English Legal History Research Guide

Contents of this guide include print, micro-media and Internet resources available to facilitate research in legal history at Georgetown Law.

English Primary Sources

An understanding of English legal primary sources is important for proper research in English legal history. These are general sources in English law, including statutory sources and case reports, and treatises before 1865, surveys of English legal history during certain periods, contemporary works as well as bibliographies. There are many of these sources available generally, so only a few are listed here. More can be found doing a subject search in most library catalogs using words such as Law-Great Britain (or England).

A. Statutes

English statutes were not always printed in full. There still is no "official" publication for English statutes, such as found with the American Statutes at Large. For the earliest laws of England, The Statutes at Large by Ruffhead (to 1799) and The Statutes of the Realm (to 1713) are the best sources. Pickering's Statutes at Large, and Chitty's Statutes also cover the same time periods and go beyond, into the 19th century, but Chitty's is selective, not inclusive. Other sets of statutes cover the 19th century into the modern era. The various publications of statutes are listed below in order by period covered. When using these editions, the researcher should stay with a particular edition as much as possible. Statute citations are not always the same from source to source.

English statutes are cited by the year of the reign of the sovereign (king or queen) in Latin, followed by a chapter and/or section; thus: 10 W. & M. c.3 is the 10th year of the reign of William & Mary, chapter 3. A conversion for regnal years is available in Special Collections.

  • The Statutes of the Realm. 12 vols. Reprint ed. of London: G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1810-1822. KD571 1963KD571 1993r
    • This set includes statutes from the Magna Charta to the end of the reign of Queen Anne (1713). It includes a chronological index and alphabetical index in volume 12. It is often considered the "official" publication of English statutes, but it is only good up to 1713. Statute cites do not always correspond to the same cites in other un-official statutes compilations.
    • Available Online.
  • Ruffhead, Owen. The Statutes at Large: from Magna Charta to the End of the [Reign of King George the Third]. 18 vols. London: M. Basket, 1763-[1800]. KD130 1215 .R83 1761
    • This is the most widely used compilation of statutes for the 17th and 18th centuries. It includes an index in volume 9 for the first 9 volumes of statutes, and thereafter an index at the end of each subsequent 9 volumes. Ruffhead ends the compilation in 1806, as does Pickering, listed below, though Pickering picks up with another series.
  • Pickering, Danby. The Statutes at Large From the Magna Charta to the End of the Eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, Anno 1761 [continued to 1806]. 46 vols. Cambridge: Charles Bathurst, 1762-1830. KD130 1215 .P5 1761 Quarto
    • Continued by Danby Pickering under title Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland [1807-1868/69]. Special Collections has vols. 47-70 [1807-1830].KD130 1215 .R5 1807 Quarto
  • A Collection of the Public General Statutes. 45 vols. London: G. Eyre & A. Spottiswoode, 1834-1875.KD125
  • Chitty, Joseph. Chitty's Statutes of Practical Utility [1235-1948] KD129 1911
    • Selected annotated English statutes from Magna Charta to 1910, and then annually until 1948. Selection is based on Joseph Chitty's analysis of the importance of each statute in the history of English law.

B. Abridgments & Digests

There are numerous digests of the laws of England, and most organize the legal terms in alphabetical order by subject. They are often the only sources of cases and statutes for a particular subject. Some digests and abridgements also cite other digests, as well as earlier abridgements and specific treatises on specific subjects. The 3 most useful digests and abridgements are listed here. When using early editions of these digests and abridgements, be aware that the English language has changed through the centuries, and that Law French, Latin, or even Norman French, and old English may be in use. One digest compiler may list "family law" under "husband and wife," while another compiler will list it under "baron and femme." Use a variety of synonyms and check for misspellings: The earlier the print, the further away from modern English you are, and there are always printing mistakes in early printed materials. Some of these digests are now available online through The Making of Modern Law, or Early English Books Online.

