Tag Archives: Commercial law

Hunting for origins: the example of companies

A few weeks ago I read about the purchase in 2008 by China of a copper mine at Mount Toromocho in Peru for the sum of 3 billion dollars. It reminded me that I still have a story up my sleeve about another copper mine to illustrate the early history of companies with shareholders, and even better, the company in question still exists. When writing here in 2011 about the oldest share of the Dutch East India Company from 1606 I read also about companies founded much earlier. In this post I want to follow that track. However, this will lead also to questioning the idea and practice of searching for and claiming the earliest occurrence of legal constructions.

Searching for the oldest companies

Logo Hudson Bay Company

My search for companies older than the Dutch example of a company which issued stocks in the early seventeenth century is in itself in no way new or original. In fact I am surprised how much space has been devoted to this search in the English Wikipedia, with inevitably a list of oldest companies. This list is marred by the fact that a number of companies can claim indeed a foundation at a very early date, but they did not start outright as stock companies, the definition to be explored here. It was during a search last year for a particular person that I encountered the website of the Hudson Bay Company, founded officially in 1670. The Hudson Bay Company is proud of its long history. The full name, Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay, indicates clearly the role of stockholders. Its archives are since 1974 at Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 2007 the UNESCO admitted these archives to the Memory of the World Register.

Another necessary distinction to be made is between temporary stock companies and more permanent ventures. In ancient and medieval history and law you will encounter examples of joint ventures which last for just one voyage of a ship. Temporary companies such as the English Guinea or African Company (1577-1580) were followed by the East India Company (1600), the Dutch Noordse Compagnie and the Companie van Verre predated the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), founded in 1602. The name of the VOC indicates that in it a number of earlier companies merged together.

A sale concerning the Stora Kopparberg, 1288

The “founding charter” for Stora Kopparberg, 1288 – image Riksarkivet, Stockholm

When I wrote in November 2011 about the oldest share of the VOC dating from 1606 I found comments on the website of Radio Netherlands Worldwide stating that Stora Kopparberg, a Swedish company, is the oldest existing stock company documented as early as 1288. The text of the June 16, 1288 charter can be found in the printed version of the Svenskt Diplomatarium, digitized at a website maintained at the Riksarkivet in Stockholm (SDHK, no. 1406). You can also use a modern transcription and a more extensive summary in the Svenskt Diplomatarium, all in Swedish. In this charter bishop Peter of Västerås acknowledges the sale of an eight part of the copper mountain called Tiskasjöberg, octauam partem montis cupri dicti Tiscasioberg, to his nephew Nils Christinaeson, who however commutes the sale for the possession of two parishes, Fröslunda and Hasselbäck. The sale was certainly important, because the charter was sealed also by king Magnus Ladulås and four other bishops. How the division of this property into eight parts came into existence is not clear, nor is there any mentioning here of the issue of shares. I feel sympathy for the anonymous comment on the RNW website that one can perhaps describe it better as a privately owned firm with external shareholders. In view of medieval canon law it is indeed the question whether you should see this property of the diocese Västerås as property of the chapter and bishop, a part perhaps of the mensa episcopalis. Were the king and the other bishops sealing themselves shareholders?

Mining at the Stora Kopparberget, also known as the Falu Grava, had started already in the tenth century. A charter from 1347 records the granting of several rights to the miners by king Magnus IV (SHDK, no. 5394; February 17, 1347), and here it becomes clear the mine worked as a company. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this copper mine was the largest source of copper worldwide. In 1862 the official name became Stora Kopparsberg Bergslags Aktie Bolga, a name indicating the issue of stocks. The delving of copper ended in 1992. The UNESCO added the site of the copper mine in 2001 to the World Heritage List. In 1998 Stora AB fused with the firm Enso into StoraEnso.

Are there any other examples of early stock companies? The firm of Francesco di Marco Datini in fourteenth century Prato had certainly partners. The Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato in Prato is one of the largest medieval commercial archives still preserved. If I would have to answer at point blank for examples still existing medieval companies I am tempted to look at the so-called Livery Companies in London, late medieval craft and trade associations, but they did originally function as guilds and did not trade as companies. Helmut Coing’s Europäisches Privatrecht 1500-1800 I, Älteres Gemeines Recht (Munich 1985) 523-530, distinguishes between different kinds of trade companies: Personengesellschaften, partnerships with mining companies as a special subspecies, Kapitalgeschafften with for examples the Italian montes – excluding the montes pietatis -, privileged seafaring and colonial companies in England and the Low Countries, and more modern companies from the late seventeenth century onwards.

