Monday, March 5, 2007

Donahue reviews Helmholz, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

Charles J. Donahue, Jr., Harvard, reviews R. H. Helmholz, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s, Oxford History of the Laws of England, 1, (Oxford University Press, 2004), in the Law and History Review. Donahue writes, in part:
This is the first volume (the second to appear) in the massive Oxford History of the Laws of England. The series is planned for twelve volumes, all of which, except this one, cover quite narrow chronological periods, normally of a century or less. This volume is different. Its chronological range is more than a thousand years, from the traditional date of the arrival of the mission of St. Augustine to the Kentings to the dissolution of the ecclesiastical courts during the Long Parliament. The revival of the ecclesiastical courts with the restoration of the monarchy (1660) gets some mention, but the story of those courts' decline into the nineteenth century and their precarious survival today must be treated elsewhere.
The remarkable range of the volume is not only chronological. Helmholz has spent the better part of a long career surveying the surviving records of the English ecclesiastical courts. These begin in the thirteenth century, become more voluminous in the fourteenth and fifteenth, and reach staggering quantities in the sixteenth and early seventeenth. They are scattered all over the kingdom; they can be quite difficult to read, and their organization in modern and not-so-modern archives, while it is improving, still leaves much to be desired. Hence, if Helmholz had done nothing more than summarize what he has found in the archives he would have done a great service.
He has done a great deal more than that....[The book] provides a full-scale introduction to the canonical legal system of the medieval and early modern periods with particular focus on the instance of that system in an important kingdom. It does not assume what the non-specialist is unlikely to know, but there is much in it that will be new to the specialist. It should hold its premier place in the literature for years to come.

For the rest, click here.