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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magnum Opus, 17 May 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and Its Limits v. 1 (Paperback)
There is nothing quite like this book. There is a footnote in it which must be one of the longest in existence. It concerns the fate of the German Felix Liebermann (1851-1925), whose Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (`The Laws of the Anglo-Saxons'), published in 1903, was universally admired, but whose academic career was ruined by the outbreak of the First World War. The fact that this footnote is the most entertaining passage in the book says a lot. Unfortunately, it is not otherwise a very `accessible' work. In fact it is almost unreadable - except by the specialist - unless the reader is aware of the subtext.

Patrick Wormald, who died prematurely in 2004, was a brilliant scholar, teacher and essayist. In 1969, he was awarded a `congratulatory' first class honours degree, and was elected as a prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; but he struggled to complete the great book which he worked on for almost thirty years. The Making of English Law (1999) is only the first volume of it and the second was never completed. Moreover, volume I was only ever intended to be journeyman's work: it was volume II which was to have been the masterpiece.

Patrick was a devout Roman Catholic and he had a deep admiration, one might almost say love, for the Anglo-Saxons, which he certainly did not feel for the Normans. In his view, there were 600 years of proud English history before the Nakba of 1066 - years when a society had emerged from barbarism by its own efforts, though with much help from Rome and Christianity. The Anglo-Saxons were the guardians of the Faith; but, in the long night which descended after the Romans withdrew, they also kept the flame of civilisation burning. In the eighth century they produced the best historian of the early Middle Ages in the Venerable Bede. They helped to convert the Germans to Christianity and contributed to the high level of culture to be found at the court of Charlemagne. In the ninth and tenth centuries, they fought off a further wave of Viking barbarians and producing a brilliant vernacular literature. Most importantly, they created a unified kingdom, ruled by codes of law and dedicated to the worship of Christ. In the twelfth century, the kingdom of England was one of the best-governed states in Western Europe because Anglo-Saxon England had been well governed for centuries: Henry II built on foundations laid by Alfred the Great.

I am sure this is what Patrick intended to say; and if one bears this subtext in mind, volume I of the magnum opus becomes readable, indeed profound. As it is, it is still the indispensable guide to the Anglo-Saxon law codes, the only possible companion to Liebermann's Die Gesezte der Angelsachsen and it will still be read in a hundred years.

Stephen Cooper
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tortured Prose, 6 Sep 2013
By 
Samuel Romilly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and Its Limits v. 1 (Paperback)
This volume, the first of projected two was a long time in making and was published shortly before the untimely but not unexpected death of the author. Important as it is, ground breaking even, it is vitiated by the tortured prose. What for instance on page 9 does this sentence mean:

Turner's generally reputable though sentimental history of the Anglo-Saxons (1799-1805) defended the Alfredian jury with
reference to the Mirror of Justices, Coke and Spelman, while inclined to think this and other institutions 'of progressive
growth' from early roots.

This is not English as I know it, and coming from a disciple of Maitland, whose clarity, simplicity, and lucidity of style he lauds, is all the more surprising. Wormald does not scatter his diamonds on the ground. They have to be excavated with care. In short a major contribution to the ealry history of English law but a frustrating and time-consuming read.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern, intelligent and informative, but a little heavy, 15 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and Its Limits v. 1 (Paperback)
I expected this book to be mostly comprised of translations of Anglo-Saxon law codes. The law codes are disscussed in the book but this is the section I have been finding most hard to use. It would be helpful to have perhaps included a quick paraphrase of them to help those who are not able to read them elsewhere. The second volume seems to promise something along these lines but I cannot find it anywhere. What I have found interesting is the section that deals with the impact of this legislation and how it was implemented in trials of the period (or not, at least not explicitly). The book also deals with the historiography of Anglo-Saxon law, and looks at narrative evidence. My only real criticism is that it could be a little more accessable; this is not at all an introductory book, although I would recommend it to a scholar I would advise the casual reader or amateur to choose something smaller and less exhaustive as it is quite time-consuming and a little tiring to try read the entire text in a short period of time.
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