Spring 2015

Constitutional and Legal History of
Medieval England

Legal History
English Legal History


Spring 2015






Medieval Studies 117
(Constitutional and Legal History
of Medieval England)

 Law 2370
(Legal History:
Introduction to English Legal History)



Prof. Donahue, Mr. Straus

 Prof. Donahue



I am offering both a course and course/seminar this semester in English legal and constitutional history this spring. Each offering is listed in both the FAS and the Law School catalogues. The requirements for the course are a bit different, depending on whether one is an undergraduate, a law student, or an FAS graduate student.

The basic information and requirements for undergraduates are given in the fact sheet for undergraduates. For more details on the course and its requirements, see the syllabus.

The basic information and requirements for the law students are given in the fact sheet for law and graduate students. For more details on the course and its requirements, see the syllabus.

GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THE FAS SHOULD FOLLOW THE COURSE FOR THE LAW STUDENTS. This means they should attend the Tuesday section in the Law School; they need not attend the Friday discussion class, and their requirements (readings, paper, exam, etc.) are as for the law students.

The course/seminar is History 2080 (Medieval Law) and Law 2371 Seminar: Legal History English Legal History) is a graduate-level reading course/seminar with short papers. It meets on Tuesdays from 5:00–7:00 in Room WCC 4063 (Law School). It will cover many of the same topics as this course, although in a somewhat different order and in more depth. For more information see the website.

Fact Sheet for Undergraduates


Medieval Studies 117
(Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England)


Mon., Wed. 11:10–12:00, Room Sever 102


Thu., 1:00–2:00 (subject to change), Room TBA (for undergraduates only)

Discussion Class

Fri. 11:10–12:00, Room Sever 102 (principally for undergraduates)

Required books 

Donahue, Materials on English Legal and Constitutional History (multilith, passed out in class and available gratis from Ms. Reader in Room Hauser 506)
Baker, Introduction to English Legal History (available at the Law School and Harvard Square Coops)

Recommended books

See syllabus (all the books recommended in the syllabus will be on reserve in Langdell Library [Law School]; some are also available in Lamont and the Quad libraries)

(for undergraduates) 

Hour exam (Fri., 13 Mar.), short paper (select topic by Thu., 26 Mar., draft by Thu., 23 Apr., final due no later than Fri., 8 May), and either a final exam or term paper (see syllabus). For more on the paper requirement, see the online) information sheet.

(for FAS graduate students) 

Same as the law students; see the fact sheet for law students.

Fact Sheet for Law and Graduate Students


Law 2370
(Legal History: Introduction to English Legal History


Mon., Wed. 11:10–12:00, Room Sever 102 (in Harvard Yard)


Tue., 10:40–12:00, Room WCC 3007 (that’s the new building on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Everett St.) (for law students and FAS graduate students).

Required books 

Donahue, Materials on English Legal and Constitutional History (multilith, available in the Law School Distribution Center)
Baker, Introduction to English Legal History (available in the Law School or Harvard Square Coops).


Short paper (see the online) information sheet), take-home exam (distributed Mon., 27 Apr., due Fri., 8 May; see syllabus).


As I mentioned in the syllabus, you should turn in your first draft of your paper when we take up the topic of your paper in class. (I will make some exceptions to this if the rule leads to too many people doing seventeenth century papers.) I will read your draft and make some suggestions. (This is the reason that I want the drafts spread out over the semester; if they get jammed up at the end, I haven’t got time to do an adequate job in commenting.) The final draft is not due until exam period (Fri., 8 May, Ms. Reader, Hauser 506), but you may turn it in at any time. The paper should focus on a particular document. It may be any document in the Materials or any document in Baker and Milsom’s Sources or a document that you find on your own. It should be no longer than five double-spaced pages, exclusive of footnotes. It should contain an idea, supported by evidence. The principal body of evidence should be primary source material, i.e., the document(s) on which the paper is focused. Here is a list of the kinds of topics that people have written successful papers about over the last couple of years:

Women in Aethelberht’s Code (2 papers)—One argued that women were just like slaves, the other that their position depended on their wealth.

Writs precipe before Glanvill [van Caenegem, Royal Writs]—revisited the old debate about whether these writs changed from “executive” to “judicial.”

