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The relationship between host and guest is a prominent feature of early medieval law. Hosts are expected to protect their guests: harming someone else’s guest, or even behaving in a way likely to provoke violence, is a serious insult for which financial compensation is required. This idea that homes are protected spaces underlies their use as refuges by people in fear of violence, and seems to have had a strong influence on the way sanctuary in churches was understood. This seminar places Anglo-Saxon (c.600-1100) legal treatments of refuge in the context of a broader web of ideas, looking at the problems that hospitality could raise by giving potentially threatening outsiders protection without simultaneously integrating them into local legal networks, and the various ways we find laws trying to address these problems without denying people’s right to protect their guests in principle. It concludes by surveying the erosion of this right in most contexts apart from churches in the twelfth century, as well as its survival in the form of ecclesiastical sanctuary rights throughout the later Middle Ages.

about the speaker

Dr Lambert is a historian of early and high medieval England with broad-ranging interests in social, cultural, economic and political developments between the seventh and thirteenth centuries. His research is on legal themes; in particular, it focuses on the issue of how and why kings asserted their right to punish wrongdoing in a society that also regarded vengeance and compensation in feud as legitimate legal practice. His main interest is on what would be termed 'crime and punishment' in later periods. What makes the subject fascinating, in his view, is that this way of thinking about law and order fits with early medieval ideas about wrongdoing imperfectly. 'Crime and punishment' was clearly part of Anglo-Saxon legal culture, but so too was violent vengeance in feud: the challenge is understanding how these seemingly very different approaches to wrongdoing could coexist as part of a coherent legal system. He is currently working on a book – provisionally entitled Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England – that looks at this issue in detail.

Dr Lambert completed his undergraduate degree in history at the University of Durham and stayed there for both a Masters in Medieval History and a PhD, which he finished in 2009. He then held a one-year fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research in London before coming to teach in Oxford in October 2010 as a lecturer at Balliol College. He moved to Exeter College in September 2012 to take up the Bennett Boskey Career Development Fellowship in History, a position that balances the research element of a junior research fellowship with the tutorial responsibilities of a college lecturer.


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The history of refuge News & Media