Category Archives: Manuscripts

Musing upon liberty and law

While musing myself on themes suitable for a new post on my blog at least one subject offered itself last week in my mailbox. An antiquarian bookshop with stores in Brooklyn, NY and Stevenson, MD, sent me a message about nineteenth-century manuscripts for sale. One of the items attracted my attention because of a remarkable series of subjects touching on law, history and liberty brought together in a manuscript note by a well-known American author. Here I will try to focus on two questions which call out for an answer. Do these subjects really combine so easily and naturally as this author assumed? How can legal historians bring them into discussion again? Here I would like to share with you my first impressions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

The manuscript at the center of this post is a two-page note written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) in 1855. Both the website of the antiquarian firm and their mail message point out this text features in Emerson’s book English Traits (1856). From Emerson Central, one of the online portals to Emerson’s texts, I take the quote at stake here:

Magna-charta, jury-trial, habeas-corpus, star-chamber, ship-money, Popery, Plymouth-colony, American Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman’s right to his dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the British nation to rage and revolt.

Emerson had studied theology at Harvard. He had visited England in 1833 in 1847, and France in 1848 during the year of revolutions all over the European continent. My first impression of this sentence from the chapter “Ability” of English Traits is that of someone applauding the steady character of the British who do not let them foil into violent actions for some goal, however lofty or urgent. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, revolts in medieval England, the break with Scotland and the Dissolution of the Monasteries are conspicuously absent, and I choose here only a few themes. Instead of character I should perhaps say “nature”, taking the lead from Emerson’s famous essay Nature (1836/1849). In his even more famous address The American Scholar (1837) he urged writers to break away from literary conventions and to find their own voice. Some twenty years later love for things British seemed to be very real. Emerson definitely wrote in the century of the nation-state, and his opinions might be both fired and coloured by feelings of national pride, influenced also by personal experiences. His use of the words Saxon and Scandinavian race is distinctively mainly for the apparent conviction it carries, and not only for its factual imprecision. To all appearances Emerson shared here a Whig view of British history, one long and unbroken road to liberty. Emerson was a poet, too, and we should acknowledge that his vision of the United Kingdom is visionary, perhaps even utopic. Historical facts or their reassessment do not alter the poetic view expressed by Emerson.

For a first online orientation concerning Emerson the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful. You can execute illuminating textual searches in Emerson’s writings in the digital edition created by the University of Michigan, and continue your research at The nature of this blog post is a very simple first impression, a first look at a resource which surely can be studied in more depth.

Great events

The core of Emerson’s note to be discussed here is the combination of familiar subjects for legal historians: Magna Charta, the trial jury, the Habeas corpus rule, the Star Chamber, the Plymouth colony and the American Revolution. The fight against Catholic influences and the creation of the Anglican Church is concisely evoked by the word “popery”. The ship-money was the tax levied by Charles I of England between 1629 and 1640 without parliamentary consent. Once upon a time such subjects might have been included at least in continental capita selecta lectures about British history, but they more probably were and are at the heart of an introductory course in British legal history taught anywhere in the Anglo-American world. By the way, law is not forgotten among the digital resources presented at The Plymouth Colony Archive.

Next year legal historians will face the celebrations around 800 years Magna Charta. The original copies will be shown in exhibitions, sometimes far from their present location. Cultural institutions such as the British Library will rightfully exhaust themselves to show their treasures and to appraise them anew. Hopefully historians can take a distance from preconceived opinions and look at their own prejudices, and help explaining how and why some themes in legal history gained their iconic importance.

The thing that struck me most about Emerson’s words is the vitality of history and the value attached to it, even when admittedly the nineteenth century was the century of history par excellence. The two pages with his notes show in a very immediate way – notice the fluency of his hand! – how he saw himself as part of a living continuity. Whatever the reasons behind the American Revolution it followed nevertheless the example of a country with a long experience of institutions safeguarding liberty.

The website of the antiquarian firm gives a five number amount of money as the prize of Emerson’s note. The prize of liberty and the just course of law and justice is beyond any prize. Legal historians should honour the history of liberty by pointing to its prime examples, to the grave and grim periods and events threatening liberty, to mistakes and opportunities recognisable in our days, too.

The 1855 manuscript of Emerson – with a 1875 carte de visite photograph of Emerson – is for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop

Mont-Saint-Michel, Chartres and medieval law

Bringing the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and the cathedral of Chartres together in one title is not a bold innovation. The American historian Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918), a descendant from the family with president John Adams among the ancestors, published in 1904 Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, a study of medieval art and culture with a focus on two iconic buildings in France. Whatever the merits of this study, Adams coined for the anglophone world a powerful twin image of the Middle Ages. Historians of the European Middle Ages might grumble about the distortion of medieval civilization created by Adams’ imagination, but it cannot be easily undone. Historians prefer to look behind the facades and to go to the sources and structures behind them.

Mont-Saint-Michel - photo author, 2006

The story of Mont-Saint-Michel is indeed important, and Chartres, too, has more to offer than only the majestic building. Medieval manuscripts are among the resources becoming more and more available online, and this is true also for the Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Digitized manuscripts with legal texts are the subject of this post. I will look at projects for the digitization of medieval French manuscripts, in particular for those stemming from either the abbey on the island off the coast of Normandy, or from the cathedral with so many beautiful elements.

Reconstructing medieval manuscripts and libraries

For historians research concerning medieval manuscripts and libraries is not a new adventure. After the dissolution of the monasteries during the French Revolution manuscripts from abbeys, priories and cathedrals went in France to the nearest municipal library. Thus books from Mont-Saint-Michel came to Avranches, and books from Chartres Cathedral found a new place in the Bibliothèque municipale of Chartres. The manuscripts in French municipal libraries have been described in the nineteenth century in the volumes of the Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France.

The search for online information about medieval manuscripts in French libraries is supported by the portal Biblissima which guides you to projects around medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in France. The Catalogue collectif de France, with its section for manuscripts, should provide a starting point. You can tune this collective catalogue to search only for manuscripts. The project Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux of the IRHT in Paris has no search function for content, but otherwise you can find here many digitized manuscripts. Relevant cartularies and editions of them can be found using the online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes.

Avranches and the Mont-Saint-Michel

In Avranches the 200 manuscripts from the Mont-Saint-Michel get since 2006 special attention at the Scriptorial, the museum built for these manuscripts. In cooperation with the Université de Caen the chronicles in Latin of the abbey from the eleventh and twelfth centuries are being edited and published online, as is the Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel of Guillaume de Saint Pair in Old French, a text from the twelfth century. The two manuscripts of this text are kept at the British Library, Additional 10289 and 26876.


