Studying Dutch legal history is traditionally called studying Old Dutch law. No nationalism is implied in this word, for dealing with it means studying a lot of varying regional and local legal systems. Apart from that, one has to see whether one is interested not only in the present Netherlands, but also in its sometime southern part, Belgium. Anyway, the Dutch word oud-vaderlands recht can be used for both Dutch and Belgian legal history. To the legal history of the Netherlands and Belgium one has to add the colonial past: Indonesia, Suriname and the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Congo are among the countries involved.
The study of Old Dutch law
One can consult some major collections for the old printed sources of and concerning the old Dutch law, such as law books, statutes, ordinances, collections of ordinances and placards, and collections of sentences or juridical advice. On the spot or nearby these libraries there is in most cases a collection of the relevant scientific literature on Dutch legal history.
- The collection of E.M. Meijers (1880-1954) was housed for many years at the Legal History Institute of Leiden University at the old Count’s Prison, the “Gravensteen”, but now one can find it at Leiden University Library – catalogue : R. Feenstra, M. Duynstee and W. Schwab (eds.), Catalogue des imprimés de la collection Meijers de la Bibliothèque de l’Université de Leyde (Leiden-Zwolle 1980).
- The collection of old imprints at the Hoge Raad, the Dutch Supreme Court in The Hague, contains a large number of books for Dutch legal history, see the catalogue – P.P. Schmidt, Catalogus Oude drukken in de bibliotheek van de Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Zwolle 1988) – and Joost Pikkemaat, The Old Library of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hilversum 2008).
- At the Law Library of Utrecht University there is a sizable collection of old juridical books, amounting to some 3000 books – a succinct overview of them is to be found at the website of Utrecht University Library.
Outside the Netherlands one should in particular consult the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main, which houses a very large collection of old Dutch juridical books, see Douglas Osler, Catalogue of books printed in Spain, Portugal and the Southern and Northern Netherlands from the beginning of printing to 1800 in the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main 2000). The Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel is another German library with rich holdings of Dutch books. One could also recommend some British libraries, starting perhaps with the British Library and its Dutch department. In Paris the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Bibliothèque Cujas of the Université Paris I-Sorbonne provide a sensible starting point, as do in Italy the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the library of the Archiginnasio in Bologna.
The study of the Old Dutch law has been furthered in particular by some learned societies. Already at the end of the eighteenth century the society Pro iure patria excolendo was founded in Groningen. In 1860 the Vereeniging tot beoefening van Overijsselsch regt en geschiedenis (VORG, the Society for Overijssel’s law and history) was founded. For Gelre (Guelders) the Vereniging Gelre (founded in 1897) published a number of legal sources and studies.
On a more national level the Vereeniging tot Uitgaaf der Bronnen van het oud-vaderlandsche recht came into existence in 1879. Nowadays it is a chartered foundation, often abbreviated as OVR. OVR published its own journal, the Verslagen en Mededeelingen, of which two series appeared. Since 1999 OVR has got a new journal, Pro Memorie. OVR supports the edition of sources for legal history in their Werken (Works), of which the fourth series is appearing now. Lately OVR has supported the publication of procesgidsen, a number of guides to legal procedures at several Dutch courts. Many older editions of Dutch municipal statutes published for OVR have been digitized in the wake of the project for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch.
A special place was occupied by the former NCRD, the Dutch Center for Documentation in Legal History and Iconography in The Hague, housed in the Royal Library. Each of the departments of legal history in the Dutch and Belgian universities has its own specialties in subjects, periods and themes. The Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis, too, has been an important vehicle for articles on Old Dutch law ever since its first appearance in 1918.
Introductions to Dutch legal history
A number of more or less classic introductions exist. Traditionally universities put one or two of them on the reading program of students. The order here is purely alphabetical on author name.
- A.S. de Blécourt [revised by H.F.W.D. Fischer], Kort begrip van het oud-vaderlands burgerlijk recht (8th ed., Groningen 1968).
- P. Gerbenzon and N. Algra, Voortgangh des rechtes. De ontwikkeling van het Nederlandse recht tegen de achtergrond van de Westeuropese cultuur (5th ed., Alphen aan den Rijn 1979).
- E.J.J. van der Heijden [revised by B.H.D. Hermesdorf], Aantekeningen bij de geschiedenis van het oude vaderlandse recht (8th ed., Nijmegen-Utrecht 1968).
