Timetable of world legal history logoIn about 1481 or 1482 (the experts aren't sure), Thomas Littleton published his law book called Les Tenures (New Tenures). Although principally on the topic of real property rights, Littleton's book was the first ever common law textbook.

Already, England benefited from a rudimentary written record of cases decided, the year books, published between 1290 to about 1535. There had also been Henri de Bracton's De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (On the Laws and Customs of England) written over a period of time on vellum, and finished in about 1300.

But New Tenures was a textbook.

All this was made possible by the 1440 invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg.

In Williams article (see references, below), he described New Tenures as the first common law textbook albeit "an elementary student primer".

Since the Conquest, French had become the language of the English court and its official institutions, including the courts of law. Thus, New Tenures was published initially in French as Les Tenures.Littleton

But in one case (Wimbush), the English court called Littleton's work:

"... the true and most sure register of the foundations and principles of our law."

New Tenures was followed by other general textbooks in the form of case abridgments. For example N. Statham's Abridgment des libres annales (1490) and La Graunde abridegment of A. Fitzherbert (1516).

Littleton's book was reprinted in 1557 as Les tenures de Monsieur Littleton.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Biography of Thomas Littleton (d. 1481)
  • Williams, I., He Creditted More the Printed Booke": Common Lawyers Receptivity to Print, c. 1550-1640, 28:1 The Law & History Review, 39 (February 2010)
  • Wimbush v Tailbois, 1 Pl. Comm. 58 (1550, also at volume 75 of the E.R.)