Welcome to the Virtual Tour
English Law Special Collection

Following is a tour of some selected rare books of the collection. You may view the enlarged image of a title by clicking its photo(s).


Blackstone, William, Sir. Commentaries on the laws of England.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1768-1769.

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), the first Vinerian Professor of Law of the University of Oxford, delivered a series of lectures first given at Oxford and subsequently published as The Commentaries. They successfully explain the whole of the Common Law of England in an elegant style & intelligent arrangement, particularly suited to the use of students. Being portable & cheaply pirated, they were popular in the American Colonies and throughout the Common Law world have exercised more influence than any other law book. Blackstone became a judge of the King's Bench and later Common Pleas.


Bracton, Henry de. Henrici de Bracton de legibus & consuetudinibus Anglie libri quinq. Londini: Apud Richardum Tottellum, 1569.

Henry de Bracton (d.1268) was a judge of the King's Bench from about 1248 to 1257. His textbook De Legibus et Consuetutinibus Angliae (On the Laws and Customs of England) was written some time between 1220 & 1240, brought up to date in about 1250 but first printed in 1569. Like the work of many scholars since, it was written to prevent law students being misled by ignorant judges, though Bracton is the only one who has dared say so. This is the first edition.



Brooke, Robert, Sir. La graunde abridgement. London: Richardi Tottell, 1573.

Sir Robert Brooke (d. 1558) was Chief Justice of Common Pleas (1554). His Abridgement digests over 20,000 decisions alphabetically, mostly from the Year Books. This is the first edition 1573.



Coke, Edward, Sir. The first part of the institutes of the lawes of England; or, A Commentary upon Littleton... 4th ed. London: Printed by MFIH and R Y. Assignes of I. More Esquire, 1639.

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) was Chief Justice of Common Pleas 1606 and of King's Bench 1613. As Attorney-General he prosecuted Sir Walter Raleigh, giving an exhibition of savage bullying which would have made Vyshinsky blush. He had an enormous knowledge of the law, its sources & history, much of it false. His judgement was faulty whenever self-interest intervened but he stuck up bravely for the Common Law against his patron James I. His profound knowledge of the law was nowhere more impressively displayed than in his Reports & in the great textbook On Littleton (1628). Its popularity is proved by this fourth edition within eleven years. It is so authoritative that it is an exception to the rule that the Common Law is not found in textbooks.


A collection of all the statutes, from the beginning of Magna Charta, vnto this present yeare of our Lord God 1579. London: Christopher Barker, 1579.

Printed collections of statutes begin in the late fifteenth century but the first attempts to print all statutes in force date from the middle of the sixteenth. This book is a good example of an early collection. The Magna Charta referred to as the starting point of such collections is not the original of King John (1215) but a reproclamation of the ninth year of Henry III (1225).



Fitzherbert, Anthony, Sir. La graunde abridgement. London: Richardi Tottelli, 1577.

Sir Anthony Fitzherbert (1470-1538) was a judge of Common Pleas (1521). His La Graunde Abridgement digests over 14,000 decisions alphabetically, mostly from the Year Books. First published c1516.



Fitzherbert, Anthony, Sir. La novvelle natura breuiu. Londini: Richardi Tottelli, 1553.

Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's La Novelle Natura Brevium is a collection of writs & manual of procedure. First published 1534. This is the 3rd edition. His manual for justices of the peace was written in 1538.


Fortescue, John, Sir. A learned commendation of the politique lawes of England. [London: Richarde Tottell, 1573].

Sir John Fortescue (1394?-1476?) was Chief Justice of King's Bench (1442). Exiled for supporting the losing side (House of Lancaster) 1461. Returned 1471. In exile wrote De Laudibus Legum Angliae,(In Praise of the Laws of England), a dialogue between the author & his pupil, Edward, Prince of Wales. First edition 1567. Did this copy belong to Shakespeare?


Glanville, Ranulf de. The treatise on the laws and customs of the realm of England commonly called Glanvill. London: Nelson in asso. with the Selden Society, 1965.

Ranulf de Glanville (1130-1190) wrote the Tractatus de Legibus et Consuetutinibus Angliae (The Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Realm of England) in about 1189. It was first printed in 1554. It deals with the procedure of the royal courts. Chief Justiciar of England, he was at other times Henry II's first choice as general, judge and right hand man. If he did not compose this book, he had a hand in it.


Gregory IX, Pope. Decretales. Parisiis: Cum Licentia, 1587.

Pope Gregory IX (ca.1170-1241) was a scholar & lawyer. The Decretals, which appeared under his name in 1234 are important in the history of Canon Law.


Intrationum liber omnibus legum Anglie... [Londini]: Excudebat Denricus, 1546.

Intrationium liber omnibus is called in English the Old Book of Entries. First published 1545 or 1546. It is a collection of precedents of pleadings. Is this a first edition?


Rastell, John. Les termes de la ley; or Certain difficult and obscure words and terms of the common laws and statutes of this realm now in use, expounded and explained. Corr. and enl. London: W . Rawlins [etc.] 1685.

John Rastell was a lawyer & member of Parliament. He married Thomas More's sister. He edited & published legal works and wrote this one himself. It is one of the earliest law dictionaries. Later editions were called Les Termes de la Ley. He published the first edition of the statutes in English in 1579, containing all those then in force.



Les reports des cases en ley... London: George Sawbridge, [etc., 16--]

The Year Books (1224?-1650?), depending upon the definition,  run for about four hundred years from the middle of the 13th to the mid-17th centuries. They are more or less verbatim reports of the arguments & judgements of Common Pleas or in eyre. They were called "term-books" at the time, because they were collected & sold a term at a time. They were written, perhaps by students for students and remained in Law-French after the transactions they reported were in English. When they came to be printed they were collected by the year, each volume containing a number of years. This is a specially fine & early example of cases heard in the long reign of Edward III (1327-1377).


Seldon, John. Joannis Seldeni jurisconsulti opera omnia, tam edita quam inedita. Londini: Typis Guil Bowyer, 1726.

John Selden (1554-1654) was a barrister (1612) but spent most of his life as a scholar. He is the first great English legal historian. He was also active on the democratic side in politics and a leader of the movement against the King, though he retired from politics at the Commonwealth. Learned in many languages, he wrote on a wide range of topics & his writings are collected in his Opera Omnia. The society for the study of the history of the Common Law is called the Selden Society in his honour.


Staunford, William, Sir. Les plees del coron. [London]: Richardi Tottell, 1567.

Sir William Staunford (1509-1558) was a judge of Common Pleas (1554). His Les Plees del Coron is the first textbook of the English criminal law. First published 1557. This is the third edition, ten years later, which shows its popularity.