A godly law? Bulstrode Whitelocke, puritanism, and the common law in seventeenth-century England

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Abstract

Debates surrounding both the church and the law played an important role in the conflicts that marked seventeenth-century England. Calls for reform of the law in the Civil Wars and Interregnum complicated the apparent relationship between puritanism and the common law, as the first fragmented and the second came under attack in the 1640s and 1650s. This article first analyses the common lawyer Bulstrode Whitelocke's historical and constitutional writings that defended the common law against demands for its reform and argued that its legitimacy derived from its origins in, and resemblances to, the law of Moses. Refraining from the radical application of this model employed by some contemporaries, Whitelocke instead turned to British history to make his case. This article then examines Whitelocke's views of the relationship between common law and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in his own day, showing how, both as a lawyer and as a puritan, he navigated laws demanding religious conformity. Whitelocke's career therefore demonstrates how lawyers could negotiate the fraught relationship between the church and the law in the aftermath of the reconfigurations provoked by the Civil Wars and Restoration.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Church History
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages273-287
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Publication series

NameStudies in Church History
PublisherCambridge University Press
Volume56
ISSN (Print)0424-2084

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