This article seeks to provide a fresh perspective on long-standing debates about the role of the written word in later Anglo-Saxon legal culture. Using the law codes of King Æthelstan's reign as a ‘case study’, it argues that many of the unusual features of early English law are not so much products of orality, as of a fundamentally different approach to legal norms than is prevalent in the modern Western world. It thus seeks to move beyond recent literacy-orality debates, suggesting that it is more profitable to investigate the attitudes shown towards legal norms (both written and oral) within Anglo-Saxon society.