Legal history at Medieval Digital Resources

Banner Medieval Digital Resources

In the tenth year of my blog I feel the need to look back at some telling contributions. In a number of posts I compared portal for legal history, for medieval history, and even two major national digital libraries. In this post I would like to look at one particular portal for medieval studies, Medieval Digital Resources (MDR) created for the Medieval Academy of America. This portal was developed between 2014 and 2016. The project was launched in December 2018. Somehow I have not noticed the launch of this portal. In view of the efforts behind it and the criteria for inclusion and description it seems most interesting to discuss MDR here in detail, with some particular questions as a focus: What place does legal history hold at this portal? How does its place reflect the many roads of legal history?

Aiming high

Logo MDR

The explicit aim of the portal is ” to provide access to websites that contain content of interest to medievalists and meet the Academy’s scholarly and technical standards of web presentation”. In my view this leads to two goals, selecting resources which are sufficiently interesting for scholars, and at the same time considering the quality of the virtual representation. I see here two questions: Do resources meet scholarly needs and standards? How well is their technical realisation? The Medieval Academy of America thanks a number o people in the acknowledgements, in particular Maryanne Kowalweski for designing the database assisted by Lisa Bitel and Lisa Fagin Davis. A team with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers helped to give MDR its present shape.

You can approach the resources brought together at MDR in three ways. It is possible to browse for resources in alphabetical ordering, supported by an alphabet and a section Recent additions. A second way is offered by the search interface with multiple fields. You can search here directly for the title and description of resources, the date range and subject, the type of resource, the geopolitical region and the original language. You can also search for the original author or creator, the type of digital resource, the license, the modern language and the project status. A number of fields work with dropdown menus. The third approach is using the search field descriptions. Here you can find lists of descriptors for five search fields: subject, source type, region, original language and type of digital resource. You can look at the notes about the names of medieval authors which tells us catalogers will enter author names only when a sufficient amount of material within a resource stems from a particular author. The page about project status explains the criteria for giving a project included in MDR a particular status. The MDR depends on good input and suggestions from scholars, and thus the suggestion form is an important element of the website, as is the feedback form.

The page about standards explains at its end the reviewing process for new suggestions and the way the team behind MDR will deal with suggestions, but the sets of standards and criteria take up most space. The first set focuses on scholarly quality: meeting normal standards, the need for explicitly stating aims, goals and methods used, including providing collection parameters, and bringing a substantial contribution or innovation. Digitized monographs are excluded.

The second set of standards deals with access and design. The first criterion is meeting prevailing digital standards, with as examples the NISO standard for digital collections, Dublin Core and IIIF (International Image Operabiliity Framework). The second criterion is the need for metadata and consistent maintenance of content, interface and platform. Image quality according to regular standards is a third criterion, and the fourth criterion is wide availability and easy navigation. The fifth criterion calls for clear and correct dealing with publication rights, copy rights and credentials.

The third set of rules of inclusion explains the definitions used for complete, ongoing and pending projects. A pending project is “new and incomplete”, or unstable because the content is minimal, maintenance is absent or irregular, and thirdly “or that are longer publicly available”. Could it be the word “no” is missing the last clause?! The criteria for an ongoing project are consistent monitoring and regular updates over a year, with portals, databases and collections as examples. A complete project is fully realized and maintained, and a curated image or text collection and a thematic bibliography are given as examples.

Whatever you may think of this project in its present state, the explicit use of standards and the explanations about the criteria to be followed are in se very useful. It helps you to ascertain qualities not only subjectively or from impressions.

Selecting in practice

I had firmly convinced myself to look here first of all at sources you can connect with the study of medieval legal history, but it seemed also interesting to look which projects with the status “Complete” have been included so far at MDR. Nearly thirty projects have been assigned the status Complete. The very first result is the website of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV). Surely the ASV should figure here, but I could not help noticing a number of things about the notice. The term archives has not been used for a searchable field of this description. The modern language of the ASV is only stated as English, but of course you can view this website in Italian. Reading the description of the collections guide, “The downloadable guide lists the over 600 different collections, but not individual manuscripts of their contents.”, offers some food for thought, starting with the fact this guide (PDF) is in Italian. The collections of the ASV are generally archival collections, not manuscript collections as in its neighbour, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In view of the number of collections at the ASV it is silly to expect for every collection full descriptions in a 96-page PDF. The choice of subjects given for the ASV, just three (diplomatics, manuscript studies and papacy) is fairly restricted, even if the additional description mention the wide variety of subjects, including legal history.

However, the main reason I start to frown when reading this description is the presence of the term Catalog in the list of resource types noted for the website of the ASV. An archive has finding aids and inventories, indexes, repertories and other tools to create access to its holdings. Personally I deeply respect the ASV for its various qualities, but you will not find any online finding aid on its website or on a separate portal. The online overview of archival collections at the ASV in ArchiveGrid is based on the Michigan project (1984-2004). Older printed guides can still be very useful. The most recent guide has been created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998) which incidentally goes beyond the ASV. You might want to read also the introduction to the ASV at the website of the Vatican Film Library, St. Louis University. Somehow the MDR notice about the ASV seems not to have been carefully reviewed. I am aware that in American use the word manuscripts can also mean papers of archival records, but its use here is not very lucky.

Looking again at the MDR search interface you will remark the absence of a search field for institutions or type of institution, and thus you will need filter yourself when searching for an archival institution. On the other hand you can filter using the preset combined fields for textual evidence for particular genres of archival records. Let’s have a quick look at some other projects at MDR having the complete status. The medieval manuscripts digitized for Europeana Regia are no longer available at its original URL. It is now available in an IIIF compliant form. The Orbis Latinus dictionary figures in the 1909 version digitized by Columbia University. The updated 1972 version is mentioned, but the notice does not indicate this version, too, has been digitized at Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online. The version of Columbia University is in German, only the introduction and some further links are in English. The notice for the Piccard Watermark collection lacks information about its language (German). The fact this kind of material evidence is also present in printed books and can be used for studying book history should become clearer. In his very early and short review of MDR on December 4, 2018 at Archivalia Klaus Graf suggested another resource concerning watermarks, the Memory of Paper, is more in place.

Using the general term legal in the free text search fields brings you to four projects. It is good to see here Diplomata Belgica, a project which figured here prominently in my recent post about Dutch charters. The three following projects are the Internet Medieval History Sourcebook, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe – my subject in another post – and RELMIN, a project concerning religious minorities, briefly mentioned here, too. I could not help noticing RELMIN is described as an ongoing project, but in fact it is only maintained, and it provides translation not only in French, but also in English. The description at MDR is bilingual! The description of the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe mentions legal documents explicitly

By all means you might start asking me why I devote space to these defective aspects of the MDR database, as if it has no right to exist in its current form. However, it is only fair to assume that a project with six cataloguers and eighteen reviewers aiming to achieve goals which follow strict, even rigorous standards, should itself show high qualities, too.

Medieval law in focus

Let’s stick with legal history in the following paragraphs. I will look in MDR at projects filed with the subject Law, Law – Civil, Law – Crime and Law – Religious law. I will look also at some key resource types associated with medieval jurisdiction and authority. I will honour the attention of MDR to both textual and material evidence. Charters and legislation offer textual evidence, seals form also material evidence.

