The Magistrate — and Humorous Magistrates — in Early Seventeenth-Century England


  • Louis A. Knafla University of Calgary



magistrates, JPs, attorneys, lawyers, law reform,


The article on ‘Master Thrifty’ explores his character in The Humorous Magistrate, and places him as a JP within the context of the magistracy of the English West Midlands c 1640. The essay accounts for author John Newdigate’s description of Thrifty, and the ways in which he portrays Thrifty’s interaction with his clerk Mr Parchment, and other characters with whom he interacts in his judicial capacity. The larger vision of the essay is to explain how JPs and legal officials were viewed in English society generationally from the late sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century, and how the play would have been ‘read’ by viewers in the years of 1639-42. I place the play within this contemporary context, and conclude with an assessment of how and why Newdigate — sympathetic to the growing law reform movement — used this entertaining format to question the state of magistracy in these years.