In the past few years, a large amount of information relating to legal history has been made available on the internet. This is a brief guide to those resources which I have found useful, and which may be of interest to others working in law, history and legal history.
1. Legislation and records of government activity
Pre-1215 laws are being placed online via Early English Laws project: http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/
Statutes of the Realm (to 1713) can be found via Heinonline > English Reports.
The Calendars of Patent Rolls from Henry III to the middle of the reign of Henry VI (1216-1452) have been made available by Prof. G.R. Boynton and the University of Iowa Libraries, with a useful and generally reliable search facility: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/patentrolls/
British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/Default.aspx has some content available free, (including the Victoria County Histories, Calendar of Papal Registers, parts of Rymer’s Foedera and journals of the early modern houses of parliament). Other items, such as the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England and the Calendars of Close Rolls, however, are only available with the ‘premium’ subscription service.
Calendars of Fine Rolls from the reign of Henry III have been made available free as part of the Fine Rolls Project: http://www.frh3.org.uk/home.html
The National Archives website gives links to freely downloadable images of its class SC8 (‘Ancient Petitions’) which include many petitions to the king, his council, Parliament and royal officers. These documents are usually in Norman French. The National Archives catalogue is itself a useful resource, with helpful descriptions of documents and classes of documents, and a number of research guides: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/
Eighteenth to twentieth-century parliamentary papers can be found at: http://parlipapers.chadwyck.co.uk/home.do and a variety of 18th Century official publications at: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/library/bopcris/parl18c.html.
The National Archives has many projects making available original records. For example, many Poor Law records have recently been put online (free): http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/workhouse.asp
2. Court cases
A major project led by R.C. Palmer and E.K. Palmer at the University of Houston has made available, free of charge, high-quality images of the rolls of the royal courts of medieval and early modern England (and, to a limited extent, Wales): http://aalt.law.uh.edu/. There are King;’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, eyre records and other categories. This material is not, however, particularly ‘user-friendly’, since there is no index or search facility, and in order to understand it, some knowledge of Latin and palaeography is required.
Another American project, led by D.J. Seipp at Boston University, has catalogued and cross-referenced all of the Year Books (lawyers’ reports of the pleading in notable cases in the central courts in medieval and early-modern England): http://www.bu.edu/law/seipp/. Links to images of the printed ‘black letter’ Year Books are included where appropriate. The search facility is particularly good. This resource is mainly in English, though the original records themselves are in ‘Law French’ – a version of Norman French. A working knowledge of modern French and recourse to J.H. Baker, A Manual of Law French (1979) usually suffices for their translation.
Bracton’s Note Book (thirteenth century cases) is available in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics Library: http://www.heinonline.org/HOL/Index?collection=beal
The English Reports, the great collection of ‘nominate’ law reports covering cases from medieval times to the Victorian period, are available via Westlaw and as part of the Library’s subscription to HeinOnline: http://heinonline.org/HOL/Index?collection=engrep&set_as_cursor=clear. Note that some of the earlier English Reports are, in fact, in Law French, with occasional formulaic Latin.
An important resource for criminal law is the Old Bailey Project, with many reports of criminal trials from the seventeenth to the early-twentieth century: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/
Miscellaneous records from a variety of courts (especially London’s local courts) are available in British History Online.
Twentieth century cases are found in the normal series of law reports, many of which can be found online.
Records of church court cases are being put up in http://digitalhistory.concordia.ca/consistory/about.php?expand=about (in progress)
Bracton can be found at http://hlsl5.law.harvard.edu/bracton/ (Harvard University Library).
Many other treatises, including Blackstone’s Analysis and Commentaries, and Coke’s Institutes are included in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics Library: http://www.heinonline.org/HOL/Index?collection=beal. Note that the versions of ‘classics’ on HeinOnline are not necessarily either the earliest or the latest version, nor, in the case of works originally not in English, are they necessarily the best translation available.
Also extremely useful, with thousands of scans of out-of-copyright books, including treatises and some reports are:
Early English Books Online http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home
Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/
Newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals can be good sources – lively and opinionated, if not always reliable. These are published online in various ‘packages’ to which university and some civic libraries will subscribe. I have found the collection 19th Century British Periodicals, to which my library subscribes – particularly helpful for teaching purposes, particularly for pictures and satirical accounts from periodicals like Punch, Funny Folks and Judy, the Conservative Comic.
Law and especially crime has inspired many works of art. A collection like ArtStor can be useful to locate relevant material.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is available, and fully searchable, online: http://www.oxforddnb.com/. This gives reliable biographies of many law-makers and lawyers as well as some notorious criminals and victims of crime.
The BREPOLIS Bbliography of British and Irish History is a good place to start for all British and Irish historical monographs and articles: http://www.brepolis.net/. Also at this address are specialised medieval international bibliographies.
The major legal history journals, Journal of Legal History and Law and History Review are available online.
Relevant articles also appear in ‘straight’ history journals (many available online), though these are overwhelmingly about the history of criminal law rather than other aspects of legal history.
The Internet Text Archive is worth a look if you are after older (printed) public records, local records or chronicles: http://www.archive.org/details/texts
Free online transcriptions and documents relating to many areas of history can be found at: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/.
British history primary sources can be found at: http://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/index.php/History_of_the_United_Kingdom:_Primary_Documents.
Digital resources update 2017
Also worth looking at for 18th and 19th C crime and criminal justice: https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/
And for some digitised records of Lincoln’s Inn (Black Books and Admissions, see: http://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/index.php/library/the-inns-archives/digitised-records