The Hobbit – Some Thoughts on the 75th Anniversary

On 21 September 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit” was published by George Allen and Unwin. It has remained in print ever since, and in December the first film of a “Hobbit” trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson will be released.

Is the publication of the Hobbit an historical anniversary? Richard Cavendish, writing in History Today, thinks so. He observes:

“When The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was published by George Allen & Unwin in

The Hobbit Dust Jacket – First Edition

London, with a dust jacket based on the author’s own design, it received glowing reviews. The Times admired ‘a happy fusion of the scholar’s with the poet’s grasp of mythology’ and the book appealed to adults as well as children. It sold very well and has remained in print ever since. The publishers naturally wanted more and The Hobbit proved to be the forerunner of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s epic story of a titanic struggle between good and evil, published in three volumes in 1954-55, which has sold more than 150 million copies and is an acknowledged classic.”

Publishing The Hobbit

How “The Hobbit” came to be  published is fairly well known. Tolkien had shown the completed typescript of the book to one of his former pupils, Elaine Griffiths, who became a family friend. On Tolkien’s recommendation, Griffiths was engaged by George Allen & Unwin to revise a translation of Beowulf. One day, in 1936, Susan Dagnall, a member of Allen & Unwin’s staff came to Oxford to talk with Griffiths about her project. From her she learned of the existence of an unfinished children’s story written by Professor Tolkien. On Griffiths suggestion, Dagnall visited Tolkien at his home in Northmoor Rd., Oxford and asked to borrow the manuscript. She was given it and took it back to London. She read it and decided it was worthy of consideration, although she stopped just after the death of Smaug. However, she returned it to Tolkien and suggested that he finish the work so that it might be considered for publication the following year.

The manuscript, entitled The Hobbit or There and Back Again was completed in October 1936 and

Ruskin House – former home of George Allen & Unwin – Museum St London

sent to Allen & Unwin’s offices in Museum St (the sign is still there although the publishing house has been long gone). But was it completed before this?

The firm’s chairman, Sir Stanley Unwin, believed that the best judge of children’s books were children themselves and handed The Hobbit to his 10 year old son Rayner (who in later years became Tolkien’s publishing mentor and friend). Rayner wrote the following report:

“Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who lived in his hobbit-hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his dwarves perswaded him to go. He had a very exiting time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they got to the lonely mountain; Smaug the dragon who gawreds it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home – rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9”[1]

Rayner was paid a shilling for the report and the book was accepted for publication. However, it was decided, contrary to Rayner’s recommendation, that the book did in fact require illustrations and Tolkien submitted some of his own drawings and eight of his blacvk and white illustrations were accepted. He had also prepared maps which were used as end-papers, meaning that Tolkien’s plan for “invisible lettering” on Thror’s map could not be realised.

The page proofs were sent to Tolkien in February 1937 and characteristic of his writing became immediately apparent – revisions! He decided that there should be substantial changes for he had let the manuscript go without checking it with his usual thoroughness and he was unhappy about a number of passages in the story. He found inconsistencies in the topography, details which only the most painstaking reader would notice.[2] He was uncomfortable with some passages where he considered the style to be patronising and in a few days had covered the proofs with many alterations.

The book was published on 21 September 1937. Tolkien was nervous about the Oxford reaction. He was holding a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and wondered how he would convince people that the book was not the fruits of research for 1936 – 7. He need not have worried. Oxford paid the book almost no attention.

But that was not the case elsewhere. The book received an accolade in the Times and his fellow Inkling and friend C.S. Lewis, reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, was responsible for getting the notice in the senior publication. The first edition sold out by Christmas.[3] In the United States it was awarded the New York Herald Tribune prize for the best juvenile book of the season. Stanley Unwin wrote to Tolkien, advising that the public would want to hear more about hobbits. But that was not to be – until 29 July 1954 when The Fellowship of the Ring was published.

But when did the journey of writing The Hobbit begin? The evidence is often unclear and at times contradictory, as to the manner in which and the time at which the book was started.

When and How it Began

Tolkien himself was unable to remember the precise origins of the book. In one account he said: ‘I am not sure but I think the Unexpected Party (the first chapter) was hastily written before 1935 but certainly after 1930 when I moved to 20 Northmoor Road.’ Elsewhere he wrote: ‘On a blank leaf I scrawled “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of Thror’s Map. But it became The Hobbit in the early nineteen-thirties.’[4]

Other evidence for the commencement of the book confirms at least the basic circumstances:

 “Two … English boys … asked Mr. Tolkien how he happened to write The Hobbit. He replied that he was in the midst of correcting 286 examination papers one day when he suddenly turned over one of the papers and wrote: ‘At the edge of his hole stood the Hobbit.’ As he later tried to think just who and what this Hobbit was, his amazing story developed.”[5]

 “The actual beginning- though it’s not really the beginning, but the actual flashpoint I remember very clearly. I can still see the comer of my house in 20 Northmoor Road where it happened. I had an enormous pile of exam papers there. Marking school examinations in the summertime is very laborious and unfortunately also boring. And I remember picking up a paper and actually finding – I nearly gave an extra mark for it; an extra five marks, actually – there was one page of this particular paper that was left blank. Glorious! Nothing to read. So I scribbled on it, I can’t think why, In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”[6]

 “It all began when I was reading exam papers to earn a bit of extra money. That was agony. One of the tragedies of the underpaid professor is that he has to do menial jobs. He is expected to maintain a certain position and to send his children to good schools. Well, one day I came to a blank page in an exam book and I scribbled on it. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. I knew no more about the creatures <sic> than that, and it was years before his story grew. I don’t know where the word came from. You can’t catch your mind out. It might have been associated with Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. 2 Certainly not rabbit, as some people think. Babbitt has the same bourgeois smugness that hobbits do. His world is the same limited place.”[7]

What followed was a form of story development as Tolkien told the story to his children. This in itself has given rise to contradictory evidence about the dating of the commencement of the idea. Although Tolkien places it after the move to Northmoor Rd, family recollections place it earlier.

