Centuries of law in Normandy

The classic French legal historiography makes a wonderful neat and crisp distinction between two kinds of law prevailing in a large part of France. Either the droit écrit, written law in the particular sense of learned medieval law, or the droit coutumier, customary law, dominated one or more regions. Within the pays de droit coutumier the customary law of a particular region could influence other regions as well, and this is the case also for commentaries on and collections of the coutumes of a region. Perhaps the best known example are the Coutumes de Beauvaisis by Phillippe de Beaumanoir, edited by Amédée Salmon (2 vol., Paris 1899-1900; reprint Paris 1970). I noticed an announcement for a conference celebrating the eleventh centenary of the law in Normandy at Cerisy-La-Salle from May 25 to 29, 2011, and the bibliographical information provided there stimulated me to look further into Norman and Anglo-Norman law in medieval and modern times.

In Custodia Legis, the blog of the law librarians of the Library of Congress, published on January 18, 2011 a post by Meredith Shedd-Driskel on ‘Coutumes of France in the Law Library of Congress‘. This post has as its central point a beautifully illuminated manuscript of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie. The seven large historiated initials shown in this post make you longing for more. Seeing only one other page and the book’s cover does not make up for the fact that I had expected more, beginning with a complete digital version of this manuscript. Last year for example the Library of Congress published a substantial digital collection of their old books on piracy and documents about piracy trials, which induced me to write a post about pirates. The Library of Congress kindly informed me that they have not planned to digitize this manuscript. On French coutumes this library has published a book by Jean Caswell and Ivan Sipkov, The coutumes of France in the Library of Congress: an annotated bibliography (Washington, D.C., 1977; reprint Clark, N.J., 2006). Used together with André Gouron and Odile Terrin, Bibliographie des coutumes de France. Éditions antérieures à la Révolution (Geneva 1975) one can start further research.

Medieval manuscripts concerning the law of Normandy

In this post I will try to put the fifteenth century manuscript at Washington, D.C., in the context of other manuscripts and editions of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie as far as they can be consulted online. At least one manuscript has been digitized completely. The manuscript at Harvard University (Harvard Law School, Ms. 91) is written about 1300 and is less lavishly illustrated than the manuscript in Washington. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, has two manuscripts of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie, HM 1343 in Latin from the first half of the fourteenth century with some illuminated pages, and HM 25862 with the French text from the second half of the fourteenth century. Ernest-Joseph Tardif discussed in his work Coutumiers de Normandie: textes critiques (2 vol. in 3 parts, Rouen-Paris 1881-1903; reprint Geneva 1977) the various versions of the text and edited them. His book is available online at Gallica.

Several manuscripts with the Coutumes de Normandie are illuminated. Most manuscripts are held by libraries, but some are kept at archives, such as the manuscript Rouen, Archives Départementales de Seine-Maritime, ms. 10. The Enluminures website brings you to three illuminated manuscripts held in French municipal libraries (Cherbourg, BM, 13 and 17, and Rouen, BM, 877). How to find more manuscripts in a quick way? Do portals bring you as much as you would like them to do? The Europeana portal brought me to just one manuscript, Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, Duteil 95, of which one can admire four illuminated pages at their website. CERL, the Consortium of European Research Libraries, has created a portal for searching manuscripts and early printed books until 1830; the search for printed books is mainly in a number of national bibliographies. It brings me through Calames to the manuscripts Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, 1743 and 2995. Checking on the Liberfloridus website for the illuminated manuscripts of both this library and the Bibliothèque Mazarine yielded no results. The Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen has two manuscripts, NKS 688 oktav and Thott 1012 kvart. Searching in the REX database of this library eventually ends with a third manuscript, Thott 303 oktav, with the Latin version.

More manuscripts in French libraries can be found using a more usual website, the Catalogue collectif de France. I will not list all these manuscripts, but only stress the need to use multiple search terms. When you look for coutumier and Normandie you will find here twelve manuscripts, searching with coutume and Normandie gives you fifty results, including later commentaries and collections of ârrets, the verdicts of the Parlement de Rouen. If you are not aware of the Latin version you would miss it completely. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Arsenal 804, called Summa de legibus Normannie (sic), and Rouen, BM, 818, Jura et statuta Normannie, are among the few manuscripts with the Latin version.

