Schedule and Assignments

The National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute for higher education faculty "Law and Culture in Medieval England" is hosted by Western Michigan University.

Due to the ongoing health crisis, the institute is being held virtually. Activities will be conducted synchronously and asynchronously on the internet. All synchronous activities will occur on weekdays. There is no residential component.


Image of the uins of Battle Abbey. Photo by Robert Berkhofer

Ruins of Battle Abbey

The virtual institute will be conducted through a combination of asynchronous presentations or activities and synchronous online discussions among the participants, organizers, and visiting scholars. Participants should expect that this combination of activities will take about four hours per weekday, with roughly half occurring synchronously. The synchronous part of these activities will be scheduled between 12 noon and 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time to account for different time zones. At other times on these days, the participants will be free to work on their collaborative project presentation, read, or use library resources. The program of study assumes no prior knowledge or languages, although we will encourage participants with such expertise share their knowledge. 

Advance materials

Before the institute begins, participants will receive pre-circulated readings. These advance readings include literary works and one of the longer primary texts. Participants are also asked to read Nicholas Vincent's "A Brief History of Britain" prior to the institute. Interpreting from multiple perspectives using various methodologies will be encouraged by revisiting key primary texts throughout the program of study. During the institute participants will also undertake three practical exercises in workshops, called "text in context," analyzing manuscript sources of key primary sources to discover how their material features enhance understanding their content.

Provided to participants

  • "Beowulf." Translated and edited by Roy M. Liuzza. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2012.
  • Herzman, Ronald B., Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, eds. "Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelock the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelstan." TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. ["Havelock the Dane" and "Athelstan"]
  • "Njal's Saga." Translated by Robert Cook. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.
  • Rabin, Andrew, ed. and trans. "Old English Legal Writings." Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 66. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020.

To be purchased by participants

  • Vincent, Nicholas. "A Brief History of Britain, 1066-1485: The Birth of a Nation." London: Robinson, 2011. [chapters 1-6, pp. 1-244]


All primary materials will be available in modern English translation. For original language texts of legislation, we will use digital editions from the Early English Laws project if available, or editions. Literary texts will be offered in facing English and original language editions whenever possible. Some first-time English translations will be provided by institute directors or visiting scholars.


Week 1: Legal Locales and Limits

Monday, June 21: Introductions; Reading Law in and as Culture

Robert Berkhofer and Jana Schulman

  • Ibbetson, Historical Research in Law
  • Whitelock, The Law ("The Beginnings of English Society," ch. 7)
  • Optional: Baker, Reflections on "Doing" Legal History
Image of the ruins of Whitby Abbey

Ruins of Whitby Abbey

Tuesday, June 22: Wellsprings of Law: Roman, Christian and Customary

Robert Berkhofer and Jana Schulman

  • Paul's "Letter to the Romans," 1:1-3:31, 7:1-8:21, 12:1-13:4
  • "Institutes of Justinian," preamble and bk. 1, titles 1-3 (ed. and trans. Moyle)
  • Laws of Æthelberht (ed. and trans. Oliver)
  • Bede, "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," bk. 2, ch. 5 [death of Æthelbehrt] (ed. McClure and Collins)
  • Jurasinski, English Law before the Conquest

Wednesday, June 23: Limits and Intersections of Sanctuary Law; Fugitives

Karl Shoemaker

  • Laws of Alfred 5 (§§ 1-5) and 42 (§§ 1-7) (ed. and trans. Attenborough) – 8th century
  • "The Wife's Lament" (ed. Treharne)
  • Lambert, The Evolution of Sanctuary in Medieval England
  • Lambert, Hospitality, Protection and Refuge in Early English Law
  • Shoemaker, "Sanctuary and Crime," chs. 5-6

Thursday, June 24: Ways of Proving: Oathswearing, Frankpledge and the Ordeal

Karl Shoemaker

  • Ine §§ 37 and 62 (ed. and trans. Attenborough)
  • Old English ordeal texts (ed. and trans Attenborough); Carolingian ordeal formulas (Formulae liturgicae, ed. and trans. Henderson)
  • John of Worcester, "The Chronicle of John of Worcester," vol. 3, 38-41, a. 1083 (ed. Darlington, McGurk, and Bray)
  • Bartlett, "Trial by Fire and Water," 1-33
  • Wormald, "Making of English Law," 29-92 (ch. 2-1 on Origins of Early English Legislation) and 373-74 (on "ordal")

Friday, June 25: Disputes in Old English and Old Norse Literature

Jana Schulman

  • "The Fonthill Letter," 53-97 (trans. Keynes)
  • "Njal's saga" (trans. Cook), focus on chapters 9-12, 17, 34-45, 56, 70, 78, 97, 105 and 141-145
  • Miller, Avoiding Legal Judgment
  • Schulman, Make Me a Match: Motifs of Betrothal

Text in Context 1: Presenting the Laws of Æthelberht (Schulman)
Richards, The Manuscript Contexts of the Old English Laws
Laws of Æthelberht in the manuscript of the Textus Roffensis at the University of Manchester Library (fols. 1r-3v). Choose the Show Book Thumbnails tab. then click on "Leaf 11" (= fol. 1r in the manuscript). The "Laws" are on leaves 11-16 (= fols. 1r-3v in the manuscript).

