A Man Moste Meete': A Nationwide Survey of Justices of the Peace in Mid-Tudor England, 1547-1582

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2014-05

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Abstract

This dissertation is a national study of English justices of the peace (JPs) in the mid-Tudor era. It incorporates comparable data from the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and the Elizabeth I. Much of the analysis is quantitative in nature: chapters compare the appointments of justices of the peace during the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, and reveal that purges of the commissions of the peace were far more common than is generally believed. Furthermore, purges appear to have been religiously-based, especially during the reign of Elizabeth I. There is a gap in the quantitative data beginning in 1569, only eleven years into Elizabeth I’s reign, which continues until 1584. In an effort to compensate for the loss of quantitative data, this dissertation analyzes a different primary source, William Lambarde’s guidebook for JPs, Eirenarcha. The fourth chapter makes particular use of Eirenarcha, exploring required duties both in and out of session, what technical and personal qualities were expected of JPs, and how well they lived up to them. There was a disconnect between Lambarde’s standards for a JP’s morality and behavior and what the Crown was willing to accept. While Lambarde placed emphasis on the proper practice of religion, he also had high standards for personal behavior, standards with which the Crown agreed in theory but abandoned in practice in favor of men who worshipped in accordance with the Queen’s religious reforms. The expansion of JPs’ powers over the course of the 1570s is examined, comparing data in the Calendars of the Patent Rolls against the Eirenarcha. It is argued that Elizabeth I used the expansion of JPs’ powers as a form of state-building, quietly taking away long-held powers from other officials and re-assigning them to JPs, simultaneously increasing the Crown’s authority in the localities.

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Justices of the peace, Tudor era

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