English Legal History to 1776


This course surveys English law from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. In class, we will consider how social and political forces transformed law. Because this is a history course, law will be understood more as a variety of social experience and as a manifestation of cultural change than as an autonomous zone of thought and practice. We will look at competition among jurisdictions and the development of the legal profession. We will examine the development of some of the modern categories of legal practice: property, trespass and contracts, and crime. We will conclude by considering what happened to English law as it moved beyond England’s shores. Assignments include two essays (approximately 2000 words each), a midterm, and a final exam.

Students will read an array of court cases, treatises, and other sources from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. These readings are dense and difficult but also fascinating. Most students will only grasp their meaning by paying very close attention to language, reading with a dictionary, and re-reading.

Assigned books may include:

J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (4th ed.)

Mary Bilder, The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire

Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England

John Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts