The first version of the Latin treatise known now as the Leges Edwardi Confessoris, was not issued by King Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), but is an anonymous composition perhaps originating in Lincoln or more generally in the northern Danelaw, and written in the 1130s. It concerns different aspects of the peace of the Church and king, as well as enforcement of the peace. It appears to derive from no written Old English texts, but instead is an original witness to contemporary law.

Digital edition

Edited by Bruce O'Brien

  • The first ever edition of this text appears here at Early English Laws. Felix Liebermann’s and Bruce O’Brien’s editions of version 2 include version 1 readings in the apparatus and text.


Other versions of this law


by Bruce O'Brien

The treatise known as the Leges Edwardi Confessoris survives in several versions, all from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. This edition is the first ever of the earliest version of the Leges Edwardi, which was likely produced some time early in the reign of King Stephen. The treatise represents a regional understanding of the customs an episcopal see in the Danelaw would have to understand in the management of its estates and people. The most recent study of this treatise, my God’s Peace and King’s Peace: The Laws of Edward the Confessor (Philadelphia, 1999), provides the most detailed study of its origin and contents. The following introduction is derived from that study and concerns the structure of the treatise and the relationship of the witnesses to the text.

Development of the Text

Despite the claims of the treatise, the laws of this treatise (hereafter ECf1) are not in any sense the laws of the Danes, Norwegians, English, Welsh, and Picts living under William I, let alone a record of all the English customs that had force under the Confessor. Instead, the ‘laws and customs’ in the Leges Edwardi concern different aspects of the peace or, better, the types of legally established peace and security that the Church and king had power to create and administer. This choice means that many subjects of law do not appear, as they rarely occasioned any breach of peace—land law is the most visible omission. The author has not signaled his focus on peace in any obvious way; no title or rubrics announce it. The earliest versions of the Leges Edwardi occur as running text without rubrics (except at c. 27) marking the different aspects of the peace. Nevertheless, the first version, consisting of thirty-four chapters (ending at 34.1a), falls rather neatly into five reasonably distinct parts, including prologue and epilogue. The three that form the substantive body of the treatise are all devoted to some aspect of the peace, royal, or ecclesiastical. The divisions are as follows:

[Prologue (Prol.)]

1. Peace of God and Holy Church (1–11)

2. Peace of the king (12–19)

3. Enforcing the peace (20–33)

[Epilogue (34)]

The first section, on ‘the peace of God and Holy Church’, is a collage of a continental text of the peace of God and regulations governing sanctuary from a Carolingian capitulary, pasted onto what appear to be original accounts of English customs, which, incidentally, differ little in thrust from the imposed foreign texts. The author construed this ‘peace of God and Holy Church’ broadly enough to cover matters from the inviolability of churches to the conduct of ordeals. He has bound these chapters together by emphasizing the responsibility of royal justices to support the Church's power to punish those who broke its peace. Thus, the author concluded, ‘will the sword justly help the sword’.

The treatment of the royal peace that follows the peace of God mirrors the Church's peace in outline — a basic definition followed by special conditions or aspects. The parallel images supply an internal symmetry. For example, as those traveling to churches for prayer are protected by the peace of God and the Church, so those journeying on the king's roads and waterways are under his peace. Noticeably absent, though entirely consistent with how the Church's pax had been handled, is any discussion of the abstract legal meaning of grið 'peace' or any mention of its double or cousin, mund 'protection, peace'. The author did not state principles; he did not imagine that the applications he described would have had greater clarity had he done so. For the author to have abstracted such principles would have made him stand out from almost all of his peers. Instead of principles, the author described some of the circumstances in which the peace of the king can be broken. He provided only a selection from the many possibilities — for instance, breach of a peace received from the king's hand (the kingeshanz) is mentioned, but not the king's peace given by an earl or sheriff.

