historians and legal scholars, and to make connections and draw inspiration from the broad range of research that is presented. The second goal, following from the first, was to promote a sustainable network of support and communication between scholars and research institutions at a number of universities across the UK.

The mix of junior and senior researchers led to interesting discussions and established new connections between the various universities represented by the attendees. Both the panels and the breaks created a good environment for communication and connections between scholars and attendees from outside St Andrews expressed interest in continuing the conference in two years’ time.

The conference also included a chance to see the Marchmont MS of Regiam Majestatem recently acquired by St Andrews, as well a number of interesting legal-themed items from Special Collections in a thoughtful and well-curated display organised by Rachel Hart and Maia Sheridan.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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