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Monday, 20 May 2024 - 5.15pm
Location: 
Faculty of Law, G24

Speaker: Adam B Forsyth (University of Cambridge)

Abstract: The Elizabethan lawyer James Morice has emerged in recent years as a figure of high importance. Following upon the early work of Faith Thompson and Mary Hume McGuire, scholars have developed a serious interest in Morice’s legal and intellectual campaign against the English ecclesiastical courts. As a result, Morice is now recognized as having played a critical role in stimulating the emergence of new ideas about the liberties of the subject and the rule of law in the late Elizabethan period.       

Yet more remains to be said about the genesis of Morice’s campaign against the criminal jurisdictions of the English church. An array of overlooked manuscript sources permit a detailed reconstruction of the ideas and events that shaped the early and intermediate stages of his activities. It becomes clear, firstly, that Morice’s effort to oppose to ecclesiastical jurisdictions did not - as many scholars have assumed - emerge from a fusion of abstract concerns about the royal supremacy and worries about the nature of oaths and their use in Whitgift’s ministerial subscription program. In reality, Morice’s campaign against the church courts arose out of his multi-decade service as a Justice of the Peace. Long before he had written extensively about judicial oaths, Morice had been troubled by the attempts of ecclesiastical courts in his native Essex to circumvent the statutorily-enshrined procedures for arresting excommunicate persons or setting them free. He was especially concerned by the way in which such courts had attempted to involve him as a JP in illegal activities along such lines. Starting with the grievances to which Morice’s campaign began as a response, this article will elucidate the centrality of the law of excommunication within the general scheme of Morice’s legal thought. Excommunication guided Morice’s activities in a manner both formative and persistent: shaping, as will be shown, the entire corpus of surviving writings that were produced as part of his campaign.

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Meeting ID: 321 483 533 966 / Passcode: weKxPQ

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