Dr Ian Williams delivers closing keynote speech at the British Legal History Conference
15 July 2019
The theme of the conference, organised by the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research at the University of St Andrews, was Comparative Legal History.
In his presentation he explored an overlooked part of British constitutional history: the role of the monarch as a judge. Dr Williams examined the judicial activity of James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England), the last monarch to judge cases in person. James judged cases covering a wide range of subject matter, from duelling to witchcraft. Dr Williams showed that despite England and Scotland being separate kingdoms with different legal traditions, James was able to act in very similar ways in both.
Dr Williams also examined James’s own views on judging as expressed in his writings and speeches, including a previously ignored account of a speech in 1617. James saw judging was a key component of kingship. In particular, James thought that by judging cases in person he could make an example to ensure the better behaviour of his subjects.
This speech is part of a wider project on the court of Star Chamber by Dr Williams, and he thanks the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust for their support.