Author Archives: Erin Kidwell

New Exhibits of Books from Special Collections

Georgetown Law Library Special Collections is pleased to announce two new exhibits featuring rare books from our collections. The first is our own exhibit, Magna Carta, Sir Edward Coke, and the Rule of Law at the Dawn of American Settlement. This exhibit is located in the Special Collections exhibit case outside Room 210 in the Williams Law Library. The exhibit features 5 imprints of Magna Carta cum Statutis tum antiquis tum recentibus, the leading compilation of English statutes from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI & I, that were annotated in law French by their owners. It also includes images from Sir Edward Coke’s personal annotated copy of Bracton, the landmark treatise of English law written shortly after the authoritative 1225 version of Magna Carta was issued by Henry III. Full text images of all of the featured books are available through Digital Georgetown.

The second exhibit is Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare’s Britain at the Folger Shakespeare Library. This exhibit features our copy of Coke’s Bracton and our set of 17th century imprints of Parts 1 through 12 of Coke’s case reports, which were so highly esteemed that they quickly became known simply as The Reports; as well as many other rare books and manuscripts from the Folger’s collections.

For further information about these two exhibits, please contact us at

Happy 800th Birthday Magna Carta!

King John sealing Magna Carta

800 years ago today King John met the rebel Barons at Runnymede to sign and seal what would become known to posterity as Magna Carta, or the Great Charter. While King John may indeed have signed and sealed it on this day eight centuries ago, he had no intention of honoring it. He’d already made plans to appeal to the Pope to have the Charter nullified for having been signed under duress, which news he shared with his English subjects in early August of 1215 thus plunging the realm back into the turmoil of civil war. Fortunately for posterity, John would not outlive the conflict and upon his death in 1216, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and the newly appointed Regent to John’s son and now King, Henry III, reissued a revised version of the Charter. Marshall would again reissue it in 1217, and King Henry III would himself reissue it upon reaching his majority in 1225. It was only at this point in history that the Charter was titled Magna Carta in order to distinguish it from the Charter of the Forest clauses which had been reissued as a separate charter. Henry’s son, Edward I, would also reissue Magna Carta by having Parliament enact it in 1297 thereby securing its place in English legal history as the ‘first statute.’ It is in this later form that Magna Carta would come to be revered and appealed to as guaranteeing the rights of English, and later colonial American, subjects.

In honor of this 800th anniversary day, Georgetown Law Library is pleased to announce a small online collection of annotated late 16th and early 17th century imprints of the statutory compilation titled – Magna Carta cum Statutis. While all of Georgetown Law’s five annotated imprints have notations throughout in law-French, the professional language of English lawyers of the day, only three of them have extensive notations on the leaves containing Magna Carta and the 1608 imprint contains no notations about Magna Carta at all. The most extensive annotations are in copy 1 of the 1587 imprint that was signed by its owner on the title page – “Liber Richardi Bell de Grais Inn” [Richard Bell of Gray’s Inn’s book]. Complete images of all the leaves in these five imprints are available through Digital Georgetown.


Bell’s notations on clause 29 (clauses 39 and 40 of the 1215 Charter), known today as the Due Process Clause.

We have also prepared a research guide on the history and legacy of Magna Carta. This guide includes links to treatises, articles, and books.

Restoring Lost Lambs to the Fold: completing the Lord Eldon Library

Over the course of the last year the Georgetown Law Library has been able to acquire two significant additions to the Lord Eldon Library Collection: Francis Plowden’s 1803 An historical review of the state of Ireland; and, Lord Eldon’s 125 volume collection of political pamphlets – the Lord Eldon Pamphlets. The latter also contained a volume of Parliamentary Reports from the Committees of Secrecy in 1794. We believe that with these additions the Lord Eldon Library Collection now contains all of the books collected by Lord Chancellor Eldon during his professional life, as well as the manuscript codices he produced or collected. The Lord Eldon Library collection provides an invaluable look into the professional life of one of 19th century Britain’s most influential lawyers. A short biography of Lord Eldon and complete lists of the titles within the Lord Eldon Library and the Lord Eldon Pamphlets are available here.

