Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > Legal Literature > Fortescue’s De Laudibus Legum Angliae and Littleton’s Tenures
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XIII. Legal Literature.

§ 10. Fortescue’s De Laudibus Legum Angliae and Littleton’s Tenures.


The same reign saw two other notable additions to legal literature; viz., Sir John Fortescue’s De Laudibus Legum Angliae, and Sir Thomas Littleton’s Tenures. Fortescue’s well known work was written (c. 1470) in France, where the author was living in exile with the Lancastrian court. It was written to instruct the young prince Edward in the laws which, it was hoped, he would one day be called to administer. In form, it is a dialogue between the prince and the author; its language is Latin. 15  Having been composed for the edification of a nonlegal person, it is full of information—commonplace then, but extraordinarily valuable to-day—concerning the legal profession, the training of lawyers, the constitution of the inns of court and the elements of jurisprudence. Throughout, it praises and magnifies English common law, pointing out in detail its superiority to Roman civil law. It was for this quality that Sir Edward Coke extolled it as “worthy of being written in letters of gold.” The same enthusiastic common lawyer used even larger terms of appreciation in respect of Littleton’s Tenures. He described it as “the most perfect and absolute work that was ever written in any human science.” Yet it is a wholly different sort of book from that of Fortescue. It is a highly technical work on feudal land law intended for the professional student and practitioner. But it so well sums up the development of what had then become the most important branch of medieval common law, it is so lucid and well arranged, its language—the law French of the period—is so forceful and well chosen, that it has deservedly attained the rank of a classic. It was written shortly after 1475, and Littleton himself is supposed to have been in the act of seeing it put into print by Lettou and Machlinia when he was overtaken by death in 1481. It was the first English law book to pass through the newly invented press; and so popular did it become that when, in 1628, Coke published his commentary upon it, it has already appeared in more than seventy editions.   11

Note 15. Cf. Vol. II, pp. 337–340, as to this and other writings by Fortescue. [ back ]

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  The Year Books and their Value Early Printed Law Books  
 
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