English Medieval Legal Documents › Common Law Abridgments

"In legal bibliography the terms abridgment, digest and encyclopedia are often interchangeable, the terminology in use at any given time owing more to fashion than to science." (18) Each was an attempt to encapsule the law into a single work, and they included digests of cases which the author thought were of particular use to the practitioner, grouped under various headings which were usually the titles of writs arranged in alphabetical order. Fitzherbert's Abridgment is probably the compilation most familiar to legal scholars, although it had a number of predecessors. The Selden Society published a bibliography of abridgments in 1932 (19) and an extensive listing of the abridgments and the history of their publication can be found in both Winfield (20) and Maxwell (21). Also, David Seipp includes a table of Year Book abridgments, covering the years 1490-1614, on his website (see above.) Listed below are several of the most noteworthy examples.

The Abridgment of the Book of Assises. London: Richard Pynson, 1509.
Abstract: Of unknown authorship, this is an alphabetical abridgment of matter taken mostly from the year books arranged under 76 alphabetical titles. Based largely on Statham's Abridgment.

Ashe, Thomas, ed. Promptuarie, Ou Repertory Generall De Les Annales: Et Plvsors Avters Livres Del Common Ley Dengleterre. 2 Vols. London: J. Beale, 1614.
Abstract: Text in French. A general digest of the reports and statutes from the year books to 10 Coke, together with a book of entries.

Bacon, Matthew, Owen Ruffhead, and Joseph Sayer, eds. A New Abridgment of the Law; By a Gentleman of the Middle Temple. 5 Vols. London: Printed by E. and R. Nutt, and R. Gosling, 1736-1766.
Notes: Also available online in MOML and ECCO (subscription databases)
Abstract: Text in English.

Bellewe, Richard, ed. Les Ans Du Roy Richard Le Second ; Collect' Ensembl' Hors Les Abridgments De Statham, Fitzherbert Et Brooke . London: Stevens and Haynes, 1585.
Notes: Also available online at the University of Michigan Digital Library (subscription database)
Abstract: An alphabetical abridgment of a year book of Richard II, in Norman French. Includes cases from the King's Bench and Common Pleas, 1378-1400.

Bendlowes, William, John Rowe, and William Dalison, eds. Les Reports De Gulielme Benloe Serjeant Del Ley, Des Divers Pleadings Et Cases En Le Court Del Comon-Bank? En Le Several Roignes De Les Tres Hault & Excelent Princes, Le Roy Henry VII., Henry VIII., Edw. VI., & Le Roignes Mary & Elizabeth. London: Samuel Keble, 1689.
Notes: Also available online at the University of Michigan Digital Library (subscription database)
Abstract: Text in Norman French. Covers the period 1486-1580.

Brooke, Robert, ed. La Graunde Abridgement, Collect & Escrie Per Le Iudge Tresreuerend Syr Robert Brooke, Chiualier ... 2 Vols. London: R. Tottyl, 1568.
Abstract: This is an abstract of the year books down to the writer's own time, and is principally based on the work by Fitzherbert bearing the same title, but also contains some valuable original matter. It is less detailed than Fitzherbert, although it includes later cases from Henry VIII's reign. Contains 20,717 cases arranged under 404 titles as compared to Fitzherbert's 260 titles. (Later editions published in 1570, 1573, 1576, and 1586)

D'Anvers, Knightley, and Henry Rolle, eds. A General Abridgment of the Common Law, Alphabetically Digested Under Proper Titles. With Notes and References to the Whole. With Three Tables: the First, of the Several Titles. The Second, of the Names of the Cases. And the Third, of the Matter Under General Heads. 3 Vols. London: J. Walthoe, 1705-1737.
Abstract: A translation of Rolle's Abridgment with the addition of cases to the date of this publication by D'Anvers. Incomplete, it does not go beyond the letter "E".

Fitzherbert, Anthony, ed. La Graunde Abridgement Collect Par Le Judge Tresreuerend Monsieur Anthony Fitzherbert. 3 Vols. in 2 . London: John Rastell, 1900a.
Notes: The 1516, 1565, and 1577 editions also available online on EEBO (subscription database)
Abstract: One of the two most important abridgments, it contains 14,039 cases from the year books listed under alphabetically arranged subject headings. May have been taken in part from manuscripts no longer in existence. However, many additional manuscripts have come to light since Fitzherbert's publication. Scholars believe the first extracts that can be accepted as genuine are from 11 Edward I, although the original source has disappeared. It includes some of the cases which appear in Bracton's Note Book. (Later editions published by Ricardi Tottell in 1565, 1573, 1577 & 1586)

Jenkins, David, Theodore Barlow and Charles F. Morrell , eds. Eight Centuries of Reports; or, Eight Hundred Cases Solemnly Adjudged in the Exchequer Chamber, or, Upon Writs of Error. (1220-1623) . 4th ed. London: H. Sweet & Sons, 1885.
Notes: Also available online the University of Michigan Digital Library, and in ECCO (subscription databases)
Abstract: First published in 1661 in French and Latin, Rerum Judicatarum Centuriae Octo . Translated in 1777 by Theodore Barlow. More an abridgment than an ordinary volume of reports, most of the cases being taken from other reporters. Many of the cases are actually King's Bench rather than Exchequer. Earlier editions: 1661, 1734, 1771, & 1777.

