Tag Archives: Economic history

A safe investment almost 400 years on

The bond issued in 1648

This week news came out about the upcoming payment of interest to Yale University on a perpetual bond issued in 1648 by a Dutch water authority, the Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams. Next week its legal successor, the Hoogheemraadschap Stichtse Rijnlanden, will pay the sum of € 136,20 ($ 154), the interest over twelve years. Yale’s Beinecke Library bought the bond in 2003 as a cultural artefact. Not only Bloomberg brings this news item which attracted quickly attention at Twitter, but elsewhere, too, this news has been noticed, for example at the Indrosphere blog by Indrajit Roy Choudhury. On my blog I have devoted some space both to the history of water authorities and the history of shares and stocks, and thus it is logical to write here also about this particular story.

Logo Stichtse Rijnlanden

At the website of the Stichtse Rijnlanden it becomes soon clear how this modern water authority is responsible for a much larger area than only the lands adjacent to the Lek, a branch of the Rhine in The Netherlands, for which the old hoogheemraadschap had been founded. The website of the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rjnstreek en Lopikerwaard, the regional archive at Woerden, offers a concise history of this institution. In 1285 a dam had been placed in the Hollandse IJssel to prevent the water of this river to stream into the Lek near the village of Vreeswijk, now a part of Nieuwegein. After floodings in this region of the diocese Utrecht due to neglect of this dam bishop Jan van Diest published in 1323 an ordinance for its maintenance. The schouwbrief of 1323 was followed by more instructions, in particular by ordinances published on behalf of Charles V in 1537. “Bovendams” means “ahead of the dam”, in this case up to Amerongen, to the east, 33 kilometers. From the dam westwards another water authority came into existence dealing with the Lekdijk Benedendams up to the town of Schoonhoven.

The article in Dutch points to a number of modern studies concerning this water authority. Pride of place should go to an older study by legal historian Marina van Vliet, Het Hoogheemraadschap van de Lekdijk Bovendams: een onderzoek naar de beginselen van het dijkrecht in het Hoogheemraadschap, voornamelijk in de periode 1537-1795 (Assen, 1961). Its long title mentions not only the hoogheemraadschap, but also the term dijkrecht, dyking law. Marijke Donkersloot-de Vrij, a specialist in the field of historical cartography, edited the volume of essays De Stichtse Rijnlanden: geschiedenis van de zuidelijke Utrechtse waterschappen (Utrecht, 1993). The most recent major study, Ad van Bemmel’s De Lekdijk van Amerongen naar Vreeswijk: negen eeuwen bescherming van Utrecht en Holland (Hilversum, 2009) stands out for its colourful photography.

Getting money for major investments

In the media the news about the payment to Yale University was received with some smiles. Does this institution really need this small sum? The Beinecke Library is this year closed for a major renovation and will open only in Fall 2016. Nowadays it is not easy to work on a building site and stay firmly within your budget, and thus even this Dutch payment can be most welcome. Incidentally when you check the collections website of the Beinecke Library it becomes clear that this record (Gen. Mss. File 565) was a gift from the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management in 2009, a statement which seems to contradict the assertion at Bloomberg about Yale paying $ 24,000 in 2003 to acquire this bond.

Map of the Lekdijk near Honswijk, 1751

Map of the Lek and the dykes near Honswijk, 1751 – Woerden, RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard, Lekdijk Bovendams, inv. no. 1154-H

The bilingual website Beursgeschiedenis/Exchange History has a short article showing the 1648 bond is not the oldest surviving one from this hoogheemraadschap, but one from 1624, since 1938 in the possession of the New York Stock Exchange, thus one of the oldest surviving shares worldwide. The 2,5 percent interest yields even today 15 euros. The bonds of 1648 were issued specifically to build a krib, a pier in the Lek near the hamlet of Honswijk, now situated within the municipality Houten. Maintaining such piers and fighting against piers and other structures at the other side of the river kept the hoogheemraadschap busy for centuries. You can download the archival inventory from the website of the RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard (PDF, 74 MB). Like other Dutch water authorities the hoogheemraadschap was an independent authority which could proceed in court against for instance the counts of Culemborg or the States of Guelders. The website for the history of stock exchange does call to attention the fact that even the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht, in medieval times often deadly enemies, both invested money in the maintenance plans of water authorities.

Light on some details

Some elements in this week’s story need elaboration. You can shake your head in disbelief about a rich university welcoming a payment of just over one hundred dollars, but you might also marvel at the fact of the longevity of institutions vital for the protection of areas threatened by the powers of mighty rivers or seas. Issuing perpetual bonds or rents was not an invention of the Dutch Republic. Medieval rents issued by cities are documented for regions such as Tuscany and Flanders since the thirteenth century. Water authorities could levy taxes to get money, but these taxes were meant to cover the costs of normal maintenance.

Banner Utrechts Archiefnet

To my surprise I found the archival collections of both the water authorities for the Lekdijk Bovendams and Lekdijk Benedendams in the regional archives at Woerden. The archival inventory (finding aid) for the Lekdijk Bovendams had been created in 1980 at the former provincial archive in Utrecht, but a few years ago it was decided to bring a large number of archival collections kept at Het Utrechts Archief to regional archives in the province of Utrecht, and thus you can find currently materials much closer to their origins at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Wijk bij Duurstede and Woerden. Luckily there is a nifty search site for archives in the modern province Utrecht, the Utrechts Archiefnet, but precisely archival records kept at Woerden can only be searched online at its own website. Interestingly the banner of the Utrechts Archiefnet shows a map with at the bottom the Hollandse IJssel and the Lek.

Banner Discover Yale Digital Content

At its collections website the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library shows for the 1648 bond not an image of the original bond but only the modern talon, the leaflet with notes about payments of interest. The Beinecke’s inventory record gives only the immediate provenance of this bond; information about its earlier provenance is absent. The portal Discover Yale Digital Content does list the bond, but precisely for the original document at first no image seemed available. It took me some time to realize that Stichtse Rijnlanden provides with the news item on its website a direct link to the image at the Beinecke Library. It appears a second record (!) for the original bond has been filed as “Lekdijk Bovendams [water board bond]“, with as signature “Uncat. MS Vault File”.

What shall I say here about the double records for the twin items? I suppose we witness the archivists and librarians at work. It is instructive to see at one hand a very detailed indication of subjects using LC Subject Headings, and in the other record just “Business records” and “Certificates”. The more general description gives you the precise dimensions of both items, and the other one has already been included in Yale’s Orbis general library catalog with a cautious remark “In process-material”. It will be a challenge to merge both descriptions into one record. It will be necessary to look at the back of the bond to decipher ownership indications and to confirm the information of the talon: the verso has a note that in 1944 an allonge was issued. The names of former owners are faded or crossed out, and I cannot decipher them quickly, too. “J.J, de Milly” is clear, as is a note about the States of Utrecht from 1652. Dealing with such dorsal notations is one of the goals for which the historical auxiliary sciences have been developed. In fact Yale might consider bringing these items to the Rare Books Room of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, a fitting place for a document with clearly not only a cultural value but connections to legal, economic and financial history.

No easy answers

Logo RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard

How shall we sum up the results of this post? This week’s news item can easily be expanded. At PrefBlog I read a nice rejoinder pointing to a sale in 2000 at Christie’s in New York of yet another payable bond issued by the Lekdijk Bovendams in 1634 which was sold for $ 47,000, twice as much as Yale allegedly paid in 2003 for their bond. A genealogist tracing the history of the Van Blanckendael family also came across the 1634 bond and asked the regional archives in Woerden about the perpetual bonds. The RHC Rijnstreek en Lopikerwaard responded in 2011 drily that the archive of the hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams contains several obligations from 1624 and 1638, and even from 1595. However, these obligations are not payable anymore, with two cuts in the document they have been cancelled. Not only national governments, cities and commercial companies issued rentebrieven, perpetual bonds, but other authorities, too, benefited in the past from the capital market.

Safeguarding the densely populated Netherlands is still the business of the Dutch waterschappen and hoogheemraadschappen. The one for the Lekdijk is remarkable because it dealt only with the dykes along the Lek and Nederrijn, not with the polders inside Utrecht. It literally pays to have institutions created only for this purpose. Regions afflicted in recent years by river floodings in other countries can tell you about the disastrous impact of neglected dykes. A few years ago the village of Wilnis in my own province Utrecht was hit unexpectedly by a flood caused by a dyke that imploded during hot summer weeks without rain. The etymology of Wilnis, “wildernis”, wilderness, might wryly serve as a warning of what can become of areas struck by the forces of water running freely.

Last but not least there is the matter of describing, conserving and storing archival records stemming from abroad in orderly fashion. The libraries at Yale University contain an astonishing wealth of materials from all over the world, and most often one can only admire the sheer skills in making them useful and accessible for the scholarly community at large. Last week the Findit search website was launched for sarching digital images at Yale University Library, with a clear notice that seven other digital collections at Yale are to be searched separately, Perhaps the double efforts for the rare still active Dutch bond are a blessing in disguise, even if it shows uncoordinated work. Maybe it is a case of not getting in touch immediately with scholars at Yale who could have saved the librarians and archivists from this situation. Years ago librarians at Munich taught me the fifteen minutes rule for cataloguing: when you cannot figure it out within a quarter of an hour, stop and get help. Getting things right is a hard thing to do. In this case scholars at Yale Law School and its marvellous library would have been most happy and willing to assist, and when necessary they would not hesitate to ask for help from all over the world, in order to bring light and truth true to Yale’s motto Lux et Veritas.

A postscript

David Schorr commented at the blog Environment, Law and History on September 21, 2015, my statements about the unique independent character of Dutch water institutions. In particular irrigation districts, too, tend to be independent institutions. I should have been alarmed by my own use of the notorious word unique! The next thing to question is the way such institutions carried out their jurisdiction. Some Dutch waterschappen had in principle the right to inflict the death penalty for not complying with their ordinances.  The blog of David Schorr, Adam Wolkoff and Sarah Mikov is well worth following.

