Thomas J. McSweeney
Professor of Law and Robert E. and Elizabeth S. Scott Research Professor
Areas of Specialization
Legal History-Early History of the Common Law, Common Law's Relationship to Civil Law, History of Lawyers; Property Law; Trusts and Estates
Representative Professional Activities and Achievements
Thomas McSweeney earned his B.A. from the College of William and Mary, where he was a James Monroe Scholar, and continued his studies at Cornell University, where he earned a J.D./LL.M. as part of Cornell's program in international and comparative law and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history. After completing his Ph.D., Professor McSweeney worked for two years as a visiting assistant professor at Cornell Law School, teaching property and legal history. During his time at Cornell, he won three awards for his teaching and was awarded research grants to work at the Huntington Library, the British Library, and the British National Archives. In 2015, he was selected as a fellow of the American Society for Legal History’s Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History. In 2018, he received a Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence from the College of William & Mary. In 2019, the graduating class at William & Mary Law School presented him with the Walter Williams L. Teaching Award.
Professor McSweeney's research focuses on the early history of the common law. He is particularly interested in the ways the judges and lawyers of the thirteenth century taught and learned the law. His book, Priest of the Law: Roman Law and the Making of the Common Law's First Professionals, at Oxford University Press, examines the ways in which thirteenth-century justices modelled their practices on those of the jurists of Roman law working in the universities. They assimilated the texts they produced in the English royal courts to genres of legal literature they had encountered in the schools of Roman and canon law in order to make the case that the English common law was part of a pan-European legal culture. He is currently working on a project on the texts that England’s earliest generations of lawyers used to learn the law.
In the News
- Brian Frye, Interviewed about Priests of the Law, Ipse Dixit, May 10, 2020. Online.
- Guest Blogger, Five posts available, Legal History Blog, March 2020. Online.
- Al Zambone, Interviewed about Priests of the Law, episode 158, Historically Thinking podcast, May 13, 2020. Online.
- David F. Morrill, New Book by W&M Law Professor Studies Early History of the Common Law, William & Mary News, Jan. 29, 2020. Online. Thomas J. McSweeney, Priests of the Law: Roman Law and the Making of the Common Law's First Professionals, Oxford University Press, 2019. Online.
- Priests of the Law: Roman Law and the Making of the Common Law's First Professionals (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2019).
- A University in 1693: New Light on William & Mary’s Claim to the Title of “Oldest University in the United States, Wm & Mary L. Rev. Online ___ (forthcoming 2020) (with Katharine Ello & Elsbeth O'Brien).
- Fiction in the Code, 34 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 581 (2018). SSRN.
- Creating a Literature for the King’s Courts in the Later Thirteenth Century: Hengham Magna, Fet Asaver, and Bracton, 37 J. Leg. Hist. 41 (2016). Online.
- Salvation by Statute: Magna Carta, Legislation, and the King's Soul, 25 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 455 (2016). SSRN.
- The King's Courts and the King's Soul: Pardoning as Almsgiving in Medieval England, 40 Reading Medieval Studies 159 (2014) (Special Issue, Law's Dominion: Medieval Studies for Paul Hyams 2014) (Academia.edu). SSRN.
- English Justices and Roman Jurists: The Civilian Learning Behind England's First Case Law, 84 Temp. L. Rev. 827 (2012) (Academia.edu). SSRN.
- Property Before Property: Romanizing the English Law of Land, 60 Buff. L. Rev. 1139 (2012) (Academia.edu). SSRN.
- Magna Carta and the Right to Trial by Jury, in Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor (Randy J. Holland ed., Library of Congress' 800th Anniversary Volume 2014).
- Magna Carta, Civil Law, and Canon Law, in Magna Carta and the Rule of Law (Reb Brownell et al. eds., American Bar Association's 800th Anniversary Volume 2014) (Academia.edu). SSRN.
- Between England and France: A Cross-Channel Legal Culture in the Late Thirteenth Century, in Law, Governance, and Justice: New Views on Medieval English Constitutionalism (Richard Kaeuper ed., Brill 2013).
- 34 Law & Hist. Rev. (2016) (reviewing John Hudson, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, Volume II: 871-1215 (2013)) (book review).
- The Significance of the Corpus Iuris Civilis: Matilda of Canossa and the Revival of Roman Law, in Matilda of Canossa & the Origins of the Renaissance, (2015) (with Michèle K. Spike) (Catalogue entry for art exhibit "Matilda of Canossa & the Origins of the Renaissance, Muscarelle Museum of Art, Feb.-April 2015. Translated into Italian as L'importanza del Corpus luris Civils: Matilda di Canossae la riscoperta del diritto romano in Matilda di Canossa, 1046-1115: La donna che mutò il cora della storia, (Michèle KI. Spike ed., 2016)).
- The Medieval Review (2011) (reviewing Law as Profession and Practice in Medieval Europe: Essays in Honor of James A. Brundage) (book review).