Bracton, Henry de

views updated May 17 2018


English cleric and jurist (known also as Henry of Bratton); b. Bratton Fleming, Devon, England, c. 1210;d. by September 1268. He came from a well-to-do family from Devon and quite possibly studied at the University of Oxford. He was in orders and held various ecclesiastical benefices, becoming canon, prebendary, and eventually (1264) chancellor of the Diocese of exeter. Bracton was trained in law and devoted much of his career to its administration and study, first entering the service of a noted judge, William Raleigh (d. 1250). When Raleigh was nominated bishop of Norwich in 1239, Bracton transferred to the service of King Henry III and became a judge himself in 1244, serving for the most part in the southwestern counties. He was a member of the King's Council in 125556 and after the Barons' War was named a special commissioner to settle the claims of the disinherited supporters of Simon de Montfort in February, 1267. He was buried in the nave of Exeter Cathedral, where he founded a chantry for two chaplains.

Bracton's fame rests chiefly on his writings, De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (ed. G. E. Woodbine, New Haven 1915) and a Note Book (ed. F. W. Maitland, 3 v. London 1887), which together form one of the most important attempts to organize and rationalize English medieval common law, which had evolved from classical prototypes. The De legibus et consuetudinibus Ańgliae may have been begun as early as 1239, and Bracton was still revising it at the time of his death. Surviving MSS are often corrupted by interpolations of later editors. It begins with an analysis of the principles of English law and then cites some 450 cases exemplifying the practice and procedure of the courts. The Note Book contains some 2,000 cases Bracton heard during his years on the bench. The complex interrelationship of rex and lex, king and law, is treated but not completely resolved. The work of this English churchman had an impact on later constitutional development, especially with regard to appeal to legal precedent. Not until Blackstone was there a more comprehensive treatment of common law.

Bibliography: h. u. kantorowicz, Bractonian Problems (Glasgow 1941). c. h. mcilwain, "The Present Status of the Problem of the Bracton Text," Harvard Law Review 57 (1943) 220240. f. schultz, "Critical Studies on B.'s Treatise," Law Quarterly Review 59 (1943) 172180; "A New Approach to B.," Seminar 2 (1944) 4150; "B. on Kingship," English Historical Review 60 (1945) 136176. g. post, "A Romano-Canonical Maxim Quod omnes tangit in B.," Traditio 4 (1946) 197251. g. t. lapsley, "B. and the Authorship of the addicio de cartis," English Historical Review 62 (1947) 119. s. j. t. miller, "The Position of the King in B. and Beaumanoir," Speculum 31 (1956) 263296. w. s. holdsworth, A History of English Law 2:239290. e. kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies (Princeton 1957) 143192. a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford 1:240241. t. f. t. plucknett, Early English Legal Literature (Cambridge, Eng. 1958) 6179. b. tierney, "B. on Government," Speculum 38 (1963) 295317. h. g. richardson, "Tancred, Raymond and B.," English Historical Review 59 (1944) 376384; "Azo, Drogheda and B.," ibid. 2247; "Studies in B.," Traditio 6 (1948) 61104; Bracton: The Problem of His Text (Seldon Society Supplementary Series 2; London 1965).

[b. j. comaskey]

Henry de Bracton

views updated May 14 2018

Henry de Bracton

With legal treatises in short supply during the middle of the twelfth century, Henry de Bracton (c. 1210-1268), stepped forward to bring order to English jurisprudence. He is said to have authored De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae (The Statute and Common Law of England).

Little is known of the early life of Henry of Bratton (Henricus de Brattona or Bractona). His exact birth date is unknown but it is believed that he was born during King John's reign, ca. 1210, in England. His death in 1268, just prior to the end of the reign of Henry III, put his lifetime during a period of enormous importance including events such as the granting of the Magna Carta and the death of Simon of Montfort, Earl of Leicester at the battle of Evesham.

He is believed to have been born in Devon where two parishes exist with the name of "Bratton," Bratton-Clovelly and Bratton-Fleming. Most authorities put his birthplace as Bratton-Clovelly, establishing the correct form of his name as Bratton, not Bracton (by which he was commonly known). He is said to have attended the University of Oxford as a youth where he received a doctor's degree in civil and cannon law.

A Legal Career

Bracton was made an itinerant judge in 1245 and from 1247 to 1250 he was an English judge of the Coram Rege ("Before the Monarch"). This later became known as the King's (or Queen's) Bench. He held this position again from 1253 to 1257. From the beginning of his judgeship in 1245 until 1267 he served as a justice in Eyre, his native Devon or other neighboring counties or held court before King Henry III. Although he continued his work on various benches, he never held placito de banco (a place on the bench) i.e., he was never permanently seated on the Bench at Westminster.

