English Legal History Research Guide
Contents of this guide include print, micro-media and Internet resources available to facilitate research in legal history at Georgetown Law.
Contents of this guide include print, micro-media and Internet resources available to facilitate research in legal history at Georgetown Law.
Research in English legal history requires the use of a variety of sources. Very often, it is necessary to consult sources beyond traditional cases and statutes. For this purpose, there are many finding aids, which can be used to locate pertinent primary materials. Also useful are topical treatises, bibliographies, historical compilations and online Internet sites devoted to the history of a particular subject. These secondary sources often also provide citations to primary and additional secondary sources. There are many, many more sources of information on this topic than can be listed here, so this guide gives only an overview of print, micro-media and Internet resources available to facilitate research in legal history at Georgetown Law. Call numbers given are specific to the Edward Bennett Williams Library and the John Wolff International & Comparative Law Library collections.
II. Internet Resources
There are now many sources on English legal history available on the Internet. A separate guide is available on those Internet resources best to use for legal research in legal history: Guide to Legal History Databases.
As the Internet changes constantly, other sources may become available, so it is always a good idea to browse the Internet on your own, through search engines, as well as the use the sources listed below. Contact Special Collections for more information.
III. English Primary Sources
An understanding of English legal primary sources is important for proper research in English legal history. These are general sources in English law, including statutory sources and case reports, and treatises before 1865, surveys of English legal history during certain periods, contemporary works as well as bibliographies. There are many of these sources available generally, so only a few are listed here. More can be found doing a subject search in most library catalogs using words such as Law-Great Britain (or England).
English statutes were not always printed in full. There still is no "official" publication for English statutes, such as found with the American Statutes at Large. For the earliest laws of England, The Statutes at Large by Ruffhead (to 1799) and The Statutes of the Realm (to 1713) are the best sources. Pickering's Statutes at Large, and Chitty's Statutes also cover the same time periods and go beyond, into the 19th century, but Chitty's is selective, not inclusive. Other sets of statutes cover the 19th century into the modern era. The various publications of statutes are listed below in order by period covered. When using these editions, the researcher should stay with a particular edition as much as possible. Statute citations are not always the same from source to source.
English statutes are cited by the year of the reign of the sovereign (king or queen) in Latin, followed by a chapter and/or section; thus: 10 W. & M. c.3 is the 10th year of the reign of William & Mary, chapter 3. A conversion for regnal years is available in Special Collections.
- The Statutes of the Realm. 12 vols. Reprint ed. of London: G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1810-1822. KD571 1963; KD571 1993r
- This set includes statutes from the Magna Charta to the end of the reign of Queen Anne (1713). It includes a chronological index and alphabetical index in volume 12. It is often considered the "official" publication of English statutes, but it is only good up to 1713. Statute cites do not always correspond to the same cites in other un-official statutes compilations.
- Available Online.
- Ruffhead, Owen. The Statutes at Large: from Magna Charta to the End of the [Reign of King George the Third]. 18 vols. London: M. Basket, 1763-. KD130 1215 .R83 1761
- This is the most widely used compilation of statutes for the 17th and 18th centuries. It includes an index in volume 9 for the first 9 volumes of statutes, and thereafter an index at the end of each subsequent 9 volumes. Ruffhead ends the compilation in 1806, as does Pickering, listed below, though Pickering picks up with another series.
- Pickering, Danby. The Statutes at Large From the Magna Charta to the End of the Eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, Anno 1761 [continued to 1806]. 46 vols. Cambridge: Charles Bathurst, 1762-1830. KD130 1215 .P5 1761 Quarto
- Continued by Danby Pickering under title Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland [1807-1868/69]. Special Collections has vols. 47-70 [1807-1830]. KD130 1215 .R5 1807 Quarto
- A Collection of the Public General Statutes. 45 vols. London: G. Eyre & A. Spottiswoode, 1834-1875. KD125
- Chitty, Joseph. Chitty's Statutes of Practical Utility [1235-1948] KD129 1911
- Selected annotated English statutes from Magna Charta to 1910, and then annually until 1948. Selection is based on Joseph Chitty's analysis of the importance of each statute in the history of English law.
B. Abridgments & Digests
There are numerous digests of the laws of England, and most organize the legal terms in alphabetical order by subject. They are often the only sources of cases and statutes for a particular subject. Some digests and abridgements also cite other digests, as well as earlier abridgements and specific treatises on specific subjects. The 3 most useful digests and abridgements are listed here. When using early editions of these digests and abridgements, be aware that the English language has changed through the centuries, and that Law French, Latin, or even Norman French, and old English may be in use. One digest compiler may list "family law" under "husband and wife," while another compiler will list it under "baron and femme." Use a variety of synonyms and check for misspellings: The earlier the print, the further away from modern English you are, and there are always printing mistakes in early printed materials. Some of these digests are now available online through The Making of Modern Law, or Early English Books Online.
