The galaxy of French legal humanism

Is it old-fashioned to focus on the lives of individual lawyers or is it old school thinking to focus on them as a group? A nice synthesis worthy of Hegel would try to bring the study of a particular profession and biographical studies together within a new framework. Anyone studying the great and small legal humanists of the sixteenth century has to face the fact that the subjects of their research walked both the legal roads of this period and the paths of humanist scholarship. They focused on many aspects of history with a predilection for Classical Antiquity, its languages and sources. French lawyers were very visible in this field. In this post I would like to look at some online resources in France and elsewhere which help fostering the study of their works, lives, activities and surroundings.

Many places, many names

Some scholarly projects have helped enormously to become aware of the sheer number of people involved with legal humanism. At the very heart of humanism were manifold contacts, often by letter, which crossed the borders of countries and languages. Letters in impeccable Latin following the models of Antiquity served not only as means of communication, but also as shining fruits of the mind. Perhaps the ultimate accolade was writing to and receiving an answer from Erasmus. He and his correspondents were fully aware that their letters were bound to be copied and made public. In a sense remarkably close to the sharing of information on the web in our time the republic of letters of the sixteenth century was a very open society, too. P.S. Allen’s edition of Erasmus’ letters [Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami (12 vol., Oxford 1906-1958; reprint Oxford 1992)] was and is the single most influential project to stimulate research on Erasmus and his contemporaries. Since a couple of years Allen’s edition and the old Opera omnia editions of Erasmus’ works are being digitized at Erasmus Online. The volumes of the modern Opera omnia have been already digitized, and can be downloaded as PDF’s at OAPEN. Translations in English and Dutch are among the modern projects to make them even more accessible. At the website of the Warburg Institute you can find a fine overview of the major projects for the edition of letters by humanist scholars, including online inventories and editions, and a useful bibliography. The volumes of the biographical dictionary Contemporaries of Erasmus. A bibliographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, Thomas Deutscher and Peter Bietenholz (eds.) (3 vol. Toronto 1985) help to survey this intricate web of contacts by letters and other writings.

Looking at French humanist lawyers

Logo Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes

However interesting in itself, letters form here the stepping stone to law. Letters and humanists are the very heart of the project in the center of this contribution, Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes (BVH), the Virtual Humanistic Libraries, a project hosted by the Université de Tours. The multiple form bibliothèques draws attention to the presence of materials from several libraries in the Loire region, mainly those at Blois, Bourges, Châteauroux, Tours and Orléans. At the heart is the project Epistemon which started in 1998 for editing and searching humanist texts, in particular letters. The BVH now is home also to texts by humanist scholars, both in digital version and only as text, notarial acts from Tours and manuscripts. An accompanying blog keeps you informed about the latest developments. The section on iconography helps you find images with Iconclass, including some portraits of authors.

In the project MONLOE of the BVH copies of the early editions of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais, Montaigne’s own annotated copy of this work and other books, letters and manuscripts with his notes are being digitized. In May 2013 Ingrid de Smedt (University of Warwick) detected in the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel a manuscript (Cod. Guelf. 7. 1. Aug. 4to; digitized at Wolfenbüttel) with notes made in 1561 of lectures by François Baudouin (1520-1573) on Roman law and on the title page an owner inscription by Montaigne (1533-1592) (“Michael Montanus”). This manuscript was in fact the first to be tracked down as undoubtedly stemming from the personal library of Montaigne. Montaigne was between 1556 and 1570 a councillor in the Parlement de Bordeaux, one of the mighty provincial courts in Ancien Régime France. The BVH cooperates with the ARTFL project at the University of Chicago, where you will find also a searchable database of the first editions of Montaigne’s Essais, including the famous annotated copy of the edition Bordeaux 1588. Many texts in the BVH can be interrogated with Chicago’s Philologic tool. The University of Chicago maintains a website for Montaigne studies, with apart from digitized early editions a number of current bibliographies.

The blog of the BVH is hosted by the French platform Hypotheses. In fact an announcement at another blog on Hypotheses, Francofil, made me look again at the BVH. A second reason to delve into French digital libraries was the change of address of the digital library of the university of Strasbourg, now named Numistral, and the launch of Numelyo at Lyon. A quick search at Numelyo in its section Provenance des livres anciens brought me to a copy of Sueton’s Lives of the Caesars (Venice: Zani, 1500) (Rés. Inc. 1114) with an inscription that might also be by Montaigne.

