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Legal history: England & common law tradition: Medieval Case Law in Print

Year-books or Bookes of Terms

The conventional name for the earliest collections of "law reports" - from Norman to early Tudor period.

Common features are that they are anonymous, that contents are broken down into legal sessions (or terms), that they are written in Anglo-French and show scant interest in recording the reasoning behind judgments.

Originally circulating in manuscript, by 1610 the following had been printed

  • 1-10 Edw. III
  • 17-39 Edw. III
  • 40-50 Edw. III (Quadragesms)
  • Liber assisarum Edw. III (assizes & circuit cases)
  • Hen. IV & V
  • 1-20 Hen. VI
  • 21-39 Hen. VI
  • Edw. IV
  • Long Quinto (5 Edw. IV)
  • Edw. V, Ric. III, Hen.VII & Hen. VIII

In 1678 a year-book of Edward II was first published, and between 1679-1680 the entire 1610 canon was reprinted. (This reprint became associated with the name of Serjeant Maynard.) For later generations of lawyers and legal historians this (17th publishing exercise became the standard resource - though as Professor Sir John Baker makes clear, they are not good texts.

Since then year-books from the reigns of Edward I and Edward III have been published in the Rolls Series, while the Ames Foundation has printed year-books of the Reign of Richard II.  The Selden Society has a continuing programme finding, editing and publishing more survivors.

Year-books & abridgments

The LawBod's collection of year-books - the reprinted canon, the Rolls, Ames and Selden Society publications are all shelved in the Legal Hist section.
Holders of an Oxford SSO can access these online - see links below, but only the Rolls volumes are available via the free web thanks to Gallica.BNF.fr .See links in box below this one.

CC Soule Year book bibliography (1900) available online to OU members via HeinOnline

Seipp's Index - see the last link called Legal History: the year books - has made finding case notes in printed year books so much easier. It also has a useful bibliography of books and articles (currently up to 2002) which discuss year books or used them as sources.

Year books of Edward I & Edward III: free online

Year books of Edward I in the Rolls Series are freely available via  Gallica.BNF.fr

The linked abbreviated titles below should take you through to the individual volumes.

The numbers in [ ] are how the various parts are identified in Gallica results. I have expanded them to show the actual years covered by the volume so numbered.

You cannot search for party names/keywords or anything else in these volumes. Navigate to specific page number quickly via drop down menu just above the open book. (NP is no pagination) Or click through page by page using arrows to left and right.

Abridgments

These were the tools contemporary practitioners and students of law used to bring subject order/classification to the accumulation of case law reported/noted in the year-books and early reports. In some instances they are also the only source of individual cases.

Early printed examples include
Statham 1490
Fitzherbert's Graunde Abridgement 1514/16
Brooke's Graunde Abridgement 1573

 - all of which are available online, see links below.


Seipp's index makes the current legal historian's life much easier!

Texts on topic

Don't forget articles in journals: use the Index to Legal Periodicals and Bibliography of British and Irish History to find them!