- Viner, Charles. A General Abridgement of Law and Equity. 2nd ed., 30 vols., with 7 vol. Supplement. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, et al., 1792-1795. KD660 .V53 1742
- The 1st edition of 23 volumes was published in Aldershot for the Author in 1742-1753. The 2nd edition, however, is more useful than the first: There is no index in the 1st edition, and the index occupies all of volume 24 in the 2nd; the set includes a list of abbreviations and their corresponding translations. Both sets, however, are very useful abridgements and cite other authors when a particular subject is better annotated elsewhere. This edition is also available on microfiche.
- Bacon, Matthew. A New Abridgement of the Law: Alphabetically Digested Under Proper Titles. 6th ed. 5 vols. Dublin: Luke White, 1793. KD295 .B3 1793 Quarto
- Other editions include 1798, 1807, 1811 and 1813. Several other editions are also available on microfiche.
- Available online (7th edition).
- Comyns, John. A Digest of the Laws of England. 5 vols. London: John Knapton, Thomas Longman and Robert Horsfield, 1762-1767. KD295 .C6 1762
C. Case Reports
Included are the reports over the centuries of English cases. They evolved slowly from plea rolls to yearbooks to nominatives (named reports). Collections of trials and individual trials reports are also listed here.
Until the 19th century, reporting on court cases was done at the whim or interest of a judge, lawyer or layman. Reporters were often lawyers or judges who would sit in on a particular case, or stick to reporting on a particular court or even during a particular judge's tenure. As a result, many cases were either under-reported, reported by more than one reporter, or not at all. Sometimes they were printed by more than one publisher, or not at all. The reports printed until 1865 became known as The Nominatives, because they were printed under the name of the person doing the reporting, i.e., Burrows' Reports, Vesey's Reports, etc.
Many of the Nominatives are available in various original editions under the names of the reporters. Quite a few still exist only in manuscript format, originally written or copied over, mostly stored at the Public Records Office the British Library. The printed reports have been reprinted many times, separately, or in series, such as Common Law Reports. The best and most complete sets of these reports, however, are The English Reports, listed below. It includes a two-volume index of cases, and a small bound index to each English Reports volume for the original reports by reporter's name. The English Reports are also now available in CD-ROM, in Special Collections in Williams, as well as online through HeinOnline or LLMC Digital. See the Guide to Legal History Databases.
Another set of original English law reports was microfilmed, and includes a guide and index of original reporters. The two sets of reports overlap extensively, but there are reports in both sets, which exclude one from the other. A Guide to Abbreviations used with the Nominatives, and their availability in reprint or microfilm is available in Special Collections.
Another set of printed reports is The Common Law Reports. If a case or a reporter is not found in The English Reports, or The Common Law Reports, try the microfilm set. A cross-reference index of all printed Nominatives in the reprint set, original editions and the microfiche set exists in the Special Collections & Archives Department. It is a guide to abbreviations used (i.e., burr. becomes Burrow), and whether the original nominative is available in reprint form and/or microfiche. This guide can help prevent headaches when searching for a reprint/microfilm copy of an original report.
The Selden Society has also reprinted specific reports in their Selden Society Series. They are not listed below, but you can check the Guide to the Selden Society Publications, which usually accompanies the set. There are other special reprints or editions of cases not necessarily found in the above. See below.
- Renton, A.W., et al., eds. The English Reports. 178 vols. Reprint ed. of London: Stevens & Sons, 1900-1930. Abingdon: Professional Books, 1980. KD270 1220 .E64 1980r
These are the early law reports for medieval England, dating to around 1268 through 1535, overlapping the earliest Nominatives. Though many of the Year Books have been reprinted, and even translated, some remain in original manuscript formats. Some of the first printed editions have now become rare and difficult to find, or have been reprinted. A few are listed below. The Selden Society and the Ames Foundation have reprinted a good number of them.
Boston College of Law Professor David J. Seipp has a terrific web site devoted to Legal History: The Year Books: An Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268-1535. (Seipp's Abridgement). Supported by the Ames Foundation, this database "indexes all year book reports printed in the chronological series for all years between 1268 and 1535, and many of the year book reports printed only in alphabetical abridgements. Of these reports, almost 6,000 from 1399 forward have been fully indexed and paraphrased in this database." (David Seipp) Check with the Curator of Legal History or the Special Collections Librarian for additional help with these titles and the Year Books web site.
- Horwood, Alfred J., ed. & transl. Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the First [20-22 Edward I, 30-35 Edward I]. 5 vols. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyker, 1863-1879. KD194 1272 .H6 1863
- Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages.
- Available online.
- Pike, Luke Owen, ed. & transl. Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the Third [11-20 Edward III]. 15 vols. London: Longman, 1883-1911. KD194 1327 .P5 1883
- English and French on opposing pages. Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages. Covers 11-20 Edward III.
- Available online.
3. Plea Rolls
These are very early records, called rolls because they were sheets of vellum or paper rolled up in scrolls, for ease of storage and transportation. They were the hand-written recordings of the courts. Short and scant in details, they are often the only records of any case. Many of the rolls are still in their original manuscript formats, many at the British Museum or the Public Records Office in London, but some have been printed and reprinted, and a few have been translated, and some are now available on the Internet. A few are listed below. For more information on getting access to some of these obscure but valuable sources of information, contact the Special Collections Librarian.
