EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS10. Legal Culture in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Town

Coordinators: Andrew Simpson (, Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (

This session aims to address the topic of legal culture within an urban context in the late medieval and early modern periods. Unlike ‘political culture’ which has produced a vast literature concerned with historical as well as present-day contexts, ‘legal culture’ is much less well developed as a historical subject. Nonetheless, various scholars have found it useful as a starting point for historical investigation. Consider, for example, J Sunde, ‘Champagne at the Funeral – an Introduction to Legal Culture’, in J Sunde and K Skodvin (eds), Rendezvous of European Legal Cultures (Fabokforlaget, 2010), where “legal culture” is defined as “ideas and expectations of law made operational through institutional(-like) practices” (see

Through this session we hope to bring together a wide range of scholars interested in exploring a range of historical aspects of ‘legal culture’ (however defined) in different regions of the world to discuss what it might mean to explore ‘legal culture(s)’ in the urban experience. A leading question we wish to address concerns legal change: how did law and its use change over time, in the context of the specific legally-incorporated community of the medieval and early modern town? This means thinking about the legal environment in which people lived, and more specifically the linguistic and human-geographical elements of urban life that shaped the law. Relevant are also interactions with other legal contexts. A record of these dynamics is usually found in the form of written records preserved in municipal archives. Urban legal records allow the geographies of law within which a town’s inhabitants interacted to be ‘mapped’. At a basic level, this is about asking what the jurisdictional frameworks were in which the courts of a particular town functioned. Jurisdictional frameworks might encompass other towns, corporate or sovereign powers, as well as roles and capacities of private individuals. Investigating specific topics within this context will present opportunities to assess the practical reach of law and the overarching question of legal change, of discerning patterns of how law and its use changed over time.

We invite proposals relating to various aspects of legal culture in an urban context in the period from c. 1300 to 1700 in any area of the world. We would welcome case studies of individual towns, papers providing a comparison of two or more cities, and perspectives on urban legal culture more generally.

Potential questions to address are:
- what was the perception of justice among different groups?
- how far was change in law linked to or driven by change in language?
- how were conflicts resolved in and out of court?
- how did the legal profession develop?
- how far did ideas about territoriality shape the law?
- did autonomy play a role in the changes of law and legal practice in the cities?
Keywords: medieval legal culture; Burgh Laws; law and language; legal change