Category Archives: Manuscripts

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 not 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 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, and even better, you can view online a registration of her lecture about Li livres de jostice et de plet given at the École nationale de Chartes on November 29, 2016 for the presentation of the online edition. The results she announces in her lecture make you impatient to read the full story. I will not give a complete spoiler here, but one of the elements which comes into focus is the role of medieval canon law.

The Jonas database does not indicate the presence at the start of the BnF manuscript of a royal ordinance from 1254 (fol. 1r-3r) and some chapters of the Établissements de Saint Louis at fol. 3r-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 (1880-1954).

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 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.

A postscript

On September 22, 2017 Kees Bezemer will retire from Leiden University after 42 years. A meeting in his honour will be held at the Law Faculty.

Slavery depicted and described

The cover of the rare books catalogue on slavery

Image from Marcus Rainsford, “St. Domingo, of het land der zwarten in Hayti en deszelfs omwenteling (…)” (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1806), used on the cover of the catalogue

Sometimes I find a new subject for a blog post by looking in my list with possible themes, sources and legal systems, but every now and then a subject appears without any prior notice. This week I found in my mailbox an announcement about a new catalogue of a rare books seller on the subject of slavery. One of the major changes in world history is surely the way slavery became the object of massive criticism and protests after many centuries of more or less accepted existence. Legal history should provide space not only for the study of the history of legal doctrine, its teaching and legal institutions, but also for the impact of both elements on society. Slavery was kept in place and force by laws and customs. Anyway, slavery is a major subject pointing to the grim consequences of plain injustice and enchained human liberty, but such views, too, have their history. The catalogue (PDF, 3,8 MB) contains items from many countries and periods, and you will find here only a selection to make you curious for more. Many items have beautiful illustrations.

Yet another reason to look at this catalogue is the firm behind it. Thirty years ago the rare books firm publishing this catalogue had its seat at the lovely Oudegracht, the main medieval canal in the old city of Utrecht, but it has retreated to a more rural setting in the hamlet ‘t Goy, now part of the garden city Houten to the south-east of Utrecht. In fact this firm was probably the first antiquarian book firm which I dared to visit as a student. At its present pretty location in a renovated old farm you will find a second antiquarian bookseller who works with the other firm in association. This legal figure is rather interesting, because you will want to be sure who is the seller of valuable items. I will briefly look at this legal aspect, too.

From highlight to highlight

In order to present here a somewhat coherent choice I had better start with the book figuring on the cover of the catalogue shown above. No. 24 in the catalogue with 28 items is the Dutch translation of a work by Marcus Rainsford. Rainsford came to Haiti in 1799 and became an admirer of Toiussaint l’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion. No. 5 is a French translation of a work by Willem Bosman, Voyage de Guinée (…) (Utrecht: Schouten, 1705), according to the catalogue one of the earliest descriptions in print of West-Africa and the slave trade in this region.

Among the most important items is no. 3, an official transcript of the will of a slave owner on Jamaica, the merchant Joseph Barnes († 1829). It is good to note the attached probate form of the court of Doctors’ Commons, and a seal of the prerogative court of the archbishop of Canterbury. Rather special is also a book by Philip Howard, Slave-catching in the Indian ocean (…) (London 1873) who wrote about the Asian slave trade (no. 7). Very rare is the book of Bartholomeus Georgiewitz (Bartol Djurdjevic), Voyage de la saincte cité de Hierusalemme (…) (Liège: Streel/De la Coste, 1600), a book written by a former slave who spent 13 years in Ottoman captivity after the battle of Mohács in Hungary (1526) (no. 9).

The catalogue is really a jigsaw puzzle of items stemming from many countries. In a number of cases we find translations, for instance a French translation of Alexander Grailhe’s plea in the case of the will of the philantropist John McDonogh (1779-1850) (no. 12) who bequeathed a fabulous amount of money for the foundation of public schools in New Orleans and Baltimore with free access for both white and black children. Texas figures in no. 26 with an edition of Ordinances and decrees of the consultation, provisional government of Texas (Houston: National Banner Office, 1838).

North Africa is the region in a book ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de La Faye, Voyage pour la redemption des captifs aux royaumes d’Alger et Tunis (…) (Paris: Sevestre and Giffart, 1721) (no. 18). The story told here concerns three members of the Ordre de la Sainte Trinité who tried to free Christian slaves. East Africa is the subject in no. 11, with two French reports about languages in East and Equatorial Africa and slavery, the first published in Mauritius in 1846 , the second in Paris in 1850, with a letter by the ethnographer Eugène de Froberville. A Dutch translation of William George Browne, Nieuwe reize naar de binnenste gedeelten van Afrika, door Egypte, Syrie en Le Dar-four (…) (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1800), an account of travels in Egypt, Syria and Sudan figures as no. 6.

Dutch historians will note the works of two rather famous brothers, the politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp with a volume of letters about the end of the Dutch East India Company [Brieven aan een participant in den Oost-Indischen Compagnie (3 parts, Amsterdam: weduwe Doll, 1802-1803); no. 14], and a rare copy of a novel by his brother Willem van Hogendorp [Kraskoepol (…) (Rotterdam: Arrenberg, 1780) ; no. 15] about the dangers of harsh treatment of slaves. At the time of writing he was an official in the East India Company. A different slant on Dutch Caribbean history comes into view with no. 19, the illustrated album amicorum of Henry van Landsberge, governor of Suriname between 1859 and 1867, the period of the abolition of slavery in this Dutch colony (1863). British matters are at stake in two major reports about slavery for the House of Commons printed in 1848 and 1849 (no. 16).

Some reflections

In the paragraph above I have deliberately put some items together which might have been placed in a regional order in the catalogue, too, but the catalogue shows the random nature of the subjects covered in the books and manuscripts offered for sale.

Portrait of P.A. Tiele

The wide geographical range of subjects is daunting for most scholars and cataloguers. Each description follows the time-honoured practice of a concise bibliographical description, followed by the price, a summary of the contents and information about the author, the publisher and when necessary the rarity of an item. The descriptions end with a string of abbreviated titles and numbers, references to specialized bibliographies, national bibliographies and sometimes also collective library catalogues. In a number of cases I can determine to which publication or website a reference points, but at many turns I can only assume there is specialized scholarly literature with which I am not familiar. For me this catalogue would benefit from full references, but others will no doubt see familiar landmarks. I fail to understand why the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) has not been used everywhere, be it even only to state “not in KVK”. The references to NCC stand for the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, a licensed online meta-catalogue for Dutch university libraries maintained at the Royal Library, The Hague. “Tiele” can stand for a variety of publications by Pieter Anton Tiele (1834-1889), librarian of Utrecht University Library. Tiele published major catalogues of pamphlets in Dutch holdings, a catalogue of the manuscripts in Utrecht UL, a catalogue of Frederik Muller’s collections of travel accounts, and the catalogue of the Bibliotheca Thysiana in Leiden, to mention just his most important contributions. The French and English Wikipedia have short articles about him. For Dutchies there is the website of the Dr. P.A. Tielestichting which promotes research into book history. In one case I could easily identify an abbreviation of a library. JCB stands for the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, Providence, RI, renown for its rich holdings for American and Caribbean history and culture.