I could scarcely have made more clear the importance of not only using online catalogues, but also checking the printed versions and the often very detailed indices of manuscript catalogues. In the field of medieval canon and Roman law Gero Dolezalek has put on the website of the Leipzig law faculty alongside his information on medieval legal manuscripts also an extremely rich, fully commented and updated collection of links to online information about medieval manuscripts. The fine list on online resources by Bob Peckham (University of Tennessee at Martin), the impressive list of manuscript links compiled at the Kungliga biblioteket in Stockholm, and the marvellous gateway to manuscript studies of the Senate House Library, University College London, however useful for its purpose, lack such comments. The very least you should do for the manuscripts in Paris is to check also the online manuscript catalogue of the BnF. It is not wise nor really feasible to present in a simple blog post a complete list of medieval – and later – manuscripts with the different versions of the Coutumier de Normandie, including the rhymed versions and collections of maximes. In the bibliography at the University of Heidelberg created for the online version of the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français you can find in a nutshell a bibliography of the Coutumier de Normandie and other French coutumes, including manuscripts and main editions of the most important versions.

Printed books and the history of the Coutumier de Normandie

Creating such an overview is not just a question of careful using manuscript catalogues, but of research in the existing literature about this text. Let’s turn to digitized books with the Coutume de Normandie or comments on it. The Jacob Burns Law Library of the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., recently acquired a copy of the first edition, an incunable from 1483. In the Spring 2010 issue of their news bulletin A Legal Miscellanea you can find a short, clear and substantial introduction to this and other early editions, besides a good sketch of the importance and role of Norman customary law. Finding this first edition in the online version of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) was not easy, because somehow searching for coutumier or coutumes did not work. With the other main search website for incunabula in Germany, the INKA catalogue of the University of Tübingen, it becomes clear this edition is present in the GW with number M43587, where luckily a link is given to a digitized version at Troyes. In the online version of the Gesamtkatalog all editions of municipal and regional statutes, statutes of religious orders and synodal statutes, are filed under the headings Statuta civitatum, Statuta ordinum, Statuta synodalia and Statuta regnorum. Seven incunable editions exist for the Coutumes de Normandie. Legal historians should consult with profit the many digitized versions of incunable editions of medieval statutes indicated in the GW.

Visiting a relatively small number of digital libraries brings you to digitized editions of the Grand Coutumier de Normandie. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich has several editions, to be found using the OPACplus database. Among important editions it is good to remember the first edition of Le grand coutumier de France (Paris 1539) with the gloss of Guillaume Le Rouillé. At the moment of writing the OPACplus is not working completely as it did. In Paris Gallica has for instance digitized Le grand coustumier du pays et duché de Normandie (Rouen 1515), and not only Tardif’s modern edition, but also another edition of the Latin version, Summa de legibus Normanniae in curia laicali ou Coutumier latin de Normandie (Rennes 1896).

The Fontes Historiae Iuris portal at Lille brings together two editions of the Norman customary law, Pierre de Merville’s La coutume de Normandie reduit en maximes (..) (Paris 1707) and L’ancienne coutume de Normandie (Jersey 1881) by William Laurence de Gruchy, recently reprinted and expanded with an English translation  by Judith Ann Everard (Saint Helier 2009). At Lille you find also easily the links to commentaries by Berault (1612), Routier (1748), Le Royer de Tournerie (1778), and also the remarkable Dictionnaire analytique, historique, etymologique, critique et interpretatif de la coutume de Normandie by Daniel Houard (4 vol., Rouen 1780-1782). The Tarlton Law Library of the University of Texas at Austin has a small but remarkable online exhibition on the history of legal dictionaries, featuring also Houard. At the Hathi Trust digital library you can find his Traités sur les coutumes anglo-normandes (4 vol., Rouen 1776). In this digital library you find also the edition by A.J. Marnier of the ârrets present in a number of manuscripts, Établissements et coutumes, assises et arrêts de l’échiquier de Normandie, au treiziéme siècle (1207 à 1245) (Paris 1839). Let’s not forget to put the law of Normandy in the perspective of the droit coutumier at large. The Centre Lorrain d’Histoire du Droit has put the four volumes of Charles Bourdot de Richebourg’s Nouveau Coutumier General (…) de France (Paris 1724) online. The center at Nancy, too, maintains the Bibliographie d’histoire du droit en langue française, no laurels needed.

