Legal History in Manuscripts

An invaluable online resource for researching British legal history just got even better. The Anglo-American Legal Tradition website [AALT] recently added 30 new series of manuscript materials from the UK National Archives [TNA] that extend the coverage of AALT beyond the year of 1650 into the 18th century. Launched in 2007 by the University of Houston’s O’Quinn Law Library, the site now contains nearly 5,750,000 images of legal and law-related manuscripts from the early 13th century into the early 18th century. These include court records from the patent, close, fine, plea, Chancery, memoranda, and liberate rolls. The new materials also add the Privy Council miscellaneous papers and foreign accounts that touch upon military, taxation, customs, and other areas of interest to scholars researching legal history. AALT is an open access totally free online resource that is steadily being improved with navigation tools and new materials. Because most legal and governmental records were handwritten not just before the invention of the printing press but for centuries afterward, open access sites like AALT provide an essential window into the legal past.

Georgetown Law Library’s Special Collections holds several legal history manuscript collections including the Lord Eldon Collection (Lord Eldon was Chancellor of Great Britain from 1801-1827), the Francis Caleb Brown Collection of bound manuscript English law reports from the 17th century and American Justice of the Peace writs from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the 13th & 14th Century English Land Grants Collection of vellum land transfer documents from the time of Edward I, as well as many other collections of documents and personal papers. If you would like to know more about Georgetown Law’s legal history manuscript collections, please visit or contact Special Collections  or stop by the Special Collections Exhibit Case outside the Special Collections Reading Room (Williams 210) off the west end of the main reading room in the Williams Library to see selected images from the three collections mentioned above.

Pictured here is a 1790 eviction notice from Special Collections.

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