The Bibliothèque municipale of Avranches has no separate website, and the few webpages on the municipal website do not give much information. It is therefore a surprise to find digitized manuscripts held at Avranches in the Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux (BVMM). The website of this portal presenting digitized manuscripts from the holdings of French municipal libraries, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and – as a royal gesture – also one hundred manuscripts kept at Berlin has as its most remarkable feature the absence of a search for authors and titles of texts in manuscripts. One can search for cities, for institutions, for signatures, decoration and complete digitization. Searching texts here with a particular subject, let’s choose law for example, is very cumbersome. I have already taken the trouble of checking for the presence of legal texts for many towns, but this takes a lot of time; I hope to complete a provisional list. For Avranches I found at the BVMM the following legal manuscripts:

  • BM 136: Distinctiones morales ; Sermones; Summa de penitentia – Latin, 155 fol., 13th century
  • BM 145 – Capitularia Caroli Magni et Ludovici Pii – Latin, 112 fol., 12th century
  • BM 147 – Ivo of Chartres. Panormia – Latin, 122 fol., 12th century
  • BM 150 – Bernardus Parmensis, Apparatus in Decretales – Latin, 281 fol., 13th century. (1260-1280)
  • BM 152: Summa in Gratiani Decretum ; Bonifatius VIII, Liber sextus Decretalium ; etc. – Latin, 171 fol., 13th century
  • BM 206Cartulaire du chapitre cathédral d’Avranches, Livre vert – French, 138 fol., 13th-15th centuries

The BVMM gives access to 111 completely digitized manuscripts held at Avranches. The last manuscript in this list is originally from Avranches; its contents are the texts of charters which justify its inclusion here. Among illuminated manuscripts from the Mont-Saint-Michel with legal texts are BM 139 with Justinian’s Digesta from the third quarter of the thirteenth century, BM 140 with the Institutiones Iustiniani and the Accursian gloss (second half thirteenth century), and BM 146 with the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals (11th-12th centuries), but of these manuscripts the BVMM presents only a few images of decorated pages. BM 141, 148 and 156, too, contain legal texts for which the BVMM gives only images of a few pages. For BM 210, the Cartulaire de l’abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel (1154-1158), the BVMM makes at least a rich choice of images. The study by Monique Dosdat, L’enluminure romane au Mont-Saint-Michel (Rennes 2006) is a fine introduction to illuminated manuscripts from this great Benedictine abbey.

A further reason to welcome the digitization of manuscripts stemming from the Mont-Saint-Michel is the possibility to study online some of those manuscripts with Latin translations from the twelfth century of Greek philosophical texts. Thanks to the translations made here in the twelfth century many works of Aristotle became available in Latin. The book by Sylvain Gouguenheim, Aristote au Mont-Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne (Paris 2008) created a stir because of its visions concerning the roots of European culture, but this should not draw attention away from the work done on the island of the Mont-Saint-Michel.

At the Université de Caen a project has started for a virtual library with manuscripts and books from the Mont-Saint-Michel. Not only 200 manuscripts have survived the ages, but also some 1,250 printed books. The realisation of this virtual library will highlight the fact that this abbey bristled with life already before the construction of the major abbatial buildings we admire so much. In the eighteenth century the abbey supported the project of the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur to give ecclesiastical history a secure foundation by using old manuscripts and archival records and applying the knowledge created in the historical auxiliary sciences such as palaeography, diplomatics and chronology. The Maurists are the forerunners of the great historical enterprises of the nineteenth century and all those following in their footsteps until this day.

Manuscripts at Chartres

Logo Manuscrits Chartres

Before the Second World War the municipal library of Chartres held nearly 1,900 manuscripts formerly kept at the cathedral and also stemming from other ecclesiastical institutions in and around Chartres. On May 26, 1944 a fire caused by a bomb destroyed the entire library. After years of painstaking work 567 manuscripts could be found as separate entries, 165 of them in various states from nearly unscathed to burned black blocks. In a new project, À la recherche des manuscrits de Chartres, progress has been made to restore the manuscripts, identify texts, and to make images of these manuscripts. This website can be visited in French and English, and a number of manuscripts is now accessible online. The project website has a full bibliography. including a list for all manuscripts (PDF).

One of the main reasons behind the efforts in restoring these manuscripts is their value for studying the history of the School of Chartres in the twelfth century and the authors associated with it. The debate started by the late Sir Richard William Southern about this school has led to many studies which have helped in clearing the fog around teaching and teachers at Chartres. In the first volume of Southern’s Scholastic humanism and the unification of Europe (Oxford-Cambridge, Mass.,1995) you can find the most advanced form of his views. You will turn to this book, too, for his views on the role of Roman law and law schools and the significance of Gratian, his Concordantia discordantium canonum, and the growth of medieval canon law.

In order to trace digitized legal manuscripts at Chartres I could use both the special database for Chartres and the BVMM. I found the following completely digitized manuscripts:

  • Chartres, BM 146: Gregorius IX, Decretales with glosses – Latin, 169 fol., 13th century
  • Chartres, BM 149: Gregorius IX, Decretales – Latin, 338 fol., 13th century (1240-1260)
  • Chartres, BM 150: Innocentius IV, Decretales; Gregorius IX, Constitutiones – both texts end 13th century, Italy; Bonifatius VIII, Liber Sextus – 14th century, France – Latin, 127 fol.
  • Chartres, BM 255: Goffredus de Trani, Summa decretalium – Latin, 102 fol., 14th century
  • Chartres, BM 376: Pseudo-Isidorian decretals – Latin, 365 fol., 11th century

The BVMM presents 84 completely digitized manuscripts from Chartres. If you take the BVMM at face value you would not suspect that sometimes the number of folios of these manuscripts has been mixed up with the number of images. BM 150 is not complete. Strangely BM 255 is not mentioned in the special database. One can add three cartularies to this list:

  • BM 1059: Cartulaire de la léproserie du Grand-Beaulieu-lès-Chartres, Livre noir; 13th century
  • BM 1060: Cartulaire de l’abbaye S. Père de Chartres, Aganon; 12th century
  • BM 1061: Cartulaire de l’abbaye S. Père de Chartres, Aganon – abridged copy, 12th century

BM 1137 is a fourteenth century book for the goods of the mensa episcopalis of the bishop of Chartres, and BM 1138 is a censier from the fourteenth century. You might want to probe me about Ivo of Chartres and his Panormia. At Avranches is a manuscript with the Panormia from the Mont-Saint-Michel, and there is no manuscript of it at Chartres. The website for Ivo of Chartres, his legal works and letters created by Bruce Brasington and Martin Brett confirms this situation. Anyway, it is wise to check also for microfilms of manuscripts at institutions such as the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main and the Stephan-Kuttner-institute of Medieval Canon Law, because it seems these have not always been used for the digitization within the BVMM. The searches at the BVMM and the website for Chartres can be supplemented by using the manuscript search of the Catalog collectif de France. The online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes will help you to locate editions and digital versions of the cartularies mentioned here. This database contains also modern descriptions of cartularies from France and informs you about relevant scholarly literature concerning them.

Research on manuscripts in France

Logo Biblissima

At the end of this post I would like to look briefly at the French manuscript portal Biblissima, a portal that you can view in French and English. The page with online resources of this portal is stunning in its riches. The websites and projects range from digitized old catalogues such as the Bibliotheca bibliothecarum of Bernard de Montfaucon (1739), the scholar who coined the word palaeography, and projects concerning libraries to the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes at Tours, presented here in a post last year, and several projects concerning particular manuscript genres, be they written in Occitan, Old French, Hebrew, Syriac or Greek, or containing sermons or biblical glosses. To give just one example, the JONAS database of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT) at Paris and Orléans leads you quickly to detailed information about the Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel of Guillaume de Saint Pair. The TELMA platform of the IRHT gives access to databases concerning for example surviving originals of charters before 1121 and for the period 1121-1220.

Bringing together in one post the surviving manuscripts from Chartres that did escape the turmoil of war and those at Avranches which seemed to have been luckier, offers at first sight a contrast, but both collections are witnesses to the intellectual and wider cultural history of Europe. Legal manuscripts might seem to have occupied only a small niche at both locations, but this impression can well be misleading. Mont-Saint-Michel became a royal abbey, proud of its privileges and much aware of its strategic location between Normandy and Bretagne. In the twelfth century Chartres was not the only French cathedral with teachers forming schools around them. They had to compete with other cathedral schools, not only with the various schools at Paris, and also with the first European universities. Books of law entered willy-nilly the libraries in and around Chartres. Their presence is a reminder to look for legal texts and their impact outside the many European university towns. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres are truly monuments of medieval architecture and culture.

