Willoughby Legal Manuscripts

Scope and Content

The collection comprises a sixteenth-century legal formulary, containing examples of deeds and legal documents, some of which relate to Lancashire (English MS 287); and a compendium of fifteenth-century legal treatises, including Littleton's tenures (incomplete), and Natura brevium (English MS 288).

Administrative / Biographical History

See Scope and Content below.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The manuscripts were purchased by the John Rylands Library in 1915 from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch for £10; invoice dated 2 July 1915.

Custodial History

Both manuscripts were formerly owned by one John Willoughby. He has not been positively identified, but two John Willoughbys were admitted to the Inns of Court in the 17th century: (1) John Willoughby, son and heir of John Willoughby of Payhembury, Devon, esq., was admitted to Middle Temple in 1631; (2) John Willoughby esq., son of Philip Willoughby of Grendon, Northants, esq., was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1652. The latter may be the same John Willoughby who is recorded in Joseph Foster's Alumni Oxonienses as the son of Philip Willoughby of Olney, Bucks, gent; he matriculated at Queen's College on 13 February 1644/5, aged 16, and was perhaps a student of Gray's Inn in 1652.

English MS 287 is closely associated with Lancashire and there was a Lancashire branch of the Willoughby family of Parham, Suffolk. The cadet line originated in the marriage of Thomas Willoughby to the heiress of the Puritan Whittle family of Horwich and Rivington. For further information see P.J.W. Higson, 'A dissenting northern family' (see Bibliography below). Thomas was wrongly supposed to be the heir male and was summoned to Parliament as Lord Willoughby of Parham. He died in 1692 and was buried at Horwich. However, it has not proved possible to identify any member of this family called John Willoughby.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Professor Ralph Hanna of Keble College, Oxford, in the identification of John Willoughby.


Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, part 1 (1500-1714) (Oxford: James Parker, 1891).

Joseph Foster, Register of admissions to Gray's Inn, 1521-1889, together with the register of marriages in Gray's Inn chapel, 1695-1754 (London: privately printed by the Hansard Publishing Union, 1889).

P.J.W. (Philip John Willoughby) Higson, 'A dissenting northern family: the Lancashire branch of the Willoughbys of Parham, 1640-1765', Northern History, vol. 7 (1972), pp. 31-53.

H.A.C. (Herbert Arthur Charlie) Sturgess, Register of admissions to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, from the fifteenth century to the year 1944 (London: published for the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple by Butterworth, 1949).