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Encyclopedia > Brehon law

The Brehon Laws were statutes that governed everyday life and politics in Ireland until the Norman invasion of 1171 (the word "Brehon" is an Anglicisation of breitheamh (earlier brithem), the Irish word for a judge). The laws were written in the Old Irish period (ca. 600900 AD) and probably reflect the traditional laws of pre-Christian Ireland. These secular laws existed in parallel with, and sometimes in conflict with, Canon law throughout the early Christian period. The Normans (adapted from the name Northmen or Norsemen) were a mixture of the indigenous people of France and the Viking invaders under the leadership of Hrolf Ganger, who adopted the French name Rollo and swore allegiance to the king of France (Charles the Simple). ... // Events Saladin abolishes the Fatimid caliphate, restoring Sunni rule in Egypt. ... Old Irish is the name given to the oldest form of the Irish language which can be more or less fully reconstructed from extant sources. ... For other uses, see number 600. ... Events Persian scientist, Rhazes, distinguished smallpox from measles in the course of his writings. ... In Western culture, canon law is the law of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. ...


The laws were a civil rather than a criminal code, concerned with the payment of compensation for harm done and the regulation of property, inheritance and contracts: the concept of state-administered punishment for crime was foreign to Ireland's early lawmakers. They show Ireland in the early medieval period to have been a hierarchical society, taking great care to define social status, and the rights and duties that went with it, according to property, and the relationships between lords and their clients and serfs. Civil law has at least three meanings. ... Criminal law (also known as penal law) is the body of common law that punishes criminals for committing offences against the state. ...

Contents


Women and marriage

Irish society was male-dominated, but women had greater freedom, independence and rights to property under the Brehon Laws than in other European societies of the time. Divorce was provided for on a number of grounds, after which property was divided according to what contribution each spouse had made to the household. A husband was legally permitted to hit his wife to "correct" her, but if the blow left a mark she was entitled to the equivalent of her bride-price in compensation and could, if she wished, divorce him. Property of a household could not be disposed of without the consent of both spouses. However, women were still largely subject to their fathers or husbands and were not normally permitted to act as witnesses, their testimony being considered "biased and dishonest". Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse, which can be contrasted with an annulment which is a declaration that a marriage is void, though the effects of marriage may be recognized in such unions, such as spousal support, child custody...


Kingship

The basic unit of political organisation provided for was the tuath (tribal or petty kingdom), headed by a (king). Kingship of a tuath was not inherited by primogeniture: a new king would be elected by the aristocracy of the tribe from a number of eligible candidates. Any adult male who was the son, grandson or great-grandson of a previous king, in direct male line, was eligible. Often, a king would choose a tánaiste (heir apparent, literally "second") who would be best placed to succeed at his death. Kings were themselves subject to the law and had little power to create laws or issue edicts except in emergencies. A monarch (see sovereign) is a type of ruler or head of state. ... Primogeniture is the common tradition of inheritance by the first-born of the entirety of a parents wealth, estate or office; or in the absence of children, by collateral relatives, in order of seniority of the collateral line. ... Tanistry (Irish/Gaeilge Tàinste;Scottish Gaelic: Tànaisteachd) was the office of heir-apparent, or second-in-command, among the royal dynastys of Ireland and her offshoot nations. ...


