“A Little Renaissance of Our Own:” Tudor-Stuart Law Books (Spring 2007)

Tudor-Stuart Law Books

The Tudor-Stuart era was a time of upheavals and transformations. Henry VII seized power (1485) as a feudal monarch, ruling over a manorial economy. Spiritually, most Englishmen lived within the framework of medieval Catholicism. Two centuries later, the overthrow of James II (1688) saw England governed by a constitutional monarchy with far-flung commercial and colonial empires. Intellectually, the English had been influenced both by Renaissance humanism and the turbulent reformism of the Protestant Reformation. The latter contributed to the rise of Parliament as a counterweight to the absolutist Stuart Kings James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649).

English law changed too; but as law is a conservative discipline, it should not be surprising that law writers sought to reconcile medieval common law (obsessed with title to land) to a new world of trading ventures. The task was to digest and restate, beginning with Thomas Littleton's Tenures (1481 or 1482), continuing through variants of La Graunde Abridgement (from 1516), and culminating in the works of Edward Coke, notably his thirteen volumes of reports (from 1600) and his four-volume Institutes (1628-1644). F.W. Maitland said of Coke's ex post facto medievalism that "We were having a little Renaissance of our own, or a Gothic revival if you please."

This exhibition includes three grand abridgments (1573, 1577, 1675) and several editions of reports, including Coke’s Size Part (1607), Thomas Ireland’s abridgment of Coke’s Reports (1651) and Henry Yelverton's Reports (1661). Likewise there are practice aids such as the wonderfully titled Simboleography (1603), a study of "Instruments and Presidents." Finally, on display are historical works (a 1640 Bracton, a 1673 Glanville) and one polemic—the 1650 Reliquiae Sacrae Caroliniae, published a year after Charles I's execution at the hands of Parliament, and devoted to "that Great Monarch and Glorious Martyr."

Printing styles range from the glorious Renaissance presentations of Richard Tottel to the balanced lines of Restoration craftsmen whose fonts anticipated those of the Enlightenment. The volumes range in size from folio to duodecimo pocket books. The Charles I reliquary is one of the latter—published at the Hague and no doubt carried as discreetly as possible by its readers in England.

Justice of the Peace Manuals: From the British Isles to the American South (Fall 2006)

Justice of the Peace Manuals

The office of Justice of the Peace has its roots in commissions of citizens appointed as early as the thirteenth century. During the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) the office was formally established, consisting of royally appointed justices who in each county constituted a court of record. Especially under the Tudors, justices acquired many duties, including enforcement of labor, mercantile and poor laws, and religious regulations. American historian Charles Beard observed that creation of justice courts was "an important factor in the long process by which all men and all institutions were brought under the direct and supreme authority of the state." Since many justices were not lawyers, they needed instruction. As early as 1579, William Lambarde published Eirenarcha, or Of the Office of Justices of Peace, the first of many manuals intended to assist lay judges. British justice manuals currently on display include Richard Chamberlain, The Compleat Justice (1681); Richard Burn, The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer (1785); William Robinson, The Magistrate’s Pocket-Book (1825); William Lambarde, Eirenarcha (1614); George Tait, A Summary of the Powers and Duties of a Justice of the Peace in Scotland (1815); and William Nelson, The Office and Authority of a Justice of the Peace (1718).

In British North America, justices of the peace brought the forms of law to communities that lacked trained lawyers. Early in United States history, justices in southern states also supervised county patrols, an activity that merged police and militia activities. Not surprisingly, justice manuals were prominent in southern legal literature. Henry Hitchcock's The Alabama Justice (1822) was in fact the first book written and published in the state of Alabama.

In the twentieth century, justices of the peace, once the tools of a royal power, were perceived as superannuated and inefficient. The office of justice of the peace in Alabama was abolished by constitutional amendment prior to the adoption of the 1975 code.

Antebellum justice manuals from the southern United States currently on display include William Waller Henning, The New Virginia Justice (1810); Henry Hitchcock, The Alabama Justice (1822); Rhodom A. Greene and John W. Lumpkin, The Georgia Justice (1835); and William R. Smith, The Jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace (1859).