Between French and Roman law: Li livres de jostice et de plet

Image of the Livres de jostice de plet - image source: ENC / BNFA few days after the celebrations of Quatorze Juillet, the French national day, I looked in the digital library with editions of the École nationale de Chartes, one of the French grands établissements, the famous school for the training of archivists and palaeographers. Not only can you find here a heading Édition de textes juridiques, but the text edited here anew and online since November 2016, Li livres de jostice et de plet, belongs to the classic legal texts of medieval France. The edition appeared online in 2016. Interestingly this text survives in its entirety only in a single manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. fr. 2844). The text shows clear influences of Roman law, a fact sometimes used to frown upon. How sensible is it to judge the value of its text depending on the presence or absence of influences? It seems useful to look at it here in some detail, also because the new edition curated by Graziella Pastore comes into its own thanks to an accompanying website with more information, a combination that could serve as a model.

Between two laws

Li livres de jostice de plet is a treatise written in Old French and composed in the mid-thirteenth century in the Orléanais, the region around Orleans. Its twenty chapters follow the divisions of the Digesta Iustiniani: The chapters 1 to 10 follow the Digestum Vetus (D. 1 to D. 24.2), chapters 11 and 12 correspond with the Infortiatum (D. 24.3-D. 38), and the remaining chapters 13 to 20 with the Digestum Novum (D. 38-D. 50). The university of Orleans was famous for its law faculty, a fact which came into new light only since the twentieth century in research conducted at Leiden. I will refer to both universities later on.

In the edition published in 1850 by P.N. Rapetti – online in the Internet Archive – the parts of the chapters which contained translations of the Justinian Digest had been skipped. The manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. français 2844 has been digitized (Gallica). Some rather prominent notes written in later centuries show up on the cover and the first pages of the black-and-white digitized microfilm. The description of the edition explains that two other manuscripts have been adduced to complete textual lacunae in the part corresponding to the Infortiatum.The manuscript Bordeaux BM, 354 can be consulted online in the Selène digital library of the Bibliothèque Municipale in Bordeaux, but I could nof find an online version of the other manuscript, Rouen BM 794. The use of these manuscript reminded met about my post last year about medieval laws in translation where I did not mention the Livres de jostice et de plet. In the online Catalogue collectif de France you can restrict your search to manuscripts and archives, and you will find in it information about both manuscripts, although this often leads you only to the nineteenth-century Catalogue général. On the other hand, the information about the manuscript BnF, ms. fr. 2844 given in the online edition is also very general. In the new edition all paragraphs with direct translations from the Digest are given in blue print.

In my earlier post I referred to the online bibliography of the Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français (DEAF), and this time I was much more aware how succinct the information it gives is. Interestingly there are two articles for the Livres de jostice et de plet, the first for the old edition without the Digest fragments, the second for those parts taken over from Roman law edited by Pastore. The entry in the DEAF points even to some mistakes in her edition.

Another rather elemental thing jumped into my face: How should one translate the title of this treatise, and where do we find online information about Old French? Jostice is clearly to be associated with justice, but plet is not a quite transparent word. Luckily a number of French dictionaries can be consulted online, including those for medieval French. The ATILF platform leads you to research projects, digital text corpora and dictionaries such as the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français for medieval French between 1300 and 1500, and the bibliography for the Godefroy, the nickname of the Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle edited by Frédéric Godefroy (10 vol., Paris 1880-1905), digitized in the Gallica digital library of the BnF. It is also very nifty accessible at Lexilogos with an option to switch dictionaries. Godefroy brings you to the word plait, with as its primary meaning “accord, convention, traité”, but also “procès, querelle, jugement, discussion”, to mention only the most relevant meanings. The compact dictionary edited by the famous linguist A. Greimas, Dictionnaire de l’ancien français jusqu’au milieu du XIVe siècle (Paris 1968) gives for plait seven main meanings with brief examples.

The etymology of plait is revealing: Plait stems from placitum, explained in the lemma plaid as being conform to the will. In Italian legal history the placita are charters with verdicts which contain in a number of cases formulaic references to Justinian’s Digest. Only in the eleventh century such references clearly point to actual use of the Digest. The online version of the DEAF with a preliminary version of the letters G to K gives a very elaborate lemma for justice and its various spellings. It is seducing to translate the title of the treatise with an alliteration, The Book of Justice and judgment, but “The Book of Justice and Procedure” seems a reasonable translation.

The second website

Banner "Li livres de jostice et de plet"

On purpose I wrote the first part of my post without using the accompanying website, in the hope that it will correct some of my findings and anyway tell us much more than I can do here. However, I cannot hide some mixed feelings in my first impressions. The second website is to a large extent a kind of pilot project for the proper use of meta-data. With just twenty titles in the bibliography and five persons discussed in the biographical section this seems too much of a good thing, especially when you see the wide range of possible output forms and the thoughtful addition of preset links to a host of websites, catalogues and digital libraries. Pastore mentions at the second site only the 1918 offprint of an article by Henri Stein, ‘Conjectures sur l’auteur du Livre de jostice et de plet’, Nouvelle revue historique de droit français et étranger 41 (1917) 346-382, but it figures correct in the bibliographical section of her introduction to the online edition. Stein’s contribution is not included at all in the online Bibliographie d’histoire du droit en langue française (Université de Lorraine, Nancy). The bibliography at the second website consists of printed and online editions of archival resources and texts, but the critical studies do not figure in it. The DEAF bibliography refers to a short article by Jaana Seppänen, ‘”Livre de jostice et de plet” – un texte à rééditer?’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 91 (1990) 153-156.

