Tag Archives: Early Modern history

Fifty years selling precious prints, books and documents

Cover jubilee catalogue Forum Rare BooksTwo months ago I first looked at a most lavishly illustrated antiquarian book catalogue, and I only had to figure a moment to write about it here. In its wake I found two other recently issued illustrated catalogues of the same firm, Forum Rare Books in ‘t Goy, a hamlet near the Dutch village Houten. This year Forum exists fifty years. The jubilee catalogue is a treat in every aspect. In this post I will look at the jubilee catalogue and two other recent catalogues. Many items in these smaller catalogues can be linked with legal history, but more can be said about them.

In 2017 I discussed here another catalogue issued by Forum with books, prints and other items concerning slavery. The jubilee of Forum is a good occasion to look again for legal history in its recent catalogues.

A feast to the eye

During a period of closed archives and libraries it has been hardly possible to have old books, prints or documents in front of you in a reading room. Digital archives and digital libraries have gained a new importance. With COVID-19 virus affecting many cities, regions and countries in different degrees it is not at all certain institutions that just reopened can remain open. I admit to finding some solace in the beautifully produced jubilee catalogue (Catalogue no. 118, PDF, 32 MB) of Forum Rare Books, a firm that started in Utrecht in 1970, since a few years situated in lovely rural surroundings to the south east of my home town Utrecht.

The special catalogue contains 260 items, all of them accompanied with at least one image, in some cases printed in full page. Item after item you marvel both at something truly rare and often ingeniously illustrated. In a number of cases not only the images take your breath away, the prices indicated do this, too. If you try to forget about them, you can appreciate the catalogue as a kind of exhibit and start enjoying the objects and admiring the descriptions.

Title page of "Los emblemas de Andrea Alciatto tradcidos en rhimas (Lyon 1549) - image: Forum Rare Books

Title page of “Los emblemas de Alciatio traducidos en rhimas Españolas” (Lyon 1549)

Item no. 8 is a rare edition in Spanish of the emblems collected by Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), the famous legal humanist, published in Lyon in 1549. Alciato founded and shaped the emblem genre, the combination of images and a motto, often in verse. The catalogue tells you about the new images in this edition and its place in the publishing history of Alciato’s emblems. Much care is taken for the description of its physical state, making clear that existing damage has not affected the images. The references in smaller cursive print are the result of patient research in many reference works, bibliographies and catalogues. When possible Forum does point to online meta-catalogues. It took me a while before I saw that the only thing you can possible add to the description of this item is a reference to Lyon15-16: Bibliographie des éditions lyonnaises 1473-1600 where this edition figures as no. 17425; information from USTC 342602 should be compared to this database.

A second item worth mentioning here is no. 26, a book by Caspar Barlaeus, Medicea hospes, sive descriptio publicae gratulationis (…) Mariam de Medicis (…) (Amsterdam 1638). It records the almost royal entree to Amsterdam of Maria de’ Medici in 1638. The text is accompanied by fine engravings with images belonging to the realm of legal iconography. This publication is an example of the Early Modern genre of festival books, a subject in a post here in 2018. In the Early Modern Festival Books Database this book figures as no. 2676.

Let’s continue our tour of this grand catalogue with no. 44, a publication by Johannes van der Bosch, Nederlandsche bezittingen in Azia Afrika en Amerika [Dutch possessions in Asia, Africa and America] (2 vol. and atlas, The Hague-Amsterdam 1818). Van den Bosch founded in 1818 also the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid [Society for Beneficence] which aimed at creating better circumstances for poor people. His scheme led to the building of labor colonies in the province Drenthe to which beggars and their families were transported. In an earlier post this year about Dutch archives I mentioned two websites concerning these colonies, Koloniën van Weldadigheid and Alle Kolonisten. Last year Angelie Sens published De kolonieman. Johannes van den Bosch (1780-1844), volksverheffer in naam van de Koning (Amsterdam 2019), a book about this most active man and his initiatives. On my way to no. 44 I had to skip a beautiful work on animals by John Audubon and a gorgeous copy of the Atlas by Joan Blaeu.

If you think one continent is missing in this catalogue you should look at no. 48, a legal treatise by William Westbrooke Burton, The insolvency law of New South Wales, with practical directions and forms (Sydney 1842). The catalogue tells us there was only one edition of this pioneer work on a subject in Australian private law.

The sheer variety of subjects, the telling images and often most interesting descriptions in this catalogue will bring you moments of immersion in a kind of time machine hovering over centuries and continents. It is truly with some difficulty that I leave it to your own curiosity to find out about the wealth assembled within its pages. At the website of Forum Rare Books you can search for web pages about individual items, provided they have not yet been sold. The website is also the source for some of the images in this post.

Autographs, manuscripts and much more

For all its qualities the great jubilee catalogue does touch only with a restricted number of items on legal history. In my view the two small catalogues in this section make up for this omission. The first catalogue, 2020 Autographs, documents & manuscripts (Catalogue 221, PDF, 4,7 MB) contains 24 items. Here you can encounter not just books and manuscripts, but also archival records. The first item is a notarial act from Antwerp confirming in 1546 an Italian notarial document for Giovan Carlo Affaitati, a spice merchant whose money supported the finances of emperor Charles V.

Trial documents from Johan van de Bergh, 1726-1729

Item no. 5 contains documents from the years 1726-1729 concerning the trial at the supreme court of Holland, West-Friesland and Zeeland of a murder case. Pieter Oostenrijck, a baker from the village Zoeterwoude, was tried for killing Cornelis Jansz. Schier, the blacksmith of the village. The documents stem from Johan van den Bergh, between 1725 and 1755 the baljuw (bailiff) of the Rijnland district around Leiden. Van den Berg was also for many years burgomaster of Leiden. The layout of the document shown on the left is typical of documents actually presented in writing before a Dutch court in the Early Modern period. The catalogue points to an advertisement for the sale of the blacksmith’s goods in 1725. It is indeed the kind of document making you curious to find out more about a case and its circumstances.

A following item worth mentioning here is no. 13, a manuscript in French about India and the castes Indiennes, written in 1743 in Karaikal. The anonymous author compares the Indian caste system to Christian belief and customs, enlivening his argument with stories. It is interesting to figure out the background of the author and the purpose of his treatise.

A charter in Portuguese, 1388

No. 16 is a royal charter from Portugal, written in 1388, with a verdict from the court in Coimbra on a case about a claim to a particular parcel land. This document shows a quite early use of the Portuguese language in an official document issued by royal judges. For archival records such as this document Forum does not provide references.

The second smaller catalogue issued this year I want to present here deals with posters, pamphlets and prints (Catalogue 235, PDF, 10,8 MB), with 28 items. The first item in it to be linked with legal history is no. 2, a poster for the auction of the Wulperhorst estate in Zeist near Utrecht in 1801.The statement neither the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog nor WorldCat contain information about copies is correct, but it is more logical to check for it in the holdings of Dutch archives using the Archieven portal where no copy is recorded. The catalogue contains three other posters for auctions, this time for the sale of ships (nos. 3, 5, and 21).

Item no. 4 is a partially colored and illustrated broadside, probably dating from the late seventeenth century, showing Charles the Bold (1433-1477), duke of Burgundy, as a judge. The engraved images are accompanied by explanatory texts. No 28 is a similar broadside showing count William the Good of Holland performing justice in 1336, also stemming from the second half of the seventeenth century.

The title page of the "Receuil van verscheyde placaten (...)

The sixth item in this catalogue is a volume with 92 printed ordinances, instructions and other documents relating to the army and navy of the Dutch Republic, issued between 1591 and 1716 with a long title, Recueil van verscheyde placaten, ordonantien, resolutien, instructien, ordres en lysten, etc. betreffende de saacken van den oorlogh, te water en te lande. The set is quite rare. The Short Title Catalogue Netherlands mentions 2 copies of this set. The description has a phrase about placaten, “publicly posted documents”, pointing rightly to the fact ordinances were indeed posted literally outside important and central buildings. However, the term stems from the word placard, stressing the fact such documents were issued with an official seal.

No. 7 is another rare broadside from 1623, Tweede basuyne. en ‘t boosdoens heylige
wraeck-spiegel …
, with an image of the execution of some of the conspirators against prince Maurits. In 2019 I wrote here about Maurits and his conflict with the Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and his conflict. He was executed after a political trial in 1619. Two of his sons did in 1623 an ill-organized attempt at assassinating Maurits, helping thus to put their father’s legacy for the Dutch Republic in unfavorable light. From the events of 1618 and 1619 stems also item no. 24, an engraving by Claes Jansz. Visscher II of the hanging of the coffin with the body of Gilles van Ledenberg, secretary of the States of Utrecht and chief supporter of Van Oldenbarnevelt, who committed suicide in prison before his sentence had been pronounced.

The most famous political murder in the history of the Dutch Republic is the subject of item no. 10, a broadside from 1672 with four etchings by Romeyn de Hooghe about the killing of Johan and Cornelis de Witt by a mob outside the county prison in The Hague in August 1672. I had expected a reference to the study by historian Henk van Nierop, The Life of Romeyn de Hooghe 1645-1708. Prints, Pamphlets, and Politics in the Dutch Golden Age (Amsterdam 2018) who in some cases argues convincingly for a new date and context of several undated etchings of this artist.

My tour of this catalogue ends with two items from the late eighteenth century. No. 11 is a set of printed ordinances issued in 1805 by governor Jan Willem Janssens for the Cape Colony in South Africa. At this time the Batavian Republic (1795-1806) was the state ruling most parts of the Northern Netherlands. The rule of the Dutch East Indian Company in Cape Town had ended in 1799. In 1806 the English took over the Cape Colony after an earlier English period between 1797 and 1803. Item no. 12 is an engraving of the first meeting of the national assembly in The Hague in 1797 during the period of the Batavian Republic.

