Selden, John

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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John Selden was a brilliant lawyer, author, politician, legal analyst, and historian in seventeenth-century England. John Milton, the famed poet and a contemporary of Selden, called Selden "the chief of learned men reputed in this Land."

Selden was born in Salvington, Sussex, England, in 1584. His baptismal record says only, "John, the sonne of John Selden, ye ministrell, was baptized the xxth day of December," the brevity of which indicating Selden likely was born within the customary four days of the ceremony but leaving in question the exact day of birth. The elder John Selden was a musician?a minstrel?who married Margaret Baker, the

John Selden.

BETTMANN/CORBIS

only child and, therefore, heir of a landed nobleman. The Selden family improved its status further so that by 1609 they held more than 80 acres of land and could afford to send their only surviving child to university.

After attending Oxford University and the Inns of Court, Selden was called to the bar in 1612, and then apprenticed for at least another two years. He published a number of works about English LEGAL HISTORY before he was admitted to the bar, and he continued to write while practicing law. His earliest work was a study of Syrian mythology in the Bible, De dis Syris, a treatise finished in 1605 and published in 1617. It established his reputation as of one Europe's leading scholars on Asian history.

"IGNORANCE OF THE LAW EXCUSES NO MAN; NOT ALL MEN KNOW THE LAW, BUT BECAUSE IT IS AN EXCUSE EVERY MAN WILL PLEAD, AND NO MAN CAN TELL HOW TO CONFUTE HIM."

?JOHN SELDEN

History of Tithes, a masterpiece of research on the history of ENGLISH LAW published in 1618, is by far his most influential work. In History of Tithes, Selden argued that the clergy had a legal but not a divine right to tithes, or 10 percent of a person's income. Selden also claimed that tithes were not ordained by God's law. This conclusion was controversial because it implicitly denied the divine right of kings, or the notion that monarchs were descended from rulers appointed by God, for it implied a separation of state law and divine law. The divine right of kings supported the rule that kings could not forfeit their right to the throne

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through misconduct, but Tithes put this rule in doubt.

Three years after the publication of Tithes, Selden became embroiled in another controversy when he helped Parliament draft the House of Commons Protestation...

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