Oliver Bateman's Reviews > The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century

The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law by J.G.A. Pocock
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's review
Apr 22, 2012

it was amazing
Read in April, 2012

At this point, Pocock's argument is old news, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still very big news. This was a tremendous (and tremendously careful) study of how the English approach to common law in the early 17th century (as by, say, Edward Coke) led to the development of the notion of its "timelessness" as part of an "ancient" (and, as Janelle Greenberg and others have discussed, largely fictional) constitution that was later subverted by more radical authors during the turbulent mid-17th century (and belatedly incorporated by apologists for the Crown). This differed from developments elsewhere on the continent, where regular exposure to civil law systems led to critiques of royal authority by Hotman et al. that were quite distinct than those authored across the Channel (not that England lacked ecclesiastical courts, or that they were unaware of this tradition--as Pocock notes, English legal thinkers referenced civil law in the mid-16th century, and Coke's work, although "historical," was nonetheless sui generis). Pocock would elaborate the "method" employed in doing this sort of history in subsequent writings, but this remains the most representative (if not necessarily the best) work in this genre. As a side note: I had dinner with this very old man two weeks ago, and am pleased to report that he's about as gracious and witty a person as one could imagine.
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