Legal texts in digitized manuscripts at the British Library

Logo British Library - image week I spotted somewhere on the web an announcement about the digitization of a particularly lavishly illuminated medieval manuscript with a legal text, the Decretales Gregorii IX, the major collection of papal decretals issued in 1234 by command of pope Gregory IX. The manuscript from the fourteenth century which prompted me to write this post is commonly called the Smithfield Decretals (Royal 10 E IV). At the British Library in London the digitization of manuscripts is a project on a vast scale, first of all in view of its rich and manifold collections concerning many themes, periods and countries. A blog dedicated to news on digitized medieval manuscripts at the BL helps you to stay informed about the progress of digitization for manuscripts from a particular period. The BL even advertises a smart phone application for the Royal manuscripts, but this app will no longer be supported.

In this post I will look at legal manuscripts digitized by the British Library. Even if the absolute number of relevant manuscripts is really small, an overview of them might be useful. The variety of periods and legal systems merits attention. To redress the balance I will take into account here also illuminated manuscripts with legal texts for which the BL has digitized at least a number of pages or illustrations. A comparison of the search functions of both catalogues is included, too. At the end of this post it might perhaps be possible to conclude which legal text could be scheduled as a new addition to the eBook Treasures of the British Library.

Searching for digitized legal texts at the BL

Some people will like to know as quickly as possible about the things that make a search interface more effectively or hamper its working. For once I agree in starting with a negative remark: the detailed view with the description – and most often a detailed bibliography – of a digitized manuscript at the BL seemed at first to lack a permanent web address. When you save the URL of this view – without noticing the tiny notice “Show link URL” – and you try to reopen it in a new tab or window you cannot access it anymore. A redirection notice appears, and you have to enter your search again. Thus the link I provided in the first paragraph to the Smithfield Decretals is not the link to the detailed view, but to the first page of the digitized manuscript Royal 10 E IV itself. I will give below the correct links to the full descriptions. In the manuscript view you will find a summary of the content placed at the top of the screen. You can search for manuscripts either using a quick search with two fields, keywords and manuscript numbers, or using the advanced search interface with search fields for keywords, manuscript number, title, author/scribe, provenance and acquisition, and bibliography.

A long search for digitized manuscripts with legal texts yielded as a result a rather short list with only some twenty manuscripts. For each manuscript I give the call number, a summary view of the contents, its date and a link to the full description:

The papyrus with the complete text of the Athenian Constitution is the subject of a recent post at the BL’s manuscripts blog. What strikes me most while searching for these manuscripts is the lack of concise categories added to the description of a manuscript. Of course I realize the difficulty in adding systematic descriptors when dealing with composite manuscripts and convolutes. The sheer number of manuscripts in the British Library has as one of its consequences that some manuscript descriptions can be rather outdated, but newer descriptions are often very detailed.

Some legal texts surfaced really by chance. I looked for the exchequer when I found Harley 1498, an agreement concerning the royal burial chapel at Westminster. This indenture is not a chirograph, a charter split into two or more parts, but a book with indentures. A second part of it is kept at the National Archives, E 33/1. The coronation book of the French king Charles V (Cotton Tiberius B VIII) can serve as a reminder that a coronation is a ritual with legal elements in it. The texts of French coronation ordines have been edited anew by Richard A. Jackson (ed.) , Ordines Coronationis Franciae: Texts and Ordines for the Coronation of Frankish and French Kings and Queens in the Middle Ages (2 vols., Philadelphia, 2001).

After repeated searches with a substantial number of very different search terms with a clear meaning for legal history I still have not found more than this tiny sample from the immensely varied and large manuscript collections of the British Library. I hesitate to include here a fragment of farming memoranda of Ely Abbey from the first quarter of the eleventh century (Add. 61735). The New Minster Liber Vitae from Winchester (Stowe 944) does contain the text of some charters and the will of King Ælfred, but these legal texts are not the core of this manuscript.

For some manuscripts guidance can be found online in repertories, and sometimes even at a specialised blog. Greek manuscripts clearly get special attention in London. The Zonaras blog for the history of Eastern Christian canon law is a very useful guide to this field, and I am happy to point to it for more information about authors such as John Zonaras and Theodoros Balsamon. Manuscripts with text concerning Byzantine law are the subject of two German repertories which are available online at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. You can download PDF’s of both the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil I: Die Handschriften des weltlichen Rechts (Nr. 1-327), Ludwig Burgmann, Marie-Theres Fögen, Andreas Schminck and Dieter Simon (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), and the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil II: Die Handschriften des kirchlichen Rechts I (Nr. 328-427), Andreas Schminck and Dorotei Getov (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main 2011). Both books were published in the series Forschungen zum Byzantinischen Rechts; more PDF’s of some publications in this series can be found at a special subdomain of the website of the Frankfurt institute. English legal manuscripts are being catalogued by the untiring efforts of Sir John Hamilton Baker. He did this also for the Taussig collection with many English manuscripts now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library of Yale University [John H. Baker and Anthony Taussig (eds.), A catalogue of the legal manuscripts of Anthony Taussig (London 2007)].

Light on illuminated legal manuscripts

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library does quickly dispel any misgiving about the percentage of legal texts among the various manuscript collections. Let’s not overdo things here, and first go to the origin of this post, manuscripts with decretals or commentaries on papal decretals. Here, too, you can choose between a quick general search and an advanced search mode.

Prisoner seeking sanctuary, bas-de-page scene from the Smithfield Decretals

Prisoner seeking sanctuary – Smithfield Decretals, British Library, ms. Royal 10 E IV, fol. 206 verso – image British Library

A search for illuminated manuscripts with decretals yields 35 records. For each manuscript you can go to a page with thumbnail images and summary descriptions of the illuminations. Often you will find more detailed images, too. Thus choosing a scene using this overview from the bas-de-page illustrations of the Smithfield Decretals is even easier than using the complete digital version of this manuscript. The illustrations in the lower margins present often consecutive scenes and tales. In August 2012 Alixe Bovey (University of Kent) contributed a very interesting post on the decorations of this manuscript to the BL’s manuscripts blog, ‘Finishing the Smithfield Decretals’. Some books have only penwork flourishes at the beginning of chapters. Among these illuminated manuscripts with decretals I would like to single out Harley 2349, a manuscript written between 1340 and 1450 with papal decretals and statutes of England. The manuscript Royal 10 C IV with the Abbreviatio Decreti Gratiani by Omnibonus, written between 1198 and 1202 has penwork initials and some additional drawings in the margins. Omnibonus’s name made me remember the Omne Bonum, the illustrated encyclopedia by James le Palmer, a clerk of the Exchequer (four volumes, Royal 6 E VI and 6 E VII, written around 1360-1375).

A lawyer addressing an assembly

A lawyer addressing an assembly – British Library, ms. Harley 947, fol. 107r – image British Library (size reduced)

As for other legal texts in illuminated manuscripts you will have to pick your choice from a wide variety of manuscripts, from books with only one decorated initial to manuscripts with lavish almost full-page illustrations in historiated initials. Let one example suffice, the Statuta Angliae. This text and other statutes can be found in nearly sixty illuminated manuscripts. Hargrave 274 (written around 1488) contains the Nova Statuta and is probably the most elaborately illustrated example. Harley 947 (first half fourteenth century) with both the Statuta Angliae and the text of the Magna Carta deserves mentioning for its picture of a lawyer speaking to an assembly.

