THE FOUNDATION OF ENGLISH COMMON LAW
The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England. [with] The second part of the Institutes of the lawes of England. [with] The third part of the Institutes of the laws of England. [bound with] The fourth part of the Institutes of the laws of England.London, (i) printed by M.F.I.H. and R.T. Assignes of I. More Esquire; (ii) printed by M. Flesher, and R. Young…; (iii) by M. Flesher, for W. Lee, and D. Pakeman, 1633.; .; .
FIRST EDITIONS of II, III and IV. Small folio. 4 works in 3 vols. I: ff. , 395, [33, last blank] + 2 engraved and 1 folding plate; II: ff. , 745, , inc. 1 engraved plate; III: ff. , 243, [2, last blank], inc. 1 engraved plate, ff. , 364, , inc. 1 engraved plate. Black and Roman letter, little Italic, double or triple column. Titles within architectural woodcut border with putti and royal crown (McKerrow & Ferguson 284), engraved author’s portrait (dated 1629) as frontispiece to all four parts, decorated initials and ornaments. I: Added full-page engraved portrait of Littleton. The odd ms marginal note, 2pp. of additional contemporary ms index to final blank. Couple of gatherings slightly browned, a bit of printer’s ink soiling to Bb1, tiny rust hole to Cc1 affecting one word, paper flaw to lower outer blank corner of Yyy1. II: Couple of contemporary ms marginalia. Occasional toning, intermittent faint water stain towards upper margin, larger to final ll., paper flaw to lower outer blank corner of Zzz3, the odd marginal mark. III-IV: Occasional slight browning, very faint water stain towards upper gutter of a dozen gatherings. Very good, crisp copies in contemporary English calf, rebacked, triple and double blind ruled, morocco labels, a.e.r., Gaddesden Library bookplates.
A very good, complete set of this milestone of English common law, with Parts II-IV in the first edition, they are now rarely found together. ‘There are few principles of the common law that can be studied without an examination of Coke’s “Institutes” and “Reports” which summed up the legal learning of his time’ (Gest). Coke’s ‘Institutes’ are among the sources of precedents used in UK or US landmark cases as recently as Roe vs Wade (1973). ‘The “Institutes” […] firmly established itself as the basis of the constitution of the realm’ (PMM, p.76), i.e., that the executive was subject to common law – a principle subsequently extended throughout the English-speaking world.
One of the most influential English jurists, Edward Coke (1552-1634) trained at Cambridge and Inner Temple. He was Solicitor General, Speaker of the House of Commons and later Attorney General, chosen to replace Francis Bacon. He famously prosecuted Sir Walter Ralegh in 1614. His meteoric career led him to seats in the Common Pleas and the King’s Bench.
The first part of ‘Institutes’ – his lifetime’s masterpiece – first appeared in 1628, followed by another three between 1642 and 1644. Part I is a commentary, including the original text, to Thomas Littleton’s ‘Tenures’, a C15 milestone of English property law, concerned with land freeholds and tenure. It discusses topics such as fees, dowry, types of tenancies, homage, escuage, villenage and claims in relation to land ownership. This copy includes an engraved portrait of Littleton, not called for in ESTC. The woodcut folding plate shows a genealogical diagram of consanguinity to determine descent and rightful inheritance. The early annotator of this copy provided a final, copious ms table of contents of the regulations cited. Part II focuses on the ancient constitution of England, with a commentary to the Magna Charta and the old Statutes, e.g. de Merton, Marlebridge and Westminster. Topics include bigamy, regulations pertaining to charters, escaped prisoners, religious apostasy, soldiers, clerics, tithes, marriage, bridges, the erection of hospitals and houses of correction – to the reign of Henry VII. The early annotator, the same as in Part I, glossed Coke’s phrase ‘Laws of the Realm’ with references to Selden, adding that the ‘Scholia legis’ referred to in Coke’s passage ‘were of the Canon Law, mixt with the profession of the Imperialls, both were studied by the clergy more than other learning’. He also added a reference to Matthew Parker and the ‘independency of the Crown of England’. Part III is entirely devoted to Treason and Criminal Law, including heresy, ‘conjuration, witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment’ (with copious examples, including taking corpses out of their graves), murder, burglary, ‘craft of multiplication’ (i.e., turning metals into gold… also known as alchemy!), ‘hunters in the night or with painted faces’ in forests or parks, forgery, hosting a Jesuit, being or hosting an ‘Egyptian’ (i.e., gypsy), and dozens more. Part IV is about the Jurisdiction of the Courts (e.g., King’s Bench, Chancery, etc.) and associated offices (e.g., Steward of England). A major legal work in a very good, clean set.
Part II is state 1 of the first edition, with pp.28-9 correctly numbered. ESTC describes state 1 as ‘possibly a ghost’: ‘This record is differentiated solely by the misnumbered pages, a stop-press correction.’ Only 2 other copies of state 1 are recorded.Printing and the Mind of Man 126 (1628, Part I only). I: ESTC S113340; STC (2nd ed.), 15786; PMM 126. II: ESTC R231698 (state 1, ‘possibly a ghost’); Wing C4948A. III: ESTC R12841 and R1842; Wing C4960 and C4929.