law" I: England
Common law in context Links
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There are many misunderstandings about the
character and the origins of the English common law. Its history is really
complicated. Recent research tends to confirm time and again that it is better
to look at the common law in its context
with European legal history than to regard it as an unique phenomenon.
However, certain concepts are indeed difficult to compare with other legal systems. There certainly is
a large scale continuity in English law, but there are also
evident ruptures within the past. Many subjects call for attention: the courts,
the role of the state, the significance of legislation, the role of judges and
legal experts. The influence of English law will be dealt with elsewhere in due
time. The editions of sources mentioned here concern
mainly the royal law. Cities are scarcely mentioned at all.
From the Anglo-Saxon period we know in
particular the great law books which resemble the continental "national
laws". With the coming of the Normans in 1066 a period stared in which
institutions from Normandy are planted on English soil, but also changed with
this transplantation. The fierce grip of the Norman dukes on their conquests is
remarkable. The twelfth century witnessed the coming of the common law. King
Henry I began with decisive legislation after
some earlier important statutes (e.g. the assizes of Clarendon) and changed the
courts, possibly following the example of the Flemish counts. All courts
and jurisdiction were to be royal. Every investigation, any case, started with
a royal order in writing, the writ. The private law developed itself seemingly
of its own accord, but in fact there are strong resemblances to the casuistry of
Roman law. Legal doctrine from both Roman and canon law was known for sure.
Lawyers such as Bracton and Vacarius were the first to write about this English
The English Church lived like on the continent under
canon law. The jurisdiction of
the English episcopal officials (judges) is even relatively well documented. At
Oxford and Cambridge both Roman and canon law were teached. Most lawyers studied at
the Inns of Court. Some of their moots, mock debates, and readings,
the lectures of their teachers, have survived. The Year Books inform us
cases at the royal courts. They are famous for the witty remarks of
all involved. The Year Books were meant for the class room, not as
records. The language of law was until the 17th century Lawfrench, a
mixture of French, Latin and English. The number of royal courts
was quite large.
The kings legislated through the centuries mostly in the form of
on particular subjects. The sessions of the royal court at these
at the beginning of the English Parliament. From the fifteenth century
and commentaries on English law began to appear more often. In penal law the
English got very early an officer to investigate unnatural causes of
death, the coroner.
Common law in context Links
b) commentaries and treatises, c) the
courts - see for editions first the Selden Society
- Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, F.
Liebermann (ed.) (3 vol., Halle 1896-1916; reprint Leipzig 1935).
- Laws of the earliest English kings,
F.L. Attenborough (ed. and transl.) (Cambridge 1922).
- The laws of the kings of England
from Edmund to Henry I, A.J. Robertson (ed. and transl.) (Cambridge 1925).
- Leges Henrici primi, L. Downer
(ed. and transl.) (Oxford 1972).
- Henry de Bracton, De legibus et
consuetudinis Angliae, G.E. Woodbine (ed.) (4 vol., New York 1915-1942) -
re-edition with translation and revisions by S.E. Thorne (4 vol.,
Cambridge, Mass., 1968-1977; reprint 1997); also available online.
- Select passages from Bracton and Azo,
F.W. Maitland (ed.) (London 1894; Selden Society, 8).
- Britton, F.M. Nichols (ed.)
(Oxford 1885; reprint 1983) - a shortened version of Bracton.
- William Blackstone, Commentaries on
the laws of England (1765-1768) - often reprinted and commented
on, online at Yale University's Avalon
project and at the Liberty
Library of Constitutional Classics.
- Fleta, H.G. Richardson and G.O.
Sayles (eds.) (3 vol., London 1953-1983; Selden Society, 72, 89, 99).
- John Fortescue, De laudibus legum
Anglie, S.B. Chrimes (ed.) (Cambridge 1942) - from 1470.
- John Fortescue, The governance of
England, C. Plummer (ed.) (Oxford 1885) - from 1471.
