The Orphan's Legacy

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The orphan's legacy: or, A testamentary abridgment : In three parts. I. Of last wills and testaments. II. Of executors and administrators. III. Of legacies and devises. Wherein the most material points of law relating to that subject, are succintly treated, as well according to the common and temporal, as ecclesiastical and civil laws of this realm by John Godolphin

The Orphan's Legacy

Title page from The Orphan's Legacy, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author John Godolphin
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by the assigns of Richard and Edward Atkins, esquires, for Robert Vincent
Date 1701
Edition Fourth ed. much augm. and enl.
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages 4 p.l., 478 (i. e. 476), [20] p.
Desc. (24 x 18 cm.)
Location [[Shelf {{{shelf}}}]]
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

John Godolphin (1617-1678), a civil lawyer, was born to a prominent Cornish family in 1617 and matriculated from Gloucester Hall, Oxford, in 1632, as a commoner.[1] After graduating with a BA (1635) and BCL (1636), Godolphin was admitted to the faculty with the degree of doctor of civil law. It is said that Godolphin’s works were “puritannically inclined,”[2] which makes sense given that he published theological works as well as legal works, with a broad range of topics.

Godolphin was appointed as a judge of the admiralty court by Parliament in1653 and was re-appointed in 1659. After the Restoration, though, Godolphin continued to practice law privately. He became known as an advocate of the civil law, making many contributions to the understanding of the law through his writings. In 1674, Godolphin wrote The Orphan's Legacy, which made profound contribution to the law of testate.

"The first really able books upon ecclesiastical law as a whole were written by Godolphin in the latter half of the seventeenth century. (...) [one of them is his] Orphan's Legacy [which deals with the subject] from the point of view not only of the ecclesiastical law, but also of the common law, and of the rising jurisdiction of the Chancellor."[3]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Quoted in John Marshall's notes while he studied law under Wythe. Used in Wythe arguments in Bolling v. Bolling.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

The law library's copy is the fourth, final and best edition. The volume is bound in early nineteenth-century three-quarter calf over marbled boards with raised bands with a lettering piece to the spine. Minor scribbling (a child's signature?) to margins of one leaf. Purchased from the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

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


  1. Jeffrey R. Collins, "Godolphin, John (1617–1678)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed April 23, 2013.
  2. Anthony Wood believed Godolphin’s works were promoted because of Godolphin’s Puritan intentions. (Wood, Ath. Oxon., 3.1152).
  3. Holdsworth, A History of English Law, V:12; Sweet & Maxwell, Bibliography of the British Commonwealth 1:492 (13).