The interpretation of deeds and wills at common law, c. 1536-c. 1616
McCunn, Joanna Hester
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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McCunn, J. H. (2019). The interpretation of deeds and wills at common law, c. 1536-c. 1616 (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.44115
This thesis explores common law approaches to the interpretation of deeds and wills between approximately 1536 and 1616. It identifies the rules and principles used by lawyers to understand these documents, and explores the wider forces that influenced their development. The methodology of the thesis is primarily doctrinal: it is principally based on an examination of contemporary law reports and legal treatises. The thesis demonstrates that common lawyers in this period took a sophisticated approach to the interpretation of private documents. They sought to strike a balance between interpreting a document according to the apparent meaning of its words, and interpreting it according to the writer’s presumed intentions. They also appealed to reason to guide them to the right meaning of a document. Different kinds of document required different approaches to interpretation, due to differences in the nature and purpose of each. This thesis argues that common lawyers’ attitudes to interpretation underwent a significant shift during the second half of the sixteenth century. Lawyers became less willing to prioritise a writer’s intention over the proper signification of the words he had used. They developed a preference for resolving cases in accordance with rules and maxims, or with the authority of previously-judged cases. They also became more anxious about the possibility of misinterpreting a document. These changes took place in a wider context of concern about legal documents, litigation, and legal uncertainty. The interpretation of private documents was an issue that both lawyers and laymen cared about fiercely in this period. This thesis will improve our understanding of legal interpretation in a foundational period for its development in England.
law, history, interpretation
The research for this thesis was funded by the Selden Society.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.44115
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