The early Christian church played a significant role in unifying law making and legal procedures.
Whilst society remained the same for a short time following the Roman withdrawal from Britain, a more fragmented picture began to develop. By around 425AD separate Christian kingdoms. This led to difficult challenges bringing the country together as a whole, however as written by Baker, J.H (2002) “the unifying force is not a common law but the general social and moral assumptions of the age”, at the time in question this was the common religion shared by the British kingdoms, Christianity.
Within these kingdoms the kings and their bishops had a close relationship, both in matters of the earth as well as the spiritual. According to Loyn, H.R (1991) Bede wrote about how “the Kentish people enjoyed as a result of the conversion the writing down in their own native tongue of judicial decrees”. The various law codes that were written down, starting with those of King Ethelbert 1 ...view middle of the document...
The purposes of these codes were to offer a framework for dealing with various situations and therefore over time produced consistency over the various kingdoms.
The Christian church also had a part to play within the trials of individuals; one way we saw this was in Trials by ordeal, which required god to intervene and show an individual’s innocence during often brutal trials. During the time of Norman Law we can also see the emergence of trial by combat, which required the defendant and plaintiff to fight and it was seen that god’s favour rather than strength would allow the truth teller to win.
From the time of William of Normandy we also saw it become common practice for the men of the church to sit within the various courts that operated round the kingdoms. Initially this was most seen during the compilation of the doomsday information, when juries consisting of a priest, the reeve and 6 other lawful men were required to swear an oath that he information they were given was correct. This process is often seen as providing the very early precursors to the oath and juries that are still key principles in modern day courts.
It was however during Henry II’s reign that we really saw the kingdom’s start to truly unify in how they dealt with matters of the law. This came with the introduction of the Royal Magistrates courts, which initially pulled its judges from a range of professions including bishops and abbots. Whilst these were still local operations they all operated by the King and so offered consistency.
Whilst we cannot say that at this time, we had truly reached a period of common law, it was increasingly becoming centralised under the king’s court and so more uniform. The Christian church had strong influence within this, from providing a moral code based on the teachings of the bible, to providing literate men help form laws for all to see and providing educated, trustworthy and compassionate men to act both as counsel to and on behalf of the king.
Loyn, H.R (1991) The Governance of Anglo Saxon England 500-1087 London: Edward Arnold
Baker, J.H (2002) An Introduction to English Legal History 4th Ed; England: Butterworths
NCC Home Learning (2012) Diploma In Criminal Psychology Level 4 Workbook V1.03 St Helens: NCC Resources Ltd