Le digest des briefes originals, et des choses concernants eux.

London, Richard Tottell, 1579.

8vo, ff. [viii], 424; woodcut criblé initial, running titles; outer margin of quire G trimmed a little shorter, some water-staining mostly in the last quires, occasional light soiling; a good copy, bearing extensive ink marginalia throughout (a little trimmed) in law French in a neat strictly contemporary single chancery hand, bound in seventeenth-century calf, sides filleted in blind with bind-stamped palmette cornerpieces, panelled spine; covers reattached, spine partly perished, still holding, corners worn, surface scratches and scuffs; contemporary ownership inscription on title (?Robbart), purchase date on the verso of the last leaf: 25th May 1580; preserved in a cloth box.


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First edition, scarce, of Theloall’s early work on writs, a remarkable copy, intensively annotated by a single contemporary owner evidently versed in the Common Law.

Theloall’s Digest established itself as the accepted Register of Writs, effectively filling a crucial vacuum: ‘The common law had…grown up round the royal writs. They formed the ground plan upon which its builders worked; and it is for this reason that the learning of writs was the first thing taught to students of the law. Seeing that the choice of a wrong or inappropriate writ meant loss of the action, this learning continued to be of the utmost importance to the practitioner all through his career’ (Holdsworth, A history of English law, II, p. 431); yet no official register of writs appears to have been produced in the mediaeval era. In the absence of official collections of Chancery forms, within the legal professions there circulated unofficial compilations. The earliest printed attempt appeared in 1531 (Register brevium). Theloall’s authoritative work ‘deserved to be printed, as it is the most orderly treatise on procedure, founded on the Year Books, that had yet appeared... Historically, it comes between the older commentaries upon writs and the modern books on procedure’ (ibid., V, p. 381).

In contrast with the text proper, in law French, the dedicatory epistle is in English; the Digest is dedicated to the Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Bromley, ‘From my poore house neere Ruthvin in Wales’.

STC 23934; Beale T499.

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