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Frederic William Maitland

Frederic William Maitland
Portrait of Frederic William Maitland by Beatrice Lock, 1906
Born (1850-05-28)28 May 1850
Died 19 December 1906(1906-12-19) (aged 56)
Gran Canaria
Occupation Historian, Jurist
Nationality English
Notable works Domesday Book and Beyond
Spouse Florence Henrietta Fisher
Children Ermengard, Fredegond


Frederic William Maitland FBA (28 May 1850 – 19 December 1906) was an English historian and lawyer who is generally regarded as the modern father of English legal history.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Family 3
  • Honours 4
  • See also 5
  • Works 6
    • Essays 6.1
    • Other 6.2
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Maitland was the grandson of Samuel Roffey Maitland (1792–1866) and the son of John Gorham Maitland (1818–1863), and was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, being bracketed at the head of the moral sciences tripos of 1872, and winning the Whewell scholarship for international law.[2] He was a Cambridge Apostle and president of the Cambridge Union.


He was called to the bar (Lincoln's Inn) in 1876, and became a competent equity lawyer and conveyancer, but finally devoted himself to comparative jurisprudence and especially the history of English law. In 1884 he was appointed reader in English law at Cambridge, and in 1888 he was elected as Downing Professor of the Laws of England. Despite his generally poor health, his intellectual grasp and wide knowledge and research gradually made him famous as a jurist and historian.

Maitland was the Cambridge Modern History, the English Historical Review, the Law Quarterly Review, Harvard Law Review and other publications. Maitland delivered the Ford Lectures in 1897.

His most important work was The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I, which appeared in 1895. Co-authored with his friend Frederick Pollock (who only wrote the chapter on Anglo-Saxon law), The History of English Law has been described as "the best book on English legal history ever published in the English language."[3]

Posthumous publications by his students, editing their lecture notes based on his lectures, include The Constitutional History of England, Equity, and The Forms of Action at Common Law. The latter publication has been repeatedly reprinted, and contains perhaps his most-quoted observation, which still appears in learned articles and superior court judgements: "The forms of action we have buried but still they rule us from their graves."

His written style was elegant and lively.[4] His historical method was distinguished by his thorough and sensitive use of historical sources, and by his determinedly historical perspective. Maitland taught his students, and all later historians, not to investigate the history of law purely or mostly by reference to the needs of the present, but rather to consider and seek to understand the past on its own terms. He died in 1906 at Gran Canaria[5] from tuberculosis and is buried in the English Cemetery in Las Palmas.


Maitland married Florence Henrietta Fisher, daughter of the historian Herbert William Fisher, in 1886[6] and they had two daughters, Ermengard (1887 - 1968) and Fredegond (1889 - 1949); after Maitland's death his widow married Sir Francis Darwin, a son of Charles Darwin. Florence Fisher's brother, the Liberal scholar and politician H. A. L. Fisher, edited Maitland's papers and lectures on English constitutional history after his death.


Maitland held honorary doctorates from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Glasgow. He was one of the founding fellows of the British Academy, honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and honorary bencher of Lincoln's Inn. In 1902, the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, offered him the Regius Professorship of History at Cambridge, which he declined.

The Squire Law Library of the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge contains the Maitland Legal History Room. The Maitland Historical Society of Downing College, Cambridge, is named in his honour. He is commemorated in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.[7]

See also


His principal works include:[6]

  • Pleas of the Crown for the County of Gloucester before the Abbot of Reading and his Fellows Justices Itinerant, Macmillan & Co., 1884.
  • Justice and Police, Macmillan & Co., 1885.
  • Bracton's Note-Book, Vol. 2, C. J. Clay & Sons, 1887 [reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010]. ISBN 978-1-108-01031-3)
  • History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, with Sir Frederick Pollock, Cambridge University Press, 1899 [1st Pub. 1895; new ed. 1898].
  • Domesday Book and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1897.
  • Township and Borough: Being the Ford Lectures Delivered in the University of Oxford in the October Term of 1897, Cambridge University Press, 1898.
  • Roman Canon Law in the Church of England, Methuen & Co., 1898.
  • English Law and the Renaissance: the Rede Lecture for 1901, Cambridge University Press, 1901.
  • Charters of the Borough of Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1901 (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01043-6)
  • Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, Duckworth & Co., 1906.[8]
  • The Constitutional History of England, Cambridge University Press, 1909 [1st Pub. 1908].
  • Equity. Also the Forms of Action at Common Law, Edited by A.H. Chaytor and W.J. Whittaker, Cambridge University Press, 1910.
  • The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, H.A.L. Fisher, ed., Vol. I, Cambridge University Press, 1911.
  • The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, H.A.L. Fisher, ed., Vol. II, Cambridge University Press, 1911.
  • The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland, H.A.L. Fisher, ed., Vol. III, Cambridge University Press, 1911.
  • A Sketch of English Legal History, with Francis G. Montague, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1915.
  • The Letters of Frederic William Maitland, Selden Society, 1965.


