French Renaissance Paleography


England, ca. 1625
Legal notebook
Washington, D.C., Folger Shakespeare Library, MS V.a. 314


The document presented here is from a legal miscellany likely compiled by a law student in the early 17th century. In the early modern period French was the language of common law in England, and was used in the Inns of Court and the Inns of Chancery. A beginner Inns of Court lawyer would be allowed to argue in English, but an advanced one would be expected to plead in French.

This particular miscellany is on the topic of real property. It discusses issues related to land and property ownership, and the division of estates among heirs. Rules and laws are first described, followed by a series of precedent legal cases (see fol. 8v).

Th miscellany could have been prepared for a land owning member of the nobility, who needed to be knowledgeable about English common law to administer his (or possibly her) estates or establish his status. The use of French is notable, since this type of instruction was more frequently written in English: see for example John Kitchin’s Jurisdictions or the Lawful Authority of Courts Leet, Courts Baron, Court of Marshallseys, Court of Pypowder, and Ancient Demesne, together with the most necessary learnings of tenure and all their incidents […] (1580).

This manuscript’s handwriting was originally attributed to the English statesman Sir Francis Bacon. However, Seymour de Ricci, who conducted a census of manuscripts in the United States and Canada, found no evidence to support that attribution. We hope users of this site will be able to help identify the scribe and the text.