The Tudor Genesis of Edward Coke's Immemorial Common Law
Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol.43(1), p.103, 2012
33 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2012
Date Written: September 1, 2010
Edward Coke is well-known for his unhistorical approach to the common law and the ensuing myth of the ancient constitution. He is often taken as representative of common lawyers, an important group in the intellectual life of early-modern England. This article seeks to investigate Coke’s views on legal history, expanding upon Pocock’s seminal work in the field by demonstrating that Coke’s historical views were not a Jacobean development or a response to external circumstances. His views had been held, and propagated, since the early stages of his career as a lawyer and were shared by other lawyers. The article uses evidence of Coke’s reading of law books to demonstrate Coke’s historical method, showing how and why he reached unhistorical conclusions about the antiquity of the common law, and why Coke believed those conclusions to be factually accurate. Coke’s method was ahistorical, but used an approach to the understanding of texts which was widespread in early-modern England. The article also shows that Coke’s approach to historical sources can also be seen in the work of other lawyers.
Keywords: Edward Coke, legal history, history of reading, common law mind
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