Week 2: Disputation, Compensation and Penance

Monday, June 28: Legislating the Homiletic Style

Andrew Rabin

  • Selections from the homilies of Wulfstan in "Old English Legal Writings" (ed. and trans. Rabin), 60-99, 146-299 [book sent with advance materials]
  • Selections from the homilies of Wulfstan in "The Political Writings of Archbishop Wulfstan of York" (ed. and trans. Rabin), 127-32, 143-53.
  • Wormald, Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society

Tuesday, June 29: Whatever Seems Most Just to You: Wills, Charters and the Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval England

Andrew Rabin

  • Selected documents from Harmer, "Anglo-Saxon Writs", 396; Robertson, "Anglo-Saxon Charters," 68-69, 90-93, 122-25, 136-39, and 150-53; and Whitelock, "Anglo-Saxon Wills," 6-9, 34-37, and 38-41
  • Brown, Charters as Weapons: On the Role Played by Early Medieval Dispute Records in the Disputes They Record
  • Wormald, Charters, Law, and the Settlement of Disputes in Anglo-Saxon England

Wednesday, June 30: The Norman Conquest and the Law

Robert Berkhofer

  • "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," a. 1085/1086 (on the Domesday Book and Oath of Salisbury; trans. Swanton)
  • The Trial of Penenden Heath, 7-15, no. 5b (ed. Van Caenegem)
  • Coronation charter of Henry I, 276-83 (ed. Robertson)
  • Cooper, Extraordinary Privilege: The Trial of Penenden Heath and the Domesday Inquest
  • Hudson, Court Cases and Legal Arguments in England, c. 1066-1166
  • Hyams, Norms and Legal Arguments before 1150

Text in Context 2: Exon Domesday and reckoning with Domesday (Berkhofer)
Exon: The Domesday Survey of South-West England

Thursday, July 1: Anglo-Norman Law Collections and Ideas of Law

Bruce O'Brien

  • "Leges Edwardi Confessoris," 158-203 (ed. O'Brien)
  • "Instituta Cnuti," at Early English Laws
  • O’Brien, The Instituta Cnuti and the Translation of English Law
  • Wormald, Laga Edwardi: The Textus Roffensis and Its Context
  • Wormald, "The Making of English Law," 398-415 (Legislative Fact and Fiction after 1066)

Friday, July 2: The Norman "Translation" of Anglo-Saxon Laws

Bruce O'Brien

  • O'Brien, Pre-Conquest Laws and Legislators
  • Selections from "Textus Roffensis: Law, Language, and Libraries in Early Medieval England," ed. O’Brien and Bombi: O’Brien, Textus Roffensis: An Introduction; Karn, Textus Roffensis and Its Uses

Text in Context 3: The Making of Textus Roffensis (O'Brien, assisted by Berkhofer)
The Textus Roffensis at the University of Manchester Library
Treharne, Rochester Cathedral Library A.3.5

Week 3: Words as Weapons

Monday, July 5: Words of Insult and "Fighting Words"/Reputation and Honor

Jana Schulman, assisted by Robert Berkhofer

  • Hávamál (focus on verses 5-7, 11-14, 15, 19, 25, 29, 31-32, 48, 63, 73 and 132) and "Beowulf" (focus on ll. 20-25, 953-955, 1221-1225, 1383-1389, 1395-1396, 1465-1471, 1529-1536, 1703-1709 and 3180-3182), on reputation and honor
  • Hloþhere and Eadric §§ 7 and 8 (ed. and trans. Oliver), words of insult
  • Selections from "Grágás" (K §§ 237 and 238) and "Jónsbók" (IV, § 11 and §§ 24-26), about words that a man can kill for
  • "Njal's saga" (trans. Cook), focus on chapters 34, 48, 54, 71, 87, 102 esp. verse 9, 104, 116-17 and 123
  • Sørensen, "The Unmanly Man," 9-33

Tuesday, July 6: Oaths and Proofs

Jana Schulman, assisted by Robert Berkhofer

  • Hloþhere and Eadric 6 (§§ 1-3) (ed. and trans. Oliver)
  • Wihtræd §§ 12-19
  • Ine §§ 14-17, 21, 25, 30 and 35 (ed. and trans. Attenborough)
  • Alfred 1 (§§ 1-8); 4 (§§ 1-2) (ed. and trans. Attenborough)
  • I Edward (ed. and trans. Attenborough)
  • II Edward 5 (§§ 1-2) (ed. and trans. Attenborough)
  • II Æthelstan 1 (§ 1); 23 (§§ 1-2) (ed. and trans Attenborough)
  • "Battle of Maldon" (ed. Treharne)
  • "Beowulf," especially ll. 472, 1095-1106, 2063 and 2738-2739
  • Riisoy, Performing Oaths in Eddic Poetry: Viking Age Fact or Medieval Fiction?

