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

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Revision as of 11:48, 12 May 2015 by Lktesar (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

by Sir John Popham

Popham's Reports
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the 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
Language English
Volumes volume set

Sir John Popham (c. 1531-1607) was a judge and speaker of the House of Commons. Born into an old Somerset family, he was the second son of Alexander Popham of Huntworth. Popham 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. Popham’s property from his father left him economically stable, which he soon built upon. He had a lucrative legal practice and invested in land. Upon his death, Sir John Popham passed his estate to his eldest son, Sir Francis Popham, worth £10,000 per anum.[1]

Popham was notoriously severe towards thieves, but was also one of the principal creators of the poor law of 1598. He was also heavily involved in the English colonization of the Americas, and was likely the principal patron of the Plymouth Colony, and through that the main inspiration of the Maine colony. There was talk that Popham supported this both the notoriety and power of the British Crown, but also to help deal with social problems caused by the poor. 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 o Essex, in which his own testimony to the uprising was important, the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Gunpowder conspirators.[2] 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 of pardoning William Darell, involved in various intrigues, in exchange for his property at Littlecote.[3] However Sir Edward Coke praised Popham for his "integrity and patience."[4]

Reports and Cases is Sir John Popham’s case reports from the cases he presided over or participated in during his tenure.[5] Unpublished until 1656, these cases passed into private hands upon Popham’s death. Popham, however, always wished them to be made public for the general knowledge.[6]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Both Dean's Memo[7] and Brown's Bibliography[8] suggest Wythe owned the second edition (1682) based on references in John Marshall's law notes[9] 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.'"[10]

As yet, the Wolf Law Library has been unable to obtain a copy of Popham's Reports and Cases.


  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. 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.
  4. Bernard Brown, "Chief Justice Popham, Mistris Line, and Will Shakespeare on Them Both," New Zealand Law Review (2004): 2.
  5. Rice, The Life and Achievements of Sir John Popham, 19.
  6. 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).
  7. 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).
  8. 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:
  9. 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.
  10. 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.