Historian F. W. Maitland observed that legal documents are the best—indeed, often the only—available evidence about the economic and social history of a given period. Why, then, has it taken so long for historians to focus systematically on the civil (noncriminal) law of early modern (sixteenth- to eighteenth-century) England? Maitland offered one reason: the subject requires researchers to “master an extremely formal system of pleading and procedure.” Yet the complexities that confront those who would study such materials are not wholly different from those recently surmounted by historians of criminal law in England during the same period. Another possible explanation for historians’ neglect of the subject is their widespread assumption that most people in early modern England had little contact with civil law. If that were so, the history of legal matters would be of little relevance to general historical scholarship. But recent research suggests that civil litigation during the period involved artisans, merchants, professionals, shopkeepers, and farmers, and not merely a narrow, propertied, male elite. Moreover, the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw an extraordinary explosion in civil litigation by both women and men, making this the most litigious era in English history on a
per capita basis.The author of the passage mentions the occupations of those involved in civil litigation in early modern England most likely in order tosuggest that most historians’ assumptions about the participants in the civil legal system during that period are probably correct,
support the theory that more people participated in the civil legal system than the criminal legal system in England during that period,
counter the claim that legal issues reveal more about a country’s ordinary citizens than about its elite,
illustrate the wide range of people who used the civil legal system in England during that period,
suggest that recent data on people who participated in early modern England’s legal system may not be correct
Add Your Explanation
You must have a Magoosh account in order to leave an explanation.