LLB Programmes


Professor Andrew Lewis and Professor Philip Schofield

“The real question is not whether we should teach legal history but whether we can give to students law, and nothing but law, and still call it a liberal education.” (Plucknett)

Legal history may be only one way of contexturalising the law but it is amongst the more satisfying ways of relating law to other human achievements. This course is an introductory one in the sense that it requires no previous detailed knowledge of English legal history and is tolerant (up to a point) of relative ignorance of the English political, social and constitutional history with which the history of law is necessarily connected. It will however be necessary to undertake a modest amount of undirected learning of general English history in order to provide this context. Furthermore it is to be noted that English legal history is a very lively field of study at present so that those who would apply themselves to it must expect not only to have to master the accepted details of its development but also to absorb and express judgement upon a range of possible interpretations of these phenomena.

Legal history is a field which attracts the attention both of legally-trained legal historians and historically-trained historians: their differences of perspective give rise to interesting questions of interpretation. Serious work by large numbers of legally-trained historians is a relatively recent phenomenon and the pioneers in the field, including Baker and Milsom, are still amongst the leaders in the field. In addition to occasional publications in the leading general English law journals (particularly OJLS and CLJ) and American journals (especially Chicago LJ and Michigan LR) there is a dedicated Journal of Legal History (edited at UCL) as well as the American Journal of Legal History.

The course is taught on a seminar basis for two hours a week: participants are expected to write at least three course essays (not for assessment) during the session. Assessment of the course is by a three and a quarter hour written examination in the summer.

Outline of course

First semester
I. Institutions of English Law (Professor Lewis and Dr Schofield)
The common law and its predecessors and rivals: the emergence of the Royal courts; procedure - bills and writs; modes of proof - the origin of the jury; Equity and the conciliar courts. The Civil and Canon law in England. Legal Education. Common Law theory and its critics. The development of appeal in Common Law procedure and the systematic reforms of the nineteenth century.

Second semester
II. The History of land law (Professor Lewis)
Feudal origins; Estates - for life, fee simple, fee tail; leases for years; copyhold; uses and trusts; perpetuities and settlements.

III. The History of tort and contract (Professor Lewis)
Debt and detinue; covenant; trespass and case; assumpsit; doctrine of consideration; negligence.

Recommended introductory reading
(all of which will be of general use during the course itself):
R C van Caenegem, The Birth of the English Common Law (2nd edn 1988 CUP p/b)

The text of four lectures on the origins of the Common law, the first three of which provide the basic themes of the opening seminars of the course.

J H Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (3rd edn 1990 Butterworths p/b)

A far from basic textbook by the acknowledged master of the largely unpublished sources for English legal history (and a UCL law graduate).

S F C Milsom, Historical Foundations of the Common Law (2nd edn 1981 Butterworths p/b) An attempt to write an intellectual history of the common law in terms of its basic ideas and their operation. Although subject to challenge in recent years by historians it remains a most stimulating source of interpretative understandings.

A W B Simpson, A History of the Land Law (1986 OUP p/b)

A no-nonsense and fairly positivist account of the rules of the developing land law.

J H Baker & S F C Milsom, The Sources of English Private Law to 1750 (Butterworths p/b) Lacking any commentary, this extremely useful collection of materials is difficult to use unaided but gives a good idea of what needs to be understood during the course.

J M Kelly, A Short History of Western Legal Theory (1992 OUP p/b)

While taking a broad European perspective, this book remains a stimulating introduction to many of the themes which dominated thinking about the English Common Law. Chapters 6-8 are of most immediate relevance.

National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT)
All applicants are required to take the LNAT as soon as possible and no later than 20 January (registration deadline 15 January).

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