Ascertaining the provenance of all these precious books, prints and documents is surely one of the things to do before you or an institution can pay the requested amounts for a particular item, but this will not stop you from sharing with me the admiration for these items described with such care and flair, and made more tangible in fine photographs. My brief remarks cannot hide my pleasure in looking at these three magnificent catalogues. This year Forum Rare Books issued already 23 (!) illustrated catalogues. Many international book fairs are currently held as virtual fairs. Whatever the prospects of anyone wanting to possess these items, the catalogues and the website of Forum offer you a tour around the world with most interesting items.

Finding Early Modern notarial records in Mexico


The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, home to the Archivo General de Notarias - image: Wikimedia Commons

The Ex Templo Corpus Christi, Ciudad de México, since 2005 home to the Archivo General de Notarias

Using guides to archival collections can be most helpful when searching particular records which might help you in anwering your research questions. Sometimes the records themselves are the subject of research. When I read recently a blog post about notarial records in Mexico it was not completely surprising to read a story about a number of obstacles in getting access to registers from the eighteenth century. However, for other periods some projects exist which help scholars in approaching other historical records at the same archival institution, the Archivo Histórico de Notarías del Distrito Federal in Ciudad de México (Mexico City), also abbreviated to Archivo General de Notarías. In this contribution I will look at the two blog posts by Andrea Reyes Elizondo about her research and at online guidance to archival institutions in Ciudad de México.

Book history and archives

Last year I connected book history and archives in a post reviewing the study of Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on the role of the book trade in the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century. Until last month I had not often visited the website of the Nederlandse Boekhistorische Vereniging, the society for Dutch book history. One of its features is the section De Boekenmolen (The Book Mill) with blog posts by scholars introducing their research and telling about the start of their interest in book history.

On June 9, 2020 Andrea Reyes Elizondo contributed a post concerning a subject with a fair distance to Dutch book history, an inquiry into the degree of literacy and scribal capacity in eighteenth-century Mexico. Her search for a continuous series of documents with signatures led her to notarial records. Doing research in Mexico is not as straightforward as you would like as a scholar. Much paperwork is needed, to mention only one aspect. Only at the notarial archive Reyes Elizondo can use the finding aid and a list of notaries for this period. At this point I was at first somewhat amused, because using the word list for a finding aid for notarial registers, after all indeed a series of similar records, seemed a bit misplaced. My second thought was a question: How can you find out about notarial records in Mexico, and more generally about Mexican archives? As a matter of fact, I knew about a number of online resources helping me to answer this question. Finding archives was not the greatest challenge, finding specific information about their holdings was a bit more difficult, and in my view worth a report here.

It is no bad thing to start searching archives in Mexico with the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España e Iberoamérica, a searchable database for archives and their collections in Spain and Latin-America. However, the notice on the Archivo General de Notarías de Distrito Federal (AGNDF), seems at first a bit disappointing, with an old link to its website and lots of empty fields or negative answers, but luckily it does show the titles of some guides and inventories. In particular the series of inventories for nineteenth-century records is mentioned. At the heading Fondos y otros colecciones custodiadas a link leads you to the Inventario Dinámico, a tree structure with the fondos, in this case three main collections, the Fondo Antiguo, the [Fondo] Consular and the Fondo Contemporaneo. By clicking on the link Fondo Antiguo you will go to a detailed notice about the history of this section. For the subsection Reservada the names and years of notaries are given, from 1524 to 1697. The eighteenth century is part of the subsection Antigua (1614 to 1902). The notice ends with substantial information about guides and finding aids, some of them unpublished, in particular the Inventario general del acervo histórico del Archivo General de Notarías del Distrito Federal, Ana Lucía Tlahuech Rivera and José Luis García Estrada (eds.) (2006) and Verónica Zárate Toscano, Guía Cronológica de Notarios 1750-1850 (1992). The 2006 inventory is the most recent work mentioned in this notice.

Finding archives in Mexico

I had hoped to find more about this archive in the Sistema de Información Cultural, an online directory for cultural institutions in Mexico which counts nearly 1,300 archives, fifty of them in Ciudad de México. The notice on the AGNDF gives you only the location, a phone number and an e-mail address. The Archivo General de la Nación provides a Directorio Nacional de Archivos, but on the page for Ciudad de México the information is similarly succinct, although even more archival institutions are listed. In the web directory for archivos iberoaméricanos of the Fundacion Mapfre the page for Mexico has disappeared. Sadly the Latin America Network Information Center at the University of Texas had to stop updating its information in 2015, and now even the links have disappeared in its archival directory. The Internet Archive has a capture from 2015 of the page in English with eleven Mexican archives, but not the AGNDF. The Spanish version of this resource is still up and running.

Since many years the online journal Nuevo Mundo / Nuevos Mundos runs the series Guía del investigador americanista, with for Mexico an updated version from 2018 of a Guía del investigador en la ciudad de México by Felipe Castro Gutiérrez; the 2009 version can still be consulted and compared with his new version. Castro Gutiérrez fails to mention the web pages of the AGNDF, but he does include a link to the online inventory of sixteenth-century notarial registers. With some luck – by going one level higher on the web portal of the legal department of Ciudad de México – I could reach a second web page of the AGNDF with this link and yet another online resource for the records of notaries. This second web page provides you with some twenty web links for more information.

Before going to the notarial registers of the eighteenth century I would like to present briefly the existing online projects for the AGNDF. The Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVI, created in 2016 at the Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México (UNAM), provides you with an inventory of records from the sixteenth century. The images linked to the searchable inventory can only be viewed at the AGNDF. The website of this projects provides you also with the link to the sequel for the seventeenth century, the Catálogo de protocolos del Archivo General de Notarias de la ciudad de México – Fondo Siglo XVII, launched in 2014 by the UNAM. The main difference with the first project is a more detailed search interface and the absence of images. The third project, launched in 2012, has been created by the Colegio de México. It brings you to the Actas Notariales de México, a searchable database for nineteenth-century notarial acts between 1817 and 1919. The search results bring you to summaries of the acts.

Dealing with notarial acts

Andrea Reyes Elizondo wrote her contribution about her research for her Ph.D. at Leiden University on the website of the NBV in Dutch. At the blog Leiden Arts in Society she has contributed a number of posts in English. In 2018 she wrote a post in English about her experience in three Mexican archives, Monk’s Nun’s Works’. The first remarkable thing in this earlier post were for me her pictures of the Archivo General de la Nación, housed in a former prison. Her remark about having to wear gloves and a dust mask when reading archival records from the colonial period has these days received another connotation.

Reyes Elizondo does not say much about the AGNDF in this earlier post, but nevertheless I quote her words for you to ponder them yourself: “In contrast, the notary archive does not have a catalogue at all but two different printed guides which give little information about its contents and could not be photographed but only be copied by hand. For an archive catalogue to be truly useful to a researcher, it should mention how many books or documents were produced by the same person, the length of the collection, the period it covers, and a breakdown of the type of documents. The AHAGN guides only gave a summary of how many books a notary had (guide 1) and which books were for which years (guide 2).” She repeated this statement in her 2020 post in Dutch. If she had stated these things as facts only once, I would have hesitated to set things right, but after two similar statements some corrections are clearly needed.

Banner Censo-Guía

The notice in the Spanish Censo-Guía contains clear information about the time range and physical dimensions of the records within the AGNDF, good for 1,235 meters shelf length, and 5,637 volumes in the Fondo Antiguo for the period 1525-1909. Archivists may call a finding aid or inventory a catálogo but it remains a finding aid. I fail to understand how one can think that a finding aid for notarial records will contain information about acts in each register apart from the notary and the time range. Notarial registers have similar contents, and it makes sense to describe them as series, also in view of their sheer number.

A quick comparison might be helpful. The Stadsarchief Amsterdam has 3,5 kilometer shelf length with notarial registers from the Early Modern period, probably the largest series in its holdings. With indexes and a crowdsourcing transcription project they are being made more accessible. Recently I searched notarial registers in the holdings of two Belgian archives, the Rijksarchief in de provincie Antwerpen and the Felixarchief, the municipal archive of the city Antwerpen. The finding aids for both institutions have the usual succinct form. Detailed access is provided by an index or a more detailed finding aid, called by Dutch archivists a nadere toegang. At the Felixarchief notarial registers have been digitized. Reyez Elizondo wants to be able to use repertories of acts. Thus the AGNDF provides you with a finding aid for the registers and a list of notaries, but in fact more has been done, as I will show here below. To all appearances it seems the two blog posts reflect a confusion between the nature of a library catalogue, an archival inventory, an index, a repertory or any other kind of more detailed finding aids. Surely a book historian will use library catalogues more often than finding aids, but a scholar should be able to see the substantial difference in their nature and character.

The second web page of this archive gives you a number of links, some of them broken, but luckily the link to a most relevant M.A. thesis functions. Fernando Pérez Celis completed in 2011 at the UNAM his thesis with the title Catálogo de las escrituras notariales de siglo XVIII. Notarías 22, 25 y 352 de Fondo Antiguo, Sección Ordinaria, del Acervo Histórico del Archivo General de Notarías de ciudad de México (PDF, 2011). Pérez Celis described the registers for three notarías. At p. XVIII of this thesis he notes there are 329 notarías for the eighteenth century, good for a total of 1,689 volumes, only 137 of them catalogados. In my view Pérez Celis created a repertorio, a word that should appear in the title of his study. Surely this still leaves large parts of the eighteenth century uncovered for the purposes of Reyes Elizondo, but much more has been done than she supposed. The very presence of the three projects each dealing with whole centuries seems to have gone unnoticed. It would do justice to the AGNDF to include them in both blog posts.

