A Roman face on an English body: the typography of Plowden’s Commentaries

Thomas Giddens (Lead / Corresponding author)

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This paper examines the typographic form of Plowden’s Commentaries within its legal, printing, and technological histories, demonstrating that its typographic appearance embeds complex tensions over the study and dissemination of the common law into its material form. There are legally relevant meanings in the shape of letters, beyond mere legibility, that are connected with the heritage of type design and print technologies. Within the context of debates over the propriety of early common law printing, this paper provides an examination of Plowden’s typographic style as roman and humanist. Tracing the genealogy of roman and humanist letters that led to the ones used in Plowden’s opening judgment, the typography of the Commentaries is connected to debates over the resistance of the common law (as an unwritten law) to humanism and Roman-style codification. Plowden’s typographic register is thereby seen to encode the Latinate traditions to which the structure and custom of the English common law is opposed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalLaw and Humanities
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Mar 2024


  • Legal history
  • Typography
  • Legal aesthetics
  • Law reporting


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