Henry of Bracton was an English jurist, born in Devon around 1210, and famous for his writings on law. His work within and influence on the medieval legal system, together with his Exeter connections, made him a very fitting historical figure to lend his name to our research centre. Find out more.
The Bracton Centre is part of a new Law and History Network, a collaboration between Exeter, Bristol and Cardiff. The Network hosts an online seminar series, and has great sessions lined up for autumn 2022. Find out more.
If you have a query about our research, or you would like to present a proposal for potential collaborative work, please contact us.
Bracton Centre for Legal History Research (BCLHR)
Established as a beacon for internationally excellent legal history scholarship spanning the Middle Ages to the modern period, our research encompasses many areas of specialist expertise.
Our projects shed light on the legal past, from the lives of Tudor lawyers, to the foundations of legal protection for the property of the mentally ill. As a Centre we provide insights and valuable resources for students, the judiciary, historians and others.
The Bracton Centre for Legal History Research is:
- A beacon for internationally excellent, original and rigorous legal history scholarship spanning the Middle Ages to the modern period and employing both doctrinal and interdisciplinary approaches.
- A hive for major funded research projects.
- A centre for postgraduate study encouraging use of the excellent facilities for legal history research in Exeter and South West England.
- A forum for public lectures, conferences and seminars open to all sharing an interest in legal history. Whether legal history is your primary focus or background to more contemporary research, you are welcome to join us!
- A resource for scholars, members of the legal profession, judiciary and local historians with an interest in the discipline.
- A conduit for information about legal history events and scholarship.
- A platform for engaging the local community in the knowledge and relevance of legal history.
Areas of legal history expertise
- Comparative legal history - Frederic Rolland and Rachel Pimm Smith
- Comparative Legal Systems
- Criminal justice
- European Courts and Legal System
- French Public Law
- Legal Methodologies
- Marriage, divorce and bigamy
- Nineteenth-century trusts
- Parents and children
- Social History of the Law - Rebecca Probert and Rachel Pimm Smith
- Tax and tax administration
- Tribunals and the administration of justice
Rebecca’s research focuses on the history and current law relating to the overlapping areas of marriage, cohabitation, bigamy and divorce. Her first monograph Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge University Press, 2009) looks at how couples married in eighteenth-century England (shattering a few myths about common-law marriage, broomstick weddings and hand-fasting along the way. The Legal Regulation of Cohabitation: From Fornicators to Family, 1600-2010 (Cambridge University Press, 2012) demonstrated the rarity of cohabitation in earlier centuries and how the common-law marriage myth only emerged in the 1970s. She is currently working on a history of rise and fall of the crime of bigamy.
Stephanie’s research interests are in early modern procedural and substantive criminal law. Her current research has focused on the archival materials of Scotland’s central criminal court to investigate the nature of these sources and to further our understanding of criminal law and the institution. Stephanie has also been investigating women in the law, the role of criminal liability and, crime and punishment. Stephanie is currently working on an article which is tracing the doctrinal and legal roots of art and part liability and its role in criminal prosecutions.
Richard’s research interests flow from his broader interest in British political history. That feeds into research on constitutional law but also more recently on criminal justice. Currently examining the development of criminal appeals in English law.
The legal history part of Rachel’s research centres on the development of criminal justice, in particular the changes in criminal procedure. So far her research identifies the historical role of the defendant as one that is changeable and influenced by external factors. She is currently working on an article that considers this fluid role of the defendant and modern developments, external to criminal procedure, such as eyewitness footage of the crime, that may be exerting pressure to change the defendant’s role once again.
Anne is interested in all aspects of legal history. The two areas that she works in are late 19th/early 20th century international law and institutions and US legal history of slavery and the civil rights movement. She is currently writing up her PhD dissertation on the early history of the global movement against trafficking in persons
Rachel's research focuses on the legal history of public law regulation over children and the poor. Her PhD queried the origins of the powers that authorised the state to remove poor children from parental care and her most recent article explored the legitimacy of the claims used to justify this interference. She is currently examining other ways that public laws were used to regulate the lives of the vulnerable during the nineteenth century.
