The first text on surveying printed in English
By FITZHERBERT, [?Anthony or John] , 1539


Natural History, Science & Medicine
  • Author: FITZHERBERT, [?Anthony or John]
  • Publication place: [London
  • Publisher: Thomas Berthelet]
  • Publication date: 1539.
  • Physical description: Octavo (145 by 95mm), four preliminary leaves including title page and table, 59ll, title within woodcut border, woodcut initials, lacking colophon, some soiling and water-staining, manuscript to front and back endpapers, ex libris to upper pastedown, later calf, gilt fillet border, title in gilt, spine in five compartments separated by raised bands.

    Collation: A-H8, lacking colophon leaf H8.
  • Dimensions: 150 by 105mm. (6 by 4.25 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 14778


First published in 1523, the book proved so popular that it was printed in eleven editions, the early ones being the rarest as they were thoroughly used. It is addressed to the surveyors, or overseers, of manors, and gives instructions on the laws relating to country estates. The author speaks from practical experience with a wish to share their knowledge.

The authorship of this work has been widely debated by scholars as there were two potential sons of Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury: the eldest John (d1531) who inherited most of his father’s lands, and the youngest Sir Anthony (c1470-1538) who was a well-regarded judge, author of law books. The current view is in favour of John, as he was probably closest to country affairs.

The book is “addressed to the landed interest and is an explanation of the laws relating to manors. Fitzherbert sets forth the relation between the landlord and the tenant with observations on their respective moral rights and mutual obligations to each other. The author is also concerned with the best means of developing and improving an estate to the advantage of both the lord and the tenant…

“As defined by Fitzherbert, the duties and functions of the surveyor were many and varied. In the preface he states that the surveyor should prepare his findings in a small book or put them on a large piece of parchment. This parchment or book should show the ‘buttes’ and ‘bounds’ of all the holdings as well as the leases, grants, and tenures. Along with this information he should state the number of buildings and their location and give a description of the lands, specifying whether they are meadow, grainland, or woodland, and by whom held. He should also record the value of all properties along with their rents and fines. The author then goes into considerable detail in giving the form for the preparation of this information…

“The author states that the word ‘surveyor’ is from the French, signifying an overseer, and that the surveyor must appraise and make recommendations to the lord of the manor.”–Richeson, English Land Measuring to 1800: Instruments and Practices, pp. 33-34.


Francis Henry Cripps-Day (1864-c1945), antiquary and lawyer.


  1. Fussell, I, pp.7-8

Image gallery