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British Admiralty Prize Case Books, 1780-1822, in the Navy Department Library

Scope and Content
Background on the High Court of Appeals for Prizes
Collection Inventory
Related Published Works
Use and Reproduction Policy

Scope and Content

The case books contained in this collection were compiled by the High Court of Delegates, which during the years in question had appellate jurisdiction over the British Admiralty and Vice-Admiralty Courts through the Commission of Appeals in Prize (also known as the High Court of Appeals for Prizes), which created the case summaries contained in the individual volumes. There are three series in the collection, which contain overlapping dates and case material: Prize Appeal Cases, 1780-1792; Prize Cases, 1794-1811; Prize Cases Appendices, 1780-1822. There are gaps in the second and third series, and possibly in the first series, where it is presumed that there should be a Volume 6: 1792-1794. The first two series correspond to distinct periods of war: the War of the American Revolution and its aftermath, for the first series, and the Wars of the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars for the second series. The third series provides appendix material for the first two series. Despite the misleading title of the second series, Prize Cases, the records contained are of an appellate nature and are not records of cases originating in the Admiralty and Vice-Admiralty Courts.

The case material contained in the collection was apparently selected for binding from printed copies of a larger collection of Appeals Papers, which had been archived in bundles by the High Court of Delegates. Accordingly, the bound volumes of the Navy Department Library collection correspond to a discrete series, Prize Appeal Records: Case Books (H.C.A. 45)[], held by the British National Archives as part of the High Court of Admiralty record group. The larger collection of bundled records corresponds to another series of that record group, Prize Appeal Records: Appeals Papers (H.C.A. 42) [].

With regard to the provenance of the collection, the Navy Department Library acquired the set from the Ralph J. Bunche Library of the U.S. Department of State in November 2010.

Background on the High Court of Appeals for Prizes

The Prize Court had its origins during the reign of King Edward III after the Battle of Sluys, and saw an extensive evolution of its authority and organization during the reign of King Henry VIII, upon the appointment of the Duke of Richmond as Lord High Admiral in 1525 and the concurrent creation of the High Court of Admiralty, and during the reign of King Charles II, who separated the business of the Court into two jurisdictions, the Instance Court and the Prize Court. In addition to its oversight of prize cases, the Court was also responsible for keeping the Registers of the Declarations for all Letters of Marque and Reprisal. The appellate authority exercised by the Court, deriving from the High Court of Delegates, dated from 1535. This state of affairs lasted almost three centuries, until 1833, when the appellate authority was transferred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The Judges of the High Court of Appeals for Prizes during the years covered by the volumes of the collection were

  • Sir James Marriott        October 1778 - 1798

Born on 29 October 1730 in Twinstead Hall, Essex, James Marriott attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated Bachelor of Laws (L.L.B.) in 1751, having been elected Scholar in 1747. After serving for three years as the Librarian to the Duke of Newcastle (1754-1756) and having been made a Fellow of Trinity Hall in 1756, he continued his legal studies, graduating Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from Trinity College in 1757.

Entering the legal profession, he relentlessly pursued the British patronage system without much success, only obtaining the office of Receiver of Land Tax for Suffolk and two offices within Cambridge University - Master of Trinity Hall in 1764 and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1767 -, until in 1778 he finally secured a knighthood and appointment as the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty to replace the outgoing Sir George Hay. Marriott's strident denunciations of the American colonies in rebellion earned him the favorable attention of Lord North's ministry. As an example of this doctrinal faithfulness to the cause of the Crown, in a debate on 15 March 1782, seeking to assert Parliamentary authority over the colonies, he boldly claimed that the colonists were legitimately represented by the Members of Parliament for Kent, on the basis of the issuance of the original colonial charters [see "Proceedings in the present Session of Parliament," The Gentleman's Magazine Vol. LII (April 1782) : 164]. Encouraged by the North faction to enter politics, Marriott ran for election to Parliament for Sudbury in 1780, and won. After the termination of hostilities in 1783, however, he declined to seek re-election in 1784 and switched his political allegiance to Lord Shelbourne's anti-war faction.

Marriott made a number of contributions to Admiralty case law, including a revision of the laws on prize money in 1793 and a ruling in favor of Captain Francis Laforey of HMS Carysfort (and against the Crown) in his suit over the distribution of prize money for the Frigate Action of 29 May 1794, whereby Marriott established a precedent in salvage law. He resigned from the Admiralty in 1798 and returned to Twinstead Hall. Re-elected Member of Parliament for Sudbury in 1796, he served in that capacity until 1802. In that year he published his final and most notable contribution to maritime law, Formulare instrumentorum, which was to have considerable influence on the development of maritime law in the United States.

Sir James Marriott died on 21 March 1803 in his home.

  • Sir William Scott (from 1821, 1st Baron Stowell)        26 October 1798 - December 1827

Born on 17 October 1745 in Heworth, a village near Newcastle upon Tyne, as the son of a coalfitter, William Scott attended Newcastle Royal Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford University. After graduating in 1764 he was appointed as a probationary fellow and tutor at University College, eventually becoming Camden Reader of Ancient History at Oxford from 1773-1785.

