Legal History: The Year Books

EnglishThe Year Books are the law reports of medieval England. The earliest examples date from about 1268, and the last in the printed series are for the year 1535. The Year Books are our principal source materials for the development of legal doctrines, concepts, and methods from 1290 to 1535, a period during which the common law developed into recognizable form. More than 22,000 individual reports or ‘pleas’ have been printed, and others remain in manuscript. This database indexes all year book reports printed in the chronological series for all years between 1268 and 1535, and many of the year book reports printed only in alphabetical abridgements. Of these reports, all 6,901 from 1399 through 1535 have been fully indexed and paraphrased in this database.

David Seipp

David J. Seipp, Professor of Law at Boston University, is the compiler of this database. His work is supported by the Ames Foundation of Harvard Law School.

Carol F. Lee, of the District of Columbia Bar, has assisted greatly in the compilation of these records.

A reprint of the 1678–1680 Vulgate edition of Year Books, on which this database is compiled, has been published by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. in 2007. Set: ISBN-13: 978-158477-781-6. ISBN-10: 1-58477-781-8 (details at

A reprint of the 1577 edition of Anthony Fitzherbert’s La Graunde Abridgement has been published by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. in 2009. ISBN-13: 9781584778769; ISBN-10: 1584778768.

To pronounce the compiler’s surname as he does, please rhyme the following couplet:
“Every Year Book set in type / Indexed by a guy named Seipp.”

The Master of the Library of Lincoln’s Inn wrote the following in 1800 in his Report to the Select Committee upon Public Records:

“There is yet another great Desideratum in regard to the Year Books, viz. a full and well-digested General Index to the whole. At present, such Indexes as there are in the printed Books are so dispersed in the different volumes, are of such unequal merit, and, in general, so scanty and imperfect, that they are of very little use; and the Lawyer generally finds it best to neglect them, and to resort to the different Abridgments of the Law, in order to discover what cases and passages in the Year Books may be applicable to the point he has occasion to examine. “ (p. 383)

William Craddock Bolland, in his 1921 lectures on the Year Books, quoted; “‘To read straight through the Year Books in their present condition,’ Sir Frederick Pollock wrote many years ago, ‘is a task that no man living can be expected to undertake.’” (p. 45)