English 205B

Old English: Anglo-Saxons and the Law

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2017 O'Brien O'Keeffe, Katherine
TTh 12:30-2 104 Dwinelle

Book List

Attenborough, F. L.: The Laws of the Earliest English Kings; Robertson, A. J.: The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I

Other Readings and Media

Attenborough, F. L. ed. and trans., The Laws of the Earliest English Kings. Cambridge, 1922; repr. Felinfach: Llanerch Publishers, 2000; repr.2006 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. ISBN-13: 9781584775836.  The book is currently available free online https://archive.org/details/cu31924070153519.

Liebermann,F., ed. Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen. 3 vols. Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1903-16. (available electronically through the library portal)

Various materials will be available on B-Courses.


In the last decade, there has been considerable interest in Anglo-Saxon law from the perspectives of history and literature, including a new, international project to re-edit the corpus. This course will consider both the social and textual dimensions of Anglo-Saxon law from Æthelberht to Cnut. We will also look at some collections of conciliar decisions available in Anglo-Saxon England and ask how church law interacted with secular law. Questions of evidence, of crime and sin, and of punishment will occupy us. We will also consider selected strategies for avoiding the latter.  Some of our usual suspects will be: adulterers, bishops, counterfeiters, exiles, foreigners, kings, murderers, nuns, slanderers, slaves, thieves, and wives, to name an obvious few. We will investigate what the laws tell us about the changing understanding of the body during the Anglo-Saxon period and about the different schemes of rendering satisfaction for crime and sin.

Requirements:  daily engagement with the texts, one or two class presentations, a short experimental paper (aimed at trying out the idea for the final paper), a final paper of 15-20 pages. Topics will be chosen in consultation with the professor.

Prerequisites: a strong reading knowledge of Old English (A- in English 104 or the equivalent) OR permission of the instructor.

This course satisfies the Group 2 (Medieval through Sixteenth Century) requirement.

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