Searching for the general subject Law brings you at present 23 items. The alphabetically ordered list with 22 results shows foremost general resources, but starting from Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France you are sure law is not far away. The French scholarly journal Cahiers de Fanjeaux devotes issues to matters of religious law, in particular heresy and inquisition. With The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library and the project for medieval Welsh law you arrive safely in the fields of legal history. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) does contain a substantial number of editions of legal texts and sources, and within the French TELMA project charters occupy an important place. The filter for civil law brings you to three results: British History Online, the bibliography of the Feminae project and again the MGH. For religious law as a subject MDR brings you to five results starting with the Digital Scriptorium again to Feminae, the Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is present again, and you will find the digitized versions of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca. Clearly the subseries MGH Concilia with editions of medieval councils has not been taken into consideration, as are manuscripts with conciliar texts within Europeana Regia or in the Digital Vatican Library, to mention just two MDR resources. For the subject category Law – Crime I saw only British History Online and Feminae.

For charters MDR shows currently four projects, the original French charters from before 1121 at the TELMA portal, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe, RELMIN and the TELMA portal. Diplomata Belgica has not been tagged with the term Textual evidence – Charters. The subject category Textual evidence – Legislation yields nine results in MDR. A search for seals in MDR brings you only to British Museum Collections Online. A search for courts brings you to British History Online, the French charters of TELMA and the Internet Medieval History Source Book. In the following section I will look at the implications of this situation regarding legal history for a general opinion about the qualities of MDR.

A beta version?

When I first encountered Medieval Digital Resources I had positive expectations about its content and quality. You might think my opinion of MDR has sunk dramatically in view of the way resources for legal history are currently presented, or are present at all.  However, I think it would be foolish to judge this gateway after analyzing only one subject in some detail. Anyone hopes to find something for his or her favorite subject. Alas another thing is perhaps more disturbing. When you search for items linked for a particular modern language, let’s take Danish, it is somewhat mystifying to get more than one hundred results without Danish being explicitly mentioned when you check these results. Of course I checked for Dutch also as an original language, and here it becomes clear that in the entry for the database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections Middle Dutch has not been entered explicitly as an original language. In due time the database for manuscripts with literary texts in Middle Dutch, the Bibliotheca Manuscripta Neerlandica et Impressa (BNM-i) should be added to MDR, too.

For some subjects the MDR is already very rich, for example for music. For other subjects you would like to see more than one or two scattered references, for example for palaeography. In a general search for the word archives you would expect to see the MDR entry for the online catalog Archives et manuscrits of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but it does not show up. In early March 2019 the MDR database contained just 136 items. Yet nowhere on the website it is presented as a beta version, and the term “growing collection” is simply too vague. On the contrary, the preparations started in 2014, and the team worked on the database until 2018. Medieval Digital Resources now looks like a pilot for a much grander project.

One of the problems I see in the MDR database is the lack of a good working distinction between literary texts and non-literary textual resources. Another problem is how to deal with resources with a very wide coverage: Do you enter all themes and subjects separately or is there a category “General”? Perhaps more serious is the approach to resources which focus on a particular language, source type, region, theme or subject, and to other resources where these are present at a more secondary level. A thorough control of the current entries and the preset filters might be helpful and is certainly feasible in view of their current number.

The team of MDR faces some very real challenges. How to steer between the justifiable wish to include projects according to strict rules in clear presentation, and the very real need to provide a sensible web guide for medievalists? If you want to get an impression of the sheer width of medieval studies you might want to look at the online Medieval Studies Bibliographies originally created by Charles Wright and now provided by ARC Humanities Press. You could start comparing for example the coverage in its bibliography for medieval Christianity and ecclesiastical sources the sections on the papacy and on canon law and councils. The ordering of sources and scholarly resources is not really clear, and comments are absent or very concise. However, Wright very wisely divides matters over nearly twenty bibliographies, including a general overview for medieval studies. I suppose you will acknowledge the fact that in daily practice we might rely often on some resources which are not absolutely perfect. You need also guidance to use the proper resources, preferably in their most reliable and updated version. The massive Handbook of medieval studies. Terms – methods – trends, Albrecht Classen (ed.) (3 vol., Berlin-New York 2010) has more than 2700 pages.

Despite my reservations and critical remarks I cannot help admiring the idea to provide a commented gateway to resources using review to clear standards. By starting with just 130 resources the MDR exposes itself to criticisms. You cannot hide the fact that a project with eighteen team members from an institution promoting excellence in medieval studies should have started differently after five years of preparation. I had expected to see already a tag IIIF compliant added for projects with digitized medieval manuscripts. Perhaps it is wiser to start enhancing MDR with a focus on countries such as England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Germany, and to add only gradually additional resources following a plan for particular subjects, languages and resource types. It seems wise to make such things clear right from the start. Technically I found MDR rather slow functioning. Among the projects I encountered at MDR I had not yet used the licensed ACLS Humanities E-Book collection with nearly 300 books in the subject category European 400-1400. The selection contains an electronic version of Anders Winroth’s The making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000).

If Medieval Digital Resources will become worth visiting and using in the future, some quick measures are necessary. Hopefully scholars are willing to suggest new resources for inclusion. However excellent it will eventually become, I am sure maintaining standards and doing ordinary maintenance will be core matters for the team working to make MDR successful.

 

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Archiving spies in the Early Modern Spanish empire

Cover exhibition catalogue "Espias"While musing about a possible subject for a new post I luckily remembered an announcement about a vital element within the Early Modern Spanish empire. Not only official ambassadors and delegates played an important role in informing governments, spies played an important role to. From July 2018 to July 2019 the Archivo General de Simancas presents the exhibition Espias. Servicios secretos y escritura cifrada en la Monarquiaa Hispánica [Spies. Secret services and enciphered writing in the Spanish monarchy]. The Spanish Empire formed with the Habsburg Empire a European superpower which needed crucial information from other countries, but also wanted to hide their own secrets from others. In this post I will looked at the very substantial downloadable catalogue of this exhibition (54 MB, PDF). In particular the use of encrypted writing made me curious to find out about this exhibition with three main themes: the organization of intelligence services, the spies and encrypted writing.

Archiving at Simancas

A few lines about the Archivo General de Simancas (AGS), ten kilometers from Valladolid, seem in place here. in 1540 emperor Charles V decided to create a new governmental archive, and quickly Simancas was chosen as its location. King Philip II of Spain issued in 1588 a further instruction for the running of this new archive, in fact one of the first Early Modern archival ordinances. Ten years earlier, in 1578, a new building was built for this purpose, yet another pioneering project of this period. The collections can be divided in two major blocks, the collections stemming from the Habsburgian period and those from the period under the rule of the Bourbon dynasty. The collections of the various consejos (councils) for the regions of the Spanish empire are characteristic for the AGS. For the Bourbon period five major series for the secretaries and again five series for other organisms of the state are the key elements. Outside these series you can find the Patronato Real y Mapas, Planos y Dibujos, with maps, drawings and much more.

