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Law Dictionary Collection

John Rastell (c.1475-1536)

John Rastell. Exposiciones terminorum legum anglorum. London: John Rastell, [n.d.].
Gift of Joseph D. Jamail, UT Law 1953. 24 cm.

John Rastell was born into a prominent local family, probably in Coventry. He was a “renaissance man” – lawyer, architect, musician, and playwright, but most conspicuously, publisher. A member of the Middle Temple, he wrote four law books and published many more at his press in London.

Among his non-literary endeavors were managing the transport of artillery during the French war of 1512-1514, participating in an aborted voyage to the Americas, and serving as a member of Parliament. Rastell eventually became a protestant, and an active supporter of Thomas Cromwell and the Reformation. His prosperous printing business declined as he began to focus on protestant treatises. His conversion also led him to criticize the system of tithes, for which he was imprisoned in 1535, dying in jail the following year.

Exposiciones terminorum legum anglorum, later known as the Termes de la ley, is the first English law dictionary providing definitions of words in alphabetical order. It was undeniably popular and was issued in twenty-nine editions between the initial impression in 1523 and the last in 1819. In later imprints, editors slowly added to Rastell's original text, adding bits of antiquarian tradition as well as corrections and expansions. In all later editions except that of 1527, the Anglo-Norman text is accompanied by a parallel English translation.

The tremendously rare early sixteenth-century edition of Rastell dictionary was chosen as Tarlton Law Library's symbolic Millionth Volume, to celebrate the strong research collection Tarlton has developed for the Law School and the University of Texas. Its acquisition was made possible through the generous gift of distinguished alumnus Joseph D. Jamail.

Tarlton Law Library holds eleven editions of the Rastell dictionary dating from c.1530 to 1721.


Cecil H. Clough. "Rastell, John (c.1475–1536)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, []. Accessed 16 April 2010.

Albert J. Geritz. John Rastell. Boston: Twayne, 1983.