In a number of historical accounts Sir Edward Coke and other lawyers claimed that the common law had been a bulwark against popish encroachment prior to the Reformation. Anxiety over a renewal of clerical usurpation and a desire to preserve royal authority continued to inform their attitudes to the reformed English church courts. Although the common lawyers who wrote these histories shared several underlying assumptions, they nonetheless reached very different conclusions. By exposing these divisions and explaining common law attitudes towards the church courts and the prerogative, this article challenges received views on the ‘common law mind’.