Tag Archives: Netherlands

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

Tom de SmidtLast month Dutch legal historians were saddened to hear about the death of Jacobus Thomas de Smidt (December 19, 1923-February 18, 2013). In several obituaries, for instance by Arthur Elias for Leiden University, by Joke Roelevink for the Huygens Institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and at the website of the Dutch National Archives, the great efforts and merits of Tom de Smidt for the study of Dutch legal history and the organization between Dutch legal historians are commemorated. Among the major projects he initiated are the project on the history of the Great Council of Malines, a project for the edition of the Dutch codifications in the period around 1800, and for example the West Indisch Plakaatboek, a multivolume edition of legal sources for Dutch colonial history in the Caribbean. De Smidt also helped Dutch archives to modernize, and helped the Indonesian government to deal with the records of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian National Archives. People remember his warm personality, his sense of humour and his encouragement to young scholars, and I can testify myself for this. In fact his words “Ja, moet je doen!” [Yes, do it!] are for me among his most characteristic utterances.

Robert Feenstra 1920-2013On March 2, 2013, Robert Feenstra passed away at the age of 92. For legal historians abroad he was without any doubt the best known and most respected Dutch legal historian. This week John W. Cairns (Edinburgh) is one of the first legal historians to commemorate Feenstra. If you want to mention major themes and projects with which Feenstra dealt during his long scholarly life you are faced with a very great variety. The history of Roman law in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire and Dutch legal history give only the boundaries of his research interests. Let it suffice here that only four years ago he published with Jeroen Vervliet a new edition of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)), and that in 2011 he witnessed the completion of the project for the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He continued the research started by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) on the history of the School of Orléans, and many scholars from Leiden have followed him on this path. Feenstra published a number of volumes with articles by Meijers.

For six decades Feenstra was on the editorial board of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Feenstra helped fostering the relations between Belgian and Dutch scholars. Just like Tom de Smidt he served for many years on the board of the Foundation for the Study of Old Dutch Law. Today Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief) wrote a brief obituary for both scholars on the website of this foundation. Surely its own journal Pro Memorie will contain longer obituaries on both scholars in its coming issue. Luckily this journal published in its series Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen [Legal historians from the Low Countries] interviews with both scholars on their scholarly lives and careers (Pro Memorie 5 (2003) 3-38 (Feenstra); with De Smidt in the special issue Prominenten kijken terug. Achttien rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht [Prominent scholars look back. Eighteen legal historians from the Low Countries on life, work and law] (Pro Memorie 6 (2004) 313-329). Feenstra founded a circle of scholars studying the reception of Roman law in the Low Countries – convening either in Leiden or in Antwerp – where young scholars, too, often got and get a chance to present their doctoral research. I remember how I presented the first results of my doctoral research for this circle. The austere company listened patiently, asked questions on subjects I had neglected or problems which I had not yet grasped, and encouraged me to pursue my research. Robert Feenstra had a keen interest in people and he did not fail to help scholars with practical advice and suggestions for sources and literature. One of the things that impressed me always was the way Feenstra corrected his own views expressed in earlier articles. It makes you realizes how Feenstra’s career spanned almost half a century, his tenacity about cherished subjects, and the high scientific standards he applied to scholars and to himself. His presence at scholarly meetings all over the world expressed the continuity of Dutch legal history.

It is sad that both scholars are no longer with us to respond to our ideas, questions and emerging publications, but we can remain faithful to their memory by remembering their tireless efforts, smiling presence and amazing wide interests in contemporary life and legal history, and by following the paths and roads they paved for present-day scholars and future generations.

A postscript

On March 6, 2013, the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main published an obituary of Robert Feenstra. On March 28, 2013 the blog of the Peace Palace Library publshed an in memoriam on Robert Feenstra by Laurens Winkel.

Remembering slavery

How to deal with major questions, problems and conflicts in history? How should one write about them as a blogger? Subjects such as the abuse of power, law and justice, the undeniable role of violence, wars, the exclusion of people from society, and the outright systematic persecution of people for whatever reason, cry out for probing questions and research from many perspectives. Here I have promised several times not to avoid such themes and problems. One of the reasons that my first posting of 2013 occurs only late in January is exactly devoting time to one of the subjects which cannot be excluded from legal history. In my country the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 will be commemorated. In this post I will look at some publications and websites dealing both with slavery as a general subject and with the history and aftermath of slavery in Suriname. Until 1975 Suriname, situated between British and French Guyana, was a Dutch colony. I will not aim at any kind of exhaustive treatment of the abolition of slavery in this country.

Slavery and Suriname

The commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in the year 1863 has thus far in particular received attention on Dutch television in the NTR-VPRO series De slavernij [Slavery] broadcasted in 2011. The series centered around the search of the Dutch singer Roué Verveer for his ancestry. The very fact that background information was presented by a well-known Dutch anchorwoman was criticized by some people complaining she figured as a kind of all-knowing presenter high above the black singer who seemed only to ask questions which he could not answer himself. Whatever the value of this critique, in the book accompanying the series, De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu [Slavery. Human traffic from colonial times until the present] (Amsterdam 2011) edited by Carla Boos and a team of scholars, his quest for the history of his family is barely touched upon.

The website of the series presents a very well equipped nutshell guide to genealogical research for Surinam ancestors. In fact it is a model of its kind, and I have searched in vain for a similar comprehensive treatment of the subject at other websites. Surely, the Dutch Nationaal Archief offers a guide to its own online databases concerning slavery in Suriname, even in English. It is one thing to have access to digitized manumission and emancipation registers, but knowing how to use them is a prerequisite dealt with very clearly at the TV series website. A possible complaint about the website is much more a request, the need for translation of the Dutch version into English and Papiamento. The book by Carla Boos offers a very readable and lavishly illustrated introduction to the history of slavery in general, the slave trade in Africa, the Dutch Atlantic slave trade, slavery in Suriname and its living memory. The choice of documents written by all kind of people to tell stories from inside is excellent. The only things missing are a good overview of the images, and registers for subjects and names.

On a website for Dutch history on television and radio you can find several earlier items in a dossier on slavery, for example on the slave trade between Vlissingen (Flushing) in Zeeland, the Dutch fortress Elmina in Ghana, and Tobago in the Caribbean. Some digitized books about the history of Suriname can be found in the project Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO) which focuses on the period 1780-1800. In its digital collection Suriname 1599-1975 the library of the University of Amsterdam has digitized several old maps of Suriname and a small number of books, including the Dutch translation of Johan Gabriel Stedman’s book about his travels. You can also view an abridged version of this translation on a separate website – using Shockwave – but you can use more easily the complete version at EDBO. In the Digital Library for Dutch Literature you can find not only novels concerning Suriname and books in Dutch by authors from Suriname, but also the text of several editions of the Surinaamsche Almanak from 1820 onwards. This yearbook contains for example lists of plantations, their locations, owners and administrators. Documentation about the sea voyages made by slaves and their traders can be found in particular in the online database concerning the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of Emory University.

Slave traders and slaves

Slave traders and slaves – image from http://www.ninsee.nl

The activities for this year’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery can be followed most easily using the website of the NinSee in Amsterdam, the Dutch central institute for the study of the Dutch slavery past and heritage. The NinSee publishes studies and source editions in its own publication series. However, in my opinion it is a failure this website offers its information only in Dutch. If I have learned just one thing from the 2011 tv series it is exactly you cannot isolate the history of slavery from general history. The selection of scholarly literature about Dutch and Atlantic slavery on the website does redress this imbalance a bit. The NinSee institute is housed almost next door to the municipal archive of AmsterdamDigitized old maps of Suriname are abundantly present on the website of the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal for digitized collections concerning the Dutch cultural heritage you will find many thousand digitized objects related to Suriname from a number of Dutch collections. Among them are apart from the Royal Tropical Institute the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam – its main website can be viewed in seven languages, and the collection can be searched at a separate subdomain – and the Royal Netherlands Institute of South East Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, with its own digital image library. Six Dutch ethnological museums work together for a portal website where you can search their collections, but you can still search online separately in the collections of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden or its library catalogue. Perhaps it is wise to mention here also the project Caribisch Erfgoed [Caribbean Heritage] for the digitization of photographs taken between 1886 and 1970 by the Brothers of Tilburg, a Catholic educational congregation long active in Suriname.

At the start of a commemoration year leading up to the first of July, the very day on which in 1863 the abolition of slavery in Suriname was formally proclaimed, it becomes increasingly clear for me how important it is to view this history from many perspectives. While reading about Suriname I had also on my desk Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011). Last year I wrote a post about the Athenian democracy, and I am sure I will learn more about it when taking the role of slavery in ancient Greece into account. Learning about slavery also sheds light on the practice of commemorations in contemporary society. One of the commemorations I will surely write about here in 2013 is the bicentenary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

A postscript

At the website of the Stichting Oud-Vaderlands Recht, the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law, Dutch readers can find an overview of exhibitions, symposia, recent publications and websites concerning Suriname and slavery.

Sailing letters, the sequel

Logo Sailing Letters

A year ago I wrote two posts about the history of pirates both from Antiquity onwards and nowadays. One of the projects related to the history of piracy I mentioned briefly in 2011 is the joint project Sailing letters: letters as loot of the Dutch Royal Library, the Dutch National Archives, the National Archives at Kew and Leiden University. Last year the Dutch television made a series of documentaries about these letters which were detected thirty years ago in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty. On Thursday April 5, 2012, the Dutch KRO television started a second series featuring stories around selected letters, called Surfaced letters (“Brieven boven water”) (TV 2, 20.25 h.). The new series is worth attention. As a matter of fact some links in my 2011 post have changed, and this is an opportunity, too, to present the new links, and to expand on this international research project.

An unexpected letter collection

Britain and the Dutch Republic fought a number of wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. English privateers got letters of marque, licences from the High Court of Admiralty to capture Dutch vessels and everything aboard. The American War of Independence was another pretext for this looting activity. The High Court of Admiralty, more specifically its Prize Court, had to judge whether the capture had been done rightfully. Appeals from this court were heard by the High Court of Appeal for Prizes. The privateers were especially keen on getting log books and letters with information that might be of use to fight the Dutch enemy. The National Archives have created a fine research guide to the materials held in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty, including a very useful glossary of selected terms.

