A Treatise of Equity

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by Henry Ballow

Title Page from A Treatise of Equity, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary

Henry Ballow [Bellewe] (1704?-1782), legal writer, was admitted to Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1720 and admitted to Lincoln’s Inn the following year. [1] He was called to bar in 1728 and became deputy chamberlain in 1731, a position he may have received through his close relationship with the elite Townshend family or through the influence of his father, who may have held the position at one time.[2] Ballow never married and died suddenly in 1782.[3]

Ballow had a reputation as a very scholarly man, despite the critiques of his contemporaries, who described him as “a little deformed man” with “vulgar manners.”[4] He was known for his proficiency with the Greek language and was considered a master of the “old philosophy.” [5] Unsurprisingly, this great mind produced one of the most influential treatises on equity: A Treatise of Equity. Although first published in 1737, it went into a fifth edition in 1820.[6] This was no small feat as the field of equity in this period was marked by rapid change.[7]

Although A Treatise of Equity was published anonymously, scholars are fairly confident about its authorship. They cite the assertion of two separate contemporaries as support for this claim. [8] However, the fact that it was written only ten years into Ballow’s legal career and reveals the influence of Roman law training upon the author lends some doubt to this hypothesis.[9] Nevertheless, the written evidence strongly supports the assertion that Ballow was the author.[10]

The work, in six volumes, was the best of its time concerning the rapidly developing field of equity.[11] It is generally regarded as well written; however, Ballow cites few authorities and does not include references for cases.[12] For those familiar with the case law at the time, Ballow evidently included enough detail that the cases would be readily known.[13] However, for those unfamiliar with the law of equity, this would have greatly diminished the work’s value.[14] Because of the need for authorities, John Fonblanque sought to update Ballow’s work.[15] His commentaries, published in 1793, not only brought the work up to date with the ever-changing contours of equity law, but added the omitted citations.[16] Amended, the work maintained its prominence and went into a fifth edition in 1820.[17]

Bibliographic Information

Author: Henry Ballow, (1704?-1782)

Title: A Treatise of Equity.

Publication Info: London, in the Savoy: Printed by E. and R. Nutt, and R. Gosling, (assigns of Edward Sayer) for D. Browne, at the Black Swan without Temple-Bar; and J. Shuckburgh, at the Sun next the Inner Temple gate in Fleetstreet, 1737.

Edition: First edition.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Treatise on Equity, fol." and given by Thomas Jefferson to Dabney Carr. The first edition is the only folio edition of this work.[18] Both the Brown Bibliography[19] and George Wythe's Library[20] on LibraryThing include this edition of this title.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

The copy is bound in contemporary calf with blind rules to the boards and blind fillets along the joints. The spine features raised raised bands and a lettering piece. The library purchased this title from the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

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


  1. N.G. Jones "Ballow, Henry (b. 1704?, d. 1782", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed March 20, 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. William Holdsworth, A History of English Law, (London: Methuen & Co., Sweet and Maxwell, 1938), 12:192
  6. Ibid. 193
  7. Ibid. 192
  8. Ibid. 191
  9. N.G. Jones, "Ballow, Henry"
  10. Holdsworth, ‘’A History of English Law,’’ 191
  11. Ibid. 192
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. 193
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. English Short Title Catalog, http://estc.bl.uk, search of "Treatise of Equity" reveals only one folio edition.
  19. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433
  20. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on April 21, 2013, http://www.librarything.com/profile/GeorgeWythe