While never holding permanent position, records show that Bracton received favors from the monarch, yet he maintained an unbiased position in the courts, gaining respect and trust from both king and barons alike. He retired in 1257 but continued to serve on judicial commissions. In 1265 he became chief justiciar of England under King Henry III.

On the Laws and Customs of England

Bracton is credited with producing a long treatise on English jurisprudence, De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae, "On the Laws and Customs of England." Written in Latin, it is considered one of the oldest systematic dissertations on English common law. He expanded the common law and attempted to make sense of English law in terms of ius commune, that is, using principles derived from both civil and canon law. The substance of the piece was drawn from English law courts, while its form was from Roman law.

De legibus was an immediate success and became the forerunner to numerous other legal dissertations. The treatise was frequently used by the likes of Sir Edward Coke when preparing legal arguments against the monarchy during the civil war. It is often referred to as the most important work on English law prior to that of Sir William Blackstone in the eighteenth century. The piece was never thoroughly completed and there is doubt about Bracton's part in writing it. Some authorities believe others authored the work during the 1220s and 1230s although Bracton was the last owner of the original manuscript and he most likely made later additions.

Later Findings

The work, however, maintained its high position as the reference work of English Law for centuries. The first printed edition of De legibus appeared in a 1569 folio and was reprinted in quarto in 1640. Sir Travers Twiss issued a six-volume translation of the entire work from 1878 to 1883. A manuscript collection called the Notebook, of approximately 2,000 English law cases, evidently written by Bracton, was discovered in 1884. It was edited and published in 1887 by British legal scholar Frederic Maitland.

Later Life and Death

Like many jurists of his time, Bracton was also a ecclesiastic. In 1263 he was made archdeacon of Barnstable. That same year he left Barnstable to become chancellor of Exeter Cathedral. He remained at Exeter until his death in 1268. Bracton was buried before an altar in Exeter cathedral at which he had founded a perpetual endowment for his soul.


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"Bracton: De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Angliae," http://www.Bracton'sDeLegibus.htm (January 17, 2001) □

Bracton, Henry de

views updated Jun 11 2018


Henry de Bracton was a medieval jurist and priest whose masterful treatise on common law and procedure provided a framework for the early English legal system.

Bracton's famous De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (On the laws and customs of England) was a systematic explanation of english law for judges and practitioners during the reign of King Henry III. De legibus and another of Bracton's works, Note-Book, helped shape the system of case law and pleadings that began during the monarchy of King henry ii. Although reliance on Bracton's works declined as English statutory law grew, historians consider De legibus the high point of medieval legal scholarship.

Bracton's exact date of birth early in the thirteenth century is unknown. His family, whose name sometimes appears as Bratton or Bretton, owned land near Devon, England. Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the brother of King Henry III, and William de Raleigh, a prominent common-law judge, were important benefactors who helped advance Bracton's legal career.

By 1240 Bracton had the job of civil servant, a relatively lucrative position during the Middle Ages. In 1245 he was appointed to the judiciary. In 1247 he became a member of the King's Bench, where he served for ten years. After 1257 he held several assignments, including that of chancellor of Exeter Cathedral. During the Middle Ages it was not unusual for a priest to serve also as a judge.

De legibus first appeared after Bracton's death in 1268. Although the original manuscript is lost, approximately three hundred reedited and hand copied manuscripts circulated during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Intended as a guide to English law and procedure, De legibus combines aspects of Roman and canon law. Bracton was influenced by the Institutes of justinian i and by medieval textbooks of Axo, Tancred, and Raymond of Penafort. His treatise includes a section of basic principles and a section of writs and commentary. It emphasizes the development and application of case law as written by judges grappling with medieval legal questions.

Bracton's Note-Book is a compendium of two thousand judicial opinions. Some historians believe that other medieval jurists contributed to the work, which was discovered in 1884. Note-Book was edited by frederic w. maitland and published in 1887.

Bracton, Sir Henry

views updated Jun 11 2018

Bracton, Sir Henry (c.1210–68). Bracton, ‘the flower and crown of English Jurisprudence’ (Maitland) and one of the greatest writers on the common law, was born in Devon and became the dean of Exeter cathedral, where he is buried. He served during the reign of Henry III as a justice in Eyre and a justice of King's Bench, but his fame rests on his great work De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (‘On the Laws and Customs of England’). This remarkable work is one of the most important books in English legal history. It was much influenced by notions of canon law and Roman law, which at this time was being ‘received’ in many European countries. But Bracton's authorship of De legibus is now doubted and it has been suggested that most of the book was written by others, and merely revised by Bracton himself.

Maureen Mulholland

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Henry de Bracton

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