The reading was an integral part of the education of the medieval law student, and a necessary exercise for the utter barrister who cast covetous eyes to the Bench of his Inn, the Order of the Coif and a judgeship in the Common Pleas or King's Bench. At one time each reader discoursed on one of the “old” statutes before Edward III (especially Magna Carta, Merton, Marlborough, Westminster I, Gloucester and Westminster II) but during the sixteenth century readers acquired a wider range of choice; so Coke and Bacon were to read on the Statute of Uses 1535 and Moore on the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601. The “antient readings” are said to have served the apprentices well, particularly as an introduction to the dark intricacies of medieval land law. Coke esteemed them as having five excellent qualities:
First, they declared what the common law was before the making of the statute, as here it appeareth. Secondly, they opened the true sense and meaning of the statute. Thirdly, their cases were briefe, having at the most one poynt of the common law and another upon the statute. Fourthly, plaine and perspicuous, for then the honour of the reader was to excell others in authorities, arguments, and reasons for proofe of his opinion, and for confutation of the objections against it. Fifthly, they read, to suppresse subtill inventions to creepe out of the statute.
How more favourable than their modern counterparts, mused Coke, which
having lost the said former qualities, have lost also their former authorities: for now the cases are long, obscure, and intricate, full of new conceits, liker rather to riddles than lectures, which when they are opened they vanish away like smoke, and the readers are like to lapwings, who seeme to bee neerest their nests, when they are farthest from them, and all their studie is to find nice evasions out of the statute.