Abstract: Henry Swinburne was the first Englishman to write on canon law in English and produce a treatise on testaments and wills, which became the defining jurisprudential source for over two hundred years, from the late sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century. During this period, Swinburne’s treatise was reprinted nine times and received various additions, alterations, and deletions of material. To date, Swinburne’s treatise is often referred to as a singular text rather than a series of versions constantly being adapted to the purposes and characteristics of the times in which they were published. This article provides the first treatment of the textual evolution of Swinburne’s treatise, with particular reference to the section on the devise of land. This article employs a comparative textual analysis of the nine versions of Swinburne’s treatise with brief notes on the devise of land instances in wills and court cases. Further, the current numbering of the editions of Swinburne’s treatise is incorrect, and this article will provide a nuanced treatment of the misconceptions within the common understanding of the documents.
Key Words: Henry Swinburne; devise of land; uses; treatise; wills and testaments; law book; ecclesiastical law