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts is truly a treasure trove, even if the manuscripts of the Cotton collection have not yet been included. When searching for an image with some relevance for legal history you find yourself here with a mer à boire. Legal iconography will not come back empty-handed from searches at this website or in the Online Gallery of the British Library. It is surely possible to include the BL in a comparison of online image resources of major research libraries, something that might be really interesting. In particular the use of taxonomies such as Iconclass might come into view when comparing different databases. A comparison with a portal such as Manuscripts Online: Written Culture from 1000 to 1500 would be equally valuable. In this post, however, I wanted to give due attention to the world’s second largest library and its manuscript holdings. I invite you to use its resources for yourself and to choose a manuscript that deserves digitization, or even inclusion among the showcases. The British Library has much more to offer, and I am sure this library will be present again in future posts.

The mirror of manuscripts: on searching facsimile editions

Readers of my blog have undoubtedly noted my predilection for original sources. Whenever possible I intend to supply the exact title and location of sources or to give indications about critical editions. Instead of pointing to reliable translations I prefer giving information about a text in its original version. Thus my post in 2011 about modern translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis was in a way exceptional. Digital libraries can give you online access to both original sources and text editions. However, there is another form in which you may encounter a particular text. For a substantial number of remarkable manuscripts, books and archival records facsimile editions have been published. When you visit a department of manuscripts and old books at a national or university library you have often a marvellous collection of printed facsimile editions at hand. Many years ago I spent an afternoon with a facsimile edition in black and white (!) of the Utrecht Psalter (Utrecht, University Library, ms. 32). 1 By the way, this library prepares a new online version of this famous manuscript which will be launched this autumn.

Students, scholars and teachers all have reasons to use facsimile editions, be it for research or for educational purposes. What resources can one use to find facsimile editions quickly? What is the quality of some online inventories? What help do they offer when you look for a text or resource in connection with legal history? In this post I try to provide some answers to these questions. Due to the very scope of a blog post the result can only be a guide in a nutshell, but nevertheless it might help anyone looking for a very particular and valuable resource. The title of this post reflects not only the history of book titles such as the Speculum iudiciale by Guillelmus Duranti (around 1230-1296), but also for example the Digital Mirror of the National Library of Wales, the entrance to its digital collections.

In a postscript I briefly look at other search strategies and online resources. The combination of printed guides and bibliographies, online catalogues and meta-catalogues with the special databases discussed here gives the best chances to find both facsimiles and reliable information about them.

Hunting for precious manuscripts

The exceptional value of a manuscript or book is determined by several factors. The age of the manuscript or book. the state of its preservation, its unique role as a text carrier, especially when it is a rare or even the only textual witness, and often also the illumination or illustrations play a role in selecting as the object of a facsimile edition. Some manuscripts are considered very special indeed. Simple mortals are not allowed to see them, and even scholars must have very good reasons to convince a holding institution of the urgent need to consult the original. The Codex Florentinus of the Digest held at Florence is a good example of this class of manuscripts. Sometimes legal historians have in front of them a list of earlier visitors who consulted a manuscript, and it takes considerable courage to add your name after Theodor Mommsen and other giants.

Logo UB Graz

Last year I wrote about legal history in the Austrian city Graz. One of the websites maintained at the university library of Graz is an online bibliography of manuscripts in facsimile editions. In 1976 Hans Zotter published the first edition of the Bibliographie faksimilierter Handschriften (Graz 1976) with 637 titles, and in 1995 Hans and Heidi Zotter came with a second edition for titles published until 1992, this time on disc. To the search interface of the current website are added a list of relevant literature, an overview of series by major publishers and a list of abbreviations. You can search this online database either using the location of holding institutions and with any search term (Volltextsuche). As an example I use a famous German legal text, the Sachsenspiegel, “The Mirror of Saxony” by Eike von Repgow. At four German libraries so-called codices picturati are held, wonderfully illustrated manuscripts which long have been revered as the primary example of sources for legal iconography. The database in Graz provides you systematically with basic information about a manuscript and bibliographical information about the facsimile edition. For the Codex Florentinus a search for “Firenze” yields not only the two facsimile editions (1900 and 1988), which happen to come into view at the top, but also all other facsimile editions of manuscripts kept in Florence. With Ungenannter Ort, “location not indicated”, you get those editions of manuscripts where the location of the – often private – library is not indicated. The free text search brings you also to the register of editors.

It would be a miracle if the database at Graz was flawless, but it took me some time to find an example of a missing edition. The University of Arizona in Tucson has a created an online exhibit of Mixtec, Mayan and Aztec codices, with an extended list of relevant facsimile editions. With a few exceptions I found every edition mentioned in this exhibit in the Austrian database. These manuscripts give me a chance to mention the beautiful online exhibit at the Tarlton Law Library of the University of Texas at Austin on Aztec and Maya Law: An Online Exhibit and Bibliography, based on an exhibition created by Mike Widener and his colleagues at this library in 1992. The web version has been revised and updated in 2010.

A more general approach?

At this point it is only sensible to ask for a royal road to facsimile editions. Can you tune one of the major online meta-catalogues to search specifically for these kind of editions? I tried the advanced search interface of WorldCat, but even though the dropdown list of materials to be specified is most impressive facsimile editions are conspicuously absent. At the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) one can use the search term “facsimile” in the free search field and add additional search terms in any field, which however works only for a restricted number of catalogues connected to the KVK. As a matter of fact you will find bibliographies which mention facsimile editions or even contain a specific facsimile, but apart from Zotter’s book and disc I did not yet find a modern bibliography of facsimile editions of manuscripts. For some subjects specialized bibliographies of facsimiles exist, for example botany and cartography.

It did cross my mind to search at Archivalia, the blog maintained by Klaus Graf which functions as a treasure trove for all matters concerning libraries and archives, but apart from one of the sites discussed here below I mainly found links to specific projects and websites. Let two examples mentioned at Archivalia suffice: sometimes I wonder why libraries use the term facsimile for digital versions, as for example for this nifty preset search action for digitized manuscripts at Leiden University Library, The second example is rather special, a list at Manuscripta Mediaevalia of digitized versions (!) of facsimile editions on microfiche of medieval manuscripts with mainly German texts in the series Codices Illuminati Medii Aevi (CIMA).

One site to find them all…

Logo Facsimile Finder

For testing the two remaining websites to be discussed here I will use as search examples apart from the Sachsenspiegel and the CIMA series also the Codice Florentino manuscript of Bernardino de Sahagún (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, ms. Palat. 218-220), a veritable encyclopedia of the Aztec civilization.2 In fact the first site for finding facsimiles which prompted me into writing this post is called Facsimile Finder. Its subtitle “The complete database of illuminated manuscripts” at once invites you to check its quality. At the same time a restriction to illuminated manuscripts is clearly stated at the outset.