- B.H.D. Hermesdorf [published by P.J. Verdam], Rechtsspiegel. Een rechtshistorische terugblik in de Lage Landen van het Herfsttij (Nijmegen 1980).
- J.Ph. de Monté ver Loren [revised by J.E. Spruit], Hoofdlijnen uit de ontwikkeling der rechterlijke organisatie in de Noordelijke Nederlanden tot de Bataafse omwenteling (7th ed., Deventer 2000).
For literature on 19th century Dutch legal history the following bibliography is very useful:
- G.W.F. Brüggemann and E.C. Coppens, Bibliografische inleiding in de Nederlandse rechtsgeschiedenis van de negentiende eeuw (Zutphen 1985).
A fine annotated introduction in English to Dutch legal history is the chapter by Randall Lesaffer, ‘A short legal history of the Netherlands‘, in: Understanding Dutch law, H.S. Taekema (ed.) (The Hague 2004) 31-58. For the legal history of Belgium it is useful to read an article by Dirk Heirbaut, ‘Legal history in Belgium’, Clio@Themis 1 (2009).
First the departments of legal history at Belgian and Dutch universities:
- Departement Grondslagen van het Recht, Universiteit Antwerpen
- Afdeling Rechtsgeschiedenis Universiteit Gent – with their useful newsletter Rechtshistorisch Bulletin
- Romeins recht en Rechtsgeschiedenis, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
- Centre d’Histoire du Droit et de la Justice, Université Catholique Louvain-la-Neuve
- Juridische Faculteit, Universiteit van Amsterdam
- Legal Theory and Legal History, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
- Vakgroep Rechtsgeschiedenis, Groningen
- Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid, Leiden
- Sectie Rechtsgeschiedenis, Maastricht
- Vakgroep Rechtgeschiedenis, Nijmegen
- Sectie Rechtsgeschiedenis, Rotterdam
- Sectie Rechtsgeschiedenis, Tilburg
- Vakgroep Rechtsgeschiedenis, Utrecht
- Juridische Bibliotheek Universiteit Utrecht – a nice collection of links
OVR has its own website with useful information on Dutch and Belgian legal history. Here a number of other interesting websites:
- Digitale Bibliografie Nederlandse Geschiedenis – the online bibliography for Dutch history includes articles and books on legal history
- Biografisch Portaal van Nederland – a portal to several biographical dictionaries, including for example Dutch artists; there is a useful links collection; see also the bio-bibliographies of Dutch humanists (only in Dutch)
- Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek – the first ten volumes of this Belgian national biographical dictionary can be consulted online
- Recht in de Lage Landen – Law in the Low Countries; website of Jos Monballyu, Louvain-Courtrai
- Koninklijke Commissie voor de uitgave van de oude wetten en verordeningen van België – in Belgium a Royal Commission has been active since 1846 for the edition of sources for legal history
- Nederlands Instituut voor Rechtshistorische Documentatie (NCRD), Den Haag – with the database for legal iconography – only for cardholders of the Royal Library and subscribing libraries; however, some 12,000 images are since 2012 accessible at the Memory of the Netherlands portal
- Institute for Dutch History, The Hague – with digitized versions of many editions
- Archieven – online searching (in Dutch, English or German) in the inventories of the majority of Dutch archives
- Thematis Erfgoed Portaal – until 2013 a portal for searching archival records and cultural heritage in thirty Dutch municipal and regional archives
- The Memory of The Netherlands – a portal to many digital collections of Dutch cultural and historic institutions
- Eurodocs: History of the Netherlands – a very useful annotated list of online historical sources and relevant websites
- NedGuide, succeeded by the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Niederländischer Kulturkreis (ViFa Benelux), Universität Münster – a portal to Dutch studies, similar to other German ViFa’s, such as the one for law, ViFa Recht, maintained at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz
- Eurodocs: History of Belgium – a similar page for Belgian history
- Dutch constitutions – a website with all constitutions since 1798; some constitutions have been translated, for example at the Università di Torino and the Modern Constitutions project (with facsimiles)
- The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition – an online exhibition of books concerning the seventeenth-century law of the province of Holland on the website of The Robbins Collection, Boalt School of Law, University of California at Berkeley
- Early Dutch Books Online – ten thousand digitized books from the period 1780-1800, among them also some books on law and justice
- Boeken 1700-1870, Royal Library, The Hague – a project in cooperation with Google to digitize some 160,000 titles
