The period from 1550 to 1640 saw a tremendous rise in the amount of litigation initiated in England. Although the pattern of this great expansion is known, its social meaning is not yet clear. Litigation has, paradoxically, been interpreted as both the barometer of a breakdown in social relations, or alternatively as a functional means of dispute settlement. Here this problem will be addressed by placing the initiation of litigation within the context of the social practices and events which led to disputes, and also by looking at how contemporaries reacted to, and interpreted these events, both publicly and privately. Most litigation arose out of economic disputes concerning credit and contracts, and this was a result of the growth of marketing in the period. Such disputes were seen as threatening to the social order, and were something which contemporaries took very seriously. The primary means of dealing with disputes was to attempt to initiate a community negotiated Christian reconciliation between the disputing parties in order to maintain social peace and concord. But as the market grew more complex, and disputes became more difficult to resolve, increasingly the authority of the law had to be invoked. This in turn led to the development of a more pessimistic language of social relations which stressed that any form of positive sociability could only be maintained under an institutional umbrella created by the threat of authority. As a result, community relations and reconciliation, although still defined in terms of Christian love and charity, came to be seen as more functional than normative because of the massive interjection of the civil law into day to day life.