Roundtable: Lorren Eldridge, Law and the Medieval Village Community, 26 Jan. 2024

This event is a book launch to celebrate Dr. Lorren Eldridge’s recent monograph on village communities in medieval law. It is a panel discussion involving the author, Professor Michael Lobban, All Souls Oxford, and Professor Gwen Seabourne, Bristol University.

This book expands on established doctrine in legal history and sets out a challenge for legal philosophers. The English medieval village community offers a historical and philosophical lens on the concept of custom which challenges accepted notions of what law is.

The book traces the study of the medieval village community from early historical works in the nineteenth century through to current research. It demonstrates that some law-making can and has been ‘bottom-up’ in English law, with community-led decision-making having a particularly important role in the early common law. The detailed consideration of law in the English village community reveals alternative ways of making and conceiving of law which are not dependent on state authority, particularly in relation to customary and communal property rights. Acknowledging this poses challenges for legal theory: the legal positivism that dominates Western legal philosophy tends to reject custom as a source of law. However, this book argues that medieval customary law ought to be considered ‘law’ if we are ever going to fully understand law – both then and now.

The book will be a valuable resource for researchers and academics working in the areas of Legal History, Legal Theory, and Jurisprudence.

Venue: Teaching Room 02, Old College

Register to attend in Person: Register to attend in person

Law and the Medieval Village Community book cover by Lorren Eldridge

Abry, Consensualism in Contract

The Centre for Legal History is delighted to note the recent publication by Springer of The Construction, Sources, and Implications of Consensualism in Contract: Lesson from France ‘s by our graduate Kane Abry. This book has arisen out of Kane’s excellent Ph.D. thesis. 

It has appeared as volume 27 in Springer’s series, Studies in the history of Law and Justice. It is a sophisticated study of the topic, ranging widely  and perceptively,

Arguing over Empire: Hugo Grotius, European Expansionism and Slavery: Call for Papers

Location: University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Law Hub

Date: June 7th 2024

Key-note: Prof. John Cairns (University of Edinburgh)

Workshop Theme

The workshop ‘Arguing over Empire: Hugo Grotius, European Expansionism and Slavery’ is part of a series of conferences organized by the Grotiana Foundation preceding the celebration in 2025 of the 400thanniversary of Grotius’ opus magnum On the Law of War and Peace (De iure belli ac pacis) published in 1625. Previous conferences in this series have dealt with, e.g., ‘Grotius’ Contribution to Commercial and Maritime Law’ and ‘Non-consequential theories of strict liability in historical perspective.’ The workshop is co-organized by the Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence of the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with the Amsterdam Law Hub, with Grotiana, and with the ‘Servus-project’ funded by the NWO.

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) is generally regarded as one of the ‘founding fathers of modern international law.’ However, he was also one of the early architects of Dutch colonial and imperial rule in the East Indies. Between 1604 and 1615, he served the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a legal advisor and political lobbyist. In this capacity, he wrote memoranda and policy documents providing legal and political justifications for the Company’s commercial and military activities in monsoon Asia. In 1604, Grotius was commissioned by the VOC to write a treatise to defend the seizure of a Portuguese vessel off the coast of Johor (present-day Singapore). In the only published chapter of the treatise during his lifetime, titled The Free Sea (Mare Liberum), he argued that the Portuguese violated the natural rights of the Dutch by preventing them from sailing to the East Indies and engaging in trade with indigenous populations. As judicial recourse was lacking, even a private trading company such as the VOC could wage a ‘just war’ to enforce its natural rights. Grotian thinking about natural law, contracts and just war thus legitimized Dutch expansion overseas and the dispossession of the native.

Grotius’ On the Law of War and Peace is another case in point. Although the author was an exile in Paris by then, he relied on many years of practical experience as a VOC advisor and lobbyist in writing his magnum opus. In On the Law of War and Peace, he elaborates the views presented in On the Law of Prize and Booty by conceptualizing the natural rights to travel and free passage, the rights to settle in uninhabited lands and use natural resources, and the right to free trade between ‘persons at a distance’, invoked by Europeans to demand access to non-European markets and territories. On the Law of War and Peace also provides a legal justification of slavery as part of natural law and the law of nations. In the author’s view, those who are defeated in a just war can be enslaved under the law of nations, while human beings may also ‘voluntarily’ submit to slavery under natural law. Moreover, the children of the enslaved inherit the unfree status of their parents according to On the Law of War and Peace.

The aim of this workshop is to explore the many connections between Grotius’ thinking about natural law and the law of nations and his full-throated defense of European expansion overseas and slavery. We invite contributors to critically examine these connections by addressing the imperialist and colonialist readings of Grotius’ theory of natural rights, just war, property, unequal treaties and alliances, monopoly contracts, slavery, and the role of private actors (e.g., trading companies). We specifically welcome contributions that engage with the following questions:

  • What were non-European responses to, or engagement with, such imperialist and colonialist readings? For instance, how did East-Indian rulers receive and interpret, or indeed resist, Grotian conceptualizations of natural rights and (monopoly) contracts? Were alternative conceptualizations proposed to contest Grotius’ justification of slavery?
  • What was the relationship between the ‘Grotian tradition of international law’ and colonial practices in the early modern and modern eras? How were Grotian discourses of international law used to justify colonial warfare, native dispossession and slavery in the Americas, Asia and Africa between the 17th and 20th centuries? For instance, how did Grotian ideas about natural law, freedom of trade and humanitarianism (protecting the oppressed from inhumane treatment) contribute to justifying colonial warfare, and what role did private trading companies play in these wars?

