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Henry de Bracton
Also called HENRY OF BRACTON.
A famous English juridical writer, the Blackstone of the thirteenth century, b. probably in King John's reign and died about four years before the close of that of Henry III. His lifetime therefore comprised and almost coincided with the momentous period between the grant of Magna Charta and the defeat and death of Simon of Montfort, Earl of Leicester, at the battle of Evesham. By birth, property, and ecclesiastical preferment he appears to have been a man of Devon, in which shire there are two parishes of the name of Bratton, viz., Bratton-Clovelly and Bratton-Fleming, one or the other of these parishes being almost certainly his birthplace, for he claim of Minehead parish in Somerset, may be dismissed as untenable. Hence it may be gathered that the correct form of this great jurist's name is hardly Bracton, but rather Bratton, by which appellation, as well as by the occasional variant of Bretton (most likely then sounded much like Bratton) he was almost invariably described in his own day, not to add that, in point of etymology, "Bradtone" (broad town) seems likelier than "Bractone" to have been the earlier form of the name. To come to his laborious and distinguished career, it is said that Bratton in his youth was a student at the University of Oxford, where he is further alleged to have taken the degree of doctor of civil and canon law but this, though indeed possible, is altogether lacking of proof. Certain it is that he was taken into the service of King Henry III. By this time the kings curia had grown distinct from King's Council and a race of professional judges had sprung into existence. Of these professional judges Henry Bratton became one. It is in 1245 that we first find him acting in a judicial capacity, and from that year onward we continually meet with him either as a justice in Eyre (especially in his native Devon and other neighbouring counties) or as holding please before the king himself, until the end of the year 1267. Thus he was undoubtedly a regular permanent judge, though he never appears as holding placito de banco, in other words, as sitting on the Bench at Westminster. Meanwhile more than one special mark of royal favour towards him is upon record. Yet in the civil broils of his time he was neither side's partisan and was respected and trusted alike by king and barons. Of his great and epoch-making literary work, "De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ", Professor Paul Vinogradoff (the Athenæum, 19 July, 1884) writes that it is a treatise which "testifies to the influence of Roman jurisprudence and of its medieval exponents, but at the same time remains a statement of genuine English law, a statement so detailed and accurate that there is nothing to match it in the whole legal literature of the Middle Ages." The number of decided cases therein referred to (for Bratton's law is naturally case-law) amounts o four hundred and fifty. Like all or almost all of the professional judges of his time, Bratton was an ecclesiastic. His known church preferments are Barnstaple archdeaconry, conferred upon him in 1264, but which the same year he quitted for the chancellorship of Exeter cathedral, retaining this latter dignity until his death in 1268. At his decease he enjoyed like wise a cononry, and prebend as well, in Exeter cathedral church, as in the collegiate church of Bosham. All these benefices were of the Bishop of Exeter's gift. At the same time as the king's clerk engaged in the kings business, Bracton could seldom or never have kept residence. His body was buried in Exeter cathedral, before an altar at which he had founded a perpetual chantry for his soul. Of Bratton's great and comprehensive treatise "De Legibus", etc., written before 1259, the first printed edition was published in 1569 in folio, and reprinted in quarto in 1640. A recension and translation of the whole work in six volumes, by Sir Travers Twiss, was issued in London (Rolls publications) from 1878 to 1883.
FOSS, Biographical Dictionary of the Judges of England (London, 1886), VI; MAITLAND, Bracton's Note Book (London, 1887), for biography see introd. pp. 13-25.
C. T. Boothman.