Cover of the "Guia del investgador" for the AGS

By all means the AGS can look literally as a formidable fortress! Guides such as the Guía del investigador by Angel de la Plaza Bores (4th ed., 1992; online, 5 MB, PDF) help much to overcome your awe. In her article ‘Fuentes para la historia colonial de Brasil en los archivos españoles’ , published in 2009 in the series Guide du chercheur americaniste of the online journal Nuevo Mundo/ Mundos NuevosMaría Belén García López devoted a section to the use of archival record series at the AGS for researching the history of relations between Spain and Portugal with regard to Brazilian history. In English you might want to look at a 2014 contribution about Simancas by Claire Gilbert at Hazine. In 2016 Adolfo Polo y La Borda looked very brief at Simancas and other major Spanish archives in his post ‘Rethinking the Spanish Imperial Archives’ for the series Fresh from the archives of Dissertation Reviews. The Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) offers a kind of tree structure which you can navigate to find not only online finding aids but also digitized archival records. At first this might look difficult, but the online guide Taming PARES by Scott Cave and Ashleigh Dean is a must-read to gain access to all riches of PARES. There is a separate website for the digital collection with 7,000 digitized items from the Mapas, Planos y Dibujos of the AGS. A much older guide by William R. Shepard, Guide to the materials for the history of the United States in Spanish archives. (Simancas, the Archivo histórico nacional, and Seville) (Washington, D.C., 1907) can be viewed online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. German readers might want to look at Marc André Grebe, Akten, Archive, Absolutismus? Das Kronarchiv von Simancas im Herrschaftsgefüge der spanischen Habsburger (1540-1598) (Madrid 2014).

Early Modern spies

Spy report 1572 - AGS

Detail of a deciphered spy report on fortifications in Piedmont, 1572 – AGS, EST LEG 1234-48

In the preface of the exhibition catalogue Julia Rodriguez de Diego explains how the study of the history of spies, their networks and tools is important for at least three main terrains, viz. the growth of absolute monarchies, the history of Early Modern diplomacy and the field of political theories, even its very heart, the building of states and concepts of states and Staatsräson. The first part of the catalogue deals with the organization of espionage at several levels with the Spanish state. In 1497 the pope authorized the Reyes Católicos to send spies into Africa. It seems the Spanish government scarcely needed this spur, but it proved to be a welcome confirmation. In the catalogue you will find discussions of several documents, for example instructions to virreyes (the viceroys of Navarra, Naples and Sicily) and gobernadores (the governors of Milan and Flandes, meaning the Low Countries). The chart with several layers of the Spanish state is very helpful to perceive the impact and role of intelligence services within and for Spain. Juan Velasquez de Velasco, head of the royal intelligence service at the end of the sixteenth century, wrote to the king about the urgent need for coordination of all efforts. As an example of actual reconnaissance by spies you can look at a 1572 report on French fortifications in the Piedmont region with explanations about a map showing details of these fortresses. A number of documents about payments to spies closes the first section of the catalogue. Here and elsewhere you will find images of documents and substantial transcribed parts in the commentaries.

Encrypted message, ca. 1588-1621 - AGS

An encrypted message written on linen, ca. 1588-1621 – AGS, MPD 44-48

The second and largest part of the catalogue deals with actual spies. Spies might be the word we want to use, but agents is a better term. The Spanish agents delivered reports in encrypted script, here an example written on linen using an unknown cipher code. A late sixteenth-century treatise on counter espionage (AGS, EST LEG 601-183) shows insights in the way enemy spies were hindered in achieving foreign objectives. Spies travelled over all Europe. Venice was considered the very spy capital of Europe. Some documents in this exhibition tell us about spies going to the Ottoman empire. The Spanish spies reported also on the roles and fate of spies from other countries. Corsairs were another matter of concern, as in a 1535 report about preparations for an attack at Oran. Rather grim is the story from 1536-1537 in Naples of the interrogation of a person suspected to be a judeoconverso, a converted Jew, and of being a spy for the Ottomans. Some time later he was found drowned in a river. The story of a spy working in Ireland to get information about British industry and inventions is another interesting subject. The contemporary picture of a spy heading this chapter is a nice vignette of the perceived qualities of a spy, working day and night, always watching out as if he had eyes all over his clothes. A paragraph on famous spies is a logical ending for this section of the catalogue.

The uses of encryption

Encrypted negotation report - AGS

An encrypted negotiation report by ambassador Rodriguez Gonzalez de la Puebla, 1498 – AGS, PTR LEG 52-144, fol. 2r

The third part of the catalogue deals with encryption and its uses. The traditional main ways of encryption were substitution or transposition of letters and hiding written messages. For a late fifteenth-century example of a simple cipher code with 2,400 expressions the use of Roman numbers is shown for the names of particular authorities. The code was used by the Spanish ambassador in England who negotiated for the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with Arthur Tudor, the king’s brother. It is good to see the catalogue uses here an article by María del Carmen Sevilla González, ‘Las nupcias de Catalina de Aragón: aspectos jurídicos, políticos y diplomáticos’, Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 86 (2016) 657-726. Several documents help to give you an idea of what happened behind the screens before king Henry VII agreed in 1504 with the marriage conditions of Catherine’s second marriage in 1503 with the future Henry VIII in a beautiful illuminated document [AGS, PTR LEG 53-1].

In a final paragraph the catalogue shows examples of both general and particular cipher codes. Much of the information given here comes from a recent study by Javier Marcos Rivas, Los dueños del secreto. Espías y espionaje de la Monarquía de los Austrias en el Archivo de Simancas (Madrid 2015). A document from 1564 shows not only a text but also two bars of music [AGS, Estado, leg. 1.1.1.204]. The AGS has in its holdings a manuscript of an unpublished study by Claudio Pérez Gredilla, written in 1899 and 1900 about 200 different cipher codes found in the holdings of this archive [AGS, D/203]. The very last item is really a surprise, a 1936 German Enigma code machine from the holdings of the Museo Histórico Militar de Burgos. This object is really from another age of cryptography. It highlights the fact this catalogue focuses on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

With some regret I have skipped a number of items in this exhibition catalogue, just as i have condensed four centuries of archiving at Simancas. To give just one example, a document with microscopic script from 1586 is presented separately online. You will agree with me the exhibition builds to a climax with the marriages of Catherine of Aragon and the presence of an original Enigma code machine. A particular strength of the catalogue is the ample use of images from archival records combined with partial transcriptions and extensive commentaries. To some extent you can use this catalogue also as an introduction to Spanish palaeography in the Early Modern period. This exhibition fits neatly in the tradition of the AGS for organizing interesting exhibitions, sometimes followed by a virtual exhibit, and publishing accompanying publications. It should invite you to combine your strengths in the Spanish language and the skills of the auxiliary historical sciences such as palaeography to benefit from the wealth of archival records kept at Simancas and in other Spanish archives.

Digital approaches to medieval charters

Start screen DCN

On January 25, 2019 the Digitale Charterbank Nederland [Digital Charter Database Netherlands, DCN] was launched at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. In this project the Huygens Institute/Institute for Dutch History of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences works together with Het Utrechts Archief, many other Dutch archives, and the IT firm De Ree in Groningen to create an online database with not only medieval charters, but also charters written between 1500 and 1800. Among the speakers at the presentation was Els De Parmentier (Ghent) who made an illuminating comparison with the Belgian project Diplomata Belgica. It is only natural to compare both projects and to report on some early impressions.