The Lord Eldon Pamphlets collection contains 1059 titles covering a wide range of subjects including, the debates over the re-introduction of civil jury trials and other reforms to Scotland’s legal system, the debates over Catholic Emancipation, various proposals to modify Britain’s financial systems, proposals for making and keeping the peace with France, proposals to reform the Court of Chancery, proposals for penal reform, proposals for ending the Slave Trade, and debates over the 1801 Union with Ireland, among many other political topics. There are even literary, agricultural, and scientific pamphlets. It is a diverse collection reflecting both Lord Eldon’s interests and the interest of authors in gaining the notice of his attention throughout his professional career by sending him presentation copies. Lord Eldon had apparently even acquired a few of his brother Lord Stowell’s collected pamphlets as several are signed “William Scott” or “W.S.” In contrast to the majority of the books in the original Middle Temple Lord Eldon Library collection a significant number of the pamphlets are annotated in Lord Eldon’s hand, especially those dealing with Chancery issues and Catholic Emancipation. Regrettably, some of those annotations were cropped when the pamphlets were bound together into their respective volumes.

Eldon Pamphlets blog pic

To access the Lord Eldon Library or other rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell, Curator of Legal History Collections –, or Hannah Miller, Special Collections Librarian –, or Special Collections You can also visit us in Special Collections (Williams 210) Monday – Friday from 10am to 6pm.

To Be or Not to Be… British?: The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum is on Sep. 18th

According to the latest polls the question of whether Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is running neck and neck. For those interested in knowing more about this historic referendum and its historical context, the Georgetown Law Library has updated its Scottish Legal History Research Guide to include relevant sources. These updates are thanks in part to input from our former Resident Librarian, Yasmin Morais, who is now the Cataloging Librarian at UDC School of Law.

New Exhibit: Annotated Imprints II: The Jurisprudence of Cannibalism in Fuller’s ‘Case of the Speluncean Explorers’

This is the second in a series of posts about annotated books held by Georgetown Law Library’s Special Collections. This post features an annotated copy of the 1949 Temporary Edition of Lon Fuller’s ‘The Problems of Jurisprudence’ textbook from the Judge Charles E. Wyzanski Collection.

Learning and practicing the law exposes both students and practitioners to difficult issues that sometimes defy easy answers. Law professors regularly craft hypotheticals in attempts to encourage students to discuss such issues. There are surely few more difficult than those faced by survivors of catastrophes struggling to stay alive in the face of insufficient supplies of food and water. Lon Fuller’s now iconic Case of the Speluncean Explorers has become a classic hypothetical for discussion in jurisprudence courses since it was published in the Harvard Law Review in February 1949. Based loosely on the infamous 19th century cannibalism murder trials of shipwreck survivors in Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 L. Rep. 273 (Q.B. Div. 1884), and U.S. v. Holmes, 26 F. Cas. 360, 1 Wall. Jr. 1 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1842) (No. 15,383), the Case of the Speluncean Explorers asks students to ponder whether a murder has in fact taken place under such circumstances. How might a sitting judge actually rule in such a case?

Georgetown Law Library is fortunate to hold the personal library of Judge Charles E. Wyzanski (1906-1986), which contains a suggestive answer in his annotated copy of Fuller’s Problems of Jurisprudence. Judge Wyzanski began his legal career by clerking for Judge Augustus Noble Hand from 1930-31 and then for Judge Learned Hand in 1932. He then became a leading New Deal lawyer in the Roosevelt administration’s Department of Justice, first as Solicitor of Labor from 1933-35 and then as Special Assistant to the Attorney General in the Office of the Solicitor General from 1935-37. He returned to private practice until 1941 when he was appointed to the District Court for the District of Massachusetts by President Roosevelt. During his tenure on the court from 1941 to 1986 Judge Wyzanski ventured into academia four times. He was a Harvard Lecturer in Government in1942-43, an MIT Lecturer in Law in 1949-50, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford from 1949-1951, and a Visiting Professor of Law at Columbia in 1974. Judge Wyzanski’s annotated copy of Problems of Jurisprudence likely dates from his lectureships at MIT and Stanford.

