Frederic William Maitland

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Frederic William Maitland
Frederic William Maitland by Beatrice Lock (Mrs Fripp).jpg
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 (28 May 1850 – 19 December 1906) was an English jurist and historian, generally regarded as the modern father of English legal history.


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 a Whewell scholarship for international law.[1] He was a Cambridge Apostle.

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 became 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.

He edited many volumes for the Selden Society, including Select Pleas for the Crown, 1200–1225 and Select Pleas in Manorial Courts and The Court Baron. He also made important contributions to 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.

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[note] 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.[2] 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[3] from tuberculosis and is buried in the English Cemetery in Las Palmas.

He married Florence Henrietta Fisher in 1886[4] 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.

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.[5] [Note: Reprint by Cambridge University Press, 1976, page 1]

See also[edit]


His principal works include:[4]




  1. ^ "Maitland, Frederic William (MTLT868FW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ Haskins, Charles H. (1916–1917). "Frederic William Maitland," Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 51, p. 904.
  4. ^ a b "Professor F. W. Maitland." Times [London, England] 22 December 1906: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2012
  5. ^ Imogen Levy and Duck Soup "Poets' Corner - Westminster Abbey". Retrieved 2014-09-20. 


  • 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.

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