The things that strike me every time when I see announcements and catalogues of the two associated rare book firms Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books are the shared phone and fax numbers. Antiquariaat Forum started in 1970 and acquired Asher Rare Books in 2010. Forum Rare Books is active on Twitter for both firms (@ForumRareBooks). To complicate things, there is a third firm at the Tuurdijk 16 in ‘t Goy, Forum Islamic World. The terms of sale of the three firms follow normal book selling practice governed under Dutch law and the rules of the international antiquarian book world, but I cannot help musing about the liability of the seller when things go wrong, and pure humanly who represents a firm on a particular moment. Luckily, Forum is a member of the two major Dutch book selling associations and of ILAB, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. I cannot detect the required registration number of the closest Chamber of Commerce, but surely you will find it on the invoice. On the other hand new buyers have to provide their credentials. Bas Hesselink of Forum Rare Books is known in my country also for the way he speaks about old books and prints in the Dutch television program Tussen Kunst & Kitsch (“Between Art and Kitch”) in which the general public brings objects for appraisal by art experts in the setting of museums.

My concern in writing about this catalogue comes also from my curiosity where these items will eventually be found. Some of them form a substantial enrichment of our knowledge of painful aspects of Early Modern history, and hopefully we will find most of them in the custody of public institutions.

Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books, catalogue 2017 Slavery – ‘t Goy (Houten), Netherlands

Editing medieval royal laws from Spain

The start screen of 7 Partidas Digital

Last month I wanted to refresh my blogroll. Among the additions one blog stands out because its name does not start with a letter, but with a number, and it appears now as the very first item of the blogroll, reason enough for further exploration. It is a project for a new edition of laws created by a king with perhaps the best reputation of all medieval kings, at least in modern perception. Alfonso el Sabio, or Alfonso X of Castile, king Alphonso the Wise, wrote the songs of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and he created a famous law collection, the Siete Partidas (Seven Parts). For a new critical edition of this collection the Spanish team of editors have created the blog 7 Partidas Digital: Edición critica de las Siete Partidas, hosted by the Hypotheses network. In this post I will look at this project and I will try to provide some context for it.

Studying medieval laws

Royal legislation in the Middle Ages is not easy to bring under one common denominator. Scholars such as Sten Gagnér (1921-2000) have helped us much to see legislation in new light, in particular in his Studien zur Ideengeschichte der Gesetzgebung (Stockholm, etc., 1960). Armin Wolf focuses in his research on medieval legislation, in particular in Gesetzgebung in Europa 1100–1500: Zur Entstehung der Territorialstaaten (2nd edition, Munich 1996), and like Gagnér he has written about a great variety of laws and lawgivers, including Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284). In 2002 the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main could acquire the vast library of Gagnér. Michael Stolleis, for man years the director of this institute and a scholar trained by Gagnér, wrote a moving and most instructive tribute to Gagnér [‘Sten Gagnér (1921-2000), ein großer Lehrer der europäischen Rechtsgeschichte’, Quaderni Fiorentini 29 (2000) 560-569; PDF]. For many years Wolf, too, worked for and at this institute. His fundamental book about medieval legislation first appeared in a volume of Helmut Coing’s Handbuch der europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte. It is by all means wise to benefit here, too, from the rich resources of this Max-Planck-Institut, starting perhaps with the online catalogue of its library.

Let’s start a tour of the blog 7Partidas Digital, a project at the Universidad de Valladolid. There have been two major adaptations of this legal collection, in the incunabula edition of 1491 (Alonso Díaz de Montalvo) and the edition published in 1555 (Gregorio López), and a semi-official edition in 1807 by the Real Academia de la Historia, but not yet a critical edition. The aim of the project is to bring together all textual sources and present them online, to create an online critical edition and to provide a up-to-date bibliography of relevant scholarship in a Zotero group. The bibliography takes as its starting point the study of Jerry Craddock, The legislative work of Alfonso X. A critical bibliography (London 1986; 2nd edition, 2011). You can consult the 1986-1990 update of Craddock’s bibliography online (eScholarship, University of California). Already the fact that Craddock could adduce manuscripts not earlier included and comment on them should make you aware of the complicated textual tradition of the Siete Partidas and other Alphonsine laws. By the way, Robert Burns added an introduction to the reprint of the English translation of the Siete Partidas by S.P. Scott (first edition 1931; reprint 5 vol., Philadelphia, 2001, 2012).

Logo 7PartidasDigital

The core of the project is the online edition hosted at GitHub which is being created using XML / TEI. TEI stands for Text Encoding Initiative, one of the major metadata standards in creating digital text editions. As for now the project has resulted in editions of some textual witnesses kept at Valladolid. The Siete Partidas is a rather large legal code. The section Léxico explains the incunabula edition in 1491 contains 772,000 words. The first part (Primera partida a.k.a. Libro de los leyes) in one particular manuscript (London, British Library, Add. 20787, sigle LBL) good for more than 165,000 words. The image of a kind of Spanish armada, a fleet with an outsize flagship and many minor vessels around it, is probably a fair description. The project will create a special dictionary for the Siete Partidas, of which the letter Z, the only one already publishedgives you an idea.

The section Testimonios gives you a general overview of relevant manuscripts and their contents, mainly as noted in the Philobiblon project for Iberian medieval manuscripts (Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley), and for a number of them – including LBL mentioned above – extensive descriptions. One of the scholars helping to track down manuscripts with laws issued by Alfonso el Sabio was the late Antonio García y García. A further asset on this web page is an interactive map showing where institutions have relevant manuscripts within their collections. An essential element in this project are the Normas de codificación, the rules for the encoding of the text and the critical apparatus in the XML / TEI pages, and additional guidelines for the transcription of the legal texts.

Access to Alfonso’s laws

Banner BDH

By now you might think all this information does not yet bring you directly to the texts associated with king Alfonso el Sabio, but you could as well admit that some preparation is needed indeed to approach them. I had expected to find here both images of manuscripts and an edition on your computer screen, and therefore I would like to provide you at least with some information about the most important printed editions. A text of the Sieta Partidas was printed twice in 1491 [Las siete partidas de Alfonso X el Sabio, con las adiciones de Alfonso Díaz de Montalvo (Seville: Meinardus Ungut and Stanislaus Polonus, 25 October 1491; GW M42026, online for example in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica)], and two months later again with the same title [(Seville: Compañeros alemanes, 24 December 1491) GW M42028, online in the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico (BVPB)]. The Gesamtkatolog der Wiegendrucke (GW) (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (British Library and CERL) show you concise bibliographical information and lists with extant copies worldwide, for both editions rather short lists. The edition by Gregorio de López de Tovar appeared in 1555 and can be viewed online in the BVPB [Las Siete Partidas del Sabio Rey don Alonso el nono (…) (Salamanca: Andrea de Portonariis, 1555)].

