59 A.B.A. J. 753 (1973)
Tracing the Origins of the Court of King's Bench

handle is hein.journals/abaj59 and id is 753 raw text is: Tracing the Origins of the Court of King's Bench
by Frederick Bernays Wiener

The seventh and last volume of Select Cases in
the Court of King's Bench, edited by George
0. Sayles, concludes the most intensive study of
any medieval common law court ever undertaken.
Volume 88 of the Selden Society series covers
the work of the Court of King's Bench during the
reigns of Richard I1, Henry IV, and Henry V.
L ATE IN 1971 the Selden Society published the
seventh and last volume of Select Cases in the
Court of King's Bench, edited by Prof. George 0.
Sayles, concluding the most intensive study of any
medieval common law court ever undertaken. It is
Volume 88 (1971) of the Selden Society series and
covers the reigns of Richard 1I, Henry IV, and Henry
V. The other six volumes also were published in the
Selden Society series: Volumes 55 (1936), 57 (1938),
and 58 (1939) spanned the reign of Edward I Volume
74 (1955) that of Edward II; and Volumes 76 (1958)
and 82 (1961) the time of Edward 11I.
Nearly half a century was consumed in the effort,
which involved reading many hundreds of plea rolls,
each containing scores of membranes, each mem-
brane, as Maitland put it. as long as one's arm,
as broad as one's span, each membrane covered back
and front with writing, writing generally couched in
abbreviated Latin that is quite illegible as well as
unintelligible to anyone without considerable experience
in what, realistically speaking, is an essentially crypto-
graphic exercise.
Significant cases were copied from these rolls, ex-
panded to eliminate abbreviations, and then translated,
so that, as is customary in Selden Society volumes,
the original appears on the left-hand page, the English
translation on the facing page. Extensive research in
other manuscript sources-letters, ancient petitions,
warrants, and memoranda rolls-yielded information,
supplementary to what was found in the plea rolls,
bearing on a host of related subjects. Accurate lists
of judges, clerks, and legal representatives of the king
were prepared.
Each of the seven volumes, which print in the

aggregate 670 separate cases, as well as 197 additional
illustrative documents-not, alas, translated  are pre-
ceded by elaborate introductions that explain, elucidate,
and illuminate the work of the Court of King's Bench
for a century and a half of its history, from the first
year of Edward I's reign (1272) through the end of
Henry V's (1422).
In consequence of having gone to the records, of
having dirtied his hands with the documents-in short,
of having complied with the best evidence rule-
Professor Sayles demonstrates the utter lack of founda-
tion for assertions going back to Lord Coke, and since
then religiously repeated without further question or
inquiry, and explains why in England alone among
all other European countries there were twin courts,
each doing essentially the same work.
In 1923 George Sayles, who is not a lawyer, was
in his early twenties and had completed war service-
second lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters-as well
as postwar undergraduate studies at Glasgow University.
He received a grant from the Carnegie Trust for the
Universities of Scotland to study the early history of
the English Parliament. Pollard in his 1920 work,
The Evolution of Parliament, then highly acclaimed,
had gravely announced that some of the contents of
the printed 'Rolls of Parliament' are suspiciously like
the coram rege rolls of the King's bench which had
hardly in Edward I's reign been differentiated from
the king's council. So young Mr. Sayles, whose sole
interest then lay in the origins and development of
Parliament, undertook to read the rolls of the Court
of King's Bench, a process that was to last forty-eight
years and produce a series of seven epochal volumes
-a most ironic result, since the sentence that impelled
the editor to this monumental task was completely
and utterly wrong.
Professor Sayles was not the first to read the rolls
of the Court of King's Bench; that distinction belonged
to Arthur Agarde, a deputy chamberlain of the ex-
chequer from 1570 to 1615. Agarde began work on
those in 1586 and by 1608 had covered the period
1272-1422. He wrote in one of his notebooks that
After thirty-four years spent in examining these rec-
ords and other registers and after the assiduous reading
of them had become wearisome to mind and harmful
to body, he at last decided to set a limit to his labours,
having learned from experience that, in the words of
Solomon, to the making of books there is no end.

July, 1973 9 Volume 59 753

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