Reflections on the relative accessibility of law courts in early modern Europe

Griet Vermeesch

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In this article historiography on early modern legal practice is reviewed regarding the relative accessibility of law courts in early modern Europe. References on England and France and to a lesser extent on the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, Spain and the Low Countries are used to assess what is known about the extent to which lower social groups could and did use judicial infrastructure to settle disputes and whether and how this changed during the early modern period. To date, historiography does not allow for clear-cut answers to such questions. However, it does offer an opening for such inquiry, comprising elements that lead to a pessimistic as well as a more optimistic assessment. The possible impact of juridical fragmentation, the organisation of law courts and of juridification is considered. The article ends with suggestions for new research that aims for a socially and chronologically differentiated analysis of the uses ordinary people made of justice to negotiate their social-economic relations and issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-76
Number of pages23
JournalCrime, History and Societies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Legal History
  • Early Modern European History
  • Social History


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