Law is not absent at the website of the BVH. I found with the advanced search form for digitized copies with the domaine “droit” 54 books. Among them you will find for example Louis Charendas le Caron, Pandectes ou digeste de droit françois (…) (Lyon: Veyrat, 1597), editions of coutumes, customary law, commentaries on Roman and French law by authors such as Jean de Coras, Jean Imbert, Jean Papon and Pierre Rebuffi. One of the most often printed works is present, too, the Annotationes in Pandectas of Guillaume Budé (1467-1540), in an edition Paris 1542. Nobody should use these editions of Budé’s magnum opus without reading first the articles by Douglas Osler, ‘Budeaus and Roman law’, Ius Commune 13 (1985) 195-212, and ‘Turning the title page’, Rechtshistorisches Journal 6 (1987) 173-182. Budé changed consecutive editions of this work substantially. It would be rash to rely on just one (digitized) edition which you happen to find. Guillaume Budé’s name is used as an acronym, BUDE, for the online searchable database documenting the transmission of classical and medieval authors in manuscripts from the fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century at the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris and Orléans.

Another famous French humanist, Jean Bodin (1529-1596), is the subject of The Bodin Project, a very useful portal at the University of Hull. Bodin studied Roman law at Toulouse and worked ten years as an attorney at the Parlement de Paris. On this portal you will find links to digitized versions of contemporary editions of Bodin’s major works, bibliographies and links to other relevant projects. Particular mention should be made of the source indexes for some of Bodin’s works. Digitized versions of three sixteenth-century editions of Bodin’s works, too, are present at the BVH.

One of the reasons I wanted to look more closely at the BVH project was in fact a misreading. I thought I had seen an announcement on this website about the digitization of a treatise on money valuation by Jacques Cujas (Cuiacius) (1522-1590). Cujas studied law in Toulouse, taught there and more famously at Bourges. It turned out to be a text by Jacques Colas, Suputation nouvellement faicte de la valeur de monnais et des abuz dicelles, a manuscript from 1557 (Orléans, Bibliothèque municipale, Fonds ancien, ms. 629). Cujas is actually absent on the shelves of the BVH. Now Bodin was one of the authors in the sixteenth century writing about monetary issues. He is credited with an early exposition of the quantative theory of money in his 1568 treatise Réponse au paradoxe de M. de Malestroict touchant l’enchérissement de toutes choses, et le moyen d’y remédier. The website at Hull points to a digital version of the Bibliographie critique des éditions anciennes de Jean Bodin by Roland Crahay, Marie-Thérèse Isaac and Marie-Thérèse Lenger (Brussels 1992), where you can quickly find detailed information about the editions and existing copies of this text and other works by Bodin. In the case of the Réponse your attention will be drawn also to translations in Latin and German. The Latin version first appeared in a collection of monetary tracts and consilia (legal consultations) with the title De monetis et re numaria edited by Reinier Budelius (Coloniae Aggripinae: Gymnicus, 1591; digitized at the University of Ghent). Among the other texts in this volume are two consilia on cases which centered around monetary devaluation by Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), a Dutch lawyer who became famous for his Topica sive de locis legalibus liber, a work on juridical argumentation. Everardi’s texts can be found at pages 689 to 701 of Budelius’ edition. Chris ten Raa published a study on Consilium nr. 105 van Nicolaas Everaerts (Rotterdam 1978). No version of Bodin’s monetary treatise is present at the BVH or at The Bodin Project.

I have looked for digital projects concerning other French sixteenth-century legal humanists such as Hugues Doneau (Donellus, 1527-1591), François Hotman (Hotomannus, 1524-1590), François Douaren (Duarenus 1509-1559), Denys Godefroy (Gothofredus, 1549-1622) and Jacques de Thou (Thuanus, 1553-1617), but until now I found only for François du Jon (Franciscus Junius, 1545-1602) a digital project, The Junius Institute at the Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.

On using the Universal Short Title Catalogue

Screenprint of the search screen of the USTC

Musing over the issue of digital versions I realized that a search for the works of French sixteen-century lawyers would make an excellent test case for the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), a project hosted at the University of St. Andrews with French books printed until 1600 as its original core. In October 2013 a new version of the USTC website was launched. The project is an ambitious companion to other short-title catalogues such as the ISTC for incunables, the ESTC for English books (1473-1800), the STCN for the Netherlands (1501-1800) and STCV, its Flemish counterpart. The bibliographical information for the works of Bodin makes a fine example. For this project copies of French books have been inspected and described at many libraries. Supplementary information from other bibliographical works is summarily indicated. For the monetary treatise its existence in print thanks to and literally as a companion to a tract by Jean Cherruyt, seigneur de Malestroit, is duly noted.