  • Viner, Charles. A General Abridgement of Law and Equity. 2nd ed., 30 vols., with 7 vol. Supplement. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, et al., 1792-1795. KD660 .V53 1742
    • The 1st edition of 23 volumes was published in Aldershot for the Author in 1742-1753. The 2nd edition, however, is more useful than the first: There is no index in the 1st edition, and the index occupies all of volume 24 in the 2nd; the set includes a list of abbreviations and their corresponding translations. Both sets, however, are very useful abridgements and cite other authors when a particular subject is better annotated elsewhere. This edition is also available on microfiche.
  • Bacon, Matthew. A New Abridgement of the Law: Alphabetically Digested Under Proper Titles. 6th ed. 5 vols. Dublin: Luke White, 1793. KD295 .B3 1793 Quarto
    • Other editions include 1798, 1807, 1811 and 1813. Several other editions are also available on microfiche.
    • Available online (7th edition).
  • Comyns, John. A Digest of the Laws of England. 5 vols. London: John Knapton, Thomas Longman and Robert Horsfield, 1762-1767. KD295 .C6 1762
    • Other editions include 18001822 and 1824. Two other editions are also available on microfiche.
    • The 1762 and 1793 editions are available online.

C. Case Reports

Included are the reports over the centuries of English cases. They evolved slowly from plea rolls to yearbooks to nominatives (named reports). Collections of trials and individual trials reports are also listed here.


Until the 19th century, reporting on court cases was done at the whim or interest of a judge, lawyer or layman. Reporters were often lawyers or judges who would sit in on a particular case, or stick to reporting on a particular court or even during a particular judge's tenure. As a result, many cases were either under-reported, reported by more than one reporter, or not at all. Sometimes they were printed by more than one publisher, or not at all. The reports printed until 1865 became known as The Nominatives, because they were printed under the name of the person doing the reporting, i.e.,Burrows' Reports, Vesey's Reports, etc.

Many of the Nominatives are available in various original editions under the names of the reporters. Quite a few still exist only in manuscript format, originally written or copied over, mostly stored at the Public Records Office the British Library. The printed reports have been reprinted many times, separately, or in series, such as Common Law Reports. The best and most complete sets of these reports, however, are The English Reports, listed below. It includes a two-volume index of cases, and a small bound index to each English Reports volume for the original reports by reporter's name. The English Reports are also now available in CD-ROM, in Special Collections in Williams, as well as online through HeinOnline or LLMC Digital. See the Guide to Legal History Databases.

Another set of original English law reports was microfilmed, and includes a guide and index of original reporters. The two sets of reports overlap extensively, but there are reports in both sets, which exclude one from the other. A Guide to Abbreviations used with the Nominatives, and their availability in reprint or microfilm is available in Special Collections.

Another set of printed reports is The Common Law Reports. If a case or a reporter is not found inThe English Reports, or The Common Law Reports, try the microfilm set. A cross-reference index of all printed Nominatives in the reprint set, original editions and the microfiche set exists in the Special Collections & Archives Department. It is a guide to abbreviations used (i.e., burr. becomes Burrow), and whether the original nominative is available in reprint form and/or microfiche. This guide can help prevent headaches when searching for a reprint/microfilm copy of an original report.

The Selden Society has also reprinted specific reports in their Selden Society Series. They are not listed below, but you can check the Guide to the Selden Society Publications, which usually accompanies the set. There are other special reprints or editions of cases not necessarily found in the above. See below.

  • Renton, A.W., et al., eds. The English Reports. 178 vols. Reprint ed. of London: Stevens & Sons, 1900-1930. Abingdon: Professional Books, 1980. KD270 1220 .E64 1980r
    • Available online through HeinOnline and LLMC Digital CD-ROM edition also available in Special Collections & Archives in Williams Library.


These are the early law reports for medieval England, dating to around 1268 through 1535, overlapping the earliest Nominatives. Though many of the Year Books have been reprinted, and even translated, some remain in original manuscript formats. Some of the first printed editions have now become rare and difficult to find, or have been reprinted. A few are listed below. The Selden Society and the Ames Foundation have reprinted a good number of them.