After the verdict on the cases the letters remained with the High Court of Admiralty, where some 38,000 letters gathered dust. A scholar in the field of maritime history detected the collection in the early eighties. In 2005 Roelof van Gelder started making an inventory of the letters. His report from 2005 – with a summary in English – has vanished from the Royal Library’s website, but can now be found at the website of the Dutch National Archives. Van Gelder published the book Zeepost: nooit bezorgde brieven uit de 17de en 18de eeuw [Seapost. Undelivered letters from the 17th and 18th century] (Amsterdam 2008; third edition, 2010) with a general introduction to the letters and a number of letters (in modified Dutch). The progress of the project and news are documented in the Nieuwsbrief Sailing Letters.

15,000 letters deal with private matters, and in particular these letters are used by the project team to study the development of the Dutch language, and to get a much more detailed insight into the language used by ordinary people. On the project website – both in Dutch and English – every month a letter is put in the spotlight. A number of books have appeared with either letters around a particular theme or studied from a specific angle. At Leiden a webpage of the project contains an overview of these publications. The National Archives in The Hague have put together a more recent list of relevant literature.You might check for more in the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History. The database for the sailing letters has recently moved from a server at the Dutch Royal Library to a server at the Dutch National Archives, in The Hague literally located next door to each other. A selection of remarkable letters is presented and commented on online.

A television series around captivating letters

Both series by KRO television are presented by Derk Bolt, in my country known as the anchorman of a very successful program in which he helps people to find lost relatives and relations. Almost inevitably something of the somewhat romantic – at its worst sometimes outright melodramatic – atmosphere of that program is present in both historical series, too. This is reinforced by the choice in the program to try to deliver the letters to present-day relatives of the original letter writers or addressees, and to trace their lives. The main objective seems certainly to bring in a way a historical version of the contemporary program. However, it is to the credit of Derk Bolt that he remains as calm and clear as ever. The drama is in the eyes and mind of the public. If you have missed the two installments of the 2011 series or the new series, you can view them at the KRO’s special website for the program.

In the first installment of the 2011 series the very discovery of the letters in 1980 by S.P.W.C. (Sipke) Braunius is briefly narrated. Braunius did research on the history of corporal punishments as a part of maritime law. Looking for documentation about the cruel punishment of keelhauling on Dutch navy vessels he went to the Ashridge Estate near London, where he found an immense unordered mass of letters, some of them damaged but for the most part still unopened. A few years later this find was transferred to the National Archives. Thus a legal historian was responsible for finding materials which are viewed mainly as the dream of linguists, a centuries spanning corpus of primary materials for the colloquial use of a language.

It is clear the letters shed lots of unexpected light on daily life from the second half of the seventeenth century until the end of the eighteenth century, but it is also possible to combine them with the records about the captured vessels. The detective work needed to accomplish studies using both these letters and the fate of the ships, their crews and cargos is surely a challenge, but it is so much more rewarding than viewing them only as a source only of interest for linguists and genealogists. They are right to rejoice about this massive collection, but others have every chance to get their rewards from the use of these sources.

Legal historians wanting to go this path will have to make themselves familiar with maritime law and history, and to find the way in the particular journals and monographs of these disciplines. I will not try here to present a guide to Dutch maritime law in a nutshell, but the least I can do is point you to the online catalogue of the materials in eleven Dutch maritime museums at Maritiem Digitaal. At this portal you will also find links to three blogs on maritime history. The links selection on this website with an interface in Dutch, English, French or German is very generous.

A postscript

On April 12, 2012, the second installment of the new television series did redress the balance a bit between the focus on genealogy and the context of the people at sea. The second part of this installment featured the story of Martinus Bruno, crew member of the ship Het Wapen van Hoorn, whose deposition in 1672 for the High Court of Admiralty was commented upon by Anne Goldgar (King’s College London). Bruno stayed in England. The second tv series consists of six installments (Thursday, Nederland 2, 20.25 h.).

A second postscript

On October 8, 2012 the Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology (Amsterdam) launches the website Gekaapte brieven, www.gekaaptebrieven.nl (Looted Letters) with a few thousand transcribed letters. Dr. Nicoline van der Sijs, a renown linguist, has guided 110 volunteers in transcribing the letters. The online database and images will also facilitate research for legal historians. Interestingly, not only letters in Dutch will be published online. Letters in English, German, Danish, Spanish and Italian are announced as well.

From an orphanage to a house for children

The former Weeshuis in LeidenAfter a long absence on my blog the walking historian has returned! Lately I visited Leiden, in particular for making pictures of several buildings in the old city. This post is about a very particular building, the former Weeshuis (orphanage) at the Hooglandse Kerkgracht. In this house orphans lived for many centuries. After extensive restoration between 2007 and 2010 this large building has not lost the historic connection with children. Law is the link between the old and the new use of the premises. Later this year I will write more about Leiden.

Protecting orphans

In 1403 the Our Lady’s Hospital in Leiden was founded. After the coming of the Reformation this hospital became in 1583 an orphanage, the Heilige Geestweeshuis [Holy Spirit Orphanage]. The buildings of the orphanage occupied a quite large spot in the heart of the city. In 1961 the last orphans left. Afterwards the Museum for Natural History, now Naturalis, found its home here until 1990. In that year a period of insecurity started. A number of plans was launched, but none of them was adopted by the city council. The orphanage had been owned by the national government. For the removal of the Naturalis it had been exchanged with the city for another building. In 2007 a foundation could buy the buildings for just € 13,000,- under the condition of starting large-scale restoration which costed 14 million. It is interesting to note the regents of the former orphanage still exist and even hold the keys to the lavishly decorated board room.

The foundation buying the buildings in 2007 was the Stichting Utopa, a chartered foundation funded by a number of transport packaging companies. The name Utopa deliberately evokes Thomas More and his Utopia (1516). The foundation supports a number of cultural and social initiatives in the Netherlands. For the former orphanage it was decided to create space both for the archeological center of the city of Leiden, which actually had already used part of the buildings between 1990 and 2007, and for an initiative linked with children, the Kinderrechtenhuis [Children's Rights House].

Children’s rights in a historical perspective

Do the rights of children find indeed a home in modern society? In 1989 the general assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This UN treaty stands out among modern international treaties for a number of reasons. Its preamble states that one should recognize “that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”. Probably no other treaty in vigor mentions love. The CRC was preceded by the Minimum Age Convention from 1973 in which member states are called upon to protect children from work, and followed by two optional protocols, on child traffic and abuse, and on child soldiers and the position of children during armed conflicts. In 1999 the general assembly voted for the Worst Forms of Labor Convention. A third optional protocol enabling children to file complaints with the UN Committee for the Rights of Children was adopted by the United Nations in December 2011, and ratified by twenty countries in Geneva on February 28, 2012.

The CRC has been signed by more than 190 countries. No other UN treaty has been ratified so many countries, even when a number of them has done this with restrictions and interpretations.On totally different grounds two countries have not adopted the CRC. The United States of America has signed, but not ratified the CRC. Several explanations have been offered for this fact, among them a tradition of cautiousness in ratifying international treaties, but also the possibility in a number of U.S. states – at least until 2005 – to condemn youths to the death penalty. Somalia simply cannot yet ratify the treaty because of the lack of state institutions. A third country that has not yet signed or ratified the CRC is probably South Sudan.

Countries ratifying the CRC have to report regularly to the United Nations about the protection of children’s rights. Nongovernmental institutions accredited at new York or Geneva and civil society organizations, too, publish reports about the compliance of countries with the CRC.

The entrance to the former orphanage in Leiden

Civil society and children

When contemplating the former orphanage at Leiden and thinking about modern protection of children it struck me that in this context the word institution has very much changed in meaning. In Western Europe hospitals and orphanages were often already founded during the Middle Ages. Both city councils and religious institutions founded and governed them. In the field of medieval canon law one can point in particular to studies by Gisela Drossbach, her monograph Christliche caritas als Rechtsinstitut: Hospital und Orden von Santo Spirito in Sassia (1198-1378) (Paderborn 2005) and a volume of essays edited by her, Hospitäler in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Frankreich, Deutschland und Italien. Eine vergleichende Geschichte (Munich 2007). She prepares an edition of a number of statutes of medieval hospitals. The care for orphans in these institutions was institutional care which could vary very much depending on the persons actually charged with daily care for them. The facade of the Leiden orphanage show a relief with children looking up to a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Among the texts at the top of the facade are words from the Bible, “God is der weesen helper” [Thou art the helper of the fatherless] (Ps. 10,14) .

In the field of children’s history the role of law has not always received due attention. Among studies which take into account the differences between England and continental Europe, between cities and rural surroundings, and do take notice of the impact of law are the fine books by Barbara Hanawalt,The Ties that Bound. Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) and Growing Up in Medieval London. The Experience of Childhood in History (Oxford, etc, 1993). For The Ties that Bound Hanawalt used medieval coroner’s inquests as a major source. In her book on children in London she is well aware of the typical situation of this city. Hanawalt does not close her eyes for example for abuses of guardianship. She dispels the myth that ordinary medieval people did not care for children. Institutional care for children does not get much space in these studies, because in medieval England orphanages were exceptional.

Let’s return briefly to the Leiden orphanage. Its archive is kept at the Regional Archives Leiden. Two years ago a book about the history of the orphanage appeared, Dit kint hiet Willem : de Heilige Geest in Leiden, 700 jaar vondelingen, wezen en jeugdzorg [This child is called Willem: the Holy Spirit in Leiden, 700 years foundlings, orphans and youth care], edited by Kees van der Wiel and others (Leiden 2010). Antoinette Frijns has published a series of articles in several historical journals, which can be tracked using the online bibliography for Dutch history.

