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Sir Matthew Hale (16091676) and Natural Law in the Seventeenth Century

David S. Sytsma


The legal history of England and the United States of America is commonly recognized as following a unique path distinct from the rest of Europe. Whereas continental European nations followed the Roman civil law (Corpus iuris civilis) compiled by Justinian, England developed its own body of customary law known as common law. Among legal historians of English common law, Sir Matthew Hale (16091676) ranks as one of the most familiar names along with Sir Edward Coke and Sir William Blackstone. After an early career as a lawyer, during which time he served as counsel for the defense at the famous trials of Archbishop Laud in 1643 and Christopher Love in 1651, Hale was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas (16541658), and at the Restoration was appointed successively as Chief Baron of the Exchequer (16601671) and Chief Justice of the Kings Bench (16711676). In the judgment of one historian, he was not only accounted by his contemporaries the most learned lawyer of the age but was so well received over the course of centuries of scholarship that he is now known as one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.

David S. Systma, "Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) and Natural Law in the Seventeenth Century," Journal of Markets and Morality 17, no.1 (Spring 2014): 205-256.

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