Judge Wyzanski’s annotated copy of Fuller’s Problems of Jurisprudence

An exhibit containing this book and Judge Wyzanski’s holding is currently in the Special Collections display case outside Williams 210. All of Judge Wyzanski’s books can be found in the library catalog by searching for the collection title – Judge Charles E. Wyzanski Collection.

To access these and other rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell, Curator of Legal History Collections –, or Hannah Miller, Special Collections Librarian –; or, Special Collections – You can also visit us in Special Collections (Williams 210) Monday – Friday from 10am to 6pm.

A Rare Book for Thanksgivukkah

Although the first occurrence of Thanksgivukah would not be until 1888, the first Jewish Thanksgiving sermon was preached a century earlier on Nov. 26th, 1789, by the Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas (1746-1816)  in New York City at the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation Shearith Israel. To mark Thanksgivukkah 2013, Georgetown Law Library Special Collections has acquired a copy of a scarce 1977 Jewish Historical Society of New York reprint of this landmark in American Judiaica.

Seixas 1977r

This 1977 reprint of the exceedingly rare 1789 pamphlet included an introductory historical essay by the long-time Editor and Librarian of the American Jewish Historical Society, Isidore S. Meyer. Dr. Meyer notes Rev. Seixas’ strong exhortation to the small community of Jewish Americans in 1789 (“0.04 percent of the country’s total population”, Meyer at xiii) – “If to seek the peace and prosperity of the city wherein we dwell be a duty [Jeremiah XXIX:7] even under bad governments, what must it be when we are situated under the best of constitutions?”(Seixas at 13-14) – as “an expression of civic responsibility” inspired by having become full citizens of a country “for the first time, since 212 C.E. when the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla… had given all Jewish freemen of the Roman Empire the rights and duties of Roman citizenship,” (Meyer at xii); an apt reminder of the inclusive aspirations of American constitutionalism for Thanksgivukkah 2013.

The full text of the 1789 Thanksgiving Day Sermon is available through the library’s Early American Imprints subscription.

To view these and other recent rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell or Special Collections, or visit us in Williams 210 M-F from 10am to 6pm.

New Special Collections Exhibit: Annotated Imprints – Illuminating the Life of the Law

Scholars researching the history of the law consider law books and related works from the period covered vital sources of information.The value of these sources increases when they contain contemporaneous annotations that can provide vital clues to the mental world of lawyers of the day. If those annotations were made by a significant historical figure, such clues are priceless. Georgetown Law Library’s Special Collections holds several annotated imprints, including:

Sir Edward Coke

Sir Edward Coke’s (1552-1634) copy of the 1569 imprint of De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae [On the Laws and Customs of England] (ca. 1230-50) by Henri de Bracton (1210-1268), the first treatise of English law now commonly known simply as Bracton; and,

Sir Matthew Hale







Sir Matthew Hale’s (1609-1676) copy of the 1640 imprint of one of the most significant medieval chronicle histories of England, Monachi Albanensis Angli Historia Major by Matthew Paris (1200-1259), the 13th century scholar, polymath, and member of the court of Henry III.

Annotated Imprints features selected facsimile images from these two unique books. The exhibit is currently on view in the Special Collections exhibit case outside Rm. 210 in the Williams Library.

To view these and other rare books and historical materials, contact Erin Kidwell – or Special Collections –, or visit us in Williams 210 M-F from 9am to 5pm.

New in Special Collections – Two Early Law Dictionaries


1481 imprint of Jodocus of Erfurt’s Vocabularius


Georgetown Law Library recently acquired a 1481 imprint of the Vocabularius Utriusque Iuris [Vocabulary of Both Laws (i.e. – canon and civil law)] commonly attributed to the 15th century jurist Jodocus of Erfurt. Considered the first printed law dictionary by legal historians, the Vocabularius was first published circa 1474 in Basel. Highly esteemed as an authoritative source by early modern jurists, the Vocabularius went through nearly 80 editions over the course of the next two centuries.