Boston College of Law Professor David J. Seipp has a terrific web site devoted to Legal History: The Year Books: An Index and Paraphrase of Printed Year Book Reports, 1268-1535. (Seipp's Abridgement). Supported by the Ames Foundation, this database "indexes all year book reports printed in the chronological series for all years between 1268 and 1535, and many of the year book reports printed only in alphabetical abridgements. Of these reports, almost 6,000 from 1399 forward have been fully indexed and paraphrased in this database." (David Seipp) Check with the Curator of Legal History or the Special Collections Librarian for additional help with these titles and the Year Books web site.

  • Horwood, Alfred J., ed. & transl. Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the First [20-22 Edward I, 30-35 Edward I]. 5 vols. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyker, 1863-1879. KD194 1272 .H6 1863
    • Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages.
    • Available online.
  • Pike, Luke Owen, ed. & transl. Year Books of the Reign of King Edward the Third [11-20 Edward III]. 15 vols. London: Longman, 1883-1911. KD194 1327 .P5 1883
    • English and French on opposing pages. Original title: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, Or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages. Covers 11-20 Edward III.
    • Available online.


These are very early records, called rolls because they were sheets of vellum or paper rolled up in scrolls, for ease of storage and transportation. They were the hand-written recordings of the courts. Short and scant in details, they are often the only records of any case. Many of the rolls are still in their original manuscript formats, many at the British Museum or the Public Records Office in London, but some have been printed and reprinted, and a few have been translated, and some are now available on the Internet. A few are listed below. For more information on getting access to some of these obscure but valuable sources of information, contact the Special Collections Librarian.

  • Curia Regis Rolls... Preserved in the Public Record Office. 19 vols. Holmes Beach, Fl.: William W. Gaunt & Sons, 1995-. KD190 1196 .E54 1995r
    • Text in Latin. Reprint of the original 1922-1962 ed. Covers the period 1196-1272.
    • Available online.
  • The Great Roll of the Pipe For the First Year of the Reign of King Richard the First, A.D. 1189-1190. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode, 1844. DA25 .B1 1844 Quarto
    • Text in Latin. Original title is: Magnus Rotulus Pipae de Anno Primo Regis Ricardi Primo
    • Available online.
  • The Great Rolls of the Pipe For the Second, Third, and Fourth Years of the Reign of King Henry the Second, A.D. 1155, 1156, 1157, 1158. London: HMSO, 1930. KD190 1155r
    • Facsimile reproduction of the original 1844 edition. Text in Latin. Original title is: Magnus Rotulus Scaccariiae
    • Available online.
  • An Index to the Records, With Directions to the Several Places Where They Are to Be Found. And Short Explanations of the Different Kinds of Rolls, Writs, etc. To Which is Added, a List of the Latin Sir-Names, and Names of Places, as They Are Written in the Old Records, Explained by the Modern Names. Also a Chronological Table, Shewing at One View the Year of Our Lord, Answering to the Particular Year of Each King's Reign; the Several Parliaments, and the Different Titles By Which Our Kings Are Styled in the Records. London: Printed for G. Hawkins, 1739. KD300 .I53 1739 Octavo
    • Attributed generally to John Strachey, but also to Sir Joseph Ayloffe.
  • Lock, Ray & David Dymond, eds., The Court Rolls of Walsham le Willows, 1351-1399. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell, 2002. KD6968.W2288 C68 2002
  • The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, 1275-1504. 17 vols. & 1 CD-ROM. London: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2005. JN175 .P37 2005
    • Transcriptions of early rolls, in Law French and translated into English. CD-ROM version is in Special Collections.
  • Richardson, Henry Gerald, ed. Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, Preserved in the Public Records Office and the British Museum. Vol. IV, Henry III, 1272; Edward I, 1275-1277. London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1972. KD4102.J4 A4 1972
  • Stenton, Doris Mary, ed. Pleas Before the King or His Justices, 1198-1202. London: Quaritch, 1952-1967. KD530 .S4 v. 67, 68, 83, 84
    • Original title: Curia Regis. Part of the series from the Selden Society.
  • Thomas, A.H., ed. Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guild-Hall. 6 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926-1961. DA676 .T3 1929
    • Covers the years 1323-1482. Not all volumes are available in the Library, check with the Special Collections Librarian.