Logo El Colegio de Mexico

When you study Mexican history it is difficult not to encounter various projects of the UNAM and El Colegio de México. The latter institution is home to the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas which offers a very useful commented list of online resources for Mexican history. The library of El Colegio de México has on its web pages a list with twenty digital projects of this institution. Among the publications of the Colegio de México are the guías de protocolos, guides for notarial acts at the AGNDF for the nineteenth century. For each year a volume will be published. In the colecciones digitales of UNAM’s libraries you can select Tesis eTESIUNAM and quickly find nine relevant titles concerning the AGNDF, among them yet another thesis with a repertory of acts for some eighteenth-century registers, again without the word repertorio in its title. In view of these studies, the guides for nineteenth-century notarial records and the three online projects for notarial registers for other centuries choosing the eighteenth century shows at least courage. Reyes Elizondo certainly has this courage, but her two blog posts do not tell you at all what else can be readily found and has been done for the rich record series of the AGNDF.

Working in Mexican archives

Of course researching reading and writing capacities is a good subject, and I cannot say anything against Reyes Elizondo’s approach to this subject. A remark about another archive in Mexico invites me to add some comments. Reyes Elizondo would have preferred to find the notarial acts in the holdings of the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Lately the website and other services of the AGN has been redesigned, and in many respects services have deteriorated. The digital collection with mapas, planos y ilustraciones has vanished. The fact that you can now consult both the new and the 1990 version of the Guía general de los fondos makes you almost smile about the operation which is probably motivated by political aims. The thing to note about the AGN is the absence of online finding aids. For the near future it is wise to keep in mind many scholars will want to visit the AGN, and perhaps you will not succeed easily in having a seat in its study room. Simply having more space and more chance to work at the AGNDF is something to relish, even if you have to face a number of other restrictions.

For this post I was able to use the information I gathered on my legal history website concerning digital archives all over the world. On this page I put links and information about archives, archival guides and about digitized archival collections. Without archival guides research would be very much hampered. A number of online overviews and archival guides has already been decommissioned. Using just a single resource for any purpose is only recommended by companies pretending to be The One and Only Firm. Another thing became clear, too: Thinking you know all about archives in your own country is not the most useful attitude. It pays off to take sufficient time to review and adjust your knowledge about archives by using relevant guides, to note carefully their content and to reflect about possible implications for your research. Knowing about the difference between an archival finding aid and a library catalogue should be part and parcel of doing research with original sources in the humanities or in the vast fields of legal history.

Gathering graphic evidence on false inscriptions

Startscreen Epigraphic Database Falsae

Doing research in legal history means dealing with facts and theories. Provided you have conscientiously worked with the facts at hand it becomes possible to verify theories. In this century we have to deal also with floods of information, including fake news and faked or unprovenanced sources. Some recent cases about illegal selling of and tampering with ancient papyri have even made headlines. In this post I will look at falsified inscriptions which pose as sources stemming from classical Antiquity. A team of scholars from the Università degli Studi di Bari, Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice and the Università La Sapienza in Rome has created the Epigraphic Database Falsae (EDF). What does this database contain? How are materials presented? What does it bring for (legal) historians? When useful in the context of this post I will look at some other projects in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions.

Defying a first look

Perhaps it is worth telling how I found out about this project. The EDF project is included in an overview of projects in the field of digital humanities at the website of the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale (AIUCD), the Italian association for digital humanities and digital culture. At the portal Digital Classicist you can find more about the project. One of the aims of the project team is to integrate EDF with other online resources for epigraphy. EDF is already searchable through the EAGLE portal, an Europeana project for inscriptions, but it will also be connected with the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss / Slaby (EDCS), one of the main online portals for epigraphy, accessible in five languages. A query for falsae at Charles Jones’ blog Ancient World Online brought me both to EDF and to a volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) founded by Theodor Mommsen. The sixth volume of CIL contains the Inscriptiones urbis Romae Latinae, and its fifth part is devoted to Inscriptiones falsae (Berlin 1885). You may consult this part online at the Arachne portal. Unfortunately the online version of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum created by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften does not function completely at present; for the volume CIL VI,5 you are led to the Arachne portal.

The website of the Epigraphic Database Falsae does not lead you to any explanation about its aim and functioning. For this you must turn to the description at the Digital Classicist. Let’s therefore proceed to the search interface which is only in Italian. You can search by the ID of an inscription, by ancient city, by the text of an inscription and by bibliographical information. Interestingly you can also exclude towns, texts and bibliographical data. You can turn on a search for Greek texts, too.

EDF advanced search

By clicking on the button Ricerca avanzata more search fields become visible. In fact my screenprint does only show the first half of the thirty search fields. First of all you can search for items with a TM number in the Trismegistos database, and for items with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier). You can search here for example for modern country and city, the place of production, the name of the forger, the present location, material and dimensions, religion, social category, type of forgery, diplomatic transcription and the use of a particular kind of versification, to mention just a few of them. Here, too, you can narrow your search by excluding one or more terms. For a number of fields you can choose from a dropdown list. When you look for a particular type of forgery you can choose from seven categories, including also a partial copy of a genuine inscription.

Of course the best thing to do is to test the database by searching for some forgeries, but this was not as as easy as I had expected. At first I tried to find information about the Fibula Praenestina (TM 256173, EDCS-19600767), but this object which was long suspected to be a forgery, is now viewed as a genuine object from the seventh century BCE. Entering Roma as the ancient city led me to some 250 examples. EDF000151 is a forgery by Placido Scamacca in Catania, first mentioned between 1746 and 1750, who followed as his model a genuine inscription in Rome. The EDF entry leads you in this case also to this inscription in the Epigraphic Database Rome. It is good to note that at EDR118156 the inscription at Catania is not mentioned; I saw also a case where a forgery, also from Catania, is mentioned in EDR as a “copia moderna”. EDR shows images of inscriptions, and even thought they are in black and white, this is something you would like to have also for items in EDF.

I hoped to find some of the false inscriptions from CIL VI,5, but it seems they have yet to be added, or I might not have tried to find them in the right way. I also searched in vain for the text of the inscription on the drawing of the vase on the start screen. The thing to note in EDF is the attention to the actual place of conservation and the cataloging by institutions of individual inscriptions. EDF notes carefully who edited an entry and when.

Integrating epigraphic data

This is not my first post with double numbering for ancient inscriptions. Last year I included an inscription with the Lex Flavia Irnitana in a post on Roman water law, and a few years ago I looked here in a post at the project Hispania Epigraphica. In fact the last years epigraphic scholars have become very much aware of the ways not only to refer to a particular inscription, but also of the ways inscriptions are described. Working with digital resources has made this need even more acute. For epigraphy EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI-XML has become a standard for formatting information about inscription. At Epigraphy.info you can follow the latest developments for the integration of a large number of epigraphic databases. There is a real difference in representation on a simple webpage coded in HTML, information encoded using XML following the EpiDoc guidelines, and storage along the rules of RDF (Resource Description Framework). Among the books which provide you with background about such developments is the volume with essays edited by Monica Berti, Digital Classical Philology. Ancient Greek and Latin in the Digital Revolution (ePUB and PDF’s for single articles in open acccess, 2019); a bit more attention to inscriptions would have been most welcome.

In view of the sometimes rapid developments in digital humanities it is necessary to be aware having reliable (online) editions of the text of inscriptions is one thing. It is wise to look for inscriptions not just at one portal or to rely on one particular database. Often they are strengthened by rich bibliographies, but integrating them with images and linked data is currently very much work in progress or projects for the future. Of course it would be wonderful to have already now a single epigraphic gateway, but we have to reckon with different needs and technological possibilities. In this respect facing the very real questions of those scholars who want to investigate forged inscriptions is a reminder research questions and objects can be quite different from your usual approach. The blog Current Epigraphy will help you to stay tuned with the field of the study of inscriptions from classic Antiquity.

The Italian thing: A look at a new palaeography tutorial

Startscreen "Italian Palaeography

How can you embark on studying original manuscripts and archival records or the digital versions of these documents? The number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography is distinctly low in view of the sheer number of digitized resources concerning Italy’s medieval and Early Modern history. The new online tutorial Italian Paleography created by the Newberry Library in Chicago and the University of Toronto Libraries is most welcome. What are its qualities? How does it stand the comparison with the earlier project of both partners for French Renaissance Paleography? Of course I will also look at the presence of elements directly touching upon legal history.

At the outset

Logo of The Newberry Library, Chicago

The activity of The Newberry Library in the field of medieval manuscripts and archival records is not a new phenomenon. A number of its departments and centers deal with resources from Europe. There is a concise page about palaeography. The Newberry Library can be proud of its fleet of introductory guides, too. The Digital Newberry brings you to numerous collections and virtual exhibits. The Newberry has created five crowdsourcing and transcribing projects. In their fine Introduction to manuscript studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007) Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham liberally used manuscripts and other documents from the Middle Ages and Renaissance held at The Newberry.

Logo Medici Archive Project

The University of Toronto Libraries can point among their digital collections to no lesser project than the Medici Archive Project. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has digitized a fair number of its manuscripts, to mention just one example, and it has placed a number of its digitized collections in the Internet Archive. The presence in Toronto of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies is a gem for medievalists. I explored a number of scholarly institutions in a post about the international congress of medieval canon law held at Toronto in 2012.

The number of digital collections with archival records from Italy is every bit as high as you might suppose. I counted some thirty projects for Italy on my web page about digital archives. If you want to get an indication of the number of digitized manuscripts in Italy DMMap quickly shows you some thirty collections, excluding those digitized at the Vatican Library with currently well over 18,000 manuscripts. These high figures should make scholars in and outside the Italian peninsula happy, provided you are able to decipher these documents and manuscripts. In earlier posts here I looked for example at the Progetto Irnerio for medieval legal manuscripts in Bologna and at the book series edited by Giovanna Murano about autograph manuscripts of Italian authors. You can use the tag Italy of my blog to find more relevant posts.

