Monthly Archives: December 2009

Once in a life time…

As an historian I have been trained to regard the word unique with the greatest possible mistrust. Uniqueness in the past cannot be verified, and in the present too many things and events share the epitethon “unique”. Bearing this in mind I would like to write about a rather special exhibition at Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen. The fifteenth-century book of hours of Catherine of Cleves, the duchess of Guelders, kept in two parts at the Pierpont Morgan Library of New York (M-917 and M-945), has been lifted from its bindings. Thus it is possible to show several of the 158 surviving miniatures at the same time. It will not be an unique exhibition, because from Februay 5, 2010 on this beautiful manuscript will be shown in New York after its return. The uniqueness of the Nijmegen exhibition is the accompanying exhibition at the same museum near the Valkhof, a former Pfalz of the dukes of Guelders where the old chapel is said to date from the Carolingian age. It shows the duchess at her table. Her husband, Arnold of Egmond, made in 1451-1452 a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; a Venetian safe conduct for him has been preserved. Luckily accounts survive which show how and where the duchess lived during her regency, and in particular her expenses for food and cookery, registered by the ducal toll of Lobith. The price of her book of hours must have been an immense sum, surely the greatest expense of Catherine’s life. In the Stratemakerstoren near the river Waal  in the old city of Nijmegen, a sixteenth-century former rampart, a small exhibition is held on Catherine’s travels through the duchy of Guelders.

The Vereniging Gelre, the society for the history of Guelders, has been very active since its foundation in 1897. Its journal, de Bijdragen, and the Werken, its publication series, contain many contributions for the legal history of the duchy of Guelders and the province of Gelderland. The links page of this society’s website guide you to information on the parts of Guelders which are situated now in the province of Overijssel and Limburg, and also in Germany. The Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis has published a research guide to the archival records concerning the administrative, economic and social history of the counties Holland, Zeeland, Guelders and the diocese Utrecht edited by Michel van Gent and Marie-Charlotte Le Bailly, Gids voor de landsheerlijke archieven van Gelre, Holland, Zeeland en het Sticht. Bestuurlijke, economische en sociale geschiedenis voor 1500 (The Hague 2002; also available online). Many records for the history of Gelre are kept at the Gelders Archief in Arnhem. At the site of the Institute for Dutch History you will find an online database on the landdagen (diets and official meetings) of Guelders from 1423 to 1584, with digitized images of the records. Charters have been carefully edited in the eight volumes of the Oorkondenboek van Gelre en Zutphen tot 1326, edited by E.C. Dijkhof, E.J. Harenberg and M.S. Polak (The Hague 1980-2003), now also available online.

For those unable to visit either Nijmegen or New York  a popular book has been published on the Catherine of Cleves Hours (available in Dutch, English and German), together with a book on her table expenses and travels – Ruud Priem (ed.), Op reis en aan tafel met Katherina van Kleef 1417-1476 (Nijmegen-Antwerpen 2009); only in Dutch – , and a splendid full catalogue on the exhibition, Rob Dückers, Ruud Priem (ed.), The Hours of Catherina of Cleves. Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the Fifteenth Century (Antwerpen 2009); only in English. For some reason no images of this famous manuscript are shown on the remarkable Corsair website of the Morgan Library. Instead there is now a complete online digital version of the Catherine of Cleves Hours on the main website of the Morgan Library.  Among the over twenty thousand images from medieval and renaissance manuscripts on the Corsair website surely some will be of interest to you. You will find in the Morgan Library legal manuscripts and documents, too, for instance a Codex Justinianus, a Summa Institutionum, the Decretals of Gregory IX and the Clementinae, a Bolognese register of creditors, a Livre de gouvernement des rois et princes, Italian city statutes and an English register of writs.

Books on medieval manuscripts are often announced on the e-journal Bifolium. The earlier printed version was founded by the late Jos Hermans, professor of paleography at Groningen University.


Où sont les neiges d’antan?

This blog should not try to be too exclusive: this month bloggers seem to have universally agreed to add a touch of winter on their pages. Here my addition to this year’s snow pictures.