The third attempt succeeds

In fact two previous attempts at the Huygens Institute to create an online database for all medieval charters in Dutch holdings had not reached their goal. Almost by chance financial support of the Dutch Science Foundation NWO, the presence of an archivist, Karel Engbers, who had recently joined the staff of the IT firm De Ree which supplies an archival system use at many Dutch archive, and the preparatory work of the Huygens Institute together resulted within eighteen months in the current database.

The DCN has a search screen with both a simple search and an advanced search mode which opens by clicking on arrows. The advanced mode is fairly restricted. You can search for phrases and for single words, and you can set a time period to limit the search results. The search tips lead you to the Dutch archives portal created by De Ree. The portal has a search interface in Dutch, English and German, but the page with search tips is only available in Dutch. In the top menu you will not find in the English and German version the choice for newspapers (kranten) and the very useful guide to institutions with holdings for cultural heritage (erfgoedgids).

The second half of the DCN starts screen

I did not want to go immediately to another track of this post, but you can hardly escape from the crucial role played by the archival system of De Ree. In fact the start page of the DCN looks below the introduction very much like the result pages of the Archieven portal. On the right you can use filters for archival institutions (diensten, shortened from archiefdiensten), the presence or lack of images and other files (bestanden), and for toegangen, finding aids. By the way, Het Utrechts Archief figures large with more than 25,000 charters, but as for now only for some 6,600 items digital images have been provided. For each charter you can go directly to the relevant finding aid. Currently the database of the DCN contains already 170,000 charters with for some 24,000 items digital images.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and thus two invited speakers, Hans Mol (Leiden University and Fryske Akademy) and Ronald van de Spiegel at the presentation gave an early report about the functions of the DCN. Finding all occurrences of the abbot (abt) of Middelburg proved to be not straightforward. The use of wildcards is of course important in view of the different spellings of names and locations. With the DCN you can chart for example the changes in the preponderance of papal and royal charters or measure the importance of towns. More disconcerting is the way the datations of charters can led to a presentation of results with in the date field the number 1000 – or another year starting with 1 – instead of the date in the description. In order to work properly the archival system needs to have correct input in its own datation field of the finding aid. Instead of blaming this particular system – or any system for that matter – you will have to look more carefully at the quality of the original input created by archivists. Some crucial fields might have been left empty, and sometimes even a clear indication you are dealing with a charter might be absent. The institutions using De Ree’s system can continuously add and correct their data, but those institutions which do not use it cannot easily update their data within the DCN.

Karel Engbers (De Ree) explained how he urged to widen the selection of charters mentioned within the finding aids at the beginning of the project and during its unfolding. He urged for instance to include also specific genres of charters, and also the occasions where only a top-level description is given, even the most superficial ones like “a bundle of charters, 1350-1550”.

A look at Diplomata Belgica

Startscreen Diplomata Belgica (detail)

Maybe you will already have some ideas about the DCN, but I think you can see them much clearer when you compare the DCN with Diplomata Belgica. In fact I would have preferred to write here about this outstanding digital project much earlier, but things went different. The subtitle of this website with a French and English interface clearly sets its limits and character, “The diplomatic sources of the Medieval Southern Low Countries”. You will find here charters from the territories corresponding more or less with the current country Belgium. The word diplomatic stems from the auxiliary historical science diplomatics, the discipline dealing with medieval charters. For practical reasons, the sheer number of medieval records, this discipline often halts at the year 1300, and only seldom much later, up to 1340.

In her lecture Els De Parmentier made it very clear how you can use Diplomata Belgica to search for very specific questions about medieval charters, giving you a very comprehensive range of fields with both diplomatic and additional information, in particular the presence of religious orders. Apart from the main search interface you can use the interface Recherche Tradition / Tradition Search to search for the textual transmission of charters: as original or as a separate copy, in particular repositories, the writing material, the name of manuscripts and even the Stein number for French cartularies. Perhaps the most important information of De Parmentier’s lecture was the attention to the multiple way you can study charters: within the text of a document, in documents with the same actors, documents with identical compositions, and for example in documents issued by a particular person or institution for the classic research into the working of medieval chanceries. I will leave out here her comparison with other digital projects for medieval charters, for example those at the French Telma portal, the Digitaal Oorkondenboek Noord-Brabant, the Cartago project for charters from Frisia, Drenthe and Groningen, the registers of the Hainault counts of Holland (1299-1345), the international Monasterium project. the Anglo-Saxon charters and the DEEDS project. Each of them has many qualities, but all are slightly different in their approaches. Their common denominator is the choice of approaches founded on diplomatics.

Two approaches to charters

Some impressions become clear after De Parmentier’s lecture. In its current form the DCN is mainly what it shows on your screen, a set of charters filtered from the online finding aids of a large number of Dutch archives and from data sets – and images – provided by some other archives. You can see quickly where to go for rich holdings, but the crucial quality of the data provided by these archival institutions is very clear, too. It is a bit silly to see lots of charters dated in 1000, 1040 or 1085 when you know the actual number of charters for these years is much lower. The time range of the DCN goes considerably beyond the normal scope up to 1300 of (digital) editions of charters for particular regions or princes to include charters issued between 1500 and 1800.

The DCN faces a serious problem with the way datations of charters are handled due to the quality of the input provided by holding institutions. Sometimes one date field with incorrect or insufficient information can lead to a wrong representation of the actual date range. Instead of grumbling about this state of affairs it is perhaps wiser to check the actual input and the cases which are or seem incorrect. The larger lesson is for many digital projects you will need to use fields in a correct way, think only of such standards as EAD (Encoded Archival Description) and Dublin Core, and of course for your own digital presence and services. Sooner or later you will want to share information. Many Dutch archives offer their finding aids also as open data, yet another spur for checking interoperability and correct working before connecting to other projects or presenting data to the general public. In a finding aid archivists describe items as succinctly as possible but uniquely distinguishable from other items, and it should be no surprise descriptions do not contain all possible information, let alone full transcriptions. Some archival institutions provide transcriptions, for example the Regionaal Archief Tilburg.

The DCN website mentions a diplomatic definition of charters, a single act written on parchment or paper pertaining to a legal situation or a legal action – e.g. a sale, a donation – made legally valid by the internal and external characteristics of the deed, such as a seal or a signature. For me the use of the phrase bevoegd persoon (authorised person) seems almost to exclude private persons. The phrase ‘Charter’ is de archiefterm, “[a] charter is the archival term”, wordings written by Jan Burgers, the project leader (Huygens Institute and University of Amsterdam), is simply not correct. In the latest version of the Dutch archival terminology (2003) a charter is defined as a document containing an act validated by one or more seals or a notary’s sign. This definition clearly differs from the definition in the famous Dutch manual by Muller, Fruin and Feith (1898) who saw a charter as the expedition (grosse) of an oorkonde, to be distinguished from a concept or a final version (minuut). The 2003 definition is much clearer about the documentary nature and more succinct. It is foremost an archival definition, and not primarily a concept from or defined by the needs of diplomatics. Luckily the explanations by Burgers about the importance of charters as historical sources are on spot.

