History of Roman Law

History of Roman Law

or a while in their enthusiasm men might be content to study for its own sake this record of human wisdom, of almost superhuman wisdom, so it must have seemed to them. But it soon became plain that in England there would be no court administering Roman law, unless it were the [131] court of a learned university. And then, as already said, the church, or at any rate a powerful party in the English church, began to look askance at the civilian. Theology was to be protected against law. Beneficed clerks were no longer to study the secular jurisprudence. In the year 1219 Honorius III. forbad that the civil law should be taught in the university of Paris,47 and when we read how in 1234 our Henry III. ordained that the leges should no longer be taught in the London schools—probably this refers to the schools of St. Paul’s Cathedral—it is by no means certain that we ought not to connect this with a movement in favour of ecclesiastical reform, rather than with that “Nolumus leges Angliae mutare” which the barons were about to utter.

Matthew Paris has handed down to us what purports to be the text of a papal bull which goes much further. Innocent IV., perhaps the greatest lawyer among all the popes, is supposed to decree in the year 1254 that in France, England, Scotland, Wales and Hungary—in short almost everywhere save in Italy and Germany—the imperial laws shall not be read, unless the kings of those countries will have it otherwise. In those countries, he is made to say, the causes of the laity are decided, not by the imperial laws, but by customs, while for ecclesiastical causes the constitutions of the holy fathers will suffice. Strong reasons have been shown for the condemnation of this would-be bull as a forgery, or as the manifesto of English divines who will make believe that the pope has done what he ought to do.

Genuine or spurious, it is an instructive document, for it tells us that in England the civilian is between two fires. The best churchmen do not love him; ecclesiastical reformers are coming to the aid of national conservatism. This did not destroy the study of the Roman books. Oxford and Cambridge gave degrees as well in the civil as in the canon law. The one considerable work produced by an English canonist of the fourteenth century, the gloss of John de Athona on the legatine constitutions, is full of references to Code and Digest. But the civilian, if he was not a canonist, had no wide field open to him in England. He might become a diplomatist; there was always a call in the royal chancery for a few men who would be ready to draw up treaties and state-papers touching international affairs, and to meet foreign lawyers on their own ground. Nor must it be forgotten that so long as the English king was endeavouring to govern Guienne from Westminster, he was obliged to keep in his employ men who could write fluently about such romanesque institutions as emphyteusis, “active and passive testamenti factio” and the like,52 for Guienne was in theory a country of the written law. But except as a diplomatist, a chancery clerk, or a teacher, the civilian would find little to do in England. The court of admiralty, the courts of the universities, even when they had come into existence, could not provide employment for many practitioners.

The history of Roman and canon law as studied and administered in England deserves to be written at length. We have said of it but enough to serve our immediate purpose; for we have now to note in the first place that a large tract in the field of law was made over to the ecclesiastical courts and their canonical jurisprudence, and secondly that this canonical jurisprudence affected the development of our English temporal law.

Source: Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I (1895)

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