The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica brings you not only a number of old reprints, some of them enhanced with useful registers, but also a number of digitized manuscripts. It contains also a digital version of the edition published by the Real Academia de la Historia (Las Siete Partidas del Rey Don Alfonso el Sabio cotejada con varios códices antiguos (…) (Madrid 1807)]. The Hispanic Seminary provides you in its Digital Library of Old Spanish texts in the section for Spanish legal texts with a transcription of the Primera Partida in the 1491 edition. You can find more editions and books about the Siete Partidas in the Catálogo Colectivo del Patrimonio Bibliográfico Español, and for example in the Bibliografía Española en Línea, a service of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and more specifically in the Repertorio del Medievalismo Hispánico (Institución Milà y Fontanals, Barcelona).

In the midst of all these elements I would almost forget to mention the blog posts of Siete Partidas Digital, to be found under Entradas. The most recent contribution in this second is a full-scale article by José Domingues (Porto) about the Portuguese version of the Siete Partidas and its manuscript tradition (A Tradição Medieval das Sete Partidas em Portugal). The first blog post alerts to the 2015 revised online version of Dwayne E. Carpenter, Alfonso X and the Jews: An Edition of and Commentary on Siete Partidas 7.24 «De los judios» (thesis, University of California, 1986), and to new textual witnesses found in the Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, referred to in the edition with the sigle VA4, but alas the links to the finding aid with these archival records and to the article describing them are broken. However, here the project in Valladolid scores with its section on text bearers: The page on VA4 gives you full information, but here, too, you have to reckon with links to Spanish archival records which stem from expired web sessions. You will have to repeat yourself each consecutive step of the search at the rich but cumbersome navigable PARES portal, the digital home to both online inventories and many digitized archival records in Spanish state archives. You will find a quick introduction to Alfonso el Sabio and the texts concerning the legal status of religious minorities in the Siete Partidas in the database of the RELMIN project around the position of these minorities in the medieval Mediterranean, with also some references to basic modern literature, and for each of the relevant texts a translation, an analysis and references to further studies. RELMIN provides you with sometimes both English and French translations.

Normally I would feel rather exhausted, or to be honest definitely feel irritated, to say the least, about such a sorry state of affairs, the combination of a broken link and arduous recovering information using the PARES portal, but this time I can appreciate very much one of the things Sten Gagnér taught his students, not only in his lectures and seminars, but foremost by his own example. At the end of this post I really want to mention something Michael Stolleis made crystal clear in his tribute to Gagnér. He wanted his students to see things for himself in sources, to trace back and check the steps others had set, be they the pioneers and leaders in the various fields of legal history or more average scholars, to see the very words in the sources they found, to assess the meaning and context of words anew. Studying legislation in past and present in all its forms should be an exercise in good thinking, not a slipshod affair, as if you only have to dip your spoon in an ocean of sources. No school, department or faculty can provide you completely with his kind of training, because here your own intellectual honesty and drive to become and be a true historian should work for all you are worth, for all things and people you value most.

A postscript

After the things I said about the PARES portal I must do justice to the riches of this portal by referring to the wonderful online guide by Scott Cave and Ashleigh Dean, aptly called Taming PARES. Their guide really unlocks this treasure trove!

Telling tales: Chaucer and the law

Illuminated page wit the Summoner - Chaucer, Catnetrbury Tales - Ellesmere Chaucer

The Summoner, illustration in the Ellesmere Chaucer, early 15th century – San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. EL 26 C 9, fol. 81r (detail), source:

Medieval literature sometimes touches law and justice, and thus it can be useful to look sometimes beyond the usual range of sources and materials legal historians prefer to study. The Biennial London Chaucer Conference will devote this year’s conference on June 30 and July 1, 2017 to Chaucer and the Law. At least three stories in the Canterbury Tales have lawyers or other persons associated with the law in its title, the sergeant-at-law in the tale of The Man of Law, the manciple and the summoner. Legal professions come into view in some of the other tales, too. The summoner had been attacked in The Friar’s Tale, to mention just one example. This post looks briefly at the upcoming conference, but I will not hesitate to add some personal remarks, too. A few months ago I came across a blog post by Candace Barrington, ‘Beyond the Anglophone Inner Circle of Chaucer Studies’ at In the Medieval Middle, and I could only agree with her about the importance of Chaucer to wider circles. The programme of the upcoming conference seems a major step in bringing him in a different context. Here I try to come closer to the field of literature than I do here usually.

The conference in London is organized at Senate House by the Institute of English Studies at the School for Advanced Studies, in cooperation with the New Chaucer Society and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Senate House is home to the Senate House Library.

A web of tales

If you come more or less from the outside to Chaucer it can really seem you enter a kind of parallel universe. When you spot at the website of the New Chaucer Society the link to the Chaucer Bibliography Online (Mark Allen, University of Texas at San Antonio) the sheer mass of studies about a plethora of subjects is awe-inspiring. With only the search term law you will retrieve more than 400 results. Chaucer definitely is treated as a part of world literature, but Barrington makes it clear it that only lately studying Chaucer has become a worldwide activity which can break though the lines of approach practised in the Anglophone world. Barrington is one of the founders of Global Chaucers, created as the “Online archive and community for post-1945, non-Anglophone Chauceriana”. The resources page of this blog shows you the wide impact of Chaucer and leads you also to a list of modern translations.

Visualizing Chaucer, Robbins Library, University Of Rochester, NY

The social media, too, have a role in creating a wider circle of people delving into Chaucer’s work. Many years ago the House of Fame, a blog maintained by a modern incarnation of Chaucer, was launched. Meanwhile this modern Chaucer has become a master of funny Middle English tweets by Le VostreGC. For Chaucer and the Law there is the Twitter account Chaucer_Law. I will not give a here a complete guide to Chaucer studies, but some websites can help you very much. Among the short introductions to Chaucer the online exhibit The World of Chaucer. Medieval Books and Manuscripts (Special Collections, Glasgow University Library) is helpful. The University of Sheffield has created a portal for critical editions of the Canterbury Tales where you can easily compare some of the main manuscripts containing this work, including the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century (University of Maine at Machias) is a portal with both the original texts and translations, and a concise web guide. Candace Barrington contributes also to an open access companion to the Canterbury Tales. Siân Echard (University of British Columbia) provides a great service with his web pages on Chaucer: Manuscripts and Books on the Web, but for the image of the Ellesmere manuscript shown here I preferred to visit the website of the Huntington Library. Visualizing Chaucer (University of Rochester, NY) is your online port of call for more images of and around Chaucer. If you hesitate about the importance of images you might want to look at The Robin Hood Project of the Robbins Library of the University of Rochester.

