Of manors, towers and castles

Living near Utrecht with its beautiful old inner city and many monuments from earlier centuries can make you wish to look around this town in the heart of the Netherlands to find more monumental buildings or remains of them. People watching last year on television the start of the Tour de France from Utrecht may have looked at some point to a spectacular aerial photo of a castle and the park around it. The castle of Haarzuilens is the largest castle in my country, and it is really in a class of its own. Since 2013 I live almost in the backyard of the former manor Huis Voorn of which only the two eighteenth-century dovecotes survive, a memorial of seigniorial rights, worthy of a post here. Some castles show all the archetypical elements of the fairy castle with one or more towers, battlements and a moot surrounding the premises. Some are accompanied by follies, nineteenth-century – or even earlier – fake buildings, some have become themselves to a large extent reinvented houses.

Thus many buildings are only castles by virtue of their name. The importance of castles for legal history is surely their connection with jurisdiction and rights, and in my country even with the very shape of newly cultivated grounds, in particular in marshy regions. In this post the walking historian rides again! In fact I did ride to these houses by bike. Most of my examples will come from the southeast corner of the province Utrecht, the Kromme Rijngebied, an area named after an old meandering branch of the Rhine. Along and near the Langbroekerwetering, a stream made for drainage of this originally swamp area, there were some forty fortified houses, and luckily for you I will not visit them all, but you might become curious for more indeed.

A tour of castles in Utrecht

The tower of Den Ham, VleutenLet’s start with a most imposing tower at Den Ham near Vleuten, nowadays part of the city of Utrecht. In the mid-nineteenth century most of the fortified house around it has been demolished. The freestanding tower with seven floors is the largest one still standing in my country. The tower is actually for sale, now for only (!) € 1,750,000. I did not put here on purpose a picture made in January 2015, but it can serve to remind you of the problem of heating an old building enough to be comfortable for people in our century! The fortified house ranked as many other stately buildings in Utrecht as a ridderhofstad, literally a knightly manor giving its owner entrance to the States of Utrecht as a member of the gentry. This rule only developed during the sixteenth-century when a first version of a list was published. Thus the States of Utrecht tried to deal with the proliferation of castles, manors and other major private homes and possible claims to qualify for its membership.

Kasteel Heemstede, Houten - photo November 2013The range of castles and manors in the province of Utrecht goes from the tower of Den Ham to almost fairy-tale castles such as Haarzuilens, but I would like to look here at an example closer to the Kromme Rijn river, Heemstede near the former village Houten, now a garden-city to the south-east of Utrecht. Its splendid outlook could convince you it was always as grandiose as it looks now. However, its present incarnation is in fact just a faithful copy of the original building which was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago. It is now home to a hotel. The surrounding grounds have been converted into a golf course. The Amsterdam-Rhine canal with its busy traffic runs close to it.

Castle Beverweerd, Odijk Near the village of Odijk is castle Beverweerd. Until a few years ago it was home to a public school. As you can gather from my picture it is situated in lush surroundings. From the meadow across the castle it becomes clear a number of medieval elements have been added quite recently. Adding such elements is not a new development, it follows closely practices starting in the nineteenth century. I will show you an example in the next section of this post.


Another tower not far from Odijk is located almost at the beginning of the Langbroekerwetering, the main stream created to develop the marshes into a cultivated area. Sterkenburg, “strong fortress”, certainly looks as a stronghold. The flag at the top of the tower adds an element familiar from television series with tales about courageous knights and damsels in distress. Alas I could not take a photograoh to this fortified house because the trees surrounding it make it impossible to view this house completely. To the left of the tower is the main building. In order to make up for the lack of details I could think of nothing else but turning around and taking a picture of the dovecote in the meadow adjacent to Sterkenburg and its grounds. To be sure, this dovecote is indeed a nineteenth-century folly, but something more is the matter in the south-east corner of the province of Utrecht. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century it became fashionable for rich Dutchmen to buy old castles and manors as summer houses.

A matter of rights

The folly of SterkenburgBuying yourself as a landowner a nice large summer resort is one thing, gaining access to the States of Utrecht by getting hold of a place with the eagerly sought rank of a ridderhofstad was surely as important. The presence of other buildings around your reinvented castle or old manor helped to show off your wealth, the sheer size of your landed property. In the case of follies or other embellishments your taste, too, became visible.

Rhynestein, CothenSome castle-like manors suggest a particular right. In the village of Cothen Huis Rhynestein is located at the Kromme Rijn river directly opposite to the village church. Not only a manor, but also a gate survive. The local situation might suggest the lords of Rhynestein did nominate the vicar of this parish. In his book Het Kromme Rijngebied in de middeleeuwen (Zutphen, 1993), the most important and detailed study on the medieval geographic and institutional history of the Kromme Rijn area Cees Dekker showed at many turns that you cannot reach any of such easy conclusions. The sheer number of institutions and people with claims and rights in this area is truly bewildering. Only long familiarity with the relevant archival collections, the experience and all other qualities of a medievalist-archivist par excellence which Dekker impersonated, and a keen personal knowledge of this region could bring his research to bear such rich fruits.