Applying children’s rights

The presence of a Children’s Rights House in the Netherlands might cause some amazement. After all this country is already blessed with a plethora of organizations for the protection of children, such as Defence for Children, now also located at the Kinderrechtenhuis, and the Kinderrechtencollectief [Children's Rights Collective], not to mention the host of supporting organizations behind this collective. Alas it is common knowledge that for instance for children who need to be protected against their parents the very large number of institutions, agencies and ministries involved with child care can cause much delay in deciding and applying the right solution, in particular since it is not clear which institution, not even the judge deciding a case at court, is responsible for creating and holding an overview of all necessary actions and steps. The central role of the Bureau Jeugdzorg (Youth Work) can be a blessing, but also a bane when this office fails to do proper research and to take real responsibility for the welfare of children. Instead of ensuring institutional care this situation is first and foremost a bureaucracy, the main obstacle to the purpose for which it is meant to work.

More fundamental at the level of the rule of law is the question in the Netherlands and elsewhere about the desirability of the superior position of international treaties to national law. Some politicians see this as an infringement upon sovereignty. One has to take into account here the possibility of judicial review in the sense of comparison with a constitution. Under Dutch law this not possible (article 120 of the Dutch constitution). Since 2002 a proposal accepted by the Dutch parliament for making some exceptions to this rule awaits the long route necessary for any change of the Dutch constitution. In a situation of economic crisis in which countries are affected by forces coming from beyond their borders a tendency to close off from external pressure might seem natural, yet the same economic forces are working to unify economic life and the organization of society. Reports on the actual appliance of and compliance of the CRC, the earlier treaties and the optional protocols will continue to show that these rights do not descend automatically from a heaven of law and justice upon those most entitled to it. When you pass the entrance of the former Leiden orphanage you can read an inscription with a text by Janusz Korczak (1872-1942): “Children are not the humanity of the future, but today’s people”.

Bridging the gap between lofty aspirations of law, be it international or national law, and day-to-day reality will remain a perennial task, a duty and a challenge. Even when not actually actively supporting this aim historians can at the very least ask the right questions about law, its blessings and pitfalls, and document its manifold history. Surely this post does not more than just bring together some matters from past and present. A blog might be just the place to offer a look on the long road between some more or less casual observations and a more substantial treatment of issues and questions. No doubt others can tell you more about the history of orphanages and the history of children’s rights, and I hope to have made at least some of my readers more curious about these themes.

Historical British newspapers at a price

Logo The British Newspaper ArchiveIn the midst of all activities around Christmas the British Library has launched a massive digital collection, the British Newspaper Archive. You might think that in 2012 I would have found a message about its launch in a tweet, but I stumbled upon it without using the digital tool for this virtual activity. Within a minute it became crystal clear that you can have here “history at your finger tips” as the blurb on the site puts it, depending of course on your specific search, but then the signs appear that you have to pay to view the contents you have just found. As for the search possibilities, the advanced search mode should satisfy the most exacting scholars. The free trial is very meagre, just a few pages, so you might grudgingly decide not everything valuable comes free. You have to pay to use this wonderful Christmas present to its full extent. The British Library has licensed a commercial firm to receive money for this project which surely has costed a lot of money, for you will find scores of newspapers, some of them starting in the early eighteenth century, up to more recent times. For £ 79,95 a year you can have your own private subscription. Having the riches in front of you as colourful thumbnails but not being able to view them in full size is a tantalizing experience.

Lately I had the chance to use a number of digitized Dutch newspapers, for instance in the post on the Hoorn Pie Trial. It made me more aware of the uses you can make of these sources both as a general historian and as a legal historian. I take the example of these Dutch newspapers not only to give this post a Dutch flavor, but to show you more closely what you can find using digitized newspapers. The British Library and this new digital archive stand out from other digital newspaper archives, because it is really rare to find paying digitized historic newspaper websites.

Paying for digitized British sources

In fact more British examples of paying historical websites can be given. Last year I wrote in a post briefly about the project 19th Century British Pamphlets Online, where you are allowed to search the catalogue with more than 20,000 items from seven British research institutions. The pamphlets themselves, however, can be only be viewed at subscribing institutions. At the British Cartoon Archive, an example closely associated with newspapers, £ 25 is charged for each image that you want to get in its full quality. Some English archives with digitized collections from their medieval holdings charge you for the use of digital images. An example for medieval canon law are the Cause Papers in the diocesan courts of the archbishopric of York, 1300-1858. The University of York has finished the digitization and is now adding them to the inventory. Perhaps this will bring a change in the way one can access these materials.

Is it the sheer scope and scale and the investments involved in these admittedly large projects that led the institutions involved to choose for commercial or semi-commercial solutions? I would have to be more familiar with current English copyright law, but to me it seems that newspapers before 1900 at least are out of copyright. For me it is clear that a convincing explanation is needed why a national library allows you to use many digital sources freely, but makes an exception for newspapers. If the answer is a plain need of money, this would be the start of an honest and full response.

Historical newspapers online in Britain and elsewhere

As my point of depart in this post I will take the overview of online old newspapers at European History Primary Sources, a portal to commented online sources for European history maintained at the European University Institute in Florence. The most simple general search for newspapers yields some ninety digital collections, almost all of them in public and free access. Luckily the overview indicates also some British websites with historical newspapers which can be viewed in open access. At first a surprise is British Newspapers online, a project again at the British Library where you can use four newspapers freely for at least a limited time span, to be more precisely, the Manchester Guardian (1851, 1856, 1886), the Daily News (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), the News of the World (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918), and the Weekly Dispatch (1851, 1856, 1886, 1900, 1918). Here you might at least try to compare the coverage of events in some particular interesting years. The four newspapers are also available through British Newspapers 1800-1900, the earlier subscribers’ only project of the British Library with 49 historical local and national newspapers. However, the Penny Illustrated Paper and The Graphic can be viewed free of charge. The websites Gazettes Online brings you to the London Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette, but their official character sets them apart from normal newspapers.

Some British newspapers have made a selection from their historical archive. Guardian Century is not a complete archive of the period 1899-1999, but merely a selection of the main new items from each year. The digital archive of The Scotsman for the period 1817-1950 gives you full search possibilities, and a number of short – even for one day – and longer subscription options. To set the record straight for the British isles, the Irish Times offers a digital archive for the period 1859-2009 where you get the first lines of each result, but for more you have to pay four times as much for a yearly subscription at the British Newspaper Archive. For such an amount of money you had better subscribe to the services of the Irish Newspapers Archives with fourteen newspapers. At a server of the Lafayette University, Louisiana, is the index to the Belfast News-Letter from 1737 to 1800, which can help your searches on Irish matters.

The thirst for in-depth knowledge of a city as important as London is of course stronger than ever, not just for lovers of London and visitors to the 2012 Olympic Games, but also for legal historians since the appearance of London Lives 1690 to 1800. Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, a website with a very large number of digitized documents, among them a substantial number of criminal records and coroner records. The coroner was and is the official charged with inquiries into unnatural deaths. A prime example of a recent British history project which should hold great interest because of the way various kinds of records and perspectives are combined is Connected Histories, a portal with sources for British history between 1500 and 1900. The York Cause Papers are according to this website freely accessible, but the restriction on the images is noted in the main text. London Lives, too, is a part of Connecting Histories, as are the Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913. By chance I misremembered the title of this gateway and thus found the website Connecting Histories, an educational project on the history of Birmingham.

Connected Histories gives also more information about British Newspapers 1600-1900. This project consisted of two subprojects at the British Library of which we already met the first. The other project concerned the digitization of newspapers from the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the Burney Collection.

In the project Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (NSCE) of Kings’ College London, the British Library and other institutions you can consult freely six English periodicals from the nineteenth century, which will help somewhat to redress the balance between subscribers’ only and freely accessible digital newspaper archives in the United Kingdom, as do the six journals digitized by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The links and projects selection at NCSE is particular useful. The project Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical helps you to find views on science in a large number of general periodicals from Victorian England. For both newspapers and periodicals the Waterloo Directory to British Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900 offers online guidance.

A page of the Dutch Startpagina web directory is concerned with historical newspapers and gives an overview of online newspaper archives from many countries. Most of the British examples mentioned here figure in this overview, and these from also a section on a similar page of this directory about current British newspapers.

Dutch historic newspapers

Getting access to digitized old Dutch newspapers is in all cases I have seen until now a free service. Current newspapers do charge a fee for full access to the digital version and to their archives, but older editions are available for free at an increasing number of special websites. The largest project is an initiative at the Dutch Royal Library, Historische Kranten. Here appears gradually a large selection of national, regional and local newspapers from 1618 to 1995. At this moment you will find already a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century newspapers, and much more from later times until 1945. For some national newspapers the regional editions, too, have been digitized, mainly the issues during the Second World War. The Royal Library give a useful overview of major initiatives in countries such as Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and the United States, and a selection of Dutch regional projects. For Dutch colonial history one has to single out the Indonesian Newspapers Project at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies for the digitization of newspapers in Malayan from the former Dutch Indies.

Dutch regional and local newspapers are being digitized by a number of archives. This approach is completely absent in the United Kingdom. You must forgive me not to include here a full list of digitized newspapers because the number is very large. The overview of digitized historical newspapers at Startpagina puts Dutch newspapers in order by province. The Gazette de Leyde made available at the French website Gazettes européennes du 18e siècle is by mistake listed as the “Leiden Staatsblad”, but this gazette was not an official publication. Newspapers from the Second World War are mentioned separately, and there is even a list of not yet digitized newspapers. The reference to the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant is to a website concerned with the announcements in this seventeenth-century newspaper which refer often to the Dutch book trade.

A few examples: the archives in Utrecht have for example digitized the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad for the years 1893 until 1897. You can view in detail the pages of this newspaper, but you cannot download them due to an agreement with its publishers. For Leiden the Digitaal Krantenarchief of the Regional Archives Leiden gives you access to twelve newspapers, including the local version of the national newspaper Trouw and the short-lived Zuidhollandsch Dagblad. The Leidsche Courant (1720-1890 and from 1909 onwards) and the Leidsch Dagblad (1860-) do refer of course very often to Leyden University. I found even notices celebrating the anniversaries of doctoral degrees.

