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Between 1500 and 1700, the period of Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare, of John Selden and Edward Coke, English law and literature flourished. Yet, these two worlds did not exist separately from each other.
Martin Ingram’s 1987 book Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570–1640 is celebrated for many reasons.(1) Not least, it is recognised for its importance in rescuing ecclesiastical courts from previous unfavourable assessments that branded them corrupt and inefficient.
It is the title which gives away a great deal about this very fine book, and should alert us to Tom Lambert’s ambition for this project, which has grown out of a University of Durham PhD thesis. ‘Law’ positions it as a work of legal history, but it is the component of ‘order’ which offers the second and bolder half of Lambert’s argument.
As Professor Gunn observes in his foreword, this book has been a long time coming: first mooted in fact in 1985 (a very suitable date). This has had two significant consequences which I shall discuss sequentially.
Martial law does not have a good reputation. William Blackstone set the tone of modern attitudes in the 18th century. Martial law is ‘built upon no settled principles ... entirely arbitrary in its decisions ... no law, but something indulged, rather than allowed as a law’ (quoted at p. 251).
Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford’s jointly-written book is slim in size – 197 pages of text, 74 of notes – but expansive in scope and interpretative ambition. It is a dense, complex piece of history, frequently operating on several levels at once.
Karen Baston’s book is more than a revision of her Ph.D. It moves significantly beyond her thesis to open up fascinating new perspectives on the neglected subject of the place of the Scottish legal profession in Scottish public culture during the European Enlightenment of the 18th century.
At the start of this century, Tim Hitchcock and Bob Shoemaker undertook the digitisation of the surviving editions of the Old Bailey Proceedings, with the object to create a searchable resource in a form accessible to the public and free at the point of use. Last year, 2015, was the anniversary of the launch of the first database in 2005.
Towards the end of this fascinating study, Heather Shore reflects on the difficulty of ‘trying to uncover or reconstruct something that does not exist in a concrete form’ (p. 192). For Shore, the ‘underworld’ is a ‘cipher’, through which the press, the police, the government, and the wider society represents, and tries to understand, crime as a social problem.
In August 1569, Queen Elizabeth I roundly rebuked James Stewart, earl of Moray, then regent to the three-year-old James VI, for presuming that 'ther were any equalitie … betwixt us and yow' (p. 232).