The Taussig Collection: William Sheppard

Ryan Greenwood

Among the Taussig acquisitions, works by outstanding legal writers are an area of strength. Among these, William Sheppard (1595-1674) stands particularly tall. The most prolific and perhaps the most influential legal writer of his generation, Sheppard pioneered works in new areas of legal publishing, including his encyclopedic, The Faithful Councellor, or, The Marrow of the Lavv in English and its companion volume, The Second Part of the Faithfull Councellour, which are bound together in our 1653-54 edition (at left). The works were written in response to a 1650 decree that pleading in English courts be conducted in English, replacing the centuries-old, cumbersome Law French. Sheppard’s volumes were the first to address the new demand, providing a general guide to litigation in English. The Faithfull Councellor describes the actions that could be brought in common law, set out in the form of a commonplace book organized alphabetically by topic.      

Another of Sheppard’s works, Action upon the case for slander (1662), similarly addresses, in the form of a reference work, an emergent need. Only the second printed work of its kind, Sheppard produced a handbook for lawyers on the different kinds of slander—of which there were many—and their penalties. Amusing to modern readers may be references to cases and penalties for such abuse as “thou art a false forsworn knave” (62). The work offers good insight into forms of colloquial speech and the development of English slander law.

Sheppard was quite actively interested in law reform. After his work came to the attention of Oliver Cromwell, he was called in 1654 to advise Cromwell’s government. His published work containing recommendations for reform is extensive, with ample material on law reform and the reform of the English Church. After the Restoration, Sheppard’s fortunes changed, but he continued to publish innovative books until his death. Over a career of thirty-three years, a remarkable forty-nine editions of his twenty-three works were circulated in print.

From the Taussig collection the Library has been able to acquire twenty-two editions of Sheppard’s works.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow

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