- Tijdschriften 1850-1940, Royal Library, The Hague – among the eighty digitized journals some are concerned with Dutch law, in particular the Advocatenblad (1918-1935)
- Sources for Dutch History, Digitale Bijzondere Collecties, Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht – digitized editions of sources on urban history from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and also the major collection of ordinances for Holland and Zeeland, the Groot Placaet-Boeck (9 vol., The Hague 1658-1796) – unfortunately the digital collections at Utrecht have abandoned this presentation and the pre-selection of sources for an objects website where you have to search using your browser
- Jurisprudence, Digitale Bijzondere Collecties, Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht – only a small number of books, but among them major authors such as Grotius, Van Leeuwen, Noodt, Voet and Huber, and the 1809 Dutch version of the Code civil
- Groninger Opmerkingen en Mededelingen (1984-) – issues starting from 1999 of this journal focusing on legal doctrine and comparative legal history have been digitized (PDF’s)
- Digital Collection, Tresoar, Leeuwarden – a nice number of books on the history of Frisia have been digitized here, including manuscripts with texts on medieval Frisian law
- Wumkes, Digital historical library for Frisia – here you will find a number of studies and source editions for Frisian law
- Scripties Online – a portal to digital recent master theses written at Dutch universities
- E-thesis – digital versions of recent master theses defended at Belgian universities (in Dutch)
- Belgica, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I, Brussels – the digital library of the KBR
- Flandrica: Erfgoedbibliotheken online – six Flemish public libraries have partnered in this digital library with both books and manuscripts
And finally some more specific sites for aspects of Dutch and Belgian legal history:
- Staten-Generaal digitaal, Royal Library, The Hague – parliamentary documents, 1814-1995
- Legal history of Limburg
- Digitale Plakkaatzoeker – a tool for searching ordinances for the Overkwartier of Gelre, 1665-1795
- Vereniging tot beoefening van Overijsselsch Regt en Geschiedenis – legal history of Overijssel; its journal has been digitized (1860-2007)
- Contactgroep Signum – an association of scholars for the social, economic and legal history of Dutch and Belgian medieval ecclesiastical and religious institutions
- The Dutch Revolt of the sixteenth century – with an English version
- Regelgeving Nederlanden – a growing collection of transcriptions of regional statutes, local bylaws and other legislation, and links to digitized versions of editions
- Stadsrechten – a special website on municipal statutes, concentrating on – real or supposed – foundation charters
- Cartago – not the ancient Carthage, but a site with digital versions of charters before 1600 and law books for Frisia, Groningen and Drenthe
- Digitaal Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant, Institute for Dutch History – even more charters than in the printed version
- The registers of the county of Holland in the Hainaut period, 1299-1345, Institute for Dutch History – digitized images and editions of eventually some 3,400 charters
- Mare Liberum – a digitized version at the Royal Library, The Hague, of the first edition (1609) Grotius’ most famous work
- Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, Boeventucht (Disciplining ruffians), an online version at the Digital Library for Dutch Literature of the 1985 edition of a text from 1587 on penal law; see for Coornhert (1522-1590) also his collected works (Universiteitsbibliotheek Amsterdam) and the collection of sources edited in 1925 by Bruno Becker
- Commissions for the Reform of the Dutch Constitution, 1883-1983, Institute for Dutch History – an online guide and digital sources for the history of seventeen parliamentary commissions
- Registers for criminal and civil sentences, Court of Holland, National Archives, The Hague – searching online for criminal sentences between 1538 and 1811 and civil sentences from 1600 to 1811; among other registers are those for accounts about probate inventories (1637-1811) and much more
- The oldest share – on this website of the Westfries Archief and the Westfries Museum in Hoorn much information about a 1606 share of the Dutch East Indian Company
- Just-his.be – The socio-political history of justice administration in Belgium (1795-2005), a database at Louvain on Belgian magistrates
- Sammlung Alff, Pamphlets on the revolution in Brabant and Liège, Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln – at Cologne some 600 pamphlets from the end of the eighteenth centurey have been digitized