La novel natura brevium

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Anthony Fitzherbert was England’s leading legal writer and compiler of legal information in the 16th century. He was born about 1470 in Norbury, Derbyshire, the youngest of seven sons. His mother left him an income on condition that he pursue legal learning. He did so, and by 1507 was acting as counsel in one of the King’s courts. In 1508 he became a bencher of Gray’s Inn, a serjeant in 1510, and a King’s serjeant in 1516. In 1522 he became a Justice of Common Pleas and remained on the bench through the most turbulent years of Henry VIII’s reign. Clues in the historical record suggest that Fitzherbert opposed Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon in 1533 and dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, but Fitzherbert wisely kept private his preference for Roman Catholicism, and thereby managed to keep his head when others, including the Chancellor Thomas More, were losing theirs. Fitzherbert signed articles of impeachment against Cardinal Wolsey and was commissioned to take part in the trials of Thomas More and of Bishop John Fisher. Fitzherbert’s descendants were adherents to Roman Catholicism under Elizabeth I and suffered for this. Fitzherbert himself died in office in 1538 and was buried at Norbury.

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