The Stone Priory Case (1150) [van Caenegem, Cases before Richard I]—complicated patronage relationships in a “truly feudal world.”

Roman Law Influence on Glanvill [Mats.]—what do we mean by “influence”?

The Assize of Northampton [(1176), Mats. p. 137–40]—focused on the background of the rebellion of the king’s sons.

The Assize of Mort Dancestor: An Analysis [Sources, pp. 25–30]—can what it was being used for in 1200 be used to figure out the purpose was in 1176?

Meriden c. Giffard [Select Canterbury Cases (1270)]—why did the bishop of Worcester refuse to institute a man who seems to have been properly presented to a benefice?

An Analysis of Quia Emptores [Mats., § 5B]—politics and property at the end of the 13th century.

Bracton on maritagia and Gifts Subject to modus [based on the Thorne edition of Bracton]—came to the conclusion that the pre-De Donis state of the law was not as clear as De Donis suggests.

The Court of the Bishop of Ely at Littleport [from Maitland’s ed. in Select Pleas in Manorial Courts]—ecology in the 13th century.

Hamo of St. Edmunds at the Fair court of St. Ives [based on Selden Society edition of the rolls of the court]—told a wonderful story of how the court made trouble for an alnager who thought he was going to throw his weight around.

Paris v. Page (1302) [Mats., § 7A]—the law and the decline of villeinage.

Excuse under the Statute of Labourers [from Ames Foundation eds. of YBB of Richard II].

The Sumptuary Law of Edward III (1363) [Mats. § 6F]—relationship of the statute to the cloth trade.

Mills and the Miller’s Case [Mats. § 7C]—nice placing of the case in context by finding material on the changing business arrangements concerning mills in the late 14th century.

The Church and the Chancery: A Study of The Case of the University of Cambridge [Mats., § 7C]—using some readily available printed material the author was able to cast a wholly new light on this case by illuminating both the prior and subsequent history of the transactions involved.

Chancellor Rotherham’s Jurisprudence [based on cases in Sources and Mats]—argues that R’s view of equity was closer to St. German’s than it was to Wolsey’s.

Treason Never Doth Prosper: Rex v. Merks (1401) [88 Selden Society 102]—treason and benefit of clergy in the early 15th century.

Laissez-Faire in the Fifteenth Century? (Case of Gloucester School [(1410), Sources, p. 613])—The development of the concept of damnum absque iniuria, or the notion that economic competition is no wrong.

Rex v. Excester (from the Selden ed. of a Yearbook of Henry 6 (1423))—Damon Runyon in the 15th century.

Debt in Equity [begins with Mats and St. German then goes to W.T. Barbour’s book on contracts in early equity]—doubts that the development was quite as clean as St. German makes it out to be.

St. German on the Enforcement of Naked Promises [Sources, p. 483]—conscience and Roman law in the sixteenth century.

Lord Dacre of the South (1535) [Sources, pp. 105–11]—an analysis of the arguments in an attempt to figure out how much of the case was “law” and how much “politics.”

Early Defamation Actions in the Central Royal Courts (mid-16th c.) [Helmholz, Select Cases on Defamation to 1600]—the common law takes over an action from the church courts, ideas and all.

Copyholds and the Common Law in Dell v. Hygden [(1595), Sources, p. 203]—When copyholds are incorporated in the common law did that mean fees tail too?

The Duke of Norfolk’s Case (Mats.)—what was really going on?

Transformation of Personal Actions in English Law: Slade v. Morley [(1602), Sources, p. 420] and Eason v. Newman [(1596), Sources, p. 537]—the imposition of the Roman ideas of property and obligation on the English scheme of actions.

The Roads to Aldred’s Case [(1610) HSCL, p. 100]: Obstructions of Light in Early English Law—when an agreed-upon principle really isn’t agreed-upon?

Bushell’s Case [Vaughn 135, 124 Eng. Rep. 1006 (1671)]—the principle of non-coercion of the criminal trial jury.


[Home Page] [Syllabus]

Please send comments to Rosemary Spang

URL:  http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/cdonahue/courses/ELH/elhlaw/info/index.html
last modified:  01/18/15

Copyright © 2015 Charles Donahue, Jr.