Finally, the author turned in the third section to enforcement of the peace and addressed the question, Who is looking after whom? Here the weight of enforcement is placed on various forms of suretyship: the permanent liability of friborg or frankpledge, the temporary liability of hospitality, and the special responsibility of the king to protect the Jews. There is also some discussion of the officials who governed the peace and judged offenders, as well as of the fine levels in the Danelaw and in areas under English law. The author's mention of the large fines levied in the Danelaw provides the transition to the series of events in the epilogue, namely, William I's wish to impose that fine and all other Norwegian laws, the immediate outcry of his English nobles, and his accession to their request that he confirm the laws of Edward that they had just recited.

Surprisingly, the author made no visible use of texts of Anglo-Saxon law, as had most of the other treatise writers. Felix Liebermann, who edited the studied the text in the alte nineteenth century, thought that perhaps a few chapters were derived from contemporary treatises or acts. For example, he thought that chapter 2.9 might have been derived from William I's writ separating ecclesiastical and royal pleas. More obviously, the Leges' chapter 10 appears to have come from the same written source as Leis Willelme's chapter 17. However, these are exceptions. The author seems, as Liebermann put it, not to have troubled himself in the least to discover what had already been written about preconquest law. Except for these few resemblances and an infrequent appearance of a continental source, the treatise constitutes a description in the author's own words of the laws and customs of England.

The Leges Edwardi began to circulate in this thirty-four-chapter form. Six manuscripts attest to this. Whether this circulation was planned or not is difficult to say. It was the habit of classical and medieval authors to circulate their work privately as or as if a draft. Geoffrey of Monmouth and John of Salisbury both did so. Ralph Niger, the twelfth-century English chronicler, urged William, archbishop of Rheims, ‘to have his book De re militari examined to see if it contained any error’. In like manner or with similar intent the author of the Leges Edwardi might have passed around a draft of his work. But it may also be the case that it was released without any plan and before its completion. Guernes of Pont-Sainte-Maxence claimed that the first version of his Life of Thomas Becket ‘was stolen from me by scribes before I had corrected and finished it, before I had balanced the bitter and the sweet or shortened the passages that were too long. It is sometimes incorrect and is not complete’. The earliest version of the Leges may represent a similarly unauthorized release.

Manuscript witnesses.

Ad London, British Library, Additional MS 24066, fols. 213–219. 180 × 125–30 mm. Written space: 130 × 80 mm. 29 long lines. Collation: 14 2–98 106 11–1412 1510 16–1812 198 20–2212 138. The manuscript includes late twelfthor early-thirteenth-century texts of Glanvill (fols. 5–73; quires 2–9) and the Leges Edwardi (quire 23), between which has been inserted a fourteenth-century collection of statutes. At the time these later quires were inserted, the first quire, which was blank except for a fourteenth-century note introducing Glanvill (now fol. 4), was turned over and a new table of contents was written on fol. 2. In all other manuscripts of this family, a beta text of Glanvill is followed immediately by a text of the first version of the Leges Edwardi; they likely were joined in this manuscript as well. Although they are separated here, the facts that they share the same rubricator and that the quires holding them could easily be brought together if the intervening quires were removed argue this. Glanvill and the Leges were planned and executed at the same time, though different scribes were responsible for the layout and writing of each. The copies were made not long after Glanvill's treatise was composed (by 1187 or 1189); the script of both texts suggests that they were probably copied at the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century. The Leges ends on fol. 219, with the rest of 219r and 219v filled with later statutes, the Provisions of Merton (1236), and the Assize of Bread, all in a late-fourteenth-century hand that was not one of the six hands responsible for the statutes inserted between Glanvill and the Leges Edwardi. Immediately after these statutes, on fol. 220v, is a poem, mostly illegible, which complains of legal changes in England; the hand of the poem is not the hand that copied Glanvill or the Leges Edwardi, but it is contemporary or slightly later.

