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Henry of Bracton

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.

Professor Chantal Stebbings' latest book 'Tax, Medicines and the Law' is published by Cambridge University Press. Read 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)

About us

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



Professor Rebecca Probert

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.


Zoe Cunningham (PGR member)

Zoe is a historian of law and legal culture in medieval Europe, with a particular focus on custom in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Dr Timothy Dodsworth

Tim’s research interests lie in the area of contract law, from both a comparative and historical perspective. He has recently completed a chapter on ‘Agreements’ in A Cultural History of Law in the Age of Enlightenment (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2018).

Stephanie Dropuljic

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 Edwards

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.

Stephen Gates (PGR member)

Stephen’s research centres around constitutional theory and medieval constitutional history. More particularly, it focuses on governance during the post-Conquest English royal minorities, the laws of succession, and medieval political thought.

Dr Rachel Gimson

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 Herbert

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

Dr Rachel Pimm-Smith

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 Frederick Rolland

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.

Professor Chantal Stebbings

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.

Mary Synge

Mary's research is in charity law, a subject with deep historic roots but unquestionable contemporary significance. Her publications address various aspects of charity law, her monograph in 2015, The ‘New’ Public Benefit Requirement: Making Sense of Charity Law? challenging the Charity Commission’s interpretation and implementation of the legal public benefit requirement. Her current research is on universities, whose historic exemption from regulatory oversight for charity law purposes was brought to an end in 2006. This research examines the significance of universities’ charitable status, both in terms of the way they operate and their relations with the State.

Alison Talbot (PGR member)

Alison’s thesis is ‘The legal administration of the bishops of Worcester and Exeter 1200 to 1500.’

Katarzyna Wojcik (PGR member)

Katarzyna’s research focuses on international features of criminal law proceedings in the selected fourteenth century medieval urban areas of England and Poland. The research explores the importance and status of the local legal regulation in the process of executing the justice with the impact upon general understanding of a European model of medieval law process including a new approach towards the main factors affecting the active pursuit of criminal justice.


Law and Arms: The English Medieval Court of Chivalry

Anthony Musson
Leverhulme Trust
2013 - 2016

Tax and Quacks

Chantal Stebbings
Wellcome Trust
2011 - 2013

Lawyers in Society 1258 - 1558

Anthony Musson
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
2007 - 2009

Law and Image in Medieval Europe

Anthony Musson
British Academy
2006 - 2006

The Legal Protection of Taxpayers' Rights 1780-1914

Chantal Stebbings
Leverhulme Trust
2004 - 2007

The Victorian Taxpayer and the Law

Chantal Stebbings
Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship
2004 - 2007

Law and Image in Medieval England - An Historical Iconography of Law, 1200-1500

Anthony Musson
British Academy Larger Research Grant Project
2002 - 2005

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.


Further information

  • Search the University database for currently available funding awards.


Getting married: the origins of the current law and problems

Tax in the Historic Landscape

The regulation of universities as charities

Regulating English Midwives

The Value of Legal History

Sharing research with the wider community

Second summer meeting

Marriage, religion and the state

Barouches, curricles, gigs and wagons: taxing travel in Georgian England

Landmark case provides a window onto the nature, role and dangers of tax practice

New publication highlights historical definitional discourses on administrative law

Enlightening Outlook on Agreements

Professor Chantal Stebbings gave the 2019 Selden Society Lecture

Taxing luxuries

What makes a marriage? Religion, the state, and the individual in the long nineteenth century

Harsh punishments for “greedy, deceitful and nasty” bigamists, new research shows

New research on state intervention into the lives of the poor in late-Victorian London

Law Reporting and Law Making: a new study on the Missing Link in Nineteenth-century Tax Law

Changing conceptions of the defendant in criminal trials: from trial by ordeal to trial by social media

Poster competition to mark Black History month

Summer Symposium, 19-20 July 2019

Professor Rebecca Probert appears on Who Do You Think You Are?

Professor Chantal Stebbings delivers the Youard Lecture at the University of Oxford

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

Professor Stebbings appointed to the Council of the Selden Society

Professor Chantal Stebbings announced as the next Chair of the Hamlyn Trust

Professor Chantal Stebbings has been appointed the next Editor of the Journal of Legal History


The Bracton Centre is part of a new Law and History Network, a collaboration between Exeter, Bristol and Cardiff. The Network will be hosting an online seminar series, with the first event taking place on 4 October at 5pm.

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4 October 202117:00

Law and History Network online seminar series

Gwen Seabourne, 'To Marry and to Burn: big issues in "petty treason". Full details
Add event


For non-media enquiries relating to the Centre and its work please contact us as follows:

Professor Rebecca Probert, Centre Director

Senior administrator
+44 (0)1392 726438

Bracton Centre for Legal History Research
Law School - Amory Building
University of Exeter
Rennes Drive


Media enquiries are also welcome - please contact:

Telephone: +44 (0)1392 722307