It was in 1776 that Scott began his formal study of law, graduating as Doctor of Civil Law. In 1783 he was appointed Registrar of the Court of Faculties, and in 1788 was knighted and appointed Judge of the Consistory Court. His final professional appointment came on 26 October 1798 as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, replacing Sir James Marriott. He retained his previous office with the Consistory Court, which he held until he resigned it in 1821.

Scott's tenure on the Court coincided with the years of the Napoleonic Wars, during which the number of cases reviewed increased dramatically. With regard to Anglo-American relations, it was Scott who enforced the British Orders in Council under whose authority American merchant ships trading with Europe and with the colonies of France and her allies (and from 1812 to 1815 American merchant ships anywhere) were subject to capture.

The end of war in 1815, while not ending the business of the High Court of Appeals for Prizes completely, resulted in a substantial diminution of cases brought before Scott. By the early 1820s, however, the last of the appeals had been heard, and the Court heard no cases after 1823. Because of this, Scott's last four years as Judge were essentially a sinecure.

Scott married twice, first in 1781 to Anna Maria Bagnall, who bore him four children, of whom only a daughter survived him. His second marriage was in 1813 to Louisa Catherine Howe Browne, the dowager Marchioness of Sligo, whose husband, John Denis Browne, 1st Marquess of Sligo, had died in 1809.

In reward of his services during the long years of war against France and the United States, King George IV in 1821 ennobled Scott as 1st Baron Stowell. Because he had no surviving male issue, his barony expired upon his death on 28 January 1836.

Collection Inventory

Prize Appeal Cases, 1780-1792

  • Volume 1: 1780-1782
  • Volume 2: 1782-1783
  • Volume 3: 1783-1785
  • Volume 4: 1785-1788
  • Volume 5: 1788-1792

Prize Cases, 1794-1811

  • Volume 1: 1794-1796
  • Volume 2: 1796-1798
  • Volume 3: 1798
  • Volume 5: 1799-1800
  • Volume 6: 1800-1801
  • Volume 7: 1800-1801
  • Volume 8: 1801-1802
  • Volume 10: 1802-1803
  • Volume 25: 1810
  • Volume 27: 1811

Prize Cases Appendices, 1780-1822

  • Volume 1: 1780-1782
  • Volume 2: 1780-1782
  • Volume 3: 1782-1783
  • Volume 4: 1782-1783
  • Volume 5: 1783-1785
  • Volume 6: 1783-1785
  • Volume 7: 1785-1788
  • Volume 8: 1785-1788
  • Volume 9: 1788-1792
  • Volume 10: 1788-1792
  • Volume 11: 1794-1796
  • Volume 13: 1794-1796
  • Volume 14: 1796-1798
  • Volume 15: 1796-1798
  • Volume 16: 1798
  • Volume 17: 1798-1799
  • Volume 18: 1799-1800
  • Volume 19: 1800-1801
  • Volume 20: 1800-1801
  • Volume 21: 1800-1801
  • Volume 22: 1801-1802
  • Volume 23: 1801-1802
  • Volume 24: 1802
  • Volume 28: 1803
  • Volume 29: 1803
  • Volume 30: 1803-1804
  • Volume 31: 1804
  • Volume 32: 1804
  • Volume 33: 1804
  • Volume 34: 1805-1806
  • Volume 35: 1803-1818
  • Volume 36: 1818-1822

Related Published Works

Bourguignon, Henry J. Sir William Scott, Lord Stowell: Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, 1798-1828. Cambridge studies in English legal history. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Great Britain. Admiralty. Observations on the Course of Proceedings in Admiralty Courts in Prize Causes ... By a Gentleman of Lincoln's Inn. London: E. Say, 1747.

________. Decisions in the High Court of Admiralty During the Time of Sir George Hay and of Sir James Marriott. London: R. Bickerstaff, 1801.

________. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Admiralty: In the Time of the Right Hon. Sir William Scott. London: A. Strahan, 1801-1825.

________. Notifications, Orders, and Instructions, Relating to Prize Subjects, During the Present War. London: Printed by A. Strahan for J. Butterworth and J. White, 1810.

Marriott, Sir James. Formulare Instrumentorum, or, A Formulary of Authentic Instruments, Writs, and Standing Orders Used in the High Courts of Admiralty of Great Britain, of Prize and Instance. London: Printed for R. Bickerstaff, 1802.

Pott, John Frederick. Observations on Matters of Prize, and the Practice of the Admiralty Prize Courts, in Defence of the Rights and Interests of His Majesty's Navy. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1810.

Roscoe, Edward Stanley. Reports of Prize Cases Determined in the High Court of Admiralty, Before the Lords Commissioners of Appeals in Prize Causes, and Before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, from 1745-1859. London: Stevens and Sons, 1905.

Townsend, William C. The Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges of the Last and of the Present Century. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1846.

Use and Reproduction Policy

The British Admiralty Prize Appeal Case Books are unavailable for loan and must be consulted in the library. Use of digital cameras by researchers to reproduce pages from documents is permitted. Due to the fragile condition of the collection, no photocopying is permitted. The library does not provide a document duplication service. Researchers that are unable to visit the library, but wish to obtain reproductions should contact the Naval Historical Foundation [] for duplication services.

Published: Tue Jan 29 09:40:48 EST 2019