Ck Cambridge, University Library, Kk. 5. 33, fols. 111–18 (or sequentially 69–77). For quires with the Leges Edwardi: 209 × 162 mm; written space: 133–42 × 110–15 mm. 22–26 long lines. Collation: 1–512 612 with additional quire of 8 (fols. 111–18) bound between fols. 68 and 69 7–912 108. A late-sixteenth-century quire containing a copy of the version 1 of the Leges has been inserted into this late-thirteenth-century manuscript which contains not a beta but an alpha text of Glanvill (fols. 1–69). The remaining quires of the original volume contain a register of writs, Magna Carta 1225, the Charter of the Forest 1225, the Assize of Bread, and lists of world dioceses and English bishoprics. The manuscript finishes with another late-sixteenth-or early-seventeenth-century addition, the Roll of Battle Abbey, which was likely forged in the fifteenth century. In ca. 1400, the manuscript belonged to Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire.

Do Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 137, fols. 91av [sic]–94v. Description of fols. 40–96 only: 230–35 × 165–70 mm. Written space: 168 × 113 mm. Double cols. 30 lines/page. Collation (for all folios): 14 212 wants 1, probably blank (fols. 5–15) 3–412 5–88 9–1010 11–138. The present binding contains three separate manuscripts. The first manuscript contains a legal miscellany and the third a register of writs in French. The second manuscript (quires 5–9) holds a beta text of Glanvill (fols. 40–91av) and a text of version 1 of the Leges Edwardi, both written by the same scribe, along with several royal charters in Latin and French and lists of counties, cities, and parish churches by three contemporary scribes. The script of the Leges appears to date from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. The churches in one of the lists which follow the Leges (fol. 96r) were located in Berkshire and some, perhaps all, belonged to Reading Abbey in the late thirteenth century, which suggests that the manuscript originated there or at least was in the possession of someone concerned with Reading's estates soon after its copying.

Ls London, Law Society, MS 1, pp. 158–73. 155 × 107–10 mm. Written space: 102–105 × 62–67 mm. 26–30 long lines. Collation: 1–108 118 wants 1, probably blank 128 wants 8 (all blank except fol. 7v). This copy of an early beta text of Glanvill (fols. 1–79v) and an early first-version text of the Leges Edwardi had been owned successively by the Chief Justice, Sir James Dyer (1512–82), George Writhington, Francis Tate (1560–1616), the herald John Anstis (1669–1744), and the antiquaries Richard Blyke (d. 1775) and John Topham (1746–1803) before the archivist and antiquary William Illingworth, its last individual owner, donated it to the Law Society on 14 April 1832. Both texts have the same layout and were written by the same scribe in the last decade of the twelfth or early in the thirteenth century. The Leges is followed by the text of a writ in French, written ca. 1300, and some Latin verses written in the fourteenth century complete the manuscript. Liebermann was not aware of Ls's existence.

No Alnwick Castle, Duke of Northumberland, MS 445, fols. 99v–103. Double cols. 34–37 lines/page. This legal collection dates by script from the fourteenth century. The manuscript includes a French translation of Glanvill (fols. 1–48), a register of writs (fols. 49–60) and legal notes (61–62), a Latin beta text of Glanvill (62–99), a first-version text of the Leges, homilies, notes on taxes, a memorandum, verses, and recipes.

Wo Worcester Cathedral, Dean and Chapter MS F. 87, fols. 20v–22. 345 × 205 mm. Written space: 260 × 160 mm. Double cols. 48–61 lines/page. Collation: 112 212 wants 11, 12 312 416 5–1412 1510 1612 1714 1812 wants 2 three former pastedowns (two of which are glued together). This manuscript contains three legal treatises copied during the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century: a beta text of Glanvill (fols. 1–20v), a text of the first version of the Leges Edwardi, and Bracton's De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (fols. 23–217v). The Leges Edwardi was clearly the poor relation of the other two treatises; where they received elaborately decorative initials and rubrics and have margins replete with notes, the Leges has only a rubricated title, one initial (the ‘P’ in its first word), and a number of slight chapter marks. Additional red lines mark breaks in the text at expected and unexpected places. While the other two treatises show evidence of use, the only medieval note in the margins of the Leges (fol. 20v) proclaims ‘Qui capit uxorem tunc induit ille dolorem’. The scribe who copied the Leges Edwardi, who may have written that note, also copied Glanvill and the beginning of Bracton (up to fol. 26). The rest of Bracton's treatise was completed by a number of different scribes. At the beginning and end of the manuscript there are texts identified by N. R. Ker as concerning the Welsh affairs of Griffin ap Rees (ca. 1340) and the cathedral priory's agriculture.