- "Glanvill", The treatise
on the laws and customs of the realm of England commonly called Glanvill,
G.D.G. Hall (ed. and transl.) (London-Edinburgh 1965; reprint 1983) - Ranulf de
Glanvill died around 1190.
- Matthew Hale, The history of the
common law of England, Charles M. Gray (ed.) (Chicago 1971) - from
1713; an online
- Hale and Fleetwood on Admiralty
jurisdiction, M.J. Pritchard and D.E.C. Yale (ed.) (London 1992; Selden
- Matthew Hale, The prerogatives of
the king, D.E.C. Yale (ed.) (London 1975; Selden Society, 92).
- Lex mercatoria and legal pluralism.
A late thirteenth-century treatise and its afterlife, M.E. Basile et
alii (eds.) (Cambridge, Mass., 1998).
- The Mirror of Justices, W.J.
Whittaker and F.W. Maitland (eds.) (London 1893; Selden Society, 7).
- Richard Fitz Nigel, Dialogus de
scaccario, C. Johnson, F.E.L. Carter and D.E. Greenaway (eds.)
(Oxford 1983) - important for the financial and royal context of the early
- Thomas Smith, De republica Anglorum,
L. Alston (ed.) (Cambridge 1906).
- Early treatises on the practice of
the Justices of the Peace in the 15th and 16th centuries, B.H. Putnam
(ed.) (Oxford 1924).
- Table talk of John Selden, F.
Pollock (ed.) (London 1927).
- Christopher St. German on Chancery
and statute, J.A. Guy (London 1985; Selden Society, Supplementary
- Christopher St. German, Doctor and
Student, T.F.T. Plucknett and J.H. Barton (eds.) (London 1974; Selden
- Placita Corone or La Corone Pledee
devant Justices, J.M. Kaye (ed.) (London 1966; Selden Society,
Supplementary Series, 4).
Readings and moots
are important sources for our knowledge of legal education:
- Robert Constable, Prerogative Regis,
S.E. Thorne ed. (New Haven, Conn., 1949) - edition of a reading
- John Spelman's reading on Quo
warranto. Gray's Inn, Lent 1519, J.H. Baker (ed.) (London 1997; Selden
- Readings and moots at the Inns of
Court in the fifteenth century, S.E. Thorne and J.H. Baker (eds.) (2 vol.,
London 1952-1989; Selden Society, 71, 105).
writs, collections of verdicts, private notes on trials and cases, etc.
for the Year Books the Selden Society,
which has published some 27 volumes for the period 1309-1330; the Ames Foundation
has also published a few Year Books. When reading these editions one should benefit immensely from J.H. Baker's Manual of law French (2nd ed., Aldershot 1990).
An invaluable guide to Year Book
reports between 1368 and 1535 available in print is the database
created by David Seipp.
- Cases concerning equity and the courts of equity, 1550-1660, W.H. Bryson (ed.) (2 vol., London 2001-2002; Selden Society, 117-118)
- Select cases in manorial courts : property law and family Law, 1250-1500, L. Bonfield and L.R. Poos (eds.)
(London 1997; Selden Society, 114).
- Earliest English law reports, P.A.
Brand (ed.) (2 vol., London 1995-1996; Selden Society, 111-112) - Common
Bench, 1268-1289, 1285-1292.
- English law suits from William I to
Richard I, R.C. van Caenegem (ed.) (2 vol., London 1990-1991; Selden
- Reports of cases by John Caryll,
J.H. Baker (ed.) (2 vol., London 1998-1999; Selden Society, 115-116) -
- Select cases of trespasss in the
King's Court, 1307-1399, M.S. Arnold (ed.) (2 vol., London 1984-1987;
Selden Society, 100, 103).
- The notebook of Sir John Port,
J.H. Baker (ed.) (London 1986; Selden Society, 102).
- The reports of Sir John Spelman,
J.H. Baker (ed.) (2 vol., London 1978-1977; Selden Society, 93-94).