Yale Insights published in 2007 an interview ‘What is a long life worth?’ with William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst confirming the purchase of the bond at an auction in 2003. They tell something about other loans and perpetuities. Goetzmann edited the essay volume The origins of value. The financial innovations that created modern capital markets (Oxford, etc., 2005) covering the history of loans from Babylon to modern times, where you can find an article by Goetzmann and Rouwenhorst, ‘Perpetuities in the Stream of History. A Paying Instrument from the Golden Age of Dutch Finance’ (pp. 177-187) dealing in detail with the 1648 bond. The Yale School of Management has created an online exhibit on the history of securities, Origins of Value. You can consult online an interesting bachelor thesis by Mark Hup, Life annuities as a resource of public finance in Holland, 1648-1713. Demand- or supply-driven? (B.A. thesis Economics, University of Utrecht, 2011) (PDF).

Dutch legal history and the First World War

The centenary of the beginning of the First World War has sparkled already an impressive number of digital projects, some of them presenting the centennial events and activities, and even more of them bringing you to digitized materials from many corners. The variety and wealth of these initiatives prompted me in February to start Digital 1418, a blog for the sole purpose of easy guidance to digital projects concerning the First World War. One of my goals at this blog is to bring together the widest possible selection of themes, subjects and countries. Thus my country, too, figures on it with some projects and two portals, one of them a web directory of European war museums. During the First World War the Netherlands remained among the neutral nations, but the Great War certainly had impact on this country, too. Being a legal historian I will not forget to include resources touching on legal aspects of the First World War. So far I have not been very lucky in my research. The digitized records of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, a military tribunal dealing with conscription appeals, is one of the few exceptions. Court-martials are one of the obvious subjects yet not present at this new blog.

Logo Delpher

For the subject of the Netherlands, legal history and First World War a recently reinforced Dutch digitization project at the Royal Library, The Hague, can bring you interesting materials. The Delpher portal combines the earlier separate portals of the Royal Library for digitized books, magazines and newspapers. Books from the period 1700-1800 had been digitized in cooperation with the university libraries at Amsterdam , Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht. Since its launch in November 2013 I have been looking for an opportunity to discuss here Delpher. The news item of April 24, 2014 issued by the Royal Library about the latest additions with digitized books from the early twentieth century alerted me to the inclusion at Delpher of books published during the First World War, and more specifically about commented law editions. In cooperation with two foundations which deal with copyright issues the Royal Library has gained a license to deal with the digitization of books from the period 1872-1940 which sometimes still remain in copyright. In this post I will look at some of the laws put into force by the Dutch government to cope with the consequences of the Great War, and I will look also at some Dutch digital projects concerning the First World War .

Surrounded by war

As in other European countries the First World War led political parties to a temporal truce. Political differences were suspended in a kind of national union. In The Netherlands, too, the government led by Cort van der Linden could reckon on broad parliamentary support. The government encouraged the creation of the Nederlandsche Overzee Trust Maatschappij (NOT), a consortium of major firms led by ship-owners and bankers with the overt aim of importing goods for the Dutch internal market under strict warrant of neutrality. The United Kingdom had imposed a policy to prevent goods to be imported to Germany by neutral countries. The NOT succeeded in getting clearance for Dutch vessels and their cargoes. The history of the NOT between 1914 and 1918 is the subject of the recent Ph.D. thesis of Samuël Kruizinga, Economische politiek: de Nederlandsche Overzee Trustmaatschappij (1914-1919) en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [Economic policy: the Dutch Overseas Trust Company (1914-1919) and the First World War] (dissertation Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2011; online (PDF)).

Cover Wet op de oorlogsiwnstbelastting, 1916

I refer to economic aspects of the First World War because one of the recently digitized laws at Delpher is a law for a tax on war profits, the Wet op de oorlogswinstbelasting of 1916. This edition with a commentary by A.G. Stenfert Kroese appeared in the famous series of commented law editions published by the firm Tjeenk Willink in Zwolle. The hallmark of these editions is the ample information about the parliamentary discussion about legislative projects. The very success of the NOT led to discussions about war profits. With finally nearly 1,000 people in its service the NOT dwarfed the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which employed a staff of just 45 civil servants. Under its aegis smuggling to Germany became paradoxically a blooming business. The law on war profits taxed profits not directly, but only the growth of income and capital which clearly stemmed from war profits. The Dutch government did not want to interfere too much with the economy. Proposals by parliament for a much more immediate taxation of war profits were rejected.

You can check online for the text of Dutch parliamentary debates at the portal Staten-Generaal Digitaal. This portal offers free access to materials from 1814 to 1995, both the debates themselves as also questions asked by members of the two chambers of the Dutch parliament, and the answers given by Dutch cabinet ministers. A major problem for tracking old Dutch legislation online which was published in the Staatsblad and the Staatscourant is the absence of a website with these resources. At Officiële bekendmakingen [Official announcements] you can find mainly information published in their entirety since 2009; treaties published in the Tractatenblad are included from 1951 onwards.

At Delpher a law concerning statistics published in 1916, the Wet op het statistiekrecht 1916, attracted my curiosity. The title page mentions the functions of the author commenting this law, V.S. Ohmstede, a civil servant at the customs and tax office in Amsterdam. The law was concerned with creating a tax on goods for the creation and financing of economical statistics. The Memorie van Toelichting, the official explication given to the Dutch parliament, referred to the examples of the French droit de statistique and the Statistische Gebühr levied in Bremen and in Switzerland.

Surely it is not sensible to list here all kind of laws issued between 1914 and 1919. Among the laws you will find for instance also a law concerning public archives (Archiefwet 1918) and a law on the emergency use of forests (Nood-Boschwet, 1917). Interesting also is the list of goods declared illegal for export [Lijst van ten uitvoer verboden goederen…, A.C. Luber (ed.) (2nd ed., Zwolle 1915). In the books section of Delpher you can use a simple free text search or enable the advanced search mode where you can limit your searches to a particular period or year, and also to a particular library.

The Delpher portal offers a great opportunity to look at the public impact of legislation. You might look in digitized Dutch newspapers for opinions about war profits, the role of the NOT and the approach of the Dutch government to all kind of emergencies linked with the war. In fact you can transfer your search seamlessly from one section of Delpher to another section. The newspapers section of Delpher is most useful because you cannot find yet any digitized Dutch newspapers on the First World War at Europeana Newspapers. The Dutch portal brings you to newspapers from the seventeenth to the twentieth century published in the Netherlands, including those from the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. Among the eighty journals digitized at Delpher is a barristers journal, the Advocatenblad (1918-1935). The presence of the Wetenschappelijke Bladen, a kind of digest from scientific journals, is certainly interesting, too.

The Delpher portal uses a notice Beta in its top right corner as a warning for those who want to express severe criticism about its present scope and working. However, constructive comments are sincerely welcomed and invited. On my list of wishes an English interface would get a high priority. The possibilities for full-text research and the nifty transfer of search requests from one section to another are definitely among the great qualities of the Delpher project. Delpher contains also transcripts of radio news bulletins from 1937 to 1989, something I have not often encountered as objects of a digitization project.

The Netherlands and the First World War

Legislation and public opinion are just a few aspects of Dutch history during the First World War. It is perhaps useful to mention here the websites and projects I assembled at Digital 1418, even though you arrive directly at the information about relevant websites by clicking on the link. The Stichting Studiecentrum Eerste Wereldoorlog (SSEW) was founded in 2011 to bring together Dutch research, scholars and initiatives concerning the First World War. The website of this study center has a links section with a large number of Dutch projects. Huis Doorn, a country house in the province Utrecht, became the last residence of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. The museum at Huis Doorn has been designated as the location for the Dutch national center for the history of the First World War. Its website offers in particular some 6,500 digitized images. I did already mention the portal War Museums in Europe and the Dutch parliamentary proceedings at Staten-Generaal Digitaal. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains some 8,000 digitized items from the collections of the former Legermuseum [Army Museum] in Delft; 400 items are related to the First World War. Digitized materials from several Dutch cultural institutions can be found at the portal Europeana 1914-1918. Lately Huis Doorn was the venue of two crowdsourcing days during which Dutch people could bring materials to the attention of the team behind this marvellous portal.

Logo 100 years Netherlands and World War IMuch more can be found online. Among memorials of the First World War the Belgenmonument [Monument for the Belgians] near Amersfoort stands out, erected in commemoration of the countless Belgian refugees who came to the Netherlands in 1914. An exact number of refugees cannot be given yet, but estimations come close to one million people. Some 1,500 men of the British Royal Navy Division were interned at the Engelse Kamp in Groningen. This year the history of First World War refugees receives particular attention at a number of Dutch archives and museums, for example at the Stadsmuseum in Tilburg and at the city archive of Utrecht (In staat van oorlog). The foundation 100 jaar Nederland en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [100 years Netherlands and the First World War] has created a centenary portal which will guide you to further websites and to activities and events around the Dutch commemoration of the First World War. In due time I intend to include the most telling and important Dutch websites on my blog Digital 1418. The Dutch corner of this blog is well worth visiting.

Dutch and Belgian digitized academic theses

Logo Academic Joy

The thesis by Kruizinga on Dutch economic policy leads me to say more about digitized theses defended in Belgium and the Netherlands. For Digital 1418 it seemed most useful to include a web directory to digitized academic theses. At Academic Joy you will find a very rich survey of online repositories worldwide with both Ph.D. and M.A. theses. On the blog I offer a selection of the main European repositories, and in addition I mention more resources for the Netherlands and Belgium. NARCIS is the main Dutch theses repository, Bictel has the same function for Belgium, but only for theses written in French. For Flemish theses one can consult M.A. theses at Ethesis, and B.A. theses in the Vlaamse Scriptiebank; both websites have an interface in Dutch and English. For the Netherlands one should add Scripties van de Nederlandse Universiteiten for M.A. theses, and the Igitur Archive for Ph.D. and M.A. theses defended at Utrecht University. B.A. and M.A. theses written at Dutch Higher Education institutions can be retrieved from the HBO Kennisbank. The Dutch term for the First World War is Eerste Wereldoorlog, in Flemish the term Gro(o)te Oorlog is also used.

The galaxy of French legal humanism

Is it old-fashioned to focus on the lives of individual lawyers or is it old school thinking to focus on them as a group? A nice synthesis worthy of Hegel would try to bring the study of a particular profession and biographical studies together within a new framework. Anyone studying the great and small legal humanists of the sixteenth century has to face the fact that the subjects of their research walked both the legal roads of this period and the paths of humanist scholarship. They focused on many aspects of history with a predilection for Classical Antiquity, its languages and sources. French lawyers were very visible in this field. In this post I would like to look at some online resources in France and elsewhere which help fostering the study of their works, lives, activities and surroundings.

