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Medieval Studies Program, Fall Lecture Series: Nicole Marafioti "Crime and Sin in Early English Law"

Tuesday, October 19, 2021 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

AD White House, Guerlac Room

Nicole Marafioti (Trinity University)

Crime and Sin in Early English Law

What was the relation between crime against earthly authorities and sin against God, in early English law? Pre-Conquest lawmakers regularly included religious regulations amid their criminal and civil policies, but their approach to spiritual and devotional matters is poorly understood—largely because religious clauses are excluded from most scholarly analyses of Old English legislation. My project illuminates and contextualizes the religious material in royal lawcodes, focusing on decrees issued by kings Alfred, Æthelstan, and Edmund between c.890 and 946. By examining legal approaches to penance, excommunication, and consecrated burial, as well as judicial processes such as the judicial oath and trial by ordeal, I reconstruct the logic behind religious regulations and investigate why they were included in royal law. This lecture will demonstrate how religious and secular policies operated in concert, arguing that religious material was integral to the lawcodes’ practical and ideological aims. Religious clauses reinforced emerging ideologies of Christian kingship and justified new efforts to centralize royal power; but they also established a distinct sphere of ecclesiastiastical judicial authority, independent of secular control. Nevertheless, ecclesiastical and secular authorities were expected to collaborate in the administration of justice, and the laws’ religious clauses helped establish an appropriate balance between these spheres. In my talk, I will consider how royal lawcodes’ religious policies provide insight into pre-Conquest approaches to personal agency and legal responsibility, by examining how sin was used in secular judicial processes as a measure of criminal intent.  

BIO: Nicole Marafioti earned her PhD in Medieval Studies at Cornell in 2009 and is now a Professor of History at Trinity University, in San Antonio, Texas. A specialist in tenth- and eleventh-century England, she is the author of The King’s Body: Burial and Succession in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto, 2014) and the co-editor of Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England (Boydell, 2014); she has also recently published articles in Speculum, Traditio, Viator, and Early Medieval Europe. She will be a visiting scholar at Cornell for the 2021-22 academic year, writing a new monograph on crime and sin in early English law.  


The Cornell Medieval Studies Program presents a series of lectures on a wide range of medieval topics. All lectures take place on Tuesdays at 4:30pm.

Cosponsored by the Society for the Humanities

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Medieval Studies




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Marion Penning


Nicole Marafioti

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Trinity University

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