- Curia Regis Rolls... Preserved in the Public Record Office. 19 vols. Holmes Beach, Fl.: William W. Gaunt & Sons, 1995-. KD190 1196 .E54 1995r
- Text in Latin. Reprint of the original 1922-1962 ed. Covers the period 1196-1272.
- Available online.
- The Great Roll of the Pipe For the First Year of the Reign of King Richard the First, A.D. 1189-1190. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode, 1844. DA25 .B1 1844 Quarto
- Text in Latin. Original title is: Magnus Rotulus Pipae de Anno Primo Regis Ricardi Primo
- Available online.
- The Great Rolls of the Pipe For the Second, Third, and Fourth Years of the Reign of King Henry the Second, A.D. 1155, 1156, 1157, 1158. London: HMSO, 1930. KD190 1155r
- Facsimile reproduction of the original 1844 edition. Text in Latin. Original title is: Magnus Rotulus Scaccariiae
- Available online.
- An Index to the Records, With Directions to the Several Places Where They Are to Be Found. And Short Explanations of the Different Kinds of Rolls, Writs, etc. To Which is Added, a List of the Latin Sir-Names, and Names of Places, as They Are Written in the Old Records, Explained by the Modern Names. Also a Chronological Table, Shewing at One View the Year of Our Lord, Answering to the Particular Year of Each King's Reign; the Several Parliaments, and the Different Titles By Which Our Kings Are Styled in the Records. London: Printed for G. Hawkins, 1739. KD300 .I53 1739 Octavo
- Attributed generally to John Strachey, but also to Sir Joseph Ayloffe.
- Lock, Ray & David Dymond, eds., The Court Rolls of Walsham le Willows, 1351-1399. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell, 2002. KD6968.W2288 C68 2002
- The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1275-1504. 17 vols. & 1 CD-ROM. London: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2005. JN175 .P37 2005
- Transcriptions of early rolls, in Law French and translated into English. CD-ROM version is in Special Collections.
- Richardson, Henry Gerald, ed. Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, Preserved in the Public Records Office and the British Museum. Vol. IV, Henry III, 1272; Edward I, 1275-1277. London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1972. KD4102.J4 A4 1972
- Stenton, Doris Mary, ed. Pleas Before the King or His Justices, 1198-1202. London: Quaritch, 1952-1967. KD530 .S4 v. 67, 68, 83, 84
- Original title: Curia Regis. Part of the series from the Selden Society.
- Thomas, A.H., ed. Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guild-Hall. 6 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926-1961. DA676 .T3 1929
- Covers the years 1323-1482. Not all volumes are available in the Library, check with the Special Collections Librarian.
4. Collections of Trials
Below are listed some of the collections of trials that have been printed to either focus on famous trials, or gather materials on trials unavailable in the English Reports.
- Arnot, Hugo. A Collection and Abridgement of Celebrated Criminal Trials in Scotland, From A.D. 1536 to 1784, With Historical and Critical Remarks. Edinburgh: Printed for the author by W. Smellie, 1785. KDC116 .A77 1785
- Borrow, George Henry. Celebrated Trials and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence From the Earliest Records to the Year 1825. 6 vols. London: Knight & Lacey, 1825. KD370 .B67 1825 Quarto
- Includes criminal trials in England and France.
- Available online.
- Borrow, George Henry. Celebrated Trials and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence From the Earliest Records to the Year 1825. First compiled and edited by George Borrow and now newly revised and edited by Edward Hale Bierstadt. 2 vols. New York: Payson & Clarke ltd., 1928. KD370 .B67 1928
- A more compact and revised edition of the first 1825 edition.
- Available online.
- A Complete Collection of State-Trials, and Proceedings for High-Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanours, From the Reign of King Richard II, to the End of the Reign of King George I. 6 vols. 2nd ed. London: Printed for J. Walthoe, Sen., R. Vincent, Sen., etc., 1730. KD371.P6 C6 1730 Folio
- The first edition was published anonymously under the title Compleat Collection of State-Tryals in 1719, but attributed to Thomas Salmon. See below at Salmon, Thomas.
- Howell, Thomas B., ed. Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanor From the Earliest Period to the Present Time [1163-1820]. 33 vols. London: R. Bagshaw, et al., 1809-1828. KD370 .H6 1809 Quarto
- Also known as Cobbett's State Trials, this set includes notorious cases not found in The English Reports, or specific Nominatives. It is also available in microfiche and in a CD-ROM version, only available through Special Collections. Both editions include an index to names of cases, and a subject index.