Dr Rolland's research interests lie in Administrative Law, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory with a particular focus on the theory and practice of French Constitutional and Administrative Law in a historical context and comparative perspective with a particular focus on legal interpretation.
Stephen is Professor of Comparative Legal History and Legal Theory. His overarching research interest is the relationship between law and the state under democratic and non-democratic systems. He has mainly published historical, theoretical and comparative analyses of criminal law and legal ideology under Italian Fascism, and of state accountability for uses of lethal force in policing and security operations. His current research examines the criminalization of political activities since the eighteenth century, the effects of Europe’s non-democratic twentieth-century past on the concept and practice of the rule of law, and the nature of authoritarian law.
Professor Stebbings’ research involves doctrinal analysis at the interface of other disciplines in the nineteenth century, and explores the development of legal doctrine to reflect or initiate social or economic change, and the formal analysis of law in a practical context. She researches into the legal history of British tax in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, concentrating primarily on the law and administration of the direct taxes. She is the Editor of The Journal of Legal History.
Alison Talbot (PGR member)
Alison’s thesis is ‘The legal administration of the bishops of Worcester and Exeter 1200 to 1500.’
David is interested in the history of public law. Much of his recent work has taken the form of public legal education, and this work has often engaged with legal history. He recently worked with the UK Supreme Court on two significant projects. First, he co-developed 10 videos on landmark legal cases decided between 1670 and 2017; these videos were launched as part of the Court's tenth anniversary celebrations. Second, he developed the online course 'Inside the Supreme Court', which, in collaboration with the Supreme Court and Royal Holloway, University of London, explores the Court's work, including its history and its developing role within the legal systems of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
2014 - 2016
The Leverhulme Trust
2012 - 2012
The Construction of a Legal Framework for the Property of the Mentally Ill in Nineteenth-Century England
2010 - 2011
2009 - 2010
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
2007 - 2009
Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship
2004 - 2007
Studying with us
As a postgraduate student attached to the Bracton Centre for Legal History Research, you will be a student of with the University's Law School which attracts academics, visiting lecturers and students from all over the world.
We particularly welcome applications from research students focusing on the history of family law, criminal law, contract law, charity law, religion and the law, and the law’s treatment of women.
The Law School is part of the College of Social Sciences and International Studies, which has a dedicated Graduate Research School for its students, who undertake research in Arab and Islamic studies, education, politics, sociology, philosophy, anthropology and security, as well as law; here you will find a diverse and dynamic international community, excellent facilities and a friendly and supportive environment in which to study. Students are supported by the Doctoral College which offers institution-wide support, training, and administration for all of our postgraduate and early career researchers.
Our postgraduate students gain excellent employment prospects and the Law School benefits from extremely good relations with members of the legal profession regionally, nationally and internationally. We retain strong links with our alumni, many of whom occupy senior positions in the legal field in the UK and overseas.
- Search the University database for currently available funding awards.
Changing conceptions of the defendant in criminal trials: from trial by ordeal to trial by social media
Congratulations to John Pearce and to Yiu Yu Butt, who have both completed their PhDs under the supervision of Professor Chantal Stebbings and successfully passed their vivas
Professor Chantal Stebbings' latest book 'Tax, Medicines and the Law' is published by Cambridge University Press
he Bracton Centre is part of the Law and History Network, a collaboration between Exeter, Bristol and Cardiff. The Network hosts an online seminar series - details of upcoming talks can be found below.
For non-media enquiries relating to the Centre and its work please contact us as follows:
Professor Rebecca Probert, Centre Director
+44 (0)1392 726438
Bracton Centre for Legal History Research
Law School - Amory Building
University of Exeter
Media enquiries are also welcome - please contact:
Telephone: +44 (0)1392 722307