Wednesday, July 7: Writs, Assizes and Law under Henry II (1154-1189)

Robert Berkhofer, assisted by Jana Schulman

  • Selected documents from "English Historical Documents (ed. Douglas): Assize of Clarendon (1166); Assize of Northampton (1176); Coronation Charter of Henry II
  • Specimen writs of "mort d'ancestor" and "novel disseisin" (ed. Baker)
  • Sharpe, Use of Writs in the Eleventh Century

Thursday, July 8: Common Law Procedures and Proofs; Pleading Your Case

Robert Berkhofer, assisted by Jana Schulman

  • Selections from "The Treatise of the Laws and Customs of Realm of England Commonly Called Glanvill" (ed. Hall): Prologue, Book 1:1-12, 1-7 (division of causes, essoins); Books II-III, 22-43 (procedures, battle, grand assize);Books XII-XIII, 136-70 (writ of right, other writs)
  • Hudson, Crime and the Angevin Reforms

Friday, July 9: Bilingualism and Uses and Abuses of Legal Language

Marjorie Harrington

  • "Satire on the Consistory Courts" (ed. and trans. Fein, with Raybin and Ziolkowski), Article 40, 188-91
  • "William Langland's 'Piers Plowman': The C Version," Prologue and Passus I-IV, 1-42 (ed. and trans. Economou)
  • Dodd, Languages and Law in Late Medieval England: English, French, and Latin
  • Optional: Langland, "Piers Plowman: A New Annotated Edition of the C-Text," Prologue and Passus I-IV, 43-109 (ed. Pearsall)
  • Optional: Swanson, " . . . et examinatus dicit . . .": Oral and Personal History in the Records of English Ecclesiastical Courts
  • Optional: Thomas, "Contritio cordis": The Laughter of Mede and the Tearlessness of Contricion"

Week 4: Crime, Gender and Violence

Monday, July 12: The Transition from Ordeal to Jury Trial

Elizabeth Kamali

  • Selections from Kamali, Materials on Transition from Ordeal to Trail by Jury: Hincmar of Reims, Description of Trial by Cold Water (trans. Howland); Doom of King Æthelstan regarding the Ordeal of Red-Hot Iron (trans. Howland); An Ordeal for Trail by Water (trans. McSweeney); Miracle at the Tomb of William of York (trans. Kamali); Ordeal Cases from the Reign of John (trans. Maitland); The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council (trans. Schroeder); Instructions to the Justices of Henry III (trans. Parker); Edict of Pope Honorius III (trans. Howland); Felony Cases from the Reign of Henry III (trans. Maitland); Figures 1 and 2 (Kamali)
  • Baldwin, The Intellectual Preparation from the Canon of 1215 against Ordeals
  • Kerr, Forsyth and Plyley, Cold Water and Hot Iron: Trial by Ordeal in England
  • Optional: Kamali and Green, A Crossroads in Criminal Procedure

Tuesday, July 13: States of Mind in English Law

Elizabeth Kamali

  • Selections from Kamali, Materials on Transition from Ordeal to Trail by Jury: The Treatise "Bracton" on Homicide (trans. Thorne); The Case of William of Crigglestone (trans. Stenton); The Case of Richard Son of Adam (trans. Lynch); The Case of Nicholas of Luvetot (trans. Sutherland); The Case of Thomas Chaundelor (trans. Kamali); Literary References to Anger (trans. Kamali);The Treatise "Bracton" on Insanity (trans. Thorne); The Case of Robert Son of Adam (trans. Sutherland); The Case of Philip Statheman (trans. Kamali); The Case of John Son of William (trans. Kamali)
  • Bailey and Knight, Writing Histories of Law and Emotion
  • Butler, Representing the Middle Ages: The Insanity Defense in Medieval England
  • Cels, Interrogating Anger

Wednesday, July 14: Imagined Worlds I: Gender, Crime and Violence

Corinne Saunders

Thursday, July 15: Imagined Worlds II: Modes of Justice

Corinne Saunders

  • "Amis and Amiloun," particularly ll. 769-960, 1189-1368 (ed. Foster)
  • "The Tale of Gamelyn," particularly ll. 611-end (ed. Knight and Ohlgren)
  • "Sir Launfal," particularly ll. 673-end (ed. Laskaya and Salisbury), with Marie de France's "Lanval" as an optional comparison
  • Optional: Firth Green, The Folklaw
  • Optional: Pollard: Political Ideology in the Early Stories of Robin Hood

Friday, July 16: Conclusions; Participant Presentations


Logo of the National Endowment fir the the Humanities.The summer institute "Law and Culture in Medieval England" has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Disclaimer: Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website and in this institute do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.