In France the Société des Moulins du Bazacle was a milling company near Toulouse which was owned since the mid-thirteenth century by shareholders. The mills were driven by the water at the barrage de Bazacle, a dam in the Garonne river. Eventually the shares got traded on the market in Toulouse. The company existed until 1946. Companies are already mentioned in French law in the Livre de Jostice et de Plet around 1260 (Li livres de jostice et de plet, Louis-Nicolas Rapetti (ed.) (Paris, 1850) ch. 7.15, pp. 167-168; online for example in the Hathi Trust Digital Library).

Logo Sumitomo

The webpages of the Hudson Bay Company Archives mention the Japanese keiretsu (business group) Sumitomo. It took over a copper mine founded in 1591 by Riemon Soga in Kyoto. In 1691 the firm started winning copper from the Besshi copper mine which closed only in 1973. Sumitomo Mining Company is the very heart of this business group, one of the world’s largest firms. It is interesting to note that both Stora Kopparberg and Sumitomo had copper mining as a basic activity.

Let’s return briefly to the Wikipedia list of oldest companies. You might indeed object I was too dismissive of its qualities and rejected it too quickly as unuseful. Of course it is a nice list of early enterprises which have continued active until modern times, but not every enterprise took off at its start as a stock company. Here a few examples should suffice to illustrate this argument. The British Royal Mint was founded in 886, but king Alfred the Great did certainly not found a firm. Only in 2009 the Royal Mint became a company with limited liability, Royal Mint Ltd. The second example I know from my own experience in South Germany. The Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan reckons its foundation as a brewery back to a charter issued by the city of Freising in 1040 allowing the abbey of Weihenstephan brewing and serving beer, but surely at that time the brewery was not a separate corporate entity. By the way, the genuineness of the 1040 charter is disputed.

Understandably I will not try to plod through a list of dates and firms to be checked, and produce yet another tedious list. Since already two mines figure in this post it is just an educated guess to look briefly at the Wieliczka salt mine near Cracow in Poland. This mine was already known in the Neolithicum (3500 BC). In the eleventh century the mine was nicknamed Magnum Sal. The oldest shaft still present dates from the thirteenth century. In the late thirteenth century the Cracow Mines Company was founded. The Wieliczka mine operated until 2007. This mine, too, has been added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Mining and law

At the end of this post it might seem I have offered here a kind of tour of the Memory of the World Register and the World Heritage List, with only a very vague link to legal history. You might feel lucky I did not yet include a Dutch twist to this post, but the history of mining law brings me an opportunity to do just that. Mining law is indeed a separate branch of private law. In 1978 J. de Boer defended at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam his Ph.D. thesis on De winning van delfstoffen in het Romeinse recht, de middeleeuwse juridische literatuur en het Franse recht tot 1810 [The extraction of minerals in Roman law, the medieval legal literature and French law to 1810](Leiden, 1978). This thesis has a summary in English. Coing’s survey mentioned above brings you to other studies concerning mining law including works by Early Modern lawyers, for instance the Speculum iuris metallici, oder Berg-Rechts-Spiegel by Sebastian Span (Dresden, 1698; digitized at Heidelberg). In Dutch history mining took place in Limburg and also in the former Dutch East Indies.

Using the catalogue of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main, you will quickly find more relevant and even earlier works on the history of mining law. In Norway mining law was already codified in 1540. When you combine the results obtained there with a search in the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog for digitized books you will be able to look at a number of relevant works from your screen. The Metallicorum corpus iuris oder Bergk-Recht (Leipzig 1624) by Johann Deucer has been digitized at Dresden. Mining often belonged to the regalia, the royal rights. Eike von Repgow deals with this aspect of mining in the Sachsenspiegel (Landrecht I,35), written between 1220 and 1235, and the gloss by Johann vom Buch from the early fourteenth century expands on it (Glossen zum Sachsenspiegel-Landrecht: Buch’sche Glosse, Frank-Michael Kaufmann (ed.) (3 vol., Hannover, 2002; available online at dMGH, section Leges). The library at Frankfurt am Main is a treasure trove which you might indeed compare to a gold mine for legal historians! Here I have restricted myself to mentioning just a few titles and indicating some aspects.

