We now know a good deal about crime and criminal justice in early modern England. Civil litigation, which may well have involved a larger proportion of the population, has been relatively neglected by comparison. However research by Christopher Brooks and others on the surviving court records has established that after what appears to have been the most litigious era in English history, a long phase of stasis and then retreat set in, extending from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century. This paper, derived from a chapter in the forthcoming ninth volume of the Oxford History of the Laws of England, surveys the nature of that slump, how historians have attempted to explain it, and the extent to which declining popular involvement in litigation made the law increasingly marginal to the lives of most English people.
Wilfrid Prest AM is Emeritus Professor of History and of Law at the University of Adelaide; he has also taught and held visiting positions at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, St Andrews University and All Souls College, Oxford. A second edition of his first book, The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts, 1590-1640 was recently published.
Speaker: Professor Wilfrid Prest, Emeritus Professor, University of Adelaide
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