Many places, many names

Some scholarly projects have helped enormously to become aware of the sheer number of people involved with legal humanism. At the very heart of humanism were manifold contacts, often by letter, which crossed the borders of countries and languages. Letters in impeccable Latin following the models of Antiquity served not only as means of communication, but also as shining fruits of the mind. Perhaps the ultimate accolade was writing to and receiving an answer from Erasmus. He and his correspondents were fully aware that their letters were bound to be copied and made public. In a sense remarkably close to the sharing of information on the web in our time the republic of letters of the sixteenth century was a very open society, too. P.S. Allen’s edition of Erasmus’ letters [Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami (12 vol., Oxford 1906-1958; reprint Oxford 1992)] was and is the single most influential project to stimulate research on Erasmus and his contemporaries. Since a couple of years Allen’s edition and the old Opera omnia editions of Erasmus’ works are being digitized at Erasmus Online. The volumes of the modern Opera omnia have been already digitized, and can be downloaded as PDF’s at OAPEN. Translations in English and Dutch are among the modern projects to make them even more accessible. At the website of the Warburg Institute you can find a fine overview of the major projects for the edition of letters by humanist scholars, including online inventories and editions, and a useful bibliography. The volumes of the biographical dictionary Contemporaries of Erasmus. A bibliographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, Thomas Deutscher and Peter Bietenholz (eds.) (3 vol. Toronto 1985) help to survey this intricate web of contacts by letters and other writings.

Looking at French humanist lawyers

Logo Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes

However interesting in itself, letters form here the stepping stone to law. Letters and humanists are the very heart of the project in the center of this contribution, Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes (BVH), the Virtual Humanistic Libraries, a project hosted by the Université de Tours. The multiple form bibliothèques draws attention to the presence of materials from several libraries in the Loire region, mainly those at Blois, Bourges, Châteauroux, Tours and Orléans. At the heart is the project Epistemon which started in 1998 for editing and searching humanist texts, in particular letters. The BVH now is home also to texts by humanist scholars, both in digital version and only as text, notarial acts from Tours and manuscripts. An accompanying blog keeps you informed about the latest developments. The section on iconography helps you find images with Iconclass, including some portraits of authors.

In the project MONLOE of the BVH copies of the early editions of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais, Montaigne’s own annotated copy of this work and other books, letters and manuscripts with his notes are being digitized. In May 2013 Ingrid de Smedt (University of Warwick) detected in the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel a manuscript (Cod. Guelf. 7. 1. Aug. 4to; digitized at Wolfenbüttel) with notes made in 1561 of lectures by François Baudouin (1520-1573) on Roman law and on the title page an owner inscription by Montaigne (1533-1592) (“Michael Montanus”). This manuscript was in fact the first to be tracked down as undoubtedly stemming from the personal library of Montaigne. Montaigne was between 1556 and 1570 a councillor in the Parlement de Bordeaux, one of the mighty provincial courts in Ancien Régime France. The BVH cooperates with the ARTFL project at the University of Chicago, where you will find also a searchable database of the first editions of Montaigne’s Essais, including the famous annotated copy of the edition Bordeaux 1588. Many texts in the BVH can be interrogated with Chicago’s Philologic tool. The University of Chicago maintains a website for Montaigne studies, with apart from digitized early editions a number of current bibliographies.

The blog of the BVH is hosted by the French platform Hypotheses. In fact an announcement at another blog on Hypotheses, Francofil, made me look again at the BVH. A second reason to delve into French digital libraries was the change of address of the digital library of the university of Strasbourg, now named Numistral, and the launch of Numelyo at Lyon. A quick search at Numelyo in its section Provenance des livres anciens brought me to a copy of Sueton’s Lives of the Caesars (Venice: Zani, 1500) (Rés. Inc. 1114) with an inscription that might also be by Montaigne.

Law is not absent at the website of the BVH. I found with the advanced search form for digitized copies with the domaine “droit” 54 books. Among them you will find for example Louis Charendas le Caron, Pandectes ou digeste de droit françois (…) (Lyon; Veyrat, 1597), editions of coutumes, customary law, commentaries on Roman and French law by authors such as Jean de Coras, Jean Imbert, Jean Papon and Pierre Rebuffi. One of the most often printed works is present, too, the Annotationes in Pandectas of Guillaume Budé (1467-1540), in an edition Paris 1542. Nobody should use these editions of Budé’s magnum opus without reading first the articles by Douglas Osler, ‘Budeaus and Roman law’, Ius Commune 13 (1985) 195-212, and ‘Turning the title page’, Rechtshistorisches Journal 6 (1987) 173-182. Budé changed consecutives editions of this work substantially. It would be rash to rely on just one (digitized) edition which you happen to find. Guillaume Budé’s name is used as an acronym, BUDE, for the online searchable database documenting the transmission of classical and medieval authors in manuscripts from the fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century at the Institute de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris and Orléans.

Another famous French humanist, Jean Bodin (1529-1596), is the subject of The Bodin Project, a very useful portal at the University of Hull. Bodin studied Roman law at Toulouse and worked ten years as an attorney at the Parlement de Paris. On this portal you will find links to digitized versions of contemporary editions of Bodin’s major works, bibliographies and links to other relevant projects. Particular mention should be made of the source indexes for some of Bodin’s works. Digitized versions of three sixteenth-century editions of Bodin’s works, too, are present at the BVH.

One of the reasons I wanted to look more closely at the BVH project was in fact a misreading. I thought I had seen an announcement on this website about the digitization of a treatise on money valuation by Jacques Cujas (Cuiacius) (1522-1590). Cujas studied law in Toulouse, taught there and more famously at Bourges. It turned out to be a text by Jacques Colas, Suputation nouvellement faicte de la valeur de monnais et des abuz dicelles, a manuscript from 1557 (Orléans, Bibliothèque municipale, Fonds ancien, ms. 629). Cujas is actually absent on the shelves of the BVH. Now Bodin was one of the authors in the sixteenth century writing about monetary issues. He is credited with an early exposition of the quantative theory of money in his 1568 treatise Réponse au paradoxe de M. de Malestroict touchant l’enchérissement de toutes choses, et le moyen d’y remédier. The website at Hull points to a digital version of the Bibliographie critique des éditions anciennes de Jean Bodin by Roland Crahay, Marie-Thérèse Isaac and Marie-Thérèse Lenger (Brussels 1992), where you can quickly find detailed information about the editions and existing copies of this text and other works by Bodin. In the case of the Réponse your attention will be drawn also to translations in Latin and German. The Latin version first appeared in a collection of monetary tracts and consilia with the title De monetis et re numaria edited by Reinier Budelius (Coloniae Aggripinae: Gymnicus, 1591; digitized at the University of Ghent). Among the other texts in this volume are two consilia on cases which centered around monetary devaluation by Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), a Dutch lawyer who became famous for his Topica sive de locis legalibus liber, a work on juridical argumentation. Everardi’s texts can be found at pages 689 to 701 of Budelius’ edition. Chris ten Raa published a study on Consilium nr. 105 van Nicolaas Everaerts (Rotterdam 1978). No version of Bodin’s monetary treatise is present at the BVH or at The Bodin Project.

I have looked for digital projects concerning other French sixteenth-century legal humanists such as Hugues Doneau (Donellus, 1527-1591), François Hotman (Hotomannus, 1524-1590), François Douaren (Duarenus 1509-1559), Denys Godefroy (Gothofredus, 1549-1622) and Jacques de Thou (Thuanus, 1553-1617), but until now I found only for François du Jon (Franciscus Junius, 1545-1602) a digital project, The Junius Institute at the Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.

On using the Universal Short Title Catalogue

Screenprint of the search screen of the USTC

Musing over the issue of digital versions I realized that a search for the works of French sixteen-century lawyers would make an excellent test case for the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC), a project hosted at the University of St. Andrews with French books printed until 1600 as its original core. In October 2013 a new version of the USTC website was launched. The project is an ambitious companion to other short-title catalogues such as the ISTC for incunables, the ESTC for English books (1473-1800), the STCN for the Netherlands (1501-1800) and STCV, its Flemish counterpart. The bibliographical information for the works of Bodin makes a fine example. For this project copies of French books have been inspected and described at many libraries. Supplementary information from other bibliographical works is summarily indicated. For the monetary treatise its existence in print thanks to and literally as a companion to a tract by Jean Cherruyt, seigneur de Malestroit, is duly noted.

Mistakes do occur in the USTC. I do not think that a rare 1509 treatise Repertoyre et table tres exquis et familiers selon l’ordre des lettres de l’abc was written by our Jean Bodin. The first edition of the Topica by Nicolaus Everardi (1516) is ascribed to one of his sons, the poet Nicolaus Grudius, himself a brother of the more famous Neolatin poet Janus Secundus. In my Ph.D. thesis defended in 1994 I could already indicate rather more copies, and it is easy to add references to digitized copies of the first edition in 1516 and later editions in the Digitale Sammlungen of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich; in a post on this blog I give further information. Better than deploring these faults – or any omission – is simply realizing the history of the USTC’s primary focus on France still has consequences. However, it seems at first strange to find exactly one work by Cujacius, but when you look for Cujas, his name in French, you will find rather more! For the rest one can place questions marks about the tagging of Bodin’s treatise in the USTC. In most cases an edition of this treatise has the classification “Economics”, in one case “Jurisprudence”. It goes without saying that the USTC does indicate digitized copies in a fair number of cases, but it is not an all-embracing repertory of digitized books published in the sixteenth century.

The USTC can show you other things or lead to interesting questions. If you search for works on economics you will find a surprisingly large number of works written either in Dutch or coming from the Low Countries. In my view the USTC can help you framing and refining questions about the use of language, the large number of works published in a specific period or on a particular subject, or the favorite format of books. In an ideal world you could perhaps add a second preset field to distinguish among subjects for the classification “Academic dissertations”. The indication of languages for this class is unfortunate when for example a dissertation defended in Italy and written in Latin is nevertheless classified as Italian. It seems wise to use the resources of the USTC as an additional tool, and not as your only source of information, something which is anyway for any resource only seldom advisable, and as always you will have to check the information it provides.