Huis Hardenbroek, Driebergen-RijsenburgOften the key to in-depth knowledge of a castle is getting hold of its archives. Castle Hardenbroek has been and still is in the possession of its founders, probably at least since the early fourteenth-century, with the exception of a dire period of nearly a century when the family had been forced to sell the ancestral home. Twenty years ago the castle archives were entrusted to the care of Het Utrechts Archief, the combined municipal and provincial archives of Utrecht. Hardenboek is located in the village Driebergen-Rijsenburg, but it is actually very close to Langbroek and Cothen.

A note on Dutch archival collections

Logo Het Utrechts ArchiefMany archival collections of castles and manors in the province Utrecht are kept at Het Utrechts Archief, a central point in this small province, and not in the smaller regional archives at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Woerden and Wijk bij Duurstede. Luckily the portal site of the Utrechts Archiefnet makes it possible to search directly in the online finding aids of both Het Utrechts Archief and the four regional archives in the province of Utrecht. Lately the arrival at Utrecht of a very substantial number of archival records for Hardenbroek from the Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the Gelders Archief in Arnhem has given a new push to finish the new inventories for Hardenbroek that will replace the provisional finding aids published in 2000. I use the plural inventories on purpose. In a way the new finding aids will open the road closed by the beautiful gate on my picture.

Logo NKSYou can find more about Dutch castles for example at the website of the Dutch center for castles and manors with a good links section and also at Kastelen in Nederland. There is a special website Utrechtse buitenplaatsen for manors and castles in the province Utrecht. Relevant images can be found online for example in the image database of the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Dutch National Service for Cultural Heritage that has also created a database to search for monumental buildings. Het Utrechts Archief offers online access to almost all its finding aids. You might still benefit from the printed guide to archives in the province Utrecht by A.N. Beets, H.L.Ph. Leeuwenberg and J.G. Riphaagen (eds.), De archieven in Utrecht (Alphen aan den Rijn 1985), the eleventh volume of the series with overviews of Dutch public archival collections (PDF, 9 MB). At present only the volumes 3 to 14 of this important series with a deceivingly long title, Overzichten van de archieven en verzamelingen in de openbare archiefbewaarplaatsen in Nederland, are available online at the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, however among them at least also the last volume, the guide to private archival collections in the Netherlands [H.J.H.A.G. Metselaars (ed.), Particuliere archieven in Nederland (1992)]. The volumes for Drenthe and Gelderland have not yet been digitized, but the separate volume concerning archives in Amsterdam can be viewed online. Even if you have no particular interest in the history of castles and manor these invaluable guides merit your attention for legal history, because the volumes start with a map of jurisdictions before 1795. Sometimes the venom is in the end, but here there is a bait waiting for you!

250 years freedom of the press

TheSwedish royal ordinance of 1766The freedom of bloggers is not something you should take for granted. In some countries of the world blogging is really dangerous because governments are not at all at ease about the freedom to express oneself. 250 years ago Sweden saw the first legislation for freedom of print. In Sweden and Finland special websites gave been launched to celebrate this commemoration. Anders Chydenius, the Swedish minister responsible for the epoch-making law, came from Finland. In this post I would like to look at the celebrations and at eighteenth-century Sweden and the impact of this act of legislation.

A long history

Header Frittord 250

The commemoration website Frittord 250 [The Free Word 250] created by the Swedish Academy of Sciences is the first point of access to find out about the law of 1766. The corner with source materials (Källmaterial & resurser) is the only point where you will find information about the historical legislation. You can download a PDF with a digital version of the original law (24 MB) or read it online at the website of the university library in Lund. With fifteen articles in a few pages it is a remarkable concise law. However, this evidentially led rather quickly to changes. Before 1800 there were already five new laws dealing with the freedom of print. The section offers the texts of seventeen ordinances and laws up to 2001. When you press the button In English you will find only a brief summary of the matter at the center of the commemoration. The calendar of activities and blog posts form the major part of the project website. One of the activities is a travelling exhibition Ordets akt [The act of the word], now at the Kulturhuset Stadsteatern in Stockholm.

Saying the focus of Frittord 250 is on the present is an understatement. I happened to find at The Constitution Unit website of University College London in the foreign corner of the section Freedom of Information an introduction about the Swedish freedom of press. Here, too, the story jumps from just one short paragraph about the original law to the current state of affairs. It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of current debates about freedom of speech, freedom of information and the way governments try to interfere with the public sphere, it is another thing to study developments and backgrounds which could be rather important in understanding and interpreting contemporary issues. For the United Kingdom the website of the Constitution Unit gives you at least a short history of developments since the sixties. The links section brings you for example to the international portal Right2Info where you can find much more. Its resources section is very impressive, even when you might wonder whether it is sufficient to mention for some countries only the national ombudsman.

