There is a story told among English historians about two enterprising and perceptive young scholars who, more than fifty years ago, determined that their common interest in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Parliaments could best be served by a fundamental division of labor. One of them, Professor Wallace Notestein, took as his province the early Stuart Parliaments while the other, Professor John Neale, took the Elizabethan Parliaments as his own. Elaborations of this story tell us that while Notestein had a goodly collection of diaries and journals to work with in his studies, Neale was less well served by the evidence; thus he was forced to cut accordingly his scholarly coat. This led to a parliamentary history which concentrated upon a limited range of important constitutional issues: the succession, the religious settlement, and the privileges of the House. Neale excluded from his study any account of the economic and social legislation of his period. On the other hand, Notestein, who had more material to work with, was able to produce a more encompassing history which took into account the economic and social legislation as well as the structure of English government in its many parts.
Neale has dominated the field by the sheer volume of his work, by the apparent comprehensiveness of his evidence, and by the elegance of his style. His interpretation of the Elizabethan period has come to be cited as authority, and it has colored the writings of many younger historians. For the novice scholar, however, Neale's histories are fraught with hidden difficulties. Neale provided no caveat to warn the reader of his limited range of topics. Because of the scope of his work and the clarity of his argument, the student is often left with the impression that the only issues which were significant were the constitutional issues, and that the only goal of politically ambitious Elizabethan Englishmen was a seat in Parliament.