Nova Statuta, Statutes of the Realm from the first year of the reign of Edward III to the 20th year of Henry VI, in Middle English, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, probably London, c.1445]
446 leaves: 12(of 4, i and ii cancelled blanks), 2-68, 77(of 8, lacking vii), 8-138, 146(of 8, lacking iv & v), 15-438, 442, 458, 465(of 8, lacking ii, iv and half of v), 47-538, 542, 55-578, 583(of 4, i cancelled blank), 598, 603(of 6, iv, v and vi cancelled blanks), catchwords on final versos of most gatherings and most signature marks survive in alphabetical, numerical and symbol sequences, between 28 and 38 lines written in several anglicana hands in brown ink between a frame-ruling in plummet, an additional pair of verticals for headings, text justification: approx. 165 x 100mm, paraphs alternately blue and red with chapter numbers in margins, four-line initials of blue with red pen-work flourishing open each of the statute sections, the statutes of Henry VI open with a LARGE ILLUMINATED INITIAL AND FULL-PAGE BORDER (a few wormholes in first and final ten leaves, occasional minor spotting or staining, half of f.348 excised). ?English contemporary tawed leather over bevelled wooden boards, 15th-century legal document as pastedown on upper board, lifting slightly to reveal pink-stained leather (wormed, lacking outer half of lower cover, lacking leather from top of lower joint and top of lower cover and one strap and clasp from upper cover).
ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL TEXTS OF COMMON LAW IN ITS EARLIEST TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH
William Coote of Coningsby, Lincolnshire: his ownership inscription 'Iste liber constat Will[ielm]o Coote of conyngesby legi[bus] p[er]iti[ssimus]' written three times: before the Statute of Labourers 23 Edward III, the Statute of 4 Henry IV and the Statute 20 Henry VI.
William Coote appears several times in the Calendar of Patent Rolls from 1439 until 1471. In 1439, William Coote, 'king's servant' was granted 10 l. a year for life, this was confirmed in 1441. In March 1448 he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Lincoln (Parts of Kesteven) and in July 1452 he was one of those commissioned 'to make inquisition in the county [of Lincoln] touching the evildoers who have fabricated false and seditious bills, letters and other writing' extorting money under the threat of arson. In August of the following year he was given licence to co-found a gild, for men and women, in the chapel of the Virgin in the church of Coningsby. William Coote is acknowledged in an entry of 19 July 1459, where he is described as 'the queen's attorney general in Chancery'. The final entry, recording a general pardon for all offences committed by him before 7 July 1471, specifies him as 'William Coote late of Coningsby by Tateshalle, co. Lincoln, gentilman, alias late of Threkyngham, co. Lincoln'. This was, presumably some consequence of his allegiance to Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV succeeded without open dispute after Henry's death in May 1471. CPR: 1436-4I, pp.291, 495; 1446-52 pp.579, 591; 1452-61 pp.104, 507; 1467-77 p.261.
Subject index to statutes, Accusac[i]ons to W[y]nes (lacking final leaf) ff.1-48v; Statutes I and II, 1 Edward III (SR 1:251-57) ff.50-56v; Patent of Perambulation (Calendar of Patent Rolls....Edward III, 1327-30, London 1891, p.39, membr.15 for 13 March, 1 Edward III) ff.56v-57v; Statutes 2-38, Edward III (SR 1:257-385) ff.57v-172v; Article made at Northampton, opening 'It is accorded by the king and his counsaile that the Oiers and terminers granted agens the fourme of the estatuit made in the tyme of king Edwarde...' f.172v; Statutes, 42-47 Edward III (SR 1:388-395) ff.173-178; pronouncement concerning the exile of Hugh Despencer son and Hugh Despencer father, given as a Statute of 47 Edward III ff.178-179v; Statute, 50 Edward III (SR 1:396-98) ff.179v-181v; Statutes, 1-20 Richard II (SR 2:1-94) ff.182-257v); Statute, 1-13, Henry IV (SR 2:111-169) ff.258-307; Statute, 1-9, Henry V (SR 2:170-212) ff.307v-337; Statutes, 1-11 Henry VI (SR 2:213-288) ff.338-395v; Act of 12 Henry VI continuing the following statutes: 36 Edward III, Statute I, ch 2-6; 2 Henry IV, ch 14; 13 Richard II, Statute I, ch 9; 15 Richard II, ch 4; 1 Henry V, ch 10; 2 Henry VI, ch 14; 8 Henry VI, ch 5; 2 Henry V, Statute I, ch 8; 8 Henry VI, ch 9, 14; 2 Henry IV, ch 21; 13 Henry IV, ch 3; 8 Henry VI, ch 4; 23 Edward III, ch 1-2, 6; 7 Richard II, ch 3-9; 4 Henry IV, ch 14; 11 Henry IV, ch 4; 2 Henry V, Statute 1, ch 4; 6 Henry VI, ch 3; 8 Henry VI, ch 8 ff.396-416v; Statute, 14-20 Henry VI (SR 2:289-325) ff.416v-446.
Lacking the end of the Statute of labourers after f.100v, the opening of Statute II, 25 Edward III before f.101, and parts of Statute, 4 Henry VI around the part-folio 348 and opening of Statute, 6 Henry VI. Bifolia misplaced 235/236 and 251/252. A detailed list of the Statutes contained is available from the department.
By the 15th century the books of statutes, made primarily but not exclusively, for the use of lawyers were of two types: the Vetera Statuta which contained treatises or statutes enrolled up to the end of the reign of Edward II and the Nova Statuta with legislation from the beginning of the reign of Edward III until the time of the manufacture of the book. There was good reason for this division of material: the statutes and charters enacted up to the end of Edward II's reign, from Magna Carta onwards, laid down the basic principles upon which Common Law was based. They could not be revoked by any subsequent Act of Parliament. With a few exceptions, this was not true of the legislation laid down by Edward III and his successors. N. Pronay and J. Taylor, Parliamentary Texts of the Later Middle Ages, 1980, pp.18-19. The present manuscript is a Nova Statuta that exemplifies this difference -- and the turbulence of the period it covers -- for it is an almost complete sequence of the statutes from 1327 to 1442 but one major statute is omitted: the final statute of the reign of Richard II which was revoked by the first statute of his usurping successor Henry IV (ff.258-265). Although collections of statutes - especially copies of the Vetera Statuta - dominate the surviving body of medieval legal manuscripts, the present manuscript is exceptional in being written - but for some titles and running headings - entirely in Middle English. This makes it a particularly accessible and immediate record of this dramatic period of English history.
Manuscript copies of the Nova Statuta continued to be made into the reign of Henry VIII -- there was a constant need for copies with the latest legislation. The predominant language of the common law was French, and law French continued to be used for reports and learning exercises until the Civil War. The French statutes first began to be translated into English in the 15th century -- the statutes of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V in a manuscript in Cambridge (C.U.L. Ms Ff.3.1) have been thought to represent the earliest known attempt to translate the statutes into English -- they were not published in English until the 1530s: J.H. Baker, Catalogue of English Legal Manuscripts in Cambridge University Library, 1996, pp.xxii-xxiv, 239-240. Like the present manuscript the main text there finishes with 20 Henry VI, and is likely to be of a similar date, but the Cambridge manuscript differs in not having the statutes of Edward III and the statutes of Henry VI still being given in French.
The present manuscript is likely to have been completed between the 20th year of Henry VI (1442), the date of the latest Statute, and the 23rd year of his reign, the next occasion that statutes were enrolled in parliament. This date is consistent with the style of the illuminated border that marks the opening of the Statutes of Henry VI, the current monarch -- in whose service William Coote was already engaged.