- Select cases in the court of King's
Bench, G.O. Sayles (ed.) (7 vol., London 1936-1971; Selden Society, 55,
57, 58, 71, 74, 76, 82).
- Early registers of writs, E. de
Haas and G.D.G. Hall (eds.) (London 1970; Selden Society, 87).
- Pleas for the king or his justices,
1198-1212, D.M. Stenton (ed.) (4 vol., London 1948-1967; Selden Society,
- Lord Nottingham's Chancery cases,
D.E.C. Yale (ed.) (2 vol., London 1954-1962; Selden Society, 73, 79).
- Royal writs in England from the
Conquest to Glanvill, R.C. van Caenegem (ed.) (London 1959; Selden
- Select cases in the council of Henry
VII, C.G. Bayne and W.H. Dunham (eds.) (London 1956; Selden Society, 75).
- The Casus Placitorum and reports of
cases in the King's Court, 1271-1278, W.H.
Dunham (ed.) (London 1950; Selden Society, 69).
- Select cases in the Exchequer
Chamber before all the justices of England, M. Hemmant (ed.) (2 vol.,
London 1933-1945; Selden Society, 51, 64) - part II concerns the period1461-1509.
- Select cases of procedure without
writ under Henry III, H.G. Richardson and G.O. Sayles (eds.) (London 1941;
Selden Society, 60).
- Select cases concerning the Law
Merchant, Ch. Gross and H. Hall (eds.) (3 vol., London 1908-1932; Selden
Society, 23, 46, 49).
- Select cases for the Exchequer of
Pleas, H. Jenkinson and B.E.R. Formoy (eds.) (London 1931; Selden Society,
- Select cases for the King's Council,
I.S. Leadam and J.F. Baldwin (eds.) (London 1919; Selden Society, 35).
- Select pleas of the court of Star
Chamber, I.S. Leadam (ed.) (2 vol., London 1902-1910; Selden Society,
16, 25) - 1477-1509, 1509-1544.
- Public works in mediaeval law,
C.T. Flower (ed.) (2 vol., London 1915-1923; Selden Society, 32, 40).
- Borough customs, M. Bateson
(ed.) (2 vol., London 1904-1906; Selden Society, 18, 21).
- Select pleas, starrs, etc., of the
Jewish Exchequer, 1220-1284, J.M. Rigg (ed.) (London 1901; Selden
- Select pleas of the forest, G.J.
Turner (ed.) (London1899; Selden Society, 13).
- Select cases in the court of
requests, 1497-1569, I.S. Leadam (ed.) (London 1898; Selden Society,
- Select cases in Chancery, 1367-1471,
W. Paley Baildon (ed.) (London 1896; Selden Society, 10).
- Select cases in the Court of
Admiralty, R.G. Marsden (ed.) (2 vol., London 1892-1897: Selden Society,
6, 11) - I: 1390-1480, 1527-1545; II: 1547-1602.
- The Court Baron : select precedents
of pleadings in manorial and other local courts, F.W. Maitland and W.
Paley Baildon (eds.) (London 1890; Selden Society, 4).
- Select civil pleas, vol I: 1200-1203,
W. Paley Baildon (ed.) (London 1889; Selden Society, 3).
- Select pleas in manorial and other
seignorial courts, F.W. Maitland (ed.) (London 1888; Selden Society, 2).
- Select pleas of the Crown, vol. I:
1200-1225, F.W. Maitland (ed.) (London 1887; Selden Society, 1).
- Proceedings before the Justices of
the Peace in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, B.H. Putnam (ed.)
(Cambridge, Mass., 1938).
For the history of the coroner
one can consult the following works:
- Select cases from the
coroners'rolls, 1265-1413, Charles Gross (ed.) (London 1896; Selden Society,
- Calendar of coroner's
rolls of the city of London, 1300-1378, Reginald R. Sharpe
(ed.) (London 1913).
- Roy Frank Hunnisett, The
medieval coroner (Cambridge 1961).