- Available online through HeinOnline and the Making of Modern Law
- MacDonell, John & J.E.P. Wallis, eds. Reports of State Trials: New Series, 1820-1858. 8 vols. Reprint of 1888-1898 ed. London: Professional Books, 1982. KD370 .S81 1982r
- Medland, William M. & Charles Weobly. A Collection of Remarkable and Interesting Criminal Trials, Actions at Law, &c. to Which is Prefixed, an Essay on Reprieve and Pardon, and Biographical Sketches of John Lord Eldon, and Mr. Mingay. 3 vols. London: Printed by J.D. Dewick, for J. Badcock, 1803-1805. KD370 .M43 1803 Quarto
- Phillipps, Samuel M. State Trials; or a Collection of the Most Interesting Trials, Prior to the Revolution of 1688. 2 vols. London: W. Walker, 1826. KD370 .P45
- Pitcairn, Robert. Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, Compiled From the Original Records and Mss., With Historical Illustrations, &c. Edinburgh: Printed for the Maitland Club, 1833. KDC116 .P68 1833 Quarto
- Salmon, Thomas. A New Abridgement and Critical Review of the State Trials. Wherein Are Inserted, Several Trials Not in Any Other Collection. Also Some Trials That Were Taken in Haste and Scarce Intelligible, Are Brought Into Regular Order; and Many Deficiencies Throughout the Whole Supply'd. 2nd ed. 2 vols. in 1. Dublin: Printed for J. Leathley, G. Ewing, W. Smith, and P. Crampton, 1741. KD370 .S35 1741 Folio
- Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey. 4 vols. in 2. New York: Garland, 1985. KD370 .S45 1985
- A reprint of the original 1742 edition, these volumes cover select trials at the Old Bailey Criminal Court from 1720 to 1741.
- Available online.
- Tout, T.F. & Johnstone, Hilda, eds. State Trials of the Reign of Edward the First, 1289-1293. London: Royal Historical Society, 1906. KD608 .S72 1906
- Townsend, William Charles. Modern State Trials. Revised and Illustrated With Essays and Notes. 2 vols. London: Printed for Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850. KD370 .T6 1850 Quarto
5. Individual Trials
Many individual trial proceedings are also available in original editions, but mostly either in microfilm, or in a variety of online databases, such as The Making of Modern Law, Early English Books Online, The Making of the Modern World, HeinOnline, Old Bailey sessions Proceedings and LLMC, to name a few. To find those available at Georgetown, search the Library's catalog under the subject TRIALS, or individual defendant names. You can also find them online at various web sites through Google and Yahoo. Below are listed just a few examples.
- Foster, Michael. A Report of Some Proceedings on the Commission for the Trial of the Rebels in the Year 1746, in the County of Surry; and of Other Crown Cases. To Which Are Added Discourses Upon a Few Branches of the Crown Law. 3rd ed. London: E. and R. Brooke, 1792. KD270 .F75 1792 Quarto
- The Tryal of Thomas Earl of Macclesfield, in the House of Peers, For High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Upon an Impeachment by the Knights Citizens and Burgesses in Parliament Assembled, in the Name of Themselves and of all the Commons of Great-Britain. Begun the 6th Day of May 1725, and From Thence Continued by Several Adjournments Until the 27th Day of the Same Month. Published by Order of the House of Peers. London: Printed by Sam. Buckley, 1725. KD370 .M3 1725 Folio
- A Complete Collection of the Genuine Papers, Letters, &c. in the Case of John Wilkes, Esq. Elected Knight of the Shire For the County of Middlesex, March 28, 1768. Berlin: s.n., 1769. KD370 .W5 1769 Octavo
- This is a famous seditious libel case, published in the newspaper The North Britton, which was involved in said libel case.
- The Trials of Arthur Thistlewood, and Others, For High Treason, at the Old Bailey Sessions-House, Commencing on Saturday, the 15th, and Ending on Thursday, the 27th of April, 1820. London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, & Jones, 1820. KD371.P6 T49 1820 Quarto
- Part of the Cato Street Conspiracy. See also under Wilkinson.
- The Trials of James, Duncan and Robert M'Gregor, Three Sons of the Celebrated Rob Roy, Before the High Court of Justiciary, in the Years 1752, 1753, and 1754. To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir Relating to the Highlands, With Anecdotes of Rob Roy and His Family. Edinburgh: Printed by J. Hay and Co., 1818. KDC186 .M32 1818 Octavo
- Wilkinson, George Theodore. An Authentic History of the Cato-Street Conspiracy, With the Trials at Large of the Conspirators, For High Treason and Murder; a Description of Their Weapons and Combustible Machines, and Every Particular Connected With the Rise, Progress, Discovery, and Termination of the Horrid Plot. With Portraits of the Conspirators, Taken During Their Trials, By Permission, and Other Engravings. London: Printed for Thomas Kelly, 1820. KD371.P6 W5 1820 Quarto
IV. English Secondary Sources
There are many more general sources of English legal history than can be listed here. A few are included, as they have proved their worth over the years. Some of these sources are helpful for early American or colonial research.
