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English Medieval Legal Documents Database

A Compilation of Published Sources from 600 to 1535

Common Law Abridgments

"In legal bibliography the terms abridgment, digest and encyclopedia are often interchangeable, the terminology in use at any given time owing more to fashion than to science." (Moys, Elizabeth M. Manual of Law Librarianship: the Use and Organization of Legal Literature, 2nd ed. Boston: G.K.Hall. 1987 at p.269) Each was an attempt to encapsule the law into a single work, and they included digests of cases which the author thought were of particular use to the practitioner, grouped under various headings which were usually the titles of writs arranged in alphabetical order. Fitzherbert's Abridgment is probably the compilation most familiar to legal scholars, although it had a number of predecessors. The Selden Society published a bibliography of abridgments in 1932 (Cowley, John D. A Bibliography of Abridgments, Digests, Dictionaries and Indexes of English Law to the Year 1800, London: Quaritch, 1932.) and an extensive listing of the abridgments and the history of their publication can be found in both Winfield (Winfield, Percy H. The Chief Sources of English Legal History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925 at pp.200-51) and Maxwell ( Maxwell, William H. and Leslie F. Maxwell, A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations, 2nd ed. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955- at pp.285-87). Listed below are several of the most noteworthy examples.

Common Law Abridgments