illuminated manuscript on vellum

[England, (probably London), early 14th century, probably soon after 1309]


166 x 113mm, 166 leaves (plus 2 original endleaves at front, and a paper endleaf at end), wanting a few single leaves, one leaf detached and misplaced during reattachment to codex, another quire foliated 157-166 misbound, collation: i-vi12, vii12 (wanting a single leaf, the first leaf misplaced here, that foliated ‘156’), viii-x12, xi10 (wanting 2 leaves from second half ofquire, this misbound here and once last quire of volume), xii11 (probably wanting a leaf, first leaf now a singleton), xii12, xiii13 (wanting last leaf), seventeenth- or eighteenth-century foliation at foot of rectos, single column of 29 lines in brown ink in a fine and professional anglicana hand, marginalia in two sizes of same allowing reader to identify required sections quickly, running titles in same, paragraph marks in red or blue, major sections opening with illuminated initial on blue or soft pink grounds heightened with white penwork, one large (and probably early) calligraphic ‘R’ on front endleaf, slightly trimmed at edges but with prickings for text lines visible at outer upright edges of leaves, some original flaws in vellum with original stitched repairs, some cockling and discolouration throughout, small spots, 166 by 113mm.; English seventeenth-century calf, blind-ruled with a central gilt floral lozenge, stubs of green silk ties, splits at joins of boards to spine and spine split and broken between eighth and ninth quires.


1. Most probably written for an English medieval legal practitioner, perhaps resident in London or Westminster (statutes for both of these commonly included here), in the opening decades of the fourteenth century (the opening writ here that attested at Westminster on 12 December in the third year of the reign of Edward II, that is 1309). The small and portable nature of this copy suggests an individual rather than institutional commissioner, and the unusually high number of writs concerning abbeys and cathedrals may indicate that he had a role in the Church or training as a Canon Lawyer. A fifteenth-century owner added the three lines of poetry to the foot of fol. 27r, other notes of same date on front endleaf.

2. English noble family, with an armorial red ink stamp with a viscount’s coronet on front endleaf.

3. Alfred J. Horwood (1821-1881), barrister of New Court, Temple, as well as the manuscript scholar who compiled the report on the library of the Cope family of Bramshill, Hampshire, for the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and collector of legal and historical books in his own right: his signature on front endleaf, above word “Temple” and lengthy (and mostly erased) description of codex; his library dispersed by sale at Sotheby’s, Wilkinson and Hodge, 8 June 1883. Other legal manuscripts of his can now be found in the Wellcome Library, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Colchester and Essex Museum; the Harvard Law School; and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

4. Thereafter in English book trade, with cutting from brief catalogue of that date (listing it as “Statuta et Constitutiones Regis Edoardi Primi” of “13 th Century” for £5, 5sh. pasted to leather turn over at head of front pastedown, and marks “£6-18-0” (in pencil on front pastedown) and “Templar 93” on front endleaves.


Such legal collections were intended for use as formulary books, providing a range of real and fictitious writs (formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction) that could serve as exemplars in the pursuit of any action in the protection of rights or liberties. The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the potential slow pace of change and possible harshness of common law. It appears to have split from and became independent of the curia regis in the mid-fourteenth century, at which time it consisted of the Lord Chancellor and his personal staff, the Chancery. They were the “basis of the medieval common law, a guide to its leading principles, and a commentary upon their application” (T.F.T, Plunkett, Statutes and Their Interpretation in the First Half of the Fourteenth Century, Cambridge, 1922, p. 111). On the text, see F.W. Maitland, ‘The History of the Register of Original Writs’, Harvard Law Review, 3:3 (1889), pp. 97-115, E. De Haas and G. D. G. Hall, Early Registers of Writs, Selden Society, 87, London, 1970, and D. Skemer, ‘Reading the Law: Statute Books and the Private Transmission of Legal Knowledge in Late Medieval England,’ in Learning the Law. Teaching and the Transmission of Law in England, 1150-1900, London, 1999, pp. 113-131.

The opening leaves here contain a contemporary contents list, listing sixty exemplars from De recto to De salvo conductu. These have been given folio numbers in the seventeenth or eighteenth century.


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