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1 Austl. J. Legal Hist. 11 (1995)
John Cowell and the Interpreter: Law, Authority, and Attribution in Seventeenth-Century England

handle is hein.journals/ausleghis1 and id is 19 raw text is: Nancy E Wright*

ON 23 February 1610, the House of Commons introduced a
complaint against John Cowell, Regius Professor of Civil Law
at Cambridge University, and requested that his law dictionary
The Interpreter, published in 1607 at the university press, be
censored. On 25 March 1610, King James I issued a proclamation that
suppressed and recalled the law dictionary. The suppression of The
Interpreter has been studied before, particularly with reference to
constitutional theory and the King's finances.1 As well, the importance of
the reception of Cowell's dictionary to legal history has been established
by Colin Tite's study of its role in the development of parliamentary
judicature and Brian Levack's examination of its place in disputes about
civil and common law.2 These legal issues, particularly growing tensions
between civilians and common lawyers articulated during parliamentary
proceedings about Cowell, direct attention to how he is defined as an
author. No one has previously examined this example of the control of
discourse about the King and state with reference to the questions of
B A, M A (York, Can), M Phil, Ph D (Yale); Lecturer. Department of English,
University of Newcastle, NSW. She has published articles on early modern
England in journals such as English Literary History and the Yale Journal of
Law and the Humanities.
1      Chrimes, The Constitutional Ideas of Dr John Cowell (1949) 64 English
Historical Review 487 corrected Gardiner's overstatement that opinions
contained in The Interpreter were such as no House of Commons could fail in
pronouncing unconstitutional: see Gardiner, History of England Vol 2
(Longmans & Green, London, 3rd ed 1899) p66. Similarly, Sommerville,
Politics and Ideology in England, 1603-1640 (Longman, London 1986) pp12 I-
127 corrects Elton's insistence that the King and the Commons concurred about
prerogative powers and that the dictionary's suppression was a plain
acknowledgement of what the right doctrine was thought to be: see Elton, The
Rule of Law in Sixteenth-Century England in Elton, Studies in Tudor and
Stuart Politics and Government: Papers and Reviews, 1946-1972 Vol 1 (CUP,
Cambridge 1974) p268. The relation of the Great Contract to the constitutional
debate is explained in Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509-
1660 (OUP, Oxford 1971) pp277-284.
2      Levack, The Civil Lawyers in England, 1603-1641: A Political Study (Clarendon
Press, Oxford 1973) pp97-106; Tite, Impeachment and Parliamentary
Judicature in Early Stuart England (Athlone Press, London 1974) pp54-64.

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