The early common law produced a rich literature. This article examines two of the most popular legal treatises of the second half of the thirteenth century, Hengham Magna and Fet Asaver. It has long been recognized that these two treatises bear some relationship to each other. This article will attempt to establish that relationship, arguing that Hengham Magna and Fet Asaver were written by different people; that Fet Asaver borrows from Hengham Magna; and that the authors of both texts had independent access to the Bracton treatise. The article concludes by suggesting a new way to think about the legal literature of the later thirteenth century. It suggests that Hengham Magna and Fet Asaver do not represent a dramatic break with the earlier literature of the common law, as some scholars have suggested. They may instead represent an evolution of that literature to serve the needs of the practising bar. I. Introduction The early common law produced a rich literature. Between the 1250s and the 1280s a plethora of small treatises with names like Cadit Assisa, Fet Asaver, and Modus Componendi Brevia were written. They were copied into books we now know as statute books, small-format codices made for lawyers, estate managers, and landowners as handy and portable guides to conveyancing and litigation. These treatises are particularly interesting because they were written in a period of transition for the common law. The serjeants, lawyers who handled courtroom pleading, were starting to come into their own as a cohesive group of professionals during this period.1 These short treatises appear to have played an important part in the formation of the fledgling English legal profession. Yet the history of this early literature of the common law is still not well understood. We know little about who wrote these texts and why.2 © 2016

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37 Journal of Legal History 41-71 (2016)