Opening a book: Legal consulting in the Dutch Republic

A post at my blog in December brought you to three foundations created in Utrecht by seventeenth-century Dutch lawyers. In this post I will look again at one of them, Evert van de Poll, and in particular at traces of his work as a lawyer. Van de Poll had become the advocate of the States of Utrecht and councillor in the provincial court of Utrecht. In his will he had stipulated his books should become part of the municipal library, in 1634 an important collection at the start of the university library at Utrecht. The books in the spotlight of this contribution which fits into my series Opening a book are collections with legal consultations from the seventeenth century. Dealing with them is not a straightforward business, and I will show here some of the problems you encounter when approaching this juridical genre.

J. van Kuyk, the author of the brief biographical notice on Evert van de Poll (around 1560-1602) in the Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek (10 vol., Leiden, 1911-1937) II [1912], col. 1114-1115 – online at Biografisch Portaal – refers to a juridical consultation signed by Van de Poll and included in the Hollandsche Consultatiën, in the third volume published in 1662, no. 95. Alas tracking this reference is not as straightforward as Van Kuyk might have thought, because there are several editions of the Consultatiën, advysen en advertissementen, gegeven ende geschreven by verscheyden treffelijcke rechts-geleerden in Holland. It took me some time to find a digital version of this work. Joannes Naeranus published at Rotterdam editions of this work in six volumes, but he did not publish the volumes in consecutive order, a nice challenge for bibliographers. The first set appeared at Rotterdam between 1645 and 1666 with also an Amsterdam version of the third volume (1647), the second set between 1648 and 1669, and the third set between 1661 and 1670. A fourth set was printed from 1683 onward by his successor Isaac Naeranus. There are also sets printed in Amsterdam from 1716 and 1728, in their turn also reprinted.

The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog does not bring you to a digital version of the right volume from this edition, and after trying some portals to digitized books – actually the Dutch Delpher portal, the portal of the Polish Digital Libraries Federation and the Spanish Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico – it slowly dawned upon me this book might be included at a subscriber’s only project. and thus out of reach for the average researcher. The Firm with the Famous Online Search Engine has digitized volumes from the edition Amsterdam-Utrecht 1736-1768 in the library of the University of Amsterdam, and at Amsterdam are other sets as well. By sheer luck I started my online search in subscribers’ online collections with Early European Books [EEB], a commercial project with for users in the Netherlands free access to books held at the Dutch Royal Library. At first I seemed to have asked for too much, because when looking for consultatiën only other works with Dutch juridical consultations from the seventeenth and eighteenth century appeared to have been digitized, in itself a substantial harvest.


Only when I tried rather desperately to find digitized copies of works published by Naeranus the third volume of the edition Rotterdam 1662 [4°, [8], 716, [68] p.] did appear, and something else became clear, too. On close inspection of the first thirteen results from a title search at EBB I should have noticed the five digitized volumes of the Consultatiën are not from the same edition. For one volume the actual number of volumes of a set was indicated in the search results, and thus I wondered why the Royal Library seemingly did not digitize an entire set. To all appearances it seems that for a number of works in EEB only a part of the title has been included within the meta-data. In the screen print here above you can see “Het derde deel” has been entered as the title, and not the full title, even though you can see at the right the actual title page. For some other volumes the part of the title with the volume number has been recorded as an alternative title. You can imagine how I looked at my computer screen in utter disbelief at this digitization record! A proper description of multi-volume works is distinctly different. Let the record show that the library catalogue at The Hague does contain correct information, but only the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) makes you unequivocally aware of the exact composition of the sets, but neither catalogue mentions the digitization, something the STCN does normally. The Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, the Dutch Central Catalogue, only accessible for subscribers and cardholders of the Royal Library, adds only for one eighteenth-century set the digitization by The Firm (6 vol., Amsterdam: Boom and Van Poolsum, 1736-1768). The NCC’s information about holding libraries is not complete, and without the STCN you would not notice this defect. Anyway a caveat lector seems first of all appropriate when you use Early European Books.

Dutch books in American libraries

Logo Hathi Trust

When searching all this information for your benefit, and surely also to learn something myself, I realized the great search engine of the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue does not offer much in the field of American libraries apart from the Hathi Trust and the Internet Archive. WorldCat is not always helpful with books printed before 1800, although I did look at the beta version of OCLC’s new Classify tool to see how this set is described. Luckily you can since a few months search online in The National Union-Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints (…) [NUC] (754 vol., London 1968-1981), digitized for the Hathi Trust Digital Library at the University of Michigan with the help of other institutions and the original publisher. You can search individual volumes of the NUC, but when you use the advanced full-text search mode with the full-text search field for your own search term(s) and setting the title field to “National union catalog, pre-1956”, you can conduct a multi-volume search. The Library of Congress provides a handy PDF with the tables of content for each NUC volume. The only additional trick is probably memorizing quickly at least some of the abbreviated codes for library locations printed at the start of each volume. Unfortunately it seems only a copy at the Library of Congress appears in the NUC, first without a clear indication in vol. 25, p. 529, but completed in the supplementary volume 713, p. 247. In the midst of all bibliographical details it is perhaps necessary to say the Hathi Trust Digital Library does not contain any digitized set of the Consultatiën.