The programme of the two-day conference in London shows a wide variety of sessions. With a sigh of relief I saw the first section is dedicated to A Preface for Chaucerians: Chaucer for Historians, a promise that Chaucer will not be only the subject of literary views. Anthony Musson will discuss the sergeant-at-law, the teller of the Man of Law’s Tale, and Nigel Ramsay will speak about the manciple and his tale. A quick view of the programme shows also that the Canterbury Tales are not the exclusive source linking all contributions. Chaucer’s other works figure here as well. It is about time to confess I, too, look at Chaucer from a foreign perspective. My knowledge of English legal history, too, is refreshed and even extended here., and anyway it is simply necessary to tell something more about the three main figures associated with the law in the Canterbury Tales. The sergeants-at-law were for centuries barristers with the exclusive right to argue cases in the Court of Common Pleas. A manciple was a purveyor of goods for a court or college, sometimes a caterer of food. The summoner was an official in ecclesiastical courts who delivered charges to people compelling to appear in court. Peter Guy Brown will discuss this official in his paper.

Let’s not forget to look briefly at Chaucer himself. Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1343-1400) was a public servant with functions such as a valet de chambre to king Edward III, customs official for the port of London and deputy forester in Somerset. He acted as a royal envoy in France and Italy. In 1386 he became a Member of Parliament. As a poet-diplomat he must have met all kinds of people, and these meetings are in a way mirrored in the figures portrayed in the Canterbury Tales and in his other works. He is a master at playing with reputations and stereotypes.

Of course it will not do to plod here through all papers of the upcoming conference in London, you will find here a personal choice. Some papers refer to other kinds of law as well. Samantha Katz Seal will look at laws of lineage in Chaucer’s work. Julie Chamberlin will discuss legal networks in The Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer’s Complaint unto Pity is the subject of Jonathan Forbes’ paper in which the complaint will be compared to a legal plea. Claire Fennell will discuss a Middle English statute book in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 520. The first day ends with a plenary lecture by Emily Steiner on medieval literature and the limits of law.

The second day will start with a contribution from Groningen. Sebastian Sobecki will give a plenary lecture about Chaucer’s lawyers. Sobecki prepares with Barrington The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Law and Literature. Recently he published Unwritten Verities. The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463–1549 (Notre Dame, IN, 2015). Arvind Thomas will speak about literature and legal maxims. Euan C. Roger will look at Chaucer’s career in royal service by looking at the plea rolls. Among other themes to be addressed are sumptuary laws, the role of conscience, freedom of speech, treason and mercy.

Part of the attraction of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is his skill in picturing people by their conscious or unconscious use of particular language. In many tales he succeeds in disguising the origin of a story. The fragmentary tradition and the signs alluding to a possibly different ordering and sequence of the tales provide space to use widely different perspectives to gain insights. Every tale in the Canterbury Tales forms a kind of microcosmos with a multitude of aspects, and on the other hand they are part of a network of tales. Being aware of the very variety of medieval life, culture and society is not a bad thing when studying medieval law and justice, and Chaucer offers a focus for looking at the fourteenth century.

A personal touch: Chasing autograph manuscripts of medieval lawyers

The Middle Ages span a millennium, and the very term has long darkened our understanding of this period in European history. Somehow the image of the Dark Age keeps to some extent its force for children, the general public and scholars alike. Seemingly out of the dark come the persons whose names we know, and romantic phantasy has often been very active to make them as colourful as possible. Clovis, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Saint Louis, the holy French king pronouncing the law, are among the people for whom we can find out more than only battles, deeds and orders, but we hear seldom the voice of more ordinary people. Thus the counsels of Dhuoda to her son, the visions and songs of abbess and composer Hildegard von Bingen, and Christine de Pisan, a passionate writer and defender of women, stand out even stronger, because they shed light on the history of women, too. In the field of medieval art there has been a hunt to find traces of individual artists. Some works of art still bear their names, but others remain anonymous.

Cover Autographa I.2

Medieval law, too, can seem not only a very masculine, but also a very impersonal affair. However, juridical glosses from the twelfth century in the manuscripts with the main texts of Roman and canon law are sometimes signed with an abbreviated form of the names of lawyers such as Azo, Jacobus Bassianus, Rogerius and Pillius. In the last decades another hunt has brought some astonishing results. Scholars have been able to identify autograph manuscripts of a surprising number of medieval lawyers. Individual scholars succeeded in connecting one or more manuscripts directly to the author of a particular juridical text. Surprisingly this is indeed possible for medieval lawyers, for many scholars not the group in medieval society you would immediately pinpoint.

On February 8, 2017 the second volume of a series of studies about medieval autograph manuscripts will be presented at the École française de Rome. This post is a small tribute to the scholars contributing to these volumes, and especially to Giovanna Murano, the courageous editor who has set an example herself in approaching legal manuscripts with new questions and sharing her wisdom and results with others. The blog Storia del Diritto medievale e moderno alerted me to the presentation of the new volume, and apart from translating the main information of their message in French I will try to provide some context for this important publication.

The hands of the masters

During the thirteenth century a system for the reproduction of medieval texts used at universities came into existence. Book shops were given controlled master copies, exemplars of these texts. Students could hire quire after quire for scribes to make copies. The pecia system – literally “piece” – was first described for theological manuscripts by Jean Destrez. Last year Frank Soetermeer died, the Dutch scholar who did research about the use of the pecia system for legal texts in Italy and France. Giovanna Murano, too published a book about the pecia system, Opere diffuse per exemplar e pecia (Turnhout 2005). Since a few decades it becomes clear that the chances for survival of original author manuscripts were relatively high. In the sixteenth century, however, printers often discarded the very manuscript(s) they had used to produce printed versions of texts.

Recognizing the handwriting of a specific author can be easy, but first you have to connect an inimitable script with him or her. The almost illegible script of Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274) got nicknamed littera inintelligibilis by his contemporaries, and the mirror writing of Leonardo da Vinci in the fifteenth century is rightly famous. Medieval lawyers signed in particular charters, acts written on parchment, or added some confirming lines in their own hand to consilia, legal consultations. The cover of the new volume shows a consilium with some of such closing lines and signatures. The interest in these consilia has helped very much to make the identification of the handwriting of medieval lawyers possible.