Michael Tolkien, the author’s second son stated in his unpublished memoirs that he:

“clearly recalled his father standing with his back to the fire in his study at 22 Northmoor Road and saying that he was going to start telling his sons ‘a long story about a small being with furry feet, and asked us what he should be called – then, answering himself, said “I think we’ll call him a ‘Hobbit’.”‘ (quoted in Christopher Tolkien’s Foreword, p. vi). Father John Tolkien, the eldest son (1917-2003), was equally definite that the story began before the move from 22 to number 20 Northmoor Road: ‘The first beginnings of the Hobbit were at 22 Northmoor Road; in my father’s study, the room to the left of the front door as one looks at the house. I remember clearly the wood block floor, mats etc …. [T]here were no family readings for us all in 20 Northmoor Road, where we moved early in 1930. I was 12+ & I think could read for myself! The room with its many bookshelves was not conducive to that son of thing. As far as I remember the readings were always in the study … The Hobbit started with a couple or so chapters, to which if we were lucky a couple or more would be added at the next Christmas … I went to boarding school in September 1931 and so although very close to the family, all sorts of stories may have been told which I cannot date. ‘  Carpenter, writing in 1976, notes that Michael and John Tolkien ‘are not certain that what they were listening to at that time was necessarily a written story: they believe that it may well have been a number of impromptu tales which were later absorbed into The Hobbit proper’ (Carpenter, p. 177). In support of his claim for an earlier origin of the book, in his guest-of-honor speech to the Tolkien Society’s Annual Dinner in May 1977 Michael described the stories he and his brothers and sister had written in imitation of The Hobbit.  Michael recounts that these stories were populated by characters like Philpot Huggins, Ollum the giant frog, blokes (hobbits), smellers (wolves), the dwarves Roary, Borey, Gorey, Biffer, Trasher, Gasher, Beater, Bomber, Lammer, Throw-in (the chief dwarf), and young Blow-in and Go-in; Alben Bolger the troll, joshers, snargs, and the wizards Kimpu, Mandegar, and Scandalf the Beanpiper. Michael Tolkien dated his own contributions to this family apocrypha to 1929, when he was nine years old (Michael Tolkien, May 1977 speech; see also Christopher Tolkien, Foreword, p. vi), and thus argued that The Hobbit must have been begun by that date.

 While it is quite likely that many elements incorporated into The Hobbit came from family lore predating the book … and The Hobbit was undoubtedly influenced by the other stories Tolkien read his children in the ‘Winter Reads’ (which, despite Fr. John’s comment, continued to at least 1936 and probably beyond), Michael’s own account provides evidence that the stories he describes could not have preceded the actual writing of the book; too many of the names are parodies of forms that only emerged at a later stage, well into the composition of the manuscript. For example, Scandalf the wizard and Throw-in the head dwarf are clearly modelled on Gandalf and Thorin – but for the first two-thirds of the story the wizard was named Bladorthin and for more than half of it the chief dwarf is named Gandalf, not Thorin; these two characters seem not to have received their now-familiar names until around 1932. Furthermore, Tolkien himself is quite clear on the point that he made up the name ‘hobbit’ spontaneously at the moment of writing it down – that is, that the word itself emerged in a written text.

 The most specific proof may be found in a commentary Tolkien wrote on the text for the dust-jacket for The Hobbit and sent to his publisher accompanying a letter dated 31st August 1937, in which he remarked ‘My eldest boy was thirteen when he heard the serial. It did not appeal to the younger ones who had to grow up to it successively’ ( cf. Letters p. 21). Since John Tolkien was born on 16th November 1917, the events Tolkien is recalling here could not have taken place before the end of 1930; furthermore, Tolkien notes that ‘the younger ones’ (Michael was born 22nd October 1920 and Christopher 21st November 1924 and were thus respectively about nine and five in the summer of 1930, while Priscilla was still an infant, having been born in 1929) showed little interest at the time. Michael’s account not only contains inconsistencies but directly contradicts both the evidence of the manuscript and the accounts set down by his father, both at the time of the book’s publication and many years later. Given these facts, we should feel fully justified in accepting the word of the author recorded closer to the event over the childhood memories of a member of the original audience set down some 45 to 50 years after the fact.”[8]

 Thus we can safely say that composition commenced no earlier than summer of 1930 and there is other evidence to support this in the form of letters and memoranda set down by Stanley Unwin, C.S. Lewis, Christopher Tolkien and Tolkien himself. Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves as follows:

 “Since term began I have had a delightful time reading a children’s story which Tolkien has just written. I have told of him before: the one man absolutely fitted, if fate had allowed, to be a third in our friendship in the old days, for he also grew up on W. Morris and George Macdonald. Reading his fairy tale has been uncanny – it is so exactly like what we wd. both have longed to write (or read) in 1916: so that one feels he is not making it up but merely describing the same world into which all three of us have the entry. Whether it is really good (I think it is until the end) is of course another question: still more, whether it will succeed with modern children.”[9]

 It may therefore be concluded that the manuscript was probably finished between the end of 1932 and the beginning og 1933 and that it was given to Lewis for comment. It is clear that Lewis had a complete story, for he makes reference to the final chapters.

The “Father Christmas Letters” for 1932 and 1933 incorporate aspects of “The Hobbit” world with the introduction of goblins and details such as characters becoming lost in goblin-caves, being rescued by an ancient and magical bear, and finding themselves besieged by hordes of goblins

Christopher Tolkien made reference to “The Hobbit” in one of his letter to Father Christmas where he states:

“He {JRRT] wrote it ages ago, and read it to John, Michael, and me in our winter ‘reads’ after tea in the evening; but the ending chapters were rather roughly done, and not typed out at all; he finished it about a year ago.”[10]

 The problem with inconsistencies arises mainly as a result of later recollections. Rateliff is critical of Carpenter’s conclusions about the dating of “The Hobbit” as well as its state as completed or uncompleted. Rateliff, after a very careful analysis of the evidence, concludes as follows:

“The external evidence of the date of the move and the weight of the contemporary documentary evidence (especially Lewis’s letter to Arthur Greeves and the 1932 Father Christmas letter) between them establish a consistent body of evidence which agrees with all the facts of Tolkien’s other recollections. Accordingly, we may state with some confidence that the story was indeed begun in the summer of 1930 and completed in January 1933.”[11]

 This analysis is essentially confirmed by Scull and Hammond.[12]

The Bigger Picture

What readers of The Hobbit did not appreciate was that there was a deeper “back story” to the Hobbit and the world in which it was set. Tolkien’s publishers were unaware of it, when Stanley Unwin requested more hobbit stories, although Lewis and The Inklings were aware of Tolkien’s development of the Mythology for England. In his excellent edition of the manuscript of The Hobbit John Rateliff presents us not only with the way in which the story was created and developed through changes, recasting and emendations but he also places the story into the Middle-earth context. For example, one of the versions, referred to as the Bladorthin typescript, makes reference to the mines of Moria drawing us into the wandering of the dwarves from the end of the First Age when the cities of Nogord and Belegost in the Blue Mountains were ruined at the breaking of Thangorodrim. Belegost and Nogrod are indicated “off-map” in a drawing of a map completed by Tolkien in the mid to late 1920’s.[13]

The origins of the Necromancer – Sauron in The Lord of the Rings – goes back to the end of The Book of Lost Tales period where he is known as Tu, a pupil of Melko, who escaped from Valinor after the destruction of the Two Trees and set up a wizard kingship in the middle lands. Yet although Tu learned much black magic from Melkop he was not evil. A second character appears known as Fukil, Fankil or Fangli who was a servant of Melko and who corrupted the newly awakened humans. Neither of these characters appear after Lost Tales but a synthesised character named Thu – also known as Gorthu or Sauron – appears in The Lay of Leithian –  an  continues to play a major part in the mythology thereafter.

