Age of Lawyers

Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare's Britain

Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare's Britain, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened September 12, 2015 and closed January 4th, 2016. Age of Lawyers was curated by Caroline Duroselle-Melish, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints at the Folger Shakespeare Library, with the academic expertise of Erin Kidwell, Curator of Legal History in the Special Collections Department of Georgetown Law Library.

In the 800th anniversary year of the Magna Carta, Age of Lawyers offered a close-up look at the rapid increase of lawyers and legal actions in Shakespeare's Britain, from the law's impact on daily life to major political and legal disputes—some invoking the Magna Carta—that still influence American politics and government.

The exhibition gave visitors the chance to explore many of the Folger legal manuscripts on display in further depth through newly digitized images and translated transcripts produced by a current Folger project, Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO).

Age of Lawyers was in memory of Christopher Brooks (1948–2014).


Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Curator

Caroline Duroselle-Melish is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She has worked with a wide range of collections in university and independent rare book libraries, including serving as Rare Book Librarian at the University of Rochester and, most recently, as Assistant Curator at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Caroline has published on a range of topics associated with early modern printing, including studies of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s library and the trade relations between Frankfurt and Bologna.

Erin Kidwell, Academic Advisor

Erin Kidwell is the Curator of Legal History in the Special Collections Department of Georgetown Law Library, where she has assisted numerous scholars, students, and legal practitioners in researching a variety of subjects in legal history; including the late Chris Brooks, the creator and original curator of this exhibition. As an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, she offers two legal history courses – British Legal History: from the Celts to the Industrial Age, 1-1890 CE, and Early American Legal History: From Settlement to Reconstruction 1600-1880. She is also a regular participant in seminars relating to the History of British Political Thought at The Folger Institute, and the author of George Saltern’s Of the Antient Lawes of great Britaine (1605): Ancient Constitutionalism and the Origins of the Rights of British Subjects in Jacobean Union Texts (Talbot Publishing forthcoming 2015).

Contents of the Exhibition

Age of Lawyers exhibition material

This article offers a comprehensive and descriptive list of each piece included in the exhibition and is arranged into four sections: Legal LivesThe Great CourtsLaw and Communities; and The King and the Law.

See also, Age of Lawyers exhibition item list for more information.

In Memory

Christopher W. Brooks


A leading historian of English law, Christopher W. Brooks passed away unexpectedly on August 19, 2014, at the age of 65. Chris Brooks was the creator and original curator of this exhibition. He selected and described many of the materials you can see in this hall.

Born in Salisbury, Maryland, Chris Brooks was a professor of history at the University of Durham in England, where he began teaching in 1980. He was also a founding board member of the Law and History Review, the journal of the American Society of Legal History. His obituary in the British newspaper The Guardian noted that he was "acutely conscious of the common legal heritage with England that produced the US constitution."

His books include Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth (1986), a study of country solicitors and their middle class clients after the English Civil War, The Middling Sort (1994, co-edited with Jonathan Barry), Lawyers, Litigation and English Society Since 1450 (1998), and Law, Politics and Society in Early Modern England (2008).


Age of Lawyers will give visitors the chance to explore many of the Folger legal manuscripts on display in further depth through newly digitized images and translated transcripts produced by a current Folger project, Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO).

A note about the transcriptions.

Our goal is to present basic textual versions of the manuscripts that preserve as much a sense of the original as possible. The spelling as it appears in the manuscripts has been maintained (including ff/F, i/j and u/v usage) even though this means some words do not appear as one might expect, e.g., ffather instead of Father, iustice not justice, vpon not upon, and receaue instead of receive, not to mention instances such as playnlie for plainly or Inquyrye for inquiry. Original punctuation, capitalization, brevigraphs, and lineation of the text are also all maintained in the transcriptions. Several words or even entire sections in Latin show up in these manuscript pages since early modern writers often used Latin for a variety of matters – including numbers – a practice that persists to some degree today; such words and sections have been transcribed but not translated.