Approaching French humanist lawyers online

The BVH and the USTC are just one of the gateways you might like to use to find digitized books of French humanist lawyers. On the page for digital libraries of Rechtshistorie, my legal history website, you will find links to some twenty French digital libraries. Some of them offer quick access to sources on general themes such as legislation, jurisprudence, verdicts (arrêts), customary law, consultations and legal dictionaries. In particular the – also recently restyled – portal Fontes Historiae Iuris (Université Lille-2) is very helpful for quick orientation, even when the digital editions have sometimes been poorly scanned at Gallica. Let’s smile about the statement that you will not need to look any further! For some regions special websites bring you to the coutumes, the customary law, with often both the texts of these resources and learned commentaries on them. At Bibliopedia you can find a very detailed list of French digital libraries, but alas without the majority of websites dedicated to the history of French law. In 2011 I wrote two posts on French legal history with a somewhat closer focus, the first on the law of Normandy, the second on a number of research institutions in Paris which are relevant for legal historians.

A service akin to Fontes Historiae Iuris for French legal history, but on a wider scale, is provided by the Post-Reformation Digital Library (Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary), a portal to digitized works by protestant authors. It contains for a substantial part links to books digitized elsewhere, and it has a nifty function for searching simultaneously with one action in a number of digital libraries. Other portals will help you as well to track down digitized versions of Early Modern books, for example Early Modern Thought Online of the FernUniversität Hagen, and the Philological Museum maintained by Dana Sutton (University of Birmingham). Another gateway for online resources concerning Early Modern History has been created by Sharon Howard (University of Sheffield). Her portal Early Modern Resources is truly impressive in its wide range and coverage of aspects of European history between 1500 and 1800.

Critics who scold some of these enterprises for their incompleteness, omissions and faults can seem to be hunting themselves for a utopian illusion, the One and Only Source of All Knowledge. French humanist lawyers did not live as recluses, isolated from the turbulent times around them. They did not stick with texts as they happened to look in print, but delved into the background. Ad fontes was one of their favorite mottos. In Reformation Europe they simply could not hide completely from all influences and developments in religion, politics and society. Scholars from other countries, too, came to France to join their efforts. As lawyers they rubbed shoulders with their colleagues in the field of law and justice. Their research into Roman law and other subjects of Classical Antiquity did not happen in an ivory tower. In this century we face the opportunities offered both by portals and by online resources themselves to acquaint us deeper than ever before with a world of five centuries ago with all its differences from and resemblances with our times.

A postscript

For your convenience it is worth knowing the separate website of the MONLOE project, (Montaigne à l’Œuvre) where you have quick access to the resources at Tours concerning Montaigne, including for example the 47 arrêts of the Parlement de Bordeaux for cases dealt with by Montaigne between 1562 and 1567 as a member of this judicial court.

For Cujacius one can benefit from the recent study by Xavier Prévost, Jacques Cujas 1522-1590, jurisconsulte humaniste (Geneva 2015).

Money, museums and legal history

While following these days the news on the actions of the European Union to help the economy of Cyprus by taxing the savings of those who had hoped that they had found a safe haven I could not helping trying to see these events in a historical perspective. Was this the first action of its kind? How typical was the role of banks and the banking system in the Mediterranean world? How to find information about the history of money since Classical Antiquity? Numismatics is the historical discipline that traces the history of both coins and paper money, monetary objects and medals, the history of mints and much more. By sheer luck I had been alerted earlier this month about a very useful Italian blog post with a summary guide by Lucia Travaini to important numismatic websites. With one exception money museums are not present in her brief guide. Remembering the difficulties and surprises last year in creating a sensible webpage on museums and legal history I decided to create space for money museums, and to write about the way to reach this goal. Looking for Cyprus and Cypriote coinage offers a chance to test the quality of the information I found.

Numismatics as a historical auxiliary science has not the same attraction for historians as for example palaeography, the science dealing with old scripts and handwriting. Of course being able to read old handwritten texts is most useful, but not looking at coins is excluding arbitrarily material objects with their own history, impact and significance. Unfamiliarity and downright depreciation explain part of the minor position often allotted to this discipline. Numismatics has been looked upon unfairly as a hobby-horse for people with only antiquarian interest, something suitable for connoisseurs and collectors, or as at best a small branch of art history. In fact the uses of auxiliary disciplines are multiple. A first practical distinction is that historians do not receive the same training in numismatics as they get – or are expected to get – in fields such as palaeography, diplomatics, heraldry, epigraphy and sigillography. For periods in which written records are not as abundantly present as for contemporary or Early Modern history the importance of sciences dealing with objects and artefacts gain importance. Epigraphy and numismatics tend to be less distant for historians dealing with Classical Antiquity.

Tracing the history of money

Logo website Lucia Travaini

It is not possible to sketch in just one post a concise history of money, even when you restrict yourself to numismatics. The pocket online guide of Lucia Travaini will serve as a starting point. At her website is more space to introduce her scholarly qualities. By the way, the Bibliostoria blog of the Biblioteca di Scienze della Storia of the Università degli Studi di Milano where Travaini published her guide gives you excellent information on new and less recent online resources for historians.

The first resources mentioned by Travaini are image databases. McSearch, the Medieval and Modern Coins Search Engine, brings you quickly to literally hundreds of images of Cypriote coins sold at auctions. At CoinArchives.com you find similar information, with, however, for Cyprus less results. Wildwinds is a more ambitious site where the origin and present value of coins can be assessed. This site points also to other online collections and to the Digital Library Numis, on which I will comment later.

Travaini puts a number of numismatic societies in a second section of her guide. For the American Numismatic Society she mentions the online bibliography of numismatic literature, but the ANS offers more digital resources, including a selection of links to mints worldwide, a list of money museums, and lists of numismatic societies, virtual collections, online search tools, discussion groups and periodicals, information which in my opinion makes this website a portal for numismatic studies. International cooperation between money museums is represented by ICOMON, the International Committee of Money and Banking Museums, an initiative of the ICOM federation of museums worldwide. Some ICOM committees offer an overview or even a database of relevant museums, but ICOMON has not yet created any substantial list on its website. At present the board of ICOMON is led by a Dutch chairman, Christel Schollaardt of the Geldmuseum in Utrecht, and by Elena Zapti from Cyprus as its secretary.

The building of the Rijksmunt, the Dutch Mint, and the Geldmuseum, Utrecht

The building of the Dutch Mint (Rijksmunt) and the Geldmuseum, Utrecht

So far Travaini’s guide brings us quickly to the most relevant institutions and resources. The section with online catalogues of specialized institutions is disappointing, with only the catalogue of the Museo Bottacin in Padova. Are online catalogues of money museums indeed rare to find? When writing this post I could not access the library catalogue of the Dutch Geldmuseum in my own home town Utrecht. Instead of complaining about this unfortunate situation I should redeem it somewhat by pointing out that the Geldmuseum founded the International Network of Numismatic Libraries (INNL). At its website the INNL gives a substantial list of numismatic libraries and their library catalogues all over the world. For Italy the Civica Biblioteca Archeologica e Numismatica at Milan (!) is listed, with a library catalogue which is integrated into the central catalogue of specialized city libraries. As for the Museo Bottacin in Padova this is a department of a larger museum. In Italy and elsewhere many museums have a numismatic department. The website Musei Numismatici Italiani lists fourteen museum departments and independent museums in Italy. It seems useful to include here at least the Museo della Zecca in Rome and its online database, and the database Iuno Moneta at the Portale Numismatico dello Stato.

Online numismatic collections are the subject of the next section in Travaini’s guide, but here her definition of collezioni online is not clear. Both the links to the Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna, and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.,, do bring you only to webpages concerning collections, but not to collection databases such as those of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and Princeton University; the link given by Travaini, however, is not to the database of Princeton, but only to the webpage of its numismatic collection. Both at Bologna and Dumbarton Oaks there is no online database for coins and medals.

Perhaps it is wise to say at this point that whatever faults or omissions the guide of Lucia Travaini may have, it certainly brings you to many important and reliable resources. It is courageous to present any guide in a nutshell, and here weaknesses in some sections have to be seen in the light of the other sections. I would not have thought about listing links to websites concerning coin findings. Travaini points to the Swiss website Coin Findings which has four URL’s depending on the language you want to read, English, French, German or Italian, and to the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds, 410-1180 for the British Isles of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

In the last section of her guide Travaini lists a small number of thematic portals and bibliographies. Here the bibliographic website of Hendrik Mäkeler (Myntkabinett, Uppsala) concerning both ancient and medieval coins offers even more than just a fine bibliography which can be accessed in English, Swedish and German, but an exhaustive portal with links on any subject ranging from individual scholars, money museums and collection databases to the coin trade. Numismatik.org is a portal created by the Swiss scholar Benedikt Zäch. It incorporates the webpages of the International Numismatic Council with good information about current events. One of Zäch’s special subjects is coin findings. This Swiss portal owes its existence certainly also to the vicinity of the Münzkabinett Winterthur. The last portal Travaini mentions is the Digital Library NUMIS which in a very efficient way present a collection of (mainly links to) digitized publications.

Approaching coins from Cyprus and money museums

By now you may wonder about two questions. Will I look here at the monetary history of Cyprus at all? How do I proceed with creating my own list of museums concerning the history of coins, medals and paper money? Before answering these questions I want to point out a weakness in just looking at specialized institutions for monetary history. Coins and medals have been collected in great quantities by some of the world’s largest museums. In particular the links listed by the American Numismatic Society and by Hendrik Mäkeler contain these collections, but in a list on the English Wikipedia the information is supplemented with the number of coins which makes clear these institutions form a class of its own. Moreover, in these collections you will find in particular ancient coins from the Mediterranean. If you want to find early coins from Cyprus you are wise not to forget to look in their collections.

