Landmarks of Law Reporting 8 – Saunders’ Reports

May 5, 2009

Sir Edmund Saunders (d. 1683), Les Reports du Tres Erudite Edmund Saunders … des Divers Pleadings et Cases en le Court del Bank le Roy (2 vols.; London, 1686).

Edmund Saunders authored the best law reports of the late 17th century, known for their accuracy and clarity. They set out the pleadings and give concise summaries of the facts, issues, arguments, and judgment. The overriding focus of the reports is with the law of pleading, at which Saunders was the acknowledged master. Later on, Saunders’ Reports was translated and annotated and became a classic textbook on pleading, although Saunders’ own text had largely disappeared by its last edition in 1871.

“Within the first decade after the Restoration there are several new reports, extending for the most part over the remainder of the Stuart period. Chief among them is Saunders (1666-73), who is universally conceded to be the most accurate and valuable reporter of his age. His work is confined to the decisions of the King’s Bench between the eighteenth and twenty-fourth years of the reign of Charles II. Saunders participated as counsel in most of the cases, and he reports them with admirable clearness. In general his reports resemble Plowden’s; but they are much more condensed. He gives the pleadings and entries at length, and follows in regular order with a concise statement of the points at issue, the arguments of counsel, and a clear statement of the grounds of the judgment. The work was subsequently enriched by the learned annotations of Sergeant Williams.” – Van Vechten Veeder, “The English Reports, 1292-1865,” 15 Harvard Law Review 1, 15 (1901).

Edmund Saunders’ life is one of the few rags-to-riches stories of English law. Born into abject poverty, he taught himself to be a clerk and eventually entered the Middle Temple. His skill as a special pleader earned him a lucrative practice, but he lived simply. A contemporary, Roger North, described him as a heavy drinker and “a fetid mass that offended his neighbors at the bar in the sharpest degree.” He was kind, witty, honest, and idolized by law students: “I have seen him for hours … with an audience of students over against him, putting of cases and debating so as suited their capacities and encouraged their industry.”


Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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