The value of old newspapers and the costs of historic culture

Is the current debate about the costs of digitization really the debate it should be? Is it sensible to restrict it to matters like the role of subventions by the government to relevant projects, the wish to establish national cultural institutions as independent players in the culture market with a duty to find their own sponsors and sources for income? Is it perhaps also a debate which you cannot restrict to claims for free access to the national and international cultural heritage at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end claims on property rights to digital images created by photographers and media departments? In my view this issue raises also questions about the freedom to get information from the government and governmental institutions. Which values do we cherish when we talk about history or cultural heritage? Who are to benefit from digitization projects, be it fur current official information and digital records management for administrative purposes or for historic records: the general public, the exasperated taxpayers with their respective national nicknames, children receiving education, scholars doing research?

The British Library tries to give its British Newspapers project a new lifespan with the British Newspaper Archive. I cannot help noticing that this same library has belatedly made available online in open access a fair number of its priceless manuscripts, but asks a price for old issues of a medium of which the proverb says that today’s newspaper will serve next day to pack fish and eggs. Historic newspapers offer a fascinating perspective on views, opinions and blind spots, and shows both the conventional and the seemingly irregular. What once seemed ephemeral can become invaluable for the historian, and for anyone wishing to understand humans and their lives in past centuries. My hat tip for giving on December 23, 2011, a very early and extensive notice about the British Newspaper Archive goes to the website of an Italian encyclopedia.

A postscript

In this post I made a short remark about the presence of images at the website for the York Cause Papers. Images are now indeed being added to the cases in the database. Until now I saw only images for cases from the sixteenth century. Here open access has got the upper hand.

When revisiting the digital newspaper archive of the Regional Archives Leiden (RAL) it came to my notice that this project has a conflict with an organization representing the rights of authors. In September 2011 the RAL decided to remove newspapers printed from 1941 onwards as a perhaps all too submissive precautionary action. I had yet not been aware of this conflict, because in early January I could check newspapers after 1945.

Claiming the streets. Legal history, riots and upheavals

Between an isolated incident of violence and a full-scale revolution exists a wide variety of possible forms of violent actions. Their cause, form and the people involved have differed widely, as do the backgrounds of such events. The second week of August 2011 saw riots in the streets of London and other English cities, which at first seemed largely an outburst of violence but soon turned into plundering of shops and pillaging of neighbourhoods. The reactions of authorities, even their relative unresponsiveness to events, are ever so much determining factors in assessing the exact character of events as the actual events themselves, their media coverage and opinions about them. In many countries one can scarcely imagine a police force without water cannons which were conspicuously absent in England. In this post I want to look at some historical riots and upheavals from the perspective of materials nowadays digitally presented.

Dutch upheavals

In historiography there has been a tendency to see the Dutch Republic as an island of order in the midst of the turmoil that struck Western Europe from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. However, a title like The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama (1987), echoed by A.Th. van Deursen, De last van veel geluk. De geschiedenis van Nederland, 1555-1702 [The burden of lots of luck] (2004), indicate a less rosy state of affairs. Van Deursen died last month. He was an eminent historian who has considerably enriched our views of the Dutch Golden Age. War was a characteristic of the period of the Dutch Revolt, roughly between 1566 and 1609. The Eighty Years War (1568-1648) of the United Provinces lasted even longer than the Thirty Years War and the destructions that hit the German Holy Empire. Already in 1979 Rudolf Dekker published an anthology of eyewitness accounts of troubles and riots in Holland (Oproeren in Holland gezien door tijdgenoten (Assen 1979)), and in 1982 appeared his study Holland in beroering: oproeren in de zeventiende en de achttiende eeuw [Holland in trouble: riots in the seventeenth and eighteenth century] (Baarn 1982).

One of the most striking revolts in the Dutch Republic was the 1696 Aansprekersoproer, literally “The Undertaker’s Men Revolt”. You can find the occupation aanspreker among the occupations in the History of Work Information System of the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. The city of Amsterdam had decided to lower the number of men working as an undertaker’s man from around 300 to 72. In order to win the favour of the poor the aansprekers launched the rumour that due to this new policy poor people would not get anymore a decent funeral. An indignant mob attacked the houses of burgomasters and other members of the city’s elite and killed several people. The city council immediately issued ordinances against the violence, but to no avail. The second day sailors joined the revolt. Only the third day a former burgomaster succeeded in calming the mob. Students of Utrecht University have created an interesting online presentation concerning the Amsterdam city government, this riot and the subsequent trial.

From more recent centuries, too, one can find several major riots. The most picturesque riot is probably the Palingoproer, the “Eel Revolt” of July 1886 in the Jordaan, a neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Pulling eels from a rope while standing on a boat in an Amsterdam canal was one of the few pastimes in a poor and squalid quarter of Amsterdam. Not that other Dutch cities were any cleaner. Auke van der Woude has chosen a most winning title for his latest study Koninkrijk vol sloppen. Achterbuurten en vuil in de negentiende eeuw [Kingdom of slums. Backstreets and rubbish in the nineteenth century] (Amsterdam 2010), a book in which you can smell the poverty that reigned in the slums of many cities. Pulling eels had been repeatedly forbidden, and police action against it seemed to be the trigger for protest. On the first night policemen used swords to get safely back to their headquarters. On the second day the army came into action with 26 victims as a result. The image database of the Amsterdam City Archives contains a number of contemporary photographs of the Lindengracht where this revolt happened. The Amsterdam City Archives have developed a very active policy of digitization on demand, and not only for this reason you should look at the services offered here. During the inquiries after these riots it proved impossible to detect agitation by anarchists.

The Jordaan, now a much-loved neighbourhood in Amsterdam, saw in 1917 a week called afterwards the Potato Revolt with nine casualties and over one hundred wounded people. In 1934 a protest in Amsterdam against a cut in the doles combined with a protest against the Dutch national-socialist party NSB. During this Jordaanoproer not only the Jordaan became the scene of a revolt, but other quarters of Amsterdam as well. With five dead people and more than fifty casualties this might seem a less violent revolt, but the Amsterdam police failed again to quench the revolt quickly.

Most recent in Dutch memory are the riots in Amsterdam on April 30, 1980, during the coronation of Queen Beatrix, and therefore called either the Coronation Riots or the Squatter’s Revolt. A substantial number of houses in the old city of Amsterdam had become illegally inhabited by groups of squatters. They announced a day of action as a protest against the Dutch housing shortage, and more specifically against the authorities which according to the squatters failed to act against speculation on the housing market. The very city heart of Amsterdam had been sealed off to ensure a smooth coronation, but elsewhere in the city centre a number of fierce battles were fought. A growing number of squadrons of a special police force, the Mobiele Eenheid, the “Mobile Units” was called upon to fight against the squatters. Due to inadequate communication these forces at first did not help much. Only late in the evening of April 30 the streets became quiet after a day with hundreds of casualties and severe damage to shops and other buildings. Afterwards the Coronation Riots were absolutely the main reason for the Dutch police to give the Mobile Units more training, to enhance communication and to revise police strategies against possible violence. Novelist A.F.Th. van der Heijden wrote in 1983 De slag om de Blauwbrug [The battle for the Blue Bridge], a short story about an episode during the Coronation Riots, which functions as the prologue to a series of novels by this author.

Only the Jordaan Riots of 1934 have been canonized in the Canon of Amsterdam. If you want to find more Dutch riots and upheavals mentioned in the current Dutch vogue for historical canons you can search for words like rellen, oproer or opstand at the Regiocanons website which presents a number of regional historical canons.

Riots in the United States

Surely one of the best documented events concerning a riot in the United States is the Haymarket Affair. In May 1886 a four-day labor protest in Chicago was met by a large police force. On May 1 and 2 things went uneventful, but in the evening of May 3 a bomb exploded amidst the policemen just as they had summoned people to clear the streets. One police officer was killed immediately, six others died later. The police responded with gunfire which wounded an unknown number of protesters. Afterwards the police arrested a number of anarchists. In the subsequent trial four defendants were sentenced to death. The trial became an international affair. In fact the remembrance of this protest created the international celebration of May 1 as Labor Day.

The Chicago Historical Society has created a digital collection on the Haymarket Affair, in which you will find all kinds of documents on the protest, the events of May 3 and the trial. At this site is also a so-called dramatization of the events, a narrative with the purpose to put the events into perspective. The Library of Congress presents in the digital collection of the American Memory both the documents digitized at Chicago, more documentation and a full transcript of the trial. Perhaps it is good to note the title of the collection at Washington, D.C.: Chicago Anarchists on Trial. Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887. The trial is of course present at the Famous Trials website of Douglas Linder, who specifies the title of the case, State of Illinois v. Albert Spies et al. Despite rumours about machinations by anarchists or social-democrats the investigations at the trial did not bring convincing evidence for this charge.

Linder mentions several other riots which resulted in epoch-making trials. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was one of the events leading to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Soldiers opened fire at unarmed citizens when they felt threatened by them. Five people died, many others were wounded. In his introduction to The Boston Massacre, a history with documents (New York, etc., 2010), a useful collection of documents on this event, Neil L. York does not fail to mention the paradox that what happened was not a massacre, but it surely had similar impact. The Carthage Conspiracy Trial has at its centre a mob killing Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, just one man.

In fact this paragraph could easily be extended to mention much more riots and upheavals. The Villanova University in Philadelphia launched this month an online exhibit called Chaos in the Streets. The Philadelphia Riots of 1844 on the violence against Catholic and Irish people in May and July 1844. It is already interesting to note the time span of these riots. On the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website of the O’Quinn Law Library, University of Houston you will find for example materials among the Privy Council Miscellaneous Papers at the British National Archives concerning the Stamp Act Riots of 1765. The New York Draft Riots in July 1863 were probably the largest riot in American history. Protest against the conscription act enacted by Abraham Lincoln culminated in fierce riots after the publication of the names of draftees. The number of victims has been estimated between at least twenty to perhaps 2,000 people. In Making of America Books, a digital library at the University of Michigan, you can find a book by Joel Tyler Headley, The great riots of New York, 1712 to 1873,: including a full and complete account of the Four Days’ Draft Riot of 1863 (New York 1873). Its title clearly indicates the events in 1863 did not constitute the first riot in New York.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) forms the background of the 1863 riots, and puts them into a different perspective from riots during more peaceful times. It is hard to distinguish between a single riot and riotous days during or even starting a revolt or revolution. Therefore I have excluded riots during such periods from the sample of riots presented here. It is certainly not for a lack of riots in American history that I mention only a few. Slavery and racial tensions were just a few of the ingredients at hand and at stake in riots. By chance I spotted the Tulsa Race Riot in the night from May 31 to June 1, 1921, with an estimated number of deadly casualties between one hundred and three hundred in this Oklahoma town. The Tulsa Historical Society has created an online exhibit about this event.