The lure of looking for origins

American readers might have expected me to deal with originalism as the major subject of this post, but in a way my post is already in itself a comment on any form of originalism. The Legal History Blog is very helpful in tracking the discussions on originalism. One of the major problems with the approach favored by originalists is the question to which origin you would like to point. Do you go back to the debates of the Founding Fathers about the American Constitution, do you look at the early Congress or at congressional debates concerning specific amendments, or do you dare to consider also debates concerning the constitution and statutes of the original states before 1776? As for the Founding Fathers, in the book by Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner and in the web version of their study The Founders’ Constitution (5 vol., Chicago 1987; reprint Indianapolis 2001) you can look even beyond them to the sources and arguments they adduced or debated.

In the wake of the controversies about the American Constitution and its present application many roads have been opened, some of them new and promising, some well trodden and somehow pale. The major flaw with the less interesting perspectives is the Whig interpretation of history, the tendency to use history and law as a handmaiden of the present, in fact only valuable because of the present, and thus sometimes called applied legal history. History and legal history can seem just fuel for debates and are reduced to ammunition for political views. At the very best history and the development of law are not totally neglected in Whig interpretations. In my country the ignorance about history of many members of the Dutch parliament is often shameful. Another problem in the present use and role of the American constitution is the tendency to avoid fundamental debate, and to press for solutions to political questions by the judiciary with as its main vehicle judicial review. A recent attempt in Dutch politics to let a court judge political matters was rightly rejected: the Dutch States General have to decide them, not the courts. Democracy and political debate can regain relevance when they become really relevant and decisive.

As for the history of early companies, it is better not to reduce the history of company law to the sometimes fascinating stories of their foundation or a series of snapshots of all kinds of companies in history, but to look at many aspects of commerce and law in context in longer periods, and to attempt perspectives from all around the world. Legal historians can bring in questions of law to gain insights which historians and other scholars can only neglect at their peril.

Turning to good account: medieval account rolls and legal history

How to present a faithful picture of legal history? Writing here about various subjects enforces the conviction that talking about legal histories in the plural is closer to the mark. Taking account of everything that is going on in this scholarly discipline is not possible. In my view the very subject of keeping accounts and its connection to legal history deserves a post here. In this case, too, you can choose a wide variety of perspectives, sources to be highlighted and stories to be told from the Ancient Near East until modern computerized accounting systems. I will in particular discuss a number of projects for the digitization of medieval account rolls.

From clay tablets to computers

Accounts are among the earliest surviving written sources of mankind. From ancient Mesopotamia clay tablets have been found written in cuneiform script. You can find an example of a digital collection of cuneiform records from the Assyrian empire on the website of the Library of Congress. A substantial percentage of ancient papyri, too, tell us about expenses and income, or stem indeed from official administration of all kinds for both secular and religious institutions. At Papyri.info you can search the bibliography for papyri rolls. From Roman times accounts have been preserved on various materials. Wax tablets with accounts are among the Vindolanda tablets found near Hadrian’s Wall in 1973. The tablets now on display at the British Museum in London have been digitized by Oxford University.

Logo Computatio

For our knowledge of medieval history accounts and account rolls are abundantly present. Otto Volk (Universität Marburg) has put anyone interested in medieval accounts and accounting into his debt by his efforts to create at Computatio an online bibliography of scholarship concerning the late medieval and Early Modern period.

Lately a number of projects in the United Kingdom has started to digitize a substantial number of medieval rolls. You will find a very large number of digitized records at Anglo-American Legal Tradition, a website of the O’Quinn Law Library, Houston University in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew. Among the records are plea rolls, Chancery Rolls and pipe rolls (E 372 series). The pipe roll from 1130 is the second oldest item from the royal administration, only preceded by Domesday Book (1086). Finding digitized pipe rolls and digitized editions published by the Pipe Roll Society is made easier using the overview and guide at Medieval Genealogy. The Pipe Roll Society announces for 2012 a new edition of the oldest surviving pipe roll from 1129-1130 and new editions of the pipe rolls for Normandy. The first edition of the oldest pipe roll was by Joseph Hunter, Magnum rotulum Scaccarii vel magnum rotulum Pipae (…) (London 1833; digitized at the Hathi Trust Digital Library). An edition of Norman rolls was published by Thomas Stapleton, Magni rotuli scaccarii Normanniae sub regibus Angliae (2 vol., London 1840-1844). These volumes have been digitized in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich where you can find also the Rotulus cancellarii vel antigraphum magni rotuli pipae de tertio anno regni regis Johannis (London 1833). For Normandy the first volume of the new edition has already appeared, Pipe rolls of the Exchequer of Normandy, I, For the reign of Henry II 1180 and 1184, Vincent Moss (ed.) (London 2004). Mark Hagger writes in his article ‘A Pipe Roll for 25 Henry I’, English Historical Review CCXXII (2007) 133-140, about a fourteenth-century register from St. Albans Abbey containing a fragment from the pipe roll for Michaelmas 1124.