Thus it might be surprising to know that the Smithsonian Institution has more than 1,600,000 coins and medals in the holdings of the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg follows with more than a million objects. The Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum, too, is home to more than one million coins and medals. I cannot help noticing the absence of an online catalogue or objects database on its very useful website, nor do the Smithsonian Institution and the Hermitage. The collection with some 600,000 coins of the American Numismatic Society in New York can be searched online using the MANTIS database. The Münzkabinett of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna does not present an online catalogue of its own holdings – more than 700,000 objects – on its website, but it is home to a number of specialized catalogues for ancient coins and medals such as the Sylloge Nummorum Parthicorum. However, one can find some images of coins easily by tuning the image database of the KHM. The Wikipedia list mentions the Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I guessed the Louvre would have a numismatic collection, too, but this is not the case.

Tetrobolos, Cyprus, 4tgh century BC - Dewing Collection

A silver tetrobolos from Cyprus with the head of Aphrodite, circa 351-332 BC – Arthur S. Dewing Collection, Dewing 2534 – image Art and Archaeological Artifact Browser, Perseus Digital Library

For the sake of compactness I will not discuss here all collections in this handy list at the Wikipedia, and go to the Numismatic Museum of Athens (NMA). It is a relief to view this very well-organized website with a splendid array of (mainly external) web resources. For looking at ancient coins from Cyprus you will benefit from the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, a project of the British Academy. The section on numismatics of the bibliography in the Bibliotheca Classica Selecta, a project at the Université de Liège, is not to be missed. The NMA provides a link to the website Digital Historia Nummorum of Ed Snible with a fine section on Cypriote coins, even though it relies on rather old literature. Some of these works are still valuable. In the Digital Library NUMIS I found among publications from this century also a digitized version of a book-length article by Jan Pieter Six, ‘Du classement des séries cypriotes’, Revue Numismatique, 2e série, 1 (1875) 249-374. In fact this article builds heavily on the collections of the large general museums in Europe, and apart from the collection at Winterthur much less on the collections of specialized independent institutions. A last link adduced by the NMA is the Art and Archaeology Artifact browser of the Perseus Digital Library, the well-known project of Tufts University, where you can look for coins from ancient Greece. Among the large collections of major European cultural institutions I would like to mention the numismatic collection of the Bode-Museum, now part of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz. You can find its coins and medals both in the online catalogue of the Münzkabinett, and also among the images at SMB-Digital.

In the last paragraph I finally presented some online information about ancient Greek coins with a focus on coins from Cyprus. I have not become overnight a specialist on ancient coinage nor a scholar focusing on economic history, but it is possible to find quickly some reliable roads to the materials and issues you face when dealing with these subjects. Incidentally the NMA cooperated with the British Museum for the Presveis exhibition on the history of European monetary unions before the euro. The links presented and discussed here amount to building materials for a more substantial answer to the initial question about the history of money on Cyprus. With regard to the second question, the creation of a sensible list of money museums, it seems you have to combine information from several resources in order to create a new – and preferably commented – list of money and banking museums. I would like to include links to online catalogues and survey projects, too. As for now the museums list provided by the American Numismatic Society, at the INNL website and by Hendrik Mäkeler present us together a fairly reliable overview of major and minor institutions in the field of numismatic collections.

An obstacle for creating a new list is the very low number of museums I detected so far featuring the history of banking. No doubt some money museums do deal with this subject, but few museums focusing more exclusively on banking, banks and their history have surfaced on the websites I visited for this long post. Banks and their history fully merit a new post on my blog, and the crisis of the Cypriote banks is just one example that needs further exploration. I scarcely need to admit it was hard to find a place for legal history in this first post on money and museums. Until that post arrives here you might already profit from the rich links collection on banking history provided by Roy Davies of the University of Exeter.

Hunting for origins: the example of companies

A few weeks ago I read about the purchase in 2008 by China of a copper mine at Mount Toromocho in Peru for the sum of 3 billion dollars. It reminded me that I still have a story up my sleeve about another copper mine to illustrate the early history of companies with shareholders, and even better, the company in question still exists. When writing here in 2011 about the oldest share of the Dutch East India Company from 1606 I read also about companies founded much earlier. In this post I want to follow that track. However, this will lead also to questioning the idea and practice of searching for and claiming the earliest occurrence of legal constructions.

Searching for the oldest companies

Logo Hudson Bay Company

My search for companies older than the Dutch example of a company which issued stocks in the early seventeenth century is in itself in no way new or original. In fact I am surprised how much space has been devoted to this search in the English Wikipedia, with inevitably a list of oldest companies. This list is marred by the fact that a number of companies can claim indeed a foundation at a very early date, but they did not start outright as stock companies, the definition to be explored here. It was during a search last year for a particular person that I encountered the website of the Hudson Bay Company, founded officially in 1670. The Hudson Bay Company is proud of its long history. The full name, Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay, indicates clearly the role of stockholders. Its archives are since 1974 at Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 2007 the UNESCO admitted these archives to the Memory of the World Register.

Another necessary distinction to be made is between temporary stock companies and more permanent ventures. In ancient and medieval history and law you will encounter examples of joint ventures which last for just one voyage of a ship. Temporary companies such as the English Guinea or African Company (1577-1580) were followed by the East India Company (1600), the Dutch Noordse Compagnie and the Companie van Verre predated the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), founded in 1602. The name of the VOC indicates that in it a number of earlier companies merged together.

A sale concerning the Stora Kopparberg, 1288

The “founding charter” for Stora Kopparberg, 1288 – image Riksarkivet, Stockholm

When I wrote in November 2011 about the oldest share of the VOC dating from 1606 I found comments on the website of Radio Netherlands Worldwide stating that Stora Kopparberg, a Swedish company, is the oldest existing stock company documented as early as 1288. The text of the June 16, 1288 charter can be found in the printed version of the Svenskt Diplomatarium, digitized at a website maintained at the Riksarkivet in Stockholm (SDHK, no. 1406). You can also use a modern transcription and a more extensive summary in the Svenskt Diplomatarium, all in Swedish. In this charter bishop Peter of Västerås acknowledges the sale of an eight part of the copper mountain called Tiskasjöberg, octauam partem montis cupri dicti Tiscasioberg, to his nephew Nils Christinaeson, who however commutes the sale for the possession of two parishes, Fröslunda and Hasselbäck. The sale was certainly important, because the charter was sealed also by king Magnus Ladulås and four other bishops. How the division of this property into eight parts came into existence is not clear, nor is there any mentioning here of the issue of shares. I feel sympathy for the anonymous comment on the RNW website that one can perhaps describe it better as a privately owned firm with external shareholders. In view of medieval canon law it is indeed the question whether you should see this property of the diocese Västerås as property of the chapter and bishop, a part perhaps of the mensa episcopalis. Were the king and the other bishops sealing themselves shareholders?

Mining at the Stora Kopparberget, also known as the Falu Grava, had started already in the tenth century. A charter from 1347 records the granting of several rights to the miners by king Magnus IV (SHDK, no. 5394; February 17, 1347), and here it becomes clear the mine worked as a company. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this copper mine was the largest source of copper worldwide. In 1862 the official name became Stora Kopparsberg Bergslags Aktie Bolga, a name indicating the issue of stocks. The delving of copper ended in 1992. The UNESCO added the site of the copper mine in 2001 to the World Heritage List. In 1998 Stora AB fused with the firm Enso into StoraEnso.

Are there any other examples of early stock companies? The firm of Francesco di Marco Datini in fourteenth century Prato had certainly partners. The Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato in Prato is one of the largest medieval commercial archives still preserved. If I would have to answer at point blank for examples still existing medieval companies I am tempted to look at the so-called Livery Companies in London, late medieval craft and trade associations, but they did originally function as guilds and did not trade as companies. Helmut Coing’s Europäisches Privatrecht 1500-1800 I, Älteres Gemeines Recht (Munich 1985) 523-530, distinguishes between different kinds of trade companies: Personengesellschaften, partnerships with mining companies as a special subspecies, Kapitalgeschafften with for examples the Italian montes – excluding the montes pietatis -, privileged seafaring and colonial companies in England and the Low Countries, and more modern companies from the late seventeenth century onwards.

In France the Société des Moulins du Bazacle was a milling company near Toulouse which was owned since the mid-thirteenth century by shareholders. The mills were driven by the water at the barrage de Bazacle, a dam in the Garonne river. Eventually the shares got traded on the market in Toulouse. The company existed until 1946. Companies are already mentioned in French law in the Livre de Jostice et de Plet around 1260 (Li livres de jostice et de plet, Louis-Nicolas Rapetti (ed.) (Paris, 1850) ch. 7.15, pp. 167-168; online for example in the Hathi Trust Digital Library).

Logo Sumitomo

The webpages of the Hudson Bay Company Archives mention the Japanese keiretsu (business group) Sumitomo. It took over a copper mine founded in 1591 by Riemon Soga in Kyoto. In 1691 the firm started winning copper from the Besshi copper mine which closed only in 1973. Sumitomo Mining Company is the very heart of this business group, one of the world’s largest firms. It is interesting to note that both Stora Kopparberg and Sumitomo had copper mining as a basic activity.

Let’s return briefly to the Wikipedia list of oldest companies. You might indeed object I was too dismissive of its qualities and rejected it too quickly as unuseful. Of course it is a nice list of early enterprises which have continued active until modern times, but not every enterprise took off at its start as a stock company. Here a few examples should suffice to illustrate this argument. The British Royal Mint was founded in 886, but king Alfred the Great did certainly not found a firm. Only in 2009 the Royal Mint became a company with limited liability, Royal Mint Ltd. The second example I know from my own experience in South Germany. The Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan reckons its foundation as a brewery back to a charter issued by the city of Freising in 1040 allowing the abbey of Weihenstephan brewing and serving beer, but surely at that time the brewery was not a separate corporate entity. By the way, the genuineness of the 1040 charter is disputed.

