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Lectures for A Medieval Survey
Lynn H. Nelson
minima non curat lex
By 1300, medieval law was no longer dominated by personality, local custom, trial by ordeal, kinship and compurgation, wergeld, or individual rights of judgment. Two powerful and often conflicting legal systems had emerged, however, and an increasing portion of the population were gaining the power to make law.
During the thirteenth century, law developed a greater complexity and sophistication. This was partly the result of new influences, a new outlook, and the general crystalization of society.
Thirteenth-century society was much less flexible and tolerant than twelfth-century society had been. The challenges of popular heresies, the "excesses" of philosophical speculation, the actions of Frederick II, and other conflicts had led to a general desire for harmony and order -- the gothic cathedrals, summa theologiae, inquisition, etc. The basic function of law is to make human actions more regular and predictable, hence the increased prominence of law.
The realist philosophy held that justice was a real thing independent of human will that could be discovered by the application of reason. Divine law was the ultimate will of God, unknowable except through revelation; natural law was the set of regulations through which God governed the phyical universe; human law was the attempt of human beings to discover and observe the regulations that God had established for the proper governing of mankind.
There were several powers that attempted to exert their authority through legal codes.
The centralized monarchies were forced to ally with the middle class in order to eliminate the power of the aristocracy, diminish that of the church, and gain the tax money they needed. This led to the rise of representative assemblies that were often able to gain concessions from the monarchs.
These concessions ran counter to the realist concept of the origin of law and justice, but became extremely important, allowing the growth of municipal law, business law, and the increasing sophistication of the corporations that had replaced the kindred as the integrating force in society.
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