‘Tales of the Living Dead’

When we first presented our project at the British Legal History Conference 2019, we were also lucky enough to hear Elizabeth Papp Kamali’s paper on doubt in medieval English law. The paper, now published in Speculum, focuses on doubts about death: how did medieval English lawyers react when a person disappeared in mysterious circumstances, perhaps when travelling overseas on a pilgrimage or crusade? Papp Kamali considers how the ‘extreme uncertainty’ in such cases was dealt with by the law of homicide and in relation to entitlements to land. Presumptions might be used to resolve the dispute, the parties might reach a compromise, or the case might be delayed in the hope of new evidence. These are all tactics that we have seen in other areas of law within our project, and Papp Kamali’s paper is a fascinating discussion of legal responses to factual uncertainty in the Middle Ages.

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