Littleton, Thomas

, a celebrated English judge, descended of an ancient family, was the eldest son of Thomas Westcote, of the county of Devon, esq. by Elizabeth, daughter and sole-heir of Thomas Littleton or Lyttleton, of Frankley in Worcestershire, in compliance with whom she consented that the issue, or at least the eldest son, of that marriage should take the name of Lyttleton, and bear the arms of that family. He was born about the beginning of the fifteenth century at Frankley. Having laid a proper foundation of learning at one of the universities, he removed to the Inner-Temple; and, applying himself to the law, became very eminent in that profession. The first notice we have of his distinguishing himself is from his learned lectures on the statute of Westminster, “de donis conditionalibus,” “of conditional gifts.” He was afterwards made, by Henry VI. steward or judge of the court of the palace, or marshalsea of the king’s household, and, in May 1455, king’s serjeant, in | which capacity he went the Northern circuit as a judge of the assize. Upon the revolution of the crown, from the house of Lancaster to that of York) in the time of Edward IV. our judge, who was now made sheriff of Worcestershire, received a pardon from that prince; was continued in his post of king’s serjeant, and also in that of justice of assi/r for the same circuit. This pardon passed in 1462, the second year of Edward IV.; and, in 1466, he was appointed one of the judges of the court of Common Pleas. The same year, he obtained a writ to the commissioners of the customs of London, Bristol, and Kingston-upon-Hull, enjoining them to pay him a hundred and ten marks annually, for the better support of his dignity; a hundred and six shillings and eleven pence farthing, to furnish him whh a furred robe; and six shillings and six-pence more, for another robe called Li num. In 1473, we find him residing near St. Sepulchre’s church, London, in a capital mansion, the property of the abbot of Leicester, which he held on lease at the yearly rent of 1 <'>.-. In 1475 he was created, among others, knight of the Hath, to grace the solemnity of conferring that order upon the king’s eldest son, then prince of Wales, afterwards Edward V. He continued to enjoy the esteem of his sovereign and the nation, on account of his profound knowledge of the laws of England, till his death, Aug. 23, 1481, the day after the date of his will. He was then said to be of a good old age, but its precise length has not been ascertained. He was honourably interred in the cathedral church of Worcester, where a marble tomb, with his statue, was erected to his memory; his picture was also placed in the church of Frankley; and another in that of Hides-Owen, where his descendants purchased a good estate. He married, and had three sons, William, Richard, and Thomas. Kichard, bred to the law, became eminent in thut profession; and it was for his use that our judge drew up his celebrated treatise on tenures or titles, which will probably hand his name down to the latest posterity. The judge’s third son, Thomas, was knighted by Henry VII. for taking Lambert Simnel, the pretended earl of Warwick. His eldest son and successor, sir William Littleton, after living many years in great splendour, at Frankley, died in 1508; and from this branch the late celebrated lord Lyttelton of Frankley co. Worcester, who was created a baron of Great Britain, Nov. 1756, derived his pedigree; | but who, owing to the alteration in the spelling of the name (which, however, appears unnecessary) will occur in a future part of this work.

The memory of judge Littleton is preserved by his “Tenures” and the various editions through which his book has passed are the best evidence of its worth. Dr. Middleton supposes the first edition to have been that printed in French by Lettou and Machlima, near the church of All-Saints, or All-Hallows, in London, without date: and he thinks that it was put to press by the author himself in 1481, the year he died; but lord Coke supposes the French edition in folio, printed without date, at Rouen, by W. Le Tailleur, for R. Pinson, to have been the first. The point however has not yet been settled; and perhaps cannot now be settled with precision. The various opinions on the subject may be found in our authorities. That it was often reprinted is a matter of less doubt: the editions from 1539 to 1639 only, amount to twenty-four. The original composition of this celebrated work is justly esteemed as the principal pillar on which the superstructure of the law of real property in this kingdom is supported; and the valuable “Commentary” of lord Coke has uniformly been considered, by the most eminent lawyers, as the result and repository of all his learning on the subjects there treated. Of this work a republication was made in folio, 1738, which, independent of the valuable annotations of lord Hale and lord chancellor Nottingham, has been greatly improved by the learning and indefatigable labours of Mr. Hargrave and Mr. Butler. There was a book written in the reign of Edward III. which is called “Oki Tenures,” to distinguish it from Littleton’s book. It gives an account of the various tenures by which land was holdeu, the nature of estates, and some other incidents relating to landed property. It is a very scanty tract, but has the merit of having led the way to Littleton’s famous work. 1


Biog. Brit.^-Dibdin’s Typographical Antiquities. Bridgmau’s Legal Bibliography. Reeves’s Hist, of English Laws.