Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > Legal Literature > The Laws of Ethelbert of Kent and other Early Kings
  The Beginnings of English Legal Literature The Era of the Capitularies  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XIII. Legal Literature.

§ 2. The Laws of Ethelbert of Kent and other Early Kings.


English legal literature may be said to have had its beginning when, about A.D. 600, king Ethelbert of Kent, newly converted to Christianity, put into writing the dooms of his folk juxta exempla Romanorum. 1  The influence that moved him came from the Roman church, the model that guided him was furnished by the Roman empire; but—and this is the remarkable fact—both the substance and the language of the laws of Ethelbert were Kentish. They stand unique in legal history as “the first Germanic laws that were written in a Germanic tongue.” 2  Further, they typify the general relation of English law to Roman law through many succeeding centuries. English law owes much to Rome—both civil and ecclesiastical Rome—in respect of unifying principles, general ideas, logical arrangement and symmetrical form; but, in substance, it is of native growth. The lead given by Ethelbert of Kent, and his successors, was followed, after the lapse of a hundred years, by Ine of Wessex, and, towards the close of the eighth century, by Offa of Mercia. With the codification of the laws of Mercia, the first era of the history of English legal literature was closed. It had seen the embodiment of ancient tradition in writing.   2

Note 1. Bede, Hist. Eccles., Bk. II, c. 5. [ back ]
Note 2. Pollock and Maitland, Hist. of English Law, vol. I, p. 11; Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, vol. I, p. 283. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Beginnings of English Legal Literature The Era of the Capitularies  
 
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