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The first history of how disputes of all kinds were managed in England before the Common Law.
It starts in prehistoric times, with archaeology, anthropology and genetics providing evidence of regular assemblies dealing with disputes. From Roman times onwards, documents allow a detailed, though partial, picture to be drawn. Not only does the literature describe how mediation and arbitration worked in practice, but a fragment survives of an award dated 14 November 114AD.
The sources grow more plentiful in Anglo-Saxon times. We can read a Wiltshire arbitrator’s full report in his own words of an arbitration in Alfred’s time and learn new tricks from an award made in Worcestershire a thousand years ago. Long after the Norman Conquest, the normal method of resolving disputes was still by public arbitration in traditional assemblies according to customary law. And a compromise could be mediated in the middle of a trial by battle, with one side’s champion concealing that he had lost his sight.
This interdisciplinary study uses all the surviving original sources with new translations, drawing on the work not only of historians but archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, geneticists and other natural scientists. It shows how natural and widespread mediation and arbitration have been in England since before history began. There is plenty of evidence of routine mediations and arbitrations in all manner of disputes: landownership, succession, ecclesiastical squabbles. A successful mediation after a prince had been killed led to peace between Northumbria and Mercia. There was no lack of techniques fashioned to fit, including expert determination and a sophisticated form of dispute management successfully avoiding a difference becoming a dispute.
To understand how disputes are managed, it is necessary to know what languages were used and how. An appendix deals with the many unsettled questions of the languages of the period, British (including Welsh), Latin, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman (French).