Reports and Cases Collected by the Learned Sr. John Popham, Kt ... Written with His Own Hand in French, and Now Faithfully tr. into English, to Which are Added Some Remarkable Cases Reported by Other Learned Pens Since His Death

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by Sir John Popham

Popham's Reports
PophamReportsAndCases1682 Titlepage.jpg

Title page from Reports and Cases Collected by the Learned Sr. John Popham, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Sir John Popham
Published London: Printed by the assigns of Richard and Edward Atkins, esquires, for John Place
Date 1682
Edition Second, corrected
Language English
Volumes volume set
Pages [8], 212, [8]
Desc. Folio (32 cm.)
Location Shelf E-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Sir John Popham (c. 1531-1607) was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, but did not take a degree. He entered the Middle Temple, and was autumn reader in 1568, Lent reader in 1573, and treasurer in 1580. Popham represented Bristol in the parliaments of 1571 and 1572. He was created serjeat-at-large in 1578 and appointed solicitor-general in 1579. Popham was elected speaker of the House of Commons in 1581 and was appointed attorney-general the same year. He was appointed to the King’s Bench in 1592, remaining until his death in 1607.[1]

Known as a "hanging judge", Popham was notoriously severe towards thieves, but was also one of the principal creators of the poor law of 1598.[2] He was also heavily involved in the English colonization of the Americas. In 1606 he played a large role in the creation of the Virginia Company and the award of its charter. Popham also was likely the principal patron of the Plymouth Colony, and through that the main inspiration of the Maine colony.

As chief justice of the King's Bench, Sir John Popham embraced common law and moved it forward. Notably, Popham presided over the trials of the Earl of Essex (in which his own testimony to the uprising was important), the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Gunpowder conspirators.[3] During his tenure, rumors spread of his previous work as an amateur highwayman. John Aubrey, described as “gossipy” by Douglas Walthew Rice, included a detailed account of rumors he had heard of Popham’s involvement in pardoning William Darell, involved in various intrigues, in exchange for his property at Littlecote.[4] Sir Edward Coke, in contrast, praised Popham for his "integrity and patience."[5]

Unpublished until 1656, Reports and Cases covers the cases Popham presided over or participated in during his tenure.[6] The reports had passed into private hands upon Popham’s death, but he always wished them to be made public.[7] The volume includes cases up to 1627, twenty years after Popham's death. Thus, only the first one hundred and twenty pages or so contain Popham's cases, which were "more respected than those which follow."[8] Legal bibliographer J. G. Marvin relates that "the decisions reported by Popham, 'contain matter profound, yet with convenient brevity, and are of good authority and use. The additional cases ... ought not to be regarded.'"[9]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Both Dean's Memo[10] and Brown's Bibliography[11] suggest Wythe owned the second edition (1682) based on references in John Marshall's law notes[12] Brown also notes that Wythe referred to these reports in his arguments for the plaintiff in Bolling v. Bolling, "for in that it was agreed by Gawdy and Popham 'if tenant for life sows the land, and grants over his estate and the grantee dies before the corn served, his ex[ecuto]r shall not have the corn, but he who sowed the land.'"[13]

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf. Title page includes previous owner signature, "Loury Boavis."

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. David Ibbetson, "Popham, Sir John (c.1531–1607)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed on February 19, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Douglas Walthew Rice, The Life and Achievements of Sir John Popham 1531-1607 (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp, 2005), 19; John Aubrey, Brief Lives: A Modern English Version (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1982), 252.
  5. Bernard Brown, "Chief Justice Popham, Mistris Line, and Will Shakespeare on Them Both," New Zealand Law Review (2004): 2.
  6. Rice, The Life and Achievements of Sir John Popham, 19.
  7. Sir John Popham, Reports and Cases, Collected by the Learned Sir John Popham (London: Printed by Tho. Roycroft, for Henry Twyford and John Place, 1656).
  8. John William Wallace, The Reporters, Arranged and Characterized with Incidental Remarks, 4th ed., rev. and enl. (Boston: Soule and Bugbee, 1882), 207.
  9. J. G. Marvin, Legal Bibliography or a Thesaurus of American, English, Irish, and Scotch Law Books (Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson, Law Booksellers, 1847), 577.
  10. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 13 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  11. 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:
  12. The Papers of John Marshall, eds. Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, and Nancy G. Harris (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, in association with the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1974), 1:44.
  13. Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pres-Revolutionary America ed. Bernard Schwartz, Barbara Wilcie Kern, R. B. Bernstein (San Marino, CA: The Huntingdon Library; New York: New York University School of Law, 1997), 152.