The Facsimile Finder, a website run by two Italian scholars who also are the owners of the publishing house Codices illustres, easily presents the four illuminated manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel, and shows them with an image of the manuscript and the facsimile edition. The site gives for each manuscript the main elements of a codicological description, and also information about the background of the text and illuminations. On the page for the Oldenburger manuscript (Oldenburg, Landesbibliothek, Hs. CIM I 410) it reads rather curiously that the manuscript is held at the Niedersächsische Staatsbibliothek in Hannover. When I looked for the exact title at Facsimile Finder of the facsimile edition by the Austrian publisher Adeva the title turned out be left out at both websites. Adeva states as the holding institution the Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung in Hannover. However, this institution certainly bought the manuscript in 1991, but placed it immediately as an extended loan at the Landesbibliothek in Oldenburg. A classic bibliographical search for the exact title yielded as a result that Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand edited the commentary to the edition “im Auftrag der Niedersächsischen Sparkassenstiftung Hannover”, by order of the Lower Saxon Savings Bank Foundation.3 Obviously it is possible not only to miss the clear indication of the location of a manuscript, but also to mix up a foundation and a library. Do you need any comments about the presentation both at this search site and by the very publisher of the facsimile? For the three other codices picturati of the Sachsenspiegel the indication of the holding library and the manuscript’s signature is correct, but here, too, as for all entries at Facsimile Finder, no title is given among further details such as the publisher, the editor, year of publication and current price of a facsimile edition. To put the record straight, on its own website Adeva equally leaves out the exact titles of their editions.

It is only fair to applaud the colourful presentation at Facsimile Finder, and in particular the search facilities which help you to focus on a particular period, language, style, type, theme or country. The theme option couples “Law” with “History” and “Chronicles”. When you realize this website contains just a meagre five hundred items, the practical restrictions for users becomes rather clear. The multiple section “Chronicles/History/Laws” brings you to 76 manuscripts. Whatever the rationale might be behind this selection, a number of them does concern legal history and is certainly very interesting, as the following examples show:

- privileges of emperor Charles V (Sevilla, Archivo Municipal, I-5-99)
– the 972 charter for the marriage of the Byzantine princess Theophanu (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, 6 Urk. 11)
– the Goldene Bulle (1400) of king Wenceslas IV of Bohemia (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek [ÖNB], Cod. 2292)
– the Schwazer Bergbuch (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. 10852), a text on mining and mining law written between 1556 and 1561
– the Ostarrichi charter (996) (Munich, Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Kaiserselekt 859)
– a tenth-century manuscript of the Leges Salicae (Modena, Archivio Capitulare, ms. O.I.2)
– the Tordesillas Treaties (1494) from the copies at Lisboa, Arquivo Nacional da Torro do Tombo and Sevilla, Archivo General de Indias
– the Leyes de Burgos (1512) from the Archivo General de Simancas, Registro General del Sello XII-1512.

I was genuinely surprised by the facsimiles of the charter with the oath of the Spanish king Philipp II on his investiture for Sicily in 1555 (Città del Vaticano, Archivio Segreto Vaticano, A.A., Arm. I-XVIII, 522), the credential given by George Washington to William Short as ambassador in Spain (1794) (Madrid, Archivo Naciónal de España, 1794, junio 5 Filadelfia Estado Leg. 3890-14) – with unaccountably attached an image of the 1555 oath by king Philipp II – and the Furs (Valencia, Arxiu Municipal), royal legislation from 1461. The Arxiu Municipal of Valencia is also mentioned for its manuscript from 1407 of the Libro del Consolato del Mar. A quick search for this legal text learns me that apart from the facsimile published in 1977 facsimiles appeared in 1947, 1979, 2004 and 2006, none of them mentioned here. To conclude for the sake of completeness, the CIMA series is not mentioned at all, nor the manuscript of Bernardino de Sahagún.

Now you might quarrel with me that I cannot hide my irony about the website just discussed, but it is ironical that the second website I want to discuss is also called Facsimile Finder. At a German website called Faksimile Finder the subtitle is “Facsimile Finder – Bibliotheca Alexandriae”. This website in English lets you choose search fields from a dropdown list, the preferred language, and you can narrow your search by indicating the period between particular years. The database contains more than 2600 entries. Browsing lists of locations and subject groups is another possibility; “Jura”, German for “laws” , is one of the subject groups. You can choose several ways, too, to sort the results. This website brings you to online versions of manuscripts, not to facsimile editions in printed form. At the bottom of the search interface you can follow the links to a number of websites concerning medieval manuscripts, early printed books and sources for Classical Antiquity, Japanese and Chinese Buddhist studies.

Let’s quickly go through the results of my queries: for the Sachsenspiegel only the online versions at Heidelberg and Wolfenbüttel appear, the Codice Florentino on Aztec history is not included nor manuscripts from the CIMA series. For those curious about the exact signatures of the illuminated Sachsenspiegel manuscripts I have put them in a footnote together with links to the digitized versions.4 The subject group “Jura” contains just one item, the Wolfenbüttler manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel. The omission of the other Sachsenspiegel manuscript is strange. To all appearances it seems the creator of this database certainly put a lot of work in creating a subject index, but the actual results are for this particular subject distinctly meagre.

A mirror of illusions

Should we end lamenting the sad state of affairs of these three databases concerning facsimilised or digitized manuscripts? What did we see in the mirror? The database at Graz is wonderful, its bibliographical accuracy is high, but an update is most welcome. The Italian Facsimile Finder looks splendid, but its range is restricted to illuminated manuscripts and the actual number of editions, too, could be larger. The omission of titles and some factual mistakes do not work in favour of this website. When I asked information about this website Giovanni Scorcioni kindly informed me he is working on a new enhanced version with more facsimiles. A sneak preview is indeed promising. The problem with the exact titles is mainly caused by relying on the data and images given by publishers, and the information about the Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel will be corrected. The German Faksimile Finder covers a wide range of subjects, contains a substantial number of manuscripts and books, but focuses effectively on online versions of manuscripts and rare books. Its subtitle points to the ideal of the classic library at Alexandria which aimed at being a bibliotheca bibliothecarum. Its modern successor,, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina hosts a mirror site of the Internet Archive. Other major universal digital initiatives have mirror sites, too, especially the Universal Digital Library of the Carnegie-Mellon-University Pittsburgh, with in this case even three mirror sites, two in China and one in India.

When we look in the mirror after this long virtual excursion we should realize that we can profit at least from received wisdom by using the information about facsimile editions of manuscripts in reliable guides. The database at Graz should be wider known. It is duly noted for example on the fine page of the German Virtual Library-History guiding you to codicology, but alas this page is no longer updated, and though Zotter is mentioned no working link is given for the database at Graz. The great online RBMS bibliographical guide for rare materials mentions only Zotter’s catalogue of incunabula at Graz. The MGH does mention it on a webpage for manuscripts, but with the old web address, as does the online version of Leonard Boyle’s bibliography of palaeography.5

Yet another possible gateway to medieval manuscripts in facsimile came into view for this contribution. I did notice references to Charles D. Wright (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and his online bibliography Medieval Manuscripts in Facsimile and Microform, for example in the very useful guide to medieval manuscript catalogues, microforms and microfilms of UPenn Libraries, but alas the link does not function. The guide to medieval manuscripts at UIUC gives a different URL for Wright’s bibliography, but this, too, is currently not working. Only after a long search I found a reference at Umiltà to a third version from 2008 and last published in 2010 which does not exist any more, too, but luckily was archived at the Internet Archive. It turns out to be a list with examples of facsimiles of illustrated medieval manuscripts organized by subject in alphabetical order, with for “law books” just two entries. This list simply does not fit in a comparison of databases. The page for facsimiles at Umiltà is just a list of some publishing houses and their websites with a few images attached.

Logo Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries, Unicversity of Notre Dame, Ind.

