G. J. (George James) Turner.

[Introduction detached from Year books of Edward II, v. 6 online

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such as this of a series of cases being attributed to a wrong term are not
uncommon in the manuscripts of the fourteenth century. They support
the view that the early Year Books circulated in single terms or short
series of terms and not in large volumes of complete years.

This manuscript was given to Lincoln's Inn Library by George
Anton, who was called to the bar on 45 June 1584 and afterwards
became Kecorder of Lincoln. 1 A century earlier it had belonged to
John Clerk, a Baron of the Exchequer in the reign of Edward IV., as
may be seen from the following inscription on the last folio :

Liber magistri lohannis Clerke unius baronum scaccarii domini regis
Edwardi quarti anno ipsius domini regis octauo de Greys Inne. 1468.

Apparently 1468 was the year when John Clerke acquired the

1 Fourteenth Report of Historical Manuscripts Commission, Appendix, pt. viii.
pp. 73, 86, 92.


manuscript, for he had been appointed second baron eight years earlier.
Another owner was a certain Urswick, whose name appears in a fifteenth-
century hand on four different folios. He may probably be identified
with Sir Thomas Urswick who was appointed Common Serjeant of the
City of London on 27 June 1453, Kecorder on 3 October 1455, and Chief
Baron of the Exchequer on 22 May 1472. He was almost certainly a
member of Gray's Inn, for he was one of several distinguished lawyers
to whom with others Keynold de Gray granted the manor of Portpool
in 1456. 1 The name Johan Byrkryg, which is perhaps intended for
Johan Byrkryng, occurs on another folio 2 in an ancient but not very
clear hand. It has not as yet been identified.

One of the most interesting features of this manuscript is a name
which appears at the top of the right-hand margin of several folios. 3
It is plainly written (with one or two slight variations in spelling) as
Knaresburgh, and though it is impossible to speak confidently it seems
to be in the same handwriting as the manuscript. We may at least
suspect that it is the name of its writer. There can scarcely have been
a better object in the inscription of the name on these folios, than to
testify to the authenticity of the copy. It is as if the writer were
to say : ' These are the reports of the years here mentioned, as Knares-
burgh witnesses who wrote them.' We fortunately have a hint of his
identity. Between the reports of the reign of Edward II. and those
of the eyre of Northampton a folio 4 was originally left blank, and on
this at some later date three documents have been copied, all of which
relate to the forest of Knaresburgh. The third of these documents, an
agreement 5 made in the form of a chirograph, is dated 30 March 1285,
and one of the witnesses to it was a certain Eobert of Knaresburgh,
who is likely to have been the writer of the manuscript. He was possibly
the person of that name who was acting as attorney of Elizabeth widow
of John of Burgh in the reign of Edward II. and the early years of
Edward III. 6 But though he was probably the writer of the manu-
script there is no reason for supposing that he was himself a reporter.
He was a clerk and an attorney, who perhaps made this compilation
for some person interested in law or possibly made it for his own edifi-
cation. How far the manuscript contains any original work in the way

1 Pension Book of Gray's Inn, i. p. xx. part and Sir Robert of Plumton of the

: Folio 176 v. other part.

3 Folios 43 r, 51 r, 61 r, 69 r, 6 Calendar of Letters Patent, 1321-4,
301 r and 313 r. p. 228 ; ibidem 1327-30, p. 365, ibidem

4 Folio 240. 1330-4, p. 4. In the year 1334 he
6 The agreement was made between appears to have been in Ireland.

Edmond Earl of Cornwall of the one


of abridgement and revision is a matter for further consideration.
Like Winchendon, whose manuscript Selden saw in the Inner Temple
Library, 1 Knaresburgh may have been a man of learning. Several
clerks who practised as attorneys at this period were entitled to the
prefix ' Master,' and had studied at a university. Eobert of Knares-
burgh was apparently not entitled to be called Master, but he may
yet have possessed a considerable knowledge of English law. The
chief difficulty in accepting the view that he was the actual writer
of the manuscript is the fact that twelve names or words which
have with one exception been more or less successfully erased are
inscribed respectively in the top margin of each of the folios 43 v
to 49 r. Their position, however, is a little different from that of
the name ' Knaresburgh,' and they appear to have been written at a
later date. The only one of them which has not been wholly or
partially erased seems to read as ' Omolryan ' ; and it is very un-
certain how many of the other names or words differ from this or
from one another. For the present they must remain unexplained.