The library’s copy is bound together with a 1488 imprint of the Postilla Super Epistolas et Evangelia, a 1437 collection of scripture excerpts appropriate to use in church services. This pairing would seem to indicate ownership by a canon lawyer or church official.

The binding itself is a beautiful contemporary calf with intricate blind stamping, raised bands, intact and functional brass clasps, and decorative brass corner and center pieces. The Vocabularius also has contemporary hand-lettered rubrications in red throughout (as shown in the image above), as well as a few contemporary or near-contemporary annotations.


1567 imprint of Duprat’s Lexicon Juris Civilis

 Another recent acquisition is a first edition of Pardoux Duprat’s Lexicon Juris Civilis et canonici.  Duprat was a 16th century French humanist and official annotator of the laws of Charles IX of France. The most influential of Duprat’s works, the Lexicon would be printed six more times in just 15 years.  In addition to defining and discussing words and terms from contemporary civil and canon law, Duprat also covered some aspects of ancient Greek law. The breadth of Duprat’s scholarship is revealed by his use of not only works of earlier jurists and legal lexicographers, but of noted medical and literary works as well. His definitions go well beyond merely legal issues to discuss relevant lexicographical and philological matters. Georgetown Law Library’s copy is in a contemporary vellum binding fashioned from a scraped manuscript leaf, the partly erased text of which is still visible.

To view these and other recent rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell or Special Collections, or visit us in Williams 210 M-F from 9am to 5pm.

New Exhibit: A Librarian, a Rare Book, and the Tides of Time

In early May 2012 Georgetown Law Library lost one of our longest serving librarians when the Head of Special Collections, Laura Bédard, passed away unexpectedly at age 55. Laura was the quintessential rare book librarian; she loved both old books and history. Her work gave her ample moments to pursue both these passions, and on one occasion this led her into her own family history. In 2005 we discovered an inscription by an Isadore Bedard in one of our 1829 volume of Les Statuts du Bas-Canada [Statutes of Lower-Canada]. As her family is of French-Canadian descent on her father’s side, Laura began researching her genealogy to see if there was any connection. She was delighted to discover that she and Isadore Bedard were indeed distant relations reunited by the ineffable tides of time.

One of the true joys of working with rare books and legal history is being able to, in a sense, time travel and experience still tangible parts of the past. Special Collections has created a small exhibit in our display case outside of Williams 210 celebrating Laura’s life at Georgetown Law that includes images from this volume of early Canadian statutes.

Two giants of English history meet in a rare book

Matthew Hale’s annotated 1640 imprint of Matthew Paris’ Monachi Albanensis Angli Historia Major 

Georgetown Law Library recently acquired Sir Matthew Hale’s annotated copy of the 1640 imprint of one of the most significant medieval chronicle histories of England, Monachi Albanensis Angli Historia Major by the 13th century scholar, polymath, and member of the court of Henry III – Matthew Paris. Hale’s copy is copiously annotated throughout the sections covering the reign of Henry III with marginal references to significant Year Book cases and Parliamentary Acts.

Hale is one of the great jurists in the history of English law, serving as Chief Baron of the Exchequer from 1660 to 1671, and then as Chief Justice of King’s Bench from 1671 until his death in 1676. He had earlier served as a justice of the Common Bench from 1653 to 1659 under the Cromwellian Commonwealth

In all likelihood, Hale used his copy of the Historia Major as a reference work in preparing his major works on English legal history – the Historia placitorum coronae [History of the Pleas of the Crown] and the History and Analysis of the Common Laws of England – two of the most respected works on the practice of English criminal law and on the history of English law well into the 19th century.  

To view these and other recent rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell in Special Collections, or visit us in Williams 210 M-F from 9am to 5pm.