- Bedfordshire coroner's
rolls, Roy Frank Hunnisett (ed.) (Streatley, Bedf., 1961).
- Barbara Hanawalt, The ties
that bound : peasant families in medieval England (New York
1986) - based on the records of medieval coroners
- Sussex coroner's inquests
1558-1603, Roy Frank Hunnisett (ed.) (Kew 1996).
Common law in context Links
- Abel-Smith, B., and R. Stevens, Lawyers
and the courts. A sociological study of the English legal system (London
- Allen, C.K. , Law in the making
- Baker, John H., and S.F.C. Milsom, Sources
of English legal history. Private law to 1750 (London 1986) - deals with doctrinal sources.
- Baker, John H., Richard
Helmholz a.o., The Oxford History of the laws of England
(Oxford 2003-) - two volumes so far.
- Baker, John H., An introduction to
English legal history (3rd ed., London 1990).
- Beale, J.H., Bibliography of early
English law books (Cambridge, Mass., 1926; reprint 1966) - supplement by
R.B. Anderson (Cambridge, Mass., 1943; reprint 1966).
- Bolland, W.C., A manual of Year Book
studies (Cambridge 1925).
- Caenegem, R.C. van, The birth of the
English Common Law (2nd ed., Cambridge, etc., 1988) - the standard work on this subject.
- Clanchy, M.T., From memory to
written record. England 1066-1307 (London 1979, 1987; 2nd ed., Oxford
- Elton, G.R., England 1200-1640
(London 1969; The sources of history) - with a succinct introduction to
- Hand, G.J., English law in Ireland
1290-1324 (Cambridge 1967).
- Harding, A., Social history of
English law (Harmondsworth 1966).
- Holdsworth, W.S., Sources and
literature of English law (Oxford 1925).
- Holdsworth, W.S., History of English
law (17 vol., London 1903-1972) - the last four volumes appeared after
his death; his work is valuable for its overview, but rather often the
foundation is only secondary literature.
R.F., The medieval coroner (Cambridge 1961).
- Kiralfy, A.K.R., The English legal
system (4th ed., London 1967).
- Lyon, B., A constitutional and legal
history of medieval England (New York 1960).
- MacNair, Michael, The
forms of proof in early modern equity (Berlin 1999).
- Maitland, F.W., The form of actions
at Common Law. A course of lectures, A.H. Chaytor and W.J. Whittaker
(eds.) (Cambridge 1909, 1936) - reprint 1965.
- Milsom, S.F.C., Historical
foundations of the common law (2nd ed., London 1981).
- Plucknett, T.F.T., A concise history
of the common caw (5th ed., London 1956).
- Pollock, F., and F.W. Maitland, The
history of English law before the time of Edward I (2nd ed., 2 vol.,
Cambridge 1898; reprint 1952) - also reprinted with an introduction by S.F.C. Milsom
(Cambridge 1968); Maitland wrote all its chapters but one; there
is a scanned online
version of the 1898 edition.
- Pollock, F., A First Book of
jurisprudence for students of the common law (6th ed., London 1929).
- Radcliffe and Cross, The English
legal system, G.J. Hand and D.J. Bentley (eds.) (6th ed., London 1977).
- Turner, R.V., The English judiciary
in the age of Glanville and Bracton c. 1176-1239 (Cambridge, etc.,
Common law in context Links
law in context
The common law was not completely
separated from continental law. The influence of the continental, both Roman and
canon law, gets particular attention in the following studies:
- Buckland, W.W., and A.D. Mcnair, Roman
law and common law. A comparison in outline, F.H. Lawson (rev.) (Cambridge 1965).
- Caenegem, R.C. van, Judges,
legislators and professors. Chapters in European legal history
(Cambridge, etc., 1987) - compares continental developments with the common
- Coquillette, D.R., The civilian
writers of Doctors' Commons (Berlin 1988).
- Helmholz, R.H., The ius commune in
England : four studies (Oxford, etc., 2001).
D.J., A historical introduction to the law of obligations (Oxford
1999) - connects English developments with Roman and canon law.
