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Manser’s Case. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1.
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(Painter v. Manser) (1584) Easter Term, 26 Elizabeth I
In the Court of Common Pleas. First Published in the Reports, volume 2, page 1.*
Ed.: Manser and his son promised Painter to keep certain lands free from legal encumbrances and to sign whatever legal papers Painter required in order to do so. When Painter sent them a legal document to release him of liability, Manser said his son could not read and would not sign it until it had been read to them by a lawyer. When Painter sued Manser, using the appropriate writ of debt, Manser replied in a pleading that he had only delayed to meet with lawyers, that he had maintained the land as promised and that he himself had executed the lease. The court held that a person who cannot read a language asked to sign a document in that language must be allowed to have it read, but this allowance cannot expand the time in which it must be signed and sealed. Manser’s other claims were lost for a failure to plead facts necessary to sustain an affirmative pleading, and Painter won the case. The opinion is notable for its discussion of laymen’s required knowledge of the law, for its use of relative weights of fact in comparing a precedent, and for its instructions on the requirements of pleading. Look also for Coke’s admonition that lawyer’s documents should be written to be understood by the parties who need them.
Between Painter and Manser, the case was such: Painter brought an action of debt upon an obligation against Manser, and the defendant pleads the obligation was with condition; scil. That whereas the defendant had enfeoffed the plaintiff of certain lands, if the plaintiff shall at all times following enjoy those lands discharged, or otherwise kept indemnified from all incumbrances, &c.; and also, if the defendant and John Manser his son, shall do all acts and devices for the better assurance of those lands to him, as by the plaintiff, or his counsel learned in the law, shall be devised, that then the obligation shall be void; And pleaded that the plaintiff had enjoyed the said lands discharged and kept indemnified from all incumbrances, &c.; And that the plaintiff devised a writing of release to be made by the defendant and John his son, to the plaintiff, which the defendant did seal and deliver as his deed; and because his son was not lettered, and could not read, the said John prayed the plaintiff to deliver it to him, to be shewed to some man learned in the law, who might inform him if it was made according to the condition; and said further, that if it was according to the condition, he would deliver it, which the plaintiff refused; wherefore he did not deliver it, as it was lawful he should not: whereupon the plaintiff demurred; and it was adjudged for the plaintiff. In this case three points were resolved.
1st. If a man, not lettered, be bound to make a deed, he is not bound to seal and deliver any writing tendered to him, unless somebody be present who can read the deed to him, if he requires the writing to be read to him; And if the deed be in Latin, French, or other language (which the party who is to execute the writing doth not understand), in such case, if the |[3 b] party demands that one should read and interpret the writing to him, and none be present that can read and expound the tenor of the same in that language that the party who is to deliver the deed understands, there the party may well refuse to deliver it. So although the man can read, yet if the deed be in Latin, French, or other such language as the party who is to execute cannot understand, if he require that the writing be read or expounded to him in such language as he may understand it, and nobody be there to do it, the party may refuse to deliver it. And it is to know that quod ignorantia est duplex, viz. facti & juris; & rursum ignorantia facti (quoad rem nostram attinet) est duplex, videlicet, lectionis & linguae.1 Note, reader, that ignorance in reading, or ignorance of the language, quae sunt ignorantia facti,2 may excuse; but as is commonly said, ignorantia juris non excusat:3 For notwithstanding that there it was said, that although the party can read and knows the language also in which the writing was made, yet he does not know the sense and operation of the words in law, and whether they agree with the condition of his obligation, or not; And therefore some of the justices thought that in such case the party shall have reasonable time to shew the writing to his counsel at law to be instructed by them, whether it be according to what he is bound to do, and namely when there is no time limited in which it is to be done, so as in regard that the other party might request the doing of it when he pleased, it is not possible for the party to have his learned counsel at all times with him: and therefore prima faeie,4 it seemed reasonable, that the party shall have reasonable time, as afore said: But at length, upon the view of the record of a judgment in this Court, anno 16 Eliz. in the time of the Lord Dyer, between Sir Anthony Cook and Wotton, that upon such request made to Sir Anthony Cook by Wotton, to seal an indenture, Sir Anthony, who was not learned in the law, was obliged to seal it peremptorily at his peril, and could not obtain convenient time to consult upon it with his counsel; hereupon it was resolved in the case at the Bar according to the said judgment. See the case now reported by the Lord Dyer. Trinit. 16 Eliz. Dier 337, 338. And it was said, that the case at the Bar was stronger than that of Sir Anthony Cook; for in this case the defendant obliged himself, that his son, who was a stranger to the obligation, should do, &c.: in which case he has undertaken that his son shall do it at his peril; for he that is obliged, undertakes more for a stranger than for himself in many cases. Vide 33 Hen. 6. 16b. 36 Hen. 6. 8. 2 Edw. 4. 2. 15 Edw. 4. 5b. 22 Edw. 4. 43. and 10 Hen. 7. 14b.
2d. It was resolved, that the [Defendant’s] pleading was insufficient: for he hath pleaded, that the plaintiff had enjoyed the |[4 a] land discharged and kept harmless from incumbrances, where he ought to have shewed how: So if he had pleaded, that he had saved him harmless, he ought to have shewed how; but in such case, if he had pleaded in the negative, non fuit damnificatus,5 there it is otherwise. Secondly, he hath pleaded, quod quoddam scriptum relaxationis,6 was sealed and delivered, and doth not shew whether the release concerns the lands mentioned in the condition; and for all these causes the plaintiff had judgment to recover.
Note reader, there is great reason, that the writing should be expounded in such language, that the party may understand it, although he could read; because, by the law, he is at his peril to deliver it presently upon request, and hath not time to consult upon it with learned counsel.
[* ][Ed.: The pleadings are recorded at Pasch. 26 Eliz. Rot. 1608.]
[1. ][Ed.: Whereas ignorance is of a dual nature, to wit, of fact and law, and returning to ignorance of fact (to the degree that it is our concern here), it is (also) of a dual nature, that is, of the text and of the language.]
[2. ][Ed.: Which are ignorance of facts.]
[3. ][Ed.: Ignorance of the law does not excuse (its breach).]
[4. ][Ed.: on first sight; presumptively,]
[5. ][Ed.: he was not damaged,]
[6. ][Ed.: that a certain deed of release,]