Separate projects are devoted to several types of roles. In the Henry III Fine Rolls Project rolls from 1216 to 1272 are being digitized on which the payments for royal concession were noted (C 60 and E 371 series). A translation will also be provided. This project at King’s College London is accompanied by a blog. The project website can boast a useful links selection to other projects. The Gascon Rolls Project is concerned with rolls similar to the Henry III Fine Rolls for the period 1317-1468 for matters concerning Gascony (C 61). On a French webpage you will find much information on previous editions of earlier rolls concerning Gascony. The Parliament Rolls from 1275 to 1504 have been edited earlier. The digitized version can be consulted only for subscribers at British History Online. Luckily you will find here digitized editions of many types of medieval rolls in open access. Access to a number of relevant sources is also provided by many calendars, the typical English finding aid created for many sources. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is a very useful tool to find digitized editions of medieval sources. At present for example 160 digitized editions of account rolls are included. In the 2011 issue of Digital Medievalist Morgan Kay and Maryanne Kowalewski discuss this bibliographical database which includes now more than 4,000 items.

Accounting and counting in medieval times

In this post I want to look at digitized medieval accounts and in particular account rolls, but sooner or later it becomes necessary to look first at the medieval way of accounting. Accounts were kept and sometimes rolls created to make it possible to account for both the actions of for example a royal officer, and also for the fines due to the king, which might not necessarily and automatically match with the actual amounts of money received. The accounts present a picture of posts concerning actions and money transfers for which the authors were held accountable.

The very word control stems from the practice of checking rolls against the receipts and the amount of money present after a particular period. In the field of trade and commerce medievalists often point to the invention of double entry book-keeping and the treatise La pratica della mercatura by Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (fl. 1310-1347). The edition by Allan Evans (Cambridge, Mass., 1936) has been digitized by the Medieval Academy of America. The first clear late medieval presentation was long said to be found in the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice 1494) by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) – GW 44422, digitized for example at Cologne and at the ECHO project of the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin – whose chapter on book-keeping stems partially from Giorgio Chiarini, the Florentine author of the Libro che tratta di mercanzie et usanze dei paesi. An incunable edition of this work appeared at Florence in 1481 (GW 22847). Alas the link to a digitized version at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart does not work. Vincenzo Gitti edited a text by Pacioli, the Tractatus de computis et scripturis / Trattato de’ computi e delle scritture (Turin 1878), also available online at the Universität Köln.

These treatises came into existence after some major merchants and towns had already started using the double entry book-keeping system during the fourteenth century. Vittorio Alfieri, La partita doppia applicata nelle scritture delle antiche aziende mercantili veneziane (Turin, etc., 1891) – digitized at Cologne – made already clear that Pacioli was probably not the first to explain this system. Alfieri discusses similar treatises up to Benvenuto Straccha’s De mercatura (1553), the first legal treatise exclusively devoted to commercial law. Straccha is the subject of a virtual exhibition at the Università Bocconi in Milan, where you can find a bibliography on him and more treatises concerning commercial law. Anne van der Helm and Johanna Postma of the Instituut Pacioli found in 1998 the manuscript of a mid-fifteenth century Italian treatise by Benedetto Cotruglio, Libro dell’arte della mercatura with an appendix, La riegola del libro which according to Van der Helm and Postma dates from the first half of the fifteenth century. This appendix is missing in the edition of Cotruglio’s text by Ugo Tucci (Venice 1990). In the paper discussing this newly discovered text – dealing not only with book-keeping but with many aspects of commerce – the authors provide an ample bibliography of relevant scholarship on the earliest book-keeping treatises.