  • "The Relation of Punishment to Temptation," Mind, Vol. V, 1880.
  • "The Criminal Liability of the Hundred," The Law Magazine and Review, Vol. VII, 1882.
  • "Mr. Herbert Spencer's Theory of Society," Part II, Mind, Vol. VIII, 1883.
  • "From the Old Law Courts to the New," The English Illustrated Magazine, Vol. I, 1883.
  • "The Seisin of Chattels," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. I, 1885.
  • "The Deacon and the Jewess: or, Apostasy at Coomon Law," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. II, 1886.
  • "The Mystery of Seisin," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. II, 1886.
  • "The Suitors of the County Court," The English Historical Review, Vol. III, 1888.
  • "The Beatitude of Seisin," Part II, The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. IV, 1888.
  • "The Surnames of English Villages", The Archaeological Review, Vol. IV, No. 4, 1889.
  • "The Introduction of English Law into Ireland," The English Historical Review, Vol. IV, 1889.
  • "The Materials for English Legal History," Part II, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. IV, 1889.
  • "The 'Praerogativa Regis'," The English Historical Review, Vol. VI, 1891.
  • "Henry II and the Criminous Clerks," The English Historical Review, Vol. VII, 1892.
  • "The 'Quatripartitus'," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. VIII, 1892.
  • "The History of Cambridgeshire Manor," The English Historical Review, Vol. IX, No. 35, July 1894.
  • "The Origin of the Borough," The English Historical Review, Vol. IX, 1896.
  • "Wyclif on English and Roman Law," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. XII, 1896.
  • "'Execrabilis' in the Common Pleas," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. XII, 1896.
  • "Canon Law in England," The English Historical Review, Vol. XII, 1897.
  • "The Corporation Sole," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. XVI, 1900.
  • "Prologue to a History of English Law." In: Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, Vol. I. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1907.
  • "Materials For the History of English Law." In: Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, Vol. II. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1908.
  • "The History of the Register of Original Writs." In: Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, Vol. II. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1908.


  • "Glanville, Ranulf de." In: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXI, 1890.
  • "Court Rolls, Manorial Accounts and Extents." In: Dictionary of Political Economy, Vol. I, 1894.
  • Essays on the Teaching of History, William Arthur Jobson Archbold, ed., with an introduction by F.W. Maitland, Cambridge University Press, 1901.
  • “Bracton, Henry de.” In: Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. IV, (11th ed.), 1911.
  • “English Law.” In: Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. IX, (11th ed.), 1911.


  1. ^ Runciman, David (1997). Pluralism and the Personality of the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. xi. 
  2. ^ "Maitland, Frederic William (MTLT868FW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ Rabban, David M. (2013). Law’s History: American Legal Thought and the Transatlantic Turn to History. Cambridge University Press. p. 389. 
  4. ^ "Frederic William Maitland," The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two: Historians, Biographers and Political Orators, Putnam, 1907–1921.
  5. ^ Haskins, Charles H. (1916–1917). "Frederic William Maitland," Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 51, p. 904.
  6. ^ a b "Professor F. W. Maitland." Times [London, England] 22 December 1906: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2012
  7. ^ Imogen Levy and Duck Soup "Poets' Corner - Westminster Abbey". Retrieved 2014-09-20. 
  8. ^  


  • Bell, Henry Esmond (1965). Maitland: A Critical Examination and Assessment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Cameron, James R. (1961). Frederic William Maitland and the History of English Law. University of Oklahoma Press [rep. by Greenwood Press, 1977; Lawbook Exchange, 2001].
  • Elton, G.R. (1985). F.W. Maitland. Yale University Press.
  • Fifoot, C.H.S. (1971). Frederic William Maitland: A Life. Harvard University Press, 1971 [only full-length biography in print. Written by an academic lawyer in the field, but covering both the personal and professional life of its subject].
  • Fisher, H.A.L. (1910). F. W. Maitland. Cambridge University Press.
  • Heatley, D.P. (1913). "Frederic William Maitland." In: Studies in British History and Politics. London: Smith, Elder & Co., pp. 138–163.
  • Hollond, Henry Arthur (1953). Frederic William Maitland, 1850–1906: A Memorial Address. London: Quaritch.
  • Lapsley, Gaillard Thomas (1907). "Frederic William Maitland," The Green Bag, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 205–213.
  • Milsom, Stroud Francis Charles (1980). F. W. Maitland: Lecture on a Mastermind. Oxford University Press.
  • Milsom, Stroud Francis Charles (2001). "Maitland," Cambridge Law Journal, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 265–270.
  • Reynell, Mrs. (1951). "Frederic William Maitland," The Cambridge Law Journal, Vol. XI, No. 1, pp. 67–73 [Mrs. Reynell was Maitland's eldest sister].
  • Schuyler, Robert Livingston (1952). "The Historical Spirit Incarnate: Frederic William Maitland," The American Historical Review, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 303–322.
  • Schuyler, Robert Livingston (1960). Introduction to Frederic William Maitland: Historian, University of California Press.
  • Smith, A.L. (1908). F. W. Maitland. Oxford: Claredon Press.
  • Smith, Munro & J.T. Shotwell (1907). "Frederic William Maitland," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 22, pp. 282–296.
  • Pollock, Sir Frederick et al. (1907). "In Memorian: Frederic W. Maitland," The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. 23, pp. 137–150.
  • Vinogradoff, Paul (1907). "Frederic William Maitland," English Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 86, pp. 280–289.
  • Wormald, Patrick (1998). "Frederic William Maitland and the Earliest English Law," Law and History Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 1–25.

External links

  • )The TimesObituary (From
  • Maitland's works on McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought
  • Works by or about Frederic William Maitland in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Frederic William Maitland at Find a Grave
  • Frederic William Maitland at Find a Grave for Florence Henrietta Fisher, later Maitland, later Darwin (Lady)
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