Logo Huygens Institute / ING

In my view the Digitale Charterbank Nederland is a tool which reflects archival practices and needs. Its great power is the way you can look at charters within their archival context instead of seeing them only as specimens of a separate documentary genre, and having images of them on your screen. The search possibilities of the DCN are somewhat restricted, even when you allow for the way you can focus on a single archival collection. It is only wise to remember two earlier attempts to create this Dutch charter database failed. Hopefully the problem with the dates in the charters can be solved quickly by the contributing archives and De Ree. Thus we will have at our disposal a primarily archival tool which supplements other Dutch digital projects for medieval charters, such as the digitized versions provided by the Huygens Institute of the oorkondenboeken for Utrecht (OSU), Holland and Zeeland (OHZ), and Gelre (Guelders) and Zutphen (OGZ). Creating links between these editions and the DCN is one of the things that will enhance this database. In particular the coverage with digital images in the DCN is still a bit low, but no doubt this will change rapidly. The qualities of the DCN should also become rapidly available with an English, French or German interface for all scholars worldwide wanting to use charters in Dutch holdings for their research. Without some understanding of archives, archival theory and the classic historical auxiliary sciences such as diplomatics, palaeography, chronology and sigillography you will and cannot tap completely the wealth of information charters can provide.

Laws in the Early Modern Persian world

Detail of startscreen LawformsAt the start of the new year I prefer to honor the tradition of looking at the legal history of a classical Empire. In previous years you would find here in January first of all a post about Roman law. However, the new post on Roman law is not yet ready, but luckily another empire of law came into view. Lawforms – Forms of Law in the Early Modern Persianate World is a new blog at the Hypotheses blog network. The blog reminds you of the large extension of the Persian empire in the Early Modern period, from Eastern Turkey to parts of Afghanistan, but the Persian language and literature had an impact far beyond such borders. In this short post I will look at this international project which runs from 2017 to 2022. The focus of the project will be on the Indian subcontinent.

Another empire

The focus of the Lawforms project will be on Persian and bilingual legal documents and their users. The project distinguishes five linguistic zones. Among the subjects of interest is the impact of the European world on legal practices and the use of one or more languages. The three principal researchers in this project are Nandini Chatterjee (Exeter), Christoph Werner (Marburg) and Farah Bishara (University of Virginia), supported by two research associates in Delhi and Kolkata. The blog presents a number of field work reports, for example for regions with Bengali and Marathi, and for the Punjab. Other post tell us about work. In one case the director of the Rajasthan State Archives came to the South Asia section of the British Library to discuss the project and plans for digitization. I could not help spotting in this post the absence of the link to the website of this institution in Bikaner. The Directory of Archives created by The Memory Company leads you to a number of archives in India, Nepal and Pakistan. For India the list of archives at Wikipedia is very helpful.

On July 13-14, 2018 a workshop was held at Exeter on the theme of transactions and documentation in the Persianate world. The blog gives you the abstracts of contributions. One of the sessions in Exeter was devoted to Asnad, a database hosted by the Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien, Philipps-Universität, Marburg, until now a digital archive for Persian documents mainly from Iran held at several institutions. From 2019 onwards it will be extended to contain also images of documents from South and Central Asia.

Fragments and archives

The most recent contribution at Lawforms is a  notice about a conversation in Charlottesville, VA, between Farad Bishara, the author of A Sea of Debt. Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780–1950 (Cambridge, etc., 2017), and Nandini Chatterjee. At the core  of their conversation is the tension between views about legal consciousness and the sometimes arbitrary survival of records and documents in archival institutions. The levels to be researched cannot been seen in a fixed constellation with for instance legal manuals, dictionaries – see the post on a Persian/Bengali dictionary from 1838 by A.B.M. Shamshuddoza – and legal documents. The notice ends with some remarks on the way public records can refer to privately held views and vice versa.

One of the reasons I tried here to look here albeit rather briefly at a project concerning the Middle East and South Asia is the presence at my website Rechtshistorie of a growing overview of archives worldwide, including also Asia. I will not dare to venture into the field of India’s legal history without mentioning here South Asian Legal History Resources, the blog of Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin). It is really a portal for anyone wanting to study India’s legal history. She can provide you also with a host of links to websites with tips and strategies for productivity. Let’s hope the quality and quantity of your research, writing or teaching can attain the right levels in 2019!

Rembrandt’s private and legal life

Bannere exhibition "Rembrandt Privé"

On December 7, 2018 the exhibition Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] opened at the city archives of Amsterdam. In an earlier post on my blog I mentioned the project RemDoc – Rembrandt Documentation which offers a searchable database with images, transcriptions and many English translations of seventeenth-century documents pertaining to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). The exhibit show documents held at the Stadsarchief Amsterdam, the largest municipal archive in the Netherlands, some original works by Rembrandt, a number of maps and the chance to gain access to augmented reality around the documents using a tablet. The legal nature of many documents will soon become clear in this post.

Stories of love, art and money

I started to admire Rembrandt already as a child. His paintings, drawings and etchings are so much alive with people. Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age helped shaping my perceptions of the seventeenth century. I was soon aware of the many decisive turns in Rembrandt’s life. The way he portrayed people both in sorrow and joy, and the dark hours of his own life offered a healthy antidote to viewing the Dutch Republic in too much sunlight. The catalogue of the major Rembrandt exposition in Amsterdam in 1969 was a book I have seen many times. It often referred to historical documents about Rembrandt and his works.

The building of the Stadsarcheif Amsterdam

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam at the Vijzelstraat in the former bank building designed by K.P.C. de Bazel

Reading about somebody in a book is one thing, seeing the works of an artist in museums adds much to it, but somehow having the documents in front of you stirs the imagination even more. The Rembrandt Documentation project of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam and the Radboud University Nijmegen gives you online access to many thousand documents. There was an older work, Die Urkunden über Rembrandt (1575-1721) by C. Hofstede de Groot (The Hague 1906; online, Universität Heidelberg) with transcriptions and commentaries for nearly 500 documents, followed by W.L. Strauss and M. van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York 1979) and M. Roscam Abbing, Rembrandt 2006, II: New Rembrandt Documents (Leiden 2006). The online project has a wider time range, 1424 to 1799, and offers much more documents, and also references about Rembrandt in art literature. Sometimes Hofstede de Groot did not record texts completely. Commentaries can be very different and convincing explanations no longer missing. An example: Hofstede de Groot gave a large extract from an attestatio de vita from July 26, 1632 (no. 25, p. 24-25; RemDoc, no. 4399) made by a notary inquiring about Rembrandt’s health, but the reason for this inquiry was not clear to Hofstede de Groot. In 1979 it became clear it had to do with a rent subscribed to by one hundred citizens with the stipulation the full sum would be paid back to the longest living subscriber.

An enlarged map of Amsterdam and two documents

The exhibit at the city archive shows a selection of documents around a number of themes and events in Rembrandt’s life. Often two documents are shown, with either a print next to them or an image of a painting in the background, most of them from the collections of the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandthuis. With the tablet you can focus on a document and start a short podcast about the document or documents. Often you will see a seventeenth-century map in the background showing you the exact location in the inner city of Amsterdam. The image to the left centers on a document about the execution of Elsje Christiaens, a Danish servant convicted for murder hanging at the display gallows in 1664 on the other side of the IJ, the estuary to the north of Amsterdam. Rembrandt often made sketches in this region. He drawed this young woman twice.

The exhibition shows some familiar documents, and although I had already some expectations, the legal nature of many documents is indeed striking. To mention just a few of them, the betrothal of Rembrandt and his first wife Saskia van Uijlenburgh in 1634, an ecclesiastical procedure about his later mistress Geertje, some testaments, the inventory of his bankruptcy in 1656, and the inventory of his house after his death in 1669 are all legal documents.