Let me add some references to the recent post on the medieval history of Utrecht and the example of canon Hugo Wstinc. The study by Jan Kuys, Kerkelijke organisatie in het middeleeuwse bisdom Utrecht (Nijmegen 2004) is a fine guide to the institutional history of ecclesiastical and religious institutions, including chapters and canons, within the medieval diocese Utrecht. Kuys provides ample references to studies and editions in this field. The links on the website of the Contactgroep Signum will bring you to some interesting online sources, and their current bibliography will be useful, too.

Utrecht and legal history

A week ago one of my first posts related a walk in the old city of Utrecht, my own home town. I wrote about the old court of justice that now houses the new exhibition center of the Utrecht archives. The town of Utrecht was the see of the medieval diocese of Utrecht, and Utrecht is also the name of the modern province in the heart of the Netherlands. However, the medieval diocese was far larger than the present province of Utrecht, and even larger than the modern archdiocese (since 1853), and over this diocese within the Holy Roman Empire a prince-bishop ruled. As a result the archives of the medieval diocese and collegiate chapters with possessions all over the Netherlands, now kept at the Utrecht Archives, are much larger and far more important to Dutch medieval history than one would guess at first. I mentioned also the medieval cathedral that was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1674. After restorations in the 20th century the remaining tower, the Domtoren, and the choir of the cathedral show again a lot of their architectural splendor.

The cloister next to the cathedral is a beloved quiet corner in town. It leads also to the former great hall of the cathedral chapter, now the aula of Utrecht University. In this room the Union of Utrecht was signed in 1579. On the fountain in the cloister is a sculpture mistaken by many people for  a monk. In fact it is meant as a tribute to Hugo Wstinc, a canon of the cathedral chapter from the fourteenth century. In 1342 Wstinc wrote a legal treatise called Statuta ecclesiae Trajectensis, in which he wrote about the rights and customs of the cathedral chapter, its position within the diocese and the complicated relations with the four other collegiate chapters in the city of Utrecht. Wstinc’s treatise was edited in 1895 by Samuel Muller Fz., the Utrecht archivist of legendary fame in the archival world. You can find his edition in a digital version at the website for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch of the University of Heidelberg. A Dutch edition of a Latin text on a server of a German university: when you walk into the former cathedral close at Utrecht you cross not just a medieval border, but also the former Roman limes. History is around here from every period since the Romans. The campaign Initatief Domplein brings together ideas to make more of this rich history visible.

Spanning centuries, cultures and continents

The nice alliteration “a blog on this subject that spans centuries, cultures and continents” in my first post made me worry a bit to fall dreadfully short of my promise. However, when I saw the web presence of the Harvard Law School Library I guessed my confidence would be rewarded. In fact, one can select interesting subjects at random. Let’s make a short tour and restrict it to the digital collections. The partnership with the Ames Foundation for Bracton Online and the English Year Books is perhaps the best known digital activity of the HLSL. I was genuinely surprised by the twenty digitized scrolls from the Japanese manuscript collection that spans the period 1158-1591, acquired in 1936. Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. is present, too, of course. By far the greatest project here is the collection of documents of the Nuremberg Trials Project. Those looking for images will applaud Legal Portraits Online, a 4,000 picture collection of lawyers and political theorists. When I saw the link to the French coutumes I knew for sure my own interest in medieval history and law would be satisfied: the HLSL has 600 editions of coutumes and twenty manuscripts. The digitized manuscript from around 1300 of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie is wonderful indeed! British crime broadsides from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, materials on the American Red Cross at work after the First World War, old library catalogues and a series of HLS class photos from 1875 to 2007: one post is just too short! I am sure to return to the HLSL’s website, and I will use alliteration more carefully.

Remembering Chris ten Raa

Two years ago, on December 15, 2007, Chris ten Raa, professor emeritus in legal history at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, died at the age of 81 years. Together with Alain Wijffels (Leyden/Louvain-la-Neuve) Chris supervised my Ph.D. thesis.  Chris was born August 16, 1926, at the village of Bakkum in the province of North Holland where his father worked as a psychiatrist. Chris’ life was really eventful. He had to hide himself during the German occupation of the Netherlands. After he started in 1945 at Leyden University with the study of Indology, Indonesian law and customs, he had to change his studies to the field of law when the Dutch government finally acknowledged Indonesian independence in 1949 with the Treaty of Lingadjatti. In 1952 he started as a barrister, first in Rotterdam, later in Zutphen, where he became also associated with the local court. Only in 1964 he arrived at the new university of Rotterdam. In 1970 his thesis, De oorsprong van de kantonrechter (The origin of the juge de paix), appeared in print. The roaring seventies were a difficult period for this devoted scholar. He worked on the project concerning the Great Council of Malines, tried to start teaching and living in Suriname, but eventually he returned to Rotterdam, first as a lecturer and from 1986 until 1991 as a full professor of legal history. Creating a new section at the Law Faculty for both legal history, comparative law and computer law shows the width of his interests.

