27 February 2016

NOTICE: S.F.C. (Toby) Milsom (1923-2016)

S. F. C. Milsom was professor emeritus of law at Cambridge University and the author of many books, including 'Historical Foundations of the Common Law' (1969) 'Legal Framework of English Feudalism' (1972) and 'A Natural History of the Common Law' (2003). The recipient of the Harvard Law School's Ames Prize and the Royal Society of Arts' Swiney Prize, Milsom was past president of the Selden Society, a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He was a fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge since 1976.

A fitting tribute can be seen in just one online source's approach to contextualising his work: 'In most ways, his thought has dominated English legal history since 1958. His research was initially centered in the fourteenth century, and he has progressively worked backward into the twelfth century. He has been unconcerned with statutory change, not because he denies that law changes by statutes, but because he regards that as a relatively uninteresting form of legal change. In all his work he cautions against positing a legislator; for the larger issues of legal change, his fundamental postulate is that there was no legislator. "Legislator" for Milsom must be taken in the broad sense, that is, a person or several persons who shaped the law purposefully. The real initiators of legal change are not legislators (whether members of Parliament, Chancellors, or justices of the king's court), but everyday lawyers. Such lawyers are unconcerned with the ideal structure of the law and conceptual problems; their concerns are rather the success of their client. They are thus willing to circumvent obstacles erected by formal law. If they are successful in such a circumvention and others follow, the law has in fact been changed, but not from abstract concerns and not with any attention paid to the larger issues. Legal change issuing from lawyers' attempts to succeed for their clients is myopic and will distort legal conceptual structures without concern for those concepts or for the overall effect on society.' (

He will be always remembered by legal historians and his personal and scholarly legacy will continue to enlighten us with his wisdom. 
Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

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