- Baker, John H. An Introduction to English Legal History. 4th ed. London: Dayton, Ohio: Butterworths LexisNexis, 2004. KD532.B34 1990
- Baker, John H. and S.F.C. Milsom. Sources of English Legal History: Private Law to 1750. London: Butterworths, 1986. KD720.S6 1986
- Brand, Paul.Kings, Barons and Justices: The Making and Enforcement of Legislation in Thirteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. KD608 .B73 2003
- Cale, Michelle. Law and Society: An Introduction to Sources for Criminal and Legal History from 1800. Kew, Surrey: PRO Publications, 1996. KD530 .C34 1996
- Carter, A.T. A History of English Legal Institutions. Reprint edition of London: Butterworths, 1902. Littleton, Co.: F.B. Rothman, 1986. KD532.C37 1986r
- Cobbett, William. Cobbett's Parliamentary History of England From the Norman Conquest in 1066, to the Year 1803, From Which Last-Mentioned Epoch It is Continued Downwards in the Work Entitled, "Cobbett's Parliamentary Debates.[1066-1803]" 36 vols. London: R. Bagshaw, 1806-1820. KD4190 .C63 1806
- Coquillette, Daniel R. The Anglo-American Legal Heritage: Introductory Materials. 2nd ed. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2004. KD532 .C67 2004
- Cockburn, J.S. A History of English Assizes, 1558-1714. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972. KD6913.C6
- Feldbrugge, F.J.M., ed. The Law's Beginnings. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2003. K160 .L397 2003
- Fifoot, C.H.S. History and Sources of the Common Law. Reprint ed. of 1949 ed. New York: Greenwood Press, 1970. KD671.A7 F5 1970r
- Graham, Jenny. The Nation, the Law, and the King: Reform Politics in England, 1789-1799. 2 vols. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. KD606 .G68 2000
- Griffiths, Bill. An Introduction to Early English Law. Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995. KD606 .G75 1995
- Holdsworth, William S. A History of English Law. 16 vols. London; Methuen: Sweet and Maxwell, 1966. KD532.H58 1966r
- Consult Holdsworth when choosing a topic or clarifying obscure legal words. Each volume is chronological from medieval times to 1875. The last volume is the index volume. It is also a good source of primary and secondary sources.
- Holdsworth, William S. Sources and Literature of English Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925. KD530.H6 1925
- Kirkby, Diane & Catharine Coleborne, eds. Law, History, Colonialism: The Reach of Empire. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press; New York: Distributed in the USA by Palgrave, 2001. KZ1269 .E49 2001
- Maxwell, L. Howard. A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 8 vols. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1955. KD51 .L4
- Called Sweet & Maxwell's Legal Bibliography. Vols. 1: English law before 1800; vol. 2: English law 1801-1950. The other volumes are for other commonwealth countries. Although a bit old, Sweet & Maxwell's Legal Bibliography is an excellent place to start, especially when unfamiliar with old legal terms, or the breadth of the subject matter.
- Milsom, S.F.C. Historical Foundations of the Common Law. 2nd ed. London: Butterworths, 1981. KD671.M54 1981
- Oldham, James. English Common Law in the Age of Mansfield. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. KD612 .O44 2004
- Oldham, James. The Mansfield Manuscript and the Growth of English Law in the Eighteenth Century. 2 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. KD358.M33 O35 1992
- Plucknett, T.F.T. A Concise History of the Common Law. 5th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1956. KD532.P55 1956
- Pollock, F. and F.W. Maitland. The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I. 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: Cambridge University Press, 1968. KD532.P6 1968
- Ross, Charles Stanley. Elizabethan Literature and the Law of Fraudulent Conveyance: Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate Pub. Co., 2003. PR428.L37 R67 2003
- Winfield, P.H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925. KD392.W5
V. Commentaries & Institutes
Commentaries and institutes were common names for contemporary writer, lawyers, judges and others to analyze the law and bring together clearer explanations of what the law meant, and how it was interpreted. The two most widely influential such treatises are listed below, but many others exist.
A. Blackstone's Commentaries
Blackstone's Commentaries is often the first place one will look for an explanation of English law. There are over 80 editions of Blackstone's Commentaries in the Law Library. Most often, it is the first edition that is needed, yet older editions with editorial commentaries from other editors are often important as well. There is a finding aid to all the editions (reprints, microfiche or original) of Blackstone's Commentaries available in Special Collections. A few editions are available in full print and on the web.
- Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 4 vols. Reprint ed. of London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1783. New York: Garland, 1978. KD660 .B53 1978
- Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 4 vols. Facsimile reprint ed. of the 1st ed. of 1765-69. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. KD660 .B52 1765 1979
- Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 4 vols. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1768. KD660 .B4 1768 Quarto
B. Coke's Institutes
Coke's Institutes are in four parts, and known equally well as Coke's Institutes or First Part of the Institutes, Second Part of the Institutes, etc. Cites to Coke's Institutes are usually in the following form: 2 Inst., 1 Inst., etc. The First part of Coke's Institutes is also known as Coke on Littleton, or Littleton's Tenures. Listed here are the reprints, and some of the original editions available in the Library and Special Collections. Microfiche editions are also available in Media.
- Coke, Edward. Institutes of the Laws of England. 3 vols. Reprint of: London: Society of Stationers, 1628. New York: Garland, 1979. (Parts 1, 3 & 4 only). KD600 .C64 1979r pt. 1; KD600 .C64 1979r pts. 3-4
- Wolff Library also has the 1985 and 1986 reprint editions. Special Collections also has the 1985 reprint edition from the Legal Classics Library for Part 1 only.
