Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Preface of Sr. Edward Coke, Knight Lord Chiefe Justice of England of Pleas Before the King Himselfe to be Holden Assigned, and One of the Lords of His Majesties Most Honorable Privie Councell. - Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. II
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The Preface of Sr. Edward Coke, Knight Lord Chiefe Justice of England of Pleas Before the King Himselfe to be Holden Assigned, and One of the Lords of His Majesties Most Honorable Privie Councell. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. II 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 2.
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The Preface of Sr. Edward Coke, Knight Lord Chiefe Justice of England of Pleas Before the King Himselfe to be Holden Assigned, and One of the Lords of His Majesties Most Honorable Privie Councell.
Deo, Patriæ, Tibi.5
He that duly considereth (learned Reader) the Theoricke and Practique parts of the laws of England, that is, the Knowledge in universalities, and the Practise in particulars, shall find that most aptly to be applied to this profession that long since was spoken of another, Ars longa, vita brevis, studium difficile, occasio præceps, experimentum periculosum.6 A learned man in the lawes of this realme is long in making, the student thereof, having sedentariam vitam7 is not commonly long lived, the study abstruse and difficult, the occasion sodaine, the practise dangerous. Many have written of the former part, onely one of the later, unlesse you will account that auncient little treatise called Les novel Tales, or Novæ narrationes, to be one; and yet the Active part is as necessarie as the Speculative, for usus & experientia dominantur in artibus;8 and certain it is, that no art can be perfectly attained unto by reading without use and exercise. What auayleth the Serjeant or Apprentice the general knowledge of the laws, if he know not withall the forme and order of legall proceedings in particular cases, and how to plead and handle the same soundly, and most for his Clients advauntage? Good pleading hath three excellent qualities, that is to say (as Littleton saith) it is Honorable, Laudable, and Profitable: Honorable, for he cannot be a good pleader, but he must be of excellencie in judgement, Honor est prœmium excellentiae:9 Laudable for the fame and estimation of the professor, Laus est sermo elucidans magnitudinemscientiæ:10 And profitable for three respects: first, for that good pleading is Lapis lidius11 the touchstone of the true sence of the law: secondly, to the Client whose good cause is often lost or long delayed for want of good pleading, for herein is occasio praeceps & experimentum periculosum12 lastly, to the professor himselfe, who being for skill therein exalted above others, tanquam inter viburna Cupressus13 it cannot be unto him but exceeding profitable. It is true, that of ancient time Judges gave no way to nice and overcurious exceptions to formes of counts or pleadings; nay before the raigne of king Edw. 3. they sometimes gave too much way to the neglect of legall formes in pleading, and that made Sir William de Thirning chiefe Justice of the Court of Common Pleas to say in 12. Hen. 4. 19. Que devant le raigne del Roy Edw. 3. le manner de pleder no fuit forsque feeble, eyant regard que fuit unques puis in temps de cel Roy.14 And I am of opinion, that the neglect of essentiall formes would bring in ignorance and confusion: yet doe I well allow, that men should not be fined pro non pulchre’ placitando,15 or as some Records say pro stultiloquio,16 because the same have beene forbidden by acts of Parliament, videlicet Marlebridge cap.11. Westm. 1. cap. 8. and 1. Edw. 3. cap. 8. Vide Registr’ 179. 13. Edw. 1. tit Attachment 8. & F.N.B. 270. Inter placita de Banco, termin’ Mich. ann. 5. Hen. 3. incipiente Rot’ 10. Dors. Essex. Radulphus de Bardfield qui narravit pro germano filio Turoldi, in misericordia pro stultiloquio:17 which and many other Records doe prove, that the fine in those dayes was set vpon the Councellor and not upon the Client; for it was not holden just that the Client should be fined for the Councellors fault, and that had beene to have added affliction to the afflicted, videlicet18 to fine the Client for erronious pleading, who therefore lost his cause. And Sir Robert de Wilby in Anno 24. Edw. 3. fol. 48. speaking to the Councellors at the barre, Ieo ay vieu le temps, que si vous vibes plead un erronious plea, que vous alastes al prison.19 And even as he that hath a long journey upon weightie affaires that require present dispatch, especially si via fit salebrosa, saxis aspera, sentibus obducta, gurgitibus intercisa, torrentibus rapida &c.20 would be glad of a sure guide that by approved experience could lead him in the right way, both to avoyddangers, and to come with speed to his journeys end; So the professor of the Law (that is presently to plead his Clients cause, which many times is full of obscuritie and difficultie, in the pleading whereof if there be found errour, though the right be good, the cause quaileth) will (I persuade my selfe) be glad of this Booke, contayning many excellent Presidents of Counts, Pleadings, and all other matters fitting almost everie particular Case that can fall out; which being upon mature deliberation sifted, examined, and approved in the highest Courts of Justice, videlicet the Chauncerie, Kings Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, may serve for well experienced guides in his Clients cause, to conduct him in such a way as his Client may avoid daunger, and attaine to his desired end.
