The Formation of the English Common Law : Law and Society in England from King Alfred to Magna Carta book cover
2nd Edition

The Formation of the English Common Law
Law and Society in England from King Alfred to Magna Carta

ISBN 9781138189348
Published August 9, 2017 by Routledge
252 Pages

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Book Description

The Formation of English Common Law provides a comprehensive overview of the development of early English law, one of the classic subjects of medieval history. This much expanded second edition spans the centuries from King Alfred to Magna Carta, abandoning the traditional but restrictive break at the Norman Conquest. Within a strong interpretative framework, it also integrates legal developments with wider changes in the thought, society, and politics of the time.

Rather than simply tracing elements of the common law back to their Anglo-Saxon, Norman or other origins, John Hudson examines and analyses the emergence of the common law from the interaction of various elements that developed over time, such as the powerful royal government inherited from Anglo-Saxon England and land holding customs arising from the Norman Conquest.

Containing a new chapter charting the Anglo-Saxon period, as well as a fully revised Further Reading section, this new edition is an authoritative yet highly accessible introduction to the formation of the English common law and is ideal for students of history and law.

Table of Contents

Editor’s Preface to First Edition

Author’s Preface to First Edition

Author’s Preface to Second Edition


CHAPTER 1 Introduction

The concept of law

The functions of law

Disputing and negotiating

English common law

The formation of the English common law

CHAPTER 2 The Court Framework in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England

The king’s court

Local and itinerant justices

Shire courts

Hundred courts

Seignorial courts

Urban courts

Ecclesiastical courts


CHAPTER 3 Violence and Theft in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England

Bricstan’s case

Offences, offenders, and motives

Prevention and police


Punishment and compensation


CHAPTER 4 Law and Land-holding in Anglo-Saxon England

Æscwynn of Stonea, Ogga of Mildenhall, Wulfstan of Dalham and their gifts to the church of Ely

The forms of land

Land, lordship, and law

The customary framework



CHAPTER 5 Law and Land-holding in Anglo-Norman England

Land, lordship, and law

The forms of land-holding

The customary framework: control of land held in fee


Anglo-Norman land law and common law property


CHAPTER 6 Angevin Reform

Kingship, Stephen’s reign, and Angevin reform

The eyre


The stages and nature of reform

Henry II and reform

The administrator’s mentality


CHAPTER 7 Crime and the Angevin Reforms

Ailward’s case


The continuation of traditional methods

Presentment and the extension of royal authority

The limits of royal authority


CHAPTER 8 Law and Land-holding in Angevin England

Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds

New procedures

The impact of change


CHAPTER 9 Magna Carta and the Formation of the English Common Law

King John and the administration of justice

Magna Carta

Law and legal expertise

The common law

Concluding comparisons


Note on sources

Further reading


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John Hudson is Professor of Legal History at St Andrews University, UK, and William W. Cook Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan. His previous publications include F. W. Maitland and the Englishness of English Law (2008), The Oxford History of the Laws of England, Volume II 871-1216 (2012) and Papers Preparatory to the Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, Volume II: From God's Law to Common Law, ed., with Stephen Baxter (2014).


'John Hudson's The Formation of the English Common Law has been the essential and introductory guide to its topic for over twenty years, and has been of real service to students for its breadth of coverage and intelligent commentary. The new and updated edition extends its scope through the integration of research published since the first edition, which will only increase its usefulness to students.'

Nicholas Karn, University of Southampton, UK

'Hudson’s superb update of his thoughtful and engaging book The Formation of the English Common Law makes it an even more useful teaching text, but also contributes significantly to our understanding of the continuity of English law. Without overgeneralization or simplification, Hudson brings to life the intricate context of various local and royal jurisdictions, shifting the focus of study to include the impact of the law on the lives of individual people.'

Arlene Sindelar, The University of British Columbia, Canada