Banner Freedom of Information 250 years

The historical background of the 1766 law gets more space and attention at the Finnish website Freedom of Information: Anders Chydenius 250 years, a website accessible as often is the case in Finland in Finnish, Swedish and English. It is invigorating to read here about the historical, cultural and political background of Sweden’s pioneering law. Chydenius can be termed a very active exponent and propagator of Enlightenment ideas. His plea for freedom of press was part of his campaign in 1765 and 1766 for free trading rights. Maren Jonasson and Perti Hyttinen translated a number of Chydenius’ works in English [Anticipating The Wealth of Nations. The selected works of Anders Chydenius, 1723-1809 (London, etc., 2011)]. This book contains also a translation of the 1766 law. When preparing this post I also visited the website on copyright history of Karl-Erik Tallmo who looks not only at Sweden, but also at the history of copyright in England and Germany. Bournemouth University and University of Cambridge have created the well-known portal Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), and you can also learn something from the digitized texts in the Archivio Marini (Università degli Studi di Pisa).

Instead of only looking at the context of this law we might as well look at this piece of legislation in some detail to establish the width of its impact on information. The law’s full title Kongl. Maj:ts Nådige Förordning, Angående Skrif- och Tryck-friheten, “His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press”, promises much. In the preamble censorship is nominally abolished but technically transferred to the royal chancery. The stress on the benefit for the enlightenment of the people and the observance of laws is remarkable. In the first article a clear limit for the freedom of expression is posed by forbidding anything that goes against the Christian faith. Writings criticising the form of the state and the king himself are prohibited in the second and third article. Publications have to be printed with full names or with the printer’s responsibility to disclose the author’s name. The need for due process in cases in which this is disputed is made explicit. The fifth article stresses the fact only the limitations of the three first articles can set a limit to any expression in print. The following articles deal with matters we would describe today as freedom of information, in particular concerning actions of the government and the judiciary, including the verdicts of judges. The support in the fifth and twelfth article for those wanting to write honestly and correctly about history is not only pleasing for historians, but indeed important. Article 13 is a clause to ensure any subject not included or mentioned falls under the freedom of press, and article 14 expresses the wish to make this law irrevocable. In my view this law can stand scrutiny from modern perspectives in a number of aspects. The law was issued on December 2, 1766. For Chydenius freedom was a crucial element in all his plans for reform and renewal of contemporary Sweden.

The Finnish website shows how exactly this wish for perennial and unchanged force was soon thwarted. It makes abundantly clear that the Swedish road was not a linear road of and to freedom of speech, print and information. Alas for those wanting things to be entirely black or white, good or bad, a success or a failure, the Swedish story shows history does not fit into their dualistic world view. Thus history can be perceived as a possible nuisance, a luxury good of elites or something a nation cannot afford anymore. I feel ashamed to live in a country where we have to face the threat of the disappearance of history as a part of the secondary school curriculum . Baron Raoul van Caenegem, the famous Flemish legal historian, wrote already many years ago: “Who hinders, forbids or abolishes the study of history, condemns people to ignorance and gullibility”.

Logo Anders Chydenius Foundation

It is up to you to look at both the Swedish and the Finnish websites, and also to the website of the Anders Chydenius Foundation, yet another example of a trilingual site, to expand your knowledge, deepen your understanding, in short to use your critical faculties to see the values history can provide and the ways it can sharpen our understanding of contemporary society. However, history can be more than a handmaiden guiding you to act wisely in current affairs, it can teach you much about women and men in the past, the ways they faced the problems of their times and aspired to be as much human as we do.

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:

  • Vat.lat. 630 pt.1 – Isidorus Mercator, Decretalium collectio
  • Vat.lat. 841, De Regimine Principum, a guide-book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  • Vat.lat. 1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  • Vat.lat. 3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  • Vat.lat. 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
  • Vat.lat. 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)
  • Vat.lat. 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:

  • Barb.lat. 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).
  • Ott.gr. 64, legal synopsis
  • Ott.lat.15, legal texts, compiled by Capuchins
  • Reg.lat. 189, papal register
  • Reg.lat. 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.
  • Urb.lat. 157, Innocent IV, decretals
  • Urb.lat. 158, Azo of Bologna, decretals >> Azo, Summa Codicis and other works
  • Urb.lat. 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.)
  • Urb.lat. 160, Johannes Andreae, Boniface VIII, decretals dealing with marriage and other legal issues >> mainly the Liber Sextus of pope Boniface VIII
  • Urb.lat. 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.

Opening a book: Legal consulting in the Dutch Republic

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

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

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


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

Dutch books in American libraries

Logo Hathi Trust

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

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

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

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

Title page third volue (1662)

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

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

Van de Poll cum suis on feudal law

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

Some conclusions

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


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

Medieval laws in translation

Languages can act as formidable barriers to our understanding of both past and present. Even if you happen to have a talent for foreign languages translations can help you in many ways to gain insight into the messages and form of a source. In medieval Europe many legal sources were written or only accessible in Latin. However, a number of medieval legal texts have been translated into the vernacular. In this post I want to look at a number of medieval translations of such sources and at two modern translation projects. Recent news about these projects offers me an occasion to write about this subject.