This information leads us to answer the suggestion that Peter Jackson is squeezing the 255 pages of The Hobbit until the pips squeak by making a movie trilogy of the book. There clearly is a back story – not only in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings but also in Tolkien’s deeper mythology. It seems to me that The Hobbit may be a little more than a cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s book, but a tale with a deeper background hinted at in the manuscripts but which may now be made a little clearer.

[1] The text of the report is taken (complete with spelling errors) from Humphrey Carpenter J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1977)  180 – 181

[2] Although he may not have realised it he was anticipating a large and critical fan audience that developed especially after the publication of The Lord of the Rings.

[3] The value of the first edition, first impression with a slip case is in the vicinity of $11,000

[4] Carpenter above n. 1 p. 177. Tolkien was marking examination papers and the lines were written on a blank page od a script. The source for Tolkien’s comment is in a letter to W.H. Auden – see Humphrey Carpenter(ed) The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin, London 1981) p.215

[5] Ruth Harshaw, ‘When Carnival of Books Went to Europe’, ALA Bulletin, February 1957, p. 120 in John D. Rateliff The History of the Hobbit: Part One – Mr. Baggins (Harper Collins London 2007) p. xii

[6] Tolkien in Oxford, BBC Television, 1968. Ibid. Rateliff

[7] The Man Who Understands Hobbits’, Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, early 1967; Daily Telegraph Magazine, 22nd March 1968, pages 31-32. Ibid. Rateliff  p.xiii

[8] Ibid Rateliff p. xiv – xv (footnotes omitted)

[9] Letter of 4th February 1933 from C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves; They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves,ed. Walter Hooper [1979], p. 449 – see Rateliff ibid. p.xv

[10] Ibid Rateliff p. xvii

[11] Ibid. p. xx

[12] Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: The Readers Guide (Harper Collins, London 2006) under the entry “The Hobbit” p. 384 et seq.

[13] See Christopher Tolkien (ed) The Shaping of Middle-earth (George Allen & Unwin, London 1986) plate between pp 220 – 221


Bosworth Field and the new Information Technology

The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought on 22 August 1485 and brought to an end the Plantagenet dynasty which had reigned over England from the days of Henry II. The debate about whether Richard III was as bad as Shakespeare painted him will continue. We have got to remember that Shakespeare was a child of his time. His queen was the grand-daughter of the victor of Bosworth – Henry VII – and it didn’t do to upset the ruler. The Tudors were very concerned with image – the subject of the late Kevin Sharpe’s excellent book Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth Century England[1]. The sources available to Shakespeare may have included Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland,[2] Thomas More’s History of Richard III [3]  and  Polydore Vergil’s Historia Anglica[4]. Shakespeare’s Richard III was written in 1591 when all of these sources and possibly some others would have been available.

What is important is that all these works were in print and although Vergil’s book was printed in Basle, it is not inconceivable that copies found their way to England. The book was in Latin and would therefore have avoided the restrictions on importation of books printed overseas in English – a protectionist move for the benefit of English printers and latterly to prevent the importation of works which were anti-Elizabeth and designed to appeal to recusant Catholics.

Both Richard III and his successor Henry VII were aware of and fostered the development of the of a new information technology – the printing press.

The printing press had been introduced to England by William Caxton who learned the trade in Bruges. He set up the first press in Westminster during the reign of Edward IV.

Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster (1851 Daniel Maclise (1811–1870)

The early history of print in England up until 1513 is characterised by two factors. The first is that within eight years of the introduction of the press there was legislation in place to enable the industry to develop. The second was an absence of native born English printers, with the exception of Caxton.[5]  This was not unusual in the early history of the spread of the new technology. As the printing press spread through Germany, German craftsmen took it to other countries and in doing so passed on the skills of the craft to the natives of the new country, who in turn took the new craft with them to other countries.[6] John Lettou, of Lithuanian origin, established himself in the City in 1480 and in 1482 was joined in partnership by William de Machlinia, a native of Mechlin in Flanders.[7]  Together, in 1481, they printed a well-known law book  Tenores Novelli.[8] This was the first law book printed in England.

English authorities were often concerned at the impact that aliens had upon trade and commerce in England and often steps were taken to limit the foreign dominance of aspects of trade important to England. Foreigners were divided into two categories – aliens and denizens – and in any new regulatory activities dealing with foreign trade, it was against the aliens that the steps were initially taken. Denizens, who were foreigners who had been admitted to residence and who had certain rights,[9] could find themselves restricted in their activities.

So it was that in 1483 Parliament petitioned Richard III to address grievances against Italians[10] who, it was claimed were price fixing, buying up imported goods and re-selling them, sending their profits and bringing in other foreigners to work with them. As a result, the King’s subjects were unemployed and had turned to idleness with a consequent increase in the numbers of thieves and beggars. It was claimed that the inhabitants of “Citees Burghes and Townes in late daies have fallen and dailly falle unto grete poverty and dekay.”[11]

However, this statute, designed to severely regulate the conditions under which aliens could trade in England, contained a proviso which reads as follows:

“Provided alwey that this Acte or any part thereof, or any other Acte made or to be made in this present Parliament, in no wise extende or be prejudiciall any lette hurte or impediment to any Artificer or merchant straungier of what Nacion or Contrey he be or shalbe of, for bryngyng into this Realme, or sellyng by retaill or otherwise, of any man’s bokes written or imprinted, or for inhabitynge within the said Realme for the same intent or to any writer lympner bynder or imprinter of suche bokes as he hath or shall have to sell by wey of merchaundise, or for their abode in the same Reame for the exercising of the said occupacions; this Acte or any parte therof notwithstanding”[12]

This is a most significant proviso. It has been suggested that its inclusion was at the behest of John Russell, a bibliophile and member of the King’s Council, possibly influenced by the marketing activities of Peter Actors who was an importer of books and who had been a supplier of books to the principal fairs with his partner Joannes de Aquisgrano.[13]

The importance of the proviso may be summarized as follows. First, it indicated quite clearly that a value was placed upon books and that there was recognition of the importance of the newly introduced craft of printing which was relatively poorly developed in England. Secondly, it ensured that the continued and future presence of foreign craftsmen who were skilled in the new technology would be encouraged to come to England and continue to develop the trade. Thirdly, although this was a most important encouragement for printing, the proviso also extends to writers, limners and binders – those involved in the scribal production of books. Thus the encouragement was for book production generally, and it is probable that the Stationers’ Company, which represented native craftsmen and shopkeepers, must have approved of this specific exclusion.[14]

The 1484 Statute demonstrates what was to become a trend – the use of statute to regulate the printing trade directed primarily towards industry regulation rather than content regulation.[15]

A recognition of the developing importance of print in government came in 1485 when, on 5 December, Peter Actors, an early beneficiary of the proviso, was appointed Stationer to King Henry VII. His patent was a valuable one and is the first example of a system of prerogative licensing privileges that were subsequently to be granted to printers. The grant provided Actors with

“license to import, so often as he likes, from parts beyond the sea, books printed and not printed anywhere in the kingdom and to dispose of the same by sale or otherwise, without paying customs etc thereon and without rendering any accompt thereof.”[16]

Henry VII utilized print for propaganda purposes and was the first English monarch to do so,[17] but he also recognized the importance of print for the purposes of promulgating the law. In preparation for a military campaign in France in 1492, every officer was issued with a printed copy of a booklet entitled The Ordenaunces of Warre.[18] It was one of the first publications to recognize the wide dissemination that the new technology allowed, and the advantages that it provided in the promulgation of law, and served as a model for subsequent government publications.[19] It also made very clear that ignorance of the law could not be claimed when material was available in print.[20] The way in which the purpose of putting the Ordinances in print was worded reflected a combination of the traditional means of announcing law, which was by verbal proclamation, along with greater dissemination facilitated the technology of print.

