The Discourse of Law and Justice in Medieval Europe
24th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Law In Chronicles - Chronicles In Laws In Central Europe
János M. Bak, Central European University, Budapest

In this paper I should like to discuss the references to and discussion of “law and justice” in a few 12th-13th century narratives from Poland (Gesta principum Polonorum, ca. 1118), Bohemia (Cosmas of Prague, ca. 1129), and Hungary (Gesta Hungarorum ca. 1200 and Simon of Kéza, ca. 1279). And, conversely, the occasional references to “historical tradition” in decrees and statutes of these countries—these, however, ending with the extensive use of chronicle-tradition (from the earlier Middle Ages!) for legitimization of nobility etc. in the customary law-book, the Tripartitum, by the Hungarian lawyer-politician Stephan Werboczy, of 1514/17.

The anonymous authors of the two gesta as well as Cosmas and Simon write about the pronunciation of the early laws by rulers and “assemblies” (some of which may be legendary), and of the administration of justice as legitimization of “good lordship.” I wish to analyze the narrative discourse and compare it with the legal formulations of the (more or less contemporary) surviving decrees and statutes—maybe even with charters of privilege. Statute laws from the 11th through 14th centuries, in turn, frequently use expressions like “as it is well-know from ancient chronicles” in order to establish the (usually imaginary) ancient origin of certain legal arrangements, down to the early-modern legal Bible of noble Hungary.

These analyses may shed light not only on the learning of the authors (Civilist or canonical) of both narratives and laws, but also on the tradition of law and justice in the given societies (or their elites). As I am proposing to do this inquiry, I can only promise and hope to contribute to the discussion of the conference, without—at this time—being able to tell you, what the results to be presented will be.

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