The Newe Boke of Justices of peace.

London, Richard Tottell, 1566.


8vo. ff. 173 (iii). Black letter. Floriated woodcut initials, contemporary annotations on a few leaves, early autograph on fly of ‘Anthony L Laws’?, further early inscriptions below, stubbs from an early mss vellum leaf. Blank lower outer corner of D1 torn, very minor waterstain in upper blank margin in places, the odd marginal thumb mark. A very good, clean copy in entirely unsophisticated contemporary calf, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, small fleuron gilt at centres, spine with raised bands, blind ruled in five compartments, traces of ties, tear from tail of lower compartment, two upper ones holed at head, corners worn.

Fitzherbert (1470-1538) of Gray’s Inn, justice of the Court of Common Pleas, was one of the most notable legal writers of the C16th, producing many of the most authoritative and enduring English law books for practitioners and students alike. The present work was more or less continuously in print between its first appearance in 1538 and 1794 and his New Natura Brevium enjoyed a similar life. Fitzherbert’s knowledge of the law was profound, he had a strong logical faculty and the rarest of legal writers’gifts, the power of clear and lucid exposition. His explanations and directions were comprehensible even to those with the most basic knowledge of the law. That aptitude was especially important in the present work on the powers and duties of the justices of the peace, since the latter were (and are) generally unpaid and part time laymen appointed by special commission under the great seal to keep the peace by enforcing “all ordinances and statutes for … the preservation of the same” within the particular area of their jurisdiction. On them rested the everyday enforcement of the system of criminal law, and before the advent of a professional police force in the C19th it rested largely on them alone. The work also deals similarly with the offices of sheriffs, constables, bailifs, escheators and coroners. The closing table first chronologically lists the statutes from which these officers derived their authority, discussed extensively in the text and the offences, activities and occupations which fell within their jurisdiction. Together they paint a very accurate and detailed picture of the social fabric of Tudor England.

All early English editions, unsurprisingly, are rare; the earliest still commonly found is Crompton’s enlarged and very different law French version, published by Tottell in 1538.     

ESTC S102232. STC. 10977. Lowndes 804. Beale. Engl. law, T343.


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