In addressing questions like these, we seek to understand the ambivalent relation between, on the one hand, Grotius’ innovate contributions to international law and humanitarianism, and, on the other hand, the use of his concepts to justify (Western) colonialism and imperialism.


A paper proposal of max. 300 words should be sent to and The deadline for submissions is January 15th, 2024. Applicants will be notified by February 26th, 2024 whether their paper proposal has been accepted or not. The organizing committee will use two criteria in the selection of paper proposals: intellectual quality and potential fit with the workshop theme. The workshop is meant to be interdisciplinary and small-scale, allowing plenty of time for discussion and interaction. Available slots are limited. However, the committee’s aim is to invite speakers from diverse backgrounds (age, geography, gender, and career status).

The workshop takes place on location. Speakers who are unable to participate in person may do so online. Unfortunately, the organizing committee is not able to cover the costs of accommodation or travel. Selected speakers are requested to obtain funding themselves. Each speaker will be given a 30-minutes time slot, which includes 20 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for questions and discussion. Our aim is to publish (revised versions of) the presented papers in a leading international journal related to Grotius, the history of international law, or the history of colonialism.

Organizing Committee

Inge Van Hulle (Leuven University and Max Planck Institute, Frankfurt am Main)

Martine van Ittersum (University of Dundee)

Jacob Giltaij (University of Amsterdam)

Jeroen Vervliet (Max Planck Institute, Luxembourg)

Marc de Wilde (University of Amsterdam)

Organisation: University of Amsterdam and others
Deadline: 15/01/2024

PhD Graduation

The Centre for Legal History is delighted to note that Matthew Cleary has graduated with his doctorate at the graduation ceremony of the Edinburgh Law School on 1 December 2023. The title of his thesis is “Testamentary Law in England, c. 1450-1540”. His primary supervisor was Dr Guido Rossi. Matthew is currently a Senior Research Fellow on the Heisenberg Project: Grotius Census Bibliography at the Max-Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International law at the University of Heidelberg. The December graduation is one when many research and masters students graduate because of the structure of the academic year. As often for the December graduation, it was a beautifully sunny but rather cold day. The photo shows Matthew in front of the McEwan Hall, the aula magna of Edinburgh University, completed in 1897, specially designed for graduation ceremonies, the gift to the University of Sir William McEwan. The Hall has a richly decorated interior and a wonderful organ. McEwan, a major beer magnate, was a politician and noted philanthropist. We congratulate Matthew.


Tamar Herzog, Helsinki

Professor Tamar Herzog (Harvard University) will give a lecture in the Helsinki Legal History Series with the title “Slaves as Outsiders, Slaves as Things: Understanding Enslavement in a Global and Early Modern Context”. The lecture is organized by the Comparing Early Modern Colonial Laws -project (prof. Heikki Pihlajamäki) together with the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives (Kaius Tuori).

Date and time: Tuesday 12 December, 15.00-16.30 (GB 13.00-14.30)

Place: Porthania (Faculty Room, P545) and online via zoom.

Tamar Herzog is one of the leading historians of early modern law and colonial legal history. Her recent books include A Short History of European Law: The Last Two and a Half Milennia (2018, Harvard University Press) and Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (2015, Harvard University Press).

We wish you all warmly welcome! A zoom link for the event for those joining us online:


Meeting ID: 629 0901 4431
Passcode: 086940

Rare Books Course, Yale 9-14 June, 2024

Kathryn James and Mike Widener will be co-teaching the Rare Book School course, “Law Books: History and Connoisseurship,” at the Yale Law School next summer, June 9-14. Drawing on the Yale Law Library’s outstanding rare book collection, the course offers an intensive week-long introduction to the history of law materials in print and manuscript, and to developing and using historical collections for teaching and research. Kathryn James became the Yale Law Library’s rare book librarian in 2021 upon Mike Widener’s retirement. If you’ve waited and wondered about the course, know that this will be the last opportunity to take the class with Mike Widener, who will be hanging up his Rare Book School boots on June 15 after fourteen years.

Details of registration are available on the Rare Book School website.

For those readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with the Rare Book School, it has done much to spread knowledge of the importance of the proper study of books to many scholarly disciplines. The website indicates the range of activities. If Mike is ending his work for the summer course, one hopes he will continue other activities, as there are few around who are so learned and charismatic as propagandist for the proper study of books, printing, book culture and what they tell us about past and present.


Alan Watson Seminar in Comparative Legal History: Fernanda Pirie – Why Study Tibetan Law?

About the speaker

Fernanda Pirie uses anthropological and comparative methods to compare legal practices and texts from around the world. She has carried out ethnographic fieldwork at both ends of the Tibetan plateau and also conducted historical work on Tibetan legal texts.

