The Laws of Alfred and Ine: An Edition and Interpretive Commentary

Collaborative Group

Dr. Lisi Oliver, Dr. Stefan Jurasinski




The laws issued by Alfred the Great (d. 899) are among the most fascinating and enigmatic to have appeared in pre-Conquest England. Their lengthy prologue is an early and peculiar attempt to translate portions of the Bible into English. The laws themselves are the most numerous to have been issued by any king during the Anglo-Saxon period, and conclude with a remarkable appendix – the code ostensibly issued by Alfred’s West-Saxon ancestor Ine (r. 688-726). In spite of the manifest importance of these texts, the standard edition remains Felix Liebermann’s Gesetze der Angelsachsen (1903-16), a monument to German scholarship of the nineteenth century that stands in need of reexamination. The edition to be undertaken by Oliver and Jurasinski aims to do more than correct the shortcomings of Liebermann’s. With its tendency to treat Alfred’s laws as little more than springboards for speculation about the character of early Germanic institutions, Liebermann’s edition for the most part left undone the work of situating Alfred’s laws within a framework of likely cultural and legislative influences. The necessity of such work is shown by indications throughout the text of its indebtedness both to the traditions of seventh-century Kentish and West-Saxon law and to works of ecclesiastical legislation. The nature of this debt remains disputed, and it is hoped that the backgrounds of Oliver and Jurasinski, whose prior work has focused respectively on early Kentish and Germanic royal laws and on early Anglo-Saxon versions of ecclesiastical legislation, will result in an edition offering readers a clearer sense than has thus far been possible of Alfred’s relationship to the major strands of legal tradition extant in his day. This co-authored book will also attempt to illuminate some of the more disputed aspects of Alfred’s laws, such as the possible reliance of the prologue on examples of Irish and late-antique Roman legal prose and the extent to which Alfred’s involvement of clergy in legal remedies constituted a departure from prior practice. Oliver and Jurasinski have long worked together, their most recent collaboration being (with Andrew Rabin) an edited collection of essays commemorating the centenary of Liebermann’s Gesetze. Award period: August 1, 2014 - July 31, 2015