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The history of early medieval law is not, and cannot be, the same as the history of legislation. Law-codes and edicts in the post-Roman West were statements of law. But they were a better reflection of what kings and churchmen wished society to be than of what society experienced.
Up to a point this is true of any legal system. But the situation of the post-Roman West was unparalleled, in that a ""barbarian"" ruling-class, whose law had hitherto been unwritten, had taken over the immoral legal heritage of the Roman Empire. Thus, the leges issued by the Franks and Anglo-Saxons were fossilized memorials of the time when they were written, or else idealized versions of a social order that was upheld at local level by traditional means.
This collection of essays argues that the values of sub-Roman society were at odds with the images cultivated by the texts. At the same time, there is risk that scepticism about the relevence of the texts will encourage the view that early medieval law never broke the constraints imposed by immemorial tradition and elite consensus.
Patrick Wormald's case is that the same stimuli as encouraged the writing down of the law could also foster an aggressively interventionist approach to social behaviour. Its effect was that some western authorities had a much better sense of crime and punishment in the 12th century than they did in the 6th century.
These essays aim to establish that legal history is not just history of law, nor even that of society, but that of elite and popular culture in complex and creative symbiosis.