Riots in the United Kingdom

Events in the United Kingdom pushed me to write about riots. The British people are no newcomers to such events. In 1381 the Peasants’ Revolt had been a nationwide upheaval. The study of riots by historians has been decisively influenced by Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé and their book Captain Swing (New York 1968) on the farmer protests in 1830. Threshing machines were demolished, workhouses and tithe barns attacked. The actions were accompanied by letters written by a Captain Swing, an invented figure. No killings took place during the Swing Riots. The protests followed after two seasons of poor harvests. It has been argued that the 1830 riots were in the long way also the consequences of earlier enclosures which deprive poor farmers of a decent source of income.

Hobsbawm minted the term social banditism, a kind of bottom-up, grass-roots rebellious action against law and order. According to him the bandits gained a stronger social status by protesting violently against and breaking through the borders of society. As a medievalist I would think immediately of Robin Hood, and realize also that his romantic legend grew only in much later times. The studies by Hobsbawm and Rudé are still worth reading because of their scholarship, but inevitably they point also to the weakness of hypotheses about the causes of riots which favour just one reason or factor behind riots and revolts.

This post would become a bit tedious if I would continue to go from one case to another without sufficient reasons and explanation. However, in order not to let you suffer too much from the apparent lack of information here you had best turn to bibliographies and journals on legal history. Law, Crime and History is one of the journals you might start searching in for more. In the most recent issue (21/2 (2011)) of this e-journal you will find for example an article by David Cox on the Staffordshire Election riots in 1835. This journal is an offspring of the Solon project at Plymouth University. Checking for seminars and conferences concerning legal history at the website of the Institute of Historical Research is another thing to do. You will also consult with profit the bibliography of British and Irish legal history compiled at Aberystwyth University, alas only for publications between 1977 and 2005. If you use as a search term the word riot in the database of the proceedings of the Old Bailey for the period 1674-1913 you will find easily more than 400 cases. This website has an extensive bibliography. This fact, too, explains my hesitation to choose any example from these rich court records.

Violence and (legal) history

One blog post is not enough to tell more of the story of violence and its presence in legal history on the local, regional or national level. Here I have only tried to point you to some examples which came to my attention recently. Let’s finish this post with the remark that preparing this post and seeing the great variety in the form of these riots and upheavals, the wide spectrum of issues at stake, the different views on their causes and the very different stories these riots make, has helped me to become more sceptical of easy explanations. No doubt some easy explanations still figure in the presentation I give here of some events. The depth of explanation is probably inversely related to the number of examples given… Sometimes giving a taste of things to explore further is just as important as giving a seemingly complete story.

Expanding stories: a postscript

In order to make it more obvious how many revolts and rebellions can claim your attention a few examples which came to my notice in December 2011. It is only logical to make up here for the rather scarce information on riots in the United Kingdom, even more because the original impulse to write this post stems from the August riots in English towns earlier this year. In my post about the Centre for Legal History in Edinburgh I mentioned the digital collection of Jacobite prints and broadsides at the National Library of Scotland. In the section Historical News of the website of the Institute for Historical Research in London I found a notice about the digitization of the depositions after the Irish rebellion of 1641. Trinity College Dublin has recently launched a website with these depositions. If you search for riots on the website of the Institute of Historical Research you will be richly rewarded. One of the search results is the conference at Brighton from September 5 to 7, 2012 at Brighton on the theme Riot, Revolt, Revolution. To the selection of websites on British History which I made to make up for the relatively short treatment of events in the United Kingdom I would like to add History Online.

The Boston Massacre

The blog In Custodia Legis of the law librarians of the Library of Congress alerted me to documents at the Library of Congress concerning the role of John Adams in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre in 1770, and brought also a special website to my attention. A number of documents has been digitized, and you can find out more at the website of the Boston Massacre Historical Society.

Dutch legal history in two stories

The latest online issue of the Rechtshistorische Courant, the fine monthly news bulletin on Belgian and Dutch legal history edited with zest and much esprit at the Department of Legal History of Ghent University, alerted its readers to a new website created by the Westfries Archief and the Westfries Museum in Hoorn about the oldest share of the Dutch East Indian Company. Hat tip to Ghent! Yesterday I presented you a story from the province of South Holland, now it is the turn for North Holland. Looking at the website of the West Frisian Archive I literally bumped into another story touching Dutch legal history worth presenting and retelling here, if only because it forms also part of a new website presenting narrated history from the province of North Holland, Oneindig Noord-Holland, well worth looking at in some depth.

Logo Oneindig Noord-Holland

The oldest share of the VOC

Calling a website The Oldest Share is a nice start in itself to attract the general public, merchants, business men, lawyers and historians at the same time. The Dutch East Indian Company – abbreviated in Dutch VOC – was founded on March 20, 1602, by the Dutch States General, and endowed with a monopoly on transport to and merchant activities in the Indonesian archipelago. Shares were issued to finance this trade company. In 2010 Ruben Schalk, a history student at Utrecht University, traced the earliest existent share from 1606 at the West Frisian Archive in Hoorn. The share was bought by a Pieter Hermansz. who invested 150 Dutch guilders into the VOC. Hoorn was one of the towns at the former Zuiderzee, now the IJsselmeer lake, which formed a kamer, a chamber with a number of seats in the Heeren Zeventien, the “Lords Seventeen”, the governing body of the VOC. The Chamber of Amsterdam was undoubtedly the most powerful element in the governing body. The VOC was also granted sovereign authority to conclude treaties and to engage in acts of war against countries competing for hegemony on the high seas, including privateering.

The new website for which also an English version has been created tells you the story of the discovery. You can look at the share in depth, both in a viewing mode which enables you to flip through the pages, and in a so-called deciphering mode. By pointing to the lines of the list of notes on the payment of dividend, in this case between 1606 and 1650, a pop-up window opens with a transcription of and information about the notes. One of the more troubling stories about the finding of this oldest VOC share is that a slightly older share – just three weeks! – was apparently until 1980 at the municipal archives in Amsterdam but somehow ended in the hands of German collectors. The early shares bring new light on the financial position of the VOC in its early period. Things were financed less easily than historians had assumed.

Of course one can debate whether the Dutch East Indian Company was really the first modern company to issue shares and to loan money on the financial market, a paramount example of mercantile capitalism in Early Modern Europe. It surely was not the first company with shareholders. Medieval merchants developed a number of ways to spread the risks of their enterprises. Financial cooperation between merchants in Italy and Flanders and their bankers started already in the twelfth century, a story well retold in a chapter of Wim Blockmans’ beautiful book Metropolen aan de Noordzee. De geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 1100-1560 [Metropoles at the North Sea. A history of the Low Countries, 1100-1560] (Amsterdam 2010).

To my surprise the new narrative website gives only a short illustrated announcement without a link to the special website on the history of the oldest share. Let me conclude the fist part of this post with pointing to a nifty website presenting quick links to information about individual ships of the VOC and a lot of links in English, too, and to the digitized sources for the history of the VOC at the Institute for Dutch History.

The Hoorn Pie Verdict

Both the West Frisian Archive and a new website with stories about North Holland, Oneindig Noordholland, “Neverending North Holland”, present the next subject of my post. This second story is rather different, really a mix of the sweet and bitter. In 1910 a jealous man decided to send a poisoned pie to his enemy. Instead of killing his enemy the enemy’s wife died by poisoning, and a servant became seriously ill. The sender of the deadly present, Johannes Jacobus Beek, and Willem Markus, his intended victim, had been both market masters and city messengers of Hoorn since 1901. Beek had embezzled money he received as a market master from participants of a fair. Markus detected the loss of money and found out what had happened with a sum of 135 Dutch guilders. Before the First World War the Dutch guilder was a very strong currency, and this sum meant a substantial amount of money. Beek was fired from his municipal jobs in 1907.

Only in 1910 Beek saw a chance to revenge himself. His brother in law provided Beek with arsenic pretending he wanted to get rid of rats in his house. He went to a pastry baker in Haarlem, and ordered a large pastry pie with the instruction to leave a hole in it in order to add something to it. On the same day, September 28, 1910, the pie was sent after the fatal preparations from Amsterdam by a courier service to Markus. However, next day when the pie was delivered to Markus on his 84th birthday, Beek’s former colleague refused to eat from it, but his wife Maria Muisman and Grietje Appelman, a maid servant, did eat from the deadly present. The anonymous congratulatory card delivered with the pie, the very box and much more have been preserved in the dossier concerning this case.

On the North Holland story website you get an abbreviated version of story. This story website is integrated with social media and gives you the chance to get the story of a building in front of you on your mobile phone using the fashionable QR code. In cooperation with the Noordhollands Dagblad, the regional newspaper, the West Frisian Archive present a longer, more detailed and illustrated version of this murder story. In fact the story is told in five installments resembling the feuilleton of old newspapers which brought similar stories in a serialised fashion.

The Hoorn Pie trial in Dutch jurisprudence

Beek was soon arrested and confessed he had sent the pie. He told the police that only after sending he had considered the possibility that someone else might eat from the sweet but poisoned present. On trial the attorney pleaded for a conviction for murder of Maria Muisman and attempted murder of Grietje Appelman. However, the arrondisementsrechtbank in Alkmaar, the regional tribunal, condemned Beek on December 13, 1910 to 10 year imprisonment for manslaughter. In appeal this sentence was annulled. The appeal court of justice, the gerechtshof in Amsterdam, judged that Beek had acted with murderous intent because he had immediately realized that his act might possibly kill others as well, and sentenced him on March 9, 1911 to life long imprisonment for murder and attempted murder. The defense counsel used the right to appeal in cassatie, in cassation, in order to get the verdict annulled, to the Dutch supreme court. The Hoge Raad, the Dutch supreme court, confirmed the judgment of the Amsterdan court of justice on June 19, 1911. Beek died in the prison at Leeuwarden in 1918 at the age of seventy years.