The section Le manuscrit brings you to an embedded version of the digitized microfilm of the manuscript, and to a link for the description of it in the Jonas database of the IRHT at Paris-Orléans. This database with a repertory of medieval manuscripts with texts in medieval French and Occitan gives a short description of the manuscript in the BnF – essentially: written on parchment, 200 folia, dimensions: 350 x 270 mm; language: French (langue d’oil); datation: 1260-1275; origin: Orléanais-Île de France, and the incipit of the main text – and refers for more details to an upcoming article by Graziella Pastore and [Frédéric] Duval, ‘La tradition française de l’Infortiat et le Livre de jostice et de plet’ in the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, one of the oldest European history journals. The issues from 1840 to 2012 can be consulted online at Persée. The entry in the Jonas database does not give the first name of Duval. You might want to check in the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii how many medievalists share the name Duval! At Academia you can look at a poster created by Pastore concerning the matters to be discussed in the promised article.

The Jonas database does not indicate the presence at the start of the BnF manuscript of a royal ordinance and some chapters of the Établissements de Saint Louis at fol. 1-4r, things duly noted by Rapetti. His introduction is certainly still worth reading. For further study of this second legal text the translation by F.R.P. Akehurst, The Etablissements de Saint Louis. Thirteenth-century legal texts from Tours, Orléans and Paris (Philadelphia, 1996) offers itself as a starting point. Of course Pastore should get credits for giving some information about five historical figures around the Livres de jostice et de plet, but sometimes you would want to have not only references to old editions or to Stein’s article. These persons were mainly officers with a royal charge, for example baillif (bailli), and their presence is suggestive. A recent essay by Bernard Ribémont, ‘Compiling and writing a legal treatise in France: the Livre de Jostice et de Plet’, in: News from the Raven: Essays from Sam Houston State University on Medieval and Renaissance Thought, Darci N. Hill (ed.) (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014) 133-142, gives you an idea of paths to pursue. Ribémont does look in particular at the role of medieval canon law and the way canon law texts were translated and adapted in the Livres de jostice et de plet.

Between Paris and Orleans

In my view there is another fruitful way to approach these legal treatises, by paying attention to the university of Orleans. Only last year the online legal history journal Clio@Themis published a special dedicated to the theme La forge du droit. Naissance des identités juridiques en Europe (IVe-XIIIe siècles), “The forge of law. The birth of legal identities in Europe (4th-13th centuries)”, with an article by Kees Bezemer (Leiden), ‘Jacques de Revigny (d. 1296): Roman law as a means to shape French law’. His footnotes refer to a number of his own publications, including ‘French customs in the commentaries of Jacques de Revigny’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 62 (1994) 81-112. Bezemer devoted a book to Revigny, What Jacques saw. Thirteenth-century France through the eyes of Jacques de Revigny, professor of law at Orleans (Frankfurt am Main, 1997). Custom law in the eyes of De Revigny is the subject of the thesis of Laurent Waelkens (Universiteit Leuven) defended thirty years ago at Leiden, La théorie de la coutume chez Jacques de Révigny: édition et analyse de sa répétition sur la loi De quibus (D. 1, 3, 32) (Leiden, 1984). Sadly the online bibliography at Nancy does not contain this study of Waelkens, and for Bezemer only one publication has been entered. Bezemer and Waelkens follow the lead of the late Robert Feenstra who had entered the paths first walked by Eduard Maurits Meijers.

We will probably have to look also at an earlier generation of professors at Orleans, to the predecessors of Jacques de Revigny and Pierre de Belleperche, such as Guido de Cumis and Jean de Monchy. In this respect and for a good balance I have to mention a study by Marie Bassano, “Dominus domini mei dixit. . . “; Enseignement du droit et construction d’une identité des juristes et de la science juridique. Le studium d’Orléans (c. 1230-c. 1320) (Ph.D. thesis, Université Paris-2, 2008).

There is a clear need to look past the blinkers! From my point of view there seems to be a gap between an outdated belief on one side that any influence of Roman law in French medieval legal history is harmful, perhaps because this legal system contributed to the power of the French kings, and on the other side the fact that Roman law offered itself as a normative system with the possibility to give legal customs a proper place. The French kings had indeed strong ambitions to become as powerful as their English counterpart and the German emperor, and they, too, enlisted everything and everyone that seemed useful for that purpose, with or without explicit use of Roman law. The online edition of Graziella Pastore should indeed offer yet another stimulus to look again at France in the thirteenth century in an open way. Using the French translations of Meijers’ articles concerning Orléans and French law provided by Robert Feenstra and H.FW.D. Fischer [Études d’histoire du droit (4 vol., Leiden 1956-1973)], and the studies of Bezemer and Waelkens, often accessible in French, give us the critical mass to do this. Let’s hope Pastore quickly puts things in order at the second website and brings us the promised new article in the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes which should do justice to the almost two centuries long tradition of the École nationale des Chartes.


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