In Worcester cathedral’s south nave aisle is a large tomb chest, covered in coats of arms, but otherwise quite plain. This fifteenth century monument is in fact that of one of England’s most important medieval lawyers, who came from the village of Frankley in Worcestershire.
|Thomas Littleton's portrait from his book. Photograph is reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
Sir Thomas Littleton is certainly one of the greatest laymen to be buried in the Cathedral. He was known as ‘the renowned Father of our English Laws’ and is remembered as the author of a legal treatise which avoided pedantic phraseology and was clear and readable. Sir Thomas Coke, an eminent legal authority in the reigns of James I and Charles I referred to his work as: ‘The most perfect and absolute work that ever was written in any human science’.
|Thomas Littleton's tomb showing some of the family's heraldry. Photograph is reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
In the cathedral library, there is a copy of Sir Thomas Coke’s commentary on Littleton. The cathedral’s edition of this book was published in 1642. Few authors can say that there work would still be printed nearly two hundred years after their death. Combined with Coke’s commentary Littleton’s work continued to influence English property law.
|From Coke on Littleton. A diagram showing the degree of Parentage and of Consanguinity. Photograph is reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
The exact details of Littleton’s early education are unknown. It is thought that he may have gone to university before proceeding to the Inner-Temple, London. His talent was noticed and King Henry VI made him Marshalsea of the King’s Household. In 1447, Littleton served as Under-Sheriff of Worcester and in 1450 was Recorder of Coventry. During the Wars of the Roses, Littleton did not take sides and he continued his legal studies and his legal duties. He worked his way up through the profession, being a sergeant-at-law, king’s sergeant, and judge of assize. Amid the civil strife, he busied himself with strengthening the basis of law against the avarice and ambition of men. When the House of York won, King Edward IV made him a knight and gave him the role of Judge of Common Pleas. Edward IV also gave him the lucrative 110 Marks a year from the customs on the ports of London, Kingston upon Hull and Bristol, as well as other rewards.
|The side of the tomb showing the other heraldic badge of the family. Photograph is reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
Judge Littleton died at Frankley. He left some of his manuscripts to his local Chapel in Frankley, and the monastery in Halesowen. This tomb was erected by him in his lifetime. Unfortunately, the brass on top of the tomb showing the lawyer saying the words Fili Dei miserere mei was lost in the English civil war era and was never replaced.