Perhaps the single most important step was the identification of a set of autograph manuscripts in the Vatican Library written by or produced under the direction of Baldo degli Ubaldi (1327-1400), first signalled by Giancarlo Vallone, ‘La raccolta Barberini dei “consilia” originali di Baldo’, Rivista di Storia del Diritto Italiano 62 (1989) 75-135. You can read online (PDF, 9 MB) an article by Vincenzo Colli, ‘Collezioni d’autore di Baldo degli Ubaldi nel MS Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Barb. lat. 1398’, Ius Commune 25 (1998) 323-346. Twenty years ago Colli identified more autographs and other manuscripts close to their author for other medieval lawyers as well, for example for Guillelmus Duranti (around 1237-1296), the author of the Speculum iudiciale, a massive legal encyclopaedia, ‘L’apografo dello Speculum iudiciale di Guillaume Durand’, Ius Commune 23 (1996) 271-280 (online, PDF, 3 MB), and together with Giovanna Murano ‘Un codice d’autore con autografi di Giovanni d’Andrea (ms. Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, S.II. 3)’, Ius Commune 24 (1997) 1-23 (online, PDF, 9 MB).

In the second volume of the series on medieval autograph manuscripts [Autographa I.2: Giuristi, giudici e notai (sec. XII-XV)Giovanna Murano (ed.) (Imola 2016)] you will find some eighty images of medieval manuscripts, and very often you will see a medieval consilium and a manuscript of a particular work as evidence for the identification of an author’s hand. Apart from lawyers who published legal works the team looks also at medieval judges (giudici) and notaries (notai). For the second volume twelve scholars have identified 49 authors and consulted more than one thousand manuscripts in more than two hundred libraries. The new volumes contains eighty photographs.

Giovanna Murano contributed an article about the autograph of Antonio de Roselli’s Monarchia for the second volume of the Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (4 vol., 2014), a publication briefly mentioned here, too, available in print and online. In the first volume a whole section is dedicated to articles concerning medieval legal consilia. Murano provides a must-read on this genre with her article ‘I consilia giuridici dalla tradizione manoscritta alla stampa’, Reti medievali. Rivista 15/1 (2014) 1-37. She offers an uptodate illustrated introduction to this medieval genre. It gives you an example of her rigorous thinking and dense argumentation. At every turn Murano makes you think and reconsider matters you had not thought about for a long time or simply not carefully enough. In a similar article she gives a status questionum for the study of the Decretum Gratiani, the great treatise for medieval canon law from the early twelfth century [‘Graziano e il Decretum nel secolo XII’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 26 (2015) 61-139; online].

The first volume of the series Autographa appeared in 2012. In my view both volumes can serve also as a palaeographical atlas for anyone studying the learned law, i.e. the medieval – and Early Modern – use of Roman and canon law. Instead of hunting digitized manuscripts on your computer screen or tablet you might want to sit down and study the variety of handwriting offered by Murano and her international team. The books can be used indeed as a fine guide to medieval legal manuscripts. However, maybe it is simple the urge to come as closely as possible to the hands of the great magistri of Italian and French medieval universities that makes you want to have these books within your reach. The names of medieval lawyers change here from glorious but inevitable dead names into living persons, not just as law professors producing a theoretical frameworks for judges, advisors and officials all over Europe, but at work themselves, counseling parties or pronouncing judgment on cases which show law in action. These manuscripts and archival records offer a splendid window to medieval life and society. My warmest congratulations to Giovanna Murano and the scholars participating in this great project! It deserves your attention by all means.

Digitizing legal manuscripts at the Vatican Library

In this century several major research libraries and national libraries have started to digitize their manuscript collections. On my blog I have reported for instance about digitized legal manuscripts in the British Library. Legal manuscripts were included also in the project Europeana Regia for the reconstruction of the medieval royal libraries. One of my earliest posts concerned the Swiss project e-codices. More recently I wrote here about digitized manuscripts from Chartres and the Mont Saint-Michel. The digitized medieval and Renaissance legal manuscripts at the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna did not escape my attention, too. In 2013 the project at UCLA for the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts came to a halt because the two courageous scholars responsible for this project could not cope anymore with the tasks of creating a consistent and yet detailed catalogue. The question how to find out about the presence of digitized manuscripts is not easily answered.

Logo Digivatlib

For one particular massive project there is a way to stay informed. The current digitization project for the manuscripts of the Vatican Library has made considerable progress. Already some three thousand manuscripts can now be viewed online. However, this library did until this week not publish lists of recent additions. How can you stay informed about manuscripts which might interest you? In this contribution I will look at the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Piggin, a journalist and historian in New-Zealand, who since 2015 has patiently reported at his blog Macro-Typography about recently added digitized items. His service to scholars and the general public deserves our thanks and admiration. For your convenience I have put together a list of the legal manuscripts Piggin signalled until now. Piggin himself is interested in the history and use of diagrams, including those created by medieval lawyers, and this offers me a chance to write here about legal iconography, too. At Twitter you can find Piggin, too (@JBPIggin).

Thousands of manuscripts

The collections of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) in Vatican City are truly extraordinary. Not only their sheer number is immense, but also the presence of many remarkable manuscripts make this library an institution beyond repositories elsewhere. During its long existence the BAV was able to acquire entire manuscript collections. The Palatini came from the ducal library at Heidelberg, the Ottoboniani from cardinal Ottoboni, the Urbinati from Urbino, the Chigiani from the Chigi family, and these are just a few examples. Luckily there are even special bibliographies for the modern scholarly literature about these manuscripts. The BAV has created a separate online manuscript catalogue. The main digitization project of the BAV has several sister projects, for example for Syriac and Chinese manuscripts.

Logo Bibliotheca Palatina Digital - UB Heidelberg

The most important accompanying project deals with the Palatini latini, some 2,000 Latin manuscripts originally kept at Heidelberg, and now digitized and only accessible online at the portal Bibliotheca Palatina digital of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. With the advanced search mode of the Palatina Search you can directly search for particular manuscripts. For the subject Recht you will find some 220 digitized manuscripts, but alas it turns out this search does not yield the result you would expect, because not only legal texts show up. Using filters such as Pal. lat. does help somewhat, but in my view it is not correct when the filters Justiz and Kanonistik give almost completely identical search results. The fact you can find individual texts within a manuscript is not only welcome, but simply necessary. The overview of Palatini latini is organized in some twenty lists with each one hundred manuscripts. Arranging by year, author or title does help a bit. However, a check with the lists’ view at Heidelberg makes clear you can confine your search for legal manuscripts among the Palatini latini mainly to the shelfmarks Pal. lat 621 to 800. The university library at Heidelberg has a separate website for searching images in the Palatini manuscripts.

