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, 478 (i. e. 476), [20]
Desc. 8vo (24 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.[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 both theological works and legal works.

Godolphin was appointed as a judge of the admiralty court by Parliament in 1653, and was re-appointed in 1659. After the Restoration, he continued to practice law privately. Godolphin became known as an advocate of the civil law, making many contributions to the understanding of the law through his writings. The Orphan's Legacy, published in 1674, made a profound contribution to the law of wills.

"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

Both Dean's Memo[4] and the Brown Bibliography[5] suggest Wythe owned the fourth (1701) edition of John Godolphin's The Orphan's Legacy based on notes in John Marshall's commonplace book.[6] Brown also notes that Wythe cited The Orphan's Legacy in his arguments for Bolling v. Bolling, "Obj. Godolph. 281. 'If a man, by will, says, my will, pleasure or desire is that he shall have, or receive, or keep, or retain, these, or the like words, are sufficient to create a good bequest."[7] The Wolf Law Library followed the suggestions of Brown and Dean, and purchased a copy of the 1701 edition.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in early nineteenth-century three-quarter calf over marbled boards with raised bands and a lettering piece to the spine. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  6. 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), 1:43.
  7. 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), 317-318.