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Law codes and legal norms in later Anglo-Saxon England


  • The author would like to thank both Rory Naismith and those present at the Early Medieval Law conference at the Carlsberg Academy, Copenhagen, 15–16 Sept. 2011, for their comments on earlier versions of this article.


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.