People, space, and law in late medieval and early modern Britain and Ireland

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This article seeks to unravel the different concordances between law, geography, and people over time, showing that how jurisdiction was conceived contributed to quite different relationships between people and space in diverse regions of Britain and Ireland. It discusses mainly the functions and officials of administrative units (such as parish, manor, and barony), the extent and nature of jurisdictions (such as English coroners’), title to land and moveable property, and the maintenance of law and order. The article paints a broad-brush picture, mainly of structures, which ranges across the late medieval and early modern period. It brings together a number of spatial entities and it seeks to nuance meanings of space, place, and territory, which are often used interchangeably by historians. The central question is: how important was space to the law’s dealings with people and things? The argument is that the English attached far clearer legal meaning to territory than did the peoples of the other parts of the British Isles. Jurisdiction in space was particularly important for the English – one element constituting their society - whereas Scots, Welsh, and Irish had more person-focused laws and practices that emphasized the social over the spatial, general principles over specific applications: ‘people-in-space’, governed by law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-89
Number of pages43
JournalPast & Present
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2016


  • Social history
  • Law
  • Geography


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