Liberty of the Subject: Habeas Corpus and English Society, 1500-1800


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




This history of habeas corpus, the means for testing the legality of imprisonment, is based on a survey of previously unstudied writ files and an exploration of court records, manuscript case reports, and non-legal texts. Contrary to earlier accounts, local tyrannies proved more dangerous than royal ones. Rather than a threat, the king's prerogative provided the ideological ground on which habeas stood, permitting the writ's defense of the liberty of the subject. Only through the political transformations of Civil War and changes in law wrought by popular use of the writ would ideas about liberty change from a liberty arising from one's subject status to a liberty arising from one's humanity.