An understanding of the legal environment is vitally important to historical studies of accounting regulation, particularly those which seek to clarify modern regulatory behaviour by comparisons with premodern practices. In recent years historical comparisons of this type have begun to enter the economics-based literature on auditing regulation. This research, however, generally neglects the wider historical context of early audit activity. As a result, the picture it conveys of accounting and the law in pre-modern society misrepresents the scope of legal intervention in early audit activity. The purpose of this article is to provide some of the historical background necessary to a fuller understanding of early regulatory behaviour and to comment on the implications of this evidence for recent research. Among other findings, it shows that the pre-modern evidence is at present insufficient to substantiate the claim that audits would exist without any legal intervention beyond enforcement of contract.