- Coke, Edward. The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or a Commentarie Upon Littleton. 8th ed. London: Society of Stationers, 1670. KD600 .C64 1670 Folio
- Coke, Edward. Institutes of the Laws of England. 7 vols. 17th ed. London: W. Clarke, et al., 1817. KD600 .C64 1817 Quarto
VI. Dictionaries & Thesauri
Listed here are just a few dictionaries and legal thesauri, which may be useful when using antiquated materials, especially those before the 18th century. Modern dictionaries are helpful only if they give a root explanation to a particular term or if they trace the term's history. Other dictionaries listed here are especially useful for Law French or Latin translations.
- Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary. 7th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 1999. KF156.B53 1999
- There are many more editions of Black's Law Dictionary available in the stacks of the Library.
- Available on Westlaw.
- Burton, William C. Burton's Legal Thesaurus. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillian Library References, 1999. KF156.B856 1999
- Cowell, John. The Interpreter. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970. Reprint of Cambridge: J. Legate, 1607. KD313.C68 1970r
- This is a reprint of the 1607 edition, which is very useful for early obscure legal terms.
- Cowell, John. A Law Dictionary: Or, The Interpreter of Words and Terms, Used Either in the Common or Statute Laws of Great Britain, and in Tenures and Jocular Customs. [London]: E. and R. Nutt, and R. Gosling, 1727. KD313.C6 1727 Folio
- Jacob, Giles. The Law Dictionary: Explaining the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the English Law. 6 vols. 1st American ed. from 2nd London. Philadelphia: P. Byrne, 1811. KD313 .J3 1811
- Jacob, Giles. A Law Grammar: or, Rudiments of the Law. 6th ed. London: W. Clarke and Sons, 1817. KD661.J33 1817 Octavo
- Tomlins, Thomas E. The Law-Dictionary, Explaining the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the British Law. 4th ed. 2 vols. London: J. and W.T. Clarke, 1835. KD313.T64 1835 Quarto
- Walker, David M. The Oxford Companion to Law. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. K48.W34 1980
- Also available in the stacks of the Library.
VII. Newspapers & Journals Resources
Early British newspapers, such as the London Times or the Observer include much legal information that is useful in research. Many of these printed sources are available on microfilm, and a few are starting to be digitized online. The Library of Congress Periodical Reading Room is a very good place to go for indices to obscure early newspapers, and for many of the microfilm editions of these papers. Check online resources for those newspapers now available online, such as the London Times. Current and historical journals are also very important sources of information.
A. English Newspapers
- The Aberdeen Magazine, Or, Universal Repository. 3 vols. Aberdeen: Printed by and for Burnett and Rettie, 1796-1798. AP3 .M52 Micro
- The Adventurer. London: Printed for J. Payne, 1753-1754. 3 vols. Semiweekly. AP3 .M52 Micro
- Annual Register, Or, a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year... 140 vols. London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1758-1898. D2 .A7 1758
- Also available in Media, but microfilm set is incomplete, from 1791 to 1837.
- The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine. 35 vols. London : J. Whittle, 1799-1810. AP3 .M52 Micro
- Continued by the Anti-Jacobin Review and True Churchman's Magazine
- The British Journal. 277 issues. Weekly. London: T. Warner, 1722-1728. AP3 .M52 Micro
- Continued by the British Journal, Or, The Censor
- The Gentleman's Magazine, Or, Monthly Intelligencer. 5 vols. London: R. Newton [i.e. E. Cave], 1731-1735. AP4 .G3 1731
- Followed by:
- The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle. 94 vols. London: E. Cave, 1736-1850. AP4 1731 .G3 1736
- Both of these magazines are annual chronicles of everyday life in England, and include obituaries, book reviews, letters, birth announcements, news related to the Crown, politics, arts, literature and much more.
- The London Times. London: Times newspapers, Ltd., 1788-.
The earliest American law journals are from the second half of the 19th century, but they are still very valuable as sources of English legal information. Most of the law journals are available in paper format, before 1980, on the first floor of the Law Library, though the collection is incomplete. Microfilm versions of most of the law journals are also available in the Law Library, on the 3rd floor, in Media. The easiest way to search them is through HeinOnline. Non-legal journals should not be neglected. Indices to both of these times of journals are available in the library and online. Most of the legal and non-legal journals are fully searchable online and available from a variety of databases.
- HeinOnline has a digital collection of most, if not all, American law journals from their first issues to their current ones, under "Law Journal Library." The database is searchable, and can be printed or downloaded. You can only access it through the Library's database collection online.
- Index to Legal Periodicals & Books. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1926-. 101 vols. KF8 .I4
- An Index to Legal Periodical Literature. 6 vols. Boston : C.C. Soule, 1888-1939. KF8 .I39
- The earliest journal articles from England, Canada, Australia and the United States are indexed here. This is also known as Jones' Index. It is available online with all other legal periodical literature through Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (formerly known as Legal Periodical Literature & Books and Index to Legal Periodicals) and Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective : 1908-1981.
- Lexis and Westlaw provide access to journal literature published after 1985.
