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Monday, 20 November 2023

The Centre for English Legal History (CELH) has recently welcomed two new Faculty members with research interests in legal history: Dr Joe Sampson, University Assistant Professor in Legal History, and Dr Fleur Stolker, Herchell Smith Teaching/Research Fellow at Emmanuel College.


In 2023 the Selden Society published volumes 3 to 5 of Professor Sir John Baker's edition of Reports from the Notebooks of Edward Coke, covering the period 1591 to 1600. The notebooks, rediscovered by Sir John in the 1970s, show the development of Coke's legal ideas, and the later volumes include greater representation of public law and material, such as that concerning treason and religious offences, linked to contemporary concerns and Coke's tenure successively as solicitor-general and attorney-general. There is much material in the notebooks which did not appear in Coke's printed reports.

Professor David Ibbetson retired as Regius Professor of Civil Law in 2022, giving a valedictory lecture in the November of that year. He continues to publish articles on a wide range of topics in English and comparative legal history. Recently he has brought out a piece on the comparative history of unjust(ified) enrichment, tracing the ideas from Roman law, through medieval and early-modern legal systems, into nineteenth and twentieth century western and eastern Europe, America (north and south) and East Asia. A second piece appeared on the idea of conscience in the early English Chancery. In the press are another article on the semantics of conscience in medieval English law; an article on the development of rules relating to warranties of quality in the English sale of goods in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; a piece on John Wilkes and the award of punitive damages in tort; a study on the second chapter of Roman law's lex Aquilia and attempts to guess its content particularly by legal humanists; a short article on the teaching of Roman law in sixteenth-century Cambridge; and a study of the interplay between ideas of motive and reciprocity in the long history history of English contract law. Also due to appear in 2024 is a substantial multi-author book on the comparative history of ancient law, covering all systems which have left evidence before the seventh century AD, the result of a decade-long project of which he was co-principal investigator.

In 2023 the Selden Society published Professor Neil Jones's Selden Society lecture, 'Sixteenth-Century England: A View from the Trusts Cases', examining the contribution which a study of trusts litigation might make to a fuller understanding of sixteenth-century England, in particular in the areas of religion, family provision and personal finance. Professor Jones has also contributed chapters to two forthcoming volumes: a chapter in the sixteenth-century rise of the term 'equity' as a label for the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery in D. Foster and C. Mitchell eds, Essays on the History of Equity (Hart, forthcoming) and a chapter on the administration of estates in England before 1837 to K.G.C. Reid, J.P. Schmidt and R. Zimmermann eds., Administration of Estates, vol. 4 of the Comparative Succession Law series published by Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

Wider engagement

Members of the Centre continue to be engaged in legal historical activities beyond Cambridge. Professor Jones is Literary Director of the Selden Society (having succeeded Professor Sir John Baker in that role). The Selden Society, founded by F.W. Maitland and others in 1887 to encourage the study and advance the knowledge of the history of English law is the only learned society and publisher devoted entirely to English legal history and publishes annual volumes comprising editions of primary material from manuscript, often accompanied by substantial introductions.

Professors Ibbetson and Jones are members of the editorial committee of the Journal of Legal History, the leading British legal historical journal, and Professor Ibbetson is a member of the editorial committee of the journal Comparative Legal History. Members of the Centre took part August 2023 in a conference on early modern legal history, organised jointly by Professor Ibbetson and Professor Christian Burset of the University of Notre Dame, generously funded by the University of Notre Dame.

More information about the CELH is available on the Centre website.