Below are listed some of the collections of trials that have been printed to either focus on famous trials, or gather materials on trials unavailable in the English Reports.

  • Arnot, Hugo. A Collection and Abridgement of Celebrated Criminal Trials in Scotland, From A.D. 1536 to 1784, With Historical and Critical Remarks. Edinburgh: Printed for the author by W. Smellie, 1785. KDC116 .A77 1785
  • Borrow, George Henry. Celebrated Trials and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence From the Earliest Records to the Year 1825. 6 vols. London: Knight & Lacey, 1825. KD370 .B67 1825 Quarto
  • Borrow, George Henry. Celebrated Trials and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence From the Earliest Records to the Year 1825. First compiled and edited by George Borrow and now newly revised and edited by Edward Hale Bierstadt. 2 vols. New York: Payson & Clarke ltd., 1928. KD370 .B67 1928
    • A more compact and revised edition of the first 1825 edition.
    • Available online.
  • A Complete Collection of State-Trials, and Proceedings for High-Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanours, From the Reign of King Richard II, to the End of the Reign of King George I. 6 vols. 2nd ed. London: Printed for J. Walthoe, Sen., R. Vincent, Sen., etc., 1730. KD371.P6 C6 1730 Folio
    • The first edition was published anonymously under the title Compleat Collection of State-Tryals in 1719, but attributed to Thomas Salmon. See below at Salmon, Thomas.
  • Howell, Thomas B., ed. Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason, and Other Crimes and Misdemeanor From the Earliest Period to the Present Time [1163-1820]. 33 vols. London: R. Bagshaw, et al., 1809-1828. KD370 .H6 1809 Quarto
    • Also known as Cobbett's State Trials, this set includes notorious cases not found in The English Reports, or specific Nominatives. It is also available in microfiche and in a CD-ROM version, only available through Special Collections. Both editions include an index to names of cases, and a subject index.
    • Available online through HeinOnline and the Making of Modern Law
  • MacDonell, John & J.E.P. Wallis, eds. Reports of State Trials: New Series, 1820-1858. 8 vols. Reprint of 1888-1898 ed. London: Professional Books, 1982. KD370 .S81 1982r
  • Medland, William M. & Charles Weobly. A Collection of Remarkable and Interesting Criminal Trials, Actions at Law, &c. to Which is Prefixed, an Essay on Reprieve and Pardon, and Biographical Sketches of John Lord Eldon, and Mr. Mingay. 3 vols. London: Printed by J.D. Dewick, for J. Badcock, 1803-1805. KD370 .M43 1803 Quarto
  • Phillipps, Samuel M. State Trials; or a Collection of the Most Interesting Trials, Prior to the Revolution of 1688. 2 vols. London: W. Walker, 1826. KD370 .P45
  • Pitcairn, Robert. Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, Compiled From the Original Records and Mss., With Historical Illustrations, &c. Edinburgh: Printed for the Maitland Club, 1833. KDC116 .P68 1833 Quarto
  • Salmon, Thomas. A New Abridgement and Critical Review of the State Trials. Wherein Are Inserted, Several Trials Not in Any Other Collection. Also Some Trials That Were Taken in Haste and Scarce Intelligible, Are Brought Into Regular Order; and Many Deficiencies Throughout the Whole Supply'd. 2nd ed. 2 vols. in 1. Dublin: Printed for J. Leathley, G. Ewing, W. Smith, and P. Crampton, 1741. KD370 .S35 1741 Folio
    • Includes an "alphabetical index of the names of the prisoners tried, the times when, their crimes, and their punishment."
    • Available online through HeinOnline (Dublin 1737 edition) and the Making of Modern Law (London 1737 edition).
  • Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey. 4 vols. in 2. New York: Garland, 1985.KD370 .S45 1985
    • A reprint of the original 1742 edition, these volumes cover select trials at the Old Bailey Criminal Court from 1720 to 1741.
    • Available online.
  • Tout, T.F. & Johnstone, Hilda, eds. State Trials of the Reign of Edward the First, 1289-1293.London: Royal Historical Society, 1906. KD608 .S72 1906
  • Townsend, William Charles. Modern State Trials. Revised and Illustrated With Essays and Notes. 2 vols. London: Printed for Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850. KD370 .T6 1850 Quarto