VIII. Practice Books
Practice books are the precursors to the modern digests and form books. They assisted the attorney with his practice in general or in specific areas, i.e., criminal law, evidence, real property, etc. They contain a hodge-podge of materials ranging from the proper forms to use in specific procedures to the proper Latin names for cities, towns and people. Below are just a few examples of what is available in the Library.
- Archbold, John F. The Law of Nisi Prius. 3rd American ed., from the 2nd London ed. 2 vols. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson, 1853. KF8845 .A9 1853
- Archbold, John F. A Summary of the Law Relative to Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1986. Reprint edition of London: R. Pheney et al., 1822. KD8329 .A8 1822 1986r Octavo
- Special Collections also has the 1824 edition. There are more modern continuations of this title in Wolff Library, under the title: Archbold's Pleading, Evidence, and Practice in Criminal Cases.
- Available online through the Making of Modern Law.
- The Attorney's Compleat Guide in the Court of King's Bench. London: W. Strahan and M. Woodfall, 1773. Shelf 00659
- Gilbert, Geoffrey. The History and Practice of the High Court of Chancery. London: J. Worall and W. Owen, 1758. KD6939 .G54 1758 Quarto
- Harrison, Joseph. The Accomplish'd Practiser in the High Court of Chancery. 6th ed. 2 vols. London: T. Whieldon and T. Waller, 1779. KD6939 .H3 1779 Quarto
- Lilly, John. The Practical Register: Or, A General Abridgment of the Law. 2 vols. London: Tho. Ward et al., 1719. KD6939 .A59 L54 1719 Folio
- Richardson, Robert. The Attorney's Practice in the Court of King's Bench. 2nd ed. 2 vols. [London]: T. Woodward, 1743. KD6896 .R53 1743 Quarto
- Style, William. Style's Practical Register: Begun in the Reign of King Charles I Consisting of Rules, Orders, and the Principal Observations Concerning the Practice of the Common Law in the Courts at Westminster. 4th ed. London: C. Harper, et al., 1707. KD671 .S89 1707 Octavo
- Tidd, William. Practical Forms, Being Chiefly Designed as an Appendix to the Practice of the Court of King's Bench in Personal Actions. Albany, N.Y.: Charles R. & George Webster, 1803. KD7325 .T532 1803
- Reprint from the London ed. Special Collections has 2 copies.
- Available online.
- Tidd, Williams. Practice of the Court of King's Bench, In Personal Actions. 1st American from London ed. 2 vols. Philadelphia: William P. Farrand, 1807. KD7325 .T53 1807
- Special Collections also has the 1828 American ed. (M-1159, M-1160) and the 1840 American ed. (M-1157, M-1158). Other editions are in Wolff Library.
- Available online.
Biographies and autobiographies are often excellent sources of historical information, and provide insight into the minds of those who are creating, interpreting and changing the law. Below are just a few examples of what is available in the Library. Check the guide to online databases for more biographical sources.
- American Council of Learned Societies. Dictionary of American Biography. 17 vols. New York: Scribner's, c1964-. E176 .D563 1964
- Campbell, John C. The Lives of the Chief Justices of England. 6 vols. 3rd ed. New York: Cockcroft, 1874-1878. KD536 .C3 1874
- Campbell, John C. The Lives of the Chief Justices of England From the Norman Conquest Till the Death of Lord Tenterden. 5 vols. New York: E. Thompson Co., 1894-1899. KD536 .C3 1894
- There are several editions of this multi-volume set. One set is in Special Collections.
- Available online through the Making of Modern Law.
- Campbell, John C. Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England: From the Earliest Times Till the Reign of King George IV. 10 vols. Reprint ed. of the 1868 ed. New York: AMS Press, 1973. KD620 .C34 1973
- Duman, Daniel. The Judicial Bench in England, 1727-1875: The Reshaping of a Professional Elite. London: Royal Historical Society, 1982. KD7285 .D85 1982
- Foss, Edward. A Biographical Dictionary of the Judges of England From the Conquest to the Present Time, 1066-1870. London: John Murray, 1870.
- Foss, Edward. The Judges of England: With Sketches of Their Lives. 9 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1848-1864. KD7285 .F67 1848
- Matthew, H.G. & Brian Harrison, eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In Association With the British Academy. From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. 60 vols. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. DA28 .O95 2004
- Earlier editions are in the stacks, and an online version is available through Lauinger Library on main campus.
- Available online.
- Simpson, A.W.B. Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law. London: Butterworths, 1984. KD620 .B5 1984
X. Crime & Punishment in England, Europe & America
A separate, in-depth guide to research in crime and punishment in England, Europe and America is available as the Legal History: Crime and Punishment Research Guide.
XI. The Jury
Listed here are just a few of the primary and secondary commentaries on the history of the jury in England, and the United States. A separate, more in-depth guide, Legal History: Anglo-American Juries Research Guide.
