Salic Law

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Salic Law

Introduction to Salic Law

Salic Law, code of laws written in Latin and first compiled early in the 6th century by the Salians, a Frankish people that conquered Gaul in the 5th century. It comprises principally the fines to be paid for various injuries and crimes. Among its civil statutes, however, was one prohibiting daughters from inheriting land. It is this aspect of the law to which the term Salic law is most often applied, primarily because it mistakenly came to be employed as an argument against the succession of women, or of the descendants of kings’ daughters, to European thrones. This Frankish land law was extended to the throne to prevent the crown from passing out of the country through the marriage of a woman to a foreigner. The Salic law in this respect was important in French history. It first was used in France early in the 14th century by King Philip V. The law later formed the legal basis for the denial of the French crown to Edward III, king of England, whose mother was a daughter of the French king Philip IV; this dispute was the basis of the Hundred Years’ War.” (1)

The Lex Salica

The discovery of fragments of the laws of Euric the West Goth has deprived the Lex Salica of its claim to be the oldest extant statement of Germanic custom. But if not the oldest, it is still very old; also it is rude and primitive. It comes to us from the march between the fifth and sixth centuries; almost certainly from the victorious reign of Chlodwig (486–511). An attempt to fix its date more closely brings out one of its interesting traits. There is nothing distinctively heathen in it; but (and this makes it unique) there is nothing distinctively Christian. If the Sicambrian has already bowed his neck to the catholic yoke, he is not yet actively destroying by his laws what he had formerly adored.35 On the other hand, his kingdom seems to stretch south of the Loire, and he has looked for suggestions to the laws of the West Goths.

The Lex Salica, though written in Latin, is very free from the Roman taint. It contains in the so-called Malberg glosses many old Frankish words, some of which, owing to mistranscription, are puzzles for the philological science of our own day. Like the other Germanic folk-laws, it consists largely of a tariff of offences and atonements; but a few precious chapters, every word of which has been a cause of learned strife, lift the curtain for a moment and allow us to watch the Frank as he litigates. We see more clearly here than elsewhere the formalism, the sacramental symbolism of ancient legal procedure. We have no more instructive document; and let us remember that, by virtue of the Norman Conquest, the Lex Salica is one of the ancestors of English law. (2)


Notes and References

  1. Information about Salic Law in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Source: Sir Frederick Pollock, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I (1895)

Guide to Salic Law

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