Medieval translators at work

In the Middle Ages translating the works of Aristoteles from Greek – or Arabic – into Latin formed probably the largest translation project of a millennium. The volumes with the scholarly edition of the Aristoteles Latinus project are still being published. For many scientific disciplines medieval translators took the trouble of translating important sources. In the field of law, too, one can point to translations. The most massive project, the Basilica, is not only a translation but also an adaptation of Justinian’s Institutes, his Digest, Codex and the Novellae. For some parts of the Justinian codification older Greek translations exist which the translators around 900 used in Byzance. A team at the University of Groningen led by H.J. Scheltema produced a modern critical edition of the text and the scholia, the accompanying glosses [Basilicorum libri LX (17 vol., Groningen 1953-1988)].

A very interesting example of a translated medieval legal text is Lo Codi, a legal commentary from the twelfth century originally written in Occitan, a language spoken in Southern France and Catalonia. Lo Codi has been translated in French, Castilian, Latin and Franco-Provencal. I wanted to check information about this text at the homepage of Johannes Kabatek at the Universität Tübingen. Since his move to Zürich this page has been removed, but luckily he has put them on his private website. At this webpage you can compare different manuscripts and versions. An article about Lo Codi by Kabatek from 2000 is also available online (PDF). Kabatek does show Lo Codi is an independent adaptation of the Summa Trecensis, and not just a translation.

Banner The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary

The first large-scale project I want to introduce in this post is The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen. Not only a dictionary will be the fruit of this project, but also translations of Scandinavian laws. Two volumes with translated laws have already appeared. A few years ago I wrote here about medieval Scandinavian laws, and it is surely helpful to be able to use these translations alongside the original texts. The page for laws of this project provides you with a quick overview of the main laws. the current editions and the planned or already published translations. The bibliography of the dictionary project shows that luckily for some texts translations appeared in the twentieth century, however, in a number of cases into current Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish or Swedish.

Some medieval legal texts have been translated in the sixteenth century. This month I saw an announcement for a lecture in Paris on April 6, 2016 by Patrick Arabeyre (École nationale des Chartes, Paris) on ‘Deux exemples de traduction vers le latin dans le domaine juridique : la traduction d’ordonnances royales par Étienne Aufréri (1513) et la traduction des Coutumes d’Orléans par Jean Pyrrhus d’Angleberme (1517)’ as a part of a conference on La traduction en vernaculaire entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance. The first subject of his lecture were royal ordinances edited by Étienne Aufréri in 1513, and he looked also at the translation by D’Angleberme of the Coutumes d’Orléans (1517). A second lecture by Frédéric Duval, also attached to the ENC, concerned the versions of Lo Codi. In April 2015 Duval presented a paper about French translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Nowadays the French Biblissima portal is a fine gateway to several projects concerning the production and transmission of manuscripts, and using the English interface it is very much accessible. One of the online databases at the École nationale des Chartes is called Miroir des classiques, “Mirror of the Classics”, a project in which Duval participates. Unfortunately this database does not yet contain any notice about translated legal texts, but eventually they will be included. How can one trace more medieval translations? For Ancien Français, one of the phases of medieval French, there just happens to be a resource that can help you. The bibliography of the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF) does lead you to a number of translations, many of them still only existing in manuscripts. The section C of this bibliography shows for example two thirteenth-century translations of the Code de Justinien. The entry at CodiFr mentions Lo Codi and states flatly this is a translation of the Codex Justinianus, a notice clearly in need of some updating. Under the letter I you will find both a complete translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani and an abridged version. Five manuscripts exist with a French translation of the Digestae. The Summa Codicis of Azo, too, exists in a French version, the Somme Acé. By the way, you can find a number of online dictionaries and textual corpora at the website of the Dictionnaire de Moyen Français. For the field of medieval canon law one has to single out the medieval French translation of the Decretum Gratiani. This translation has been edited by Leena Lofstedt, Gratiani Decretum. La traduction en ancien français du Décret de Gratien (5 vol., Helsinki, 1992-2001). I have not taken a complete tour of the sources of the DEAF, but it is certainly rewarding to look for yourself, and not only for matters concerning France. Anglo-Norman texts appear here, too.

Searching in manuscript catalogues will no doubt yield further results. A search in the digital catalogue for archives and manuscripts of the British Library brought me to ms. Royal 20 D IX, a late thirteenth-century French translation of the Authenticum and the Tres Libri, the books 10-12 of the Codex Justinianus. The database Manuscripta Iuridica at Frankfurt am Main contains for example for the French translation of the Institutes – usefully put together as Institutiones Justiniani, versio Gallica – references to thirteen manuscripts. The manuscript in London, too, has not escaped the attention of Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw, the creators of the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) used for the database, nor did they miss the French version of the Digestum Vetus, and the Infortiatum. For Azo you will find not only the translation of his Summa Codicis, but also a translation of his summa on the Digesta.