- Abramson, Jeffrey. We, the Jury: The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy. New York: BasicBooks, 1994. KF8972 .A727 1994
- Bentham, Jeremy. The Elements of the Art of Packing As Applied to Special Juries. New York: Garland Pub., 1978. Reprint of the 1821 edition: London: E. Wilson. KD7540 .B46 1978r
- Cairns, John W. & Grant McLeod, eds. The Dearest Birth Right of the People of England: The Jury in the History of the Common Law. Oxford: Hart Pub., 2002. KD8400 .D3 2002
- Cockburn, J.S. and Thomas A. Green. Twelve Good Men and True: The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200-1800. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988. KD8400 .A75 T94 1988
- Duncombe, Giles. [Trials] Tryals Per Pais: Or, the Law of England Concerning Juries by Nisi Prius, &c. 3rd ed. London: John Walthoe, 1695. KD7540 .D85 1695 Octavo
- Green, Thomas A. Verdict According to Conscience: Perspectives on the English Criminal Trial Jury, 1200-1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. KD8400 .G73 1985
- Hawles, John. The English-Mans Right: A Dialogue Between a Barrister at Law and a Jury-Man, Plainly Setting Forth: I. The Antiquity, II. The Excellent Designed Use, III. The Office and Just Priviledges of Juries, by the Laws of England. London: For Richard Janeway, 1680. KD7540 .H39 1680 Octavo
- Kalven, Harry, Jr. & Hans Zeisel. The American Jury. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966. KF9680 .K34 1966
- The result of a study of the American jury system undertaken at the University of Chicago Law School. Four copies are available in the Library. 2 copies of the 1971 edition from the University of Chicago Press are also available in the Library [KF9680 .K341 1971].
- Morgan, John. Essays Upon I. The Law of Evidence. II. New Trials. III. Special Verdicts. IV. Trials at Bar. And V. Repleaders. 3 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1789. KD8362 .M6 1789 Quarto
- Oldham, James. Trial By Jury: The Seventh Amendment and Anglo-American Special Juries. New York: New York University Press, 2006. KF8972 .O415 2006
- Schioppa, Antonio Padoa, ed., The Trial Jury in England, France, Germany, 1700-1900. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1987. KJC9455 .T75 1987
- Includes: John H. Langbein, "The English Criminal Trial Jury on the Eve of the French Revolution," and Thomas A. Green, "The English Criminal Trial Jury and the Law-Finding Traditions on the Eve of the French Revolution."
- Spooner, Lysander. An Essay on the Trial by Jury. New York: DaCapo Press, 1971. Reprint of the 1852 edition. K2292 .S65
- Towers, Joseph. An Enquiry and Observations on the Rights and Duty of Juries. New York: Garland Pub., 1978. Reprint of: Observations on the Rights and Duty of Juries, in Trials for Libels. 2nd ed. London: J. Debrett, 1784. KD7540 .T68 1978
- Special Collections has the original 1784 edition [M-638], the 1785 edition [S-1496] and the 1792 London edition [KD7540 .T68 1792 Quarto].
- Wigmore, John Henry, comp. The Principles of Judicial Proof as Given by Logic, Psychology, and General Experience, and Illustrated in Judicial Trials. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1913. KF8935 .W55 1913
XII. Libraries As Resources
There are a wide variety of libraries available for research in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In addition, the Internet makes other libraries as far away as England and Australia available. Listed here are the most important ones, through which you can start your research and jump to other resources, online or otherwise.
A. Edward Bennett Williams Law Library
The Edward Bennett Williams Law Library web page and catalog are the first stops in research. The Library's web pages will allow you to access a number of online subscription databases, such as FirstSearch (worldwide catalog of materials in libraries), America: History & Life (primary index for research in American history), Archive Finder, HarpWeek (full text of Harper's Weekly from the Civil War era and early years of Reconstruction), Historical Abstracts, Historical Newspapers Online, Legal Periodicals & Books and JSTOR (full-text backfile of scholarly journals in the fields of history, philosophy, political science and others), and many others. See the list of databases at the beginning of this Research Guide.
B. Georgetown University Lauinger Library
The Lauinger Library at the Main campus at Georgetown University is open to Georgetown University Law Center students, staff and faculty. You can check out materials from the library, and go to the library much as you access the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library, but there are separate circulation and access policies governing Lauinger Library. Ask for information about checking out books at Access Services in the Law Center Library, or access their Library web page.
C. Tarlton Law Library, Legal History Sources
The University of Texas at Austin Law Library Rare Books and Special Collections Department has a pretty good Guide to Legal History Resources on the web. Its emphasis is on U.S. legal history, and Texas legal history in particular. It has become a little outdated, but still very useful.
XIII. Further Questions
If you have questions about finding or using any of the materials described in this guide, or you need more in-depth assistance in your research, please ask at the Special Collections Department located at the west end of the Reading Room in the Williams Library. The Curator of Legal History and Special Collections Librarian will be able to assist you in identifying and locating the materials you need for your research projects.
Created by Laura A. Bédard, with updates and revisions by Erin Kidwell, and web adaptations by Matt Zimmerman.
Links 2/5/14 (MLZ)
© Georgetown University Law Library. These guides may be used for educational purposes, as long as proper credit is given. These guides may not be sold. Requests to republish or adapt a guide should be directed to the Head of Reference. Proper credit includes the statement: Written by, or adapted from, Georgetown Law Library (current as of .....).