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Law-code of King Alfred the Great

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Dammery, Richard John Edward 


The law-code of King Alfred the Great (871 -99) is one of the largest and most ambitious legislative enactments to survive from Anglo-Saxon England. It came to be known as sea domboc (the law or judgement book), and was cited using that appellation in the lawcodes of Alfred's tenth-century successors. This dissertation consists of a study (volume one), together with an edition and critical apparatus (volume two). Matters pertaining to the substantive law are reserved as the subject of on-going research. In volume one, the textual history of the law-code is examined. First, each of the extant manuscripts is described in detail, including three transcripts of varying importance made by the sixteenth - century antiquary Laurence Nowell. These transcripts, two of which are discussed for the first time in this dissertation, appear to have been known to, and used by, William Lambarde, who prepared the editio princeps of the Anglo-Saxon laws. Having assessed the physical evidence of the manuscripts, the textual transmission is reconsidered, and a new stemma is provided. Finally, the law-code is divided into its four component parts (a table of rubrics, biblical introduction, Alfred's law-code, and Ine's law-code), and each is examined separately. Although this division is suggested by the code itself, close analysis · reveals that these four parts do not form a particularly coherent whole. The rubrics, which give the composite code (Al[red-Ine) its artificial sense of unity, frequently ignore important provisions or miss the central point of a law entirely; and . the 'appendix', which purports to have been issued two centuries before Alfred's code by King Ine of Wessex (688-726), contradicts Alfred's own law on several occasions. As a necessary preliminary to any analysis of the substantive law, the status of this appendix is examined, for one must decide whether it may be used as good evidence of seventh-century law, or whether there are signs of Alfredian alteration. Furthermore, given the existence of these contradictions, one must question whether Alfred ever intended Ine's code to be read as an integral part of his own law-book.





Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge