English Medieval Legal Documents › Year Books and other Reports

Although other extant compilations of court reports, such as Bracton's Notebook are included in the following section, the most notable of the unofficial court reports are the year books.

Manuscripts of the year books began to be published shortly after printing was first introduced to England. William de Machlinia seems to have printed the first of these so call "Black Letter" editions around the year 1481, but the earliest systematic publisher of Year Books was Richard Pynson (or Pinson) between the years 1493 and 1528. Beginning in 1553, Richard Tottell published some two hundred and twenty-five issues, which were later collected into ten volumes in the so-called "Quarto Edition". They were issued in 1678-80 in eleven large folio volumes, with the addition of a volume containing the Years of Edward I and Edward II. This so called "Standard" or "Vulgate" or "Maynard Edition" was printed by George Sawbridge, William Rawlins, and Samuel Roycroft. It is available online in The Early English Books Online (EEBO) and also in searchable form in the database developed by David J. Seipp of the Boston University School of Law at http://www.bu.edu/law/faculty/scholarship/yearbooks (see Section 9.1 below.)

All these Black Letter editions were of very poor quality. They were rife with errors of spelling, omissions of text, wrong insertions, and erratic binding. For a history of these early editions, see Winfield (12), and Beale (13). For a more detailed bibliography, see Soule's "Year-Book Bibliography" (14). This paper was reprinted, with additions in Maxwell's 1925 bibliography. (15) A comprehensive listing of these old printed editions can also be found on the website of David J. Seipp detailed above. Seipp's work, resulting in the 2007 reprint of the Vulgate edition (16), contains new introductions that include references to his online Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268-1535. Consult these bibliographical sources for complete listings of the Black Letter editions, as only the two main compilations described above are included in this present guide.
At the end of the nineteenth century, scholars became interested in providing more carefully edited versions, based on intensive study of the original manuscripts. Several learned societies, notably the Selden Society and the Ames Foundation supported the publication of these scholarly editions, which typically include the edited original Law French text, accompanied by the Latin text of the official plea roll record when available, and an English translation of both the French and Latin texts. The extensive introductions to each volume contain some of the most important studies of the English common law courts, while the tables and detailed indexes included are of great value to legal scholars.

The Selden Society began publication of the year books in 1903, as volume 17 of their general series, edited by F.W. Maitland.(17) To date some 30 volumes have been published in their Year Book Series. The most recent is volume 119 of the general series for the year 2002, which covers 12-14 Henry VIII. Consult the Selden Society website at http:///www.law.harvard.edu/programs/selden_society/pub.html for a complete list of the Selden Society publications.

The Ames Foundation began publishing year books in 1914 and to date has published seven volumes of the year books from the reign of Richard II (1377-99). A complete list of Ames Foundation publications can be found at http:///www.law.harvard.edu/programs/ames_foundation/main.html

Another important source of year books is the Rolls Series, or Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages. This series includes 20 volumes of year books from Edward I and Edward III, edited by A. J. Horwood and L. O. Pike, and published between 1883-1911.

12. Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925 at pp.158-78
13. Beale, Joseph H. A Bibliography of Early English Law Books. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926 at pp.51-104
14. Soule, Charles C. "Year-Book Bibliography" in 14 Harvard Law Review at p.73 (1901)
15. Maxwell, William H. Sweet and Maxwell's Complete Law Book Catalogue, LOndon: Sweet and Maxwell, 1925-1949. vol. 1, at p.203
16. Seipp, David J., and John Maynard eds. Year Books, or, Reports in the Following Reigns, With Notes to Brooke and Fitzherbert's Abridgments: the Vulgate edition of 1678-1680. 11 Vols. Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2007, 1678.
17. Maitland, Frederic W. Year Books 1 & 2 Edward II (1307-9). SS, 17 for 1903 (Year Book Series, Vol. I)

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