Understandably I will not try to plod through a list of dates and firms to be checked, and produce yet another tedious list. Since already two mines figure in this post it is just an educated guess to look briefly at the Wieliczka salt mine near Cracow in Poland. This mine was already known in the Neolithicum (3500 BC). In the eleventh century the mine was nicknamed Magnum Sal. The oldest shaft still present dates from the thirteenth century. In the late thirteenth century the Cracow Mines Company was founded. The Wieliczka mine operated until 2007. This mine, too, has been added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Mining and law

At the end of this post it might seem I have offered here a kind of tour of the Memory of the World Register and the World Heritage List, with only a very vague link to legal history. You might feel lucky I did not yet include a Dutch twist to this post, but the history of mining law brings me an opportunity to do just that. Mining law is indeed a separate branch of private law. In 1978 J. de Boer defended at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam his Ph.D. thesis on De winning van delfstoffen in het Romeinse recht, de middeleeuwse juridische literatuur en het Franse recht tot 1810 [The extraction of minerals in Roman law, the medieval legal literature and French law to 1810](Leiden, 1978). This thesis has a summary in English. Coing’s survey mentioned above brings you to other studies concerning mining law including works by Early Modern lawyers, for instance the Speculum iuris metallici, oder Berg-Rechts-Spiegel by Sebastian Span (Dresden, 1698; digitized at Heidelberg). In Dutch history mining took place in Limburg and also in the former Dutch East Indies.

Using the catalogue of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main, you will quickly find more relevant and even earlier works on the history of mining law. In Norway mining law was already codified in 1540. When you combine the results obtained there with a search in the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog for digitized books you will be able to look at a number of relevant works from your screen. The Metallicorum corpus iuris oder Bergk-Recht (Leipzig 1624) by Johann Deucer has been digitized at Dresden. Mining often belonged to the regalia, the royal rights. Eike von Repgow deals with this aspect of mining in the Sachsenspiegel (Landrecht I,35), written between 1220 and 1235, and the gloss by Johann vom Buch from the early fourteenth century expands on it (Glossen zum Sachsenspiegel-Landrecht: Buch’sche Glosse, Frank-Michael Kaufmann (ed.) (3 vol., Hannover, 2002; available online at dMGH, section Leges). The library at Frankfurt am Main is a treasure trove which you might indeed compare to a gold mine for legal historians! Here I have restricted myself to mentioning just a few titles and indicating some aspects.

The lure of looking for origins

American readers might have expected me to deal with originalism as the major subject of this post, but in a way my post is already in itself a comment on any form of originalism. The Legal History Blog is very helpful in tracking the discussions on originalism. One of the major problems with the approach favored by originalists is the question to which origin you would like to point. Do you go back to the debates of the Founding Fathers about the American Constitution, do you look at the early Congress or at congressional debates concerning specific amendments, or do you dare to consider also debates concerning the constitution and statutes of the original states before 1776? As for the Founding Fathers, in the book by Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner and in the web version of their study The Founders’ Constitution (5 vol., Chicago 1987; reprint Indianapolis 2001) you can look even beyond them to the sources and arguments they adduced or debated.

In the wake of the controversies about the American Constitution and its present application many roads have been opened, some of them new and promising, some well trodden and somehow pale. The major flaw with the less interesting perspectives is the Whig interpretation of history, the tendency to use history and law as a handmaiden of the present, in fact only valuable because of the present, and thus sometimes called applied legal history. History and legal history can seem just fuel for debates and are reduced to ammunition for political views. At the very best history and the development of law are not totally neglected in Whig interpretations. In my country the ignorance about history of many members of the Dutch parliament is often shameful. Another problem in the present use and role of the American constitution is the tendency to avoid fundamental debate, and to press for solutions to political questions by the judiciary with as its main vehicle judicial review. A recent attempt in Dutch politics to let a court judge political matters was rightly rejected: the Dutch States General have to decide them, not the courts. Democracy and political debate can regain relevance when they become really relevant and decisive.

As for the history of early companies, it is better not to reduce the history of company law to the sometimes fascinating stories of their foundation or a series of snapshots of all kinds of companies in history, but to look at many aspects of commerce and law in context in longer periods, and to attempt perspectives from all around the world. Legal historians can bring in questions of law to gain insights which historians and other scholars can only neglect at their peril.

Turning to good account: medieval account rolls and legal history

How to present a faithful picture of legal history? Writing here about various subjects enforces the conviction that talking about legal histories in the plural is closer to the mark. Taking account of everything that is going on in this scholarly discipline is not possible. In my view the very subject of keeping accounts and its connection to legal history deserves a post here. In this case, too, you can choose a wide variety of perspectives, sources to be highlighted and stories to be told from the Ancient Near East until modern computerized accounting systems. I will in particular discuss a number of projects for the digitization of medieval account rolls.

From clay tablets to computers

Accounts are among the earliest surviving written sources of mankind. From ancient Mesopotamia clay tablets have been found written in cuneiform script. You can find an example of a digital collection of cuneiform records from the Assyrian empire on the website of the Library of Congress. A substantial percentage of ancient papyri, too, tell us about expenses and income, or stem indeed from official administration of all kinds for both secular and religious institutions. At Papyri.info you can search the bibliography for papyri rolls. From Roman times accounts have been preserved on various materials. Wax tablets with accounts are among the Vindolanda tablets found near Hadrian’s Wall in 1973. The tablets now on display at the British Museum in London have been digitized by Oxford University.

Logo Computatio

For our knowledge of medieval history accounts and account rolls are abundantly present. Otto Volk (Universität Marburg) has put anyone interested in medieval accounts and accounting into his debt by his efforts to create at Computatio an online bibliography of scholarship concerning the late medieval and Early Modern period.

Lately a number of projects in the United Kingdom has started to digitize a substantial number of medieval rolls. You will find a very large number of digitized records at Anglo-American Legal Tradition, a website of the O’Quinn Law Library, Houston University in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew. Among the records are plea rolls, Chancery Rolls and pipe rolls (E 372 series). The pipe roll from 1130 is the second oldest item from the royal administration, only preceded by Domesday Book (1086). Finding digitized pipe rolls and digitized editions published by the Pipe Roll Society is made easier using the overview and guide at Medieval Genealogy. The Pipe Roll Society announces for 2012 a new edition of the oldest surviving pipe roll from 1129-1130 and new editions of the pipe rolls for Normandy. The first edition of the oldest pipe roll was by Joseph Hunter, Magnum rotulum Scaccarii vel magnum rotulum Pipae (…) (London 1833; digitized at the Hathi Trust Digital Library). An edition of Norman rolls was published by Thomas Stapleton, Magni rotuli scaccarii Normanniae sub regibus Angliae (2 vol., London 1840-1844). These volumes have been digitized in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich where you can find also the Rotulus cancellarii vel antigraphum magni rotuli pipae de tertio anno regni regis Johannis (London 1833). For Normandy the first volume of the new edition has already appeared, Pipe rolls of the Exchequer of Normandy, I, For the reign of Henry II 1180 and 1184, Vincent Moss (ed.) (London 2004). Mark Hagger writes in his article ‘A Pipe Roll for 25 Henry I’, English Historical Review CCXXII (2007) 133-140, about a fourteenth-century register from St. Albans Abbey containing a fragment from the pipe roll for Michaelmas 1124.

Separate projects are devoted to several types of roles. In the Henry III Fine Rolls Project rolls from 1216 to 1272 are being digitized on which the payments for royal concession were noted (C 60 and E 371 series). A translation will also be provided. This project at King’s College London is accompanied by a blog. The project website can boast a useful links selection to other projects. The Gascon Rolls Project is concerned with rolls similar to the Henry III Fine Rolls for the period 1317-1468 for matters concerning Gascony (C 61). On a French webpage you will find much information on previous editions of earlier rolls concerning Gascony. The Parliament Rolls from 1275 to 1504 have been edited earlier. The digitized version can be consulted only for subscribers at British History Online. Luckily you will find here digitized editions of many types of medieval rolls in open access. Access to a number of relevant sources is also provided by many calendars, the typical English finding aid created for many sources. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is a very useful tool to find digitized editions of medieval sources. At present for example 160 digitized editions of account rolls are included. In the 2011 issue of Digital Medievalist Morgan Kay and Maryanne Kowalewski discuss this bibliographical database which includes now more than 4,000 items.

Accounting and counting in medieval times

In this post I want to look at digitized medieval accounts and in particular account rolls, but sooner or later it becomes necessary to look first at the medieval way of accounting. Accounts were kept and sometimes rolls created to make it possible to account for both the actions of for example a royal officer, and also for the fines due to the king, which might not necessarily and automatically match with the actual amounts of money received. The accounts present a picture of posts concerning actions and money transfers for which the authors were held accountable.

The very word control stems from the practice of checking rolls against the receipts and the amount of money present after a particular period. In the field of trade and commerce medievalists often point to the invention of double entry book-keeping and the treatise La pratica della mercatura by Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (fl. 1310-1347). The edition by Allan Evans (Cambridge, Mass., 1936) has been digitized by the Medieval Academy of America. The first clear late medieval presentation was long said to be found in the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice 1494) by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) – GW 44422, digitized for example at Cologne and at the ECHO project of the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin – whose chapter on book-keeping stems partially from Giorgio Chiarini, the Florentine author of the Libro che tratta di mercanzie et usanze dei paesi. An incunable edition of this work appeared at Florence in 1481 (GW 22847). Alas the link to a digitized version at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart does not work. Vincenzo Gitti edited a text by Pacioli, the Tractatus de computis et scripturis / Trattato de’ computi e delle scritture (Turin 1878), also available online at the Universität Köln.

These treatises came into existence after some major merchants and towns had already started using the double entry book-keeping system during the fourteenth century. Vittorio Alfieri, La partita doppia applicata nelle scritture delle antiche aziende mercantili veneziane (Turin, etc., 1891) – digitized at Cologne – made already clear that Pacioli was probably not the first to explain this system. Alfieri discusses similar treatises up to Benvenuto Straccha’s De mercatura (1553), the first legal treatise exclusively devoted to commercial law. Straccha is the subject of a virtual exhibition at the Università Bocconi in Milan, where you can find a bibliography on him and more treatises concerning commercial law. Anne van der Helm and Johanna Postma of the Instituut Pacioli found in 1998 the manuscript of a mid-fifteenth century Italian treatise by Benedetto Cotruglio, Libro dell’arte della mercatura with an appendix, La riegola del libro which according to Van der Helm and Postma dates from the first half of the fifteenth century. This appendix is missing in the edition of Cotruglio’s text by Ugo Tucci (Venice 1990). In the paper discussing this newly discovered text – dealing not only with book-keeping but with many aspects of commerce – the authors provide an ample bibliography of relevant scholarship on the earliest book-keeping treatises.

