This text joins one of the earliest copies of the second version of the Latin treatise known now as the Leges Edwardi Confessoris (ECf2) with a selection of chapters taken from the Consiliatio Cnuti (Cons Cn) along with a small amount of potentially original material. The whole collection is presented in its single witness as one text, and the selection made from the Consiliatio reveals something of the agenda of the compiler. These added chapters increase the size of the Leges Edwardi by almost 50%. The emphasis of the collection is royal secular law, mostly procedural, and includes new information on suretyship. It likely dates from the third quarter of the twelfth century, though where it was created is unknown.

Digital edition

Edited by Bruce O'Brien


Other versions of this law

Text filiations


by Bruce O'Brien

Just as preconquest compilers of law codes combined elements of earlier codes to create new codes for their own age, so also some twelfth-century legal writers took the materials of earlier codes to create new treatises for their time. One such creation is what I call the Holkham Leges Edwardi. This treatise, surviving in a single manuscript, combines a copy of the second versions of the Leges Edwardi (ECf2) with a selection of chapters taken from a copy of a translation of Cnut’s laws known as the Consiliatio Cnuti (Cons Cn). While the text of the Leges Edwardi is, except for frequent stylistic revisions, a copy of one hyparchetype of ECf2, the selection of chapters from Cons Cn was chosen by the compiler to complement and expand ECf2’s treatment of procedure.

In the past, this text has been treated as a distinct code and an appendix rather than as a single creation. That approach may be true to the independence of the elements, but it ignores the editorial choice of a twelfth-century compiler who intended a version of one code and a selection of chapters from another code to be joined. As a unified text, the Holkham Leges Edwardi becomes an important witness to the interests of readers of law in the late twelfth century. This is particularly valuable because the sole extant copy was made no more than a decade before the time of the composition of Glanvill.

This combined text has been studied only once as an integral text, in my forthcoming article ‘An English book of laws from the time of Glanvill’, in Making the Common Law–Institutions, Lawyers and Texts: Studies in Medieval Legal History in Honour of Paul Brand, ed. S. Jenks and J. Rose (Leiden: Brill [forthcoming, July 2012]). It is from this study that the following description comes.

Manuscript description.

The manuscript holding the Holkham Leges Edwardi, London, British Library, Additional 49366, is an encyclopaedia of English law, whose origin and medieval provenance are unknown; in the early modern period, it was owned by Matthew Parker (1504-1575) and the chief justice, Edward Coke (1552-1634). One possible clue to its origin is the northern dialect forms of some of the Old English terms and maxims which occur in ECf2 Hk. This may not be the work of the Holkham manuscript scribe, however, and so provides unsure ground on which to establish where the manuscript was copied. The manuscript’s pages are smaller (152–56 x 108–110 mm) than those of most other secular lawbooks of the twelfth century, though similar to some books of canon law. It now consists of 117 folios of the original medieval manuscript, to which have been added 12 early-modern vellum quires. Six scribes and at least two rubricators worked on the manuscript. The first text copied in the book (fols. 17-105), is Quadripartitus, written by one scribe using a Pregothic bookhand resembling those of the third quarter of the twelfth century, a workaday product marked by a few coloured initials for individual codes and differently colored capitals for some individual chapters in those codes. This scribe was working in the third quarter of the twelfth century, perhaps, according to Michael Gullick, nearer the middle than the end of this quarter (Patrick Wormald, ‘Quadripartitus’, in Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy: Essays in Honour of Sir James Holt, ed. George Garnett and John Hudson (Cambridge, 1994), p. 118 note 22). The next text, known as Ulpianus de edendo, was copied by three scribes who began their work on the last folios of the quire holding the end of Quadripartitus and completed it on the last folio of a newly added quire. The Ulpianus scribes were at work early in the fourth quarter of the twelfth century. The last two texts, the Leis Willelme and a significantly enlarged copy of the Leges Edwardi, were added on new quires by a single scribe near the time Ulpianus was added to Quadripartitus. This manuscript reached its final size within a very short span of time, most likely during a brief writing campaign in the middle years of Henry II’s reign. The compiler’s choice of texts at such a time of legal innovation begs some scrutiny.

The last text in the manuscript is the Holkham Leges Edwardi. What is special about the Holkham lawbook version is that it does not end with chapter 39 like other copies of the second version, but continues seamlessly with chapters selected from a Latin translation of Cnut’s laws known as the Consiliatio Cnuti, a selection which increases the Leges Edwardi’s size by about 40 percent.

It is possible that this copy is in fact the autograph, though it is more likely a copy of that (or of an archetype). Scribal errors occur throughout, and could very well be the result of transferring the draft of the text from its possible location on wax tablets to the Additional manuscript. MS Hk along with MS Hr (BL, Harley 1704) are witnesses to a lost hyparchetype of ECf2. Hr includes not only ECf2 but also the only complete and independent text of Cons Cn. While Hr’s compiler chose to keep the texts distinct—reflecting better their state in the hyparchetype—Hk’s used the opportunity to rearrange the two texts to create something rather different. Of course, it may be that one or more copies of both ECf2 and Cons Cn once existed between the hyparchetype and the manuscript witnesses, so the above explanation for the origin of the Holkham Leges Edwardi is offered as merely one possibility.

These additions to the Leges Edwardi appear to have been carefully selected because they intentionally change the text in various ways. Some added chapters cover matters not mentioned in the Leis Willelme and Leges Edwardi. Others cover much the same ground, but often with some variation in procedure or penalty. Some Consiliatio chapters have been revised from how they appeared in the Consiliatio, usually by the inclusion of a gloss to explain something merely mentioned, or mentioned cryptically, in the original Consiliatio (e.g., see Cons Cn II. 8; II. 19-20; and I. 17 in Liebermann, Consiliatio, pp. 7, 11, 12-13). Lastly, the creator of this combined text has added new material (fols. 154v, 155r), not borrowed from any known source, describing the various kinds of tithing-groups in England as well as the meaning of, and procedure used for, the foreoath (preiuramentum).

Editorial method

This edition presents the text as it appears in its manuscript witness with almost no editorial interventions. I have not supplied text missing from either of the text’s sources, ECf2 or Cons Cn, as the text may also have been missing from the copies of the sources used by the creator of the treatise. The omissions are, however, noted in the commentary. I have also supplied continuous numeration of chapters for the whole text. More information on MS Hk, MS Hr, and both ECf2 and Cons Cn can be found elsewhere on this website (see Manuscripts, Texts).


The translation assumes the text made sense to readers, even when it was marred by solecisms. I have signalled in the commentary whenever a passage is problematic.