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Our Legal Heritage   By:

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OUR LEGAL HERITAGE The first thousand years: 600 1600 King AEthelbert Queen Elizabeth

2nd Edition


S. A. Reilly, Attorney 175 E. Delaware Place Chicago, Illinois 60611 1724



This was written to see what laws have been in existence for a long time and therefore have proven their success in maintaining a stable society. It's purpose is also to see the historical context in which our legal doctrines were derived. It looks at the inception of the common law system, the origin of the jury system, the meaning in context of the Magna Carta provisions, the emergence of attorneys, and the formation of probate law from church origins.

This book is a primer. One may read it without prior knowledge in history or law, although it will be more meaningful to lawyers than to non lawyers. Since it defines terms unique to English legal history, it may serve as a good introduction on which to base further reading in English legal history. The meaning of some terms in King Aethelbert's code in Chapter 1 are unknown or inexact.

The chapters are sequential. The title of each chapter in the Table of Contents includes the time period covered. The title of each chapter denotes an important legal development of that time period.

Each chapter is divided into three sections: The Times, The Law, and Judicial Procedure. The law section is the central section. It describes the law governing the behavior and conduct of the populace. It includes law of that time by which people lived which is the same, similar, or a building block to the law of today. In earlier times this is both statutory law and the common law of the court. The Magna Carta, which is quoted in Chapter 7, is the first statute of the Statutes at Large. The law sections of Chapter 7 13 mainly quote or paraphrase most of these statutes or the Statutes of the Realm. Excluded are statutes which do not help us understand the development of our law, such as statutes governing Wales after its conquest and statutes on succession rights to the throne.

The first section of each chapter: The Times, sets a background and context in which to better understand the laws. The usual subject matter of history such as battles, famines, periods of corruption, and international relations are omitted as not helping to understand the process of civilization and development of the law in the nation of England.

The last section of each chapter: Judicial Procedure, describes the process of applying the law and trying cases for the relevant time period. It also contains some examples of cases.

For clarity and easy comparison, amounts of money expressed in pounds or marks have been converted to the smaller denominations of shillings and pence. There are twenty shillings in a pound. A mark in silver is two thirds of a pound.

The sources and reference books from which information was obtained are listed in the bibliography instead of being contained in tedious footnotes.


A Vassar College faculty member once dedicated her book to her students, but for whom it would have been written much earlier. This book "Our Legal Heritage" is dedicated to the faculty of Vassar College, without whom it would never have been written.

Table of Contents


1. Tort law as the first written law: to 600

2. Oaths and perjury: 600 900

3. Marriage law: 900 1066

4. Martial "law": 1066 1100

5. Criminal law and prosecution: 1100 1154

6. Common Law for all freemen: 1154 1215

7. Magna Carta: the first statute: 1215 1272

8. Land law: 1272 1348

9. Legislating the economy: 1348 1399

10. Equity from Chancery Court: 1400 1485

11. Use trust of land: 1485 1509

12. Wills and testaments of lands and goods: 1509 1558.

13. Consideration and contract Law: 1558 1604

14. Epilogue: from 1604

Appendix: Sovereigns of England


Chapter 1

The Times: before 600

Clans, headed by Kings, lived in huts on top of hills or other high places and fortified by circular or rectangular earth ditches and banks behind which they could gather with their herds for protection... Continue reading book >>

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