1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bracton, Henry de
BRACTON, HENRY DE (d. 1268), English judge and writer on English law. His real name was Bratton, and in all probability he derived it either from Bratton Fleming or from Bratton Clovelly, both of them villages in Devonshire. It is only after his death that his name appears as “Bracton.” He seems to have entered the king's service as a clerk under the patronage of William Raleigh, who after long service as a royal justice died bishop of Winchester in 1250. Bracton begins to appear as a justice in 1245, and from 1248 until his death in 1268 he was steadily employed as a justice of assize in the south-western counties, especially Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. During the earlier part of this period he was also sitting as a judge in the king's central court, and was there hearing those pleas which “followed the king”; in other words, he was a member of that section of the central tribunal which was soon to be distinguished as the king's bench. From this position he retired or was dismissed in or about the year 1257, shortly before the meeting of the Mad Parliament at Oxford in 1258. Whether his disappearance is to be connected with the political events of this turbulent time is uncertain. He continued to take the assizes in the south-west, and in 1267 he was a member of a commission of prelates, barons and judges appointed to hear the complaints of the disinherited partisans of Simon de Montfort. In 1259 he became rector of Combe-in-Teignhead, in 1261 rector of Barnstaple, in 1264 archdeacon of Barnstaple, and, having resigned the archdeaconry, chancellor of Exeter cathedral; he also held a prebend in the collegiate church at Bosham. Already in 1245 he enjoyed a dispensation enabling him to hold three ecclesiastical benefices. He died in 1268 and was buried in the nave of Exeter cathedral, and a chantry for his soul was endowed out of the revenues of the manor of Thorverton.
His fame is due to a treatise on the laws and customs of England which is sufficiently described elsewhere (see English Law). The main part of it seems to have been compiled between 1250 and 1256; but apparently it is an unfinished work. This may be due to the fact that when he ceased to be a member of the king's central court Bracton was ordered to surrender certain judicial records which he had been using as raw material. Even though it be unfinished his book is incomparably the best work produced by any English lawyer in the middle ages.
text was reprinted in 1640. An edition (1878 – 1883) with English translation was included in the Rolls Series. Manuscript copies are numerous, and a critical edition is a desideratum. See Bracton's Note-Book (ed. Maitland, 1887); Bracton and Azo (Selden Society,1895).
(F. W. M.)