Twelve volumes and an addendum

Five years ago the last of the twelve volumes of the modern Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis appeared. I wrote here a post about the presentation of the final volume in 2011, and in that post I looked also at other complete translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. On Friday April 15, 2016 yet another volume was presented at a symposium in Utrecht. Jop Spruit, the indefatigable founder of the project, translated with Jeroen Chorus also the Libri Feudorum, a twelfth-century text from Lombardy concerning customary law dealing with fiefs. Kees Bezemer wrote the introduction to this translation with facing Latin text. In my view the translators wisely choose to follow the version of the Libri Feudorum as found within the Corpus Iuris Civilis. One of the arguments to include this work on customary law into the curriculum of the medieval law schools was the presence of glosses by Accursius. The modern critical edition gives both the oldest and the most used version (Vulgata) [Karl Lehmann (ed.), Das Langobardische Lehnrecht, (Handschriften, Textentwicklung, ältester Text und Vulgattext, nebst den capitula extraordinaria (Göttingen 1896; online in the Internet Archive)]. However, more versions came into existence. At the symposium in Utrecht Jeroen Chorus gave a talk about possession in the Libri Feudorum. Dirk Heirbaut compared the feudal law in the Libri Feudorum, the Leenrecht van Vlaanderen and the Lehnrecht of the Sachsenspiegel. Rik Opsommer discussed the use of the Libri Feudorum in the practice of Flemish feudal law, and Kees Bezemer looked at the role of feudal law in Early Modern Europe with a focus on a case in seventeenth-century Germany which became the subject of a disputation defended at Frankfurt an der Oder. The best point of depart to start exploring Early Modern German juridical disputations is the digital library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main.

The team of Dutch translators hesitated about the right number of the latest volume in the series of translated texts of Roman law. Twelve is such a beautiful number suggesting completeness! They finally opted for 12 Addendum. The set of twelve volumes can still be ordered from Amsterdam University Press.

Until now I have looked almost in vain for other translations of the Libri Feudorum. The translation by Lorenz Weidmann, Die Lehensrecht verdeutscht (…) was printed at least seven times between 1530 and 1541. The German bibliographical project VD 16 does not only make such statements possible, but it leads you also to the digital version of the first edition Augsburg 1530 (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek). Robert Feenstra wrote about it in his article ‘Kaiserliche Lehnrechte. Die Libri feudorum in deutscher Fassung nach Alvarotus und andere Inkunabeldrucke zum Lehnrecht. Mit Beiträgen über Johannes de Vanckel und die casus summarii des Baldus’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 63 (1995) 337-354. There is also an online version of a translation by Jodocus Pflanzmann printed in an incunabula edition, Das buch der lehenrecht (Augsburg 1493; GW 7776). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) has a useful overview of editions and partial editions before 1501 of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. GW 7654 is a French translation printed at Paris around 1486 of Justinian’s Institutes, interestingly made in verses. The identification of the probable author, Richard d’Annebaut, is also given in the bibliography of the DEAF with references to the unique manuscript source, London, British Library, ms. Harley 4777.

Discussing the Libri Feudorum is entering a territory where three decades ago things might have seemed straightforward. Things have changed very much since Peter Weimar’s article ‘Die Handschriften der Libri feudorum und seine Glossen’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 1 (1990) 31-98, reprinted in his volume of essays Zur Renaissance der Rechtswissenschaft im Mittelalter (Goldbach 1997) 171-238, and the study of Gérard Giordanengo, Le droit féodal dans les pays de droit écrit. L’exemple de la Provence et du Dauphiné XIIe – début XIVe siècle (Rome 1988). I must refer you here to online bibliographies such as the one provided by the Regesta Imperii at Mainz to see how much has been written recently about the approach of medieval lawyers to feudal law.

Of course it is possible to use modern translations of medieval legal texts, but in this post I wanted to investigate medieval translations. For searching modern translation one can benefit from the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which even offers filters for translations containing also the original texts, translations in English, French or other languages. It might be helpful to end here with briefly noting the publication of the revised edition of Fred Blume’s translation of Justinian’s Code edited by Bruce Frier [The Codex of Justinian (3 vol., Cambridge, etc., 2016)]. The German translation project for the Corpus Iuris Civilis reached in 2012 its fifth volume with the books 28 to 34 of the Digest, edited by Rolf Knütel [Corpus Iuris Civilis, Band 5, Digesten 28-34 (Heidelberg 2012)]. Let’s hope the leaders and translators of such projects will and can benefit from the recent Dutch experience in completing a book project with nearly nine thousand pages.

A postscript

Frédéric Duval will present in June 2016 a paper about the late-medieval translations into French of parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis at a two-day conference in Tours, Les traductions médiévales à la Renaissance et les auto-traductions (Tours, June 8-9, 2016).