As for the question where double book-keeping occurred for the first time L. Lauwers and M. Willekens mention in their sketch on the history of book-keeping, ‘Five hundred years of book-keeping. A portrait of Luca Pacioli’Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management 39/3 (1994) an article by Michael Scorgie, ‘Accounting fragments stored in the Old Cairo Genizah’, Accounting, business and financial history 4 (1994) 29-42, who studied a fragment of a journal dating from 1080 and four pages of accounting with credits and debts dated 1134. One can search part of the Cairo Genizah in the Genizah On-Line Database of Cambridge University Library. Images can be found also in the Friedberg Genizah Project, and in Cambridge’s DSpace. Lauwers and Willekens mention also a study by John Caldwell Colt, The Science of Double Entry Book-keeping (New York 1844; online, University of Rhode Island). Colt already guessed that the connection with Egypt, Constantinople, and the commercial network of Arabic merchants stretching from northern Africa to India, is vital for the introduction of double book-keeping. Pointing to the activity of Lombards all over Europe is another sensible line of argument. However, his assumption that the Hanseatic League also quickly took over this method, is wrong, because the cities of this commercial league long refused it.

Probably the largest single medieval commercial archive is the Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato, Prato, with the famous documentation about Francesco di Marco Datini, immortalized in Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato (1957). On the website one reads the affirmation that from the end of the thirteenth century double book-keeping was used in Tuscany. However correct or incorrect this statement, the Fondo Datini shows an overwhelming variety of account books.

It would be foolish not to mention at least briefly the use of Roman and Arabic numbers. Counting with Roman numbers was mostly done with an abacus. The story of Leonardo Fibonacci and his Liber abaci (1202) can be found almost anywhere. In this mathematical treatise he introduced the modus Indorum to Europe, the numerals as we know them, including the use of zero. Laurence Edward Sigler published a study and translation in English, Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci: a translation into modern English of Leonardo Pisano’s Book of Calculation (Berlin-New York 2002). The edition by Baldassare Boncompagni, Scritti di Leonardo Pisano (2 vol., Rome 1857-1862) has still to be used, and can now be consulted online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. You can find it also together with other digitized Italian mathematical works on the Mathematica Italiana portal of the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. It is not included in the section for the history of mathematics of the Berlin website European Cultural Heritage Online.

Rolls and scrolls on many subjects

Let’s go back from the treatises to the account rolls and account books. Many years ago I was fascinated by the rotuli mortuorum, the rolls with the names of deceased medieval monks for whom prayers were requested. More recently rolls of arms figured here in a post concerning medieval heraldry. The chapter of the Introduction to manunscripts studies by Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham (Ithaca, NY-London 2007) devoted to rolls and scrolls made me again curious about this format and its uses. Not only here figure rolls, but elsewhere in this book, too, for example a thirteenth-century roll cartulary written by a notary from Asprières in the Provence (Chicago, Newberry Library, Greenlee ms. 39), and a parchment roll with a large hole caused by the corrosive pigments of an illustration (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 22.1). The authors mention also an example of an account roll from thirteenth-century Florence.

Michael Clanchy mentions the use of rolls in his classic study From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London 1979; 3rd ed., New York 2012) and more particular also the way written records were used. Auditing a roll was indeed done by reading them aloud. Clanchy points to the possible influence of Arabic practice transmitted by English mathematicians such as Adelard of Bath on the introduction of the roll form. He reckons also with influence from Sicily which in the early twelfth century had only just been conquered on the Arabs. Scholars still debate the actual forms of this influence from the Arab world and the precise ways they might or could have led to developments in Italy.

You will excuse me for not giving examples here of all kinds of medieval rolls, even though Clanchy discusses a generous range. The Parliament rolls have been mentioned here already. Among the main sources concerning English medieval law are the plea rolls, the Exchequer rolls, the eyre rolls, the coroner rolls, the statute rolls and the assize rolls, almost all of them also treated in Clanchy’s book. For the patent rolls it is interesting to visit the website for the itinerary of King John and the rotuli litterarum patentium, with Hardy’s 1835 edition. It might seem useful to remember the Rolls Series, a major series of editions of sources from medieval Britain, but the Master of The Rolls, responsible for the series, decided to publish mainly chronicles in this series. Court rolls often contain the fines of cases. One of the major online projects for court rolls is The Court Rolls of Ramsey, Hepmangrove and Bury, 1268-1600, based on the edition of sources for this part of the East Midlands with the same title (Toronto 1990) and accompanying the book Ramsey. The life of a Fenland Town by Anne Reiber DeWindt and Edwin Brezette DeWindt (Washington, D.C., 2006). The Conisborough Court Rolls (University of Sheffield) present rolls from a manorial court in Yorkshire. For medieval Ireland the website Irish Chancery Rolls, c. 1244-1509 has been launched recently with rolls patiently reconstructed from the materials that survived the disastrous bombing of the Irish Record Office in 1916. It would be splendid to view documents from medieval Spain. Thomas Bisson’s study Fiscal accounts of Catalonia under the early count-kings (1151-1213) (2 vol., Berkeley-Los Angeles 1984) contains the text of a number of documents. For an earlier period Michel Zimmermann has written a major study on the role of writing in Catalonia, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle) (2 vol., Madrid 2003).

I would like to close this post with a shortlist of separately digitized medieval account rolls and similar documents with a clear link to administration, government or jurisprudence. Don Skemer deals with statute rolls compiled by individuals in ‘From Archives to the Book Trade: Private statute rolls in England, 1285-1307’, Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995) 193-206. I will exclude here many other forms, such as genealogical rolls – though I would like to point to the digitized world chronicle and genealogy of Edward IV in roll form at Philadelphia, Free Library – mortuary rolls and heraldic rolls. My brief list opens with a number of examples from the Digital Scriptorium, choosing of course examples completely digitized:

  • Los Angeles, UCLA Library, ms. Rouse 61: Rent roll; Hertfordshire, 1560 – ms. Rouse 53 is an homage roll from Norfolk, 1446-1453
  • Los Angeles, UCLA, Bancroft Library, BANC UCB 119: Purchase of land, Bergamo, 1500
  • New York, Columbia University, ms. Montgomery 22: Account roll, Ely, 1400-1415
  • San Francisco, San Francisco State University, J. Paul Leonard Library, De Bellis Collection, De Bellis H 121, Box1:A3: Roll, 1338; Italy – the exact nature of this roll is not indicated in the description
  • New York, Columbia University, Smith Documents 63: Tax roll of tithes, Vaux (Somme), first half 15th century
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Ash. Rolls 45, Procession to Parliament; 17th century – a beautiful illustrated roll; for digitized genealogical and heraldic rolls Oxford provides an ample choice
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, ms. Oversize 23: Property survey; Val Secret, department Aisne, 1324
  • Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Codex 1116: Distribution of funds for churches; Volterra, 1490
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/216: Toll tarifs, Sens, around 1223; two rolls
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/II/329: Document of three apostolic commissioners concerning the nullity of the marriage between Charles the Fair and Blanche of Burgundy, 1322
  • Paris, Archives Nationales, AE/III/203: Letter of Uldjaitu, king of Persia, to Philipp the Fair and other christian princes to renew the existing alliance, 1305 – on the back of the roll is an Italian translation of the Mongol text
  • Beaune, Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or, Chambre des Comptes de Bourgogne, B 11525: Tithe roll for the region around Beaune, 1285

Of course one can point to interesting documents concerning legal history in roll form elsewhere, not only in medieval Europe, but for example in medieval Japan. Harvard Law School Library has digitized 22 komonjo, scrolls with various legal texts from the period 1158-1591. Jewish marriage contracts in roll form are being digitized in the Ketubbot project of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. The Society for Old Dutch Law published a merchant guild roll from Deventer, De koopmansgilderol van Deventer voor 1249-1387, H.R. van Ommeren (ed.) (The Hague 1978), and the text of this edition – without images of the roll – can be consulted online. For Flanders and Brabant H. Nélis created an overview of account rolls in his study Chambre des Comptes de Flandre et de Brabant. Inventaire des comptes en rouleaux (Brussels 1914)

At the French Archim website you can consult online the roll with the interrogation of members of the Knights Templars from October 19 to November 24, 1307 (Paris, Archives Nationales, J 413 no. 18). Another roll from this famous trial is J 413 no. 29, a digitized inventory on six parchment leaves of the goods of the Templars in the bailliage of Caen. Using the collections search interface of the French Culture portal it seems you cannot find easily other examples in France. The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. The accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe shows an interesting selection of manuscripts and contains a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. The database of the Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden at Marburg contains examples of charters in roll form (Rotel), of which you can view images in black and white. At Monasterium.net, too, one can search for digitized charters of this type, but the search results here are not straightforward.

When writing this post I had to scroll to the end of my text, and thus in a way this post has become a roll, too. The pieces of parchment of a medieval roll were stitched together. I am afraid my text has some rather obvious stitches. At some points I have been much too brief, and at the same time this post contains almost too much. The scholarship in print on the variety of medieval rolls concerning the royal government of England is extensive, and I have mentioned but a few titles here. Perhaps this post just wets the appetite for more!

A postscript

What should be included, and what excluded in such a long post? Certainly not the website of the center for the history of accounting at the Université Lille-3. You will find more links on this website. Comparable centers are mentioned in the links section of the e-journal De Computis. At least three articles in the e-journal Comptabilité(s) deals directly with medieval rolls, Harmony Dewez’s 2011 illustrated contribution on the manorial rolls of Norwich Cathedral Priory, Jean-Baptiste Santamaria on accounts for the bailliage of Hesdin in fourteenth-century Artois, and Patrick Beck on accounts for the comune of Dijon.

By chance I visited the website Richard II’s Treasure, created by the Institute for Historical Research and Royal Holloway College, where besides many objects the treasury roll of this king from 1398-1399 is featured (National Archives, E 101/411/9). However, you will find on the website just two images of the roll, and the text of this 40 meter roll is missing, too. Jenny Stratford who helped creating the website gives the text in her study Richard II and the Engish Royal Treasure (Woodbridge 2011).

In 2014 the Houghton Library of Harvard University launched the beautiful website Medieval Scrolls where you can find an introduction to the subject, a database, an online exhibition with for example a roll with the text of Glanvill’s treatise on English law, and many illustrations.

