Pleas of the Crown

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by Sir Matthew Hale

Pleas of the Crown

Title page from Pleas of the Crown, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Sir Matthew Hale
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published [London] In the Savoy: Printed by J.N., assignee of Edw. Sayer, Esq;, for J. Walthoe ... and J. Walthoe junr.
Date 1716
Edition Fifth
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [18], 272, [8], 1-143, [1] p.
Desc. 8vo (20 cm.)
Location Shelf G-2
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Sir Matthew Hale (1609 – 1676) attended Lincoln's Inn to study the law in the footsteps of his father.[1] At Lincoln's Inn, Hale became very close with the attorney general, William Noy (d. 1634).[2] Noy is believed to have helped shape Hale's love for medieval transcripts,[3] which would lead to Hale’s later work. Hale entered the bar in 1636 after the normal seven years of schooling.[4] In 1671, he became the chief justice of the Court of King's Bench.[5]

Hale's Pleas of the Crown: or, a Methodical Summary of the Principal Matters relating to that Subject was first published in 1678, two years after Hale’s death.[6] It was likely written "about the end of the Reign of King Charles the First,"[7] perhaps in the 1640s, and was probably Hale’s first attempt at providing a comprehensive and organized analysis of the law.[8] In Pleas of the Crown, Hale focused on the criminal law, a subject with which he dealt in depth in a later and more famous work, the Historia Placitorum Coronae.[9]

Although Pleas of the Crown was first published anonymously in an edition with many errors and omissions,[10] it was still a popular and widely referenced text that appeared in seven editions between 1678 and 1773.[11] Few other books on criminal law were in circulation at the time: Coke's The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England was over thirty years old, and Hale's own Historia Placitorum Coronae would not be published until 1736.[12] Today, Hale's first book is considered little more than a precursor to his more important works, a "much sketchier notebook on the subject [of the criminal law]" than the Historia Placitorum Coronae,[13] and a "brief and inaccurate digest of the criminal law."[14]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Dean's Memo[15] suggests Wythe owned the sixth edition (1759) of this title based on notes in John Marshall's commonplace book.[16] While The Papers of John Marshall does list the 1759 edition, no evidence exists which ties that particular edition to George Wythe. Thus, the Wolf Law Library moved a copy of the fifth edition (1716) from the existing rare books collection to the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary blind calf with recent reback. Spine features a red leather label with gold tooling. Inscribed "Thomas Hill" on the front cover, "Andrew (name scratched out)" on the back cover, with "Hor. Binney from G. Schetky" and "E. R. Potter, R. I." written on the front flyleaf. Title paged stamped "William Bingham" and "William Binney," with "Carr & Schetky" written below. First page of preface signed "E. R. Potter, R. I." (perhaps statesman and jurist Elisha R. Potter) and "Hamilton." Purchased through the generosity of Daniel W. Baran and Lena Stratton Baran, Class of 1936.

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. A. Cromartie, "Hale, Sir Mathew (b.c 1609 d. in 1676)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed October 9, 2013.
  2. H. Flander, "Sir Matthew Hale," University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register 56 (1908), 6.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Cromartie, "Hale, Sir Mathew."
  5. Ibid.
  6. P.R. Glazebrook, introduction to Pleas of the Crown: A Methodical Summary, 1678, by Matthew Hale (London: Professional Books Limited, 1972), iii.
  7. Anonymous, preface to Pleas of the Crown: A Methodical Summary, 1678, by Matthew Hale (London: Professional Books Limited, 1972), xvii.
  8. Glazebrook, Introduction, v.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Preface, xiii.
  11. Glazebrook, Introduction, vi-viii.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Cromartie, "Hale, Sir Matthew."
  14. Leslie Stephen and Sydney Lee, eds., "Hale, Matthew," in Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXIV, Hailes-Harriott (London: Smith, Elder, & Co.: 1890).
  15. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 11 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  16. Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, and Nancy G. Harris, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, in association with the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1974), 1:43.

External Links

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