For the common good: International legal history and collective action

Every month there is a growing chance of encountering some kind of commemoration of historical events and figures. Sometimes these festivities are indeed an opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes, but often these occasions can seem too much of a good thing. In recent years there has been a proliferation of international days, some of them just a funny parody, for example on March 31 the sixth Hug A Medievalist Day! On April 14, 2016 it is the International Legal History Day. At least one university, Harvard, organizes today a seminar about the practices and challenges of doing international legal history. It seems Harvard Law School wants to launch this day as a new tradition.

In this post I will look at two initiatives dealing with a concept which touches many countries and regions all over the world. Commons are shared stretches of land used and owned by several people. Commons can be defined as a type of collective action. An international research project is at the heart of this post, and I will also look at a digital library which helps you to trace relevant literature about commons. One of the features of this post will be the combination of global phenomena with local examples transcending the boundaries of nations and states.

Sharing lands, goods and much more

Header Institutions for Collective Action

When I first saw the portal of Institutions for Collective Action (ICA) I was genuinely surprised by the all-encompassing umbrella used to bring a number of institutions under one denominator. Commons are perhaps the institution most quickly associated with collective action, and they will certainly fill much space here, but there is more. Merely contemplating what kind of actions you will define as collective actions is in my view already a fruitful exercise. Five types of collective actions figure at the portal: commons, guilds, waterboards, beguinages and co-operatives. The ICA portal cites on its homepage Bertrand Russell’s dictum ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation’. Currently there is a set of case studies from eight countries for the five types, with 23 examples for commons, four for guilds, eight for waterboards and only two for co-operatives, and typically for beguinages six examples from the Netherlands and Belgium. The eight countries are apart from Belgium and the Netherlands the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Rumania, Spain and Uganda. The cases from Rumania concern commons, the example for Uganda is a co-operative project for micro-finance. In fact there are more countries: in the section for guilds France, Italy, Germany and China are added.

One of the strengths of this portal is the comprehensive coverage of many aspects of research into institutions for collective actions, and thus you are really looking at a veritable portal. You can consult not only the case studies and general overviews, but also online bibliographies, glossaries, datasets and sources, and you might be interested in the announcements of scholarly events. The section with debates highlights a number of general and specific questions about the types of collective actions figuring on the portal. These questions will certainly help you to refine your own analysis. I found in particular the discussion of the various forms of institutions for water management illuminating. The perspective on Dutch institutions becomes sharper thanks to the comparison with Spanish institutions. I really learned here something also about the Dutch variety of these institutions and the need to look at them more closely. The page with links to related projects shows the context of this project in which scholars at Utrecht have substantial roles. An offspring of the ICA portal are several projects which work with crowdsourcing. Inviting the public to participate in research projects by transcribing or indexing sources is in itself a kind of collective action. The heading Citizen Science is fitting indeed.

Website Vele Handen and the Ja, ik wil project

At least one of them should attract your curiosity because of its legal nature, the project Ja, ik wil (“Yes, I do”) for the transcription of pre-marriage acts between 1578 and 1811 from the municipal archive in Amsterdam, a resource with much more information about people going to be married than you will find elsewhere. The transcribing portal Vele Handen (“Many Hands”) contains more information about the project (in Dutch). In its turn this project serves a much larger research project of the ICA team to compare marriage patterns.

Banner Digital Library of the Commons

The main organization dealing with the history and current situation of common is the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC). At the website of IASC, too, you can find an overview of online resources. Some years ago I already encountered the Digital Library for the Commons, a digital collection at Indiana University, but so far I had not started to place this initiative in a wider context. The digitized literature in this library deals with commons on literally every continent, even Antarctica, but not the Arctic region. The simple search mode, the advanced search mode and the filters for browsing are most helpful. In my view it is stimulating to look here, even if you do not quite find what you are searching for.

Although it is easy to expand the fairly summarized information presented here it might work better to keep this contribution shorter than usual. Environmental history is just an example that can be connected with studying commons. At the blog Environment, Law and History you can pursue this direction. Global legal history and comparative legal history do not appear here for the first time. The theme of international legal history deserves attention, and not just on one particular day every year, but the idea is surely valuable. When I started this blog I promised my readers to look for themes and subjects from around the world. There are enough countries, regions and landscapes about which I can write here. Perhaps it is more important to discuss them here not for the sake of completeness, but preferably and more interestingly in connection with the kind of problems and questions which belong to the world of legal history.

An age of lawyers and literature

Flyer The Age of LawyersThe power of words seduces every honest writer to do his or her very best to write in a unique way to convey what you want to say and to add to the expressive qualities of language and literature. Only seldom people succeed in achieving immortal fame and enduring influence on a living language. In this post I want to look at an author who conjured up scenes of unforgettable power using the language of his time in ways unheard of. In fact his works were in some periods considered too rough and therefore edited and censored. Together with the English of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible the works of William Shakespeare still have immeasurable influence on the English language and culture.

