The Harvard Law School’s Collection
of Medieval English Statute Books and
Registers of Writs

Ames Projects

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MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS OF STATUTE BOOKS AND REGISTERS OF WRITS

 

The Harvard Law School Library holds a large collection of English medieval manuscript statute books and registers of writs. Numerous medieval manuscripts of both types of collections survive. Their interest lies in the fact that no two of them are alike. Rather, each seems to have been made up to serve the needs and the interests of the person who had them made. Many of them contain matter that does not fit into their general category. Either, for example, may contain brief treatises on pleading; some may contain pieces of Novae Narrationes. The selection of writs or statutes may be standard or quite idiosyncratic. Most of them seem to have been made for practicing lawyers or administrators (though this seems to be less true of the statute books than it is of the registers of writs). Some are quite handsomely laid out and illustrated; some are not.

Modern scholarship has had a tendency to ignore these manuscripts.1 There are a very large number of them. Their texts of standard items are, of course, not so reliable as what may be found the printed Statutes of the Realm, in Hall’s edition of Early Registers of Writs, or even in the sixteenth-century printing of ‘the’ Register of Writs. They do, however, provide an interesting insight into what lawyers and administratrors in a given period thought might be useful and into what non-lawyers wanted to preserve and/or display.

1 See, however, Rosemarie McGerr, A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), with references; Don C. 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, Jonathan A. Bush and Alain Wijffels ed. (London: Hambledon Press, 1999) 113–131.

To make these books useful to scholars, then, what seems to be called for is not an edition of their texts, except in the cases where there is no modern edition of the text (e.g., the Tractatus de bastardia in HLS MS 24b), but, rather, much more comprehensive lists of their contents than is normally available in library or even in manuscript catalogues. The Foundation is undertaking this with the Harvard collection, taking it as a sample, perhaps a random sample, of such books.

We have made some progress. We now have digital images of 58 such manuscripts, one of which is simply a single sheet of Magna Carta. Nineteen of these items are principally registers of writs, though one of that number is an unrelated tract that was found in the register. Two more of these are known to contain tracts, and one of them also contains Year Book extracts. Thirty-eight of these items are principally statute-books, at least four of which also contain registers of writs, and several contain additional tracts.

All of these manuscripts may be viewed in the Harvard University Library’s image-viewer called ‘Mirador’. (As an image-viewer we find this preferable to the former Page Delivery Service [PDS]. It does not at this point, however, always give as much detail in the left-hand navigation pane as does the PDS, which may still be reached through a link at the top of the Mirador view-screen.) All the manuscripts have sequence numbers. Most of them have foliation accompanying the sequence numbers. (We warn that the foliation may change when we are able to do a fuller description.) We list below: the HLS Call Number, the general description taken from the HOLLIS Catalogue, the HOLLIS number, the number of images (which is slightly more than twice the number of folios), a link to Mirador, and a number for a note on the manuscript, many of which have not been written and all of which are but a beginning. (The numbers in the notes are based on an alphabetical ordering of the descriptions, which we find found was not a useful way to arrange the material.) The categories in the descriptions are crude. By and large, if something is described as ‘Statuta vetera’ what we would expect to find in it is Magna Carta and a collection of statutes prior to 1327; if it is described as ‘Statuta nova’ what we would expect to find in it is a collection of statutes that postdate 1327, and if it is described as ‘Magna Carta cum statutis’ the statutes could be of any date, but a copy of Magna Carta will begin the collection. The Ames Foundation descriptions, where they exist, are usually more precise.

Complete descriptions of sixteen of the manuscripts may be reached by clicking here. Partial, and in some cases quite full, descriptions of an additional twenty (mostly the ones that are, or contain, registers of writs) may be reached from the same place. When the full description is done the metadata in the margin of the PDS (and to the extent possible in Mirador) is eventually changed to pick up the descriptions of the items in the manuscripts. The labor is large and the workers are few. We would welcome any help ranging from a full-description of a manuscript to a comment on a particular item within one. It may be sent by email.

 

