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Lawes Divine

Foreshadowing The "lawes", Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From "lawes Divine, Morall And Martiall":

Excerpt from "Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall"

Original "Lawes Divine" published in 1611

Reprinted from Tracts and Other Papers Relating Principally to Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies of North America from the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776, edited by Peter Smith

Published in 1947

The Magna Carta officially became part of English law in 1297 and was used to defend against abuse of power by English royalty. The Magna Carta was put to its strongest test in the first half of the 1600s during the rule of King James I from 1603 to 1625 and Charles I, who ruled from 1625 to 1649. Both were from the House of Stuart and reasserted a king's right to absolute power over his subjects. Each believed his ruling power came directly from God, not from the consent of the people and certainly not from a written document like the Magna Carta.

In 1606 it was King James who granted the Virginia Company of London a charter to recruit individuals for settlement of the new land called Virginia. The officers of the Virginia Company ruled over the Virginia settlements until 1624 when King James revoked their charter for not making enough money. From the initial settlement at Jamestown in 1607, the Church of England, overseen by King James, was the official church of the English settlements.

"No man shall use traitorous words against his Majesty's person or royal authority, upon pain of death."

The English church was led by the pope and the Catholic Church until 1534 when Parliament passed the "Act of Supremacy," declaring the king of England and not the pope as head of the Church of England, commonly called the Anglican Church. The royal government and the Anglican Church became tightly interlocked. When in 1609 the Virginia Company in London made plans to spread the settlers out along the James River in Virginia, they included plans for a church at each site. To maintain order and strict obedience to the Anglican Church and therefore to King James, the company prepared and imposed the "Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall" upon its settlers in 1611.

The "Lawes Divine" were a harsh set of rules by which all Virginia colonists were supposed to live. The rules addressed aspects of settlement life from daily church attendance to the consequences of stealing a plant from another's garden. The ultimate punishment associated with violating most of the rules was death. The concept of individual rights and liberties put forth in the Magna Carta found no place in "Lawes Divine."

For More Information


Billings, Warren M., John E. Selby, and Thad W. Tate. Colonial Virginia: A History. White Plains, NY: KTO Press, 1986.

Bruce, Philip A. Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1910.

Davis, Burke. Getting to Know Jamestown. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1971.

Force, Peter, ed. Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, From the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776. Vol. 3. New York: Peter Smith, 1947.

Lacy, Dan M. The Colony of Virginia. New York: F. Watts, 1973.

Web Sites

Excerpts from the "Lawes Divine, Morall, and Martiall." Le Projet Albion. http://puritanism.online.fr/puritanism/sources/valaws1611.html (accessed on August 24, 2004).

First Legislative Assembly at Jamestown, Virginia. http://www.nps.gov/colo/Jthanout/1stASSLY.html (accessed August 24, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law