One of the reasons there are only few online manuals for Italian palaeography is the presence at several Archivi di Stato and also at the Vatican of a scuola di archivistica, paleografia e diplomatica. Universities do offer courses in palaeography, too. I have found only three free accessible online resouurces for Italian palaeography, the Materiali didattici per la paleografia Latina created by Antonio Cartelli and Marco Palma (Università degli Studi di Cassino) who deal mainly with medieval manuscripts, and the Lezioni di paleografia of Renata di Simone (Archivio di Stato di Palermo) with an introduction to medieval paleography and book history (PDF), both of them in Italian. There is a tutorial in English for Early Modern and nineteenth-century Italian documents at BYU Script Tutorial. By mistake Spanish is used in the Italian version of this tutorial on the platform created by the Brigham Young University. The thirst for people in the Anglo-American hemisphere to be able to use an introduction in English is understandable. This is a real need, and the new tutorial does tackle this challenge.

The Italian thing

Much what can be said about the website for French Renaissance Paleography applies also to the new tutorial Italian Paleography which was launched on July 25, 2019. The section with manuscripts leads you to a hundred examples of handwritten books (80 items) and documents (20 items). You can filter them by genre, period, script type, reading difficulty, region and holding institution. This choice of examples seems to have been in favor of manuscripts. For the regions the general localisation “Italy” seems a bit vague. For all other aspects the choice seems quite balanced. 31 items touch the field of politics and government, twelve have been labelled “Law”.

Among the items at Italian Paleography concerning law is a register of criminals executed in Venice, written around 1775 (The Newberry, VAULT Case Ms 6A 34). Its resource type has been indicated as manuscript book, but surely this is not a manuscript in the codicological sense, but an archival document in book form, with bound leaves. The tutorial show only four of the 59 pages. With respect to the type of resource the descriptions have been made in accordance with the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials.

Supplication, 1469 - The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 recto

Supplication, Milan 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1.469 recto (detail)

A document from 1469 is perhaps a better example to show here, a supplication to the lord of Milan to reverse a condemnation.

The address of the supplication, 1469 - image: The Newberry

The address of the supplication, 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 (detail of verso)

This document is of course shown in its entirety. The supplication has been written in a very fluent hand, but the address on the back and the note below it show a less polished handwriting. In fact the main text of the document was written by a writing master. For each item of the tutorial a link is provided to the catalog description, a transcription and a background essay. This is really helpful, and anyone learning to read these documents should learn also not to turn to the transcriptions too soon. I will come back to the detailed description of the script(s) in documents given in each background essay.

The second section of the website is a concise handbook on the development of scripts used in Italy and the rise of the vernacular language. Two much older items have been included among the examples to show the most important points of departure. At the core of this website is not just the study of books and documents from Italy, but also very much the study of books and documents written in the Italian language. The description of the writing hands for the examples is given in Italian. For each phase and script type the relevant examples are listed.

The next section, the appendix, offers you access to a number of digitized calligraphy manuals and historic maps. The resources section leaves little to desire. There is not only a handy overview of the transcriptions and background essays, but also a glossary of palaeographic terms, an overview of relevant dictionaries, a bibliographical section and a section on transcription standards and metadata standards. The sections on abbreviations and symbols, teaching materials and the history of the project do not yet contain information.

I have saved perhaps the best thing for the end. At the start page of Italian Paleography you will find a number of short introductions to palaeography as a subject, its history, some tips and tricks, and also two videos in the right hand menu. In particular the page New to palaeography helps you for quick orientation into Gothic, mercantesca, cancelleresca, humanistic and italic (cursive) script. After creating an account for this website you can make transcriptions at this website using T-PEN (Transcription for Palaeographical and Editorial Notation). Thus this online tutorial offers you also a way to familiarize yourself with this important integrated tool.

Some differences

Banner French Renaissance Paleography

When you compare Italian Paleography with its older sister French Renaissance Paleography it is understandable some sections have simply not yet been filled. The website for France has a very similar structure. A clear visual difference are the interactive map and the clickable tags for topics and time periods. Reference materials can be found under a separate heading, not as a part of the resources section. The main parts of the website are listed on the start page. The section “About French documents” is empty. The presence of its logo on the start page declares more openly the use of T-PEN. There is a page Get started which in my view helps you initially as good as the videos of Italian Paleography. These differences amount mainly to a judicious remix of elements.

Logo UTL

Both websites are hosted by the University of Toronto Libraries. Their logo deserves a place next to that of The Newberry at the top of both online tutorials. At the bottom other institutions are mentioned as well. A number of libraries and institutions in the United States have graciously provided materials for this website. It is fair to conclude after this quick tour that both tutorials fulfill their purpose eminently. The combination of attention to documents with the Italian vernacular and the use of Italian for a very particular part of the descriptions rightly stress also the need to master the Italian language to some degree if you want to study sources in Italian. This linguistic demand combines with the need to be able to read the various kinds of scripts, some of them really challenging, and makes it clear doing history is not just a matter of reading texts translated into your own language and reasoning about them. Thus material and very physical aspects can help teaching you to look beyond the content of a document to its context. You simply need training for a number of essential activities in doing historical research.

The Italian tutorial shows an agreement from 1466 with an artist about the decoration of a chapel in the Sant’Antonio basilica in Padua. Art historians might be tempted to contemplate the very interesting sketch of the decoration plan in this document, and to forget the legally binding agreement. Legal historians should be seduced to look not only at the agreement itself, but also at the matter at stake and the possibility of putting artistic purposes and procedures into a clear legal framework. It is my sincere wish to the team for Italian Paleography that many students and scholars may benefit from their work. Just like its counterpart for French palaeography the training it offers can greatly assist your research in Italian manuscripts and archival documents. It will save you time and the efforts to learn things only when you arrive in Italy or have found the digitized items you are looking for at your computer screen.

An update

In view of the small number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography it is sensible to mention here the Materiale didattico: Paleografia e diplomatica created by Bianca Fadda, Università di Cagliari, who presents images of several medieval scripts and documents.

Learning to read German legal responsa

Banner "rechtsprechung im Osteeraum

Modern technology has taken up the challenge of reading old scripts, the domain of palaeography. One of the best known tools, Transkribus, is currently used in a project on legal resources held at the university archives in Greifswald. The project Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum. Digitization & Handwritten Text Recognition focuses on sources dealing with Germany’s legal history in the region on the borders of the Baltic Sea. The project aims at making accessible 102,000 pages of legal instructions of the Faculty of Law of the Universität Greifswald (Spruchakten der Greifswalder Juristenfakultät, 1580-1800), 130.000 pages of opinions of the judges at the Wismar Tribunal (Relationen der Assessoren am Wismarer Tribunal, 1746-1845) as well as 25,000 pages of opinions of the judges of the Wismar Council Court (Relationen des Wismarer Ratsgericht) (1701-1879). Users will get access to images of these sources and they will be able to perform text searches in this corpus. The Transkribus tool is being trained to recognize Early Modern handwriting of very different scribes. Does is succeed indeed in creating reliable transcriptions? What efforts are necessary to make such sources ready for computerized approaches?

Scribal varieties and the use of computers


At various European universities and archives teams use the Transkribus tool of the READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) project and even a special portable scanning tent for projects which contain many thousand pages in Early Modern or medieval scripts. Combined with a very active presence on Twitter it can sometimes almost seem Transkribus is virtually the only proven tool in this field. Until now the number of projects with the Transkribus tool for documents specifically dealing with legal history is small. The recent announcement of the project at Greifswald at the Transkribus blog offers an opportunity to see the tool at last at work for legal historians.

A "Spruckakte" from 1586

A “Spruchakte” from 1586, Universitätsarchiv Greifswald – image: Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

At the bilingual project website in Greifswald it becomes quickly clear in the sources overview that you can find currently only images of four registers of Spruchakten from Greifswald which are shown at the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The initial choice for only four registers was made as a “training set” with a view to the Transkribus tool which has to digest letter forms and writing patterns in order to become a functional reading tool. The registers contain documents from 1586, 1603, 1607 and 1643. The Universitätsarchiv Greifswald has digitized several series, among them immatriculation registers and charters, but the Spruchakten are not mentioned in this overview. On the other hand the university archive and library are currently present with the largest collections in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The other institutional partners in this project are the Universitätsbibliothek Greifswald, the Stadtarchiv Wismar and the Landesarchiv Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin. The Stadtarchiv Wismar has a web page about the creation of finding aids for the records of the Wismarer Tribunal in its holdings and also those in other archives, with some references to relevant literature.

One of the reasons to use digital tools for studying these legal materials is their nature. The series of legal instructions and verdicts is organized in chronological order and only indexed for the names of claimants and defendants. The sheer working power in dealing with a massive set of (textual) data can make a huge difference for starting at all with a project concerning documents linked with a particular legal court in some or all of its dimensions.

Using the Transkribus tool

For using the Transkribus tool you need to create a free account. You need to download the tool. There is a succinct user guide (PDF) and an extensive online guide in the Wiki format. The tool is the core of a set of accompanying websites and cloud services. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) are both possible. You will need to contact the team at the Universität Innsbruck for starting the “training” of the tool, the process of recognizing and correctly deciphering various forms of writing. Among the most interesting results with this tool is the high percentage of correctly resolved texts in Early Modern Dutch archival records. The “model” succeeded not only in reading just one kind of script, but dealt equally successful with several kinds of handwriting. Depending on the number of words fed into the machine the character error rate (CER) can reach very low levels. A recent post at Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum discusses the difference between word error rate and CER.