Following established semi-diplomatic guidelines, we have made certain minor changes for the sake of clarity and readability such as expanding common abbreviations from the time, silently lowering superscript letters in words, and replacing archaic letters such as the thorn (looks like a y) or terminal graphs with modern equivalents. Any letters that are expanded from abbreviations or modernized from archaic forms appear in the transcriptions as italic, and superscript letters in words appear as non-superscript, regular in-line letters.

A few examples are below:

Mr = Master

ye = the

yt = that

wch = which

yor = your

Abbreviations for the currency of the period such as pounds, shilling, and pence (l or li for libri, s for solidus, d for denarius), however, have been neither expanded nor lowered since these were the customary references.

In cases where the scribe crossed out letters or words in the manuscript, such cancellations or deletions are indicated in the transcription by a strikethrough, e.g., but I thinke it . Likewise, when the writer added letters or words above or between the lines (as writers on paper still do), such insertions appear as superscript, e.g., ^ me (the caret symbol, ^, is transcribed if present in the text).

In a few instances, we have supplied letters or words in the transcription as editorial interventions to make clear what would otherwise not be. On these occasions, the supplied letters/words appear in square brackets, e.g., distre[ss]. Dots within square brackets signal obliterated or otherwise indecipherable letters with the number of dots corresponding to the number of indecipherable letters, e.g., [..]. Annotations providing extra information about the text of the transcriptions are displayed in blue type on the transcription packet you find in the hall.

Lastly, the semi-diplomatic transcriptions do not attempt to show precise spacing, line fillers, differing sizes of the text, nor the flourishes some writers made with particular letters. Viewing the original manuscripts directly in all their variety is the best way to understand the elements involved; transcriptions are meant to support that experience.

Section 1

L.a.63: Letter from Lewis Bagot to Walter Bagot, November 10, 1604

L.a.64: Letter from Lewis Bagot to Walter Bagot, 1604 November 20

L.a.182: Letter from William Bagot to Walter Bagot, 1622/3 February 27

L.b.669: Legal opinion concerning the right of a Lieutenant of the Tower

L.d.636: Letter from William Yelverton to Nathaniel Bacon, 1604 April 9

V.a.247: Justice’s handbook, ca. 1575

X.d.122(4): Oath of a Serjeant at Law

Section 2

L.a.1067: List of Jurors in the Case of Thomas Whiston, Defendant, v. Thomas Smyth, Plaintiff

L.d.639: Petition Against Lady Bacon and Sir Owen Smith

L.d.739: Order to Sir Nathaniel Bacon in the Case of Edwards, Plaintiff v. Grigges, Defendant

L.e.568: Letter from John Lord, London, to Sir Humphrey Ferrers, Walton, 1597 June 2

L.e.578: Letter from Henry Michell, Clements Inn, London, to Sir Humphrey Ferrers, Walton, 1605 May 1

L.f.45: Menu for Lent assizes, ca. 1620

L.f.218: Charge for Goodwife Ivery, 1587

X.d.98: Expenses of the Diet Provided during Easter Term

X.d.329: Allowance of £58 to Thomas Reve, upon His petition

Section 3

L.d.477: Letter from Sir John Popham to Robert Redmayne, copy, 1599 June 20

L.d.839: Tenants' petition to Sir Roger Townshend

L.d.856: List of bonds at Sir Roger Townshend's death

L.e.967: Customs of copyholders, Sir John Ferrers vs. Richard Creswell

L.f.398: Will of William Meyrick, parson of St. Michael's

V.a.143: Copy of speeches made by Sir Nicholas Bacon before Parliament, the Star Chamber and elsewhere

V.b.9: Treatises on English Law, 1576

V.b.86: Court paper of the Manorial Court for the court leet and court baron of the manor of Henley-in Arden, Warwickshire

X.d.249: An Ephemeris of the Certifiable Causes of the Commission of the Peace from June 1580

Z.d.10: By-Laws of the Borough of Warwick, Warwickshire

Section 4