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English Medieval Legal Documents Database

A Compilation of Published Sources from 600 to 1535

Writs and Pleadings

"The common law had...grown up round the royal writs. They formed the ground plan upon which its builders worked; and it is for this reason that the learning of writs was the first thing taught to students of the law. Seeing that the choice of a wrong or inappropriate writ meant loss of the action, this learning continued to be of the utmost importance to the practitioner all through his career." (Holdsworth, William S. A History of English Law. 17 Vols. London: Methuen, 1902-1972. vol. 2 at p.431) However, despite their importance, there does not appear to have been any official register of writs for the medieval period. Although the original writs used to initiate actions were issued by the Chancery, there were apparently no official collections of forms prepared by the office, which would provide an authoritative text.(Plucknett, Theodore F. T. A Concise History of the Common Law. 5th ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1956 at p.276) There were, however, a number of unofficial compilations of forms circulating in the legal community. A standard example found its way into print in 1531 and became known as the Register Brevium, or Register of Writs. For a detailed listing of publications on procedure and writs, see Maxwell's chapter on courts and procedure (Maxwell, William Harold, and Leslie F. Maxwell , comps. A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 8 Vols. 2nd ed. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955-. Volume 1: English Law to 1800 at pp.258-357) and an extensive discussion of the various early editions of published writs can be found in Winfield.( Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925 at pp.268-307). Only the most important ones are listed below.