The legacy of Normandy’s law

The medieval customary law of Normandy is still living law on the Channel Islands, especially on Jersey. Willem Zwalve wrote about the use of the old Norman customary law in a case at Jersey from 2001, ‘Snell vs. Beadle. The Privy Council on Roman law, Norman customary law and the ius commune‘, in: “Viva vox iuris romani”: Essays in honour of Johannes Emil Spruit, L. de Ligt (ed.) (Amsterdam 2002) 379-386, available online at the digital repository of the University of Leiden. For Jersey the study by Charles Sydney Le Gros, Traité du droit coutumier de l’île de Jersey (Jersey 1943; reprint Saint Helier 2007) has a position somewhat akin to that of works stemming from the Romano-Dutch tradition in South-Africa. At Guernsey lawyers do look for time to time to the Coutumes des bailliage, duché et prévôté d’Orléans et ressort d’iceux by Robert Joseph Pothier (Paris 1740 and later editions). The edition Paris 1780 has been digitized at Gallica. His Traité des obligations (1761) and other treatises were destined to influence the creation of the Code civil, and it is remarkable that this earlier work, too, still has its area of influence.

Large parts of the digitized French cultural heritage can be found using the Patrimoine numérique website. I looked at institutions in Normandy. Normannia is Normandy’s digital library. The Patrimoine site mentions it, but the URL of the website is lacking. As for now I could find for the field of legal history just a few things. Using the rather limited search functionality – just lists ordered by date, author and title – I did only find a small book from 1786 called Recherches historiques sur les droits de la province de Normandie and some Caen guild statutes from 1679, both OCR scanned. The Bibliothèque municipale of Caen has digitized books, but these can only be consulted on spot, and I could not reach the website. A list at Bibliopedia offers you a handy selection of French digital libraries. The municipal library of Rouen has a database with selected images, also from manuscripts. For searching literature on Normandy the Catalogue Collectif Normand can help you, as does the earlier Bibliographie Normande in the journal Annales de Normandie. Les Normands, peuples d’Europe is a portal at Caen. Dipouest is a database at the Université Rennes-2  for searching articles on the history of Ouest-France in scientific journals.

Of course I am aware that much more can be said. Just one example: the libraries of Yale and Harvard, too, have rich holdings for the history of French customary law. It has been a tour d’horizon of Normandy. If you really want to look further into French legal history you might as well have a look at the recent guide to histoire du droit en ligne created for the Jurisguide website of the Université Paris-I by Isabelle Fructus of the Bibliothèque Cujas. At the website of this library you can still visit the online exhibit on the bicentenary of the Code civil (1804-2004) which has a generous section on earlier French law, including the various coutumes.

A postscript

In November 2011 Harvard Law School announced the acquisition and digitalization of a newly found medieval manuscript of the Summa de legibus Normannie. Charles Donahue Jr. comments on the manuscript with the sigle HLS MS 220.

A guide to researching coutumes

Only belatedly I noticed the short guide to the official redaction and reform in the sixteenth century of French coutumes provided in 2009 by Isabelle Brancourt, a scholar blogging about her research on the Parlement de Paris in the eigtheenth century. She notes the bibliography by Martine Grinbert on this process of redaction, Ecrire les coutumes. Les droits seigneuriaux en France (Paris 2006).

Bibliographical information and links

Even though this is another late addition, mentioning the website of the journal Tabularia edited at the Université de Caen is useful. You will find not only digitized issues of this journal, but also a yearly bibliographical chronicle and more relevant links for the history of Normandy. The Université de Rouen has started the project Bibliothèque David Hoüard: bibliothèque numérique de droit normand with digitized works from the sixteenth century onwards on customary law in Normandy. At the website of the Université de Caen linguists have created under the title Français légal ancien de Normandie digital versions of a number of old legal texts from Normandy.

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