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Law professor to present paper
Law professor to present paper at Oxford on Medieval judiciary
Professor Jonathan Rose
A decade of work in the field of English legal history has earned Professor Jonathan Rose an invitation to deliver a paper this summer at a prestigious conference at the University of Oxford.
Rose, a Willard H. Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, will present “The Law of Maintenance: The Judicial Development of the Law,” at the 18th British Legal History Conference: Judges and Judging, July 2-5. He will join speakers from the United Kingdom, the United States and around the world tracing the history of English law from the medieval era to the present.
Rose said the study of legal history is time-consuming and tedious, but also rewarding. “Discovering the intellectual history of the law is critical to understanding the development of legal institutions and doctrine,” he said.
To do research on medieval and early modern English legal history, “You have to know Medieval Latin and Law French, (a language created by lawyers based on the contemporary French spoken by the English) as well as paleography,” Rose said. “Most of this requires spending hours working in the original manuscript court records in The National Archives, which has more than 9 million court, military and family records, and in The British Library.”
In addition to these official records, the sources used by legal historians include the reports of cases, which often includes recorded dialogue between judges and attorneys, and contemporary books such as treatises or abridgements penned by attorneys and judges, as well as letters and other private documents relating to the estates and land holdings of institutions and important and wealthy families and individuals.
In his research for the paper he is presenting at the conference at Oxford, Rose used these various types of sources to examine how judges in medieval England developed the law of maintenance. Maintenance was a kind of illegal conduct that involved supporting the litigation of another person. Although various statutes prohibited such conduct, they were very general. But judges, through their decisions, developed the details by defining the illegal conduct, creating certain defenses, and identifying the line between legitimate and illegitimate conduct.
Rose’s interest in these matters grew out of a sabbatical he took in 2002, spending a semester at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford, where he became the first academic lawyer to examine in detail the papers of Sir John Fastolf, which are deposited in the Magdalen archives. Fastolf was a wealthy 15th Century knight and successful military commander in the wars with France. His wealth and substantial land holdings brought him into conflict, mostly over property rights, with the East Anglian political establishment. This conflict involved substantial litigation, and in the Fastolf Papers, Rose discovered a 10,000-word Latin document that was a record of 12 years of litigation expenses between Fastolf and his adversaries.
Rose called it a “treasure trove,” because it contains so much detail about 15th century litigation, lawyers and the legal system.
“It was fascinating and exciting to find all this detailed information about lawyer fees and expenses, other litigation expenses and the process of litigation,” he said. “It contains everything from a few pence to a clerk for copying a document to a bribe of the Chief Justice of England.”
Rose said he has shown this document to many of the leading English history scholars, and no one has ever seen anything like it.
Rose emended this document to its proper Latin and then translated it into English. He then used it to write three articles, including the paper he is presenting, and he also hopes to write a book about litigation in the 15th Century using the document as the basis.
After the British Legal History Conference, Rose will stay in London for three weeks to do further research at The National Archives on various aspects of law and litigation during the 14th and 15th centuries. His research will be focused on examining original court records at The National Archives to find further information on the law of maintenance and the Fastolf litigation.
Over the years, Rose has written several articles about English legal history for publications at The University of Chicago Law School, the Association of American Law Schools and The Journal of Legal History, among others.