Frontispice first volume of the 1648-1666 edition of the Consultatiën

Frontispice of the first volume of the 1648-1669 Rotterdam edition of the Consultatiën – image Yale University, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Rare 26 10-0473 v.1

Another approach to find sets in the United States might be checking only the catalogues of some major collections where for good reasons you can expect the presence of a particular work. The Library of Congress has indeed sets from both the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, Harvard has two sets from the eighteenth century. The Robbins Collection at Berkeley has what seems to me according to the Melvyl catalog for Californian libraries a mixed set printed at Rotterdam, and two eighteenth-century sets. Columbia has three eighteenth-century sets, and there is one incomplete seventeenth-century set with some volumes from later editions. The Orbis catalog of Yale University Library does not include the set of the second – or maybe the first because of the third volume printed in 1647 at Amsterdam? – Rotterdam edition at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, its volumes are described in the Morris catalog. I did not find any set at Stanford, Cornell and Boston College.

Title page third volue (1662)

The title page of the third volume (1662) – copy Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit – image STCN

At this point it might at last become very clear that you will need to create or use reliable bibliographical information in order to determine and assess exactly which book you are looking at. How sure can we be that the sets mentioned above are indeed original sets? The library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main houses a very large collection of old Dutch juridical books, and there is a most detailed separate catalogue by Douglas Osler, Catalogue of books printed in Spain, Portugal and the Southern and Northern Netherlands from the beginning of printing to 1800 in the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main 2000). The STCN gives detailed bibliographical information about each volume of the various sets with consultatiën, advysen en advertissementen, in fact more than the online catalogue of the library at Frankfurt. However, having a printed catalogue at your disposal is not always enough. The catalogue of old books at the Library of the Hoge Raad, the Dutch Supreme Court, does not indicate the printing date of the volumes in their sets.1 The Law Library of Utrecht University does provide in its own summary catalogue and in the main library catalogue sufficient indication of each volume within a set, thus corroborating our information. You will need such information in the face of sequels to our subject, such as the Nieuwe consultatiën, and because of the existence of similar sets for Gelre (Guelders) and Utrecht, with often very similar titles.

Van de Poll cum suis on feudal law

I had better tell you now more about consultation no. 95. It deals with a case in feudal law in Guelders. The case description and the consultation are to be found at pp. 319-323 and were signed on September 20, 1597 by Cornelis Oem, Folkert van Montzema, “E. Pollio” and Folkert Oem. The books from Van de Poll’s legacy at Utrecht University show as their provenance ex dono E. Pollionis. The councillors of the court at Utrecht issued this opinion in an appeal procedure from the provincial court of Guelders where Pieter Doois, dean of the church in Deventer, had brought the case against his younger brother Dirk concerning a fief called Madakker. Earlier Pieter had sold the possession of this fief at the feudal court of the provost (proosdij) of Salland in Deventer. Among the issues at stake was the jurisdiction and law valid for cases concerning a fief, that of its location or that of the court under which it belonged, in this case either the feudal customary law of the proosdij or those of the duchy of Guelders. To complicate matters the appellant pointed also to the matrimonial contract from 1556 which had been confirmed by the lord of his fief. With remarkable speed and economy the councillors at Utrecht decided that this case fell under the feudal law of Guelders. The conditions in the matrimonial contract were null and void. This learned opinion mixes Dutch – with a distinct Eastern flavour – printed in a Fraktur like type with sentences and references in Latin printed in Roman type. Van Kuyk did probably use a register to the six volumes in order to find this reference, probably the earliest register printed in 1696 as a seventh volume of the last seventeenth-century set. The 1696 edition can be viewed online at Early European Books, and I did not find an author index in this volume. Van Kuyk probably used another edition.

Some conclusions

At the end of this post I would like to stress how necessary it is to conduct a full bibliographical search into the printing history of these Dutch consultations before pronouncing with any certainty on the completeness of any set. In this case it is not enough to rely exclusively on the main online catalogues and meta-catalogues. A second conclusion is that even if you are used to sailing the oceans of law and old editions there are some foggy regions. In fact I have hesitated very much about writing this post which does offer only a glimpse of much more work to be done before using these sets with legal consultations in a sensible way. Of course it is very useful that the editors of Grotius’ Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid, F. Dovring, H.F.W.D. Fischer and E.M. Meijers (eds.) (2nd ed., Leiden 1965) provide a concise overview of consultations signed by Grotius on the base of the 1696 register to the Hollandsche Consultatiën, but they only copied the seventeenth-century summaries. In my view finding an edition of old legal consultations is just a start. The background of the lawyers and the edition should rightfully claim our attention, too, in order to establish its value as a historical source. It is seducing to use digital collections as a kind of sea from which you can haul your information without much ado, but alas this is an illusion exposed already long ago. My encounter with Early European Books may serve as a warning that digital resources can be deceptive. Digital libraries might neglect bibliographical accuracy at their own peril, and this is true for scholars, too.


1. P.P. Schmidt, Catalogus oude drukken in de bibliotheek van de Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Zwolle 1988) and Joost Pikkemaat, The old library of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hilversum 2008), with on a cd-rom Schmidt’s catalogue.

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