Keilway, Robert, ed. Reports D'Ascuns Cases Qui Ont Evenus Aux Temps Du Roy Henry Le Septieme ... & Du Tres Illustre Roy Henry Le Huitiesme, & Ne Sont Comprises Deins Les Livres Des Terms & Ans Demesnes Les Roys (1496-1531) . London: Charles Harper, William Croke, and Richard Tonson , 1688.
Notes: Also available online at the University of Michigan Digital Library (subscription database) Abstract: Digest of cases from English Reports vol. 72.

Klingelsmith, Margaret C., trans. Statham's Abridgment of the Law. 2 Vols. Boston: Boston Book Company, 1915.
Abstract: Translation from the Anglo-Norman by Klingelsmith. The translation is occasionally inaccurate and the notes are often misleading.

Rayner, John, ed. A Digest of the Law Concerning Libels: Containing the Resolutions in the Books on the Subject, and Many Manuscript Cases. The Whole Illustrated With Occasional Observations ... With a Supplement Containing Considerable Additions. London: W. Owen, 1770.
Notes: Also available online in ECCO (subscription database)
Abstract: Containing many manuscript cases from the years 1344-1769.

Rogers, Ralph V. Year Books of 1-23 Richard II : Trouvees Dans Les Grands Abridgments Statham, Fitzherbert, Brooke, Et Pynson. HLS MS 1328, Harvard Law School Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1937.
Abstract: Dissertation.

Rolle, Henry, ed. Un Abridgment Des Plusieurs Cases Et Resolutions Del Common Ley Alphabeticalment Digest Desouth Severall Titles . London: A. Crooke, 1668.
Notes: Also available online in EEBO (subscription database)
Abstract: Text in Law French. Digest of cases from the year books arranged systematically by topic under titles and sub-titles. It also abridges many of the parliamentary rolls, statutes, and official records.

Seipp, David J., and Carol F. Lee, eds. Legal History, the Year Books: Medieval English Legal History : an Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268-1535. 2003-.
Notes: Available online at http://www.bu.edu/law/faculty/scholarship/yearbooks/index.html
Abstract: Also known as Seipp's Year Book Abridgement, this searchable database indexes all those year book reports printed between the years 1378 and 1535, and a large number from 1268 forward. Of these reports, more than 4,000 from 1399 forward have been fully indexed and paraphrased. It includes lists of manuscript and printed editions, and a bibliography of works about the year books, compiled by Carol Lee.
Sponsored by the Ames Foundation, Harvard University.

Statham, Nicholas, ed. Statham's Abridgment of the Law. 2 Vols. London: R. Pynson, 1900a.
Abstract: Text in Anglo-Norman?. Considered the earliest of the year book abridgments, thought by scholars to have been published about 1495. Contains digests of about 3,750 cases from the year books, arranged under 258 titles, arranged roughly in alphabetical order.

Tomlins, Thomas E., ed. Repertorium Juridicum. A General Index to All the Cases and Pleadings in Law and Equity Contained in All the Reports, Year-Books?, &c., Hitherto Published. Dublin: Elizabeth Lynch, 1788.
Notes: Available online in ECCO (subscription database)
Abstract: The first edition, by Kennett Freeman, consisting of two parts, was published in 1742. This edition by Tomlins is a revision of the first part of the first edition, with additions to the date of publication.

Viner, Charles, ed. A General Abridgment of Law and Equity: Alphabetically Digested Under Proper Titles, With Notes and References to the Whole. 24 Vols. Aldershot: The author, 1741-1758.
Abstract: Text in English.



18. Moys, Elizabeth M. Manual of Law Librarianship: the Use and Organization of Legal Literature, 2nd ed. Boston: G.K.Hall. 1987 at p.269
19. Cowley, John D. A Bibliography of Abridgments, Digests, Dictionaries and Indexes of English Law to the Year 1800, London: Quaritch, 1932.
20. Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925 at pp.200-51
21. Maxwell, William H. and Leslie F. Maxwell, A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations, 2nd ed. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955- at pp.285-87



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