The Rule of Laws: a 4,000-year quest to order the world (Profile Books, Basic Books, 2021), her most recent book, is a global history of law. It traces the rise and fall of the world’s major legal systems and compares examples of historic law-making worldwide.

In her earlier monograph, The Anthropology of Law (OUP, 2013), Fernanda addresses the nature of law as a social form, as well as analysing its role in societies. This approach builds on themes and debates developed in the Oxford Legalism project, a collaboration between scholars from anthropology, history, and other disciplines, which produced four edited volumes (Legalism, OUP, 4 vols).

Fernanda’s research on Tibetan legal texts was funded by the AHRC and established a web-site containing source material ( as well as several publications on the nature of Tibetan law and its relationship with Buddhism. She has also has worked with historians of the region in two ANR/DFG projects to develop the social history of Tibet.

This event is a hybrid event.

Register to attend online.

Register to attend in person

Helsinki Legal History Series, Spring 2024

The details of the forthcoming series can be found here

More information about the past and upcoming individual seminars on the EuroStorie website or through EuroStorie’s social media channels. 


decock banner

When: Tuesday, 28 November 2023, 3:00pm-4:30pm (UTC+3).

Where: Porthania Building, Faculty Room P545, University of Helsinki. You can also join us online via Zoom:

Title of the lecture:  Money, Markets and Merit: The Legal and Economic Thought of Leonardus Lessius

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 629 0901 4431
Passcode: 086940

MacQueen, Legal Consciousness

This Blog is pleased to note the publication of Law and Legal Consciousness in Medieval Scotland by Hector MacQueen, Professor Emeritus of Private Law in the University of Edinburgh. It is published by Brill in both E-book (ISBN 978-90-04-68376-1) and  Hardback format (ISBN 978-90-04-51228-3) at €163.00 in its series Medieval Law and Its Practice.

Professor MacQueen is the foremost historian of medieval Scots law, and indeed the prominent leader in Scottish legal history more generally. This standing was quickly established from the writing of his thesis under the supervision of W. David H. Sellar and Geoffrey Barrow, published as Common Law and Feudal Society in Medieval Scotland in 1993, reprinted as an Edinburgh Classic in 2016, with a foreword by Andrew Simpson, who quoted the late Alan Harding’s just remark remark that the work ‘one of [the] most penetrating studies yet produced of any period of Scottish legal history’.

Though Common Law and Feudal Society is work of immense importance, Professor MacQueen has written other penetrating studies of medieval Scots law in chapters, essays and articles in which he has reframed and reformed our understanding of medieval Scots law through profound reflection and research. I have not checked the number, but the majority of these have now been gathered, some revised, in the new book.

This new collection along with the published version of his thesis give the definitive account of law in medieval Scotland.



“Empire of Correspondence: Roman Imperial Letters as Literature and State Messaging, 31 B.C.E.–534 C.E.”, October 4–5 2024

The Board of the Roman Epistulae Project (Serena Connolly of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Elsemieke Daalder of the University of Münster, Zachary Herz of the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Matthijs Wibier of the University of Cincinnati) invites submitted abstracts for a conference entitled “Empire of Correspondence: Roman Imperial Letters as Literature and State Messaging, 31 B.C.E.–534 C.E.” to be held in Boulder, CO on October 4–5 2024.

Conference Description:

Roman emperors used correspondence not only to administer one of the largest territorial empires in the history of the world, but also to generate a widely-distributed and -consumed chronicle of their affect and moral reasoning. At the same time, recipients deployed these letters as trump cards in smaller-scale local conflicts, building blocks of a nascent system of positive law, and relics commemorating brushes with a god. These letters performed several different roles simultaneously within Roman social and political life, but contemporary scholarship has generally considered them narrowly, as part of the histories of specific political and social institutions like ‘Roman law.’ Empire of Correspondence seeks to bring together humanists from different regions and disciplines to think about the role of imperial correspondence in constituting Roman society, and accordingly in developing ideas of sovereignty and fairness that would animate centuries of European political thought.

Accordingly, the Board welcomes submissions on the roles played by imperial correspondence in social and political life during the Roman imperial period, including but not limited to the following sorts of research questions:

How did imperial replies function in the context of smaller-scale local disputes, and how does this reception process change over time and place?

-What made imperial correspondence so meaningful to its recipients, and what did this correspondence do to inform popular conceptions of a responsive or engaged imperial presence?

-Do changes in the infrastructure governing the production and dissemination of imperial letters affect their social afterlives? 

Thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), funding is available for speaker travel and accommodation; the Board anticipates publishing conference proceedings. Keynote addresses will be delivered by Clifford Ando of the University of Chicago (title TBD) and by Serena Connolly (“Fergus Millar’s ‘Treasure House’”). Interested presenters should e-mail a curriculum vitae and an abstract of no more than 500 words to by January 1, 2024. All inquiries may be addressed to Zachary Herz, at the above address or at Please feel free to forward widely; we welcome submissions from graduate students and early-career researchers, and from a variety of disciplinary homes. Thank you for your consideration,

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