1902 Encyclopedia > Sir John Fortescue

Sir John Fortescue
English lawyer
(
fl. 15th century)




SIB JOHN FORTESCUE, an eminent English lawyer in the reign of Henry VI., was descended from an ancient family in Devonshire, and, in all probability, was born at Norris, near South Brent in Somersetshire, towards the close of the 14th century. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford. During the reign of Henry VI. he was three times appointed one of the governors of Lincoln's Inn. In 1441 he was made a king's sergeant at law, and in the following year chief justice of the king's bench. As a judge Fortescue is highly commended for his wisdom, gravity, and uprightness; and he seems to have enjoyed great favour with the king, who is said to have given him some substantial proofs of esteem and regard. He held his office during the remainder of the reign of Henry VI., to whom he steadily adhered ; and having faithfully served that unfortunate monarch in all his troubles, he was attainted of treason in the first parliament of Edward IV. When Henry subsequently fled into Scotland, he is sup-posed to have appointed Fortescue, who appears to have accompanied him in his flight, chancellor of England. In 1463 Fortescue accompanied Queen Margaret and her court in their exile on the Continent, and returned with them afterwards to England. During their wanderings abroad the chancellor wrote for the instruction of the young Prince Edward his celebrated work De laudibus legum Anglias. On the defeat of the Lancastrian party, he made his submission to Edward IV., from whom he re-ceived a general pardon dated Westminster, October 13, 1471. He died at an advanced age, but the exact date of his death has not been ascertained.

Fortescue's masterly vindication of the laws of England, though received with great favour by the learned of the profession to whom it was communicated, did not appear in print until the reign of Henry VIII., when it was published by Whitechurch in 16mo, but without a date. In 1516 it was translated by Mulcaster, and printed by Tottel; and again in 1567, 1573, and 1575, and also by White in 1598, 1599, and 1609. It was likewise printed, with Hengham's Sumina Magna et Parva, in 1616 and 1660, 12mo; and again with Selden's notes in 1672, in 12mo. In 1737 it appeared in folio; and, in 1775, an English translation, with the original Latin, and Selden's notes, besides a variety of remarks relative to the history, antiquities, and laws of England, was published in 8vo. Waterhouse's Fortescue Ilhtstratus, which appeared in 1663, though prolix and defective in style, may be consulted with advantage. Another valuable and learned work by Fortescue, written in English, was published in 1714, under the title of The Difference between an Absolute and Limited Monarchy, as it more particularly regards the English Constitution, and accompanied with some remarks by John Fortescue Aland, of the Inner Temple, London; and a second edition with amendments appeared in 1719. In the Cotton Library there is a manuscript of this work, in the title of which it is said to have been addressed to Henry VI.; but many passages show plainly that it was written in favour of Edward IV. Of Fortescue's other writings, which were pretty numerous, the most important are—1. Opusculum de Natura Legis Natural, et de ejus censura in successione Regnorum Supremorum; 2. Defensio juris Domus Lan-castrian; 3. Genealogy of the Bouse of Lancaster; 4. Of the Title of the House of York; 5. Genealogiaz Begum Scotia:; 6. A Dialogue between Understanding and Faith; 7. A Prayer Book which savours much of the Times we live in. In 1869 his descendant, Lord Clermont, printed for private distribution The Works of Sir John Fortescue, now first collected and arranged, and A History of the Family of Fortescue in all its brandies (sea Lambeth Review, 1872).








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