Life and Law in Early Modern England - Introduction

February 2, 2011

The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a series of important legal debates in England. Under the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and the first two Stuart monarchs, James I and Charles I, lawyers, parliamentarians, and members of the court argued over the relationship between common law courts and equity courts, and the extent of the monarch’s prerogative. The further development of printed law books and law reports helped standardize the law and its enforcement throughout the country. Leading members of the English judiciary – Edmund Plowden, Sir Francis Bacon, and Sir Edward Coke – rose to prominence and published works whose influence continues to the present day.

This exhibit displays highlights of this period in English law using the holdings of the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection and the Elizabethan Club of Yale University. The Elizabethan Club was founded in 1911 by Alexander Smith Cochran, a member of the Yale College Class of 1896. Cochran established the Elizabethan Club to provide a place for daily conversation between students and faculty members. In his founding gift, Cochran donated a remarkable collection of early modern texts. For the last 100 years the Club has added to its collection. While the Club’s library is well known because of its early editions of Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser, it contains a number of important legal works, as well. The occasion of the Club’s Centenary provides the opportunity to bring together two impressive collections of early modern texts at Yale to illustrate a rich moment in English legal history.

     – 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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