These tuatha were, by convention, grouped into four over-kingdoms or provinces: Laighin (present day Leinster), Ulaidh (Ulster), Mumhan (Munster), and Connachta (Connacht). Each province had a king, normally chosen from among the kings of the tuatha, who exercised some power over the other kings in the province. The provincial kings were supposedly subject to a High King, who ruled from Tara in the "fifth royal province" of Mide (present day Meath). Leinster (Irish: Laighin) is the eastern province of Ireland, comprising the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. ... The Ulaid, also known as the Ulaidh and the Ulad, are a people of Early Ireland who gave their name to the Irish Province of Ulster. ... Ulster (Irish: Cúige Uladh, IPA: ) is one of the four provinces of Ireland. ... Munster (Irish: An Mhumhain, IPA: ) is the southernmost province of Ireland, comprising the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. ... Connaught redirects here. ... The High Kingship of Ireland was a pseudohistorical construct of the eighth century AD, a projection into the distant past of a political entity that did not become reality until the ninth century. ... The Hill of Tara (aerial view) The Hill of Tara (Irish Teamhair na Rí, Hill of the Kings, located near the River Boyne, is a long, low limestone ridge that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath, Leinster, Ireland. ... County Meath (Contae na Mí in Irish) is the fastest growing county in the Republic of Ireland, often informally called The Royal County. ...


Clientship

A member of the property-owning classes could advance himself by becoming a "free client" of a more powerful lord. The lord would make his client a grant of property (sometimes land, but more usually livestock) for a fixed period of time. The client would owe service to his lord, and at the end of the grant period would return the grant with interest. Any increase beyond the agreed interest was his to keep. This allowed for a certain degree of social mobility as an astute free client could increase his wealth until he could afford to have clients of his own, thus becoming a lord in his own right.


A poorer man could become a "base client" by selling a share in his honour-price, making his lord entitled to part of any compensation due him. The lord would make him a smaller grant of land or livestock, for which the client would pay rent in produce and manual labour. A man could be a base client to several lords simultaneously.


Decline of the Brehon Laws

The laws fell into disuse after Ireland was progressively divided over the years into Norman-controlled zones, one English-controlled zone (The Pale), and native Irish kingdoms. Although the Norman barons eventually adopted Irish culture and language and married in with the native Irish, Ireland remained divided between Norman-Irish kingdoms and Gaelic-Irish kingdoms. Due to this, the Brehon Laws would never be readopted on an official basis, although some modernized concepts survive in the laws of the Republic of Ireland. Royal motto (French): Dieu et mon droit (Translated: God and my right) Englands location within the British Isles Official language English de facto Capital London de facto Largest city London Area – Total Ranked 1st UK 130,395 km² Population – Total (mid-2004) – Total (2001 Census) – Density Ranked 1st UK... The Pale or the English Pale comprised a region in a radius of 20 miles around Dublin which the English in Ireland gradually fortified against incursion from Gaels. ...


Trivia

The Brehon Laws and associated themes from Celtic Ireland have been fictionalised in the Sister Fidelma novels by Peter Tremayne. Sister Fidelma is a fictional amateur detective, the eponymous heroine of a series by Irish author Peter Tremayne (pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis). ...


External links

  • The Brehon Law
  • The Law of the Couple: translation of an Irish legal text on marriage

References

  • Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (1995), Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, Longman

  Results from FactBites:
 
The Brehon Laws (3320 words)
Brehon law is the usual term for Irish native law, as administered in Ireland down to almost the middle of the seventeenth century, and in fact amongst the native Irish until the final consummation of the English conquest.
The law of primogeniture did not obtain in Ireland, and the selection was made of the man who being of the chieftain's near blood could best defend the tribe and lead it in both war and peace.
It is also likely that much of the law relating to the alienation of land, all the land belonging originally to the tribe, was influenced by the Church, and indeed the Church seems to have been the grantee primarily contemplated in these regulations.
Brehon Laws - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (982 words)
The Brehon Laws were statutes that governed everyday life and politics in Ireland until the Norman invasion of 1171 (the word "Brehon" is an Anglicisation of breitheamh (earlier brithem), the Irish word for a judge).
The laws were a civil rather than a criminal code, concerned with the payment of compensation for harm done and the regulation of property, inheritance and contracts: the concept of state-administered punishment for crime was foreign to Ireland's early lawmakers.
Due to this, the Brehon Laws would never be readopted on an official basis, although some modernized concepts survive in the laws of the Republic of Ireland.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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