Life and Law in Early Modern England - Mary Queen of Scots

Michael Widener

Edmund Plowden, 1518-1585. A treatise proveinge that if or soveraigne ladye Elizabeth … should dye without issue, that the Queene of Scotte is nott disabled by the lawe of England, to receyue the crowne of Englande by descent [before 1676]. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library; acquired with the John A. Hoober Fund.

Edmund Plowden rose to prominence as a lawyer under the reign of Queen Mary and became well-known as a law reporter. In 1566, probably in response to a request from the Duke of Norfolk, Plowden wrote this defense of Mary Stuart’s claim to the English throne as Elizabeth’s successor. He based his claim on the fact that the English throne passed by inheritance and that because the maxims of the common law, which applied to natural bodies, did not apply to political bodies, Mary’s foreign birth did not invalidate her claim to the throne. Moreover, he noted that Mary’s accession would not lead to English subjugation by the Scots given the traditional homage shown by the Scots to the English. His argument was proven correct when, as he foresaw, the Stuart kings chose to rule from England, instead of from Scotland.

     – 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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