A renewed attack on central problems of English legal history can gain fresh perspective from the history of French law. France and England entered the later middle ages with a common fund of legal and political institutions. Much of the area that was to be included in modern France was united with England under a common sovereign; political institutions were shaped by the same basic forces into similar forms of feudal organization; private law was largely composed of unformulated popular custom, remarkably similar even in detail. As early as the thirteenth century the tendencies toward divergence, both in law and government, had made themselves apparent. But we have even now no connected account of the processes by which this divergence occurred, or of the numerous parallels that persisted in later history. We know the main stages of political development by which in England a feudal monarchy was slowly transformed into a constitutional, parliamentary democracy and in France similar institutions had been molded by the eighteenth century into a centralized, bureaucratic state. As to private law, we know the methods by which the common law was constructed; and in France we know the end result, how six hundred years of continuous development were climaxed by the Napoleonic Code of 1804. The rest of the story must be filled in from scattered sources.
John P. Dawson,
THE CODIFICATION OF THE FRENCH CUSTOMS,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol38/iss6/2