“and to thentent they have no cause to excuse theim of their offences by pretense of ignorance of the saide ordenances, his highnesse hath ovir and above the open proclamacion of the saide statutes communded and ordeyned by wey of emprynte diverse and many several bokes conteignyng the same statutes nto be made and delivered to the capitaignes of his ost charginge them as they wyl avoyde his grete displeasure to cause the same twyes or ones at the lest in every weke hooly to be redde in the presence of their retinue.”[21]

 Up until the 1520’s there was a relatively  unregulated market for printers and for printed books. The craft grew by leaps and bounds. The five printers in London had grown to thirty-three printers and booksellers by 1523 and the English market was becoming less dependent upon imported material.[22] John Rastell, a lawyer-printer began printing in 1513 and was joined thereafter by a growing number of English printers.

The importance of printing and its status continued to be recognized by the Crown and the office of King’s Printer which was not an honorary one, became a tool of Government. The King’s Printer was granted the exclusive right to print all official publications and by 1512 Wolsey had ensured that all “Government legislation whether it concerned trade, apparel or religion, was made widely available and in an accessible and authoritative form.”[23]

The impact of this was that the State ensured the integrity of content by identifying one particular printer to produce the content. This, therefore, restricted others in the industry from printing such material thus conflating an aspect of content with a manipulation of the industry.

The importance of an informed public improved the potential for compliance with and enforcement of the law. No one could claim ignorance of the law if the law was well publicized, available and in a form that had the imprimatur of the State. By granting a monopoly for publication of such material the State was ensuring that there was one authoritative version. This system displays a remarkable insight into the implications of the new technology. On the one hand the disseminative properties of printed material were recognized. Large numbers of identical publications could be readily spread throughout the Kingdom. On the other hand it was recognized that the new technology did not produce identical copies regardless whose press they came from. There was variation between printers not only in printing style and format but in the quality of product. By restricting publication to one printer the State could ensure that there was consistency and reliability of content.

For approximately thirty years the printing trade developed in England with little restriction, but it was with the advent of Luther’s teachings on the Continent, coupled with economic concerns that were developing about the condition of the English labour market that restrictions on the trade and business of printing and the control of the content of works being printed attracted the attention of the State and the intervention of the law.

Bosworth Field may have resulted in a changed dynasty but both monarchs contesting the Crown recognised the importance of the new information technology. It was to grow and become a potent force, especially in the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell – but that is another story and for another day

[1] Yale University Press, 2009.

[2] At London printed by Henry Denham in Aldersgate street at the signe of the Starre, 1587. The first volume was printed in 1577 and took the history until the Conquest. The printing of the first and second volumes took the history  through to 1586

[3] Printed posthumously in 1557 in The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght sometyme Lorde Chancellour of England wrytten by hime in the Englysh tonge  (At the costes and charges of Iohn Cawod, Iohn Waly, and Richarde Tottell, Anno. 1557) and edited inter alia by his nephew William Rastell – see pages 35 et seq of the 1557 edition although there is some suggestion that More’s patron John Morton Archbishop of Canterbury was the source for much of More’s information

[4] Although that work was printed in Basle in three editions – 1534, 1546 and 1555 and not in England

[5]  Bennett H.S. English Books and Readers 1475-1557 : Being a study in the history of the book trade from Caxton to the Incorporation of the Stationers Company (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1952) – [referred to hereafter as 1 Bennett]  p. 30.

[6] John Feather, A History of British Publishing (Croom Helm, London, 1988)  p. 14. Richard  Pynson and William Faques were Normans and John Notary was probably French.

[7] Colin Clair A History of Printing in Britain (Cassell, London, 1965) p. 32.

[8] Littleton’s Tenures. J.H Beale A Bibliography of Early English Law Books (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 1926)  p. 182  The 1481 printing does not appear in the Short Title Catalogue  but records Machlinia’s printing of the Tenures in 1483 STC 15720.

[9] 1 Bennett p. 30.

[10] 1 Ric 3 c.9.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Clair above n. 7 p. 104; C. Paul Christianson “The Rise of London’s Book-Trade”  in L. Hellinga and J.B.Trapp (eds) The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain – Volume III – 1400 – 1557 , (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999)  p. 137. Actors was appointed Stationer to the King in 1485. See below.

[14] Cyprian Blagden The Stationers’ Company – A History 1403 – 1956 (Allen & Unwin, London,  1960), p. 24.

[15] Certainly there were later statutes which prohibited the use of writing or printing as a means of expressing or as a constituent of heresy or treason, e.g. the Treasons Act 1534. The objective of such legislation was directed more toward content.

[16] Clair, above n. 7, p. 105; Christianson  above n.13  p. 137. Actors was appointed Stationer to the King in 1485. E. Gordon Duff A Century of the English Book Trade ( The Bibliographical Society, London, 1948) p.xii-xiii. Kevin Sharpe in Selling the Tudor Monarchy above n. 1 p.65-6 notes a suggestion that Henry VII was slow to grasp the full potential of printing observing that Faques was not appointed the first Royal Printer until 1506. While the approach based on the title is correct, there can be no doubt that Faques fulfilled the same role under different nomenclature. Perhaps Henry was more alive to print potential than may be immediately apparent. Faques was followed in that position by Richard Pynson in 1508, Thomas Berthelet (1530), Richard Grafton (1547), John Cawood (1553) and Cawood with Richard Jugge (1558). 1 Bennett p.38.

[17] Ibid. Sharpe

[18] Printed by Richard Pynson STC 9332.

[19] Pamela Neville Sington “Press, Politics and Religion” in L. Hellinga and J.B. Trapp (eds) Cambridge History of the Book in Britain – Volume III – 1400 – 1557 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999) Volume 3p. 578.

[20] The issue of ignorance of the law as a concept in the early modern period is rather complex and beyond the scope of this piece.

[21] STC 9332.

