Life and Law in Early Modern England - Fortescue

Sir John Fortescue, 1533-1607. A learned commendation of the politique lawes of England (London, 1599). Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Sir John Fortescue served as Lord Chief Justice under Henry VI and was a loyal partisan of the Lancastrian cause during the War of the Roses. He went into exile after the victory of the Yorkists, during which time he wrote this treatise on English laws, probably to instruct the young Prince of Wales. In this work he praised the advantages of English common law over Roman law, noting that in England “the regal power is restrained by political law.” Fortescue’s work contrasted the limited rule of English kings with the despotism of French kings. Later jurists such as Sir Edward Coke would look to Fortescue to justify constitutional limitations on the power of the English monarch. His work gained wide readership after the publication of its first printed edition in 1545/46.

    – Justin Zaremby

“Life and Law in Early Modern England,” an exhibition marking the Centenary of the Elizabethan Club, is curated by Justin Zaremby with Mike Widener, and is on display February-May 2011 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library Yale Law School.

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