Thomas Littleton, also known as Thomas de Littleton, was born in about 1407 in Frankley, near Birmingham, England.

There are references to him as an up-and-coming lawyer in the mid 1440s after an eight-year apprenticeship at the Inner Temple, and service as under-Sheriff of Worcestershire, circa 1447.

In 1466, he was appointed judge to the Court of Common Pleas, a post he held until he died on August 23, 1481 during the reign of Edward IV, and is buried at Worcester Cathedral. He left behind a long will, signed the day before he died, and curious with extensive detail.

Notice in the adjacent image of him, that he wears the bonnet symbolic of membership in the Order of the Coif.

Thomas LittletonOf the great law books in the English common law, Littleton's Treatise on Tenures, often simply referred to as Tenures, stands with Blackstone and Coke's contributions. (Ed. note: a short extract, including the first pages, is available here on this site, Littleton on Tenures.pdf, as translated from law French).

It was written in law French, the language of the legal profession and of the English aristocracy at the time.

The book consolidated the law as it pertained to real property, land, and especially of the law of trusts (uses) as they were just then coming to change the common law. He also dealt with the tricky subject of trespass to land. Henri de Bracton, his predecessor, had largely ignored this important topic.

It was originally intended just as a book to help Judge Littleton's son Richard become a lawyer. In fact, Tenures is formally addressed to his son.

The date of the first edition is uncertain but records show that one edition came out in 1481, the year of his death, which would make it one of the first books ever printed in England.

A second French edition came at sometime before Edward Coke's Commentaries in 1628.

Thomas Littleton's Tenures was finally translated into English in the 1700s.

John Reeves wrote:

"The excellence of Littleton seems to consist in the great depth of his learning and simplicity of his manner; in a comprehensive way of thinking and a happy method of explaining; with a certain plainness yet significance of style, that is always clear and expressive."

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Law's Hall of Fame.
  • Holdsworth, W., Some Makers of English Law (Cambridge: University Press, 1938), pages 56-58.
  • Reeves, J., History of the English Law From the Time of the Saxons to the Reign of Philip and Mary (London: E. Brooke, 1787), pages 113-115.
  • Wambaugh, Eugene, Littleton's Tenures in English (Washington: John Bryne Law Publishers, 1903).