As for the question where double book-keeping occurred for the first time L. Lauwers and M. Willekens mention in their sketch on the history of book-keeping, ‘Five hundred years of book-keeping. A portrait of Luca Pacioli’Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management 39/3 (1994) an article by Michael Scorgie, ‘Accounting fragments stored in the Old Cairo Genizah’, Accounting, business and financial history 4 (1994) 29-42, who studied a fragment of a journal dating from 1080 and four pages of accounting with credits and debts dated 1134. One can search part of the Cairo Genizah in the Genizah On-Line Database of Cambridge University Library. Images can be found also in the Friedberg Genizah Project, and in Cambridge’s DSpace. Lauwers and Willekens mention also a study by John Caldwell Colt, The Science of Double Entry Book-keeping (New York 1844; online, University of Rhode Island). Colt already guessed that the connection with Egypt, Constantinople, and the commercial network of Arabic merchants stretching from northern Africa to India, is vital for the introduction of double book-keeping. Pointing to the activity of Lombards all over Europe is another sensible line of argument. However, his assumption that the Hanseatic League also quickly took over this method, is wrong, because the cities of this commercial league long refused it.

Probably the largest single medieval commercial archive is the Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato, Prato, with the famous documentation about Francesco di Marco Datini, immortalized in Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato (1957). On the website one reads the affirmation that from the end of the thirteenth century double book-keeping was used in Tuscany. However correct or incorrect this statement, the Fondo Datini shows an overwhelming variety of account books.

It would be foolish not to mention at least briefly the use of Roman and Arabic numbers. Counting with Roman numbers was mostly done with an abacus. The story of Leonardo Fibonacci and his Liber abaci (1202) can be found almost anywhere. In this mathematical treatise he introduced the modus Indorum to Europe, the numerals as we know them, including the use of zero. Laurence Edward Sigler published a study and translation in English, Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci: a translation into modern English of Leonardo Pisano’s Book of Calculation (Berlin-New York 2002). The edition by Baldassare Boncompagni, Scritti di Leonardo Pisano (2 vol., Rome 1857-1862) has still to be used, and can now be consulted online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. You can find it also together with other digitized Italian mathematical works on the Mathematica Italiana portal of the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. It is not included in the section for the history of mathematics of the Berlin website European Cultural Heritage Online.

Rolls and scrolls on many subjects

Let’s go back from the treatises to the account rolls and account books. Many years ago I was fascinated by the rotuli mortuorum, the rolls with the names of deceased medieval monks for whom prayers were requested. More recently rolls of arms figured here in a post concerning medieval heraldry. The chapter of the Introduction to manunscripts studies by Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham (Ithaca, NY-London 2007) devoted to rolls and scrolls made me again curious about this format and its uses. Not only here figure rolls, but elsewhere in this book, too, for example a thirteenth-century roll cartulary written by a notary from Asprières in the Provence (Chicago, Newberry Library, Greenlee ms. 39), and a parchment roll with a large hole caused by the corrosive pigments of an illustration (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 22.1). The authors mention also an example of an account roll from thirteenth-century Florence.

Michael Clanchy mentions the use of rolls in his classic study From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London 1979; 3rd ed., New York 2012) and more particular also the way written records were used. Auditing a roll was indeed done by reading them aloud. Clanchy points to the possible influence of Arabic practice transmitted by English mathematicians such as Adelard of Bath on the introduction of the roll form. He reckons also with influence from Sicily which in the early twelfth century had only just been conquered on the Arabs. Scholars still debate the actual forms of this influence from the Arab world and the precise ways they might or could have led to developments in Italy.

You will excuse me for not giving examples here of all kinds of medieval rolls, even though Clanchy discusses a generous range. The Parliament rolls have been mentioned here already. Among the main sources concerning English medieval law are the plea rolls, the Exchequer rolls, the eyre rolls, the coroner rolls, the statute rolls and the assize rolls, almost all of them also treated in Clanchy’s book. For the patent rolls it is interesting to visit the website for the itinerary of King John and the rotuli litterarum patentium, with Hardy’s 1835 edition. It might seem useful to remember the Rolls Series, a major series of editions of sources from medieval Britain, but the Master of The Rolls, responsible for the series, decided to publish mainly chronicles in this series. Court rolls often contain the fines of cases. One of the major online projects for court rolls is The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove and Bury, 1268-1600, based on the edition of sources for this part of the East Midlands with the same title (Toronto 1990) and accompanying the book Ramsey. The life of a Fenland Town by Anne Reiber DeWindt and Edwin Brezette DeWindt (Washington, D.C., 2006). The Conisborough Court Rolls (University of Sheffield) present rolls from a manorial court in Yorkshire. For medieval Ireland the website Irish Chancery Rolls, c. 1244-1509 has been launched recently with rolls patiently reconstructed from the materials that survived the disastrous bombing of the Irish Record Office in 1916. It would be splendid to view documents from medieval Spain. Thomas Bisson’s study Fiscal accounts of Catalonia under the early count-kings (1151-1213) (2 vol., Berkeley-Los Angeles 1984) contains the text of a number of documents. For an earlier period Michel Zimmermann has written a major study on the role of writing in Catalonia, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle) (2 vol., Madrid 2003).