HLS Call No General Description HOLLIS No Images Link to Mirador Notes
HLS MS 10 Magna carta cum statutis 3697026 849 Link 2
HLS MS 12 Magna carta cum statutis 3701472 102 Link 4
HLS MS 19 Statuta nova 3735469 206 Link 29
HLS MS 20 Statuta nova 3735517 281 Link 30
HLS MS 21 Statuta nova 3735619 500 Link 31
HLS MS 22 Registrum brevium 3746405 210 Link 40
HLS MS 23 Registrum brevium 3757950 422 Link 41
HLS MS 24 Registrum brevium with tracts 2432997 196 Link 56
HLS MS 24b [Registrum brevium with tracts] 2432997 2 Link 57
HLS MS 25 Registrum brevium 3758489 446 Link 42
HLS MS 26 Registrum brevium 3758826 532 Link 43
HLS MS 27 Registrum brevium 3758944 381 Link 44
HLS MS 28 Magna carta cum statutis 3784024 301 Link 5
HLS MS 29 Statuta nova 3784077 453 Link 32
HLS MS 30 Statuta nova 3784077 476 Link 33
HLS MS 32 Magna carta cum statutis 3804796 289 Link 6
HLS MS 33 Magna carta cum statutis 3804851 695 Link 7
HLS MS 34 Registrum brevium 3808183 720 Link 45
HLS MS 36 Magna carta cum statutis 3813510 226 Link 8
HLS MS 38 Registrum brevium judicialium 3818429 260 Link 55
HLS MS 39 Magna carta cum statutis 3861147 341 Link 9
HLS MS 40 Statuta nova 3862241 753 Link 34
HLS MS 42 Statuta nova 3872981 725 Link 35
HLS MS 45 Registrum brevium 3887031 214 Link 46
HLS MS 48 Statuta nova 3935200 131 Link 36
HLS MS 49 Statuta vetera, registrum brevium 3935210 195 Link 27
HLS MS 52 Registrum brevium 3944450 271 Link 47
HLS MS 53 Registrum brevium 3956590 721 Link 48
HLS MS 54 Magna carta cum statutis 3990350 329 Link 10
HLS MS 55 Magna carta cum statutis 4002366 261 Link 11
HLS MS 56 Magna carta cum statutis 4002379 489 Link 12
HLS MS 57 Magna carta cum statutis 4015060 266 Link 13
HLS MS 58 Magna carta cum statutis 4015114 350 Link 14
HLS MS 59 Magna carta cum statutis 4028490 325 Link 15
HLS MS 60 Registrum brevium 4028549 477 Link 49
HLS MS 61 Registrum brevium 4028596 451 Link 50
HLS MS 80 Statuta vetera and tracts 4199033 349 Link 26
HLS MS 101 Magna carta cum statutis 4563783 377 Link 3
HLS MS 155 Registrum brevium 1384 5520528 541 Link 54
HLS MS 160 Statuta vetera 5554947 156 Link 17
HLS MS 161 Statuta vetera and tracts 5610637 309 Link 23
HLS MS 162 Statuta vetera and tracts 5610732 425 Link 24
HLS MS 163 Statuta nova 5680920 827 Link 37
HLS MS 165 Registrum brevium 5680961 631 Link 51
HLS MS 166 Registrum brevium 5684268 412 Link 52
HLS MS 168 Registrum brevium 5699706 569 Link 53
HLS MS 170 Statuta nova, 1 Edw. III to 9 Henry V 9023062 665 Link 39
HLS MS 172 Magna carta  (Sheriff's) 2702311 1 Link 1
HLS MS 173 Statuta vetera 9026846 283 Link 18
HLS MS 174 Statuta vetera 9026892 345 Link 19
HLS MS 175 Statuta vetera and tracts 9028033 552 Link 25
HLS MS 177 Statuta vetera 6857104 419 Link 20
HLS MS 179 Statuta vetera and officium senescalli 9027080 445 Link 22
HLS MS 182 Statuta vetera and legal forms 9027203 475 Link 21
HLS MS 184 Statuta vetera, registrum brevium and tracts 9027248 368 Link 28
HLS MS 185 Statuta nova 1 Edw. III to 9 Hen. VI 9027301 468 Link 38
HLS MS 193 Registrum brevium, yearbooks, and tracts 4161989 483 Link 58
HLS MS 213 Magna carta cum statutis et tractatibus 9860534 194 Link 16
Total (approximate) 23,140

 

Notes
1. Not a statute book, but a single sheet of Magna Carta. HOLLIS dates this copy to ca. 1327, but a hasty examination of the document (which is not easy to read) suggests that it is copy of the Charter issued around the time of Confirmatio cartarum (Oct. 1297), for the date on the charter seems to be 28 March in the 26th year of the reign of the reign of a King Edward, which would be 28 March 1298, if the Edward in question was Edward I.
2. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
4. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
5. A full description of this manuscript may be found here. Both HOLLIS and Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, note that this ms. contains a register of writs, which Hall dates to the 14th century.
6. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
7. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, (but not HOLLIS) notes that this ms. contains a register of writs, which he dates to the 14th century.
9. Both HOLLIS and Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, note that this ms. contains a register of writs, which Hall dates to the 13th century, after 1275; early 14th century before Edward II.
18. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
19. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
20. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
21. The ‘forms’ look as if they are counts. Perhaps derived from Novae Narrationes.
27. Description taken from Baker, English Legal Manuscripts, 1, no. 72; HOLLIS has it as ‘Magna carta cum statutis’. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, notes that the register is fragmentary and dates to the 14th century.
28. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
29. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
30. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
31. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
32. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
33. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
39. A full description of this manuscript may be found here.
40. A full description of this manuscript may be found here. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
41. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
42. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
43. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
44. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
45. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
46. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
47. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
48. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
49. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
50. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
51. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
52. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
53. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 15th century.
54. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 14th century.
55. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvii, dates to the 14th century.
56. Hall, Early Registers, p. xxvi, dates to the 13th century, after 1275; early 14th century before Edward II.
57. A single sheet, inserted in HLS MS 24, containing the explicit of the Excepiones ad cassandum brevia and the incipit of the Tractatus de bastardia with a large portion, if not the whole, of that treatise. A learned introduction to this leaf may be found in J. S. Arkenburg, ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54 (online). He dates it to the 13th century.
58. Not in Hall, Early Registers.

 


This page last updated 06/13/17 . Contact Rosemary Spang with comments.
URL: http://amesfoundation.law.harvard.edu /digital/StatsAndRegWrits/index.html .
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