[REGISTRUM BREVUM] illuminated manuscript on vellum

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


8vo, 160 x 110mm, 167 leaves, wanting single leaf from main text and a leaf or so at end, else complete. Drypoint medieval leaf and quire signatures as well as old foliation in ink in lower margin, single column of 29 lines in an English secretarial hand (anglicana), running titles and marginal titles with red and blue paragraph marks, each chapter opening with an illuminated initial on bicoloured red and pink grounds. Waterstain to lower margin of first 3 leaves, cockling throughout, edges slightly dampstained, a little smudging and offsetting, occasional rubbing and spotting, good and legible. In English early seventeenth-century calf, ruled in blind and with a central gilt-stamped lozenge on upper and lower covers, leather label “Manuscript” on spine, remains of green silk ties, some wear to binding, spine skilfully restored

A fine and early legal manuscript containing one of the fundamental texts of English law; from an important legal library.


  1. Most probably written either by a scribe of the Inns of Court or a chancery clerk in London, for a medieval lawyer whose mark or initial may be the large calligraphic capital ‘B’ on the front flyleaf. The opening writ of the present manuscript was attested at Westminster on the 12th of December in the third year of the reign of Edward II, that is 1309, and the manuscript was most likely written within a very few years of that date. Its selection of texts frequently cites London and Westminster, and was likely produced for use by a resident of that city.
  2. Red oval armorial ink stamp (bendy sinister of nine with central device) surmounted by coronet, on front endleaf.
  3. Alfred J. Horwood (1821-1881), of the Middle Temple, barrister and important historian of English law, pioneering editor of the year books of Edward I and Edward III (the records of the medieval English courts arranged by monarch and regnal year, the latter falling into the date range of the production of the present manuscript) for the illustrious Rolls Series, and a prominent early collector of English legal manuscripts. His manuscript of the Opinio Angeri de Rypone, edited in Rolls Series, 31, 1866 is now Harvard Law School, MS. 36; other legal manuscripts of his now in British Library, Addit. MSS. 32085-32090, and listed in P.A. Brand, Early English Law Reports, 1996, I, xxii, n. 15; and further non-legal manuscripts in the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Horwood’s signature on first endleaf, above “Temple” and several lines of partly erased notes by him. His library dispersed by Sotheby’s, 8 June, 1883, at which point this volume entered the booktrade; with bookseller’s catalogue of that date pasted inside upper cover (5 guineas), and later pencil inscription of price “£6-18-0”.


Registers of Writs were produced as formulary books, providing a range of writs issued by the Chancery to serve as precedents in the pursuit of any action for the protection of rights, property or liberties (see F.W. Maitland in Harvard Law Review, 3, 1889, pp. 97-115, and E. De Haas and G.D.G. Hall, Early Registers of Writs, 1970). They were an absolutely essential part in initiating medieval and indeed much later litigation. It was also essential to any set of proceedings that the writ was correctly drafted, or the legal action would almost certainly fail. Accordingly, sound precedent books were the fundamental tools of English medieval practise, described as early as the seventeenth century as “the ancientist book of the law” by Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Attorney General to Queen Elizabeth I and Chief Justice to King James I, and their direct successors, at least until recently, were still in daily use. Modern scholarship also recognises their importance to the execution of the law, with T.F.T. Plunkett stating that they were the “basis of the mediaeval common law, a guide to its leading principles, and a commentary upon their application” (Statutes and their Interpretation in the First Half of the Fourteenth Century, Cambridge 1922, p.111).

The volume here includes a list of 60 chapter headings, followed by the Register of Writs proper from De recto to De salvo conductu.

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