The Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden ... Containing Divers Cases upon Matters of Law, Argued and Adjudged in the Several Reigns of King Edward VI, Queen Mary, King and Queen Philip and Mary, and Queen Elizabeth

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by Edmund Plowden

Plowden's Commentaries

Title page from Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Edmund Plowden
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London, In the Savoy: Printed by Catharine Lintot, and Samuel Richardson, for the translator
Date 1761
Edition First in English
Language English
Volumes 3 parts in 1 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. Folio (37 cm.)
Location Shelf C-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Edmund Plowden (1518 - 1585) was born in Shropshire, the eldest son of a local landowner.[1] A member of the Middle Temple, Plowden began recording cases around 1550.[2] Plowden's devotion to Catholicism, while politically and socially unpopular at varying points in his life, did little to derail his successful career.[3] He held a variety of posts and positions, including an appointment to the council in the marches of Wales, membership on a commission of the peace, and member of Parliament.[4] Additionally, he was raised to the bench at Middle Temple in 1557.[5]

Frontispiece, volume one.

Despite his professional obligations, Plowden authored several books, including his seminal work Les Commentaries, ou, Les Reportes … de Divers Cases … en les Temps des Raignes le Roy Ed. le size, le Roigne Mary, le Roy & Roigne Philip & Mary, & le Roigne Elizabeth in 1571. He subsequently revised it on a number of occasions.[6] Plowden died on February 6, 1585 and is buried in the Middle Temple Church.[7]

The 1761 English translation of the unabridged version of Les Commentaries, ou, Les ReportesThe Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden—was believed to have been both edited and translated by a Mr. Broomly.[8] The book is a collection of case reports, and differs in two significant ways from the traditional Year Books.[9] First, Plowden was the first eminent lawyer to publish a case book in his lifetime; second, the case notes focus on points of law and the judges rulings instead of the pleading points that were so heavily prominent in the Year Books.[10]

The 1761 English translation version differs in several ways from Plowden's second edition of Les Commentaries.[11] In addition to William Fleetwood's contribution of an analytical index, the 1761 addition contains Plowden's Queries, additional tables and notes, as well as references to newer legal sources not available at the time of the 1578 edition.[12] According to legal bibliographer J. G. Marvin, "Plowden is regarded as the most accurate of all reporters" and his Reports "most deservedly [bear] as high a character as any book of Reports ever published."[13]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

There is no doubt that George Wythe owned The Commentaries or Reports of Edmund Plowden—a copy of the first English edition (1761) at the Library of Congress includes manuscript notes by Wythe.[14] Thomas Jefferson also listed "[Plowden’s reports.] English. fol" in his inventory of Wythe's Library, noting that he kept the volume himself. He later sold it to the Library of Congress. Not surprisingly, all four of the Wythe Collection sources (Goodwin's pamphlet[15], Dean's Memo[16], Brown's Bibliography[17] and George Wythe's Library[18] on LibraryThing) list the first English edition of Plowden's Commentaries.

The Wolf Law Library purchased a copy of the 1761 edition of The Commentaries, or Reports of Edmund Plowden.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf, rebacked in period style. Features blind rules to boards, blind fillets along joints, and blind tooling to board edges. Spine has raised bands and red label with gilt lettering and rules. Purchased from the Lawbook Exchange with the George Wythe Boswell-Caracci Room Acquisition Fund.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Christopher W. Brooks, "Plowden, Edmund (c.1518–1585),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed February 4, 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. J.G. Marvin, Legal Bibliography, or A Thesaurus of American, English, Irish, and Scotch Law Books. Philadelphia: T & J.W. Johnson, 1847, 574.
  9. Brooks, "Plowden, Edmund;" Allen D. Boyer, Sir Edward Coke and the Elizabethan Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 32-33.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Brooks, "Plowden, Edmund;" Edmund Plowden, Commentaries; Christopher W. Brooks, "Fleetwood, William (c.1525-1594)," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
  13. Marvin, Legal Bibliography, or a Thesaurus of American, English, Irish and Scotch Law Books (T. & J. W. Johnson, Lawbook Sellers, 1847), 574-575.
  14. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:326, [no. 2027].
  15. Mary R. M. Goodwin, The George Wythe House: Its Furniture and Furnishings (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1958), XLV.
  16. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 5 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  17. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012, rev. May, 2014) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  18. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on May 12, 2015.

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