In Maitland's words, “Of all the centuries the twelfth was the most legal.” It was a time of growth for the great legal systems in the West: English common law, revived Roman law, and canon law. Students of medieval England have rarely concerned themselves with the question of the connection between these legal systems. For six centuries, from Bracton until the rise of modern legal history with Maitland, the study of English law was insular, ignoring the continental legal systems. When a seventeenth-century civilian wrote that “our common law, as we call it, is nothing else than a mixture of the Roman and the feudal,” he aroused the anger of Coke and the common lawyers. Recently scholars have taken such a view more seriously, and a number of studies have sought Roman or canonistic influences on English law. It might be useful, then, to reconsider the matter of the impact of Rome on English law in the light of recent scholarship, asking three questions: To what extent was Roman law known and studied in England before the time of Bracton? What influences, if any, do scholars find that it had on the legal innovations of Henry II and his sons? Why did the English fail to ‘receive’ Roman law in the way that countries on the Continent did?
Any influence of Roman law in England during the centuries after the withdrawal of Roman legions and before the Norman Conquest can be dismissed quickly. Once Christianity was re-introduced to the island, the revival of Roman Law, or at least of some notion of Roman legal concepts, was possible.
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