Having the Palatina Search at your disposal is really useful and important when you look at Piggin’s series of posts with digitized Palatini latini. It would be a herculean task to add for each manuscript in his lists a short or long description. For the Palatini Piggin often gives the author’s name and the title of a work. So far Piggin has counted some 3,200 digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In his early posts he did not include complete lists. Until now he mentioned on his blog some sixty Palatini latini with legal texts. By the way, at the end of each post Piggin asks for comments and additions from people who know more about newly digitized manuscripts.

Apart from the Palatini latini Piggin mentions I have now a list in front of me with 33 legal manuscripts. This number puzzles me a lot. Stephan Kuttner and Reinhard Elze published two volumes of their Catalogue of canon and Roman law manuscripts in the Vatican Library, I: Codices Vaticani latini 541-2299, II: Codices Vaticani Latini 2300-2746 (Città del Vaticano 1986-1987). These two volumes should have been followed by three consecutive volumes, but for various reasons this has not yet happened. Gero Dolezalek and Martin Bertram have put PDF’s with the draft galley proofs of the third volume online. They bring us to Vat. lat. 11527. A similar project for other manuscript collections at the BAV is one of the projects that will bear fruits in particular for the field of medieval canon law. The overviews created by Brendan McManus for medieval canon law texts, the Manuscripta Iuridica database at Frankfurt am Main for texts concerning Roman and feudal law, and the Initia operum iuris canonici medii aevi of Giovanna Murano are at many points much more concise for manuscripts held at the Vatican Library. With this information at our disposal I should really look again at the nearly fifty (!) posts Piggin published and check them against these combined resources. For my consolation I can only remark that you will have to perform a similar task when you want to know about for example medieval medical or mathematical manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

After all these preliminary remarks I had better give you simply these thirty-three manuscripts as presented by Jean-Baptiste Piggin, starting for your convenience with the Vaticani Latini:

  • 630 pt.1 – Isidorus Mercator, Decretalium collectio
  • 841, De Regimine Principum, a guide-book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  • 1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  • 3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  • 3740, about 60 texts on apostolic poverty made to advise Pope John XXII at the time of a controversy with the Franciscans 1322-23 on the issue
  • 3833, Collectio Canonum by Deusdedit, written between 1083 and 1087. This is the sole complete manuscript of this legal work. See Lotte Kéry. Notable for tabular material, but no diagrams. This is a palimpsest with four Vulgate gospels from the 7th or 8th century underneath (see Trismegistos)
  • 12723, manuscript records of the Inquisition

The presentation of these manuscripts differs from a short notice to a much fuller description for some of them. “Lotte Kéry” refers to her repertory Canonical collections of the Early Middle Ages (ca. 400–1140) : a bibliographical guide to the manuscripts and literature (Washington, D.C., 1999), partially digitized by The Company with the Search Engine. Trismegistos is a database for ancient papyri and inscriptions. I will expand later on Piggin’s interest in diagrams.

The descriptions for the other manuscripts I took from Piggin’s blog follow here in alphabetical order of their shelfmarks. Behind the arrows I expand or correct his notes:

  • 1396, a consilium of Baldus de Ubaldis >> numerous consilia by Baldus and other authors
  • Borgh. 7, Pope Boniface, Decretales
  • Borgh. 12, Works of Godefridus Tranensis
  • Borgh. 26, 13th-century legal text, Apparatus Decretorum
  • Borgh. 95,14th century, legal, Arnoldus de Augusta
  • Borgh. 154, Tancredus, 1185-1236, Opera, 13th-14th century
  • Borgh. 214Opera quaedam de re iuridica, 14th century,
  • Borgh. 226, Novels of Justinian
  • Borgh. 230, Iohannes de Lignano, 1320-1383 Lectura super decretales
  • Borgh. 231, Abbas Antiquus
  • Borgh. 248, Rottfried: civil law, canon law >> Roffredus Beneventanus, Libellus de ordine iudiciorum
  • Borgh. 262Decretales of Pope Gregory IX, glossed by Bernardus Parmensis (also known as Bernard of Parma, Bernard Botone, Bernard Bottoni), seems similar to Ms. 1 at Syracuse University
  • Borgh. 290, Bottoni, Bernardo, Summa super titulis decretalium
  • Borgh. 348, collection of opinions written in 1320 for Pope John XXII before 14th-century decision to extend inquisition to practitioners of “black magic” in southern France. Notes >> a reference to Annelies Maier, Ausgehendes Mittelalter III (Rome 1977) 208.
  • Borgh. 372, Glossa on Justinian >> Codex Justinianus with the standard Accursian gloss
  • Borgh. 374: A 13th-century text of the Emperor Justinian’s legal codifications including the Institutions, annotated by medieval lawyers. Justinian was emperor at Constantinople 527-565. >> Institutiones, Novellae, Libri Feudorum and Tres Libri (Codex 10-12).
  • 64, legal synopsis
  •, legal texts, compiled by Capuchins
  • 189, papal register
  • 1024, the Liber Judiciorum, an early-8th-century code of Visigothic law (probably) copied in Urgell, Spain
  • Ross. 555, a beautiful Hebrew codex with four fine Italian miniatures. From Evelyn Cohen I read that this is Jacob ben Asher’s legal treatise, the Arba’ah Turim, and that the images depict a synagogue scene, animals being slaughtered according to Jewish ritual, a wedding and a courtroom scene.
  • 157, Innocent IV, decretals
  • 158, Azo of Bologna, decretals >> Azo, Summa Codicis and other works
  • 159, finely illuminated law text by Bernardo Bottoni on Gregory’s Decretals, with a 14th-century arbor consanguinitatis where the tree is held in a planter by the law-giver (discussed by Hermann Schadt, Arbores, at p 259 ff.)
  • 160, Johannes Andreae, Boniface VIII, decretals dealing with marriage and other legal issues >> mainly the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII
  • 1057, bound book of papal records

Piggin very sensible enlivens his lists with small format images of often remarkable illuminations, but to keep it here within sensible length I have excised the images and his remarks, except for those concerning legal trees such as the arbor consanguinitatis. In a post about digitized manuscripts in Bologna I have looked at the Mosaico project and its section about the Arbor actionum, the “Tree of actions”, a tool designed for determining which legal action(s) you should choose. Among legal diagrams Piggin looks in particular at the arbores consanguinitatis et affinitatis, and he proposes some substantial revisions of the views expressed by Hermann Schadt in his classic study Die Darstellungen der Arbores Consanguinitatis und der Arbores Affinitatis : Bildschemata in juristischen Handschriften (Tübingen 1982). Piggin published a post about legal arbores, and he has even has written an accompanying guide, The Missing Manual: Schadt’s Arbores. The virtual exhibition Illuminating the Law of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge shows some examples of these arbores. Piggin questions the very use of the word tree and invites scholars to look more closely and use terms carefully.