I would like to close this post with a shortlist of separately digitized medieval account rolls and similar documents with a clear link to administration, government or jurisprudence. Don Skemer deals with statute rolls compiled by individuals in ‘From Archives to the Book Trade: Private statute rolls in England, 1285-1307′, Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995) 193-206. I will exclude here many other forms, such as genealogical rolls – though I would like to point to the digitized world chronicle and genealogy of Edward IV in roll form at Philadelphia, Free Library - mortuary rolls and heraldic rolls. My brief list opens with a number of examples from the Digital Scriptorium, choosing of course examples completely digitized:

  • Los Angeles, UCLA Library, ms. Rouse 61: Rent roll; Hertfordshire, 1560 – ms. Rouse 53 is an homage roll from Norfolk, 1446-1453
  • Los Angeles, UCLA, Bancroft Library, BANC UCB 119: Purchase of land, Bergamo, 1500
  • New York, Columbia University, ms. Montgomery 22: Account roll, Ely, 1400-1415
  • San Francisco, San Francisco State University, J. Paul Leonard Library, De Bellis Collection, De Bellis H 121, Box1:A3: Roll, 1338; Italy – the exact nature of this roll is not indicated in the description
  • New York, Columbia University, Smith Documents 63: Tax roll of tithes, Vaux (Somme), first half 15th century
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Ash. Rolls 45, Procession to Parliament; 17th century – a beautiful illustrated roll; for digitized genealogical and heraldic rolls Oxford provides an ample choice
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, ms. Oversize 23: Property survey; Val Secret, department Aisne, 1324
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Codex 1116: Distribution of funds for churches; Volterra, 1490
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/216: Toll tarifs, Sens, around 1223; two rolls
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/329: Document of three apostolic commissioners concerning the nullity of the marriage between Charles the Fair and Blanche of Burgundy, 1322
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/III/203: Letter of Uldjaitu, king of Persia, to Philipp the Fair and other christian princes to renew the existing alliance, 1305 – on the back of the roll is an Italian translation of the Mongol text
  • Beaune, Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or, Chambre des Comptes de Bourgogne, B 11525: Tithe roll for the region around Beaune, 1285

Of course one can point to interesting documents concerning legal history in roll form elsewhere, not only in medieval Europe, but for example in medieval Japan. Harvard Law School Library has digitized 22 komonjo, scrolls with various legal texts from the period 1158-1591. Jewish marriage contracts in roll form are being digitized in the Ketubbot project of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. The Society for Old Dutch Law published a merchant guild roll from Deventer, De koopmansgilderol van Deventer voor 1249-1387, H.R. van Ommeren (ed.) (The Hague 1978), and the text of this edition – without images of the roll – can be consulted online. For Flanders and Brabant H. Nélis created an overview of account rolls in his study Chambre des Comptes de Flandre et de Brabant. Inventaire des comptes en rouleaux (Brussels 1914)

At the French Archim website you can consult online the roll with the interrogation of members of the Knights Templars from October 19 to November 24, 1307 (Paris, Archives Nationales, J 413 no. 18). Another roll from this famous trial is J 413 no. 29, a digitized inventory on six parchment leaves of the goods of the Templars in the bailliage of Caen. Using the collections search interface of the French Culture portal it seems you cannot find easily other examples in France. The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. The accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe shows an interesting selection of manuscripts and contains a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. The database of the Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden at Marburg contains examples of charters in roll form (Rotel), of which you can view images in black and white. At Monasterium.net, too, one can search for digitized charters of this type, but the search results here are not straightforward.

