LITTLETON, SIR THOMAS DE (c. English judge and legal author, was born, it is supposed, at Frankley Manor House, Worcestershire, about 1407. He is said by Sir E. Coke to have "attended one of the universities," but there is no corrobora tion of this statement. He was probably a member of the Inner Temple, and lectured there on the statute of Westminster II., De Donis Conditionalibus. His name occurs in the Paston Letters (ed. J. Gairdner, i. 6o) about 1445 as that of a well-known counsel and in 1481-42 he received a grant of the manor of Sheriff Hales, Shropshire, from a Sir William Trussel as a reward for his services as counsel. He appears to have been recorder of Coventry in 145o; he became serjeant-at-law in 1453 and was afterwards a justice of assize on the northern circuit. In 1466 he was made a judge of the common pleas, and in 1475 a knight of the Bath. He died, according to the inscription on his tomb in Worcester Cathe dral, on Aug. 23, 1481. He married, about Joan, widow of Sir Philip Chetwind of Ingestrie in Staffordshire, and by her had three sons.
His Treatise on Tenures was probably written after he had been appointed to the bench. It is addressed to his second son Richard, who went to the bar, and whose name occurs in the year books of the reign of Henry VII. It was printed in 1481 or 1482, was one of ten earliest books published in London, and the earliest treatise on English law ever printed. There are two mss. of it written when he was alive. The book was written in law French, which was still in use for law books, though proceedings in the courts had to be in English. The essential element of English law at that time was land law, and it is of this that Littleton treats. Unlike the preced ing writers on English law, Glanville, Bracton and the authors of the treatises known by the names of Britton and Fleta, Littleton borrows nothing from the sources of Roman law or the com mentators. He deals exclusively with English law.
The book is written on a definite system, and is the first at tempt at a scientific classification of rights over land. Littleton's method is to begin with a definition, usually clearly and briefly expressed, of the class of rights with which he is dealing. He then proceeds to illustrate the various characteristics and incidents of the class by stating particular instances, some of which refer to decisions which had actually occurred, but more commonly they are hypothetical cases put by way of illustration of his principles. He occasionally refers to reported cases. His book is thus much more than a mere digest of judicial decisions; to some extent he pursues the method which gave to Roman law its breadth and consistency of principle. In Roman law this result was attained through the practice of putting to jurisconsults hypothetical cases to be solved by them. Littleton, in like manner, is constantly stating and solving by reference to principles of law cases which may or may not have occurred in actual practice.
One may summarize the scope of the book by saying that it affords a complete view of the English land-law (that is to say, substantially, of the English law) of the middle ages, before it had become affected by the recognition of equitable rights in land. Not that Littleton was personally unaware of these, as his will shows. The first book of Coke's Institutes is in the form of a commentary on Littleton's Tenures.
BIBLIocRAPHY.—There are three early mss. of Littleton at Cam bridge. The editio princeps is by Letton and Machlinia (1481-82).
There were many editions in the 16th century. The first English traLs lation is by Rastell (between 1514 and 1533). There are many com mentaries, one earlier than Coke. The existing division into sections dates from the edition of West (1581).
See E. Wambaugh, Littleton's Tenures in English (Washington, D.C., 1903).