Shakespeare’s works have the power to stir our emotions and imagination. Until today his portraits of English kings and their courts influence our views of English history and royal circles. No doubt this year’s commemoration of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616 will bring a flood of activities and events. A few weeks ahead of the central day there is still a chance to look here in a more sober setting at some of the digital initiatives which try to shed new light on one of the greatest people in world literature. At least one of them, an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., focused on lawyers in Shakespeare’s age, but it comes into better relief surrounded by other projects of The Folger, and by a selection of recently launched online Shakespeare projects and digital projects dealing with Early Modern letters.

Surrounded by lawyers

Even without the Shakespeare connection the exhibition Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare’s Britain is really interesting. The Folger showed the exhibition from September 4, 2015 until January 4, 2016, but luckily there is an accompanying virtual exhibit. The concept for the exhibition was developed in cooperation with the Georgetown Law Library, a library with early printed legal books in its own digital collection. There are four main sections, Legal LivesThe Great Courts, Law and Communities and The King and the Law. In contrast to usual virtual exhibitions it has not been placed in a clearly defined corner or subdomain of the website, but as a seemingly unconnected item on the Folgerpedia, the website of The Folger for general information. More remarkable is the absence of illustrations. It took me some time before reaching the list of exhibitions at this library’s website. You can only applaud the inclusion of transcriptions of several exhibition items, but they yet have to appear for the fourth section. The very heart of the exhibition is an extended introduction to the materials put on show, to be read side-by-side with the list of items.

The four sections of Age of Lawyers give us a good idea of the world of Elizabethan lawyers. The first section looks at legal education, the Inns of Courts and the various legal professions. The various royal courts are the core of the second section. In the third section legal practice comes into view, its impact on daily life and local communities. The last section shows a great variety of subjects around the central theme of royal power, from major figures such as Francis Bacon and Edward Coke to subjects as Magna Charta and the influence of English developments on early American law and politics, with for example attention to Thomas Jefferson. The wealth of materials put on show in this virtual exhibition is impressive, and it is even more interesting to see how many of them come from the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare Library. In my opinion this virtual exhibition gives you a very valuable introduction to the legal history of England in the decades around 1600.

Logo Shakespeare Documented

The Folger is one of the institutions contributing to a major virtual exhibition of documents from and about Shakespeare, Shakespeare Documented. Documents, archival records and manuscripts from such institutions the National Archives (Kew), the Bodleian Library, the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – and from a host of other institutions worldwide – make this exhibition into a real gem. It amounts to a digital collection divided in four main categories: playwright, actor and shareholder; poet, family, legal and property records, and his seventeenth-century afterlife. With 186 of the nearly 500 items the category connecting to legal history is the second largest category of this exhibition. More documents and transcriptions will be added this year. You can search at will using a free text search or preset filters. Shakespeare’s involvement as a shareholder is mostly shown in the conflict about The Globe. It is really not feasible to pick here even among the highlights an absolute must. For me this virtual exhibit is a bridge between only reading Shakespeare’s works or searching your way among the vast literature on him. It also is in a very real sense the connection and life thread between the major projects presented here.

Close to the sources

The Folger Shakespeare Library offers more things online worth exploring. Among its latest projects is Shakespeare’s World, a crowdsourcing project of The Folger, the Zooniverse project for crowdsourcing and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). One of the objectives of this project is finding words that so far have not been included in the OED. People volunteering to cooperate can choose a genre to transcribe. At first the choice between recipes and letters seems a thing to wonder about, but recipes have not been among the resources used by the founders of the OED. Letters can show words less often used, new uses of words, and, perhaps more importantly for the aim of this post, they might show the impact of literary imagination. An apparent drawback is the lack of an overview of senders and recipients.

Private Libraries in Renaissance England (PLRE) is the Folger’s online adaptation of the printed version of this reference work. It is really a database that helps you to execute queries which you will want to check in the original edition. You can get a closer view of books from this period by looking at the section on bindings of The Folger’s LUNA image database.

Logo EMMO - EWaerly Modern Manuscripts Online

Another project is in the development phase. As for now Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has not yet resulted in a separate website. Since 2014 a lot of workshops and events has been organized. You will find the links section particularly useful, with for example an overview by The Folger of links concerning Early Modern English palaeography and digitized manuscripts.


For my brief introductions to some of The Folger’s own digital projects I use the overview in the Folgerpedia. Personally I would prefer to have this overview on the main website of The Folger, but I suppose we are dealing here with a kind of planetary system around it. The Folger has also prepared a dedicated website for Shakespeare’s works, Folger Digital Texts. For quick reference and easy access this collection is very welcome, even though scholars might want to have a version under PhiloLogic or similar linguistic tools. For this you can turn to Early Modern Print, a project of the Washington University, St. Louis, MO, and the Early English Books Online-Text Creative Partnership. You will find here tools to gain insights into changes in word frequencies, KWIC (Key Words In Context) and a N-gram browser. The very example of KWIC in this project shows results for the word slander, which might inspire legal historians, too, to have a look at it. This overview at The Folger of digital projects and tools, even the subscription-only resources most times only accessible at research libraries, is actually a splendid nutshell guide to the study of Renaissance England. The University of Chicago provides us with a special subdomain to use its Philologic technology on editions and adaptations of Shakespeare.