The sentences of the Dutch supreme court are called arresten, a word clearly stemming from the French word arrêts. In Dutch jurisprudence cases are referred to by a summary indication of the matter of the case and the usual abbreviated reference to the court and the date of the judgment or the date of publication in one of the many Dutch legal journals. Our case is nowadays referred to as the Hoornse taartarrest, “The Hoorn Pie Verdict”, HR (Hoge Raad), 19-06-1911, W (Weekblad van het Recht) 9203. A salient feature of Dutch jurisprudence is the addition met noot, “with a note”, meaning a short commentary of a lawyer, usually a law professor. In the legal reviews the notes were only signed with initials. The quality of their annotations to arresten helped and helps today establishing the reputation of Dutch law professors. Incidentally, in the final sentence and in current publicity about trials only the initials of the accused and other persons involved are shown. After a century the need for discretion is clearly no longer present. From the start not the parties involved are the elements which give a case its name.

In Dutch jurisprudence this verdict introduced the legitimate use of the concept of “conditional intent” into Dutch legal practice. The Wetboek van Strafrecht, the Dutch criminal law book from 1886 is still in vigor, and obviously some of its effects and implications needed clarification around 1900, and in fact this continues in the present. On purpose I do no try here to give either the correct term in British, Scottish or American criminal law, because they undoubtedly contain neat differences with Dutch criminal law. At least one of the additional terms in Dutch jurisprudence when considering this doctrine is culpoos handelen, “acting culpose” or guilty acting. The Hoorn Pie Verdict is one of the leading cases in Dutch jurisprudence, even if the doctrine on this point has developed, as for instance in the Porsche Verdict (Porsche-arrest, HR 15-10-1996, NJ (Nederlandse Jurisprudentie) 1997, 199) about a case where this doctrine did not apply, and another case about a car driver who deliberatedly hit three bicyclists, also in the province North Holland, the Enkhuizen Manslaughter Verdict (Enkhuizer doodslag, HR 23-01-2001, NJ 2001, 327) where this doctrine was reaffirmed. In these online versions the notes are given without indication of the original author.

The main online source in open access for verdicts of Dutch courts is found at the official portal for the Dutch judiciary, Rechtspraak.nl. It is not so easy to find older verdicts online in open access. I confess to using sometimes articles in the Dutch Wikipedia where presumably law students have treated a generous number of older cases. These articles often point to a special website for arresten. In an earlier post I could point to the website Iure with some cases prior to 2000. At subscribing Dutch law libraries you can search in special databases for jurisprudence. Subscribers to the student law journal Ars Aequi get also access to a very useful database for Dutch case law, if you pardon me using this expression, because Dutch jurisprudence is not exactly to be equalled with Anglo-American case law.

More information about contemporary Dutch law and online access to documents and cases can be found at websites such as Globalex, at the University of Minnesota Law Library, in the summary guide created by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University College, London, or in the research guide of GLIN at the Library of Congress Law Library.

The centennial of the Hoorn Pie case

A century ago the case of the poisoned pie made headlines in the newspapers. In the website of the Dutch Royal Library for digitized Dutch newspapers you will find more than twenty articles from 1910 and 1911 about this case. One can applaud the retelling of this trial at the narrative history site for North Holland, but one has to point out that the juridical side of the matter does not get more attention. It would have been easy to add the text of the verdicts. October 28, 2011 was the day of the commemoration of the centennial at Hoorn with a re-enactment of the story, a guided tour through Hoorn and lectures by contemporary Dutch lawyers. Many spots are still visible, sometimes barely changed since a century. It is well worth leafing the pages of the online presentation at the website of the West Frisian Archive. This constitutes quite some effort in bringing an aspect of legal history, albeit the more appealing side, the perennial fatal attraction of crime and evil, to the attention of the public at large. For educational purposes this constellation of coverage in a newspaper, activities organized by an archive and a museum, and the use of special websites which even connect to social media, is surely worth considering. It is not by chance that both the narrative project and the website on the oldest VOC share have been partially sponsored.

What strikes me in the end when reflecting on the Hoorn Pie verdict is the rapid speed of the Dutch judiciary in the early twentieth century. The pie arrived late in September 1910, the first trial ended on December 13, 1910, the sentence at the appeal court dated from March 9, 1911, and the final verdict by the Hoge Raad was given on June 19, 1911, just nine months after the deadly birthday gift. For historians it might perhaps be the combination of seemingly completed stories with ever new questions and perspectives that give legal histories their plural form and coherence. This ambiguity is not a birth defect of this discipline but its fountain of life.

A postscript on early Dutch stocks

I am happy to add a postscript to this post and to point you to the Ph.D. thesis of Lodewijk Petram, The world’s first stock exchange (Ph.D. thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2011) which you can download from his website. Petram has written in Dutch a more popular version of his study, De bakermat van de beurs (Amsterdam 2011) on the early trade in shares of the VOC. It was the trade in these shares that contributed much to the early development of the stock trade and the role of Amsterdam in it. It is fascinating to compare the results of this study with the dividend notes on the earliest surviving share kept at Hoorn. You can find some historical documents at Petram website and also at the site of the Dutch Stock Exchange Foundation, which provides you with a history in a nutshell of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and its forerunners.

A wood in the polder

When I visited Delft this summer it was years ago I bicycled to the nearby tiny village ‘t Woudt, which means literally “The Wood”. However, ‘t Woudt is situated in the polders to the west of Delft, and you will not detect any wood in my pictures.

't Woudt near Delft

In fact I would have dearly liked to take more photographs on one of the few sunny afternoons of this summer, but the battery of my camera got empty. The tiny village, a hamlet is a more apt word, is dominated by the imposing medieval church. The buildings in ‘t Woudt are rightly classified as monuments.

The church of 't Woudt

The church looks rather formidable because its tower has been inclosed by the extended side-aisles. I added on purpose the detail that I took a bicycle to reach ‘t Woudt, because the road to Wateringen behind the church is not open to cars. The N223 road from Delft to De Lier and other villages has an exit for ‘t Woudt, but you can drive only the few hundred meters to this lovely spot, within two kilometers of the A4 highway connecting The Hague to Delft.

Stories to tell

For weeks I have been thinking what kind of story is behind ‘t Woudt. The first story is partially a story of onomastics, the auxiliary discipline that deals with the etymology of names. Toponymy is the study of place names. ‘t Woudt is now a part of the municipality Midden-Delfland. Originally it belonged to the manor Hof van Delft, literally “Garden of Delft” or “Court of Delft”, for the most part now a neighbourhood of Delft itself.

To the south-west of Delft is another place name with a wood in its name, Abtswoude. Toponymical studies have shown this name was formed by an act of popular etymology. The medieval name was Popta’s Woude, “The Wood of Popta”. In the nineteenth century this name had been transformed to Papswouw. People thought this place name meant “the wood of a priest”. In a funny way they decided to upgrade the place name to Abtswoude, “Abbot’s Wood”, because of the popular belief in the existence of a monastery on this spot in medieval times.

Now it is very difficult to imagine actual woods in a classic Dutch polder. In this fen country a wood can hardly exist. Perhaps to add to the confusion about Abtswoude, and to create a new chapter in Dutch landscape planning, a land art project near Abtswoude was started in the late twentieth century in the form of a wood surrounding a hill of only five meters. The wood is called the Abtswoudse Bos, and the core of the project is even called Moeder Aarde, “Mother Earth”. The whole area of just 190 hectare is situated on the outskirts of Delft.

The A4 and the Raad van State

The A4 road reaches from The Hague Delft only to stop in the midst of the polder. After decades of discussions, protests and several juridical procedures at the judiciary branch of the Raad van State, the highest advisory council of the Dutch government, on July 6, 2011, it was finally decided to build the missing six kilometers of this highway to Rotterdam. The new part of the A4 will run at a distance just 1500 meters from the Abtswoudse Bos.

The Raad van State has also the role of a court of appeal in cases concerning administration. Lately the double role of the Raad van State, founded in 1531 by Charles V, becomes more subject to criticism because it is a clear example of a situation – governed by the special law for the Raad van State (1962) – in which the governing power has to be separated from the judiciary. The court branch has to judge cases which have been discussed in or which were advised upon by the council itself. In October the Raad van State opened its renovated building. Surely the external renovation with a better use of its palace in The Hague at the Kneuterdijk was needed and successful, but an internal renovation, too, is needed to survive and function properly in this century. The Dutch queen is formally the head of the Raad van State, but the vice-president leads in daily practice the council. Due to their position the vice-presidents have got nicknamed viceroy of the Netherlands. These months the nomination of a new vice-president is another point of debate. Instead of being aloof to party politics the vice-president’s function might get more politicized.

Old and new landscapes

Having brought together a medieval hamlet, a romantic belief in the existence of a medieval monastery, a newly planned wood and land art project, and the completion of the final trajectory of the A4 I do not know whether to smile or to shake my head in disbelief. The Dutch polders can show you a rich variety of different landscapes. It seems most practically to keep in mind Dutch landscapes have been shaped and are being shaped by man. One could almost suggest the neologism manscape… Between The Hague and Leiden you will find the artificial lakes of the Vlietlanden directly next to the A4. The high-speed railway between Amsterdam Airport and Rotterdam was custom-built with a number of tunnels to protect the scenery of the classical Dutch polder as much as possible. Interestingly a separate institution has been founded to deal with complaints about damages caused by this railway. In daily life you have to picture the densely populated province of South Holland as an amazing mix of villages and towns surrounded by the remains of polders and more graphically by railways and highways, with to the east the largest more or less intact polder zone, the archetypical Groene Hart, the Green Heart of the Netherlands.

