Hospitality, Protection and Refuge in Early English Law

Dr Tom Lambert (Exeter College, University of Oxford)
Event date
Event time
17:00 - 18:30
Refugee Studies Centre
3 Mansfield Road
Venue details

Seminar Room 1

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Disabled access?
Booking required
Not required

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 paper 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.