On Tuesday October 29, 2019 Annemiek Romein (Universiteit Gent) and Jeroen Vandommele gave a webinar at the Dutch Royal Library about using Transkribus. Provided you can follow Dutch viewing this webinar gives you a very useful introduction to the practical use of this transcription tool, albeit with a focus on optical character recognition for dealing with printed texts, in particular collections of ordinances and the resolutions of the Staten-Generaal. I was in particular impressed by the way you can zoom in on and select text blocks. Aspects such as the costs of using Transkribus and surely the most asked question, its final reading speed, currently one page within a minute, come also into view.

As for now the project in Greifswald brings only a set of legal instructions by the law faculty of Greifswald. These gain in importance when sets from the other two resources, the opinions of the Wismar Ratsgericht and the Tribunal are added. It will be most interesting to see whether the opinions of the law professors deal with cases heard at one of the two legal courts. Combining them with the verdicts themselves is a logical sequel. I had hoped to report here more about the ins and outs of this project, but on the other hand it is a realistic example of work in progress, not a finalized and fully dressed product.

Despite careful looking at the project website I could not readily detect the entrance to transcribed records, but I did reach a password protected page. You must forgive me my predilection for websites with site maps and clear navigation! However, the project team gives a very good description of the various stages of preparations needed for the workflow of their project. The team is right in approaching these stages as separate but intertwined projects which all need due attention. In the blog posts at the project website a lot of subjects have been touched upon, and this steadily stream will hopefully continue in coming years. It is certainly useful to get acquainted with this and other tools, to look at its procedures and terminology in order to carefully consider the chances and risks of using such tools.

The second Transkribus logo

It seems wise to look in more detail at the Transkribus website and its subdomains. On the main website the overview of pages for the Transkribus tool is essential. The transcription tool itself is hosted at a subdomain. Perhaps surprisingly there is also a page about the palaeography module offered by Transkribus at another subdomain, Transkribus LEARN. Here you can find hundreds of script examples. It is understandable Transkribus focuses at its transcription tool, but this palaeographical resource deserves to be known by anyone wanting to learn reading old scripts. This way of learning by doing it yourself has to be distinguished from the “learning” of the “model”, the process by which the transcription tool digests information about scripts from a set of documents for automatic deciphering. As an extra you might want to visit Famous Hands, a site with documents showing the handwriting of famous European persons. It is a bit amusing to see how Transkribus Learn and Famous Hands can seem almost hidden from direct view, but Transkribus LEARN is duly listed at the services page. Here, too, a sitemap would be helpful.

The datasets of Transkribus have been put at the Zenodo platform with the title ScriptNet – READ. The fleet of deliverables, the newspeak term for finished products from a project, are listed at a separate page of the main website. Components such as the transcription tool, the portable ScanTent which works with Transkribus’ own DocScan app, the link to Famous hands, the GitHub repository of Transkribus and also the several components of the tools developed by various European teams can be found at this page. The socalled Transkribus KWS interface for keyword spotting brings you to a project for Finnish court records from 1810 to 1870 held at the Kansallisarkisto, the National Archives of Finland (interface Finnish and English), yet another subject touching upon legal history.

At the end of this brief presentation of the Transkribus tool and its current uses for legal history it is fair to mention at least concisely some other available tools, following no particular order. Transcripto is a tool with a German and English interface created at the Universität Trier. Looking at Scripto I thought for some time it might also be a transciption tool like Transkribus, but it is a transcription interface created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for crowdsourcing projects which can be integrated with several CMS systems. The Università Roma Tre works on the project In Codice Ratio with the aim of automatic text recognition and transcription, in particular for the holdings of the Vatican archives. The French Himanis project has at its core a tool for text recognition used for indexing th text of 68,000 charters and documents in the Trésor des chartes of the Archives nationales.

TranScriptorium was the earlier incarnation of the READ project. Among the five datasets at the old project website are transcriptions of verdicts given by the German Reichsgericht between 1900 and 1914, a project led by Jan Thiessen (Universität Tübingen). This set of documents in the Kurrent script has been transferred to the document sets of Transkribus; you can access it after free registration. Christian Reul (Würzburg) has created OCR4ALL, a tool for dealing with OCR scanning of historical printed editions. It turns out it is fairly easy to find transcription platforms with various levels of image and transcription integration. In some cases there are even distinct layers for guiding and moderating crowdsourcing projects, but finding a tool for electronic recognition and transcription of historical handwriting and old printed works remains a challenge which certainly deserves a separate contribution.

A postscript

Within a few days Elisabeth Heigl of the project team at Greifswald sent a comment with the good news of a very useful overview in English for searching and browsing the documents in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. With the search function you will see the result of the HTR done by Transkribus.

For all those curious about Transkribus and wanting to start using you might have a look for example at these blog posts elsewhere, ‘Digitize a Collection of Letters using Transkribus and XSLT‘ at the blog How to of the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities, ‘How to historical text recognition: A Transkribus Quickstart Guide‘ at LaTex Ninja’ing and the Digital Humanities, and Issue 13: OCR (July 2019) of Europeana Tech.

Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt, a prince and a statesman

Paintings of Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt at the exhibition of museum Flehite

Paintings of Oldenbarnevelt (left) and Maurits (right)

Any country has some dates in its history on which politics and violence come together. Political murders are a rare phenomenon in Dutch history. Willem van Oranje, leader of the Dutch Revolt in the sixteebnth century, was assasinated in Delft on July 10, 1584. The brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt were lynched by a mob in The Hague on August 20, 1672 which held them responsible for the French occupation of the Dutch Republic. In recent years my country has witnessed the assasinations of politician Pim Fortuyn (May 6, 2002) and movie director Theo van Gogh (November 2, 2004). Last week solicitor Derk Wierum was shot brutally in front of his home in Amsterdam. Alas it was not the first time in this century a Dutch lawyer was shot, but the death of a solicitor defending a crown witness is an assault on the rule of law and justice.

In the list of Dutch historical figures who became a victim of violence you will find also a lawyer and statesman sentenced to death after a political trial. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619) clashed with prince Maurits, the son of William of Orange. I hesitated to deal here with yet another commemoration based on rounded years, but at last I visited an exhibition in his home town Amersfoort. I looked at some historical spots and archival records, and I will briefly mention some recent publications about Oldenbarnevelt.

A matter of choices

In the lovely old inner city of  Amersfoort near Utrecht Museum Flehite has organized the exhibition Johan en Maurits. Van vriend tot vijand [John and Maurits, from friends to enemies]. The exhibition opened on May 13, 2019, exactly four hundred years after the execution of Oldenbarnevelt on the inner court of the Binnenhof in The Hague, the premises of the Staten-Generaal, the governing body of the Dutch Republic. A life of service to the state he helped creating and unifying ended on the scaffold in a country sharply divided between his followers and those agreeing with prince Maurits Oldenbarnevelt had become a public enemy.

Photo of the Bollenburg house, Amersfoort

Van Oldenbarnevelt stemmed from a fairly average family in Amersfoort. His father was a merchant who acted also as a sequester, an official who took goods into his charge pending judicial proceedings. It is not known where Johan was born, but the house Bollenburg (Muurhuizen 19) where he lived for some time in later years still exists. The Muurhuizen, literally “wall houses” is nowadays a very picturesque street around the inner city with many beautifully restored medieval and Early Modern houses.

The information about his youth comes mainly form a single source, his own statement from 1619 about his life. The full biography on Oldenbarnevelt by J. den Tex [Oldenbarnevelt (5 vol., Haarlem-Groningen 1960-1972) warns for wanting to flesh out such information. After going in 1564 to The Hague to work for a barrister he studied between 1566 and 1569 in Louvain, Bourges, Cologne, Heidelberg and Padua. At Louvain his name was entered wrongly in the student register…  In 1570 he became a barrister at the Hof van Holland. Two years later he went to Delft to work for the hoogheemraadschap (water control board) of Delfland. In 1576 he became the city pensionary of Rotterdam. Soon he was chosen also on committees of the States of Holland. After the death of William of Orange in 1584 he supported a transfer of power to his son Maurits. His activity, qualities and insights were duly noticed, for in 1586 he reached the two posts he would hold until his death, landsadvocaat (state solicitor) and raadpensionaris (grand pensionary) of Holland.

Much has been made of the personal differences between Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt. Up to the year 1600 they seemed to make a perfect match, Maurits as a prudent and most gifted tactical military leader, Oldenbarnevelt as the man of grand strategies. Thanks to their combined leadership the Dutch Republic grew from a very low point in the mid-eighties to an emerging European power. A campaign to deal with the pirates of Dunkirk led to a hard fought victory in 1600 on the beach of Nieuwpoort where Maurits won the day with some luck. The incident annoyed him a lot, because he had urged Oldenbarnevelt not to start this adventure.

In 1609 a truce for twelve years with Spain was reached. Oldenbarnevelt had personally supported François van Aerssen (1572-1641), the Dutch ambassador in France, until 1613 when he did not continue him in his function, Van Aerssen felt disappointed and soon became the personal advisor of Maurits. A prolonged debate about theological matters in the Dutch Republic, in particular about predestination, developed into a full political conflict about the relation between church and state. Maurits decided in 1617 to join sides in public by going to the church of Oldenbarnevelt’s opponents in the Kloosterkerk, next to Oldenbarnevelt’s home in The Hague. The way a national synod should convene at Dordrecht and settle these matters was another matter of disagreement. In several cities riots broke out. In August 1617 Oldenbarnevelt forced the States of Holland in issuing an ordinance permitting individual cities to raise mercenaries to protect citizens. Citizens were not allowed to appeal to the Court of Holland, and soldiers had to obey only the orders of the States of Holland, not those of their commander Maurits. The very balance of power in the Dutch Republic between the individual provinces, the States General and the stadhouder was at stake, and also the adherence to the principles of government laid down in the Union of Utrecht (1579). Oldenbarnevelt favored a situation where towns and provinces could decide themselves on the admission of religious movements, and more specifically he wanted space and tolerance for those who did not join the Reformed protestant majority.

