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

The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I

The Constitutional History Of England
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[edit]

Born in London, Maitland was the grandson of Samuel Roffey Maitland (1792–1866) and the son of John Gorham Maitland (1818–1863). He 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.[3]


He was called to the bar by 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 Selden Society's first literary editor from 1887 to 1895, and edited many volumes for the organization, 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 Lecture in 1897 (later published as Township and Borough) and the Rede Lecture in 1901.

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."[4]

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 judgments: "The forms of action we have buried but still they rule us from their graves."

His written style was elegant and lively.[5] 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[6] 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[7] 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, Glasgow, Moscow and Cracow. 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.[3]

Upon his death, the University of Oxford presented an address of condolence to Cambridge, described by Geoffrey Elton as an "unprecedented tribute."[8]

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.[9]

See also[edit]


His principal works include:[7]




  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. ^ a b Milsom, S. F. C. "Maitland, Frederic William (1850–1906)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34837.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Rabban, David M. (2013). Law’s History: American Legal Thought and the Transatlantic Turn to History. Cambridge University Press. p. 389. 
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ Haskins, Charles H. (1916–1917). "Frederic William Maitland," Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 51, p. 904.
  7. ^ a b "Professor F. W. Maitland." Times [London, England] 22 December 1906: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2012
  8. ^ Elton, G.R. (1985). F.W. Maitland. Yale University Press. p. 1. 
  9. ^ Imogen Levy and Duck Soup "Poets' Corner - Westminster Abbey". Retrieved 2014-09-20. 
  10. ^ Greenslet, Ferris (1907). "Review: Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen by Frederic William Maitland". The North American Review 184: 195–198. 


  • 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[edit]