The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning the Jurisdiction of Courts

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by Sir Edward Coke

The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England

Title page from The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Sir Edward Coke
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Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by M. Flesher, for W. Lee, and D. Pakeman
Date 1644
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English with some Latin and Law French
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [16], 364, [38]
Desc. Folio (29 cm.)
Location Shelf F-3
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Born on February 1, 1552 at Mileham, Norfolk, Sir Edward Coke (1552 – 1634) was arguably the most prominent lawyer, legal writer, and politician during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, and a defender of the common law over the use of the Stuarts' royal prerogative.[1]

Coke began his studies in 1567 at Trinity College during the years of the Vestiarian controversy — puritan protests against the Church of England. In 1572 he moved on to study at the Inner Temple, where he was admitted to the bar on April 20, 1578. Coke quickly rose to prominence through his successful execution of several noteworthy cases, such as Shelley’s case. Coke's analytical efforts helped to refine the legal doctrines of English law, and his reputation won him a seat in Parliament. He would later become the Speaker of the House of Commons and eventually attorney general.[2] In 1606, after being created serjeant-at-law, Coke was appointed chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas. He was transferred, against his will, to chief justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1613; he also became a member of the privy council.[3]

After several political and judicial skirmishes with James I and Francis Bacon, Coke was suspended from the privy council and removed from the bench in 1616.[4] Although he never returned to the bench, Coke did return to Parliament and was elected to that body four times from 1620 to 1629. During this time he took a lead in creating and composing the Petition of Right. "This document cited the Magna Carta and reminded Charles I that the law gave Englishmen their rights, not the king ... Coke’s petition focused on ... due process, protection from unjust seizure of property or imprisonment, the right to trial by jury of fellow Englishmen, and protection from unjust punishments or excessive fines."[5] After this triumph, Coke spent his remaining years at his home, Stoke Poges, working on The Institutes of the Laws of England, another endeavor for which he is rightly famous.[6]

The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England covers jurisdiction and offers instruction on which courts could hear certain cases. "Beginning with the High Court of Parliament, [Coke] travels through the whole mass of councils and courts, central and local, which administered justice in the king's name."[7] Throughout the text, Coke emphasizes the primacy of the common law courts and reiterates views he had previously expressed on the bench.[8]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed with the other parts of Coke's Institutes in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Coke’s Institutes. 3.v. fol. This was one of the sets kept by Thomas Jefferson. He may have sold to the Library of Congress in 1815. Three of the George Wythe Collection sources (Goodwin's pamphlet[9], the Brown Bibliography[10] and George Wythe's Library[11] on LibraryThing) include the second (1648) edition of The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, based on Millicent Sowerby's entry in Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson,[12] Jefferson's copy still exists with the third and fourth parts bound together, and it contains manuscript notes not in his hand. Neither have those notes been linked to Wythe, nor are there any other indications that the volume once belonged to Wythe. Dean's Memo[13] lists the first (1644) edition of The Fourth Part based on notes in Jefferson's commonplace book.[14] The Wolf Law Library followed Dean's recommendation and purchased a copy of the first edition.

Inscription, front pastedown.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf with blind rules to boards and rebacked in period-style. Includes the inscription "Downing College Library" on the front pastedown. Purchased from the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

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.

Full text

See also


  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v. "Sir Edward Coke," accessed October 3, 2013.
  2. Allen D. Boyer, "Coke, Sir Edward (1552–1634)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed September 18, 2013.
  3. Boyer, "Coke, Sir Edward."
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s.v. "Sir Edward Coke."
  5. Bill of Rights Institute website, s.v. "Petition of Right (1628)," accessed October 3, 2013.
  6. Boyer, "Coke, Sir Edward."
  7. W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (London: Methuen & Co., Sweet and Maxwell, 1924), 5:470.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Mary R. M. Goodwin, The George Wythe House: Its Furniture and Furnishings (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1958), XLVI.
  10. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  11. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on March 12, 2014.
  12. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:219 [no. 1784]. The header on Sowerby's entry lists the 4th edition (1670) but the text of the entry lists the 1648 edition for The Fourth Part of the Institutes.
  13. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 10 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  14. Gilbert Chinard, ed., The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson: A Repertory of His Ideas on Government (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1926), 14.