When writing this post I had to scroll to the end of my text, and thus in a way this post has become a roll, too. The pieces of parchment of a medieval roll were stitched together. I am afraid my text has some rather obvious stitches. At some points I have been much too brief, and at the same time this post contains almost too much. The scholarship in print on the variety of medieval rolls concerning the royal government of England is extensive, and I have mentioned but a few titles here. Perhaps this post just wets the appetite for more!

A postscript

What should be included, and what excluded in such a long post? Certainly not the website of the center for the history of accounting at the Université Lille-3. You will find more links on this website. Comparable centers are mentioned in the links section of the e-journal De Computis. At least three articles in the e-journal Comptabilité(s) deals directly with medieval rolls, Harmony Dewez’s 2011 illustrated contribution on the manorial rolls of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Jean-Baptiste Santamaria on accounts for the bailliage of Hesdin in fourteenth-century Artois, and Patrick Beck on accounts for the comune of Dijon.

By chance I visited the website Richard II’s Treasure, created by the Institute for Historical Research and Royal Holloway College, where besides many objects the treasury roll of this king from 1398-1399 is featured (National Archives, E 101/411/9). However, you will find on the website just two images of the roll, and the text of this 40 meter roll is missing, too. Jenny Stratford who helped creating the website gives the text in her study Richard II and the Engish Royal Treasure (Woodbridge 2011).

A royal liberty: the Dutch free markets on Queens’ Day

Today is a day on which The Wedding inevitably seems to dominate the news. Royal affairs take pride of place for at least one day. Tomorrow Dutch people will continue creating a royal atmosphere on Koninginnedag, Queens’ Day, the birthday of the late Queen Juliana. When Queen Beatrix ascended to the throne in 1980 she decided to maintain April 30, her mother’s birthday, as Queens’ Day. Since her own birthday is on January 31, in midwinter, it was very sensible to keep this holiday fixed in springtime.

To the best of my knowledge the vrijmarkten, the free markets on Queens’ Day, have gained any importance only after 1980. Before that time this kind of flea market was not a large element of the activities on Queens’ Day organized by the Oranjeverenigingen, the local societies which honor the Dutch royal house. A pageant with music by a brass band, hoisting the national flag and the orange-colored pennon, all kind of games, folklore activities such as traditional dances and music, sport and activities for children used to be the main elements of Queens’ Day. The royal family maintains since 1980 the tradition of visiting on April 30 a village and a town to participate in these activities, which can be rather home-made and for teenage princes even outright boring. Perhaps they were painfully aware of the character of these visits, an invented tradition. The late Queen Juliana had established the tradition of a pageant of loyal citizens parading to the palace at Soestdijk presenting the queen with all kinds of presents. Some young princes found even that difficult to digest.

However, since the introduction of the free markets on Queens’ Day this new custom clearly outstripped other activities in scope, scale and importance. In particular the free markets in Utrecht and Amsterdam have become mass events. A few days before the official start the local councils mark the area in which the free market will be held. On the eve of Queens’ Day, and in fact already hours before the Queens’ Night as it has been named, people show up with the things they would like to sell. At the start the whole things still resembles the original intention of the free market, a market where you can wander around at ease and wonder about the things on sale, strike a bargain with someone and go home with a funny object for a very nice price. Tomorrow you will find yourself back in the midst of an enormous crowd, people tend to a bit be less likeable, and you will probably look in vain for something worth all your efforts to enter Amsterdam or Utrecht at all.

Entering the Utrecht free market zone

Entering the Utrecht free market zone

My problem is not with the free market as such. The city council of Utrecht has restricted the area of the free market to the northern part of the old city, leaving the other more beautiful parts in quiet and peace, and it is wonderful to enjoy them. In Amsterdam the Vondelpark has been delineated as the children’s area who can perform music or funny acts for some money in exchange, adult people can bring their stuff and merchandise to the other streets and squares of the free market. How to approach the subject of the free market, as an anthropologist or as an ordinary citizen, as an economist or as a political theorist? How to avoid easy jesting and tradition bashing? And maybe the most obvious question, what does legal history have to do with the free market?

To some extent this one day free market seems to encapsulate the virtues and vices of the concept free market. For me the traffic signs used to mark the areas seem to signify both the geographic and the conceptual limits of the free market.

No free market at this side

"No free market at this side"

What started as a funny imitation of a flea market has grown to an oversized real open air market. Instead of people willingly bringing things from their attics to the street and behaving like one day merchants they behave like real merchants, claiming the best spots, pushing away others and setting themselves the goal of getting profit out of it. If ordinary and would-be merchants can try to claim a spot, the inhabitants of the streets within the official areas have reacted the right way by putting signs at their windows, and using even a kind of semi-official looking poster showing the queen saying “Reserved for occupants”.

