The Strange Case of Early English Law

With the success of recent series such as Garrow’s Law or Silk, the subjects of law and legal history, which are often thought dry and dull, have been given an injection of colour and also a new, wider, audience. The Strange Case of the Law is the latest legal programme to hit our small screens and not only is it factual but it actually makes for good viewing.

Narrated by Harry Potter (no, not the wizard, the barrister!), the first episode traces the earliest history of English law and legal practice, from the reign of Æthelbert in the early seventh century through the reforms of Henry II and Magna Carta of 1215 to the end of the thirteenth century and the rise of the legal profession. It highlights documents such as the Textus Roffensis and, of course, Magna Carta, but also the language and landscape of law, and archaeological finds that reveal the more gruesome side of early English legal practice. The programme also features interviews with a number of well-known scholars – Carole Hough on compensation in Anglo-Saxon law codes; Andrew Reynolds on execution sites; John Hudson on the ordeal and Paul Brand on the financial exactions of Henry II.

There is nothing really strange in all of this, which did make me ponder the title of the programme, although I did find out about an unusual way of playing football. Nevertheless, the history of English law is the history of English society, as we’re told in one of the opening scenes, therefore, don’t miss the second instalment next Thursday on BBC 4 at 9pm.

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