Les Termes de la Ley 1527 – John Rastell

Les Termes de la Ley 1527
John Rastell (c. 1475–1536)

Les Termes de la Ley
Les Termes de la Ley

You may need a dictionary to grasp the meaning of an unknown word while reading this book. People can use dictionaries to improve their understanding of a language or a certain subject, and hence their capacity to comprehend concepts and ideas. Today, we take that skill for granted. Consider a world without dictionaries: where would a reader go to learn the meanings of words they’d never heard before?

Expositiones Terminorum Legum Anglorum, afterwards known as Les Termes de la Ley, was originally published in England in 1527 by John Rastell, an English lawyer and author. The dictionary had 208 entries, which were laid down alphabetically in parallel columns, one in Latin and the other in Anglo-Norman Law French. In 1530, a second edition was published with English translations.

Rastell’s work was the first English-language dictionary of any kind, not merely a law dictionary.  It was published more than a decade before The Dictionary of Syr Thomas Eliot Knyght and seventy-five years before Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall. It took another two centuries for Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language to be published.

Rastell intended for his dictionary to be used as a teaching tool. Rastell sought to inform and educate common folks in addition to lawyers and students. Only an informed populace, he believes, can achieve the law’s ultimate social goals.

Despite competition from Giles Jacob’s New Law-Dictionary, which changed the shape of the legal dictionary in the direction of an encyclopedia, Rastell’s dictionary appeared in twenty-nine subsequent editions between 1527 and 1819. Termes de la Ley is “the ultimate ancestor of every Anglo-American law dictionary and legal encyclopedia,” according to bibliographer Howard Jay Graham, who adds that it “probably has exercised as nearly permanent and decisive an impact as any lawbook in English history.”


Littleton’s Tenures (1481);

Blackstone’s Commentaries (1765);

The Field Code (1848);

Law Reporting and Legal Publishing (1872).


Les Termes de la Ley

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)