Littleton, Sir Thomas


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Littleton, Sir Thomas

Sir Thomas Littleton was an English judge and writer who is known for his treatise on land law, entitled On Tenures (1481). Littleton's work served as an inspiration and model for later English jurists, including Sir Edward Coke.

Littleton was born in 1422 in Frankley Manor House, Worcestershire. He became a counsel at law in 1445 and served as a recorder of Coventry in 1450. In 1455 he became a judge of assize on the Northern Circuit, and he was appointed a justice of Common Pleas in 1466. In 1475 King Edward IV made him a knight of the Bath. He died in 1481 and was buried in Worcestershire Cathedral.

Littleton's On Tenures is regarded as a model of legal scholarship, a clear and concise classification of English land law. Its significance rests in Littleton's attempt to impose a rational and orderly arrangement on legal rights in land. At the time the work was written, English land law had become extremely complicated.

The treatise consists of three books. The first deals with various estates in land; the second with the incidents of tenure (the holding of lands in subordination to some superior); and the third with co-ownership and other specialized doctrines relating to property. Unlike previous authors, Littleton did not rely on Roman Law but dealt exclusively with English land law.

Littleton followed a consistent method of analysis. He first defined a particular class of rights and then analyzed the many variations and implications of that class. Having identified certain key principles underlying a particular area of land law, Littleton then demonstrated how novel problems might be solved by reference to them. Modern commentators have lauded Littleton for the scientific organization of his material.

On Tenures was the first major legal treatise written in French instead of Latin and the first work on English Law to be printed in London. For more than three centuries, it formed the standard introduction to students of English real property law. Coke, who considered it a model of clear and lucid exposition of English law, made it the subject of his First Institute, Coke upon Littleton (1628). It stands as an early classic of English law.