If we have been unable to trace the history of any one of our manu-
scripts from its infancy to the present day, we can at least notice a
large proportion of men of erudition and legal distinction among their
owners of the Tudor period. At a later date they were regarded with
affection by distinguished jurists such as Selden and Hale, and were
prized by famous collectors such as Fairfax, Eawlinson, and Harley.
It is evident that at no time since the reign of Henry VIII. were manu-
script Year Books poorly appreciated, and we may doubt whether any
considerable number of them have perished in the last four centuries.
A few copies lingering in private collections may be still unknown
to legal antiquaries, and there may even be a few in public libraries
which have escaped their notice. We cannot hope to hear of many more
still in good condition. With regard to those which have perished
we may perhaps know more when the Abridgements have been studied
carefully and those which their compilers used have been divided into
the known and the unknown. Finally the history of the manuscript
Year Books of subsequent reigns, and the study of their annotations,
may reflect some faint light on those of the reigns of Edward I. and
Edward II.

1 Year Book Series, vol. i. p. 30. before that date. He remarks that it

This manuscript appears from the is ' so fairly writ that it is easier to read

statement in Icon Libettorum (p. 322) than the first edition in print.' In

by Myles Da vies to have been in the point of fact there was no second edition

Inner Temple Library in 1715 or shortly of Maynard's Year Book.


A second and important point to notice is that in some of our
manuscripts the reports of several years and terms are missing
notably, in A, Easter 4 Edward II. to Trinity 9 Edward II. ; in
G, Hilary 7 Edward II. to Trinity 9 Edward II. ; in L, 6 to 12
Edward II. ; in P, 8 to 10 Edward II. ; in Q, 6 to 9 Edward II. ; and
in S, 4 to 9 Edward II. There is no reason for thinking that these
omissions are due to the loss of quires and folios ; for A and G are
in an excellent state of preservation, and if L, P, and Q have been
sadly damaged they disclose no indications of ever having contained
the missing reports. It is much more probable that the reports for
certain years were so scarce that compilers of Year Books often
found it impossible to make their volumes as complete as they
wished. Eeports seem to have been especially scarce for the years
7 to 9 Edward II. Even C which includes all these three years
contains very few cases for the eighth and ninth years. All this
accords with the view that the reports of the fourteenth century
circulated as small pamphlets containing the reports of a few terms
only, and that our large Year Books containing reports of many years
were compiled from collections of the small pamphlets. On this sub-
ject there is some discussion in the next section of this Introduction.

One other source of Year Book history must be briefly mentioned.
Palaeography is rapidly becoming more and more useful as an auxiliary
of historical investigation. Those only who have studied the many
technicalities of this abstruse science long and critically can draw
inferences from the handwritings of our Year Books, which others
can safely trust. The precise dates when they were written can never
be more than a matter of conjecture, but we can at least hope to learn
if any two or more of our manuscripts have been written wholly or
partly by one and the same person ; whether an apparent change of
writing is due to a scribe resuming work after an interval, or to the task
of copying having been transferred to another ; and to what class or
classes of scribe the men who wrote the Year Books belonged.

In conclusion attention may be drawn to the First Appendix to this
Introduction which contains particulars of the quires and folios of our
different manuscripts. It is a matter of great importance to know
precisely how the quires were formed, and how far they remain intact.
It constantly happens that the reports of a new year begin with the
first folio of a quire, and sometimes when a year occupies less than a
complete quire the blank folios are cut away or are used for notes.
On this subject we need all the information which can be collected. In


the Appendix I have adopted a method of describing the quires which
is, I believe, entirely new. The numbers of the first and last folios of
each quire are printed above a short line, and the number of the folio
which precedes the stitching of the quire is printed below the line.
Thus ^^ describes a quire having 135 and 142 for its first and
last folios respectively and its stitching between 138 and 139. In
most great libraries the folios of manuscripts have in recent years been
renumbered in pencil, and this is the numeration used in the Appendix.
Unfortunately the system of numeration varies. Some librarians assign
no number to blank folios ; whereas others designate them by the
number of the last folio on which there is writing, together with the
distinguishing letters a, b in alphabetical order. This difference of
practice, however, leads to some confusion. It is obvious that every
complete quire contains an even number of folios. Where the descrip-
tion in the Appendix appears to show an uneven number this is due
either to the presence of a blank and unnumbered folio or to the fact
that a folio or some odd number of folios has been cut away. Atten-
tion is drawn to all such cases by a note ; and where a folio has been
cut away, the number of the folio to which it was once the half -fold
or ' conjugate ' is also specially mentioned.


