Life and Law in Early Modern England - Persecution of Catholics

Michael Widener


William Cecil, First Baron Burghley, 1520/21-1598. The execution of justice in England for maintenance of publique and Christian peace (London, 1583). Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library; acquired with the Yale Law Library Patrons Fund.

Lord Burghley served as Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State and eminence grise. Trained as a lawyer, much of his public career was dedicated to ensuring the stability of the Queen’s reign in the face of numerous crises, among them being the lack of a clear successor to the throne and Catholic conspiracies to overthrow Elizabeth. In his 1583 work on The Execution of Justice, Burghley, masquerading as a loyal Catholic, defended the persecution of Catholics as a matter of state policy. Following the excommunication of the Queen in 1570, and the Pope’s demand that all loyal Catholics deny her legitimacy, Burghley claimed that the Queen could, according to political need, persecute Catholics. The work was translated into Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish.

     – 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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