- Ibbetson, D.J., Common law and ius
commune (London 2001) - Selden Society lecture, 2001.
- Maitland, F.W., Bracton and Azo
(1895) - a classical study, even after more than a century
- Peter, H., Actio und Writ. Eine
vergleichende Darstellung römischer und englischer Rechtsbehelfe (Tübingen 1959).
- Reid, Kenneth, and Reinhard
Zimmermann (eds.), A history of private law in Scotland (2
vol., Oxford 2000).
- Helmholz, R.H.,, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, I: The canon law and ecclesiastical jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford, etc., 2004).
Two well-known works on comparative law
offer rich insights for common law, too:
- Zweigert, K., and H. Kötz, Einführung
in die Rechtsvergleichung (3rd ed., Tübingen 1996) - English
translation by Tony Weir
- Zimmermann, R., The law of
obligations. Roman foundations of the civilian tradition (first edition
Capetown 1990; reprint Oxford 1996).
On ecclesiastical law in England the
following books are essential reading:
- Helmholz, R.H., Marriage litigation
in medieval England (Cambridge 1974, 1978).
- Helmholz, R.H., Roman canon law in
Reformation England (Cambridge, etc., 1990) - shows a surprising
- Helmholz, R.H., Canon law and
English common law (London 1983).
- Donahue jr., Ch., Why the history of
canon law is not written (London 1984).
- Helmholz, R.H., Canon law and the
law of England. Historical essays (London 1987).
- Canon law in Protestant lands,
R.H. Helmholz (ed.) (Berlin 1992) - a number of comparative studies.
Javier, Derecho angloamericano y derecho canónico : Las raices canónicas
de la "common law" (Madrid 1991) - in English: Anglo-American
law and canon law. Canonical roots of the Common Law tradition (Berlin
1998), without the preface by Stephan Kuttner.
John E., 'The canonical contribution to English law', Studia
canonica 33 (1999) 505-525.
One should notice the following editions
for the English practice of canon law:
- Select cases from the ecclesiastical
courts of the province of Canterbury, c. 1200-1301, N. Adams and Ch.
Donahue jr. (eds.) (2 vol., London 1978-1979; Selden Society, 95-96).
- Select cases on defamation to 1600,
R.H. Helmholz (ed.) (London 1985; Selden Society, 101).
Common law in context Links
Law - many links to texts, put together by Paul Halsall,
Fordham University, New York
Library of Constitutional Classics - not only (American)
constitutional law, but also works of legal
historical interest: Blackstone, Maitland, Hale, Holmes, Hobbes, sources
like Magna Charta (1214) and the Assizes of Clarendon (1181), and
English translations of works by More, Althusius and Pufendorf
- English Medieval Legal Documents AD 600 - AD 1535 - a database at the University of South California School of Law with a collection of published sources
Civile - the excellent website at Aberdeen on
Roman law is also useful for common law, also interesting for Scottish law
- The Selden Society
- founded by F.W. Maitland in 1887, who edited a number of volumes in its series.
Ames Foundation - the American companion of the Selden Society; here an overview
of this small series
- Lynette's Legal History page - a useful list of links on British legal history
- Institutions of English law - the links of Ulrike
Müßig at Passau lead you among other things to some major English legal institutions
Archives, London - you might as well visit their website when
looking for English legal history
- Anglo-American Legal Tradition - a website at the University of Houston with images of legal documents at the National Archives
Bailey 1674-1834 - this site enables you to search through
100,000 criminal trials mentioned in the Old Bailey Session Papers
- Commonwealth Legal Information Institute - one finds here among other sources English Reports 1220-1873, albeit it with large lacunae
- Henry III Fine Rolls Project - this project aims at an online edition of the fine rolls during Henry III's long reign (1216-1272)
- Westminster Abbey Charters, 1066-1214 - just one example of important sources showing the excellent services of this website for British History
Common law in context Links
ov - December 16,
2008 / November 2014