BRETON, John le

BRETON, John le Britton

London, Robert Redman, [1533?]


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. [vi], lxiiii, lxvi-Clxxv, Clxxv-CCxxxvii [i.e. CCxxxviii], CCxl-CCxlix, CCxlv-CClxxxvii, [i]. [Maltese cross] , A-X , 2A-2P , 2Q . Black letter. Woodcut royal arms on t-p, Redman’s white on black woodcut device on verso of last, white on black tail-piece, small woodcut initials, engraved armorial bookplate of the English mathematician and astronomer Richard Towneley (1629-1707), dated 1702, on verso of title, ms shelf mark on t-p. Light mostly marginal age yellowing, edges of first leaves a little chipped, rare marginal mark or spot, library blind stamp to lower edges. A very good copy with good margins in modern calf antique.

First edition of this important summary of English law, the oldest English book in Law-French, probably ordered by Edward I in his desire to produce a digest of English law similar to Justinian’s Institutes. “Britton, the title of the earliest summary of the law of England in the French tongue, which purports to have been written by command of King Edward I. The origin and authorship of the work have been much disputed. It has been attributed to John le Breton, bishop of Hereford, on the authority of a passage found in some MSS. of the history of Matthew of Westminster; there are difficulties, however, involved in this theory, inasmuch as the bishop of Hereford died in 1275, whereas allusions are made in Britton to several statutes passed after that time, and more particularly to the well-known statute Quia emptores terrarum, which was passed in 1290. It was the opinion of Selden that the book derived its title from Henry de Bracton, the last of the chief justiciaries, whose name is sometimes spelled in the fine Rolls “Bratton” and “Bretton”, and that it was a royal abridgment of Bracton’s great work on the customs and laws of England, with the addition of certain subsequent statutes. The arrangement, however, of the two works is different, and but a small proportion of Bracton’s work is incorporated in Britton. The work is entitled in an early MS. of the 14th century, which was once in the possession of Selden, and is now in the Cambridge university library, Summa de legibus Anglie que vocatur Bretone; and it is described as “a book called Bretoun” in the will of Andrew Horn, the learned chamberlain of the city of London, who bequeathed it to the chamber of the Guildhall in 1329, together with another book called Mirroir des Justices. Britton was first printed in London by Robert Redman, without a date, probably about the year 1530.” Hugh Chisolm. The work provides a very good overall view of British medieval law.

Robert Redman (d.1540) was based in London from around 1525, when he printed an edition of ‘Magna Carta’. He aroused the resentment of Henry VIII’s printer, Richard Pynson, by breaking Pynson’s near monopoly on the production of law books, eventually becoming the dominant printer in that speciality. In his edition of Littleton’s ‘Tenures’, which Redman had also printed, Pynson made an ad hominem attack on his ‘unscrupulous rival’: ‘Redman, sed verius Rudeman, quia inter mille homines rudiorem haud facile invenies’. Redman had his revenge, when, on Pynson’s death in 1529, he took over his rival’s Fleet Street offices and materials. In the following year he also began to use Pynson’s device.

Richard Towneley was an English mathematician and astronomer from Towneley near Burnley, Lancashire. He was the nephew of Christopher Towneley, who corresponded with a group of seventeenth century astronomers in the north of England which included Jeremiah Horrocks, William Crabtree and William Gascoigne, the pioneer astronomers who laid the groundwork for research astronomy in the UK. An investigation carried out with the physician Henry Power, followed by correspondence with Robert Boyle, showed the relationship between the pressure and volume of gas in a closed system and led to the formulation of Boyle’s Law, or as Boyle named it, Mr. Towneley’s hypothesis. He introduced John Flamsteed to the micrometre and invented the deadbeat escapement used in two clocks in the Greenwich Observatory.

ESTC S106708. STC 3803.
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