Justice and mercy

Moral theology and the exercise of law in twelfth-century England

By Philippa Byrne

Justice and mercy


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5590-0
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £21.00
  • Published Date: June 2021
  • BIC Category: 12th century, c 1100 to c 1199, European history: medieval period, middle ages, RELIGION / Christian Theology / Ethics, LAW / Legal History, HISTORY / Medieval, The Plantaganents & medieval England, History of ideas, Humanities / History of religion, Legal History, Humanities / Medieval history, History of religion, Legal history, Medieval History, History, Systems of law: common law
  • Series: Artes Liberales


This book examines one of the most fundamental issues in twelfth-century English politics: justice. It demonstrates that during the foundational period for the common law, the question of judgement and judicial ethics was a topic of heated debate - a common problem with multiple different answers. How to be a judge, and how to judge well, was a concern shared by humble and high, keeping both kings and parish priests awake at night. Using theological texts, sermons, legal treatises and letter collections, the book explores how moralists attempted to provide guidance for uncertain judges. It argues that mercy was always the most difficult challenge for a judge, fitting uncomfortably within the law and of disputed value. Shining a new light on English legal history, Justice and mercy reveals the moral dilemmas created by the establishment of the common law.


'Justice and Mercy is a remarkable book.the book resounds with the historiographic traditions and conflicts among the different schools of legal history and of intellectual history, both in Britain and on the continent. While the author is obviously well aware of them, she manages to avoid the pitfalls of adding to these ongoing conflicts.'
Esther Cohen, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Medieval Review


Prologue: the vanishing adulteress
1 Introduction
2 The problem with mercy: the schools
3 The problem with mercy: the courts
4 Twelfth-century models of justice and mercy
5 Who should be merciful?
6 Judgement in practice: the Church
7 Histories of justice: the crown, persuasion and lordship
8 Love your enemies? Popular mercy in a vengeance culture
9 Conclusion


Philippa Byrne is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford

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