Page images

and that language, but more of the English ; and probably it might be, that the Confessor had been so long in France, that he was more master of that language than of the Norman, and that the Normans understood that language better than the English, and thereupon the Customary was written in the French tongue ; but it doth not therefore follow, that duke William must cause the French laws to be written in the French tongue, but it is more likely that he might cause them to be continued in their native idiom which was much nearer in affinity to his own northern language than the French was,

That the French tongue was not introduced as to our laws and other things by duke William, into England, appears, in that the French was in great use with us here, both before and some time after his invasion.

Beda affirms, that in Anno 640, it was the custom of England to send their daughters into the monasteries of France, to be brought up there ; and that Ethelbert, Ethelwolf, Ethelred, and other Saxon kings, married into the royal blood of France. Glabor notes, that before the time of duke William, the Normans and English did so link together, that they were a terror to foreign nations, Ingulphus saith, 'the Saxon hand was used until the time of king Alfred, long before the time of duke William ; and that he being brought up by French teachers, used the French hand; and he notes many charters of Eldred and Edgar written in the French hand, and some Saxon mixed with it, as in the book of Doomsday : that Edward the Confessor, by reason of his long being in France, was turned into the French fashion, and all England with him : but that William I. commanded our laws to be written in the English tongue, because most men understood it, and that there be many of his patents in the Saxon tongue,

I suppose we may be satisfied that William I. did pot cause our laws to be written in French, though the

French language was much in use here before his time; and if he did not introduce the French language into England, the argument falls,—that because they are written in French, therefore he brought them in.

But, sir, I shall offer you some conjectures, how it came that our laws were written in French, which I suppose might be begun in the time of our king Henry II. who was a Frenchman born, and had large territories and relations in France; many of his successors had the like, and very much to do in France, and with Frenchmen, of whom great numbers came into England; and they and the English matched and lived together, both here and in some parts of France. Hence it came to pass, as Giraldus Cambrensis notes, that the English tongue was in great use in Bourdeaux, and in other parts of France where Englishmen were resident and conversant; the like was when the Frenchmen were so conversant in England

Matthew Westminster writes, that he was in hazard of losing his living, because he understood not the French tongue ; and that in king Henry II. and king Stephen's time, who had large dominions in France, their native country, the number of French, and of matches with them, was so great, that one could hardly know who was French and who was English. Gervasius Tilburiensis observes the same ; and Brackland writes, that in Richard the First's time, preaching in England was in the French tongue ; probably pleading might be so likewise ; and in king John's time, French was accounted as the mother tongue.

There are scarce any deeds of our kings in the French before Henry the Second's time : the most are in Edward the First and Edward the Second's time.

That our laws were pleaded and written in French be. fore Edward the Third's time, appears by the statute 36 Edward III. Cap. 15, which recites the mischief of the law being in French, and enacts that the law shall hereaf. ter be pleaded in English, and enrolled in Latin.

[ocr errors]

This is one ground of the mistaken opinion of Lambert, Polydore, Speed, and others, that duke William brought hither both the Norman laws and language ; which I apprehend to be fully answered, and the contrary manifested by what I have said before on this subject.

Polydore's mistake may appear the more, when he asserts, that by this statute 36 Edw. III. matters are to be enrolled in English, which is contrary to the express words ; —that they are to be enrolled in Latin. Many of

;our law books were written in Latin, before the Norman invasion, as appears by the ancient rolls of manors and courts baron, and our old authors Glanvill, Bracton, Tilbury, Hengham, Fleta, the Register and Book of Entries. The records at Westminster and the Tower, and other records, yet extant, are in Latin ; and many books of our law in Latin, were translated into English about Edvard the Third's time.

Most of our statutes from Edward the First's time, till about the middle of Henry the Seventh's reign, are enrolled in French, notwithstanding this statute 36 Edw. III. except the statute 6 Richard II. and some others, in Latin. Richard II. Henry IV. Henry V. and Henry VI. used to write their letters in French; and some of our pleadings are in French, and in the common pleas to our time : but, sir, our law is lex non 'scripta : I mean our common law; and our statutes, records, and books, which are written in French, are no argument, that therefore the original of our laws is from France; for they were in being before any of the French language was in our laws.

Fortescue writes, that the English kept their accounts in French; yet doubtless they had accounts here, and revenues, before the French language was in use here. Lord Coke saith, that the Conqueror taught the English the Norman terms of hawking, hunting, gaming, &c. yet no doubt but that these recreations were in use with us before his time ; and though duke William, or any

other of our kings before or after his time, did bring in the French tongue amongst us, yet that is no argument that he or they did change or introduce our laws, which undoubtedly were here long before those times; and some of them, when the French tongue was so much in use here, were translated, written, and pleaded, and recorded in the French tongue, yet remained the same laws still; and from that great use of the French tongue here, it was, that the reporters of our law cases and judgments which were in those terms, did write

, their reports in French, which was the pure French in that time, though mixed with some words of art. Those terms of art were taken many of them from the Saxon tongue, as may be seen by those yet used. And the reporters of later times, and our students at this day, use to take their notes in French, following the old reports which they studied, and the old French, which, as in other languages, by time came to be varied.

I shall not deny but that some monks, in elder times, and some clerks and officers, might have a cunning for their private honour and profit to keep up a mystery, to have as much as they could of our laws to be in a kind of mystery to the vulgar, to be the less understood by them; yet the counsellors at law, and judges, could have no advantage by it. But, perhaps it would be found, that the laws being in English, and generally more understood, yet not sufficiently, would occasion the more suits; and possibly there may be something of the like nature as to the court hand : yet if the more common hands were used in our law writings, they would be the more subject to change, as the English and other languages are, but not the Latin. Surely the French tongue used in our reports and law books deserves not to be so enviously decried as it is by Polydore, Eliot, Daniel, Hotoman, Cowel, and other censurers.

But, Mr. Speaker, if I have been tedious, I humbly ask your pardon; and have the more hopes to obtain it from so many worthy English gentlemen, when that

which I have said was chiefly in vindication of their own native laws, unto which I held myself the more obliged by the duty of my profession; and I account it an honor to me to be a lawyer.

As to the debate and matter of the act now before you, I have delivered no opinion against it ; nor do I think it reasonable that the generality of the people of England should, by an implicit faith, depend upon the knowledge of others in that which concerns them most of all. It was the Romish policy to keep them in ignorance of matters pertaining to their soul's health ; let them not be in ignorance of matters pertaining to their bodies, estates, and all their worldly comfort. It is not unreasonable that the law should be in that language which may best be understood by those whose lives and fortunes are subject to it, and are to be governed by it. Moses read all the laws openly before the people in their mother tongue. God directed him to write it, and to expound it unto the people in their own native language, that what concerned their lives, liberties, and estates, might be made known unto them in the most perspicuous way. The laws of the eastern nations were in their proper tongue ; the laws at Constantinople were in Greek ; at Rome in Latin ; in France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and other nations, their laws are published in their native idiom. For our own country, there is no man that can read the Saxon character, but may find the laws of your ancestors yet extant in the English tongue. Duke William himself commanded the laws to be proclaimed in English, that none might pretend ignorance of them. It was the judgment of the parliament, 36 Edward III. that pleadings should be in English ; and in the reigns of those kings when our statutes were enrolled in French and English, yet then the sheriffs in their several counties were to proclaim them in English.

I shall conclude with a complaint of what I have met with abroad from some military persons; nothing but

« PreviousContinue »