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The Legal Writing of Sir Edward Coke, the Anglo-Saxons, and Lex Terrae

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This article examines the treatises and law reports of Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), the Attorney General under Elizabeth I and later, Chief Justice of the courts of Common Pleas and King’s Bench. The article juxtaposes Coke’s expressions of the common law’s uniqueness and antiquity with the historical scholarship of Coke’s peers that illuminated English legal, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and institutional identity. This antiquarian historicism increasingly located the source of English ethno-cultural identity in the Anglo-Saxon period of English history. Whilst Coke’s belief in an immemorial common law necessarily placed its origins in the native British past, the following argues that Coke was receptive to contemporary scholarship that had solidified the association of the Anglo-Saxons with a discrete sense of Englishness. Indeed, subscription to the burgeoning antiquarian consensus that the Anglo-Saxons were the first English people was not necessarily incongruous with belief in an immemorial, pre-Saxon common law.



43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4303 Historical Studies, 4705 Literary Studies

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The Seventeenth Century

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Informa UK Limited
The F. W. Maitland Studentship in Legal History, University of Cambridge Faculty of Law