What reverence hath beene given by the most reverend Sages of the law to judiciall Presidents, appeareth (amongst many others) in Ellice Case in 39. H. 6. fol. 30. where the opinion of learned Prisot chiefe Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and other Justices, was, That in a writ of Mesne, quele pl’ covient de fine force de surmitter le tenure inter le mesne & Seignior paramout en son Count, ou auterment il ne serra bone: & puis quant Prisot avoit demaund de les prothonotaries le forme de les novel Tales, & ensement que ils avoyent view que les Tales ne fesoyent mention de nultenure in tiel case, & que cest forme avoiet touts foits este use, ils ne voillont chaunger cest use, nient obstant que lour opinion fuit al contrarie, Quia non valet ratio contra experimentum.21
No man can be a compleat Lawyer by universalitie of knowledge without experience in particular cases, nor by bare experience without universalitie of knowledge; he must be both speculative & active, for the science of the laws, I assure you, must joyne hands with experience. Experientia (saith the great Philosopher) est cognitio singularium, ars vero universalium.22 ,23 The learned Sages of the law doe found their judgement upon legall reason and judiciall President; the one they find in our bookes of yeres and termes, the other out of records formerly examined and allowed: These two, Reason and President are clarissima mundi lumina,24 whereby all the wise men of the world are directed: But in these dayes of many it may be justly said, Quod statim sapiunt, statim sciunt omnia, neminem verentur, imitantur neminem, ipsi sibi exempla sunt.25 But it is safe for the Client and for the Councellor also (if he respect his conscience) to follow Presidents formerly approved and allowed, and not to trust to any new frame carved out of his owne invention, for Nihil simul inventum & perfectum est.26
The former Booke of Entries being published at that time when the Authour was beyond the Seas (as in his Preface he confesseth) could not so exactly and perfectly be done (though it be, for many Presidents therein, verie profitable and of good use) as if he had bin at the fountaines head it selfe, and might have had conference with the grave Judges, and well experiensed Prothonotaries, Officers, and Clarkes.
In this Booke six things are worthie of observation. First, that none of the Presidents herein have bin by any published heretofore. 2. That they are of greater authoritie and use, and fitter for the moderne practise of the law, for that they be for the most part of later times, and principally, of the raigne of our late Soveraigne Ladie of ever blessed memorie Queene Elizabeth, and of his most excellent Majestie the King that now is. 3. That for thy further satisfaction (learned Reader) everie President hath a true reference to the Court, yeare, terme, number-roll, and record, where the President it selfe is to be found. 4. In this worke are contayned the records of divers of the cases which in the nine former parts of my Commentaries I have published, with a certaine reference to the report it selfe. 5. Here shall you find Presidents adjudged upon Demurrer, wherein lye hidden many matters of Law and excellent points of learning, which being never reported, here is for thy better light (studious Reader) a short touch given of the reasons and causes whereupon they were adjuged. Lastly, there is an exact and plaine table of Titles, without perplexed and intricat divsions or subdivisions or tedious referments, everie mans owne method and observation in reading, being ever the best and readiest of all others for himselfe. Read these Presidents (learned Reader) and reape in this faire and large field, the delectable and profitable fruits of reverend Experience and Knowledge; which you may doe with greater ease, for that more easily shall you learne by patterne than by precept: and they have beene so painfully and diligently weeded, as it cannot be sayd, that in this fruitfull field,
Infœlix lolium aut steriles dominantur avena.27
Your true and faithfull friend
B. The Compleat Copyholder
The Compleat Copyholder, first published in 1630, is a textbook posthumously built from Coke’s manuscript notes on the ancient estate, the copyhold. Copyholds were one of the most basic tenancies, usually held by villeins, small tenant farmers on manors, or great estates, who paid in rents in money or in kind to their landlords. Their interests were not conveyed by indenture, deed, or by the other grants that specified their protections in their lands. Rather they were written on a list, literally, copied into a court roll. The rights and duties of copyholders were limited but controlled primarily by the custom specific to each manor. Coke was among the first to attempt to state the rights and powers essential to all copyholds, and his cases, treatment of copyhold in the First Institute, and treatment in this volume allowed considerably greater protection for the working agricultural poor than had been given before.—Ed.
[5. ][Ed.: To God, to the country, to you.]
[6. ][Ed.: Professional skill takes a long time, whereas life is short, study difficult, favourable opportunity slippery, experiment dangerous.]
[7. ][Ed.: a sedentary life.]
[8. ][Ed.: In acquiring professional skill, use and experience are the rule.]
[9. ][Ed.: Honour is the prize of excellence.]
[10. ][Ed.: A discourse explaining the greatness of knowledge is a matter for praise.]
[11. ][Ed.: The touchstone.]
[12. ][Ed.: opportunity slippery and experiment dangerous.]
[13. ][Ed.: as great as a cypress among the brushwood.]
[14. ][Ed.: That before the reign of King Edward III the manner of pleading was but weak, having regard to the fact that it never was afterwards in the time of that king.]
[15. ][Ed.: for not pleading finely.]
[16. ][Ed.: for miskenning (speaking badly).]
[17. ][Ed.: Among the pleas of the Bench for Michaelmas term beginning in the fifth year of Henry III, on the dorse of roll 10: Essex. Ralph of Bardfield who counts on behalf of the natural son of Turold, in mercy for miskenning.]
[18. ][Ed.: that is to say.]
[19. ][Ed.: I have seen the time when, if you had pleaded an erroneous plea, you would have gone to prison.]
[20. ][Ed.: if the way is made full of roughness, uneven with rocks, overgrown with thorns, cut through by abysses, rushing with torrents, etc.]
[21. ][Ed.: that the plaintiff must of necessity set out in his count the tenure between the mesne and the lord paramount, or else it is not good: but later, when Prysot (C.J.) had asked the prothonotaries the form in the Novae Narrationes, and (they said) they had seen that the Narrationes did not mention any tenure in such cases, and that this form had always been used, they (i.e. the judges) would not change that usage, even though their opinion was to the contrary.]
[22. ][Ed.: Experience is knowledge of particular things, nay rather the art of general things.]
[23. ][Ed.: Aristotle’s Metaphysics, book 1.]
[24. ][Ed.: the clearest lights of the world,]
[25. ][Ed.: That they are wise straight away, know everything instantly, respect no one, copy no one, set their own precedents.]
[26. ][Ed.: Nothing is invented and perfected at the same time.]
[27. ][Ed.: Barren tares or rather wild oats have dominion.]