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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 brainstorming session in term two in the Wolfson Research Exchange (Rooms 1 & 2) from
2pm to 5pm on Friday 27th January 2023

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. There will then be a series of presentations and discussions based on primary and secondary texts, each introduced by a speaker who will lead the discussion on different aspects of the Rule of Law in relation to their own specialism. We welcome proposals from staff and postgraduate students who would be interested in presenting a text on any part of the early modern world. Presentations should last between ten and twenty minutes. Proposals (c.100-200 words) should be submitted by 21st November to David Fletcher at 

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. Questions 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).

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

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).