The New International Encyclopædia/Norman Law
NORMAN LAW. When, about 911, Charles the Simple ceded to the Scandinavian pirate Hrolf, or Rollo, that portion of Neustria which was thenceforth known as the Duchy of Normandy, the institutions and customs of the country were Frankish. These institutions and customs the conquerors apparently accepted, for there is little trace in the later Norman law of Scandinavian influences. Some at least of the Frankish imperial institutions were more fully preserved under the Norman dukes than in other parts of France. Our knowledge, however, of Norman law in the tenth and eleventh centuries is very imperfect; it is based largely on inferences from earlier Frankish and later Anglo-Norman sources.
For the period from the Norman conquest of England in 1066 to the French conquest of Normandy in 1202-04 we have considerable material; we have twelfth century documents (printed by Bigelow as an appendix to his History of Procedure in England, 1880) and more or less complete Exchequer Kolls of various dates from 1180 to 1203 (published by Stapleton, with valuable observations, 1840, 1844). That the organization of the exchequer was originally Norman and not English is shown by its existence in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily in the first half of the twelfth century. As later in England, exchequer was a judicial as well as an administrative authority, and from the time of Henry I. it included trained lawyers. Like the Frankish emperors, the Norman dukes sent out missi, or itinerant justices, who held court in various parts of the duchy. In the ducal court and in the circuit courts procedure was initiated by ducal writ (breve), and proof by wager of battle was supplanted by an inquest of the vicinage. This was a further development of the Frankish inquisitio; and the Norman ‘jury of proof,’ as Brunner calls it, was transferred to England and became the jury of judgment. That in other respects the influence of Norman law upon English law was very great is universally admitted; but there is as yet no agreement as to the extent to which it superseded the older Saxon law.
When Philip Augustus conquered Normandy he promised that the duchy should preserve its privileges. Shortly before, about 1200, a private compilation had been made, known as the Statuta et Consuetudines Normanniæ. To this was added, about 1218, a Tractatus de Breribus et Recognitionibus. Later in the same century appeared compilations of judgments rendered in the exchequer and of judgments rendered in assize. The most complete statement of Norman law, however, is the Grand Coutumier de Normandie, described in the oldest Latin texts as the Summa de Legibus Normanniæ or Jura et Consuetudines Normanniæ. See Grand Coutumier of Normandy.
Gradually, by judicial interpretation, the law of Normandy was assimilated to that of Paris and of Northern France generally. Not only were the courts filled with French judges, but cases were carried to the Parliament in Paris. The notes or glosses which accompany the fifteenth century copies of the Grand Coutumier misinterpret some passages and declare that others are no longer in force. About the middle of the sixteenth century Guillaume Terrien wrote a commentary on the laws of Normandy, which was printed in 1574. This work and the original Grand Coutumier still constitute the basis of the law of the English Channel Islands.
In 1577 Henry III. ordered that a new coutume be drawn up for Normandy. The royal commissioners stated in their report that the old coutume was largely unintelligible and for the most part no longer in use; and in their revision they omitted some of the most important institutions, which give to the Norman law its historical importance, including the incompletely developed jury. The new coutume remained in force until the Code Napoléon gave France a common law.
Bibliography. Brunner, Das anglonormannische Erbfolgesystem (Leipzig, 1869); id., Die Entstehung der Schwurgerichte (Berlin, 1871); id., “Die Quellen des normannischen Rechts,” in Holtzendorff, Encyklopädie der Rechtswissenschaft (5th ed., Leipzig, 1890); and “Die Quellen des anglonormannischen Rechts” (ibid.); Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law (2d ed., Boston, 1899). Both in Brunner's encyclopædia articles and in Pollock and Maitland full references are given to the sources and the older literature.