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N.E.Karn@soton.ac.uk

Dr Nicholas Karn 

Associate Professor in British History

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Nicholas Karn has been at the University of Southampton since 2007. His research has been funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and other bodies. He has worked on the sources for English law and on legal change and its broader social and cultural impact.

My most recent project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and a visiting fellowship at the John Rylands Research Institute, University of Manchester, resulted in Kings, Lords and Courts in Anglo-Norman England (Boydell & Brewer, 2020), which set out a new interpretation for how the structures of law in England developed from the tenth to the middle of the twelfth centuries. In it, I analyse how changing ideas about lordship led to a recasting of the institutions of law and government, starting before the Norman Conquest but becoming widespread in the decades afterwards. I also argue that lordship courts did not originate as distinct ‘feudal’ institutions, but rather that they evolved from the existing, public courts.

Since then, I am developing a new project on special jurisdictions, and am working on towns and castles in particular. The first output for this is likely to be a study of the earliest charters of the City of London, their meaning and their use in the ‘public memory’ of the city over time.

I am also interested in the institutions of the church and the roles and influence of churchmen, 1100–1400; my first book was an edition of documents from the diocese of Ely 1109–1197 which illustrated these themes, and was published by the British Academy as part of its authoritative English Episcopal Acta series. A second volume, covering the period 1198–1256, was published in 2013, and a third volume covering the years 1256–1337 has been commissioned.

Qualifications:

BA Modern History, University of Oxford, 1997

MSt Historical Research, University of Oxford, 1998

DPhil, University of Oxford, 2002

Appointments held:

Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor, University of Southampton, 2007–present

Research interests

My main research interest is in the institutions of law and the culture of the law in England in the central middle ages, and especially from about 1000 to 1250.

The research has arisen from my earlier work on 12th-century charters and acta, where I concentrated upon the uses to which these documents were put, and upon understanding the structures within which they were used. This led me to question many assumptions commonly made about the institutional structures within which law was conducted in the Anglo-Norman era. I was especially made aware of the extent to which the institutional context was fluid and changeable even over quite short periods, and of how many of the institutions which were claimed to bring coherence to the system have been badly misconceived. I have especially been led to reject much of what has been argued about the role of king's justices before the 1160s, and about the role of the king's court as an institution whose overarching jurisdictions brought coherence to the law.

Building on this, I have worked in detail on the processes by which courts made decisions in this period. This focus on procedure has been one of the most fruitful enterprises of all, because it directs attention to who was allowed to speak and determine matters; whose voice was preferred in cases of divergence, and how precedence was accorded; how the agenda of the court was settled. In this way, the relatively formal setting of courts exposes to an extent little seen elsewhere the structures of local power, how shires and hundreds ran themselves, and how the king's power and representatives interacted with them. These questions of local power are hard to analyse through the usual concern of legal historians with the doctrines of law; however, these standards can be analysed through procedure, which directs attention to how competing ideas are managed, and, moreover, procedure has scarcely been studied for the Anglo-Norman period. As part of this, I will produce a new edition and translation of the Leges Henrici Primi, the longest and one of the most important of the legal texts surviving from twelfth-century England, which will appear as part of the Early English Laws project.

I am also interested in the institutions of the church and the roles and influence of churchmen, 1100-1400; my first book was an edition of documents from the diocese of Ely 1109-1197 which illustrated these themes, and was published by the British Academy as part of its authoritative English Episcopal Acta series. A second volume, covering the period 1198-1256, was published in 2013, and a third volume covering the years 1256-1337 has been commissioned.

I act as series editor for the Suffolk Records Society's Suffolk Charters series and as series editor for the publications of the Anthony Mellows Memorial Trust, which aims to put into print the corpus of surviving records from the medieval Peterborough Abbey (for a recent volume see the Northamptonshire Records Society publications catalogue). I also sit on the councils of the Pipe Roll Society, the Suffolk Records Society and the Northamptonshire Record Society, and am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

PhD Supervision

Current: Fredrica Teale, ‘Reading Abbey and its Fourteenth-Century Register’.
Recent: Rebecca Toepfer, ‘St Albans Abbey and its Relationship with the Town’ (completed 2017).
Recent: Suzanne Coley, ‘Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury and his Writings on Heresy (completed 2017): funded by the Wolfson foundation.

Committee Member, management committee for British Academy English Episcopal Acta research project.

Member of Council and Trustee, Pipe Roll Society.

Member of Council and Trustee, Suffolk Records Society.

Member of Council and Hon. Treasurer, Canterbury and York Society

Member of Council and Trustee, Northamptonshire Record Society

Series editor, Suffolk Charters series of the Suffolk Records Society.

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I offer modules in relation to various themes in British history. These include the relations between the components of the British Isles, the impact of conquests, military technology and, finally, law and order.

Dr Nicholas Karn
Building 65, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BF, United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/2065


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