The theory that our Year Books were compiled from small pamphlets
or gatherings containing the reports of a few terms only needs some
explanation. When our large volumes of Year Books were compiled
they were no doubt occasionally copied verbatim or almost verbatim.
Being no larger than manuscripts of Bracton and Britton, they were
just as easy to copy from cover to cover. But copies of this sort were
derived ultimately from the same source as the manuscripts from which
they were immediately copied, and have no special history of their own.
The theory in discussion, which may be called the ' pamphlet ' theory,
is put forward in opposition to one which seems to say that our Year
Books were compiled by selection from various other manuscripts of
the same character as themselves ; that their compilers had before
them several manuscripts, not all of them the work of the same reporter,
and that when they were about to copy a particular case they examined
carefully the different manuscripts to see which gave the best report.
In short, the compiler of the large volume (the Year Book as we know
it) is on this theory an editor. On the ' pamphlet ' theory the compiler


is not an editor, but an intelligent, or fairly intelligent, transcriber, who,
nevertheless, may sometimes have abridged, omitted, and even inserted,
cases. Normally, however, he was a reproducer of texts rather than
the author of original work. But it must be admitted that the
4 pamphlet ' theory cannot as yet be stated in very precise language.
We cannot say whether the pamphlets in their earliest forms circulated
as the reports of one or of two or more terms, nor whether from the
first there were rival pamphlets giving different reports of the same cases.
When more volumes of the Year Books of Edward II. have been edited
and their contents critically examined, information will probably be
at hand which will enable the theory to be stated with more precision.

No manuscript pamphlets containing the reports of single years
or terms of the reign of Edward II. are known to have been preserved.
Their former existence is purely a matter of inference. In the first
place the gaps of various lengths in our large Year Books can, as already
stated, be well explained by the ' pamphlet ' theory, and no other
explanation seems to be so satisfactory. Then we have the evidence
of the early printed Year Books. A considerable number of them
were first printed as pamphlets containing the reports of one year
only. We may notice : 20 Henry VI. , published between 1480
and 1490 ; 3 Henry VI. and 9 Henry VI., between 1490 and 1500 ; and
22 Edward IV., between 1500 and 1510. It is much more probable
that the early printers published the reports of these years, because
they were able to obtain manuscripts of them, and none of longer
periods, than that they selected them out of large manuscripts con-
taining the reports of many years. Moreover, we know that Pynson
published a second report of the year 21 Edward III., which belonged to
Sir William Whorwood. 2 If Whorwood's manuscript contained other
years he would almost certainly have printed them as well as the
year 21 Edward III.

We are accustomed to calling the reports of the Middle Ages Year
Books, but in their early days they seem to have been called just as
frequently Books of Terms. In the famous passage in which Chief
Justice Prissot mentions Year Books l he speaks of ' Students in Terms.'
Even in the preface to the folio edition of the Year Books published
in 1679 we read of Books of Years and Terms. Thus it would appear
that the term rather than the year was the original unit of the book of
law-reports. A small pamphlet containing the reports of a single term,
or of a few terms only, may be described as a ' book of terms ' as properly
as, and even more properly than, a large volume containing the reports
1 See Year Book Series, iii. p. xv. a See p. xxviii above.


of many years. Indeed we may suspect that it was only when the small
and perishable pamphlets, each containing reports of a few terms only
of the reign of Edward II., were becoming scarce, and their contents
were becoming known through larger volumes, that the phrase ' Book
of Years ' gradually began to take the place of Book of Terms. In
the early Tudor period, however, judges and lawyers generally referred
to the reports neither as Books of Years nor as Books of Terms, but
as ' books ' simply. In Trinity term 1 Edward V. it was said ' by
divers apprentices present at the bar that it is adjudged in our books.*
We have also seen on an earlier page 1 that when Jenner the prothp-
notary said that he could show a precedent, Fitzherbert, one of the
judges, replied that he could show ' many books ' in support of what
he had said. On another occasion the same judge remarked 2 that he
could show ' divers books adjudged on that point,' by which he seems
to have meant divers cases in different books ; also on a third occasion,
that he could show ' four books adjudged to the contrary.' When he
speaks of these four books he can scarcely have meant four large volumes
of reports, for some of his cases would almost certainly occur in the same
volume. It is much more likely that he meant by a ' book ' the reports
of a single year or of a short series of years.

