12 June 2018

BOOK: John BAKER, The Reinvention of Magna Carta 1216-1616 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). ISBN 9781316637579, £ 32.99

Last year, Cambridge University Press published a book on the influence of Magna Charta on English public law between the 13th-17th centuries. Cambridge University Press published the paperback version of the book this month.


This new account of the influence of Magna Carta on the development of English public law is based largely on unpublished manuscripts. The story was discontinuous. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the charter was practically a spent force. Late-medieval law lectures gave no hint of its later importance, and even in the 1550s a commentary on Magna Carta by William Fleetwood was still cast in the late-medieval mould. Constitutional issues rarely surfaced in the courts. But a new impetus was given to chapter 29 in 1581 by the 'Puritan' barrister Robert Snagge, and by the speeches and tracts of his colleagues, and by 1587 it was being exploited by lawyers in a variety of contexts. Edward Coke seized on the new learning at once. He made extensive claims for chapter 29 while at the bar, linking it with habeas corpus, and then as a judge (1606–16) he deployed it with effect in challenging encroachments on the common law. The book ends in 1616 with the lectures of Francis Ashley, summarising the new learning, and (a few weeks later) Coke's dismissal for defending too vigorously the liberty of the subject under the common law.


Sir John Hamilton Baker is an English legal historian. He was Downing Professor of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge from 1998 to 2011


The legal character of Magna Carta
Chapter 29 in the fourteenth century
Magna Carta in the inns of court 1340-1540
Personal liberty and the church
Royal prerogative and common law under Elizabeth I
William Fleetwood and Magna Carta
The resurgence of chapter 29 after 1580
Magna Carta and the rule of law 1592-1606
Sir Edward Coke and Magna Carta 1606-1615
A year "consecrate to justice" 1616
Myth and reality
Appendices. Two Fifteenth-Century Readings on Chapter 29
Actions Founded on Chapter 29 (1501-32)
William Fleetwood on Chapter 29 (c. 1558)
Fleetwood's Tracts on Magna Carta and on Statutes : a concordance of parallel passages
Six Elizabethan Cases (1582-1600)
The Judges' resolutions on Habeas Corpus (1592)
Coke's Memorandum on Chapter 29 (1604)
Whetherly v. Whetherly (1605)
Maunsell's Case (1607)
Bulthorpe v. Ladbrook (1607).

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