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SUMMARY - Theodore Frank Thomas Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law 
A Concise History of the Common Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
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Equity is often spoken of as a supplement or an appendix to the common law; a mediaeval lawyer would perhaps have caught our meaning better if we were to say that it is a sort of gloss written by later hands around an ancient and venerable text. Law books were particularly apt to accumulate such glosses (Coke’s gloss on Littleton is the latest English example). In a sense, the gloss and the text are a unity, an expanded version of the original, and the two must be read together. This does not mean, however, that there may not be conflict and contradiction between text and gloss; still less does it mean that there will be a logical and systematic distribution of material between the text and the gloss. It is commonly observed, however, that the gloss tends to grow in importance. It may corrupt the text at points; it will often be clearer, representing a later state of learning with new facts, and more elaborate thought. It often happened in the end that the gloss was of more practical importance than the original.
The simile we have just suggested is more than a mere figure of speech, for it is in fact a deduction from the mediaeval habits of study. Reverence for authority made it necessary to preserve ancient texts, such as the Corpus Juris, but the practical demands of daily life made it equally necessary to have the gloss which alone made the system workable. This reconciliation between two divergent instincts seems to lie at the root of the scheme of law and equity as it existed, say, in the reign of Henry VII, when the relations between them were fairly friendly. But there were seeds of dissension. When the text is the sacred book of one profession and the gloss the work of another, the unity of the two may be in peril. This happened when canonists wrote a gloss, so to speak (and a distinctly “equitable” one), on the texts of the civilians; and to some extent it happened, too, when chancellors glossed the common law.
Neither theory nor practice required the administration of law and equity to be assigned to different institutions; in practice, courts of law could administer equity whenever the need arose. Thus Beaumanoir1 at the end of his book discusses some situations when law should be tempered with equity. In England (but not in Scotland) equity became the special concern of the chancery which administered equity, while the historical courts continued to administer law.2 Institutional history has therefore had a confusing effect upon the result. More especially, the accidents of history made equity a fragmentary thing. First one point, then another, was developed, but at no time was it the theory or the fact that equity would supplement the law at all places where it was unsatisfactory; consequently it has never been possible to erect a general theory of equity. In the last resort, we are always reduced to a more or less disguised enumeration of the historical heads of equity jurisdiction.
Finally, just as we have spoken of the common law as the custom and practice of the common law courts, so we might, with equal truth, describe equity as the custom of the Chancery. The decisive test for the existence or not of an equitable rule or remedy is to be found in a search of the records and decisions of the court of Chancery and its modern successors. There are indeed a number of maxims which have almost attained the dignity of principles; but deduction alone will not reveal the content of our system of equity. The only authoritative source is the custom of the court, and that must be gathered from an examination of the cases.