Only for occupants

For occupants by royal consent...

A second thing to note is the sheer scale of regulations needed to ensure safe proceedings. According to the local news station RTV Utrecht 220 traffic signs are needed to mark the zone free market. In the past providing food and drinks to visitors of the free market turned out to be the weak spot of the whole concept.

A road sign for permit holders

An area designated for permit holders

Merchants entered the areas with dozens of booths and occupied the places meant for the one day free traders. The number of permits has been lowered to just 55 stalls. With the permits and the traffic signs come hundreds of volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Today I was at first slightly bewildered because of a road sign about permits, but its explanation is clear.

When an estimated half million people are going to visit Utrecht – and even more Amsterdam – police regulations are clearly needed. Let legal history enter! In medieval times a free market, a vrijmarkt - Freimarkt in German – was a market to which merchants and traders could freely come. They did not have to pay the normal entrance fees, they enjoyed protection against juridical actions, in short they only had to show their skills as merchants and to obey the proverbial laws of the market: selling their ware honestly, paying with good currency, and guaranteeing the quality of the products sold insofar as indicated by law. The rules of the present day free markets in Utrecht and Amsterdam are pretty straightforward. One can view them as extensions of the normal general police regulations (Algemene Politieverordening). Most salient is the strict prohibition for private persons to sell drinks.

One-way traffic on the canals of Utrecht

One-way traffic on the canals of Utrecht

In view of the expected number of people visiting Utrecht and Amsterdam by boat, and the use of alcoholic beverages by the guests aboard, it is no surprise the traffic in the canals around the city center of Utrecht has been restricted temporarily to one way traffic. In Amsterdam this would not be as easy to propose and enforce as it is in Utrecht.

The end of the free market zone

Two signs marking the end of the free market zone

What happens to the goods not sold after the closure of the free market at 6.00 PM? Taking your things back home is one option, leaving it as garbage is perhaps another way, and anyway tons of garbage have to be cleared away, which calls for a major effort of the municipal cleansing departments. Instead of taking your stuff down from your attic or from your shed and bringing it to the free market many people prefer the virtual markets on Internet. We Dutch have our own variations on Ebay such as Marktplaats and Marktplaza. Why take the trouble of going to the vrijmarkt? What makes people connect selling your things on the street with a royal holiday? Is it just showing what seems to be an innate part of the Dutch character, being at heart a merchant? One can enjoy this feeling going to the virtual market squares, too. Perhaps even closer to the Dutchman’s most inner feelings is the penchant for free things. Nowadays this royal holiday seems to combine perfectly with an almost royal liberty to behave for just one day as a real merchant. Having the feeling you are at liberty to do what you want during such holidays goes indeed a long way. It seems Queens’ Day is a more jolly holiday than May 5, the Dutch Liberation Day. Notions of citizenship, of having to fight for freedom in order to be worthy of freedom, in short conscious efforts to make the celebrations more serious give this day an ideological load which does not weigh upon Queens’ Day, and this is enforced by the acts of remembrance of the Second World War on May 4.

Putting things into perspective is one of the goals legal historians should strive for. On the congress calendar of this blog I cannot include one day events for reasons of space. It seemed fitting to make an exception for this yearly one day event, an event starting the night before really! This week Mary L. Dudziak noted on the Legal History Blog an article citing the famous saying that the American constitution was not intended “to embody a particular economic theory”. The Dutch one day free market seems to be full of signs and symbols which merit some attention. Very ordinary things have their name already in Roman law, res cotidianae, and such common things are often the bones of contention, not only the loftiest concepts and aspirations.

A postscript

After checking the spelling and publishing this post it took me some time to realize one can spell one of the most often occurring words in several ways. I used the spelling Queens’ Day, which strictly speaking refers to a day celebrating two or more queens. April 30 was Queen Juliana’s birthday, Queen Beatrix continued the tradition, so this is perfectly correct. However, the Dutch word Koninginnedag refers to just one queen. Incidentally I remember using as a kid the more difficult way to pronounce the word koningin, and my sister loved to get me saying it... The English language provides us also with the possibility to write Queen’s Day and Queensday. The website of Queens’ College Cambridge can tell you more about “That Apostrophe”.