An interesting document in which books of terms are mentioned
may here be noticed. The will 3 of one John Langley of Soddington
St. Peter in the county of Gloucester, dated 4 December 1458, and
proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 23 November 1459,
shows us that his collection of legal books included four volumes of
reports in the Courts of Westminster in addition to two copies of the
' Books of Assizes.' The reports are described as follows :

(1) A book of terms of the years 38 and 41-43 Edward III.

and 2, 7, and 13 Eichard II.

(2) A book containing four or five years of the ' forties ' of

Edward III.

(3) A book containing many cases and divers terms, viz.

28 Edward III., and 2, 7, 8, 11, and 13 Eichard II.

(4) A book of two unnamed years of the reign of Henry VI.

The first and third of these volumes seem to have been compiled
from manuscript pamphlets containing reports of single years, most
of which were not consecutive. The second was probably compiled
from pamphlets, but as the years are not specified we cannot be certain ;

1 See p. xiv, above. 2 Ibidem.

3 My attention was drawn to this very interesting will by Miss E. Stokes.


and the fourth cannot have been more than a pamphlet as it contained
two years only. The material part of the will x is as follows :

Item volo quod liber qui vocatur Actus Apostolorum ligatus et coopertus
cum panno lineo quern habui ex deliberacione . . . Mylis adtunc Canonici
in Abbathia de Cirencestre redeliberetur domui predicte. Item unum
Rotulum armorum quod habui ex deliberacione Ricardi Collesborne Canonici
apud Cirencestre redeliberetur eidem domui. Item una quaterna gram-
maticalis quam habui de lohanne Chestirton redeliberetur domui predicte.
Item unus liber de terminis viz de annis xlj ij iij et xxxviij vo et ij do
Ricardi vij et xiij redeliberetur FiloU aut executoribus patris sui ad
disponendum pro anima patris sui. Item alius liber assisarum 2 scriptus in
paupiro et ligatus quern habui ex deliberacione Rogeri Capis redeliberetur
executoribus predicti Rogeri ad disponendum pro anima ipsius Rogeri.
Item quidam liber in pargameno de assisis nuper Willelmi Poole redeliberetur
executoribus suis. Item alius liber vocatus a Manueh 1 in lingua gallicana
redeliberetur executoribus predicti Willelmi aut heredi suo ad disponendum
pro anima sua. Item alii libri qui sunt mei proprii unde unus restat in
custodia lohannis George de Whitehors et continet quatuor vel quinque
annos 3 de quadragesimis Edwardi tercii. Item alius liber meus qui restat
in custodia Roberti Hogges in quo continentur multi casus ac diuersi termini
viz. [de] annis ij vij viij xj xiij mo Ricardi necnon xxviij Edwardi tercii
et plura alia que ad presens ignoro ; volo quod vendantur et disponantur pro
anima mea per executores meos. Item liber de terminis de duobus annis
istius Regis volo quod vendatur et disponatur pro anima eius de quo habui
ilium librum secundum disposicionem executorum meorum.

Item michi debetur pro feodo meo annualis redditus de xl.s annuatim
michi soluendorum per Abbatem Gloucestre de communi consensu Conuentus
ad terminum vite mee, unde summa arreragiorum restat insoluta xxiiij. li.
quam quidem summam volo quod habita consideracione de redditu eiusdem
domus in Gloucestre existente nuper per consilium meum recognito et domui
predicte retornato quod predictus Abbas et Conventus soluant predictam
summam executoribus meis. Alioquin quod ipsi Abbas et Conventus re-
spondeant coram deo nisi graciam meliorem habeant de executoribus meis
aliter pro anima mea disponenda. . . . Item volo quod duo libri mei viz.
liber statutorum et alius Registrum quos nuper emi de Margeria sorore mea
pro quatuor libris vendantur et disponantur pro anima mea Prouiso semper
quod si Willelmus Langley, lohannes Langley vel Edmundus Langley con-
sanguinei mei vel aliquis eorum voluerint emere predictos libros et dare pro
dictis libris sicut ego dedi viz. iiij. or li. preferantur pre omnibus aliis.