Mistakes do occur in the USTC. I do not think that a rare 1509 treatise Repertoyre et table tres exquis et familiers selon l’ordre des lettres de l’abc was written by our Jean Bodin. The first edition of the Topica by Nicolaus Everardi (1516) is ascribed to one of his sons, the poet Nicolaus Grudius, himself a brother of the more famous Neolatin poet Janus Secundus. In my Ph.D. thesis defended in 1994 I could already indicate rather more copies, and it is easy to add references to digitized copies of the first edition in 1516 and later editions in the Digitale Sammlungen of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich; in a post on this blog I give further information. Better than deploring these faults – or any omission – is simply realizing the history of the USTC’s primary focus on France still has consequences. However, it seems at first strange to find exactly one work by Cujacius, but when you look for Cujas, his name in French, you will find rather more! For the rest one can place questions marks about the tagging of Bodin’s treatise in the USTC. In most cases an edition of this treatise has the classification “Economics”, in one case “Jurisprudence”. It goes without saying that the USTC does indicate digitized copies in a fair number of cases, but it is not an all-embracing repertory of digitized books published in the sixteenth century.

The USTC can show you other things or lead to interesting questions. If you search for works on economics you will find a surprisingly large number of works written either in Dutch or coming from the Low Countries. In my view the USTC can help you framing and refining questions about the use of language, the large number of works published in a specific period or on a particular subject, or the favorite format of books. In an ideal world you could perhaps add a second preset field to distinguish among subjects for the classification “Academic dissertations”. The indication of languages for this class is unfortunate when for example a dissertation defended in Italy and written in Latin is nevertheless classified as Italian. It seems wise to use the resources of the USTC as an additional tool, and not as your only source of information, something which is anyway for any resource only seldom advisable, and as always you will have to check the information it provides.

Approaching French humanist lawyers online

The BVH and the USTC are just one of the gateways you might like to use to find digitized books of French humanist lawyers. On the page for digital libraries of Rechtshistorie, my legal history website, you will find links to some twenty French digital libraries. Some of them offer quick access to sources on general themes such as legislation, jurisprudence, verdicts (arrêts), customary law, consultations and legal dictionaries. In particular the – also recently restyled – portal Fontes Historiae Iuris (Université Lille-2) is very helpful for quick orientation, even when the digital editions have sometimes been poorly scanned at Gallica. Let’s smile about the statement that you will not need to look any further! For some regions special websites bring you to the coutumes, the customary law, with often both the texts of these resources and learned commentaries on them. At Bibliopedia you can find a very detailed list of French digital libraries, but alas without the majority of websites dedicated to the history of French law. In 2011 I wrote two posts on French legal history with a somewhat closer focus, the first on the law of Normandy, the second on a number of research institutions in Paris which are relevant for legal historians.

A service akin to Fontes Historiae Iuris for French legal history, but on a wider scale, is provided by the Post-Reformation Digital Library (Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary), a portal to digitized works by protestant authors. It contains for a substantial part links to books digitized elsewhere, and it has a nifty function for searching simultaneously with one action in a number of digital libraries. Other portals will help you as well to track down digitized versions of Early Modern books, for example Early Modern Thought Online of the FernUniversität Hagen, and the Philological Museum maintained by Dana Sutton (University of Birmingham). Another gateway for online resources concerning Early Modern History has been created by Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield). Her portal Early Modern Resources is truly impressive in its wide range and coverage of aspects of European history between 1500 and 1800.

Critics who scold some of these enterprises for their incompleteness, omissions and faults can seem to be hunting themselves for a utopian illusion, the One and Only Source of All Knowledge. French humanist lawyers did not live as recluses, isolated from the turbulent times around them. They did not stick with texts as they happened to look in print, but delved into the background. Ad fontes was one of their favorite mottos. In Reformation Europe they simply could not hide completely from all influences and developments in religion, politics and society. Scholars from other countries, too, came to France to join their efforts. As lawyers they rubbed shoulders with their colleagues in the field of law and justice. Their research into Roman law and other subjects of Classical Antiquity did not happen in an ivory tower. In this century we face the opportunities offered both by portals and by online resources themselves to acquaint us deeper than ever before with a world of five centuries ago with all its differences from and resemblances with our times.

A postscript

For your convenience it is worth knowing the separate website of the MONLOE project, (Montaigne à l’Œuvre) where you have quick access to the resources at Tours concerning Montaigne, including for example the 47 arrêts of the Parlement de Bordeaux for cases dealt with by Montaigne between 1562 and 1567 as a member of this judicial court.

For Cujacius one can benefit from the recent study by Xavier Prévost, Jacques Cujas 1522-1590, jurisconsulte humaniste (Geneva 2015).

Montaigne’s Library is a digital collection within the Cambridge Digital Library with books collected by Gilbert de Botton to recreate Montaigne’s own collection of books. Some of them are indeed his personal copies. Only a few works in it touch upon legal matters.


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