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William Blackstone and his Commentaries on the Laws of England

From 2002 onwards a series of research projects funded by the Australian Research Council has sought to cast new light on the life and works of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), best known for his celebrated and enormously influential Commentaries on the Laws of England, first published in four volumes between 1765 and 1769.

An edition of Blackstone's Elements of Architecture was completed by Dr Carol Matthews (Architecture and Polite Culture in Eighteenth-Century England: Blackstone's Architectural Manuscripts, University of Adelaide PhD thesis, 2007); Dr Matthews has subsequently published a chapter A Model of the Old House: Architecture in Blackstone's Life and Commentaries, in the collection Blackstone and his Commentaries: Biography, Law, History, ed. Wilfrid Prest (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2009, 2014).

In the absence of any significant surviving archive of personal or professional papers, Blackstone's correspondence provides an indispensable source for the story of his life. A volume of collected letters was published by the Selden Society as volume 14 in their Supplementary Series (The Correspondence of Sir William Blackstone, 1744-1780 (2006)). A series of additions and corrections to that volume is maintained on this website.

In addition to the biography William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2008, 2012), there are now two collections of essays on aspects of Blackstone's life and work, which appeared under the imprint of Hart Publishing, Oxford in 2009 and 2014; a third volume, on Blackstone and His Critics, currently in preparation under the joint editorship of Anthony Page and Wilfrid Prest, is scheduled for publication in 2017.

Most recently a new variorum edition of the Commentaries, also prepared with assistance from the Australian Research Counci, as well as the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation and the American Society for Legal History, has been published by Oxford University Press under Prest's general editorship, with individual volumes edited by David Lemmings, Simon Stern, Thomas Gallanis and Ruth Paley: for further details about this major international scholarly undertaking click here.

While the Blackstone project is more or less completed, its findings will continue to influence work by David Lemmings, Mike Macnair and Wilfrid Prest as co-authors of volume IX of the Oxford History of the Laws of England which covers the period 1689-1760 and is currently being undertaken with the support of the Australian Research Council under Discovery Project DP 160100265.

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