The final rare book of the month for 2018 is a manuscript: MS 100, Case reports 26 to 32 Elizabeth I, written by an anonymous scribe possibly around 1592. The manuscript is undated and includes Elizabethan case law from circa 1584 to 1590 as well as transcriptions of moots performed at Middle Temple. According to Sir John Baker some of the cases are “attributed to named members of Middle Temple” and may stem from existing reported cases. The manuscript also describes a reading by Matthew Cracherode (admitted 3 November 1560) which according to Sir John is the “only known reading on the statute of 4 & 5 Phil. & Mar. c. 8 on the abduction of heiresses”. This is the statute entitled An Act for the Punishment of such as shall take away Maydens that be Inheritors, being within the Age of sixteen Years, or that marry them without Consent of their Parents (short title: Abduction Act 1557).
The manuscript is inscribed ‘R. Bromley of the Middle Temple’ on the first leaf. There is a ‘Robert Bromley, eldest son of John Bromley of Wiggan, Lancashire’ listed in the Register of Admissions as being admitted to the Inn on 12 November 1755. According to the Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Robert was rector of St. Mildred Poultry, London from 1775-1806, then of St. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange until his death in 1806.
The manuscript is written in a fairly rough secretary hand predominately in Law French. It was rebound (poorly) during the 19th century, as were many of the library’s rare books and manuscripts. This was presumably done when the ‘new’ library was built in 1861, in order to have uniformity amongst the bindings.
The manuscript has been damaged by water at some point and improperly dried out, resulting in mould damage to the end-papers and tide lines in the text block. The original binding was most likely a clasped one, which has resulted in a deformed textblock. The use of clasped bindings was common for manuscript compilations such as this one, and the library still has some 18th century manuscript law reports in clasped bindings. The textblock has been trimmed, resulting in the loss of the headers. As seen here, however some of the headers have not been trimmed, and consist of the term dates (e.g. 26 Elizabeth), meaning that the manuscript was most likely ordered by date, not topic heading. The date ‘1583’ is also visible.
The manuscript serves as an example of an Elizabethan lawyer’s commonplace book or miscellany, containing a mix of moots, readings and case reports. The creation and use of commonplace books was fairly typical of the time, as law students and lawyers routinely compiled this type of material as learning exercises. Sir John notes that the manuscript be of interest to scholars as it could show how cases were being discussed at the Inns in the 16th century. Frederick Pollock once noted that manuscript notes of cases: “were freely handed about among barristers and students, as lecture-notes are to this day in the universities”.
While there were volumes of printed law reports readily available during this time period, lawyers continued to compile manuscript case law until at least the late 18th century. It is very possible that the scribe who compiled this volume either copied these cases out from another manuscript or printed book, wrote notes down while in court, or rewrote rough notes taken down in court; that level of analysis is beyond the scope of a blog post, unfortunately.
Due to previous damage, the manuscript is now in a highly fragile state. A report from The Sussex Conservation Consortium Ltd. has shown that dirt has become heavily ingrained in places. Mechanical damage to the paper in addition to the dirt is causing loss of the text, which in some places is substantial. This report has shown that, without intervention and repair, there will be continued deterioration and loss. Middle Temple Library is crowd-funding for the repair of this important work, which will cost £1,090 to repair. If you would like to donate to this cause, please contact the Librarian at: email@example.com ; 020 7427 4830.