Law’s Breakages

  • Sarah Covington


The language of the law has always been rich in metaphor, and nowhere more so than in the seventeenth century.1 Law was invariably, if not quite originally, described as a map, a monument, a “darke and melancholy” “ancient palace,”2 a ship (according to Francis Bacon), a Janus (John Selden’s description of the common law), or, in echo of Virgil, a cypress “among the pliant shrubs.”3 Coke’s own motto as serjeant-at-law was Lex Est Tutissima Cassis, or Law is the Safest Helmet—an image that reflected a defensive and protective rather than an aggressive approach to the law’s borders.4 Borrowing from the organic model of the body politic, early seventeenth-century writers such as Nicholas Fuller could describe the laws of a realm in Fortescuean terms as the sinews of a body, just as John Davies likened a nation’s laws to the body’s organs.5 Like reason, honor, or love, law was also said to be indelibly inscribed in the heart, an image that extended back to biblical descriptions of Yahweh stating in the book of Jeremiah that “I will put my law within [the children of Israel], and I will write it upon their hearts.”6 Even Hobbes, ostensibly resistant to metaphor,7 would describe the law of nature, echoing Psalm 36.31, as “written in every man’s heart.”8


Seventeenth Century Henry VIII Criminal Thought Safe Helmet Middle Decade 
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© Sarah Covington 2009

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  • Sarah Covington

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