Maurits’ role in the events from 1617 until 1620 is nowadays much clearer than for Den Tex. J.G. Smit could edit 120 letters by Maurits held since 1862 at the Koninklijk Huisarchief [Royal Archive] in The Hague [‘Prins Maurits en de goede zaak : Brieven van Maurits uit de jaren 1617-1619’, in: Nederlandse historische bronnen I, A.C.F. Koch, J.G. Smit and A. Kersten (eds.) (The Hague 1979) 43-173; online, Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren]. These letters show clearly how Maurits worked slowly but steadily against Oldenbarnevelt after the resolution of August 1617. A year later, after more riots, forced changes in city government and above all the dismissal of the waardgelders in several towns Maurits had Oldenbarnevelt and his chief supporters, one of them Hugo Grotius, arrested on August 29, 1618. Maurits was in contact with some of the men who were later on chosen to judge Oldenbarnevelt.

It is wise to refer here also to the analysis by Jonathan Israel in is major study The Dutch Republic. Its rise, greatness, and fall 1477-1806 (Oxford 1995) of what happened in this year. Finding a legal reason for arresting Oldenbarnevelt might not have been particularly difficult, but on whose authority the arrest had to be done was certainly unclear, as was the choice of a tribunal and the judges. In the end they were chosen from both Holland and the other Dutch provinces. The trial dragged on for months. In the end the verdicts surprised many people. Grotius and Hogerbeets were sentenced to life imprisonment, but Oldenbarnevelt was sentenced to death, with the execution already following the next day, May 13, 1619. Maurits had ignored pleas for leniency towards Oldenbarnevelt. He did not attend the execution and an eyewitness report troubled his mind severely.

Some telling objects

One of the early editions of the verdict on Oldenbarnevelt

An early contemporary edition of the verdict on Oldenbarnevelt, 1619

The exhibition in Amersfoort is rather small, but the role of pamphlets and broadsides is made quite clear. The verdict on Oldenbarnevelt was quickly printed and published in several languages. Some of the items on display are most telling. The walking stick of Oldenbarnevelt is perhaps the most famous item associated with any Dutch historical figure. A poem by Joost van den Vondel immortalized both its owner and the stick. Another item is rather grim. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden recently acquired a sword which belonged to the German executioner Hans Pruym who worked for the city of Utrecht, the very man who decapitated Oldenbarnevelt. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has another sword said to have been used for the execution of Oldenbarnevelt (object no. NG-NM-4245), inscribed with a poem, but there is no provenance record of it before 1745. The story of Oldenbarnevelt’s captivity has long been known partially from a deposition by his servant Jan Francken, edited by Robert Fruin, ‘Verhaal der gevangenschap van Oldenbarnevelt, beschreven door zijn knecht Jan Francken’, Kroniek van het Historisch Genootschap, 6th series, part 5 (1874) 734-785 (online, Hathi Trust Digital Library). This year the original diary long held in private possession finally became visible to the public. It has been shown at the Museum De Gevangenpoort, a prison museum just outside the Binnenhof in The Hague, and is now on display at Museum Flehite.

Engreaving of the executionm, 1619

‘Justice done to Jan van Oldenbarnevelt’, engraving of the execution of Oldenbarnevelt by Claes Jansz. Visscher, 1619 – source: Het Geheugen van Nederland, https://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/

This engraving has become famous for many reasons. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen discussed it in their study The bookshop of the world, reviewed here earlier this year, as the very work which laid the foundation for the success of Broer Jansz., a publisher in Amsterdam who succeeded in very quickly publishing this powerful picture. At Museum Flehite it is literally used as a background picture on a wall. These years saw a flood of pamphlets about and more often against Oldenbarnevelt. Fake news was created, too, to undermine his position. A number of these pamphlets has been put on display at Museum Flehite. The death of Oldenbarnevelt was not the end of the political strife. A few years later two of his sons prepared a coup, but they were quickly unmasked and severely punished. This did not help to put Oldenbarnevelt and his party in favorable light. The conflict helped to create a fundamental division in the Dutch Republic between those supporting the Oranje family and those supporting the cities and their governing class.

A quick look at recent publications about Oldenbarnevelt leaves me with sometimes mixed feelings. Jan Niessen, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt 1547-1619, vormgever van de Republiek (Utrecht 2019) is rather short. The translation of Jan Francken’s diary by Thomas Rosenboom does some service in retelling his story in modern Dutch [Het einde van Johan Oldenbarnevelt, beschreven dor zijn knecht Jan Francken (3rd ed., Amsterdam 2019)], but a new edition of the text from the original diary which surfaced this year is necessary. The book of Ben Knapen, De man en zijn staat. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt 1547-1619 (7th ed., Amsterdam 2019) offers a political study of Oldenbarnevelt by a historian and politician. Broeders in oorlog, vijanden in vrede. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt en Maurits van Nassau, redders van de Nederlandse Republiek by Mike Hermsen (Zutphen 2019) focuses on the two statesmen and their contribution to the Dutch state, with a fine choice of illustrations. Wilfried Uitterhove’s De zaak Oldenbarnevelt : val, proces en executie (Nijmegen 2019) focuses not only on the final years, but also in particular on the documents concerning the trial. Ronald Prud’homme van Reine, Onthoofdingen in de Hofstad. De val van de Oldenbarnevelts (Amsterdam 2019) looks also at the plot of the two sons. Bollenburg, het huis van Oldenbarnevelt by Jojanneke Clarijs (Bussum 2017) appeared a few years earlier to commemorate the recent restoration of this house.

Account of the costs for the trials, 1621

Account for the costs of the trials in 1618-1619 – Utrecht, Het Utrechts Archief, Huis Hardenbroek, inv.no. 4507

The main historiographical gap is still the lack of a full biography of prince Maurits on the scale of Den Tex’ work for Oldenbarnevelt. The study by J.G. Kikkert, Maurits van Nassau (Bussum 1985; 3rd ed., Soesterberg 2016) is very much in favor of Maurits. Arie van Deursen, Maurits van Nassau, 1567-1625. De winnaar die faalde (Amsterdam 2000) did not quite live up to high expectations. Some of the documents about Oldenbarnevelt’s life and the trial were edited already long ago, for example the questionings at the trial, Verhooren van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (Utrecht 1850; online, Hathi Trust) and the Gedenkstukken van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt en zijn tijd, M.L.van Deventer (ed.) (3 vol., The Hague 1860-1865; online, Hathi Trust). The document on the left, an account of the costs for the trials against Oldenbarnevelt, Grotius, Rombout Hogerbeets and Gilles van Ledenberg, was edited by J.J. de Geer van Oudegein, ‘Onkosten der judicature van Van Oldenbarnevelt’, Kronijk van het Historisch Genootschap 17 (1861) 336-340 [online, Hathi Trust]. This account is now – together with yet another copy of it – one of the special items in the archival collection of castle Hardenbroek for which I am busy finishing a new and very extensive finding aid at Het Utrechts Archief.

Another element that for many years hampered scholars to do research on Oldenbarnevelt was exactly the fact his archive held at the Dutch National Archives was only fully described as late as in 1984 by H.J.Ph.G. Kaajan, Inventaris van het archief van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, 1586-1619 (finding aid no. 3.01.14 (PDF), followed in 1987 by a finding aid for the Oldenbarnevelt family archive [H.J.Ph.G. Kaajan, Inventaris van het archief van de familie Van Oldenbarnevelt, (1449) 1510-1705) (finding aid no. 3.20.41 (PDF)]. Kaajan drily notes in his introduction Oldenbarnevelt’s handwriting was terrible. The modern edition of his state papers and family papers by S.P. Haak and A.J. Veenendaal, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Bescheiden betreffende zijn staatkundig beleid en zijn familie 1570-1620 (3 vol., The Hague 1934-1967) can be consulted online, too.

Doing full justice to two historical figures can be seen as a metaphor, but in this case there are certainly spurs – both new objects and archival records – to delve again into the early history of the Dutch Republic which was shaped decisively by Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt. It is always a good sign when an exhibition makes you think again about its subjects and the objects put on display.

Amersfoort, Museum Flehite: Johan & Maurits: Van vriend tot vijand – May 13, 2019 until January 5, 2020

A postscript

On February 5, 2020, AvroTros television broadcasted the first installment of the series Historisch bewijs [Historical proof] created in cooperation with the Rijksmuseum featuring both the sword from Dresden and a sword in the holdings of the Rijksmuseum [Rijksmuseum, inv. no. ng-nm-4245] said to be the executioner’s sword. As an extra you can look at a fifteen minutes video of background research in the municipal archive of The Hague. The sword from Dresden was put on display at the Rijksmuseum in 2018. Research concerning both swords led to the article by Lieke van Deinsen en Jan de Hond, ‘The Sword and the Album: Material Memories and an Eighteenth-Century Poetic Account of the Execution of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1619)’, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 66/3 (2018) 204-233. The sword in Dresden [Rüstkammer, Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen, inv. no. iv 0198] came into view thanks to research by Gisela Wilbertz who published the article ‘Das Schwert des Scharfrichters Hans Prum in der Dresdner Rüstkammer’, Signa Iuris 16 (2018) 91-108. Hans Prum (ca. 1560/65-1621) stemmed from Meisenheim. He came to the Netherlands and worked in Zutphen and Utrecht; see for his life the articles by Cornelis R.H. Snijder, ‘Het scherprechtersgeslacht Pruijm/Pfraum, ook Prom/Praum/Sprong genoemd’, Gens Nostra 69 (2014), 488-500, 70 (2015), 14-23 (also online, PDF), and ‘Hans Pruijm, scherprechter te Zutphen 1595-1604. Executeur van Johan van Oldenbarnevelt’, Zutphen 35/4 (2016) 105-111 (online, PDF).

