Registrum Brevium tam Originalium, quam Judicialium

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ascribed to Ralph de Hengham

Registrum Brevium

Title page from Registrum Brevium, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Ralph de Hengham
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by the assigns of Richard and Edward Atkins, esquires, for Thomas Bassett ...
Date 1687
Edition Fourth
Language Latin
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [8], 321, 85 leaves, 59, 239
Desc. Folio (32 cm.)
Location Shelf K-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Initial capital, first page of text.
"It is doubtful whether any book used by mediaeval practitioners had greater importance in the history of [English] law than the collection of writs known as Registrum Brevium."[1] Loosely translated "The Register of Writs," there were many printed editions and innumerable manuscript editions, few of which are precisely the same.[2] First printed in 1531 by William Rastell, it reached a fourth edition in 1687.

The 1687 edition is attributed to Sir Ralph de Hengham (1235 – 1311),[3] the first chief justice to explain the general point of law involved in each case for the benefit of students.[4] He also authored several lectures on a variety of law topics.[5]

Hengham served as a court clerk, but was rapidly appointed to his own judicial office in 1271.[6] Eventually he was promoted from the common bench to become chief justice of the court of King’s Bench in 1274.[7] Hengham was dismissed from office in 1289 on corruption charges.[8] Hengham regained the King’s favor in 1300 when he was appointed as an Assize judge.[9] He rejoined the King’s council by the end of that year. When the chief justice of the common bench died in the summer of 1301, Hengham replaced him and served in that position until 1309.[10]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Registrum brevium fol. and given by Thomas Jefferson to Dabney Carr. The University of Virginia owns a copy of the fourth (1687) edition with the inscription "Given by Thos. Jefferson to D. Carr". Both the Brown Bibliography[11] and George Wythe's Library[12] on LibraryThing include the 1647 edition based on the University of Virginia copy. The Wolf Law Library moved a copy of this edition from the general rare books collection to the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Rebound in period-style full calf. The title page includes signatures and annotations.

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. Percy H. Winfield, The Chief Sources of English Legal History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925), 298.
  2. Ibid.
  3. J. G. Marvin, Legal Bibliography or a Thesaurus of American, English, Irish, and Scotch Law Books (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson, Law Booksellers, 1847), 605.
  4. Paul Brand, "Hengham, Ralph (b. in or before 1235, d. 1311)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed November 14, 2013.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Winfield, The Chief Sources of English Legal History, 274.
  9. Brand, “Hengham, Ralph."
  10. Ibid.
  11. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  12. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on September 16, 2013.

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