At least one library has its own special database for finding microfilms and facsimiles of medieval manuscripts. The Medieval Institute Library at the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame, Ind., shows in its database information about some 9,000 microfilms and 600 facsimile editions in its holdings. Apart from a nice array of search filters you will find also information about online versions of particular manuscripts. I could not help sighing for sheer relief when seeing and testing this great resource, and even more when you can easily track at least fourteen legal texts. In my view it is a model to follow for a project which would cover editions for other periods and subjects. In my opinion it is not by chance that you can find at the Hesburgh Libraries also an excellent online exhibition on the medieval inquisition, and an online catalogue of some 200 facsimiles of medieval seals. Combining the database of the Hesburgh Libraries with for example its smaller counterpart at Fordham University is one of the search options that scholars can follow. It is easy nowadays to find the major online projects concerning medieval manuscripts for particular regions, languages and subjects, and anyway this post has at this point already grown too long to include any of them. If you insist you might have a look at my own page on medieval manuscripts.

If we had been looking for facsimiles of medieval charters, things would be very different. At the French portal for medieval studies Ménestrel you could go for example to the very detailed list of editions created at the École Nationale des Chartes in Paris. It scarcely needs a reminder that for digitized medieval manuscripts, too, we do not have – and most probably will not have for some time – a portal that really covers the growing number of manuscripts accessible online. Using websites as the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts at UCLA, other sites as listed for example at Ménestrel, the great links page for legal manuscripts made by Gero Dolezalek, to which I can only add the digital manuscript index DMS at Stanford, still in its infancy but promising, the portal Manuscripts Online: Written Culture 1000 to 1500, and Europeana Regia, a project which I discussed here in 2011 and 2012. The website at UCLA was created by two courageous scholars, but in 2013 they decided to stop the project which did present three thousand manuscripts. For Old English manuscripts John Herrington created already in 1998 a website with a downloadable Excelsheet which perfectly serves as a guide to facsimiles. I am sure some of the more specialized databases for medieval manuscripts do contain information about the presence of facsimile editions. Adding when possible information about such editions to the Manuscripta Juridica database at Frankfurt am Main, the online version of the 1972 repertory of manuscripts with Roman law texts created by Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw, is certainly desirable.

Creating and maintaining a database for finding facsimile editions that would fulfill the most exacting scholarly demands would be quite a feat. The major demand here is the creation of a full bibliographical record for a facsimile, which has to contain both data on the edition in itself and on the object published in facsimile. Meanwhile hopefully the combination of resources I discussed here can help you to find what you need, or at least inform what you can expect from these resources. In my view it is only by cooperation, team work and a clear long-term view that such large and ambitious projects can succeed. As for how and when this will happen, these biblical words seem most apt, “for now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13,12).


1. Ernest T. DeWald (ed.), The illustrations of the Utrecht Psalter (Princeton, NJ-London-Leipzig, 1932).
2. The facsimile edition is [Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España] : manuscrito 218 – 20 de la Colección Palatina de la Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana ; codice florentino para mayor conocimiento de la historia del pueblo de Mexico (3 vol., Florence-México 1979).
3. Der Oldenburger Sachsenspiegel: vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe im Originalformat des Codex picturatus Oldenburgensis CIM I 410 der Landesbibliothek Oldenburg / Textband [und Kommentarband] herausgegeben von Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand im Auftrag der Niedersächsischen Sparkassenstiftung Hannover (2 vol., Graz 1995-1996). The format of the edition Graz-Darmstadt 2006) is slightly reduced and it does not constitute a normal facsimile.
4. Dresden, Sächsische Landes- und Universitätbibliothek, ms. 32, digital version; Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. Germ. 164, digital version; Oldenburg, Landesbibliothek, CIM I 410, digital version; Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 3.1 fol., digital version.
5. Leonard Boyle, Medieval Latin Palaeography: a bibliographical introduction (third edition, Toronto 1995). The updated Italian version: Paleografia latina medievale (Rome 1999).

A postscript

My discussion focused on a number of specialized databases. In passing I referred to using the bibliographical information in library catalogues and meta-catalogues. I was kindly alerted to look again at the possibilities of WorldCat to retrieve facsimile editions. On closer inspection I do admit that I dismissed WorldCat too quickly, but you do face the fact of depending very much on the quality of the bibliographical records harvested by WorldCat, or at any other meta-catalogue. In particular a search at WorldCat for medieval law texts in facsimile with among the results a facsimile edition of the Westphalian Peace (1648) fueled my mistrust.

Years ago I created my own list of major libraries and their online catalogues. It is perfectly sensible to use them, too, for finding facsimile editions. Combining the information in printed bibliographies, some specialized databases and a number of (meta-)catalogues at major libraries is the way to find facsimile editions. Some printed bibliographies are accessible online. I want to single out the vast work edited for the Library of Congress by Guadalupe Jiménez Codinach, The Hispanic world, 1492-1898 : a guide to photoreproduced manuscripts from Spain in the collections of the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico / El mundo hispánico, 1492-1898 : guía de copias fotográficas de manuscritos españoles existentes en los Estados Unidos de América, Guam y Puerto Rico (Washington, D.C., 1994), which serves not only as a directory to American collections, but informs you also about a multitude of works which have appeared in facsimile editions. The guide can be consulted online at Purdue University. I tracked this guide using the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Only a very small number of books presenting facsimiles of legal works can be consulted in full view through the services of this major enterprise.

Mentioning the Library of Congress should ring a bell for the LC Subject Headings. Using them for your searches in relevant catalogues does indeed help to narrow your results. However, the problem remains of bibliographical records with either lacking subject information or at the other end almost too much details, in particular chains of LC Subject Headings which can be in my opinion far too specific. As for finding books related to law, some universities and institutions have the luxury of both general and specific law library catalogues, for example Yale University with both the general Orbis catalogue and the Morris catalogue for Yale Law School.

Searching Aragon’s royal history

Logo International Archives Day

This year’s International Archives Day, an initiative of the International Council on Archives, took place on June 9. In many countries archives organized activities, among them also Spanish archives. Lately I noticed the substantial number of websites devoted to the history of Aragon, and when preparing this post it became clear how many resources you can find online. On my blog I wrote in 2011 and 2012 about the project Europeana Regia which aimed at reconstructing three medieval royal libraries with digitized manuscripts. One of them was the library of the kings of Aragon and Naples. In his acclaimed study Vanished kingdoms: The history of half-forgotten Europe (London-New York 2011) Norman Davies devoted a chapter to Aragon. In fact he had to deal with two kingdoms, both the Reino d’Aragón (1035-1715) and the composite kingdom of the Corona d’Aragón (1162-1716), a confederation of monarchies including in Spain the county of Barcelona and the kingdom of Valencia, and outside Spain Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and Majorca, to mention only its largest parts.

For clarity’s sake I use in this post the Castilian and Aragonese spellings of locations in a multilingual kingdom. The Catalan name of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona is Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó. You can view this website also in Galician, Basque and Valencian. Legal history is certainly present at the websites I mention in this tour of institutions digitizing Aragon’s history.

Digitizing the history of Aragon

In my earlier post concerning Europeana Regia I had tried to make a preliminary list of manuscripts touching on legal history. I found some thirty manuscripts among the more than thousand manuscripts brought together in this project. From the library of the kings of Aragon 294 digitized manuscripts are presented. In 2011 I had found for Aragon only one work touching legal history, a treatise on the genealogy of the Aragonese kings (Paulus Rossellus, Descendentia dominorum regum Sicilie, after 1438; Valencia, BU, ms. BH 394), but luckily there is more. In 2012 I tracked a well-known source in Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4670 A, the Usatici et Constitutiones Cataloniae, a manuscript written at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, and I could also point to Paris, BnF, ms. Italien 408Ordinacione fate per lo Pere Terzo Re d’Aragona supra lo regimento de tuti li oficiali de la sua corte, a manuscript from the 15th century.