In Piggin’s notes the sheer variety of manuscripts faithfully mirrors the wealth of the manuscript collections at the BAV. For the field of legal history I have included also some items concerning the papal inquisition (Borgh. lat. 348, Vat. lat. 3978 and 12732) and some papal records (Reg. lat. 189 and Urb. lat. 1057). The manuscript Vat. lat. 3740 with questions concerning apostolic poverty reminded me of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and this subject as a bone of contention figuring in his novel. DigiVatLib does in many cases include at least some bibliographical information with which you can start further exploration of a manuscript.

Apart from his interest in legal iconography Piggin explores the origin of the use of diagrams with stemmata. I can only admire his tenacious approach and the way he blogs about his research in ancient and medieval history. The main results of his research appear at his own website. One of his latest blog posts concerns the text of a medieval commentary on biblical arbores humani generis, a kind of genealogical schemes showing the genealogy of Christ. The text seems to have been overlooked because it only filled gaps in drawings. It seems the kind of discovery only made by those who look at things supposedly well-known with an ever open mind.

While finishing this post the staff of DigiVatLib is busy transferring digitized manuscripts and incunabula to a new platform with enhanced interoperability. There have been complaints presence of large watermarks on the digitized images. It is also remarkable to see an interface for English, Italian and Japanese. There is now an advanced search mode with even fuzzy filters (“partial match”). You can tick a field for non-digitized items and choose to search only manuscripts. The galleries with selected manuscripts and the twenty latest digitized items wet your appetite for more. Twice every month you can get at Piggin’s blog a preview of newly digitized manuscripts. Even if it is possible to correct and expand his notes on legal manuscripts, you must admit that creating commented lists does at least provide useful orientation. Perhaps some legal historian might take up the challenge of providing a regular list of updates for digitized legal manuscripts at the BAV with sufficient information to start benefiting truly from this massive digitization project.

500 years Utopia

Quentin Matsys, portrait of Pieter Gilles

Portrait of Pieter Gillis by Quentin Matsys – Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – source: Wikimedia Commons

This year I have succeeded so far in avoiding centenary celebrations, but some of them are definitely interesting from the perspective of legal historians. In 1516 Erasmus published his edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum graece, with for us a remarkable title, Novum Instrumentum (…) (Basel: Johann Froben, 1516; VD16 B 4196; online for example at the Swiss portal e-Rara). Even with all its shortcoming this edition proved to be a starting point for many developments in scholarship and theology. Legal historians might prefer to leave the onset of the Reformation to church historians and theologians, but they will certainly not want to forget another book published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia (Louvain: Dirk Martens, 1516; more bibliographic details in the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen).

The flood of literature about More, his book and his circle make it almost impossible to look at it without preconceived opinions and views. Is it possible to say something new, something worth reading at all within the compass of a blog post? However you may think about this state of affairs, I would like to present one of the main figures appearing in More’s Utopia. Pieter Gillis was a humanist scholar who merits attention for his work in the field of legal history, in particular with his edition of a source for the history of Roman law, yet another book printed by Martens in Louvain. In fact, it is seldom noted at all Gillis was a trained lawyer, and thus certainly prepared for his tasks as the city registrar of Antwerp. He is not the only lawyer you will encounter here.

First editions from Louvain

Why should authors in the early sixteenth century turn to Dirk (Thierry) Martens (1446-1534) for the publication of their books? The Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek has a fine article on him (vol. VI, col. 633-637). Martens printed his first book already in 1473 in his native city Aalst. He was among the earliest printers of the Low Countries. His first publication – published together with Johann of Paderborn – was a religious work, the Speculum conversionis peccatorum of Dionysius Cartusianus (Denis of Ryckel), a book digitized in the Flemish digital library Flandrica (GW 8420). From 1492 onwards Martens had his firm in Antwerp and since 1512 in Louvain, the only university town of the Low Countries. In 1491 he used for the first time in the Low Countries Greek type fonts. Printing the works students needed provided him with a stable market. Martens is even credited with promoting the use of the Roman type font. He was definitely a printer with some remarkable feats on his record.

Pieter Gillis (latinized Petrus Aegidius) (1486-1533) initially studied law at Orléans (1501). However, soon he became active as a corrector for the printing firm of Dirk Martens. Already in 1503 or 1504 he met Desiderius Erasmus, one of the authors coming to Antwerp to have his books published by Martens. In 1504 Gillis registered as a student at the university of Louvain, and in 1509 Gillis became the city registrar of Antwerp. In 1512 he got the degree of a licentiatus in law from the university of Orléans. Dealing with Gillis is indeed entering also the book trade of his time, one of the reasons I supply for the book titles in this post at least some bibliographical references. The NBW has a good biographical article on Gillis by M. Nauwelaerts (vol. I (1970), col. 4-7). A much older article in German by A. Rivier for the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie can also be consulted online (ADB (1875) 125-126).

The road to More’s Utopia

Ambrosius Holbein, image with More, Aegidius and Hythlodaeus

Ambrosius Holbein’s illustration with the protagonists of More’s Utopia – edition Basel 1518, p. 25; copy Yale University, Beinecke Library

Before going to More’s Utopia I must acknowledge here the great assistance offered in writing this post by the very useful and extensive International Thomas More Bibliography of Romuald Lakowski. The story of how More came to write Utopia scarcely needs retelling. As a diplomatic envoy he met Pieter Gillis in 1515. The two men became friends, and one of the fruits of their meeting was More’s book. In the prologue of Utopia More tells about his encounters with Gillis and Raphael Hythlodaeus, the stranger recently arrived from Brazil whose stories are the very heart of his book. When preparing this post I wondered where people would have found the famous images taken from the first edition of Utopia, the image of the island and the Utopian alphabet. Surely this last feature came into existence thanks to the suggestions and expertise of both Gillis and Martens. Lakowski provided me with the link to a digital version of the first edition of Utopia at a library where you probably will not expect a copy, the Gleeson Library of the Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. The digital books in this library cannot be found using regular online search tools such as the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog and the Universal Short Title Catalogue (University of St. Andrews). Other early editions such as the one published in Paris by Gilles de Gourmont in 1517 (Gallica) and the famous edition by Froben (Basel 1518) can readily be found in various libraries, the latter for example in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

The Latin text of More’s Utopia can be searched in several ways. You will find just the text in The Latin Library, and a colourful version at the Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch, based on the version created at the Oxford Text Archive. For a linguistic approach you can benefit from the search functions offered in the version at IntraText. At first I would have preferred to leave translations out, and thus honour the principle ad fontes so dear to sixteenth-century humanists, but having a translation within your reach is most helpful. The first translation of More’s Utopia was the work of a legal humanist, Claude Chansonnette (Claudius Cantiuncula). Interestingly Cantiuncula (around 1493-1560) had been at Louvain before going to Basle where he published his translation Von der wunderbarlichen Innsel Utopia genannt das andere Buch (…) (Basel: Bebelius, 1524; digitized at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Cantiuncula decided to translate only the second part of More’s book, not the first half. At this point it is most welcome to point to the bibliographical survey of people connected to Desiderius Erasmus, Contemporaries of Erasmus. A biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, [CE] P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto-Buffalo-London 1985-1987; reprint 2003). This work contains entries for Pieter Gillis (CE II, 99-101), Dirk Martens (CE I, 394-396) and Claude Chansonnette (CE I, 259-261), and of course for Thomas More (CE II, 456-459).