The 1669 inventory - Amsterdam, Stadsarchief

A page from the 1669 inventory – Amsterdam, Stadsarchief, Archief Notarissen, subseries 113, Gerrit Steeman, inv.no. 2625C

The death-bed inventory of Rembrandt’s house in 1669 is rather special. It belongs to documents more or less damaged by the 1762 fire in the city hall. Several documents have now been restored and digitized. Until now the transcriptions of this document in RemDoc (no. 13471; Hofstede de Groot, no. 306) could only be incomplete. It is a reminder that a historical state of affairs can change indeed. Illegible or missing words can become clear. In the case mentioned above a document which seemed inexplicable can be studied anew, placed in a context and yield new information. The readability of old Dutch documents was the theme in a post I wrote earlier in 2018. I proposed to everyone wanting to learn online to decipher Dutch documents from the seventeenth century to start with the documents about Rembrandt. As an example I showed an image of an obligation Rembrandt had got into for the purchase in 1639 of his house in the Sint Anthoniebreesteeg for which he had failed in 1653 to pay four years of interest (RemDoc no. 4628). Even if not for all documents images and an English translation is available, a fair number of archival records can be used to gain also palaeographical skills.

Among the archival records on display I want to single out two documents. The first is a complaint from the Portuguese merchant Diego d’Andrada in 1654 about a portrait of a young lady Rembrandt had made for him (RemDoc, no. 1661) with clauses about the way Rembrandt was going to act to fulfill the wishes in accordance with the regulations of the painters guild.

Documents about the black community in Rembrandt's Amsterdam

The second document involved also the presence of Portuguese merchants in Amsterdam, the burial of Francisco d’Angola in 1659 who had lived in the same street with Selijelij Krablije. Rembrandt could meet in the very street where he lived black people who lived as servants in the houses of Portuguese merchants. In Amsterdam it was forbidden to have slaves, but one can assume in some cases such servants were in fact slaves. Amsterdam had become in the seventeenth century one of Europe’s most important financial and trade centers. You might encounter anyone and anything, and thus Rembrandt’s world stretched far beyond Holland.

More archival records

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam is rightly famous for its digitization service. Some 30 million images of archival records are currently available online. Indexes exist for a steadily growing number of record series, and in most cases they lead you to digital images, too. The ondertrouwregisters (betrothal registers) are probably the most praised record series of the municipal archive, because uniquely for this kind of resource the Amsterdam records often contain additional information about the partners, their professions, origin and family.

Logo Alle Amsterdamse Akten

In 1906 Hofstede de Groot noted in the acknowledgements he had not used himself the notarial registers of Amsterdam, because this rich resource had not yet been adequately inventoried. He had mostly to rely on the transcriptions and editions of the people who had gained access to them thanks to the guidance of archivists. It is one thing to have now at your computer screen full access to digitized images of these registers using the finding aid (toegang 5075), but another thing to find quickly relevant acts. Here the crowdsourcing project Alle Amsterdamse Akten steps in which aims to digitize and create indexes for a staggering volume of notarial registers, good for 3,5 linear kilometer in 700 cupboards. The project overview gives a current number of nearly six million digitized pages, some 680 volunteers at the Dutch transcribing platform Vele Handen [Many Hands] and 267,000 documents. There are more than ten thousand registers from 731 notaries in the Early Modern period. The website contains special dossiers about six themes, among them Rembrandt and also slavery with highlights among the notarial acts, some of them newly found, others already known.

Search screen Alle Amsterdamse Akten

The search screen of Alle Amsterdamse Akten

After free registration you can start searching in the notarial registers from Amsterdam at the website Notarieel Archief Amsterdam. You can search for descriptions, type of act, first names and surnames for two persons, location, day, month and year, or choose a particular notary. When searching for Rembrandt van Rhijn you will immediately get a choice of variant spellings in a dropdown menu, both for Rembran(d)(t) and R(h)ijn. At this point I can no longer hide the fact that the exhibit can be visited in a Dutch and English version, but the other websites of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam are completely in Dutch. The press kit for the exhibit in four languages and the display texts for the documents are the exceptions, but the tablet scripts and transcriptions are only available online in Dutch. There is a strong case to add at least a search interface in one other language. It is some solace to be able to download the 1998 repertory of notaries in Amsterdam between 1524 and 1810 by A.J. Bosma. Earlier on an overview had been created of more than 5000 notarial acts in cases of gross avery between 1700 and 1810, damage to ships in emergency situations, an important resource next to an index on these cases of maritime law heard by a special court. I wrote a paragraph about these verdicts in an earlier post.

Rembrandt and Vermeer in documents

It seems wise to see Rembrandt not in isolation. John Michael Montias (1928-2005) was an economic historian who became an art historian focusing on the social context of art. He found and transcribed lots of Early Modern probate inventories mentioning works of art which can be searched in the Montias database of the Frick Museum, New York. The Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology has created the Boedelbank, a database with Dutch probate inventories from four regions seen as a resource for the history of material culture. In 1989 Montias published Vermeer and his milieu. A web of social history, translated into Dutch as Vermeer en zijn milieu (Amsterdam 1993). Over the years Montias had traced some 450 documents in seventeen Dutch and Belgian archives – not only in Delft! – with direct and indirect about information about Vermeer, his family and people associated with him. The Dutch edition contains as an appendix (pp. 331-403) an enlarged version of the list of documents with a number of full transcriptions. The number of documents for Vermeer is definitely lower than for Rembrandt. Even if such documents do not allow for strict conclusions about the content of his art works, they enormously raise the awareness about the multiple contexts of Dutch art in the seventeenth century.

In the face of an ocean of specialized art literature about Rembrandt and Vermeer the point I liked to make here is not only the legal nature of many archival records in the Amsterdam exhibition, but also the presence of many other persons in these documents. Rembrandt and Vermeer were supreme masters in portraying people who you seem to know and understand in an uncanny way. The Dutch historian Geert Mak wrote a book about the Six family [De levens van Jan Six. Een familiegeschiedenis, 2016; The many lives of Jan Six. A portrait of an Amsterdam dynasty, 2017], a merchant dynasty with Jan Six at its very heart, a friend of Rembrandt, portrayed twice by him. The painting is still owned by his descendants. Viewing someone in his familiar surroundings or in the streets of his hometown is also a metaphor for viewing law not as an isolated element of society, but vitally connected to its utmost veins. Finding and recreating such connections is surely challenging, but searching for a subject in vivo is more rewarding and revealing than staying content with results in a supposedly detached laboratory. At the end of 2018 I would almost say: Keep calm and study legal history!

Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] – Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Vijzelstraat 32, Amsterdam – December 7, 2018 until April 7, 2019

Swiss sermons around executions

Startscreen Standreden, Universität Zürich

The execution of convicted crime suspects attracted the attention of the general public in Early Modern Europe. Authorities saw the public administering of punishments as a key element of criminal law. For a lot of cases we know about the last words people said before their execution, and authors reckoned even on the particular interest of their public to record such words. Less attention has been given to another genre, sermons spoken just before or after public execution. The Universität Zürich has now digitized such sermons, Standreden, based on the materials of the late Urs Herzog, a Swiss philologist.  What was said in these sermons from the eighteenth and nineteenth century? What was the purpose of the preaches and the effect on their public? In this contribution I will look at the digital collection, its background and at some questions surrounding these sermons.

