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Journal > Volumes > 43 (2012) / 1 (Spring)
The Tudor Genesis of Edward Coke’s Immemorial Common Law
Ian Williams
University College London, Faculty of Laws

Edward Coke is well known for his unhistorical approach to the common law and the ensuing myth of the ancient constitution. He is o!en taken as representative of common lawyers, an important group in the intellectual life of early modern England. This article expands upon J. G. A. Pocock’s seminal work in the field, demonstrating that Coke’s historical views are 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 then uses evidence of Coke’s reading of law books to show how and why Coke reached unhistorical conclusions about the antiquity of the common law. Coke’s method was ahistorical, but used an approach to the understanding of texts which was widespread in early modern England. The article demonstrates that Coke’s approach to historical sources can also be seen in the work of other lawyers.

Pages: 103 - 123