The law court was much more central to the experience of everyday life in early modern England than it is today. People went to court as lawyers, judges, litigants or spectators. The central courts of common law as well as the Inns of Court – universities designed for legal training – dominated central London, and thus the urban imagination. But legal action was more widely spread, through local assize sessions as well as church courts. The court was a physical entity as well as a metaphor, and as such generated an intricate architecture and geography, an elaborate dress code for its practitioners, and at the same time a vast body of allegories and emblems.

While the space of law varied according to jurisdiction, popular perception of legal experience was often composite, drawing on a variety of legal actions and geographies. The business of law could be dry paper-work as well as dramatic confrontations, depending on jurisdiction and space. Legal proceedings happened in formal law courts as well as other civic spaces and improvised surroundings organised for trials. Sometimes, even domestic spaces served as private law courts. But across the board, the business of knowing was central to the operations of law, as the evidentiary exercise focused on uncovering invisible truths, whether pertaining to intention or to deed, or to the meaning of the law itself, and its maker.