On closer inspection, after the closure of the Europeana Regia project, more can be found. Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 63 is the Latin and Catalan version of these ordinances of Pedro III, the Ordinacions de Pere III d’Aragó. A Spanish version of royal ordinances of Pedro IV of Aragon can be found in Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 62. Yet another manuscript at Paris (BnF, ms. Italien 958; written around 1477) contains the text of Orso Orsini’s Del governo et exercitio de la militia. Correspondence of king Ferdinand I from 1458 to 1460 in Latin, Catalan and Italian has been preserved in the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 103. A copy of Guillelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4254) was both owned by the French king Charles VIII and later by the kings of Aragon, but eventually it returned to Paris. An illuminated and glossed Bolognese copy of Justinian’s Institutiones and the Authenticum at Paris (BnF, ms. Latin 4436) belonged once to the royal library in Naples. It is intriguing to note that only one of these nine manuscripts with legal texts is now at Valencia.

Behind the doors of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón

Logo Archivos Estatales

Jonathan Jarrett (Oxford) gave in 2011 at his blog A Corner of Tenth Century Europe a nice description of the building of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona and its workings. The ACA traces its history back to 1318 and offers its own virtual tour. Among the many Pedro’s in Spanish history Pedro el Gran (1240-1285) stands out. The ACA organized in 2012 an exhibition on this king; some information on it can be downloaded (PDF). The ACA shows several virtual exhibitions on its website, for example on its own history, historical maps, and especially on Los Libros de Repartimiento of king Jaime I on his possessions in Mallorca and Valencia.

The first initial in Gratian's Decretum - Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 7, fol. 17 recto - image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

The first initial in Gratian’s Decretum – Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78, fol. 17 recto – image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

In the online exhibition of illuminated medieval manuscripts at the ACA figure a Liber feudorum major from around 1180, the oldest document kept at Barcelona (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 1), a Liber feudorum Ceritaniae (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 4), and a Decretum Gratiani (ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78), actually one of the very few sources for the first version of Gratian’s Decretum. The progress of the project led by Anders Winroth at Yale University for the edition of this version can be followed online. Winroth described Ripoll 78 in his study The Making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000) without mentioning the illuminated initials. The ACA provides links to several databases with guides for archival research. At PARES, the Portal de Archivos Españoles, you can search for digitized archival records from Spanish archives. The ACA gives you at its website a brief list of items and records present at PARES. Ripoll 78 is among the digitized manuscripts at the ACA which you can view at PARES.

Apart from archival records you will also find digitized manuscripts from the monasteries of Ripoll and San Cugat now kept at the ACA. At PARES you can find resources using the Inventario Dinámico by selecting the ACA and searching the tree-like representation of the various collections. With the more normal search function you can simply type your preferred term and get a result list. In the winter of 1991-1992 I participated at Leiden in the yearly seminar on juridical palaeography. We read some treatises contained in San Cugat 55, in particular at fol. 92 and 93. I suppose you will forgive me for choosing the 87 digitized medieval manuscripts from this monastery as an example of a result list with items at the ACA. Alas the images are disfigured by a watermark of the Archivos Estatales. On the legal manuscripts from both monasteries more information is available online in the Manuscripta Juridica database of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main and in Giovanna Murano’s incipitario of medieval manuscripts with canon law texts. Due to the move to a new building the library of the institute at Frankfurt am Main is temporarily closed, and thus it is really useful to know that you do not have to wait for all of its microfilmed manuscripts if you want to study them.

Among the digitized archival records are ninety registers of the Real Cancilleria from the thirteenth century – a project briefly described here -, registros of other kings, and several trial records (procesos). A large number of records from the Consejo de Aragón and the Real Audiencia have been digitized. It is difficult to choose examples from the digitized riches at the ACA. Surely I would single out in the section Diversos y Colecciones the nearly 200 cartes árabes and the 126 autógrafos of Spanish kings and queens. Trials in civil law, pleitos civiles, are being digitized from the Real Audiencia de Cataluña where some 22,000 trials survive. Archival records for the Gran Priorato de Cataluña del Orden de San Juan de Jerusalén the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, have been digitized, too (ACA, ORM, Gran Priorato, Volúmenes y Legajos).

One of the highlights at the ACA are the socalled Capitulaciones de Santa Fe, which bear also the name of Capitulaciones del Almirante don Cristóbal Colón, the agreement between Christopher Columbus and the Reyes Católicos, signed on April 17, 1492. Some of these documents are kept at the ACA (fondo Real Cancilleria, Diversorum, registro 3.569; PDF, 3,2 MB) and elsewhere in Spain. In 2009 the Capitulaciones were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register. However, the UNESCO photo database shows just two images, and I therefore like to point also to information on an exhibition concerning the Capitulaciones provided by PARES.

Muchos libros digitizados

A particular motive to write about Aragon is the proliferation of digital libraries. Last week I encountered yet another digital library, at the Cortes de Aragón. On my website I listed already some twenty-five Spanish digital libraries! The Biblioteca Virtual de Derecho Aragonés is maintained by the Gobierno de Aragón. The Gobierno de Aragón at Zaragoza maintains also its own Biblioteca Virtual. I did know about the Biblioteca Valenciana Digital and the SOMNI, Fondo histórico of the Universidad de Valencia. The Biblioteca Municipal de Zaragoza has its own digital library, too. Some 1100 rare books have been digitized at the Biblioteca Virtual de la Diputación de Zaragoza. You will find manuscripts, incunables and other early editions among the Tesoros of the Biblioteca Universitaria de Zaragoza, a selection from its Biblioteca Digital del Fondo Antiguo. The ACA, too, thoughtfully provides a bibliography of the main publications concerning this archive, with links to digitized resources, some of them available at the Internet Archive.

In the Fondo Documental Histórico of the Cortes de Aragon you can find digitized manuscripts, drawings, maps and books. Among the manuscripts is a fifteenth-century legal treatise, and you will find also manuscripts of the Coran. Fuentes, source editions for Aragonese law, are to be found in the section with printed materials. My interest was guided to the sixteen printed allegaciones, legal pleadings, and the nine volumes with ordinaciones. I found a Dutch twist, too: Blaeu and Hondius figure among the digitized maps.

In 2012 a portal was created around the life and historical works concerning Aragon of the Jesuit Jerónimo Zurita (1512-1580) who became in 1547 the Cronista del Reino, the official historian of the kingdom of Aragón. The portal brings you not only to digitized editions of his books, foremost among them the Anales de la Corona de Aragón (1562-1580), but also to other chronicles, documents showing Zurita’s activities, and digitized studies on this scholar.