Among the modern German translations of Utopia the version of historian Gerhard Ritter (1898-1967) is still being reprinted. Ritter made his translation early in his career (1922). You can see in a post from last year my photograph of several pocket law books accompanied by the modern incarnation of Ritter’s translation which gives you also the Latin text.

A meeting of lawyers

Title page of Gillis' edition with the Epitome Aegidii

The title page of Pieter Gillis’ edition of the Epitome Aegidii – Louvain: Martens, 1517 – copy Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

The excellent website of Lakowski with its most useful bibliographies for many subjects concerning Thomas More and his Utopia taught me looking at legal matters around Thomas More is not something new. In this post I will just look at a few aspects. Let’s go back to Pieter Gillis who published in 1517 a number of sources in the field of Roman law. Dirk Martens printed his Summae sive argumenta legum diversorum imperatorum… Caii et Iulii Pauli Sententiis (USTC 403069; digital copy at the Digitale Sammlungen, Munich). The Latin title of his book is certainly long, but it does clearly indicate the constituing parts edited by Gillis. His work contains the editio princeps of the Epitome Aegidii, a shortened version of the Breviarium Alaricianum/Lex Romana Visigothorum, in itself a reworking of the Codex Theodosianus. The manuscript he used contained also a shortened version of Gaius’ Institutiones (Epitome Gai) and the Sententiae Pauli. Among the rare Early Modern editions of these texts is a very rare book by the famous Dutch book collector Gerard Meerman, Specimen animadversationum criticarum in Caii Jcti Institutiones (…) (Lutetiae Parisiorum: apud Merigot, 1747).

The story of Pieter Gillis’ edition is intriguing. What manuscript did he use? Surprisingly Marcel Nauwelaerts wrote in his article for Contemporaries of Erasmus about Gillis’ edition “of which is a manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Leiden (MS BPL 191 ba)” (CE II, 101). Is there truly a manuscript once owned or written by Petrus Aegidius? Many manuscript catalogues at Leiden can be consulted online in its Digital Special Collections. The manuscript Leiden, UL, BPL 191 BA can even be viewed online. The catalogue entry by P.C. Molhuysen makes it very clear this manuscript belonged to Paul Petau who wrote a brief summary of the content on the flyleaf. It seems Nauwelaerts was too eager to find a manuscript connected with Gillis. The manuscript has also been described within the online project Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections, but here, too, things are not completely straightforward. Searching for the Epitome Aegidii yields only the manuscript Leiden, UL, VLQ [Vossiani Latini in quarto] 119. When searching directly for BPL 191 BA you find it with as its title Epitome legis Romanae Visigothorum, which is in itself not wrong, but not complete either.

Finding out more about the Epitome Aegidii

Logo Bibliotheca legum

A few years ago Karl Ubl (Universität Köln) started the Bibliotheca legum, a project dealing with early medieval law in France. The project deals with many texts and a multitude of manuscripts, including those with Roman law texts and the early medieval law codes conveniently known as the Völkerrechte, “laws of the nations”, because they were addressed to the populations of certain territories. The Breviarium Alaricianum, also known as the Lex Romana Visigothorum, is among them. The Epitome Aegidii, too, figures in this project, currently with thirty manuscripts. Here it becomes clear the Dutch manuscript portal should also refer to Leiden, UL, BPL 114, also consultable online. When you search for “Epitome edited by Aegidius” you will find it together with BPL 191 BA, but without Voss. lat. qu. 119. The Manuscripta juridica database at Frankfurt am Main uses the term “Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Breviarium Alarici”) (Epitome Aegidii)” and offers 25 manuscripts.

The Epitome Aegidii is also among the many subjects in the opus magnum of the late José Maria Coma Fort. His book Codex Theodosianus: historia de un texto (Madrid 2014) is available online in the digital repository of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (PDF; 3,8 MB). Last year Faustino Martinez Martinez reviewed this book most approvingly for the online journal Forum Historiae Iuris. Here I can scarcely do justice to the efforts of José Coma Fort. He mentions Gillis at several turns and discusses his edition in detail at p. 371-375. He concluded the manuscript Gillis used is probably no longer extant. Coma Fort brings into relief the way Gillis’ edition was almost unknown until Meerman’s reimpression, and he looks in particular at the discussions concerning the Epitome Aegidii of humanist scholars such as Bonifacius Amerbach, Johannes Sichard and Johannes Cujacius. Did they willingly ignore the editio princeps? Even today it can be considered a rare book. One of the earliest general bibliographies, Konrad Gessner’s famous Bibliotheca universalis (Tiguri [Zürich] : Froschauer 1545; online at e-Rara) has an entry for Petrus Aegidius without his legal work (p. 543). The USTC has references to eleven copies. Using the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog I could add copies at Lausanne, Vienna (ÖNB, online) and Heidelberg. The Vatican Library, too, has a copy. The tenacity of Wouter Nijhoff and especially M.E. Kronenberg in creating together the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 (‘s-Gravenhage 1923-1971) comes only sharper into view for current scholars with so many resources within easy reach online. In their bibliography NK 15 is the entry for Pieter Gillis’ book, and NK 1550 deals with Martens’ edition of More’s Utopia.

Dirk Martens of Aalst printed at Louvain in 1516 yet another editio princeps, the first edition of the book on legal argumentation by a Dutch lawyer, Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), his Topicorum seu de locis legalibus liber, a work I studied for my Ph.D. thesis. In 2011 I presented here a post about the digital versions of several sixteenth-century editions of this book, incidentally one of my most often read posts. It is only fitting to revisit in the 200th post of my blog Louvain in 1516. At the end of this post I realize how I like to bring things together in one post. Hopefully you will not mind the way I led you here to such important resources as the Bibliotheca legum and José Maria Coma Fort’s great book on the transmission of the Codex Theodosianus!

A postscript

University College London organizes on June 30 and July 1, 2016 the graduate conference Imagined Worlds in the History of Political Thought, an event also in coniunction with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia. You can send a proposal for papers before April 15, 2016, by mail to