Relationship of the witnesses

Version 1 ends at c. 34. 1a and is witnessed by six manuscripts: Ad (s.xii/xiii), Ck (s.xvi ex.), Do (s.xiii/xiv), Ls (s.xii/xiii), No (s. xiv), and Wo (s.xiii/xiv). Two of these texts, Do and No, are especially close, as is shown by the common errors they share against all other manuscripts. In the following lists of errors or variants, beta represents the second version of the Leges Edwardi (ECf2).

c. 1.1

ubicumque fuerint (fuerunt Ad) Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; om. Do No

c. 2.8a

ad emendationem Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; causa emendationis Do No


cogatur Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; compellatur Do No

c. 18.2

se transituros Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; transfretaturos Do No

c. 27.2

de istis enim habebat (habet zeta) rex Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; de hiis enim habebat dominus rex Do No

c. 30.3

et (etiam epsilon) de armis Ad Ck Cl Ls Wo beta; om. Do No

Therefore, Do and No share a common hyparchetype, here called theta (θ, theta). The other four texts of version 1 (Ad, Ck, Ls, and Wo) present what is generally a more accurate text. Nevertheless, these four are not independent witnesses to the archetype, as there are a number of errors that suggest that all four are descended from another hyparchetype, kappa (κ). Kappa exhibits shared errors against theta in places where both kappa and theta differ from the texts of Cl and ECf2.

Prol. 1

nil beta; uel Cl; uideri kappa; om. theta

c. 5.3

confugerit Cl beta (except Hr); fugerit kappa Hr; effugerit theta

c. 8.2

redditionem Cl beta; reddendum kappa; reddere theta

c. 32

uidetur Cl beta; putatur kappa; om. theta

c. 3.1

est enim (om. Hk) theta Cl beta; enim est kappa

c. 15.6

illius add. kappa

c. 19

adiutrices theta Cl beta; adiuuatrices kappa

c. 27.2

rex c solidos theta Cl beta; c solidos rex kappa

c. 29

iudicabant theta Cl beta; iudicabunt kappa

Further evidence for kappa comes from the fact that occasionally theta preserves correct readings with texts of Cl and ECf2 against Ad, Ck, Ls, and Wo.

All of the extant witnesses to version 1, then, are probably descended from two hyparchetypes: kappa and theta. These witnesses enable the reconstruction of the archetype rather than the author's copy, since there are errors common to both kappa and theta in the prologue and at c. 30 that betray an archetype. In places, I have used ECf2 when either kappa and theta disagreed or when both families of witnesses to ECf1 made no sense--especially in those places where readings in ECf1 and ECf2 could easily have been the result of a misreading of an abbreviation.

Justification for an edition.

Until now the only way to piece together the text of ECf1 has been to reconstitute it from the apparatus of either Liebermann’s Gesetze, or my edition in God’s Peace, which no scholars have done. Liebermann did argue, and I concurred, that version 1 and version 2 were by the same author, and this conclusion put the final revised version, ECf2, forward as the appropriate text to edit as the author’s definitive statement of English law. Nevertheless, ECf1 was a text in its own right—copied and disseminated some time before 1190. It was also the text chosen to accompany Glanvill, when, by any estimate, several texts of the Laga Edwardi were available for this purpose. For these reasons, it is offered here as a separate edition rather than as, in both Liebermann’s and my edition, as merely a supportive witness to the second version of the Leges Edwardi.


The translation offered here attempts to distinguish ECf1 from ECf2 wherever their texts diverge. Minor changes to verb tense have not always been easy to tranlate since the writers responsible for the archetype or autograph did not strictly follow the grammatical rules of Classical Latin. Nor has it been easy to know when the archetype intended pluperfect active or preterite subjunctive; in either case, differences in meaning in this text are slight.