It is not the first time that a post appears here after an alert or message at Archivalia, the blog of Klaus Graf (@Archivalia_kg). It is up to any visitor of his blog to pursue the paths he indicates or to heed his warnings. Anyway, Switzerland has seldom been the subject in my posts.

A wide range of materials

Logo Standreden

The website of this joint project of the department for German language and literature and the center for legal history of the Universität Zürich starts with pointing out how these sermons serve as a focus of attention and as a genre in which the law and Christian teaching came together. Urs Herzog (1942-2015) taught German literature at Zürich. He became a specialist in the field of Early Modern sermons (Barockpredigte), but his interests were much wider. The Standreden are a form of the much more common Leichpredigte, death sermons. As a professor emeritus he did research on the history of criminal justice, moral theology and the spiritual and psychic care for prisoners. In the project only a selection of his materials has been digitized. One of the purpose of the project is to present the sheer scope and range of Herzog’s materials and to invite other scholars to use them for their research.

The image on the start screen shows the execution of a woman in 1851. Below the text the explication mentions an often quoted verse from the letter to the Romans (13,4): “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (King James Version). In the verse immediately preceding this quote it is clear he refers to rulers. This quote was used as an argument to confirm the right and duty of authorities to execute justice in a most literal way, by applying even the death sentence.

The digital project has a page on further sources (Quellen) with a scholarly bibliography. Apart from the nearly 140 digitized sermons Herzog traced nearly 400 other sermons in Swiss libraries. A glossary helps you to understand numerous terms with a very specific meaning. The questionnaire contains at present only three fairly obvious questions you can ask about these sermons. The page for research (Forschung) gives you access to articles written by Urs Herzog and a few other scholarly publications about the Standreden.

Preaching a good end

Logo Zentralbibliothek Zürich

The nearly 140 sermons in the digital collection date from 1601 to 1867. In an Excel sheet you can find bibliographic details. However, there is just one sermon from the seventeenth century. 21 sermons stem from the eighteenth century, and some 120 sermons were held during the nineteenth century. The bibliographical information is concise but most useful. Herzog noted the religion of the preacher, the gender of the executed persons, and he even gives his verdict on the nature of the texts. In thirty cases women were executed. Some texts were not really a Standrede. Most sermons were printed, but he traced some sermons in manuscript. Herzog found the majority of the printed sermons, in a way pamphlets, in the holdings of the Zentralbibliothek Zürich. It is a bit mystifying he does not mention where he found the other publications. The digital collection has been created using digitized black-and-white photocopies made by Herzog himself.

In the digital collection each sermon has been given a code for the year, and often the name of the preacher, the executed person and the location of the execution are also included. A small number of sermons was not held in Swiss towns , but in Dresden (1601), Stuttgart (1738),  Wernigerode (1747), Ludwigsburg and Heidelberg, the latter both in 1812. In the Excel sheet you can query for dates and places, names of the convicted and the preacher, the kind of crime and the way of execution, the location where the sermon was held, its public (the delinquent, the beholders or a parish), the location of publication and the publisher, and for the facts I mentioned already in the paragraph here above. Some sermons were addressed directly to the criminal, others only to the public that had watched the execution. Of course I feel tempted to use here one or more sermons, preferably very different ones. A sermon in 1843 was held in a case in which the felon was pardoned. The Jesuit priest Matthias Heimbach held three sermons in 1716, a prime case for comparison. Nine sermons date from 1827.

All the strengths of this project do not hide one particular point. It is understandable to use first of all Herzog’s research material, but in the case of the sermons themselves it is rather remarkable his own photocopies have been digitized, and not the original editions. In view of the more than 35,000 thousand titles from the Zentralbibliothek Zürich digitized for the Swiss portal e-rara, conveniently grouped in one set, it is feasible to search for digitized execution sermons. I suppose one had rather seen a simple list of those items or a notice on the presence or absence of items within e-rara. As a matter of fact I searched for Standreden in e-rara, with two results, only one of them an execution sermon by Alois Diogg, a Capucin friar, Standrede, gesprochen auf der Blutstätte in Schwyz bei der Hinrichtung des Raubmörders Hieronymus Kessler von Galgenen (Schwyz, s.a. (1839); online, e-rara). Using the joint catalogue of the university library and the Zentralbibliothek Zürich you will realize quickly the word Standrede was used for any kind of Leichenpredigt.

You might pause for a thought how it took Herzog years to bring his resources together even with the assistance of online catalogues, but luckily he could at least partially build on the research concerning death sermons. Since many years the Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz is home to the Forschungsstelle für Personalschriften. An important section of its website is devoted to Leichenpredigten. You will find a database and links to projects with digitized German death sermons. Legal historians might want to look in particular at the legal dimensions of these execution sermons, but they can equally be treated as a subspecies of death sermons.

The presentation of these research materials, the digitization of (photocopies) of resources and not in the least the cooperation between two scholarly disciplines is to be welcomed. This Swiss project does homage to the legacy of a scholar with wide interests who found an intersection of theology, literature and legal history. My frowns about some elements should not stop you from investigating the project website and these digitized Swiss execution sermons.

 

Medieval manuscripts from France and England united

Banner France-Angleterre 700-1200

The future of the relations between Europe and the United Kingdom can at times seem darkened by current politics. As if no Brexit of whatever nature lies ahead a new online project has been created giving online access to some 800 medieval manuscripts kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London. These manuscripts were produced between 700 and 1200. At least a number of them belongs to the period the dukes of Normandy had conquered England and established connections that would last for centuries. In this post I want to look at the project France-Angleterre 700-1200: Manuscrits médiévaux entre 700 et 1200, and in particular at the manuscripts connected with law and justice. You can view the project in French, English and Italian.

Manuscripts in two cities

Logo The Polonsky Foundation

The two libraries cooperating in this project would sorely miss the support of a Dritter im Bunde, The Polonsky Foundation, which supports projects concerning cultural heritage. Medieval manuscripts receive a fair share of its attention, in particular for the digitization of manuscripts held at the Vatican Library in cooperation with the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. The France-Angleterre website is supported by a website hosted by the British Library, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, viewable in English and French, where you will find articles on subjects such as medieval historians, manuscript illumination and the libraries of medieval monasteries. For both the BL and the BnF the website offers an introduction about the history of their manuscript collections and a selection of 115 manuscripts. The selection contains two decorated manuscripts of the Decretum Gratiani (BnF, Latin 3888 and BL, Arundel 490), a copy of Justinian’s Digest (BnF, Latin 4454) and a volume with legal texts concerning London, a description of England and Ranulph de Glanville’s legal treatise (BL, Add 14252). You can read also about six themes: art and illumination, history and learning, science and nature, Christian religion and belief, manuscript production and the modern care of medieval manuscripts in library collections. There is a glossary and a series of videos about the making of medieval manuscripts. You can also watch a video touching on legal history, The role of law in governing medieval England. At the resources page the blogs of the BL and BnF can tell you more about the project. Several conferences about these newly digitized manuscripts will be held, too.