Lives and letters around Shakespeare

Banner Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

If lawyers played such a large role in Shakespeare’s life you will probably want to know more exactly which lawyers, and more generally which people were closest to Shakespeare. On my journeys around the web I found recently the website Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. The aim of this Anglo-American project is collecting and visualizing data which show you the Early Modern social network. After registration you can download data, and also add new data. Everyone can look at the visualizations or relationships. Bacon (1561-1626) was originally also trained as a lawyer. Even if a similar website could already exist for Shakespeare it becomes quickly clear that you can immensely benefit from using this website when researching Shakespeare’s entourage, especially when you fortify your results with the letters of the project for Shakespeare’s World and the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented.

Choosing Bacon is just an example of the many projects dealing with English letters and correspondents. The most generous portal to them is certainly Cultures of Knowledge: Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750 (University College London). Perhaps its main offspring, and certainly one closely connected to the theme of this post, is the project Early Modern Letters Online under the aegis of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where you can search directly in letters written in many countries. Some of the resources at Cultures of Knowledge stem from the Lives and Letters project developed and led by the late Lisa Jardine. Among its projects is the edition of the correspondence of Francis Bacon, the main resource behind Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. For those wanting to look at more online projects dealing with letters the overview at Digitizing Correspondence should quench a lot of your thirst, and you might also contemplate the examples of interfaces for these projects. If you add to this wealth the links page at Cultures of Knowledge you can start to investigate for yourself the epistolary culture of Early Modern Europe. Going back to the subject of this post it is the project for the letters of Edmund Spenser which comes close to the sphere of action of William Shakespeare.

Celebrating Shakespeare

How can one avoid the obvious things around Shakespeare and have a fresh look at him? The Folger has created its own list of quatercentenary online projects. When preparing this post I thought about the manifold activities of another American research library, The Newberry in Chicago. Among nearly fifty online educational resources you might have a look at three virtual exhibitions concerning William Shakespeare, Marriage and Family in Shakespeare’s England, Shakespeare’s Romans: Politics and Ethics in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the Utopias of the European Renaissance, the last item providing me with a connection to my recent blog post about More’s Utopia.

Instead of going to one of the sections of library websites about their copy of the First Folio, an object for which the label Holy Grail seems almost too simple, it is possible to have a look at digitized First Quartos and to compare various editions. They bring you closer to the times of Shakespeare himself than the posthumous First Folio. However, if you had rather stay with a time-tested resource, there is all reason to visit the section Discover Literature: Shakespeare of the British Library’s website with for example an article by Liza Picard on crime and punishment in Elizabethan England. Andrew Dickson looks at the only existing literary manuscript with Shakespeare’s handwriting, The Booke of Sir Thomas More. The play contains a plea for tolerance towards immigrants, and I cannot help feeling touched by the poignancy of this subject. More was a man for all seasons, and Shakespeare is indeed a writer for all times! The play seems to have been never performed during his life. In the project England’s immigrants 1350-1550: Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages curated by the universities of Sheffield (HRI Online) and York in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew you can find out about 64,000 persons coming to England during two centuries.

Drawing of The Swan. London, by Buchelius

Drawing of The Swan theatre, London, 1596 – Aernout van Buchell, Adversaria – Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132r – image: http://objects.library.uu.nl

The customary Dutch view shown here has in fact figured here in 2013, but without the famous illustration. The image has been used in countless printed publications. Aernout van Buchell (Buchelius) (1565-1646), an antiquarian scholar from Utrecht, copied a drawing around 1596 of The Swan theatre in London (Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132 r). In my earlier post where I wrote about Buchelius you can find the links to more digitized manuscripts of this author.

Of course much more can be said, and has already been said this year. Today I looked briefly at the fine aggregator of Early Modern blogs created by Sharon Howard. If you follow her tag for Shakespeare at Early Modern Commons you will find already dozens of celebratory articles. Hopefully you will appreciate the urgent need to restrict myself here to only a few dozen projects. A search for Shakespeare at Early Modern Resources brings us ten online resources mentioning him. No doubt Sharon Howard will soon add a number of the new Shakespeare projects to Early Modern Resources.

However large and inviting the temptation to end here with one of the countless proverbial words of Shakespeare I had rather invite you to look yourself again and again at this writer whose works breathed life into the English language. His imagination both as a playwright and poet is at many turns so powerful that its glow will last as long people care for the right words which do justice to the humanity living in his works.

A postscript

One of the possible follow-ups to this contribution is looking in more detail at Shakespeare’s plays and the role of law. You can get a taste of this subject by looking at free accessible recent articles in the journals Law and Literature and Law and Humanities.