[22] Clair, above  n. 7, p. 105.

[23] Neville Sington above n. 19  p. 605-6.

La Fête Nationale – le quatorze juillet – Bastille Day

Against a background of national grain shortages and bankruptcy, a meeting of the First and Second Estates (the clergy and nobility) of French society with the Third Estate (comprising the vast majority of the population) was called in May 1789.

Frustrated that their calls for equality, relief for the poor and proportional representation had gone unheard, in June the representatives of the Third Estate split away to meet in a Versailles tennis court, where they formed their own voting bloc, the National Assembly, and declared revolt against the monarchy. In July the King’s dismissal of his competent and popular Finance Minister, Jacques Necker, triggered fears that royal force might be used against the people of Paris. What followed was the first significant step in the French Revolution.

The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 marked the first decisive intervention of ordinary people against the ancien regime, following on from the revolt of the nobility against the King, and that of the bourgeoisie at the Tennis Court.

The abolition of the gloomy stone symbol of despotism that for centuries had loomed overthe Paris skyline was thus an event to be commemorated as a triumph of spontaneous collective will. To this day, 14 July is observed in France as the anniversary of modern France.

The Bastille was a medieval prison, used by monarchs to contain citizens arrested by lettre de cachet, a royal warrant increasingly despised as a symbol of arbitrary power. In 1789 the Bastille housed a small handful of inmates, some of whom were insane or detained at therequest of relatives. But the lettre de cachet was not the cause of the 14 July uprising, as has already been observed.

Told that the Bastille housed stockpiles of gunpowder owned by the State, the workers of Paris rushed to the prison in the furniture-making district of Saint-Antoine to arm themselves. There they found the prison’s Governor, Bernard-Rene Marquis de Launay, protected only by a small garrison. Quickly overwhelmed by angry crowds who scaled the walls and lowered the drawbridge, de Launay ordered his men to fire and by doing so signed his own death warrant once the crowd had successfully stormed the prison.

The Storming of the Bastille and the Arrest of its Governor de Launay – Versailles, musee national du chateau

The 650 men and women of this great Revolutionary day in the Republican Calendar (known as a journee) were later honoured as Vainqueurs and heroes of the people. The prison was subsequently torn down. Some of its fabric was used to manufacture mementos, which were distributed to every corner of France. The remaining materials were recycled in the construction of the Pont de la Concorde.

With political ideology penetrating every aspect of public life, the decorative arts underwent a transformation. New emblems were employed affirming the civic values that were to provide the basis for the new France. Phrygian bonnets or caps (liberty caps), lictors fasces, the red, white and blue tricolour, the set square symbolising equality, the sacles of justice, military trophies all spoke forcefully of the new values espoused by the French nation. During the Revolution and the Terror the liberty cap was worn both by adherents of social change and those who feared condemnation for their association with the ancient regime. Such symbols were accompanied by slogans such as Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite ou la mort which served as reminders that failuire to comply with the new virues could have fatal consequences.

Revolutionary Poster (Affiche revolutionnaire- 1791 – 95 musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris)

Yet within these requirements of the citizens of the Revolutionary France was an affirmation of rights that regrettably fell by the wayside more than once as the Revolution progressed to the Terror, the Directory, the Consulate and the new Empire .Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution had its fundamental document, created after the outbreak of violence

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen) defines the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of “natural right”, the rights of man are held to be universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself.

The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political principles of the Age of Enlightenment, such as individualism, the social contract as theorized by the French philosopher Rousseau, and the separation of powers espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu. As can be seen in the texts, the French declaration is heavily influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment, and by Enlightenment principles of human rights, some of which it shares with the U.S. Declaration of Independence which preceded it (4 July 1776). Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was at the time in France as a U.S. diplomat,and was in correspondence with members of the French National Constituent Assembly. James Madison’s proposal for a U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on 21 August 1789, 5 days before the French declaration. Considering the speed at which information crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century, it is clear that the French declaration was not inspired by its US counterpart.

The declaration is in the spirit of what has come to be called natural law, which does not base itself on religious doctrine or authority.

The declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. For example, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.”They have certain natural rights to property, to liberty and to life. According to this theory the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Furthermore government should be carried on by elected representatives.

At the time of it was written, the rights contained in the declaration were only awarded to men. Furthermore, the declaration was a statement of vision rather than reality. The declaration was not deeply rooted in either the practice of the West or even France at the time. The declaration emerged in the late 18th Century out of war and revolution. It encountered opposition as democracy and individual rights were frequently regarded as synonymous with anarchy and subversion. The declaration embodies ideals and aspirations towards which France pledged to struggle in the future

The text

Approved by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789


1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

7. No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.

8. The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.

9. As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

12. The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

13. A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

14. All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.

15. Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

16. A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

17. Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

Les Droits de l’homme

The IT Countrey Justice

4th July – Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – and Jefferson’s Departure.

Matters Introductory

The Declaration of Independence was created by a committee, but the member of the committee who made the greatest contribution was Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.  Among the other members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

Jefferson was a reluctant revolutionary, having expressed an affection for union with Britain. But his was not an unconditional affection.

Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.
—Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775.

The War and the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence did not start the War of Independence. That had been raging for a year before July 1776. Even after fighting in the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain. When the Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it. Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, who they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress’s second petition, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was considering “friendly offers of foreign assistance” to suppress the rebellion.

Towards the Declaration

The path towards the Declaration was not an easy one. There was a considerable reluctance to take  what many considered to be an irrevocable step. There seemed to remain a hope that the colonies could be reconciled with the Imperial power.

On May 1, however, opponents of independence retained control of the Pennsylvania Assembly in a special election that had focused on the question of independence.  In response, on May 10 Congress passed a resolution, which had been promoted by John Adams and Richard Henry Lee, calling on colonies without a “government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs” to adopt new governments. The resolution passed unanimously, and was even supported by Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson, the leader of the anti-independence faction in Congress, who believed that it did not apply to his colony.

On May 15, the Virginia Convention instructed Virginia’s congressional delegation “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain”. In accordance with those instructions, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a three-part resolution to Congress on June 7. The motion, which was seconded by John Adams, called on Congress to declare independence, form foreign alliances, and prepare a plan of colonial confederation. The part of the resolution relating to declaring independence read:

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

But there was still debate about independence and how it should be handled.

While political maneuvering was setting the stage for an official declaration of independence, a document explaining the decision was being written. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five”, consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration.

Writing the Declaration – Jefferson’ First Draft

Because the committee left no minutes, there is some uncertainty about how the drafting process proceeded—accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are contradictory and not entirely reliable.  What is certain is that the committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft.

The committee in general, and Jefferson in particular, thought Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson and promised to consult with Jefferson personally.  Considering Congress’s busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly.  He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.”