As for medieval monasteries around Delft, to the north-east of Delft is Sion, now part of Rijswijk – the Ryswick of the 1697 peace treaty -, the spot of a monastery of Austin Canons, founded in 1345 and demolished in 1572. The canons found around 1490 a Roman milestone near Monster in the Westland region. A part of the grounds survived as an estate long owned by the Van Hogendorp family. Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp (1762-1834) helped in 1813 decisively in creating the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sketching a draft for the new constitution – subsequent versions of the Dutch constitution can be found here – and getting the family of Orange-Nassau on the new Dutch throne. I had hoped to find more information on individual monasteries in the lavishly illustrated volume De middeleeuwse kloostergeschiedenis van de Nederlanden [The medieval monastic history of the Low Countries], edited by Paulina de Nijs and Hans Kroeze (Zwolle-Ter Apel 2008), but this is not the case. Characteristically romantic phantasy lacked geographical precision. I suppose I will hardly succeed in cycling around Delft in one day to visit all places mentioned in this post. Hopefully there is enough here for reflection on the facts and stories presented.

Monasteries in medieval Holland: a postscript

I would like to help those searching for medieval monasteries in the Low Countries by pointing to the Signum network for the social-economic, institutional and juridical history of medieval ecclesiastical institutions in the Low Countries. The scholars in this network do research on such institutions both in present day Belgium and the Netherlands. The website of Signum has been recently refurbished. Among the reviews of recent publications is a review of the book edited by De Nijs and Kroeze. At this moment (early December 2011) the useful links section is not present anymore. One of the links mentioned was the so called kloosterlijst maintained at the Free University Amsterdam, a database with concise information on some seven hundred medieval monasteries within the modern Dutch borders. For Delft only you will find thirteen convents…

Twelve volumes of Roman law in Dutch translation

Ad fontes, “to the sources”, is one of the characteristics of the historical sciences and philology in the Western world. Historians and other scholars prefer for many reasons no longer to rely on second-hand information, on editions which do not show clearly the intervention of its editors, and one should use preferably the original sources and not a translation. Sometimes this view gained power as a core of historical doctrine, almost literally a dogma. Dealing with sources from the closest possible distance became part and parcel of the historian’s trade.

Sometimes scholars devote themselves not only to the use of sources at first hand or in critical editions, but to the translation of sources. In particular texts in Latin and Greek from Classical Antiquity have been translated into Dutch during the last decades. In my view it is quite a feat to have so much translations in a language which is spoken by only 23 million people, mainly in my country and Belgium. Patrick De Rynck and Andries Welkenhuysen published a bibliography of Dutch translation of classical texts, De Oudheid in het Nederlands (…) (Baarn 1992), online at the Digital Library for Dutch Literature. They published a supplement in 1997. For some authors a team of scholars works on the Dutch translation of all major works, for example a number of works by Augustine of Hippo has been translated recently under the aegis of the Augustijns Instituut in Eindhoven.

The Corpus Iuris Civilis in Dutch

On November 15, 2011, the twelfth and last volume of the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis will be presented in Utrecht to Mr. Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch minister of Security and Justice. A translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani, the first volume of the series, was published in 1993. The twelfth volume of the series Corpus Iuris Civilis. Tekst en vertaling contains the Novellae 115-168. During the eighteen years it took the team of scholars led by Jop Spruit, Robert Feenstra and the late Karel Bongenaar (1935-1999) the membership of the team changed remarkably little. Instead of Feenstra ‘s name which figures on the covers of the Institutes and the Digest Jeroen Chorus and Luuk de Ligt strenghtened the editorial team for the Justinian Code and the Novels. However, the project had to change from publisher. Initially Sdu Uitgeverij in The Hague and the Walburg Pers in Zutphen published jointly the series. In 2005 the publishing house of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) took the series over, and the last volumes are published jointly by the KNAW and Amsterdam University Press. Bibliographers and cataloguers can show their skills in describing the set and the volumes correctly according to the varying national standards.

Publishing twelve bilingual volumes with nearly 8,000 pages is quite a feat, but the qualities and stamina of the translators are just as remarkable. For the translation of the Digestae, the Codex Iustinianus and the Novellae two scholars took care of each of the fifty libri. Their results were discussed with one of the editors-in-chief, and then a second version was prepared. The final result was presented to the editorial steering committee. At some points other scholars helped the teams to clarify difficulties in the text which defy even the most courageous and skilled legal historian. The chief editors looked at it again when all libri of a projected volume were ready, with special care to the quality of the rendering in Dutch and the consistency of the translation, not just for the correct interpretation of juridical terms, and sent the ultimate version off to the publishers.

The auctor intellectualis and indefatigable leader of the project, Jop Spruit, has a record of keen interest in many aspects of the study of Roman law, and in particular translations have received his attention. He published a concise bibliography of Roman law, Bibliografie Romeins recht. Wegwijzer tot de bronnen, hulpmiddelen en literatuur [Bibliography of Roman law. Guide to the sources, research tools and literature] (Zutphen 1988). Translations are present in a chapter of Spruit’s guide. With Karel Bongenaar he presented four volumes of translations of pre-Iustinian law sources, Het erfdeel van de klassieke Romeinse juristen. Verzameling van prae-iustiniaanse juridische geschriften met vertaling in het Nederlands (4 vol., Zutphen 1982-1987), thus making accessible in Dutch a large number of the sources in collections such as the Fontes Iuris Romani anteiustiniani (3 vol., Florence 1940-1943; reprint 1964-1968) and adding fragments and texts found since the midst of the twentieth century. When starting the project for the Corpus Iuris Civilis Spruit and Bongenaar had already a lot of experience with translating the Latin of Roman lawyers.

Other modern translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis

Not only in Dutch modern translations of the constituent parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis exist, but asking for a complete translation yields only a few results. The German project Corpus Iuris Civilis. Text und Übersetzung led by Okko Behrends, Rolf Knütel and others started in 1990 with a translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani of which a third edition appeared in 2007. Between 1995 and 2005 appeared three volumes of a translation of the Digestae. The libri 1-10, 11-20, and 21-27 are available. All volumes are bilingual with the Latin text and facing translation. In comparison with the Dutch enterprise progress might seem slow. It is only fair to notice that Okko Behrends has been involved also in the edition and French translation of other sources from Roman antiquity in the series Corpus agrimensorum Romanorum, but it is equally true that anyone involved in translating for both projects has done or is doing this in the midst of other activities.

In the second volume of the Dutch project (Digesten 1-10 (1993)) Jop Spruit and Robert Feenstra discuss briefly a number of translation of Justinian’s Digest (pp. xxxi-xxxiii). Some of the translations of the Digest mentioned are a part of translations of the whole Corpus Iuris Civilis, and these editions date mainly already from the nineteenth century. A French translation was produced by Henri Hulot and others, Corpus Iuris Cvilis. Corps de droit civil romain en latin et en français (…) (17 vol., Metz-Paris 1803-1811; reprint, 7 vol., Aalen 1979). The set can be consulted partially online at the Portail Numérique de l’Histoire du Droit, only the translation of the Digest, books 40 to 50, and the Novels have to be added. The German translation Das Corpus Iuris in’s Deutsche übersetzt vom einem Vereine Rechtsgelehrter was edited by Carl Eduard Otto, Bruno Schilling and Carl Friedrich Ferdinand Sintenis (7 vol., Leizpig 1830-1833; 2nd ed. Leipzig 1831-1839; reprint Aalen 1984-1985), available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library. In Italian you can even find two nineteenth-century translations, first the Corpo del diritto civile (…), Francesco Foramiti (ed.) (4 vol., Venice 1836-1844), and later by Giovanni Vignali (ed.), Corpo del diritto corredato delle note (…) (10 vol., Naples 1856-1862).

In English Samuel P. Scott published Corpus Iuris Civilis. The Civil Law (…) (17 vol., Cincinnati 1932; reprints New York 1973 and Union, N.J., 2001). This translation is available online, even though the reliability for scholarly use of this translation has been subject to doubt. Scott also included translations of the Twelve Tables and other texts. For the Digest exists a more recent English translation published by Alan Watson, The Digest of Justinian (4 vol., Phildelphia 1985; reprint 2008). The translation has been reprinted in 1997 in two volumes, without the Latin text. Spruit duly notes the translation in Spanish of the Digest by a team with among other A. d’Ors and F. Fernandez-Tejero (El Digesto de Justiniano (3 vol., Pamplona 1968-1975). Marc van der Poel, a reknown scholar of Neolatin, notes on his online bibliography for the history of Latin a Russian translation of the Digest by Leonid L. Kofanov, Digesty Justiniana (11 parts in 8 vol., Moscow 2005-2008).

In the first volume of the new Dutch translation of the Codex Iustinianus – volume VII of the series appeared in 2005 – Spruit and Feenstra mention in the introduction other translations of the Codex (p. xli-xliv). Pascal Alexandre Tissot had already translated the Codex as Les douze livres du Code de l’empereur Justinien (4 vol., Metz 1807-1810; reprint Aalen 1979) – available online (Hathi Trust) – before his translation was also included in the series edited by Henri Hulot and others. The Codex, the Digest and the Novellae have been translated into Spanish by Ildefonso L. García del Corral, Cuerpo del derecho romano a doble texto (…) (6 vol., Barcelona 1889-1898; reprint Valladolid 1988). This translation is available online at the Biblioteca Juridica Virtual (UNAM, Mexico City) and most easily accessible through the Edictum website of Norberto Darío Rinaldi (Universidad de Buenos Aires).

Spruit and Feenstra note that translating Justinian’s Code is made more difficult by the way many constitutions have been taken over in shortened form from the Codex Theodosianus. They point explicitly to the translation by Clyde Pharr and others, The Theodosian code and novels, and the Sirmondian constitutions (Princeton 1952; reprint Union, N.J., 2007) as a fine tool for translating the Codex Iustinianus. In the Dutch project the Authenticae have also been translated and put together at the end of the Code.

I checked the Index Translationum of UNESCO, which one can try to use as a shortcut to get a more or less reliable view of extant translations worldwide from the last two or three decades, but the Dutch translation is sadly missing among the search results. It is not the first time that the Index Translationum appeared to be rather defective, but nevertheless it can be helpful to widen the horizon of a search. The search results for individual parts did however contain the selection of texts from the Codex Justinianus translated by Gottfried Härtel and Frank-Michael Kaufmann (Leipzig 1991) on the basis of the nineteenth-century German translation. It is worth reading the introduction and the epilogue to this Nachübersetzung (re-translation) dated “Leipzig Dezember 1988″. Härtel translated with Liselot Huchthausen also the Institutions of Gaius and the Laws of the Twelve Tables in a volume with selected legal texts (Römisches Recht in einem Band (first edition Berlin-Weimar 1983; 4th ed., 1991)). Although I have admittedly not done a complete and exhaustive search it seems plausible to conclude for now there is no sign of any other current project for a complete translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis apart from the projects led by Spruit and Behrends, both cum suis.

