Per Andersen, LEGAL PROCEDURE AND PRACTICE IN MEDIEVAL DENMARK Leiden: Brill (, Medieval Law and Its Practice vol 11, 2011. xiv + 452 pp. ISBN 9789004204768. €155.

AuthorHeikki Pihlajamäki
Publication Date01 May 2012
Date01 May 2012

Danish legal history is not among the best-known legal histories in Europe, largely because research in more widely-spoken languages has been lacking. Per Andersen's work now helps to fill this lacuna insofar as the history of procedural law is concerned. Andersen's approach, however, is anything but domestic, setting out to explain the development of medieval Danish procedure from a comparative perspective. Abandoning a “state-evolutionary tradition” of historiography, Andersen observes Denmark in the larger context of European learned law.

Andersen's book is divided into two parts. The first covers the period of so-called provincial laws before 1300, which I would call a formative period in the development of the Danish law of procedure. This is when, as Andersen demonstrates, most of the essential features of Danish procedural law are put into place. The second part extends from where the first part ends to the middle of the sixteenth century. Continuity rather than radical change characterises the second phase.

The study covers all the most important secular courts: the local courts (herredsting), the intermediate courts (landsting) and the royal judicial power. In addition, the patrimonial courts (birkeret) receive attention as well as the town courts. Of the major courts, the author thus excludes only the ecclesiastical. Andersen not only uses legislation as his material, but attempts to look at how legal practice corresponded to the wishes of the legislator as well. This creates a productive and interesting setting.

Danish medieval law was actually never a unified legal order, consisting instead of three different provincial laws: those of Scania, Zealand and Jutland, all dating to the first half of the thirteenth century. The author's main contention here is that whereas the Laws of Scania and Zealand show the influence of Romano-canonical procedure less, the Law of Jutland “reflects a qualitatively different stage of learned law… and is fundamentally equal to contemporary learned law outside Denmark.” The changes were, as Andersen convincingly argues, necessary because the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 had prohibited clerics from participating in blood ordeals.

The decisions of the Lateran Council, Andersen explains, forced the Danes to amend their procedural law in several ways. The quest for truth led the Danes to establish juries and entrust them with a certain amount of inquisitorial power. For Andersen, although the “level of detail” in the...

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