The main manuscripts website of France-Angleterre offers four filters to approach the digitized manuscripts: themes, authors, locations and centuries. I assume here you would like to explore a particular theme, canon and civil law; nine other themes are presented as well. With 70 manuscripts of the 800 on this website the score for legal texts is higher here than in the selection, just four among 115 manuscripts, but this is better than the other way around. The presentation of the manuscripts at France-Angleterre looks familiar for regular visitors of the Gallica digital library of the BnF. When you look at the languages of these seventy manuscripts the number of 69 for Latin clearly means some manuscripts contain texts in two languages. The range of dates is from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, with 24 manuscripts from the twelfth century. The presence of BL, Royal MS 8 E XV with Alcuin’s letters is justified by the presence of fragments of a tenth-century charter. Each manuscript is not shown in the viewer used at Gallica, but in the IIIF compliant viewer increasingly used nowadays. With the heading Canon and civil law you would expect a filter to distinguish between legal systems, but this is not provided for. For canon law I mentioned already the Decretum Gratiani, and you will find a number of older canon law collections, such as the Collectio Dacheriana (BL, Harley 2886 and 3845) and the Dionysio-Hadriana, the Rule of St. Benedict, the Pseudo-Isidorean decretals, and also the Institutio canonicorum Aquisgranensis, the Aachen rule for canons. The detailed description of BnF Latin 13908 mentions another text in this volume, the Statuta Adalhardi abbatis, the reason why this manuscript with Boethius’ De institutione musica has been included in this section. The Statuta Adalhardi abbatis are a variant title for the Constitutiones Corbeienses or Statuta seu Brevia Adalhardi abbatis Corbeiensis from 826, information easily found at the Monastic Manuscript Project. This manuscript is the oldest one to contain this text.

Image of London, BL. Egerton 2901, f. 1v

The Collectio Francofurtana – BL, Egerton 2901, f. 1r – image British Library

My interest was in particular awakened by the presence of the Collectio Francofurtana in BL, Egerton 2901, a twelfth-century collection of papal decretals, verdicts in the form of letters to delegated judges. During my period in Munich in 1997 and 1998 at the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law I had the chance to look at Walther Holtzmann’s card index of twelfth-century decretals, and also at the microfilms of the four manuscripts of the Collectio Francofurtana, an early systematic decretal collections created in or around 1183. Gisela Drossbach has successfully dealt with both the card index, now available online, and this decretal collection. Twenty years later it is only natural to look for the online presence of the other three manuscripts as well. Within the Digitale Sammlungen of the Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main you will indeed find the manuscript Barth. 60, the manuscript which gave its name to this decretal collection. The manuscript BnF, Lat. 3922A is present in Gallica, and the manuscript Troyes, BM 961, has been digitized in the Mediathèque of the Bibliothèque municipale in Troyes. It is quite a change from the black-and-white microfilms to four manuscripts at your screen in full colour.

Among the texts concerning canon law at France-Angleterre you will find texts from several church councils.and also monastic regulations, in particular the Coutumes de Cluny (Constitutiones Cluniacenses) in BnF, Lat. 13875. The Decretum of Burchard of Worms is present in BnF, Lat. 3860.

For Roman law we encounter not only the Digesta but also the Codex Iustinianus, the Codex Theodosianus and the Epitome Gaii Institutionum, a shortened version of the Institutes of Gaius. A number of Late Antique texts collectively known as the leges barbarorum or the Volksrechte are also present, among them the Leges Visigothorum and the Breviarium Alarici, the Lex Salica and the Lex Ribuaria. These texts are found in manuscripts surrounded by other texts. The French and Italian version of the website specifically mentions this fact for the section on law, “mais aussi tout recueil de lois” and “così come ogni altro compendio di natura giuridica”, but this has been omitted in the English version.

The language filter of France-Angleterre invites you to explore the use of other languages than Latin. For the first manuscript with one or more texts in Old French, BL, Cotton Tiberius E IV, it is not immediately clear which text is written in Old French. The manuscript catalogue of the British Library makes clear two only two separate texts at f. 28v and 29v were written in Old French, one of them the abdication of John, king of Scots on July 10, 1296. The same story can be told for BL, Cotton Vespasian B XX, with only some notes in Old French at f. 25r. I was afraid this story would continue for the three manuscripts with texts in Anglo-Norman, for example BL, Add. 24006 with as its main text the Tractatus de legibus et consuetudines Angliae by Ranulph of Glanvill and the first version of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris. The entry for the Early English Laws project does not mention any Anglo-Norman text in this manuscript. However, BL Add 14252 with again Glanvill’s treatise does contain several legal texts in Anglo-Norman, among them laws for London (f. 101-104r, 113r-117r, 119r-124r), and for weavers and fullers in Winchester, Oxford and other towns (f 111r-112r). In BL, Sloane 1580 the text in Anglo-Norman is not a legal text, but the oldest translation in medieval vernacular of a scientific text, the Comput (Computus) by Philippe de Thaon (f. 162v-178r). The manuscript contains only one legal treatise (f. 182r-184r), a kind of prologue connected with the Epitome exactis regibus. BL, Cotton Otho E XIII, has glosses in Breton for the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. The Comput of Philippe de Thaon can be read in four other manuscripts within France-Angleterre.

A rapid tour

With just seventy manuscripts out of a total of 800 for France-Angleterre it is clear the sample taken here deals with less than ten percent of this digital collection. The impression seems clear that the selection contains for the field of law mainly Roman law texts, Late Antique laws, a wide choice of texts touching on canon law, and only a few examples of texts concerning English law. I did not readily find any text on French customary law or French royal acts. Before you might divine this has to do with the division of manuscripts in this selection, I should add that this selection contains thirty-five manuscripts from each library, a perfectly balanced choice with regard to numeric values. The choice for the period 700-1200 could have led to the presence of multiple texts in Anglo-Saxon in this selection, but in fact there is just a single manuscript in this language, the Heliand in BL, Cotton Caligula A VII. The advanced search mode of France-Angleterre allows you to search for several basic fields, for particular languages and time ranges.

I found it very important to see at France-Angleterre how texts we tend to single out were transmitted alongside sometimes very different other texts. It reminded me we should not see medieval law and justice in isolation. For all its qualities the IIIF viewer does not immediately show you how to go quickly to the end of a manuscript, but the gallery view does this for you. In a number of cases there is a side panel at the left which helps you to navigate to particular sections of a manuscript. The detailed description of items is often sufficient, but anyway all items are connected either with the archives and manuscripts catalogue of the British Library or with the catalogue for archives et manuscrits of the BnF. This joint venture supported by The Polonsky Foundation affirms the reputation of both libraries. France-Angleterre seems to me a great gateway for exploring medieval manuscripts, both for beginners and for scholars with their own questions and wishes.

A postcript

Klaus Graf, archivist of the RWTH (Aachen), has checked on Archivalia at random some of the links to manuscripts at France-Angleterre, and he found serious problems. Graf fights for the durability of links, in particular permalinks . It is only reasonable to create a reliable website which can function correctly for many years. Link rot is not a new phenomenon. It would be bad to have weak links right from the start. The team of France-Anglettere should deal quickly and constructively with this matter.

At the introductory website of France-Angleterre hosted by the British Library Joanna Fronska has published an article on legal manuscripts in England and France with much attention to manuscript production and artistic influences.