A New Law-Dictionary

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by Giles Jacob

Giles Jacob, legal and literary author, was baptized on 22 November 1686 in Romsey, Hampshire, the only son among eight children of Henry Jacob (d. 1735), maltster, and his wife, Susanna Thornbery. It is unknown where he received his education, but he later wrote that he received legal training under a ‘very eminent attorney’ (G. Jacob, Poetical Register, 1719, 1.318) and subsequently became steward and secretary to the politician William Blathwayt. This may have been where he gained the experience administering manorial courts that he mentioned in his first guide to legal practice, The Compleat Court-Keeper, published in 1713. Jacob was also the compiler at this time of a short chronological guide to statute law, at first published anonymously but later revised and reissued several times under his own name. The success of this table and The Compleat Court-Keeper encouraged Jacob to further endeavours, among which the most important was Lex constitutionis, published in 1719. It attempted to outline the common and criminal law against the background of the branches of the executive, from the crown to the customs officers. The work was thoroughly researched but has been viewed as less successful as an overview of the constitution than Roger Acherley's Britannic Constitution of 1727, its deficiencies attributed by Holdsworth to the speed with which Jacob produced his works.Jacob continued to research and write legal books, including The Student's Companion, which appeared in 1725. Jacob wrote that this was his favourite book as ‘it hath cost me unusual labour’ (Holdsworth, Eng. law, 12.425). It included study advice and an alphabetical summary of important legal topics. It prepared the way for Jacob's most enduring and successful work, A New Law Dictionary, first published in 1729. The dictionary had taken nine years to research and write, and set a new precedent by being the first published guide to English law that combined an abridgement of statute law with a dictionary of legal practice and terminology. A New Law Dictionary reached its fifth edition in 1744, the year of Jacob's death; competition from a rival law dictionary by Timothy Cunningham perhaps led to the ninth edition being thoroughly revised by Owen Ruffhead and J. Morgan in 1772. The dictionary was revised again for its eleventh edition in 1797 by Thomas Edlyne Tomlins, whose name supplanted Jacob's as the author from the twelfth (or second) edition in 1809. However, it was still ‘Jacob's Law Dictionary’ in which the publisher John Murray acquired a 160th share on 24 June 1807 at a cost of £13, suggesting a total value of £2080. It was the smallest fraction of a copyright which Murray bought that day, but the most expensive, showing how valuable Jacob's work remained over sixty years after his death. [1]

Bibliographic Information

Author: Giles Jacob, (bap. 1686, d. 1744)

Title: A New Law-Dictionary: Containing, The Interpretation And Definition Of Words And Terms Used In The Law, And Also The Whole Law, And The Practice Thereof, Under All The Heads And Titles Of The Same Together With Such Informations Relating Thereto, As Explain The History And Antiquity Of The Law, And Our Manners, Customs, And Original Government, Abstracted From All Dictionaries, Abridgments, Institutes, Reports, Year-Books, Charters, Registers, Chronicles, And Histories, Published To This Time, And Fitted For The Use Of Barristers, Students, And Practisers Of The Law, Members Of Parliament, And Other Gentlemen, Justices Of Peace, Clergymen, &c

Published: London, In the Savoy : Printed by E. and R. Nutt, and R. Gosling, (assigns of E. Sayer, Esq.) for J. and J. Knapton et al., 1729.


Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in recent period-style quarter calf over marble boards, raised bands, with blind ornaments and lettering piece on the spine. The endpapers have been renewed and the title page re-hinged. The title page hosts early signatures. Purchased from The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

View this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

External Links

Google Books


  1. Matthew Kilburn, ‘Jacob, Giles (bap. 1686, d. 1744)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 6 June 2013