Writing the Declaration of Independence – an idealised view

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, with Benjamin Harrison of Virginia presiding, and resumed debate on Lee’s resolution of independence.  John Dickinson made one last effort to delay the decision, arguing that Congress should not declare independence without first securing a foreign alliance and finalizing the Articles of Confederation.  John Adams gave a speech in reply to Dickinson, restating the case for an immediate declaration.

After a long day of speeches, a vote was taken. As always, each colony cast a single vote; the delegation for each colony—numbering two to seven members—voted amongst themselves to determine the colony’s vote. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against declaring independence. The New York delegation, lacking permission to vote for independence, abstained. Delaware cast no vote because the delegation was split. The remaining nine delegations voted in favor of independence, which meant that the resolution had been approved by the committee of the whole. The next step was for the resolution to be voted upon by the Congress itself. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, who was opposed to Lee’s resolution but desirous of unanimity, moved that the vote be postponed until the following day.

On July 2, South Carolina reversed its position and voted for independence. In the Pennsylvania delegation, Dickinson and Robert Morris abstained, allowing the delegation to vote three-to-two in favor of independence. The tie in the Delaware delegation was broken by the timely arrival of Caesar Rodney, who voted for independence. The New York delegation abstained once again, since they were still not authorized to vote for independence, although they would be allowed to do so by the New York Provincial Congress a week later.

The resolution of independence had been adopted with twelve affirmative votes and one abstention. With this, the colonies had officially severed political ties with Great Britain. In a now-famous letter written to his wife on the following day, John Adams predicted that July 2 would become a great American holiday. Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.

Approving the Declaration

After voting in favor of the resolution of independence, Congress turned its attention to the committee’s draft of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a few changes in wording and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade, changes that Jefferson resented. Although Jefferson wrote that Congress had “mangled” his draft version, the Declaration that was finally produced, according to his biographer John Ferling, was “the majestic document that inspired both contemporaries and posterity.”

On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer for publication. That in itself is significant and demonstrates that the declaration was not just addressed to George III but was intended as a piece of political propaganda. Why else have it printed. Simply, the distributive power of print allowed copies – and the ringing message contained therein – to spread through the colonies and, as the list of Facts justifying Independence suggest, “to a candid world”

The Language of the Declaration

The Declaration falls into a number of sections demonstrating care in its construction..

The first sentence of the Declaration asserts as a matter of Natural law the ability of a people to assume political independence, and acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable. Jefferson and Adams were lawyers and were well aware of the need to appeal to law and to reason

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The next section, the famous preamble, includes the ideas and ideals that were principles of the Declaration. It is also an assertion of what is known as the “right of revolution”: that is, people have certain rights, and when a government violates these rights, the people have the right to “alter or abolish” that government. The form is almost poetical, and it seems that the preamble was designed to be read aloud, its ringing phraseology building to an emotional yet reasonable crescendo

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Then follow the list of complaints against King George and the Imperial power.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Was this something that the colonists did joyfully. No it was not as the following section demonstrated

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends

The final section asserts  that there exist conditions under which people must change their government, that the British have produced such conditions, and by necessity the colonies must throw off political ties with the British Crown and become independent states. The conclusion incorporates language from Lee’s resolution of independence that had been passed on July 2.

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Jefferson went on to become wartime Governor of Virginia, and from 1784 served as the government’s representative in Paris. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. Upon resigning his office, with his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party. Elected Vice-President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists.

He became President in 1800, serving two terms purchased the Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr, and escalating trouble with Britain. With Britain at war with Napoleon, he tried aggressive economic warfare against them; however, his embargo laws did more damage to American trade and the economy. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. Jefferson has often been rated in scholarly surveys as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the mid-twentieth century, some historians have increasingly criticized him for his failure to act against domestic slavery.

A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello.

Monticello – Main Portico
Monticello – From the Lawn

By 1815, Jefferson’s library included 6,487 books, which he sold to the Library of Congress for $23,950 to replace the smaller collection destroyed in the War of 1812. He intended to pay off some of his large debt, but immediately started buying more books. As he wrote to John Adams “I cannot live without books”.  In honor of Jefferson’s contribution, the library’s website for federal legislative information was named THOMAS.

Jefferson was a prolific letter writer but, apart from the wonderful preamble to the Declaration of Independence for me his most important statement of freedom may be seen around the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC

“I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Thomas Jefferson died on 4 July 1826 but his legacy is gigantic and remains to this day. He was buried at his beloved Monticello, now a World Heritage site, I would hope as much in honour of the spirit and inestimable genius of the man who built the house and lived there, and for his contribution to liberty as for any intrinsic value in the building.

His gravestone recounts what he considered his most significant achievements:


Jefferson’s Grave


Dumas Malone Jefferson the Virginian (Little Brown, New York, 1948)

Dumas Malone Jefferson and the Rights of Man (Little Brown, New York,, 1951)

Dumas Malone Jefferson and His Time (Little Brown, New York, 1970)

Andrew Burstein The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist (University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1995

The text of the Declaration of Independence was taken from Wikipedia.

“Writing the Declaration of Independence” was ontained from the History Channel website

The Photographs are my own.

The IT Country Justice

18 June 1815 – Waterloo – Losers, Victors and Law

On Sunday June 18, 1815 – 197 years ago – the reign of the Emperor Napoleon I came to an end in one of the most significant battles in history.

Bonaparte, a remarkable military genius and political survivor (some would say opportunist) was crowned (or rather crowned himself) Emperor of France on Sunday December 30, 1804 to the strains of Nicolas Roze’s “Vivat”

The event was immortalised by the most notable artist of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, Jaques-Louis David in his monumental “Coronation of Napoleon” – as much a propaganda piece as a record (but many of David’s paintings fulfilled that role). When I saw this enormous painting it was exhibited at Versailles.

The Coronation of Napoleon

Tim Blanning in a review of Alan Forrest’s biography of Napoleon (History Today June 2012 p. 57 – 58) observes that Napoleon’s

“(W}ars killed over a million Frenchmen and double that number of other Europeans and ended in his total defeat, not once but twice. He condemned his adopted country to at least a century of social and economic backwardness, while his fomer enemies across the Channel and across the Rhine powered ahead on all fronts. In particular, his destruction of the Holy Roman Empire – arguably the most damaging own goal in European history – paved the way for German Unification and the invasions of 1870, 1914 and 1940. He himself was an unprincipled opportunist, plundering both France and the rest of Europe to enrich his family and himself. Betraying the revolution that brought him to power, he established a military dictatorship, indulging himself in a luxurious lifestyle that was a grotesque parody of the old regime.”

Forrest concludes that “Throughout his career, Napoleon demonstrated an insatiable desire to project his chosen image, to reserve his place in history.” The monumental coronation painting by David is an example.

Bonaparte’s ability to publicise a victory was as important as the victory itself. He made sure that it was his version of events that reached the public first. The skirmish at the Bridge at Lodi on 10 May 1796 became an epochal triumph and throughout his career and even afterwards on St Helena he managed to create a myth of extraordinary power and durability.