Clairvaux, a monastery and a prison

Screen shot "The monastery and the prison"

Every now and then you across projects which attract immediately your curiosity. In Autumn 2018 the blog L’agenda du médiéviste alerted to an online documentary with the title Le cloître et le prison. Les espaces de l’enfermement, “The monastery and the prison. Places of confinement”. The website of this project was launched on September 26, 2018. The documentary is the fruit of the Enfermements project in which several French institutions work together. Not only the abbey of Clairvaux did function as a prison, other locations have a similar history. In this post I will look both at the documentary and the project website.

Between walls

The medieval abbey of Clairvaux occupies a special place in the Enfermements project. The abbey was founded in 1115. In 1808 it became a prison which functioned until 1971. The official closure is announced for 2022. 900 years of Clairvaux’s history were celebrated in 2015. The medieval manuscripts of Clairvaux are held at the Bibliothèque municipale de Troyes and can be viewed online. Alas the special portal Bibliothèque virtuelle de l ‘abbaye de Clairvaux for these manuscripts does not function currently. You can find the medieval cartularies of Clairvaux using CartulR, a resource of the IRHT/CNRS. Archival records of this abbey are also held in Troyes by the Archives départementales de l’Aube. Among its digitized collections the AD de l’Aube presents fifteen late medieval registres de l’officialité de Troyes, registers of the official, the ecclesiastical judge of the bishop.

The website of Le cloître et le prison has six main sections. The Avant-propos explains the goals and background. The glossaire is a glossary with not just terms from the monastic and incarcerated life in France. Even the Rasphuis and Spinhuis in Amsterdam are mentioned. You had best navigate this glossary using the icon on the rather small top bar of your screen. A chronology of Clairvaux helps you to see developments in their succession. In the bibliography you will find information about archival documents and images, printed sources and scholarly publications.

Screenprint of Le cloître et le prison with a part of the chronology fo the 19th century

The section with videos, Visite vidéo, takes most space in the exhibition, and equally in the helpful sitemap. Jean-François Leroux, already forty years president of the association to save the cultural heritage of Clairvaux, acts as a guide in the videos. There is no question about the quality of his calm explanations, but sometimes he seems somewhat tired, but in comparison with other more enthusiastic reporters this might well be a pleasant change. At a number of turns the team of this portal does not hesitate to use materials from other prisons, even from outside France.

The tour of the premises starts with the location nowadays called Le Petit Clairvaux, the site of the first monastery, sometimes nicknamed by medievalists Clairvaux I. The nine following sections deal with the main site, starting with the cloister walls. For each items a short motto has been chosen, often with verbs opposing each other. For the eight section, Quartier punitive, the verbs Surveiller – punir, survey and punish, are a choice clearly referring to the study by Michel Foucault. Apart from the videos each section has an accompanying text, photos and at least one archival document. There are also some interviews with experts of the team. The navigation of the website is stylish, with a key and lock for the main menu, and in the video section a quill pen to go to the menu with the ten sections of Clairvaux. It was possible to follow the preparations for project at Twitter (@enfermements), but it has been very quiet after August 2018.

If you look at the screen print of the chronology you can gather already two elements from the long history of Clairvaux, the ongoing construction, demolition and reconstruction of the buildings and its place in French history. The chronology mentions under the year 1834 the incarceration of political prisoners, but with examples from the late nineteenth century, Auguste Blanqui between 1872 and 1879, the anarchist Peter Kropotkin in the years 1883-1886, and even Philip of Orléans in 1890, albeit in his case lodged away from other prisoners.

In this virtual exhibit the most interesting element, the comparison of monasteries and prisons, is the central element. I feel hard pressed to focus here on one particular aspect. It is exactly the variety of aspects which is brought here into view. When you remember the title of the study by Uwe Kai Jacobs, Die Regula Benedicti als Rechtsbuch: Eine rechtshistorische und rechtstheologische Untersuchung [The Rule of St. Benedict as a book of law. A study in legal history and legal theology] (Cologne, etc., 1987) it is less surprising to look at monks and nuns as persons living under a strict regime with punishments for transgressions on premises clearly designed to make such things possible. You might want to read also the study by Elisabeth Lusset, Crime, châtiment et grâce dans les monastères au Moyen Âge (Turnhout 2017). The strength of the virtual exhibit is the combination of videos showing the present locations at Clairvaux with explanations about both periods as an abbey and as a prison and proper use of historical document and images. The intuition that places with a common dining room or canteen are an institution or a company is not new!

Looking behind and beyond walls

The abbey of Clairvaux is not the only famous building in France which at a certain point was turned into a prison. In Paris the Conciergerie first was a palace, the Palais de la Cité which for centuries housed the Parlement de Paris, with only a number of prison cells. During the French Revolution it became a full-scale prison. The abbey of Port-Royal in Paris served as a prison between 1790 and 1795. Between 1793 and 1863 the abbey at the Mont-Saint Michel was home to a prison. The abbey of Notre-Dame de Fontevraud, once the royal abbey of the Plantagenets, was used as a prison between 1812 and 1963. You might try to find more examples at the website of the Centre des Monuments nationaux, but somehow the search function did not work correctly.

At this point one should by all means invoke the various services of the bilingual Criminocorpus platform (CNRS), strangely absent in the production of this audiovisual project. At this portal you can read both as a PDF and in a browsable version the Guide des archives judiciaires et pénitentaires en France (1800-1958) by Jean-Luc Farcy. He puts these monasteries converted into prisons in a group of prisons for those having to serve long terms, typically in old castles, fortresses and some abbeys. Clairvaux served in this quality for several French départements. Criminocorpus has virtual exhibits on Fontevraud and on Paris prisons after the fall of the Bastille.

It is really interesting to explore this virtual exhibit around the abbey of Clairvaux. The partnership of organizations for cultural heritage, archival institutions, research groups and communication design offices succeeds in telling an intricate history in a way earlier generations would not have thought feasible or sensible. Let Le cloître et le prison be one of your guides to the wealth of stories about this famous monument!

Ordinances and the book trade of the Dutch Republic

Some periods in history pose the problem of being too familiar. The Roman Republic, the Italian Renaissance, the Dutch Republic, the French Revolution and the Second World War are among the obvious examples. Sometimes scholars proclaim they can offer radical new interpretations of a period and its major developments, but often their studies reach this goal only to a limited extent. In this post I will look at a book focusing on one particular trade in the Dutch Republic. The authors make a fine case to put the book trade and the role of printed works at the very heart of the Dutch Golden Age, the seventeenth century. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen studied in The bookshop of the world. Making and trading books in the Dutch Golden Age (New Haven, CT, 2019) not only the beautifully produced books now found in libraries, but also ephemeral prints, such as pamphlets and ordinances, which were less likely to survive. Pettegree and Der Weduwen visited numerous libraries and archives to trace these sources, and they point to resources showing traces of books now lost. Their work touches directly on Dutch legal history, enough reason to create space here for their stimulating study.

Ongoing research


In March Pettegree and Der Weduwen, both working at the University of St. Andrews in the team for the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), visited the Netherlands. Apart from giving lectures and doing research in a number of archives and libraries, they acted as keynote speakers at an afternoon session on March 28, 2019 about the Dutch Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) held at the Royal Library in The Hague. The STCN set standards for a high-level description of Early Modern printed works, putting the lessons of analytical bibliography into practice. Initially newspapers, broadsheets and pamphlets were excluded from the STCN, and also in particular academic dissertations. The USTC started as a bibliography for books printed in France during the sixteenth century, but it has opened its nets for all printed works from incunables up to the year 1700.

In The bookshop of the world the authors advance well beyond the commonly held view of the Dutch Republic as a country with Europe’s most active and most respected printers catering for the whole world. Their research into printed works which in a number of cases survive in unique copies leads them to the assertion books formed only one-quarter of the printed works in the Dutch Republic. Newspapers, pamphlets, ordinances and foremost very ordinary simple books for daily use take the lion’s share of the production and trade in printed works, and more than that, these works provided printers and publishers with regular work and stable profits.

Pettegree and Der Weduwen bring this new book and its bold claims as a synthesis of a number of studies they published in the last ten years. A number of volumes with essays edited and co-edited by Pettegree function as substantial building blocks, for example Broadsheets : single-sheet publishing in the first age of print (Leiden 2017) and with Flavia Bruni Lost books. Reconstructing the print world of pre-industrial Europe (Leiden 2016), the last volume also available online in open access. Earlier Pettegree published with Malcolm Walsby the bibliography Netherlandish books : books published in the Low Countries and Dutch books published abroad before 1601 (2 vol., Leiden 2011). Der Weduwen is known for his study Dutch and Flemish newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, 1618-1700 (2 vol., Leiden 2017). It is hardly conceivable how a similar synthesis could be written without detailed studies on these subjects. Among Pettegree’s other books I must at least mention The book in the Renaissance (2010) and The invention of news. How the world came to know about itself (2015). The idea for the book about Dutch books can remind you also of a collection of his own articles Pettegree published in 2007, The French book and the European book world.

The main sources to support the claims of Pettegree and Der Weduwen are themselves products of the vibrant Dutch book trade. In the late sixteenth century Dutch book traders independently created book auctions, accompanied by auction catalogues, as a new phenomenon of the European book trade. Dutch publishers early on included advertisements in the newspapers they printed, including announcements of new books and book auctions. Some very popular books were reprinted almost every year. However, in some cases we know about them only because they figure in an auction catalogue which mentions one or two editions or in the stock catalogues some publishers issued, yet another new medium. Pettegree and Der Weduwen realized how city councils paid for ordinances printed as broadsheets to be fixed at public buildings, thus offering to printers a reliable source of income. Almanacs, prayer books and catechisms, other religious works and all kinds of manuals may not have survived the centuries in large numbers, but these often small-sized works helped printers and publishers to survive. Printing a too large or a too small number of copies of a work catering for a more educated public might well ruin a firm or hamper its functioning for many years. Some inventories exist which show the large number of unsold books and paper stocks with many thousand sheets in the shops of printers who went bankrupt. Such numbers of sheets allow for extrapolating the annual number of books printed in the Dutch Republic. I do not want to spoil your reading with the actual number offered by the two authors!

