Breton, John le (DNB00)

BRETON, JOHN le (d. 1275), bishop of Hereford, was chosen bishop about Christmas 1268, being then a canon of Hereford, and was consecrated 2 June 1269. For about two years before this he was a justice of the king's court. He died 12 May 1275. Some fifty years after his death, perhaps sooner, the belief was current that he wrote the book now known to lawyers as ' Britton.' That book (first printed without date about 1540, reprinted in 1640, and carefully edited by F. M. Nichols in 1865) is in the main Bracton's treatise on English law condensed, rearranged on a new plan, purged of speculative jurisprudence, turned from Latin into French, and put into the mouth of Edward I, so that the whole law appears as the king's command. Seemingly, it is an unfinished work, but it became very popular, and was often copied in manuscript. Frequent reference is made in it to statutes passed after the bishop's death, and from the internal evidence we must suppose it written shortly after 1290. Possibly we have but the bishop's book as altered by a later hand, or possibly, as Selden suggested, there has been some confusion between the bishop and the contemporary judge whom we call Bracton [q. v.], but whose name seems really to have been Bratton. The book 'Britton ' might fairly be called a Bracton for practising lawyers, and in fourteenth-century manuscripts the two books are indiscriminately called Bretoun, Brettoune, and the like.

[For election, consecration, and death, see thefollowing Chronicles under years 1268-9, 1275: Gervase of Canterbury (ed. Stubbs); Annals of Winchester, Waverley, Osney. Wykes, and Worcester (all in Annales Monastici, ed. Luard, who, vol. ii. p. xxxvii, discusses date of consecration); Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy, i. 459-60. For judicial employment: Excerpta e Rotulis Finium (Record Commission), ii. 444-82; Liber de Antiquis Legibus (Camden Society), year 1267. Judge and bishop same man: Ann. Osney, year 1268. The statement that he wrote a law book is in the following, under year 1275: F. Nicolai Triveti Annales (ed. Hog.); Chronicle of Rishanger (ed. Riley); Flores Historiarum Matth. Westm. (ed. 1570, but it is not in the first edition, nor in many manuscripts see Hardy, Catalogue of Materials for British History, iii. 209). The authorship of Britton is discussed by Selden, Notes to Hengham, ed. 1616, pp. 129-31 and Dissertation suffixed to Fleta, pp. 458-9, also in F. M. Nichols's preface to edition (1865) of Britton; Foss's Judges of England.]

F. W. M.