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The Rule of Law

The concept of the rule of law has resurfaced in contemporary political discourse, so this seems an apposite time to revisit the theme in its early modern context. The Early Modern and Eighteenth-Century Centre will be holding a workshop in the Wolfson Research Exchange (Rooms 1 & 2) from
2pm to 5:30pm on Friday 27 January (and on TeamsLink opens in a new window)

The aims of this session will be to discover the level of interest in the subject and to create a list of topics and questions that could be the basis for a full day conference in 2023/24, and possibly a publication.

The first hour of the event will be led by our keynote speaker Clare Jackson, winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2022 and Senior Tutor of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Clare will talk about 'James VI & I: Lex Loquens’, which arises from her current book project.

There will then be a series of presentations on different aspects of the Rule of Law including:

Rebekah Andrew on Henry Fielding, English Law, and the Bible

Bernard Capp on The Rule(s) of Law: independence, integrity, and discretion in early modern English courts

David Fletcher on ‘Prerogative Royal and absolute power’ – James II’s Declarations of Indulgence

Thomas Pert on " said to be eleven points in the law": The confiscation of the Electoral Palatinate and the Imperial Constitution in the Thirty Years' War, c.1621-1648"

Hannah Straw on ‘An Offence of a public nature’: The Cock Tavern scandal and moral law in the Restoration

The session will conclude with a discussion about how we might develop the theme.


Some of the questions to be addressed could include:

  • How should we define the concept of the rule of law in an early modern context?
  • What are the freedoms and constraints of the rule of law?
  • What conditions - cultural, institutional, political, and constitutional - are needed to make the rule of law work?
  • What were the challenges to the rule of law in the early modern world, and what did it struggle against?
  • In history, to what extent has the integrity of the rule of law been trumped by personalized power?

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for the bibliography, please contact David Fletcher at

Selected bibliography

BALDWIN, JAMES, Islamic Law and Empire in Ottoman Cairo (Electronic book).

BEATTIE, J. M., Crime and the Courts in England, 1660-1800 (Electronic book).

BINGHAM, T. H., The Rule of Law (London ; New York, 2010).

COCKBURN, J. S. and GREEN, THOMAS A. (Eds), Twelve Good Men and True - The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200-1800 (Electronic book).

COWAN, BRIAN and SOWERBY, SCOTT (eds) The State Trials and the Politics of Justice in Later Stuart England (Electronic book)

DASTON, LORRAINE, Rules: A Short History of What We Live By (Princeton, 2022).


EDIE, CAROLYN A. 'Revolution and the Rule of Law: The End of the Dispensing Power, 1689' Eighteenth-Century Studies, 10: 434-50.

GRIFFITH-JONES, ROBIN, AND HILL, MARK, Magna Carta, Religion and the Rule of Law (Electronic book).

HERZOG, TAMAR, A Short History of European Law : The Last Two and a Half Millennia (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018).

HUNTER, IAN, AND SAUNDERS, DAVID, Natural Law and Civil Sovereignty : Moral Right and State Authority in Early Modern Political Thought (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire New York, 2002).

KRIEGEL, BLANDINE, The State and the Rule of Law (Electronic book)

NORTH, DOUGLASS C., WALLIS, JOHN JOSEPH, AND WEINGAST, BARRY R., Violence and Social Orders : A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Electronic book).

PEACEY, JASON, The Madman and the Churchrobber - Law and Conflict in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2022).

RAZ, JOSEPH, The Authority of Law : Essays on Law and Morality (Oxford ; New York, 2009).

ROSE, JACQUELINE, Godly Kingship in Restoration England : The Politics of the Royal Supremacy, 1660-1688 (Cambridge, 2011).

ROSEN, LAWRENCE, The Anthropology of Justice : Law as Culture in Islamic Society (Cambridge, 1989).

SEDLEY, STEPHEN, Lions under the Throne : Essays on the History of English Public Law (Electronic book).

STEEDMAN, CAROLYN, History and the Law : A Love Story (Electronic book).

TAMANAHA, BRIAN Z., On the Rule of Law : History, Politics, Theory (Cambridge, 2004).