But the strength of his armies and the power of the columns advancing to the strains of the Pas de Charge were not a myth as he stormed from victory to victory – from Arcola and Rivoli to the Pyramids, Marengo to Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena.

The martial music of the time and some of the “mythologising” portrayals of Napoleon can be seen and heard in the following clips.

Pas de Charge\La victoire est a nous

Pour l’Empereur

The myth continued with the repatriation of his remains to the Hotel des Invalides by Louis Phillipe in 1840 and continued as his nephew Louis Napoleon traded on his uncle’s reputation and was crowned Napoleon III.

Tombeau Napoleon – Napoleon’s Tomb – L’Hotel des Invalides – Paris
L’Hotel des Invalides

But the reality of Napoleon’s reign ended at Waterloo. There was no way that even he could spin the devtasting defeat, although, as is so often the case with military campaigns, if things had happened differently after Quartre Bras and Ligny, there may have been a final victory for Napoleon to mythologise. Crushing the defeat might have been but his antogonist, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington described the victory as a “near run thing”. In fact when questioned years later as to what he considered his finest accomplishment on the battlefield, Wellington answered Assaye – a battle fought in India in the Second Anglo-Maratha War on 23 September 1803.

The Iron Duke
Aspley House – The Duke of Wellington’s London Residence – Hyde Park Corner

But there were other victors of Waterloo. The Rothschilds were among them. One story goes that the financier, Nathan Rothschild ran one of the best intelligence networks in Europe. He understood the importance and power of information. In The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait. Frederic Morton recounts the story thus:

To the Rothschilds, [England’s] chief financial agents, Waterloo brought a many million pound scoop. 
“[After the battle}… a Rothschild agent … jumped into a boat at Ostend … Nathan Rothschild … let his eye fly over the lead paragraphs. A moment later he was on his way to London (beating Wellington’s envoy by many hours) to tell the government that Napoleon had been crushed: but his news was not believed, because the government had just heard of the English defeat at Quatre Bras. Then he proceeded to the Stock Exchange.
Another man in his position would have sunk his work into consols, already weak because of Quatre Bras. But this was Nathan Rothschild. He leaned against “his” pillar. He did not invest. He sold. He dumped consols.
…Consols dropped still more. “Rothschild knows,” the whisper rippled through the ‘Change. “Waterloo is lost.”
Nathan kept on selling … consols plummeted—until, a split second before it was too late, Nathan suddenly bought a giant parcel for a song. Moments afterwards the great news broke, to send consols soaring.
We cannot guess the number of hopes and savings wiped out by this engineered panic.”

The only problem with that story is that it is not completely true. The  legend originated in an anti-Semitic French pamphlet in 1846, was embellished by John Reeves in 1887 in The Rothschilds: the Financial Rulers of Nations and then repeated in other later popular accounts, such as that of Morton. Many of the alleged facts stated are incorrect. For example, it has been shown that the size of the market in government bonds at the time would not have enabled a scenario producing a profit of anything near one million pounds.

Historian Niall Ferguson agrees that the Rothschilds’ couriers did get to London first and alerted the family to Napoleon’s defeat, but argues that since the family had been banking on a protracted military campaign, the losses arising from the disruption to their business more than offset any short-term gains in bonds after Waterloo. Rothschild capital did soar, but over a much longer period: Nathan’s breakthrough had been prior to Waterloo, when he negotiated a deal to supply cash to Wellington’s army. The family made huge profits over a number of years from this governmental financing by adopting a high-risk strategy involving exchange-rate transactions, bond-price speculations, and commissions.

But although Wellington managed to stop the threat that Napoleon posed to the peace of Europe, perhaps one of the Emperor’s most enduring legacy remain.

The Napoleonic Code—or Code Napoléon (originally, the Code civil des français)—is the French civil code, established under Napoleon I in 1804. The code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified.

It was drafted rapidly by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on March 21, 1804. The Code, with its stress on clearly written and accessible law, was a major step in replacing the previous patchwork of feudal laws. Historian Robert Holtman regards it as one of the few documents that have influenced the whole world.  It was the first modern legal code to be adopted with a pan-European scope and it strongly influenced the law of many of the countries formed during and after the Napoleonic Wars.

An interesting legacy that remains, notwithstanding Napoleon’s defeat.


There is an excellent exhibition currently at the National Gallery of Victoria titled Napoleon – Revolution to Empire. The exhibition covers the pre-Revolutionary period in art and culture, traversing through the Revolution, the Terror and Napoleon’s rise through the Italian and Egyptian campaigns through to the Directory and to the Coronation and the Empire beyond. If one had any doubt about Napoleons ability for self-promotion and propaganda a few minutes in the Empire section will dispel them entirely. Present are items that he gave his generals and favourites and other examples of the development of the cult of the Emperor.

And there, in a display on its own, is a copy of the 1810 edition of the Code Napoleon. But sadly, cameras could not be used in the exhibition.

Napoleon – Revolution to Empire – National Gallery of Victoria
Napoleon – Revolution to Empire Exhibition

Magna Carta – 797 Years On

Magna Carta 1215 at Salisbury Cathedral

Section 3 of the New Zealand Imperial Laws Application Act 1988 provides that “The Imperial enactments listed in Schedule 1  are hereby declared to be part of the laws of New Zealand.” Casting the eye over Schedule 1, one sees a reference to (1297) 25 Edw 1 (Magna Carta) c.29

Chapter 29 – although it is more like a clause – reads

 Imprisonment, etc contrary to law. Administration of justice

 NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or               free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.

The word “condemn” in the context of the clause means “deal with”. That is the only part of Magna Carta that survives as part of the law of New Zealand, and perhaps it is the most recognised one dealing as it does with the concept of a judgment of his peers – which later came to be interpreted as trial by jury – or by the law of the land.

But Magna Carta was not, as it has been argued over the centuries, the first Charter of English Liberty. Far from it. A careful reading of Magna Carta reveals that it deals with a number of issues, primarily about land and entitlements, not of ordinary Englishmen (if there was such a person in 1215) but of the Church and the nobility. Clause 1 confirms the liberties and entitlements of the Church. In the 1297 version clause 1 also states: ” We furthermore grant and give to all the freemen of our realm for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity the liberties written below to have and to hold to them and their heirs from us and our heirs in perpetuity.” The use of the word “freemen” is important. Serfs were not included. The Charter was not of universal application.

It seems no accident that the enactment of Magna Carta in the reign of Edward I had the title ” The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest”. But despite the lofty title, reading on the subject matter deals with the rights of earls and barons and succession, and the powers of the Crown and its officers to undertake certain actions. Looking through the document one gets the impression that it was designed to deal with a number of complaints about the way that the country was being run by King John. For example it seems that there may have been some inaccuracies in the standard weights and measures that were being used (Clause 25). The sittings of the county court were prescribed (Clause 35). These and other clauses were designed to place restrictions on what were perceived as the arbitrary use of Royal power contrary to accepted custom and the expectations of the land-owning nobility.