His research into the juge de paix and the creation of a new legal system in the Netherlands from 1811 onwards led him to foster a project on the history of conciliation and mediation that crossed national borders. Many students from Lille and Rotterdam did archival research and wrote papers on the juge de paix, and he supervised a number of graduate students. The Great Council of Malines was not forgotten: he published articles on Nicolaus Everardi, his consilia and his family, and he magnanimously supported my research on Everardi’s book on juridical argumentation. I can picture him vividly at his office with the city plan of Paris on the wall, hosting a New Year’s party at home, talking about his trips to archives and libraries, his love of classical music, and especially meeting people and getting acquainted with them in no time. Chris helped bridging the gaps between modern legal practice and legal history. We buried him on a cold winter day at the snow covered cemetery of Kralingen, a suburb of Rotterdam, and we felt and feel our gratitude for Chris whose joie de vivre, his friendship and his example as a keen and tenacious researcher I remember fondly.

Traces of legal history in Utrecht

When I went into the old inner city of Utrecht on this late Saturday afternoon the sun was shining friendly. On my way to the very heart of the city, the Domplein with the remains of the majestic gothic cathedral – only the tower and the choir survived a tornado in 1674 – I passed the old court of justice, which is now partly a restaurant and partly the exhibition centre of the Utrecht Archives, Het Utrechts Archief.

The former court of justice at Utrecht

During the restoration of the former provincial court house and later city court many historic features of the building came into view again. The building was built on the grounds of the former Benedictine St. Paul’s abbey. In the fifties some parts of the church’ walls became visible, but now the main entrance of the refectory appeared to be still present. The nineteenth annual symposium of the Contactgroep Signum, an association for the social, economic and legal history of Dutch and Belgian medieval ecclesiastical and religious institutions, took place here on November 6, 2009.

In the basement of the building you can visit the old cells in which prisoners were kept. On the header photo of my blog you can see the statue of Justice erected above the entrance in 1838 in commemoration of the new civil code, the revised Dutch version of the French Code Civil. As for the medieval city records, the records of the bishops, the cathedral chapter, the four (!) collegiate chapters of medieval Utrecht, the four parish churches and many monasteries, they remain safely housed in the purpose built archival depot at the Alexander Numankade.

Centers of legal history: the Munich IMCL

Deciding to post a series on centers for legal history was an easy decision, and choosing the first centers to write on was not difficult, too. In 1997-1998 I worked at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law in Munich. The center is named after its founder, Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996). Kuttner started his institute in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. When he moved to Yale University in 1964 and again to Berkeley in 1970, the institute followed. The institute houses a great variety of materials: some 3,000 books on medieval canon law and legal history, hundreds of microfilms of medieval manuscripts, a dazzling correspondence with scholars from all over the world, and thousands of offprints of articles sent to him by scholars as a sign of his position in the scientific world. The library catalogue can be consulted online, and also the database for the papal decretals of the twelfth century. And how could one forget the series of text editions, the quadrennial congresses, and the Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law? When you realize that you find on a walking distance apart from the IMCL, now affiliated to the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte, also the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Grabmann-Institut for the history of medieval theology, one can imagine the possibilities at Munich for doing research for medieval history and law.

The IMCL is supported by ICMAC, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio or International Society of Medieval Canon Law has since February 2010 its own website at the University of Toronto.  Among the information presented you will find the digital version of the news bulletin Novellae. The design of the new website is graced by an image taken from the Utrecht Psalter.

A postscript

In 2013 the library of the IMCL has returned to the United States. Its new home is the Lillian Goldman Law Library of Yale University in New Haven, CT. The institute will move to Yale in 2015.