Many individual trial proceedings are also available in original editions, but mostly either in microfilm, or in a variety of online databases, such as The Making of Modern Law, Early English Books Online, The Making of the Modern World, HeinOnline, Old Bailey sessions Proceedings andLLMC, to name a few. To find those available at Georgetown, search the Library's catalog under the subject TRIALS, or individual defendant names. You can also find them online at various web sites through Google and Yahoo. Below are listed just a few examples.

  • Foster, Michael. A Report of Some Proceedings on the Commission for the Trial of the Rebels in the Year 1746, in the County of Surry; and of Other Crown Cases. To Which Are Added Discourses Upon a Few Branches of the Crown Law. 3rd ed. London: E. and R. Brooke, 1792.KD270 .F75 1792 Quarto
    • This is a report of some of the trials that occurred in the wake of the Scottish Jacobite revolt of 1745. The Library also has a 1763 edition, an 1809 edition and a 1982 reprint of the 1762 edition.
    • Available online through HeinOnline and the Making of Modern Law.
  • The Tryal of Thomas Earl of Macclesfield, in the House of Peers, For High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Upon an Impeachment by the Knights Citizens and Burgesses in Parliament Assembled, in the Name of Themselves and of all the Commons of Great-Britain. Begun the 6th Day of May 1725, and From Thence Continued by Several Adjournments Until the 27th Day of the Same Month. Published by Order of the House of Peers. London: Printed by Sam. Buckley, 1725. KD370 .M3 1725 Folio
  • A Complete Collection of the Genuine Papers, Letters, &c. in the Case of John Wilkes, Esq. Elected Knight of the Shire For the County of Middlesex, March 28, 1768. Berlin: s.n., 1769.KD370 .W5 1769 Octavo
    • This is a famous seditious libel case, published in the newspaper The North Britton, which was involved in said libel case.
  • The Trials of Arthur Thistlewood, and Others, For High Treason, at the Old Bailey Sessions-House, Commencing on Saturday, the 15th, and Ending on Thursday, the 27th of April, 1820.London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, & Jones, 1820. KD371.P6 T49 1820 Quarto
    • Part of the Cato Street Conspiracy. See also under Wilkinson.
  • The Trials of James, Duncan and Robert M'Gregor, Three Sons of the Celebrated Rob Roy, Before the High Court of Justiciary, in the Years 1752, 1753, and 1754. To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir Relating to the Highlands, With Anecdotes of Rob Roy and His Family. Edinburgh: Printed by J. Hay and Co., 1818. KDC186 .M32 1818 Octavo
  • Wilkinson, George Theodore. An Authentic History of the Cato-Street Conspiracy, With the Trials at Large of the Conspirators, For High Treason and Murder; a Description of Their Weapons and Combustible Machines, and Every Particular Connected With the Rise, Progress, Discovery, and Termination of the Horrid Plot. With Portraits of the Conspirators, Taken During Their Trials, By Permission, and Other Engravings. London: Printed for Thomas Kelly, 1820. KD371.P6 W5 1820 Quarto
    • Trials of Arthur Thistlewood, James Ings, J.T. Brunt, R. Tidd and W. Davidson for high treason. Thistlewood, Brunt and Tidd were also indicted, but not tried, for the murder of Richard Smithers.
    • Available online through HeinOnline and the Making of Modern Law.