Leges Edwardi Confessoris

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The title Leges Edwardi Confessoris, or Laws of Edward the Confessor, refers to an English collection of 39 laws, purporting to date back to the time of Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042–1066), but did not appear in written form until the reign of King Stephen in the 12th century.[clarification needed]

Historical value[edit]

The prelude spuriously asserts that four years after the Conquest (1070), King William summoned twelve learned English noblemen from every shire to declare, under oath, the laws and customs of the nation in the time of King Edward the Confessor. No such event is known to have occurred. The anonymous author purports to record the Laga Eadwardi, or laws promulgated by King Edward, but Anglo-Saxon laws were last codified in Cnut's day. In fact, he does not display any first-hand knowledge of Anglo-Saxon law, which is neither cited or given in summary (unlike for instance, the Leges Henrici Primi).

The value of the compilation for our understanding of English law, both before and after the Conquest, needs to be sought elsewhere. The most recent editor, Bruce O'Brien, argues that what the work offers instead are "apparently original observations of and comments on the English law of the author's day." [1] The primary concerns of the text lay with the king's peace and the peace of the Holy Church, especially in the North Midlands and Yorkshire region bordering on the Danelaw. Although the emphasis is on common law, the same text shows that there were regional differences.

Article 12 presents a number of specific situations under which the king’s protection or peace (mund in Old English codes) could be established:

[12] Pax regia multiplex est; alia data manu sua, quam Angli uocant kinges hand salde grid; [12a] alia die qua primum coronatus est, ipsa habet viii dies; in Natali Domini viii dies et octo dies Pasche et octo Pentecostes; [12b] alia per breue suum data; [12c] alia quam habent iiii chemini, id est Watlingestrete, Fosse, Hykenildstrete, Erningstrete, quorum duo in longitudinem regni, alii uero in latitudinem distenduntur.
"[12] There are many types of the king's peace; one is given by his hand, which the English call kinges hand salde grid; [12a] another [is given] on the day on which he is first crowned — this one lasts for eight days; at Christmas eight days and eight days at Easter and eight days at Pentecost; [12b] another is given by his writ; [12c] another which the four roads have, that is Watling Street, Fosse Way, Iknield Way, and Ermine Street, of which two extend for the length of the kingdom, the others across the width." [2]

Other points of interest include references to the wapentake, the reeve of the riding, Peter's Pence, murder fines (murdrum), consciousness about England’s Saxon heritage, and the legal position of Jews in England.


Aided by the Confessor’s legendary reputation as a lawgiver, the compilation enjoyed considerable interest in medieval England. The text is found in a large number of manuscripts. Four recensions have been distinguished, two of which are revisions with additional material being grafted on to the core of the text.

A version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris was known to Henry de Bracton and to the barons and jurists responsible for the Magna Carta.


  1. ^ O'Brien, God's Peace, 29.
  2. ^ O'Brien (ed. and tr.), God's Peace.


  • O'Brien, Bruce R. (ed. and tr.) God's peace and king's peace: the laws of Edward the Confessor. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8122-3461-8

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources
  • Liebermann, Felix (ed.). Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen. 3 vols: vol 1. Halle, 1898–1916. 627-72.
  • Liebermann, Felix (tr.). Eine anglonormannische Übersetzung des 12. Jahrhunderts von Articuli Wilhelemi, Leges Eadwardi und Genealogia Normannorum. 1895.
  • Lambarde, William (ed.). Archaionomia. London, 1568.
Secondary sources
  • Barlow, Frank. Edward the Confessor. London, 1970.
  • Liebermann, Felix (ed.). Über die Leges Edwardi confessoris. Halle, 1896. Available from The Making of Modern Law (Gale, subscription required).
  • Wormald, Patrick. The Making of Anglo-Saxon Law. King Alfred to the Norman Conquest. Vol 1. Legislation and Its Limits. Oxford, 1999. 409-11.

External links[edit]