A proud heritage

Arragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu,1647

Aragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu, from: Le Theatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas (Amsterdam 1647) – image Cortes de Aragón, Fondo Documental Histórico

Let’s not overload this post with too much digitized materials from Aragon! At PARES it is wise to look for the history of Aragon not just at the ACA, but also in Madrid and Simancas. The DARA website for the Documentos y Archivos de Aragón is one of the places to look for further guidance. In fact the PARES portal guides you also to the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España y Iberoamérica, an online guide to Spanish and Ibero-American archives. The Gobierno de Aragón gives an overview of Aragonese culture and heritage at the portal Patrimonio Cultural de Aragón. It is possible to mention here a number of archives, but I will restrict myself to the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Zaragoza, with in its holdings records of the Tribunal de la Inquisición de Zaragoza between 1440 and 1621. The ACA is an institution in Barcelona, within Catalonia. The Memòria de Catalunya portal brings you to many collections. One of these collections is specifically concerned with Aragon and contains some 1700 allegaciones, pleadings by barristers who were members of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. I could not help noticing the library of this college has also digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya. A very interesting and detailed online bibliography on Aragonese law in past and present is offered at Standum est chartae, the website of the department for derecho civil aragones of the Universidad de Zaragoza.

Of course other Spanish digital libraries offer online access to books and other documents concerning Aragon. It is in particular useful to look at the portal Legislación Histórica de España. The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid yields many hundreds results after a simple general search for Aragon, among them nearly 200 manuscripts. At Hispana, the general portal for Spanish digitized heritage, it is not only possible to access digitized items, but you can benefit also from the indications found in the directory of digital collections. Similarly the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico helps you to search for materials in many Spanish libraries and archives. A number of Spanish archives, including the ACA, the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, and the general archives at Madrid and Simancas, have created a network for their library catalogues, the Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales. At the end of this post I feel confident that you will find something useful here when you start to study Aragon and the many sides of its legal history. A number of websites mentioned here is also accessible in English. Digitization projects provide in a very real sense a royal road to many valuable resources concerning the kingdoms of Aragon.

Blogging about medieval glosses

Today I launched my new blog Glossae – Middeleeuwse juriidische glossen in beeld, “Glosses – Looking at medieval legal glosses”. The very heart of this blog is a manuscript fragment with glosses, marginal and interlinear comments, on Justinian’s Digest, not the ordinary gloss edited by Francesco Accursio in the thirteenth century, but glosses by twelfth-century lawyers, collectively sometimes known as the glossators. The fragment with these early glosses surfaced during the cataloguing of fragments, in itself part of the preparation of a new manuscript catalogue at the Department of Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Bart Jaski kindly provided detailed photographs of the manuscript (Utrecht UB, ms. fragm. 7.67) which help very much in the decipherment of the glosses which are sometimes very small and barely visible in the original.

The new blog is the first Dutch blog at the Hypotheses network, a French initiative. In 2012 a German branch has been founded. Encouragements from this branch helped me to decide to join this German portal. Of course the question of the main language for my contributions looms large. I have published a first, more general description of the blog in Dutch, with summaries in German and English. The study of medieval legal glosses is indeed marked by the uses of several modern languages, such as French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Publications in English are relatively new in this field. In my first post I mention the appearance of several blogs concerning medieval – in particular Carolingian –  glosses based in the Netherlands.

A very Dutch phenomenon is the collaborative study of manuscripts by both lawyers, historians and palaeographers. I feel privileged to have participated in the yearly Friday seminars on juridical palaeography at Leiden University. It seems this example has until now not be followed anywhere, but its advantages have been recognized and applauded. Scholars from Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam joined in the decipherment and study of medieval legal manuscripts, often covered with tiny glosses. By bringing together each other’s skills, talents and experience we were able to read these manuscripts and to discuss their contents at a level which hardly one of the learned participants could have reached independently. The seminar at Leiden gave me a living example of the great importance of scholarly exchange, discussion and support.

Even when writing (sometimes) in Dutch, a langauge spoken only by some 22 million people worldwide, I am very much aware of the need to transcend borders in time, language and approaches. I am happy that Bart Jaski will join me to write postings for the new blog, either about the manuscript fragment at Utrecht, about other juridical fragments, or about interesting projects and promising methods to deal with medieval manuscripts at large. In particular the use of digital tools to edit and comment on (layers of) annotation seems able to shed new light on the edition of medieval glosses, too.

In itself the fragment at Utrecht is not particularly long. Its importance lies in the presence of the relatively rare preaccursian – i.e. before the Glossa ordinaria edited by Francesco Accursio – glosses, which help us to document not only the development of medieval legal doctrine but also the growth of the mass with many thousand glosses at the disposal of Francesco Accursio during the decades in which he created the final form of the ordinary gloss. This year hope to bring you regularly news about my new project. Hopefully it will not distract me too much from this blog. I could not resist the opportunity to create a wider network around my new blog with a new Twitter account, @GlossaeIuris.

Selling the Mendham Collection, a poor move

This week alerts appeared about the proposed sale of parts of the Mendham Collection, since thirty years on deposit at Canterbury Cathedral. The owner, the Law Society of England and Wales, describes the collection at its own website as “a unique collection of Catholic and anti-Catholic literature including manuscripts and printed books ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries”. Despite protests of Canterbury Cathedral the Law Society has started removing books from Canterbury on July 18, 2012 in preparation for an auction at Sotheby’s, apparently to raise funds. Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent have jointly decided to involve the general public in their protest against the possible dispersal of a collection with more than 5,000 items including medieval manuscripts and early printed books. An online petition to support both institutions has been launched. To indicate the importance of this collection, let it suffice that CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, has included the names of former owners of books in this collection into its provenance database.

One of the painful things in this situation is the failure of the Law Society of England and Wales to acknowledge that there is now an issue. The notice I quoted here from its website is almost the only piece of information this society provides online. The Law Society indicates they have published a catalogue of the collection in 1994 which can be obtained for £ 40,-. The Law Society has substantial historic holdings in its own library on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the fourteenth century to the present. The action of the Law Society breaks unilaterally the agreement with Canterbury Cathedral to act as a custodian of the Mendham Collection until December 31, 2013.

Gaps in the Mendham Collection

Gaps in the Mendham Collection – photo by Alixe Bovey, University of Kent

Joseph Mendham (1769-1856) was an English theologian who became active as a controversialist and historian. He was the son of a merchant, but his background did not hold him back of buying objects with a value for both cultural and church history. An article from 2008 by David J. Shaw describes the collection and the way Mendham brought it together in more detail. For legal historians Shaw points to editions of the acta and additional sources on the Council of Trent held from 1545 to 1564, and for examples twenty different editions of the Regulae of the Cancellaria Apostolica. The collection contains books from Doctors Commons, a court abolished in 1860, and the Court of Arches. Shaw gives also details on the continental provenance of many books. Mendham’s collection of 37 manuscripts mainly concerning the Council of Trent is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The deposit of the Mendham Collection at Canterbury, the place where Christianity in the United Kingdom started, is at an extremely apt spot. A sale of separate items, even of minor items, but surely only the rarer and more valuable items would bring the expected profits, does harm the collection and its integrity, not only now but for future researchers.

Yesterday the BBC reported on the plans of the Law Society to auction books from the Mendham Collection; a video can be seen at YouTube. Until now only a few websites, including the Medievalists news blog, have covered the story about the threat of the sale. Erik Kwakkel, palaeographer at Leiden University, calls upon people to sign the petition. Supporting solicitors is the noble goal of the Law Society of England and Wales, but I can see no justification for a rash sale of valuable materials held since 1869 and the dismemberment of a collection as wideranging as the Mendham Collection. Surely other ways exist to get money, even if the Law Society says it has not taken this decsion light-heartedly. Some of the items removed now may not be retrieved from Sotheby’s for a possible sale to either Canterbury Cathedral or the library of Kent University. Hopefully the petition will help reverting the plan of the Law Society of England and Wales, and help keeping the Mendham Collection intact and accessible.