Aberdeen PhD Opportunity: Emergence of a Vernacular Legal Culture

A Translatio Studii within Late-Medieval Scottish Legal Literature? The Emergence of a Vernacular Legal Culture

Project Description

The medieval Scottish legal text, Regiam Majestatem, has been described as an enigma. It presents itself as an account of the laws used in the courts of King David I (r.1124-1153), and yet it was probably written in the first few decades of the fourteenth century. It claims to be a Scottish text, and yet it is substantially based upon an English treatise known as Glanvill. The decision of the presumably Scottish compiler of Regiam to base his work on an English text is even more puzzling in the context of the early fourteenth century, a period in which Scotland and England were almost constantly at war. Furthermore, its authorship is uncertain, and historians debate exactly why it was written. The original text itself was obscured through its transmission in a relatively uncritical manuscript tradition. No critical edition of the text exists, and those who wish to engage with Regiam are faced with the daunting task of studying the many surviving manuscript versions of the texts.

All of these problems surrounding Regiam are currently being debated by historians. Yet one particular aspect of the history of the text of Regiam has not been studied in great detail as of yet. In the mid- fifteenth century – and perhaps as a result of a parliamentary commission of 1469 – the Latin text of Regiam was translated into Scots. The translation is extremely curious. It is not word for word – in fact, its relationship with the original is in places quite loose; a cursory glance at the prologue of the Latin original, and the Scots translation, makes this quite clear.

The difference that the translator created between the Latin original of Regiam Majestatem and the vernacular text may tell us something about his purposes in writing. In turn, this may reveal something significant concerning the emergence of vernacular Scottish legal culture during the fifteenth century. In her book, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Translation in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1991), Rita Copeland draws attention to the hermeneutical practices that were used by medieval commentators seeking to interpret and transmit particular texts from the past into their own world. These hermeneutical practices – such as amplificatio and abbreviatio, the attribution of an intentio auctoris to a text by means of an accessio ad auctorem, and allegoresis – were frequently used by medieval commentators to create difference between the texts they produced and the originals. While in principle the commentators, and subsequently translators, claimed to serve the original texts, they worked “in effect to contest and supplant that text” (Copeland, 1991, p.94). To some extent, their aim in so doing was to rework the text “for changing conditions of understanding” (Copeland, 1991, p.64). This serves to explain something of how medieval critical practices worked through the disciplines of grammatical exegesis and rhetoric.

Is it possible to locate the loose translation of Regiam within such critical practices? If so, what does this tell us (if anything) about the development of vernacular Scottish legal culture, which is evinced in the statutory tradition from the late-1390s onwards? Can considering these questions shed light on why more and more Scottish clerks began to record legal disputes in the vernacular during the fifteenth century (for example in the Aberdeen Burgh Records)? In order to answer those questions, the candidate will need to study the translation of Regiam in light of surviving early manuscripts of the Latin original. He or she would also need to consider the translation of Regiam within the broader context of the development of Scottish vernacular culture.

A candidate who tackles these questions properly will develop a pre-existing expertise in Latin, Scots and palaeography to a very high standard. Such skills would enable the candidate to go on to work on manuscript culture and textual transmission and criticism of ideas in the medieval period out-with the field of Scottish legal history.

PLEASE NOTE: We require a research proposal to be included in your application, for more details: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/law/research/writing-a-research-proposal-134.php

If you are interested in this topic then please apply online. It is not necessary to email unless you have a specific question.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by a University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. An Elphinstone Scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees, whether Home, EU or Overseas. This scholarship will not cover living expenses.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate must be able to read Latin and Scots. He or she must also be prepared to undertake extensive archival research that will call for significant paleographical skills.

(With thanks to Ross Macdonald for alerting the ELH Blog to this opportunity.)