The earliest records of this prime contributor to the common law of England is his tenure as sheriff of Yorkshire between 1163 and 1170; and later at Lancaster in 1173.

Ranulf (aka Ralph) de Glanvill was an officer of the English army which defeated the Scots in 1174 at Alnwick.

In 1176, de Glanvill (also sometimes spelled with one "l" at the end as in Glanvil) was appointed judge in Eyre and was sent to Flanders to serve as ambassador in 1170.

In 1178, Henry II formed a permanent court of justice and two years later, appointed de Glanvill to it, elevating him to Justiciar (chief justice) at the same time.

When Henry II died in 1189, de Ranulf's appointment was rescinded by Henry's son and the new King of England, Richard I.

Still, de Glanvill hung around the royal court, even accompanying Richard on one of his crusades to the Holy land.

Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae

The main legacy of Glanvill was the publication, during his tenure as Justiciar, and for which he will be eternally credited, of the pivotal law book, the Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae (Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England). The actual date of publication has become obscured by history but is generally estimated to have been within the four year period of 1187-1190.

Holdsworth suggests that Glanvill was assisted in his great work, and which may even of been ghost-written by his nephew, Hubert Walker. Other alleged contributors: Richard fitz Nigel or Geoffrey de Lucy.

In any event, the Tractatus contained many legal novelties which continue today, such as the writ and the recourse of replevin.

Holdsworth states that the Tractatus:

"... long remained the standard textbook of English law."

In fact, it was a main historical pillar of English common law as Henri de Bracton borrowed from it extensively when he, in 1235-1240, published his De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae.

There is an interesting story of de Glanvill - a stain on his otherwise remarkable legacy - involving Gilbert de Plumpton of Yorkshire. While Granvill was sheriff there, in about 1184, de Plumpton married a young lady without the requisite royal assent. De Glanvill had his eye on the same girl seeking to marry her to one of his friends.

Glanvill had his rival summarily arrested and tried him himself. To get him out of the way, Glanvill condemned him to death.

Seeing the injustice, the local bishop tried to intervene at the place of execution, claiming that because it was a Sunday, no executions could occur. The execution was postponed but meanwhile, the affair had been brought to Henry II's attention, who made inquiries and ordered de Plumpton freed and Glanvill fined 1,000 marks.


  • Holdsworth, William, A History of English Law, Vol. 2 (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1952), page 187-192.
  • Strayer, Joseph, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Volume 5 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985), page 544-545
  • Taylor, Richard Vickerman, Anecdotae Eboracenses: Yorkshire Anecdotes; or Remarkable Incidents in the Lives of Celebrated Yorkshire Men and Women (London: Whittaker & Co., 1887), pages 234-235