If the 'pamphlet' theory is to be accepted as good, it will be
necessary to satisfy ourselves by an examination of the reports year
by year that it is consistent with their contents and arrangement. But
before starting on this examination we must notice and briefly consider

1 For this will see Stokton, 18, at Somerset House. 2 MS. ' assisis.' s MS. ' annis.'
VOL. VI. d


a few important facts. The cases which are common to the different
manuscripts often occur in different order ; some manuscripts contain
reports which are altogether missing in others ; and according to our
late Literary Director the highest authority on the Year Books of this
period some of the reports of the same case in one manuscript, or in
one group of manuscripts, may be altogether independent of the reports
in the other manuscripts. These, however, are difficulties which must
be faced, to whatever theory of the origin of the Year Books we incline.

Let us suppose that a clerk is directed to copy a pamphlet containing
the reports of a few terms only. If he make his copy as accurately as
he can he will transcribe the pamphlet as he finds it, incorporating
its corrections, and perhaps some of its marginal additions. Possibly
he will find passages which are, or which seem to him to be, corrupt,
and others which, through the bad preservation of the parchment or for
some such good reason, he cannot read satisfactorily. Here he will
have to construct a text for his copy to the best of his ability. Thus
two scribes each endeavouring to copy accurately the same pamphlet
might produce two texts differing in important points. The readings
might vary considerably in places, and certain marginal notes and
additions might occur as part of the text in one copy, and not at all
in the other. Their texts would have differed still more from one
another if they had been copied from different transcripts of the same
pamphlet. In particular we should not be surprised to find that an
extra case, or a few extra cases, occurred at the end of some copies,
and not at the end of others which purported to be the same reports.
A pamphlet would often have one or two blank folios or part of a blank
folio at the end, on which an owner would be tempted to add some
additional matter. In copies derived from this one, the additional
matter would no doubt sometimes be incorporated with the main text.

So far we have been considering copies which purported to be
accurate, copies such as would be made in accordance with a direction
from the scribe's employer. It might often happen, however, that
the scribe copied the pamphlet on his own initiative. Here he would
feel himself less strictly bound to accuracy of arrangement. He
might occasionally like to take a case out of its order, selecting one of
such length as suited the time at his disposal. He might sometimes
wish to abridge, or to omit, some unimportant cases, so as to obviate
the necessity of using more parchment than he had beside him. In
looking through our manuscripts of the Year Books we cannot fail
to notice the anxiety of their scribes to begin the reports of a year
with a new quire. In order to effect this whole folios are left blank,


and in all probability cases are sometimes abridged or omitted for a
like purpose. When we find this anxiety a conspicuous feature of our
large Year Books we may be pretty sure that a desire to confine their
cases to a limited space prevailed among the scribes who compiled
the small pamphlets, and that it had an important effect upon the
transmission of the text of the reports.

Nor is the existence of two or more apparently independent reports
of certain cases in the different manuscripts in any way inconsistent
with the ' pamphlet ' theory. It might be suggested that from the
beginning independent collections of reports of the cases, being the
work of rival reporters, were in active circulation. It is true that
many of the reports in Y seem to be altogether different from those
in the other manuscripts ; but Y is unique. It differs from the other
volumes not only in the arrangement of its cases by subject-matter
instead of by terms, but also in containing numerous notes and obser-
vations which disclose the personality of its author. He usually
reported his own cases, though occasionally he seems to have copied
the reports of others. It is very probable that other young lawyers
or even clerks were, like the author of Y, making reports and notes
of cases for their own instruction in the early years of Edward II.,
and perhaps some of their work found its way into the pamphlets
from which, I believe, the Year Books were derived. But it is an

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Online LibraryG. J. (George James) Turner[Introduction detached from Year books of Edward II, v. 6 → online text (page 7 of 11)