Jacques Cujas and legal humanism

Portrait of Jacques Cujas - Musée du Vieux Toulouse - source Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Jacques Cujas – anonymous painting, 17th century – Musée du Vieux Toulouse, Inv 22.5.1 – image Wikimedia Commons

Tracing the influence of famous lawyers is not a straightforward thing. Some scholars were already famous during their life, others exerted a lasting influence through their pupils or by their published works, sometimes only decades after their death. Reputation can be an obstacle to critical assessment of achievements. The recent publication of a monograph about Jacques Cujas (1522-1590) helps to create a new focus on Cujacius and his importance as a lawyer, professor and legal humanist. On March 28-29, 2022 a conference will be held at Paris with a telling title, Jacques Cujas 1522-2022. La fabrique d’un “grand juriste”. In this post I will look at the congress program and look at some aspects of Cujas’ life and work as foundations for his influence, first in France and later in other European countries and beyond Europe.

The importance of biography

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Xavier Prévost (Université Bordaux) is responsible for bringing Cujas into the limelight again in this century. After his voluminous thesis Jacques Cujas (1522-1590), Le droit à l’épreuve de l’humanisme, defended in 2012 in Paris, he published Jacques Cujas (1522-1590), Jurisconsulte humaniste (Genève 2015) and a shorter work Jacques Cujas (1522-1590) (Paris 2018) as a part of the series Histoire litttéraire de la France.

A quick search for more information sheds light on the scale of the commemoration of Cujas’ five-hundredth birthday. The platform France Mémoire has created an online dossier for the 2022 activities around Cujas. The Bibliothèque Cujas, the central law library of the Université de Paris, will launch on March 28 a virtual exhibition about Cujas, a most welcome thing. Obviously the link to the online exhibit does not yet function. The physical exhibition at this library well be on display until June 24, 2022. Prévost will hold a lecture in Paris on the theme “La (seconde) Renaissance du droit romain” on March 17, 2022.

The program (PDF) of the conference on March 28-29, 2022, shows a most sensible approach in several layers which also can be helpful to view other legal humanists in Early Modern Europe in different settings. The local approach contains papers looking at some places where Cujas was active, Turin in the paper by Valerio Gigliotti (Turin) and Toulouse in the paper by Florent Garnier (Toulouse). The section on patrimoine (heritage) has the arts and literature as its subject. Jacqueline Lalouette (Lille) will discuss sculptures of Cujas, and Valérie Hayaert (Warwick) will speak about Cujas and the arts. Literature is the theme in the contribution of Stéphan Geonget (Tours). In the international section the reception of Cujas in Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Dutch Republic will be discussed, with papers by Diego Quaglioni (Trento), John Carins (Edinburgh), Rafael Ramis Barceló, (Universitat de las Illes Balears), and Laurens Winkel (emeritus, Rotterdam). The final section on historiography looks at the representation of Cujas in general history, for example in biographical dictionaries during the Ancien Régime, and of course within the field of legal history, Anne Rousselet-Pimont (Paris) will speak about the place of Cujas in the works of the French arrêtistes. Pierre Bonin (Paris) will discuss dictionaries. Géraldine Cazals (Bordeaux) and Anne-Sophie Chambost (Lyon) will confront the theme of Cujas’ authority, in partciual after the French Revolution.

A very active life

Photo of the Hôtel Cujas, home to the Musée de Berry, Bourges - image: Wikimedia Commons

The sheer number of themes at this two-day conference in itself is already interesting. What made Cujas so special among French lawyers? Let’s look quickly at the main points of Cujas’ life. Either in 1520 or 1522 he saw the light of life in Toulouse, He studied law in his home town. After teaching in Toulouse from 1547 to 1554 he did not become a professor in Toulouse, and this started a career which brought him to a number of French cities: Cahors (1554), Bourges (1555-1556, 1559-1565, and 1575-1590), Valence (1557-1559 and 1567-1575). In 1575 he taught briefly in Paris, and outside France he lectured in Turin (1566). In Bourges you can visit the Hôtel Cujas, home since 1875 to the Musée de Berry. The variety of cities and his long stay at Bourges pinpoint the fact that he was not just a great successor to Andrea Alciato who had also taught at Bourges, making it into virtually the main French city for legal humanism.