The English translation prepared over the years by Justice Fred H. Blume of both the Justinian Code and his Novels has been painstakingly edited and made ready for online publication by Timothy Kearley (University of Wyoming). On the website in Wyoming the appearance of a new English translation of the Code by a team led by Bruce Frier, and a translation of the Novels by David Miller and Peter Saaris is announced for 2011. It is said to be published by Cambridge University Press, but I could not yet find an announcement on its website. For both translations Blume’s work is consulted. If you bring together a translation of Institutes, for example the one by Birks and McLeod (1987), the translation of the Digest by Alan Watson and his collaborators, and these two translations using Blume’s project you will have access to the Corpus Iuris Civilis in a recent English translation.

Finis coronat opus

The names of the translators participating in the project for the Dutch translation read like an overview of almost every contemporary Dutch and Belgian scholar in the field of Roman law. Spruit and Feenstra got assistance not only from Romanists, but also from specialists in the field of Roman history and church history. They acknowledge the fruitful contacts with the German translators. It is perhaps envious to single out some scholars, but in my opinion the Novellae would very likely not have been translated into Dutch from the original Greek if Jan Lokin, Nicolaas van der Wal and Bernard Stolte had not cooperated, and certainly not as quickly and thorough.

In this month’s Rechtshistorische Courant, the monthly bulletin on legal history in Belgium and the Netherlands published by the legal historians at Ghent University, the Dutch team gets praise for its perseverance. The project is compared to a kind of Tour de France, with all kinds of routes. I will not try to outdo their eulogy, but I am sure the end crowns the work!

Gouda and the visual power of a town hall

This weekend I visited Gouda. When you are going from Utrecht to Rotterdam or The Hague you have to pass Gouda, but I have only seldom visited this town which belongs to the group of classic Dutch towns in the medieval county Holland. It was difficult to take pictures of the Sint Janskerk in Gouda and its magnificent sixteenth-century stained glass windows. It was a rainy day, the church is enclosed by other buildings, and photographing church windows is an art in itself, and thus I will not present here any picture of this church. After a fire in 1552 the Sint Janskerk was rebuilt very quickly. New stained glass windows were donated by cities like Haarlem and Amsterdam, by collegiate chapters such as the Oudmunster chapter in Utrecht and other institutions. William of Orange founded a window, as did even the Spanish king Philip II. The original drawings for most of the 72 windows have largely been preserved, and they will be put on display at MuseumGouda from November 22, 2011 onwards after restoration of the paper of these life size drawings.

The gothic town hall of Gouda

Apart from the Sint Janskerk, one of the largest churches in The Netherlands, the gothic town hall at the market place of Gouda is the town’s chief attraction. It takes pride of place on the websites devoted to the history of Gouda. The archives of Gouda are now kept by the archival consortium Groene Hart Archieven with centers in Gouda and Alphen aan den Rhijn. On its website the building story of the town hall is told in some detail. A fire in 1438 had damaged the old town hall. At last between 1448 and 1450 the work began for a new town hall designed by Steven van Afflighem. Gouda became prosperous because of its central position at the Gouwe river on which in medieval and early modern times freight from all Holland had to pass. The route using the Gouwe was the quickest way for merchants between Amsterdam and cities like Haarlem in the north, and Dordrecht and Rotterdam in the south. Add to this the proverbial Gouda cheese from the rich meadows surrounding this small town, calculate a loss of importance during the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, and thus a medieval town hall can survive.

The medieval facade and the renaissance steps of Gouda Town Hall

The new town hall has not survived completely in its late medieval form. The flight of steps in Renaissance style dates from 1603. You might think this post offers you until now only regional history, but at the long side of the town hall you can detect a pillory, a pedestal on which offenders could be mocked and denounced by the people. The town hall served also as a court building. At the back of the building is a scaffold from 1697. It was on this scaffold that in 1860 the death penalty was executed for the last time in The Netherlands.

The entrance of Gouda Town Hall

At the entrance of Gouda Town Hall is written Audite et alteram partem, “Hear also the other side”, a well-known juridical maxim, an indispensable element of fair justice and the concept of due process. I was surprised by the plural Audite instead of the singular Audi. No doubt the gold lettering is rather modern, and the letter forms suggest a date in the seventeenth century, but these words might have been written here earlier on, too.

The gate at the MuseumGouda

On my way to the Sint Janskerk I passed inevitably the former Catharina Gasthuis, an old hospital, now the premises of MuseumGouda, the municipal museum, with a beautifully restored Dutch Renaissance gateway, dated 1609. Somehow I was in particular intrigued by the relief above the entrance. Inside the museum you can find a historical collection, instruments of torture from the town hall, paintings from Gouda and temporary exhibitions. A part of the collection is shown in the former chapel of the hospital. Above one of the doors I saw a statue representing Justice as a woman with a sword and a balance. Interestingly her eyes are not blindfolded.

A relief with Lazarus

However, the relief at the gateway called plainly stronger for my attention. The story depicted and the use of polychromy are to be blamed! The main scene shows the table of the rich man from the story about Lazarus in the gospel of Luke (16,19-31). The scene illustrates verse 21 (King James Bible):

And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sore.

In the scene Lazarus looks up to the rich man, but at the same time Lazarus seems already to see the vision of himself in Abraham’s bosom depicted in the niche above the scene in the dining room. The story of Lazarus and the anonymous rich man is a story of justice and mercy, two elements which cannot be taken from any form of effective law and justice without taking away the very heart of what laws, judicial institutions and the actual working of the rule of law are meant to be. The contemporary clothing of the people in this relief followed the tradition of Dutch art to present biblical stories in present day surroundings. Alas it is very easy to imagine a scene of tremendous richness and appalling poverty side by side in our times, too.

Dirck Coornhert, philosopher and social reformer

Social conditions can form the starting point for a moral appeal. In sixteenth-century Haarlem lived Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert (1522-1590), an independent thinker and prolific writer. For some years Coornhert served as a secretary to the States of Holland. He suffered from persecution, and had even to leave the Netherlands for some ten years. When he returned he went to Delft, only to face again opposition. In 1588 he came to Gouda, where he was buried in the Sint Janskerk. In 1587 Coornhert wrote a proposal for disciplining ruffians, Boeventucht; a modern edition (1985) of this text has been digitized in the Digital Library for Dutch Literature. Coornhert had a view of criminals working during their stay in prison. During the seventeenth century his ideas were adopted by a number of Dutch cities. A large number of old editions of Coornhert’s writings has been digitized by Amsterdam University Library, in particular the opera omnia edition “Werken van D.V. Coornhert” published by Jaspar Tournay in Gouda between 1610 and 1612. The edition of sources for his life edited in 1925 by Bruno Becker has been digitized at the Institute for Dutch History.

For legal historians not only Coornhert’s proposal for a new prison regime is of interest. The Coornhert Liga, a Dutch society for the reform of criminal law, is named after Coornhert. He quarreled with Justus Lipsius about the repression of heretics. Vrijheid van conscientie, freedom of conscience, was the motto devised by Coornhert for the city of Gouda. This motto is also prominent in the glass window in the Sint Janskerk offered to Gouda by the States of Holland. Some of the windows show images that are relevant for legal iconography, too, and therefore they have been included together with other images from Gouda in the database of the former Dutch Center for Legal Iconography and Documentation (NCRD). Earlier this year the Royal Library confirmed the release into the public domain of this subscribers-only database, but until this day this has not yet been realized. In the first post of this month I have said enough about restricted access. I will just add that the former NCRD was an institution financed by all Dutch universities.

Gouda and Dutch legal history

Gouda is proud of its history. It has even developed its own historic canon in the wake of the current Dutch vogue for historic canons. In the Goudse Canon you can read about the town hall, the Sint Janskerk and Coornhert, three of the forty subjects, and also about Erasmus. Gouda has a claim on Erasmus because his mother came from Gouda. Erasmus went to school nearby Gouda. In Latin this Gouda claim has been concisely put: Goudæ conceptus, Roterodami natus, begotten in Gouda, born in Rotterdam. The canon of Gouda’s history does include the Waag, the weigh-house from 1670 at the Markt, the place where the cheese commerce in Gouda cheese took place before industrial production took over from the commerce on and near the market place. Gouda cheese comes from the area surrounding town, not from Gouda. The name Gouda cheese is not protected, and thus production of it is possible anywhere.

The Gouda Canon website shows apart from the well researched topics an excellent choice of illustrations and connects you to the AquaBrowser catalogue for associative searches in the city library’s GoudaNet. The website of the GroeneHart Archieven includes an image database which will help you to get more pictures about Gouda and the surrounding region. It is definitely a city with a history bringing enough assets for legal historians, even when it is of course rather grim to see at one side instruments of torture and the historical pillory and scaffold, and at the other side room for a pioneer of legal reform. It can do no harm to realize that the dark and sunlit sides of history are part of one history with many tales, a history in which justice and law have not always succeeded to reach their original aims.

A reproduction of Redon's "Fallen angel" outside MuseumGouda

Is it merely a coincidence to find a reproduction of the Fallen angel by Odilon Redon (1840-1916) next to the entrance of MuseumGouda with the Lazarus relief?

A postscript

The question at the end of this post is indeed not rhetorical. MuseumGouda had in June 2011 the painting The Schoolboys by Marlene Dumas auctioned at Christie’s without prior consultation with other Dutch museums which might have been interested to have this painting in their holdings. MuseumGouda got some € 950,000 from the auction, but ran into severe criticism from the Dutch Museum Society which had advised that MuseumGouda doing thus would act inappropriately and against clear guidelines of this society. The Dutch Museum Society even considered to cast MuseumGouda from the society. By the way, the Fallen angel is a painting in the holdings of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.