Will Eves – Research Update (i)

The over-arching question of my research is the relationship of Anglo-Norman concepts of ‘seisin’ and ‘right’ with Roman law ideas of ‘possessio’ (possession) and ‘proprietas’ (property) during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

During this period, Roman law was experiencing an intellectual resurgence in Western Europe, influencing, in particular, the development of substantive and procedural Canon law. There is evidence that it may also have shaped aspects of Anglo-Norman legal thought. In some instances in Anglo-Norman law, ‘seisin’ reflects the idea of possession without the attachment of any further proprietary title, whereas ‘right’ is used to denote something approaching a proprietary interest in the tenement in dispute. However, seisin cannot be directly equated with possessio. Nor does the idea of proprietary title fit easily with some understandings of the tenurial structure of England and Normandy in the High Middle Ages. If land was seen to be held of a ‘feudal’ superior, ideas of ‘property’ – as we understand the term today – may have been slow to enter legal thought as a direct analogy to the Roman idea of proprietas.

My intention is therefore to examine further the concepts of possession and property in legal thought in England and Normandy in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. In particular, I aim to investigate the use of proprietary ideas and terminology in the legal treatises of the period; in England, these are Glanvill (c.1188) and Bracton (c.1230); and in Normandy, the Très Ancien Coutumier (Part 1, c.1200; Part 2 c.1220) and the Summa de Legibus (c.1250). This will allow for comparison to be made between parallel legal developments in England and Normandy during the period, of particular interest following England’s loss of Normandy to the French Crown in 1204.

In the course of this research, I also intend to produce an online transcription of the text of the Très Ancien Coutumier as found in the Vatican archive’s manuscript Ottobono 2964. This manuscript, unknown to E.-J. Tardif at the time he produced his edition of the treatise in 1881, contains the most complete Latin text of the first part of the coutumier and allows us to make certain revisions to Tardif’s edition. The manuscripts and content of the Très Ancien Coutumier will be discussed in the next blog post!