1215 saw an open baron’s rebellion against the King, which probably would have proceeded through to John’s deposition had there been an obvious adult successor – but there was not. John’s nephew, Arthur of Brittany, the son of his brother Geoffrey, had died in mysterious circumstances. Louis of France as the husband of Henry II’s granddaughter, had a tenuous claim, and although  the English had been ruled by the Angevin Plantagenet family at war, the country had been at war with the French for thirty years. So the barons based their revolt on John’s oppressive government and ongoing popular dissatisfaction with the Crown particularly flowing from a lengthy dispute that the King had with the Church which resulted in the country being placed under Papal Interdict.

In January 1215, the barons made an oath that they would “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm”, and they demanded that King John confirm the Charter of Liberties – a Charter issued by Henry I in 1100 in which certain limitations upon Royal power were accepted.

During negotiations between January and June 1215, a document was produced, which historians have termed ‘The Unknown Charter of Liberties’, seven of the articles of which would later appear in the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and the Runnymede Charter. In May, King John offered to submit issues to a committee of arbitration with Pope Innocent III as the supreme arbiter, but the barons continued in their defiance. With the support of Prince Louis the French Heir and of King Alexander II of the Scots, they entered London in force on 10 June 1215, with the city showing its sympathy with their cause by opening its gates to them. They, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to a document later known as the ‘Articles of the Barons’, to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215, which is when the document Magna Carta was created.

One of the magnates who was instrumental in bringing about the settlement – for that was what Magna Carta really was – was William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Marshal was a paragon of chivalry, a faithful knight and undeafeated champion in the lists. He served three Plantagenet Kings – Henry II, Richard I and John – and was Regent following John’s death and before Henry III could take the throne. Marshal’s tomb is in the Temple Chapel in London, in the grounds of the Inner Temple Inn of Court, and it is probably significant that many of the negotiations leading up the Magna Carta took place in this very location.

Temple Chapel – Inner Temple – Exterior
Temple Chapel – Interior
William Marshal – Tomb at Temple Chapel

An excellent overview of Magna Carta and its history, and the part that Marshal played has been written by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge. His article addresses some of the misconceptions surrounding Magna Carta, the events leading up to 15 June and what happened subsequently, because John was released from his promises by the Pope, and disharmony in the kingdom continued. The article follows:

For a reassessment of the reign of John there is a recent article in History Today (February 2012) entitled “Good King John”  by Graham E. Seel which can be found here

The advent of the printing press, the first information technology, saw Magna Carta in print as law printers and compilers took advantage of the new information technology to record and preserve legal information beyond manuscript texts and lawyers’ notebooks. Robert Redman printed The boke of Magna Carta with divers other statutes in 1534. Richard Tottell, a leading law printer in the sixteenth century and holder of the patent giving him the monopoly to print common law books, printed Magna Charta cum statuis quae antiqua vocantur in 1556. Magna Carta featured in William Rastell’s A Collection of all the statutes from the beginning of Magna Carta until the yere of our Lord 1557, a book printed by Totell in 1559 and which was subsequently reprinted and updated.

Ferdinando Pulton (1536 – 1618), a compiler of statutes, published five works including A kalendar, or table, comprehending the effect of all the statutes that have been made an put into print, beginning with Magna Charta, enacted in anno 9. H3. Although he was a Catholic he was admitted to the Bar in 1609 and was a supporter of Elizabeth I and James I. His interest in  the strict execution of the criminal law allowed him to retain the critical support of James and Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere, the lord chancellor. He wrote in his prefaces that the purpose of publishing the law was to educate the people in it. He believed that the criminal law must be firmly implemented and that knowledge of it would deter unlawful acts and his book De Pace Regnis is his recognised treatise on the “great and generall offences of the realme.”

Magna Carta was also the subject of Readings – oral lectures or expositions of statute law given at the Inns of Court – and one by Robert Brooke was printed in 1641

Magna Carta has been used for many and varied purposes. Edward Coke was a particular advocate of its use in the contest between the King, the Law and Parliament in the early Stuart period, and he refers to Magna Carta with reverence.  As he proclaimed to Parliament in 1628, “I know that prerogative is part of the law….but sovereign power is no parliamentary word: in my opinion, it weakens Magna Carta … Magna Carta is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign”

When Charles I warned the Commons that he would veto any bill that did more than reconfirm Magna Carta, Coke took the opportunity to make new law out of the greatest medieval statute. The result was the Petition of Right, something more than a list of grievances, if less than an actual bill of rights. After a stand-off the king came to Westminster and assented to the petition, ‘soit droit fait comme est desiré’—words acceptable to show royal assent, as Coke told the Commons.

In Coke’s Second Part of the Institutes, he glosses the meaning of the Great Charter of 1215 and elaborated in considerable detail the foundation upon which “English liberties” rested. The Second Institutes was not published until 1642, some 8 years after his death, but  in time to become part of the intellectual ammunition used by opponents of the Monarchy during the English civil war and revolution during the 1640s and 1650s. His commentary on C. 29 held that the clause was the “root” from which sprang many “branches” of English law regarding individual liberty.

Lord Judge makes reference to Kipling’s poem, The Reeds of Runnymede which mythologises Magna Carta. The entire poem follows.

What Say the Reeds at Runnymede

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You musn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

Kipling had an idealised view of English liberties and justice. The mytholgising of Magna Carta perhaps tells us as much about how the Charter has developed within the context of the history of law and justice as anything else. We can complain that what Kipling has idealised is not, historically, what it was about. Rather Kipling tells us what Magna Carta has become. One of my fondest memories of law school was in 1966 when Lord Denning was in New Zealand for a Law Conference. He gave a lecture to us law students and covered Magna Carta, quoting the last verse in his beautiful soft Hampshire accent. It is a memory which has stayed.

Kipling’s poem Norman and Saxons expresses the importance of fair dealing with a conquered race, but his image of the Saxon embodies many of what could be described as “English virtues”and concepts of justice and how it may be achieved.

Norman and Saxon

AD 1100

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for share
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man- at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”

From a “revisionist” point of view one wonders whether or not that poem was a coded message to the adminstrators of Empire. It was in fact written for C.R.L. Fletcher’s “A History of England” published in 1911 – a book which, incidentally, contained “The Reeds of Runnymede.”

So Magna Carta occupies various roles. The historian has a particular view of what it actually was but over the centuries it has been used and has developed in potency, especially in the early seventeenth century. Today it may be said to be a symbol of the importance of limiting unbridled power and of ensuring proper justice and fair dealing. The fact that the clause which emphasises the importance of the rule of law and legal process, and the importance of the obligation on the part of a ruler to ensure justice still remains as part of our law  points to its continued significance and value in the twenty-first century

The Countrey Justice – 15 June 2012