An archival turn

The bookshop of the world is a fascinating book, not only for its views on the Dutch book trade, but even more for its vision of the Dutch Republic in which printed works formed a key element in communication. While reading the explanations of political developments and events in the seventeenth century time and again I marvelled at the natural way they underlined the important role of printed works. I even started wondering if this had been presented ever before in such a convincing way, yet based on painstaking and often daring research.

At Het Utrechts Archief a project for the description of some 5,000 Early Modern ordinances issued by the city of Utrecht and the States of the province Utrecht was finished in December 2017. It is more sensible to search for ordinances in archives, but as long scholars researching the Early Modern print world focused on books they first and foremost visit libraries. Archives would more readily make efforts to create finding aids for archival collection than spend money, time and expertise on describing pamphlets and ordinances. Not only ordinances were printed separately, resolutions of the Staten-Generaal and other States appeared thus in print. Last year the Huygens Institute / Institute for Dutch History in Amsterdam started the project REPUBLIC to digitize all early Modern resolutions of the Staten-Generaal. In 2018 Annemiek Romein (Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam and Universiteit Gent) started blogging at Bona Politia about her project to create better access to Dutch legislation in all its forms during the Early Modern period.

Logo Trinity College Dublin

Pettegree and Der Weduwen did visit numerous archives and libraries all over Europe searching for copies of known printed works and copies of unrecorded editions, and they will continue to pursue the path of personal inspection. It is difficult to highlight any institution with unexpectedly rich Dutch collections, but I think legal historians will want to know about the Fagel Collection held at the library of Trinity College Dublin. In 1802 this library succeeded in buying en bloc the library of Hendrik Fagel (1765-1838). Fagel, the last of an illustrious line of griffiers, heads of the chancery of the Staten-Generaal, had to sell his voluminous private library built by him and his ancestors since the 1670s. Whether you look at his books, the ordinances, the pamphlet collection or the maps the riches are astonishing. At least 500 pamphlets in Dublin are not recorded anywhere else. The volume edited by Timothy R. Jackson, Frozen in Time: the Fagel Collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 2016) can tell you more about this private library, and the generous bibliography on the website of the Fagel Collection offers you still more.

Some reflections

At the meeting around the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands in March both the staff of the STCN and the USTC emphatically encouraged people to send their thoughts and comments about these database directly to them by email. I cannot and will not hide my enthusiasm about The bookshop of the world which rightly has been published also in a Dutch translation {De boekhandel van de wereld. Drukkers, boekverkopers en lezers in de Gouden Eeuw (Amsterdam 2019)], but of course it is possible to make some remarks. There is a clear need to be aware of the different qualities of the STCN and the USTC. Pettegree and Der Weduwen applaud the high standards of the descriptions in the STCN. Such information makes it possible to distinguish clearly between editions, editions with only a changed title page and new editions. In this sense the USTC and comparable catalogues need the power and skills of analytical bibliography. In its turn the USTC has started to become a truly universal catalogue for printed work published in Europe between the start of printing in the mid-fifteenth century and the year 1700. The original cores of the USTC are the two bibliographies of sixteenth-century French editions, French vernacular books : books published in the French language before 1601, Andrew Pettegree, Malcom Walsby and Alexander Wilkinson (eds.) (2 vol., Leiden, etc., 2007) and Books published in France before 1601 in Latin and languages other than French, Andrew Pettegree and Malcom Walsby (ed.) (2 vol., Leiden, etc., 2012). USTC casts its nets now considerably wider, but this would be unthinkable without such large-scale bibliographies produced over the years.


At the meeting in March Steven Van Impe (Hendrik Conscience Erfgoedbibliotheek, Antwerp) told his public about the way the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV) is not just the Flemish counterpart of the STCN, not just a little sister doing a sister act, as he put it. From the start the STCV did not only include books, but also newspapers, broadsides and pamphlets. This was simply more feasible for the STCV because even now the total number of entries is after twenty years just below 50,000, whereas the STCN has a total content of closely to half a million works. The STCV publishes an online version of its manual for book description, and there is a yearly series of four seminars with each time fifteen participants willing to become bibliographers of Early Modern printed works. Thus the STCV team trains both scholars and staff members of institutions with relevant holdings in contributing to the STCV. In my view this training program is exemplary.

Among other things to note is the fact Dutch ordinances in the Early Modern period were printed from 1600 onwards which makes it much easier to read them. The excuse of not being able to read such legal resources is simply wrong. For such printed works it is now increasingly possible not to plod in a library through unwieldy printed volumes which sometimes lack sufficient indices or offer only a selection of ordinances. Instead it is wiser to go to an archive, ask for their copy of a publication with Early Modern ordinances and use their library to find editions of individual printed ordinances. You will appreciate the difference between reading an often much later edition of an ordinance, and handling the original edition, sometimes even in either a broadside or pamphlet format. You might imagine yourself listening to the city crier announcing the latest rulings, hearing them read by the vicar in your village church after the Sunday service or pushing with your elbows to get in front of the newest ordinances posted at the city hall or elsewhere in town.

A book with nearly everything?

Only when I had almost finished reading The bookshop of the world I noticed some omissions. The first concerns our knowledge about the books and book collections of women. The authors have not encountered any auction catalogue or other sources showing a woman’s book collection. It is possible to point to at least some catalogues pertaining to books held by Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), the first female student at Utrecht University who became a polyglot author corresponding with many scholars. In Utrecht she lived for many years literally next door to theologian Gisbert Voetius, well known for his opposition to Descartes. PIeta van Beek succeeded with support from Joris Bürmann in her study ‘Ex libris’. De bibliotheek van Anna Maria van Schurman en de catalogi van de Labadistenbibliotheek (Ridderkerk 2016) in tracing six catalogues concerning her books and the collection of the Labadist sect she had joined in 1669. Van Beek edited the texts of the catalogues and even added images of two catalogues. The library of The Grolier Club in New York owns five of these very rare catalogues. Van Beek suggests when Anna Maria van Schurman left Utrecht in 1669 for Amsterdam to follow Jean de Labadie she probably asked a theology student to get her books auctioned under his name [Catalogus variorum & insignium librorum praecipue theologorum D. Aemilii à Cuylenburg (…) (Utrecht 1669; copy Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek)]. Two auctions with books from the Labadists took place at Altona, and thus they can escape scholarly attention when you search only within the Dutch Republic. It is perhaps useful to note here you can search freely even without licensed access to Book Sales Catalogue Online. You can even see some images of the books you find. This exceptional case confirms in particular how you must cast your nets as widely as possible to ascertain facts about Dutch book printing and ownership.

The second omission I noticed touches on the publication of legal works. In chapter 12 concerning the printed publications of people trained at university level theology and medicine get more attention than jurisprudence. Pettegree and Der Weduwen flatly state legal works in print were mostly imported from abroad, which is basically a correct statement for works in Latin, and that only few Dutch lawyers published their works in the Netherlands. Here it seems the authors did not notice for example the series Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten (…) concerning the works published by professors of jurisprudence at a particular Dutch university, for which you can even find two volumes online (PDF), the Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Universiteiten van Groningen en Harderwijk tot 1811, B.S. Hempenius-Van Dijk et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2013) and Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Utrechtse Universiteit tot 1811, edited by Margreet Ahsmann, Robert Feenstra and Corjo Jansen (Amsterdam, etc., 1993). They could have used also Douglas Osler’s 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).

Title page of Willem van Alphen, “Papegay ofte Formulier-boeck van alderhande requesten (…)”, 1642 – copy Ghent, University Library

You can search for the works of Dutch legal authors of the seventeenth century in the STCN such as Paulus Voet, his son Johannes Voet, Arnoldus Vinnius, Antonius Matthaeus II and III, and others, and make up your mind about their presence. Surely it makes sense to distinguish between works on Roman and natural law, and publications about Dutch law, both in fact these authors often published about both subjects. Pettegree and Der Weduwen are right to look in this study in particular for the more popular works that were less likely to survive in libraries. Recently I looked at the models for legal actions at court compiled by Willem van Alphen, secretary of the Hof van Holland in The Hague, in his Papegay ofte formulier-boeck van allerhande requesten (…) (first edition The Hague: for J. Verhoeve, 1642; online, Ghent University), a book reprinted four times during the seventeenth century. In 2017 I have written here about the books written by Simon van Leeuwen, not a university professor. The STCN currently has some 4,560 titles from the seventeenth century with the subject code Law, and this figure should be viewed in the light of its overall total of printed works.

Let these remarks not stop you from benefiting from an important and most readable study! Some attention to legal books serving the needs of the ordinary notary or barrister would have completed Pettegree’s and Der Weduwen’s most readable and convincing vision of the Dutch Republic as a country with an explosion of printed works exerting influence at any level, and some major innovations in the world of books. Law and jurisprudence were part and parcel of this society which thrived on communication in print.

A postscript

On December 5-6, 2019 a conference will be held in Liège on Printing and disseminating the Law in the Habsburg Netherlands, the Dutch Republic and the Prince-Bishopric of Liege in the Early Modern period (16th-18th century). The call for papers is out, with as deadline June 30, 2019. You can send your proposals to Renaud Adam and Nicholas Simon.

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.]. 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.

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!