When you start searching for Early Modern printed editions of his works, for example within the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC, St. Andrews) the very first – and quite rare – work called Catalogus legum antiquarum (…) (Paris 1555; USTC no. 154264) has a title showing already the different path he was to follow. A focus on order is clearly visible. Cujas devoted much time to reconstructing the original works of Roman lawyers such as Ulpian. Cujas did not just study the Justinian Digest, Code and the institutes. He published one of the earliest critical editions of the Codicis Theodosiani libri XVI (Lyon 1566; USTC no. 158074). Writing a commentary on the Libri Feudorum was not the next thing you would expect. Among the earliest edition of his De feudis libri V is an edition Heidelberg 1567 (USTC no. 629710). He commented also the Justinian Novellae (first published as Novellarum constitutionum impp. Justiniani expositio (Cologne 1569; USTC no. 678571). Thus Cujas studied the Corpus Iuris Civilis in its full width, but he studied also earlier and later sources for Roman law. He did not bring the first edition of the Basilica, but he certainly drew attention to this importance source of Byzantine law with his Latin translation [Basilikon liber LX (…) (Lyon 1566; USTC no. 154652).

With Cujas you see not just a professor with only interest in Roman law in its original form. Like many other Early Modern law professors he wrote legal consultations and published them, too [Consultationum liber singularis (Cologne 1577; USTC no. 664682)]. However, characteristically he opened his collection with an edition of the Consultatio veteris cuiusdam iurisconsulti, the very editio princeps of this text. I will not mention here any other titles of his works, apart from his Observationes et emendationes, a modest title taken from other humanists expanded in every edition. All in all the USTC gives references to some 180 editions of Cujas’ works, most of them published after his death in 1590. Of course this is just an impression of Cujas’ printed legacy: The USTC stops at 1650, and searching in for example the Heritage of the Printed Book database (CERL) will show you re-editions of his works until the mid-eighteenth century. For Cujas at least four Opera omnia editions exist. It is good to note that Ernst Spangenberg devoted many pages of his study Jacob Cujas und seine Zeitgenossen (Leipzig 1822) to a detailed bibliographical overview of Cujas’ published works.

Cujas taught scholars who became famous in their own right, too. Jacques-Auguste De Thou, Josephus Justus Scaliger, Jacques Labitte, Antoine Loysel, Pierre Daniel, Pierre Pithou and Étienne Pasquier are just some of them. Through Pierre Daniel some of Cujas’ manuscripts came in the hands of Jacques Bongars (1554-1612) whose large library eventually arrived at the Burgerbibliothek in Bern. You might jump to the conclusion all these men occupied themselves mainly with either law or Classical Antiquity, but for example Antoine Loysel (1536-1617) studied in particular French customary law. Étienne Pasquier (1529-1615) was a poet, but also a member of the royal Chambre des comptes.

Influence beyond borders

A Dutch and even Utrecht connection with Cujacius is mentioned by the indefatigable Danish historian Jen Jensen Dodt van Flensburg (1800-1847) who devoted so much energy in unlocking sources for the history of Utrecht. In his article ‘Doctoraal diploma, door Jac. Cujacius in 1586 verleend aan Everard van de Poll, Utrechtenaar’, Bijdragen tot regtsgeleerdheid en wetgeving 5 (1830) 67-69 – online at Delpher – he gives the text of the doctoral degree conferred by Cujas in Bourges to Van de Poll (died 1602). later on the advocate of the States of Utrecht, a benefactor of the city Utrecht with his workhouse and the posthumous gift of his library to the city library, eventually part of the collections of Utrecht University Library. Interestingly this text also mentions Bernardinus de Monte Valdone (died 1618), a student from The Hague, who later on served as the advocaet-fiscael of the Hof van Utrecht, the provincial tribunal. Dodt wrote more about Cujas in another article for the Bijdragen tot regtsgeleerdheid en wetgeving 6 (1831-1832) 1-33.

In Cujas we see a scholar aiming not only to find out about the original order of Roman law, but also preparing new approaches to contemporary law by reinvigorating the study of Roman law, and inspiring numerous students to follow the paths of both law and history as twin subjects. Cujas was able to inspire his own students and later generations with his wide knowledge and deep insights. No wonder he defies easy labeling, and this invites scholars since four centuries to look at his achievements and legacy from many perspectives. The sixteenth century saw in France a galaxy of legal humanists, each of them with distinct qualities taking part of the emerging Republic of Letters, and influencing much else, too, in politics, government and the development of law and justice in their age. Studying legal humanists helps you to rethink approaches of legal history for our time, too.

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