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Historical Sketch Of Equitable Jurisdiction Chancery

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This case is considered as a basic case for the common law jurisdictions. In this case, it was held by the court that the equitable principles need to be given preference over the common law. The facts of this case can be briefly described Management as follows. Some land was sold by Magdalene College, Cambridge, was sold to Queen Elizabeth I and then it was sold to Benedict Spinola, who was a Genoese merchant. It has been provided by a statute, 13 Eliz c10 that the conveyance of estate by masters, fellows or a Dean of the College to any person for anything else than a period of 21 years or three lives shall be completely void. By transferring the estate to the Queen, impeachable title can be granted. This was delayed by Spinola, and also by the Earl of Oxford, who had purchased this land in 1580. He built 130 houses on the land. A house was leased by John Warren through intermediaries. Then, the master of Magdalene College claimed that he cannot lease the land to John Smith. Under these circumstances, an action for ejection was initiated by Warren against Smith. However, his lease expired before the court could hear the matter. However, Warren requested that the matter should be heard anyway.

In its decision, the jury arrived at the conclusion that the position was taken unlawfully by Smith (through the sale of land later on by Gooch on college's behalf) and as a result, the sale was good. The ultimate meaning of this verdict was that Warren can be considered as being capable of ejecting Smith. In this case, Coke CJ stated that the initial transfer of land was void. He said that it was the by statute 13 Eliz c 10. It was further mentioned that Queen acted as the founding of justice and common right'. Therefore she cannot be exempted from the application of a statute that has been in acted with a view to encourage the development of learning. As a result, it was held that the property was leased by Goche again validly to Smith. This meant that Warren cannot be allowed to eject Smith. On the other hand, while these developments were taking place, Edward de Vere had died. His successor was Henry de vere. He was still a minor at that time. Therefore, he along with another tenant, Thomas Wood raised this matter before the Court of Chancery. Goche and John Smith refused to reply as they claimed that it was void. At the same time, they also refused to appear before the court. As a result, they were put into the Fleet Prison by the Chancery Court on the allegations of the contempt of court.


In this way, R., injunction was issued by Lord Ellesmere of the Court of Chancery. The enactment of the common law order was prohibited. Earl of Oxford, and his tenants were granted quiet enjoyment over the property. In other words, this order meant that the initial transaction of the land was not void as a result of the statute. This order also stayed all the common law suits that have been initiated against Earl. The Court started its judgment by referring to the Bible and stated he "that builds a house ought to dwell in it and he that plants a vineyard ought to gather the Grapes". It was also remarked in this decision that the common law judges have themselves played the part of Chancellors when they considered the equitable construction of the statute as the law. However, the Chancery was not similar to the Court of Appeal. On the other hand, it had a unique position.

After the decision given by Lord Ellesmere in this case, there was a stalemate between the two courts. The result was that this matter was referred to attorney general, Sir Francis Bacon. On the other hand, Lord Ellesmere had made an appeal to King James I. He referred this issue to the attorney general for the Prince of Wales, and to Francis Bacon, who was the attorney general for England and Wales. These two persons gave their decision in favor of Lord Ellesmere. This was approved by King James I and therefore he issued a declaration in which it was stated, “as mercy and justice are the two supporters of the Royal Throne and it properly belongs to the princely office to take care and also to provide equal and indifferent justice to our subjects; and when the case needs to be relieved in courts of equity by suit in the Management Court of Chancery they need not be abandoned and exposed to perish under the extremity and rigor of the laws and therefore we approve, identify and confirm the practice of the Court of Chancery”. In this way, it was decreed by the King that in case of a conflict that may arise between common law and equity, equity shall prevail. The primacy of equity was again established in England by the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875. This legislation was also acted for the purpose of fusing the court of equity and common law into a single unified Court system.

Therefore it can be said that the Earl of Oxford's Case acts as the foundation stone of equity in the modern English law. This case is also noted for the robust defense of specialist equity court by Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, particularly at a time when the head of common law courts, Coke CJ was trying to curtail its power. As a result of the decision of the matter by the King, the primacy of equity was established and the Management preeminent status of equity continues even today.



Charles Mitchell and Paul Mitchell, Landmark Cases in Equity (2012) Hart Publishing

D Kerly, An historical sketch of the Management equitable jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery (1890) 114

FT White, A selection of leading cases in equity (1926) vol 2, part 1, 78-79

Redgrave v Hurd  (1881) 20 Ch

Seager v Copydex Ltd  [1967] 2 All ER


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