Claiming the streets. Legal history, riots and upheavals

Between an isolated incident of violence and a full-scale revolution exists a wide variety of possible forms of violent actions. Their cause, form and the people involved have differed widely, as do the backgrounds of such events. The second week of August 2011 saw riots in the streets of London and other English cities, which at first seemed largely an outburst of violence but soon turned into plundering of shops and pillaging of neighbourhoods. The reactions of authorities, even their relative unresponsiveness to events, are ever so much determining factors in assessing the exact character of events as the actual events themselves, their media coverage and opinions about them. In many countries one can scarcely imagine a police force without water cannons which were conspicuously absent in England. In this post I want to look at some historical riots and upheavals from the perspective of materials nowadays digitally presented.

Dutch upheavals

In historiography there has been a tendency to see the Dutch Republic as an island of order in the midst of the turmoil that struck Western Europe from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century. However, a title like The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama (1987), echoed by A.Th. van Deursen, De last van veel geluk. De geschiedenis van Nederland, 1555-1702 [The burden of lots of luck] (2004), indicate a less rosy state of affairs. Van Deursen died last month. He was an eminent historian who has considerably enriched our views of the Dutch Golden Age. War was a characteristic of the period of the Dutch Revolt, roughly between 1566 and 1609. The Eighty Years War (1568-1648) of the United Provinces lasted even longer than the Thirty Years War and the destructions that hit the German Holy Empire. Already in 1979 Rudolf Dekker published an anthology of eyewitness accounts of troubles and riots in Holland (Oproeren in Holland gezien door tijdgenoten (Assen 1979)), and in 1982 appeared his study Holland in beroering: oproeren in de zeventiende en de achttiende eeuw [Holland in trouble: riots in the seventeenth and eighteenth century] (Baarn 1982).

One of the most striking revolts in the Dutch Republic was the 1696 Aansprekersoproer, literally “The Undertaker’s Men Revolt”. You can find the occupation aanspreker among the occupations in the History of Work Information System of the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam. The city of Amsterdam had decided to lower the number of men working as an undertaker’s man from around 300 to 72. In order to win the favour of the poor the aansprekers launched the rumour that due to this new policy poor people would not get anymore a decent funeral. An indignant mob attacked the houses of burgomasters and other members of the city’s elite and killed several people. The city council immediately issued ordinances against the violence, but to no avail. The second day sailors joined the revolt. Only the third day a former burgomaster succeeded in calming the mob. Students of Utrecht University have created an interesting online presentation concerning the Amsterdam city government, this riot and the subsequent trial.

From more recent centuries, too, one can find several major riots. The most picturesque riot is probably the Palingoproer, the “Eel Revolt” of July 1886 in the Jordaan, a neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Pulling eels from a rope while standing on a boat in an Amsterdam canal was one of the few pastimes in a poor and squalid quarter of Amsterdam. Not that other Dutch cities were any cleaner. Auke van der Woude has chosen a most winning title for his latest study Koninkrijk vol sloppen. Achterbuurten en vuil in de negentiende eeuw [Kingdom of slums. Backstreets and rubbish in the nineteenth century] (Amsterdam 2010), a book in which you can smell the poverty that reigned in the slums of many cities. Pulling eels had been repeatedly forbidden, and police action against it seemed to be the trigger for protest. On the first night policemen used swords to get safely back to their headquarters. On the second day the army came into action with 26 victims as a result. The image database of the Amsterdam City Archives contains a number of contemporary photographs of the Lindengracht where this revolt happened. The Amsterdam City Archives have developed a very active policy of digitization on demand, and not only for this reason you should look at the services offered here. During the inquiries after these riots it proved impossible to detect agitation by anarchists.

The Jordaan, now a much-loved neighbourhood in Amsterdam, saw in 1917 a week called afterwards the Potato Revolt with nine casualties and over one hundred wounded people. In 1934 a protest in Amsterdam against a cut in the doles combined with a protest against the Dutch national-socialist party NSB. During this Jordaanoproer not only the Jordaan became the scene of a revolt, but other quarters of Amsterdam as well. With five dead people and more than fifty casualties this might seem a less violent revolt, but the Amsterdam police failed again to quench the revolt quickly.

Most recent in Dutch memory are the riots in Amsterdam on April 30, 1980, during the coronation of Queen Beatrix, and therefore called either the Coronation Riots or the Squatter’s Revolt. A substantial number of houses in the old city of Amsterdam had become illegally inhabited by groups of squatters. They announced a day of action as a protest against the Dutch housing shortage, and more specifically against the authorities which according to the squatters failed to act against speculation on the housing market. The very city heart of Amsterdam had been sealed off to ensure a smooth coronation, but elsewhere in the city centre a number of fierce battles were fought. A growing number of squadrons of a special police force, the Mobiele Eenheid, the “Mobile Units” was called upon to fight against the squatters. Due to inadequate communication these forces at first did not help much. Only late in the evening of April 30 the streets became quiet after a day with hundreds of casualties and severe damage to shops and other buildings. Afterwards the Coronation Riots were absolutely the main reason for the Dutch police to give the Mobile Units more training, to enhance communication and to revise police strategies against possible violence. Novelist A.F.Th. van der Heijden wrote in 1983 De slag om de Blauwbrug [The battle for the Blue Bridge], a short story about an episode during the Coronation Riots, which functions as the prologue to a series of novels by this author.

Only the Jordaan Riots of 1934 have been canonized in the Canon of Amsterdam. If you want to find more Dutch riots and upheavals mentioned in the current Dutch vogue for historical canons you can search for words like rellen, oproer or opstand at the Regiocanons website which presents a number of regional historical canons.

Riots in the United States

Surely one of the best documented events concerning a riot in the United States is the Haymarket Affair. In May 1886 a four-day labor protest in Chicago was met by a large police force. On May 1 and 2 things went uneventful, but in the evening of May 3 a bomb exploded amidst the policemen just as they had summoned people to clear the streets. One police officer was killed immediately, six others died later. The police responded with gunfire which wounded an unknown number of protesters. Afterwards the police arrested a number of anarchists. In the subsequent trial four defendants were sentenced to death. The trial became an international affair. In fact the remembrance of this protest created the international celebration of May 1 as Labor Day.

The Chicago Historical Society has created a digital collection on the Haymarket Affair, in which you will find all kinds of documents on the protest, the events of May 3 and the trial. At this site is also a so-called dramatization of the events, a narrative with the purpose to put the events into perspective. The Library of Congress presents in the digital collection of the American Memory both the documents digitized at Chicago, more documentation and a full transcript of the trial. Perhaps it is good to note the title of the collection at Washington, D.C.: Chicago Anarchists on Trial. Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887. The trial is of course present at the Famous Trials website of Douglas Linder, who specifies the title of the case, State of Illinois v. Albert Spies et al. Despite rumours about machinations by anarchists or social-democrats the investigations at the trial did not bring convincing evidence for this charge.

Linder mentions several other riots which resulted in epoch-making trials. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was one of the events leading to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Soldiers opened fire at unarmed citizens when they felt threatened by them. Five people died, many others were wounded. In his introduction to The Boston Massacre, a history with documents (New York, etc., 2010), a useful collection of documents on this event, Neil L. York does not fail to mention the paradox that what happened was not a massacre, but it surely had similar impact. The Carthage Conspiracy Trial has at its centre a mob killing Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, just one man.

In fact this paragraph could easily be extended to mention much more riots and upheavals. The Villanova University in Philadelphia launched this month an online exhibit called Chaos in the Streets. The Philadelphia Riots of 1844 on the violence against Catholic and Irish people in May and July 1844. It is already interesting to note the time span of these riots. On the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website of the O’Quinn Law Library, University of Houston you will find for example materials among the Privy Council Miscellaneous Papers at the British National Archives concerning the Stamp Act Riots of 1765. The New York Draft Riots in July 1863 were probably the largest riot in American history. Protest against the conscription act enacted by Abraham Lincoln culminated in fierce riots after the publication of the names of draftees. The number of victims has been estimated between at least twenty to perhaps 2,000 people. In Making of America Books, a digital library at the University of Michigan, you can find a book by Joel Tyler Headley, The great riots of New York, 1712 to 1873,: including a full and complete account of the Four Days’ Draft Riot of 1863 (New York 1873). Its title clearly indicates the events in 1863 did not constitute the first riot in New York.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) forms the background of the 1863 riots, and puts them into a different perspective from riots during more peaceful times. It is hard to distinguish between a single riot and riotous days during or even starting a revolt or revolution. Therefore I have excluded riots during such periods from the sample of riots presented here. It is certainly not for a lack of riots in American history that I mention only a few. Slavery and racial tensions were just a few of the ingredients at hand and at stake in riots. By chance I spotted the Tulsa Race Riot in the night from May 31 to June 1, 1921, with an estimated number of deadly casualties between one hundred and three hundred in this Oklahoma town. The Tulsa Historical Society has created an online exhibit about this event.

Riots in the United Kingdom

Events in the United Kingdom pushed me to write about riots. The British people are no newcomers to such events. In 1381 the Peasants’ Revolt had been a nationwide upheaval. The study of riots by historians has been decisively influenced by Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé and their book Captain Swing (New York 1968) on the farmer protests in 1830. Threshing machines were demolished, workhouses and tithe barns attacked. The actions were accompanied by letters written by a Captain Swing, an invented figure. No killings took place during the Swing Riots. The protests followed after two seasons of poor harvests. It has been argued that the 1830 riots were in the long way also the consequences of earlier enclosures which deprive poor farmers of a decent source of income.

Hobsbawm minted the term social banditism, a kind of bottom-up, grass-roots rebellious action against law and order. According to him the bandits gained a stronger social status by protesting violently against and breaking through the borders of society. As a medievalist I would think immediately of Robin Hood, and realize also that his romantic legend grew only in much later times. The studies by Hobsbawm and Rudé are still worth reading because of their scholarship, but inevitably they point also to the weakness of hypotheses about the causes of riots which favour just one reason or factor behind riots and revolts.

This post would become a bit tedious if I would continue to go from one case to another without sufficient reasons and explanation. However, in order not to let you suffer too much from the apparent lack of information here you had best turn to bibliographies and journals on legal history. Law, Crime and History is one of the journals you might start searching in for more. In the most recent issue (21/2 (2011)) of this e-journal you will find for example an article by David Cox on the Staffordshire Election riots in 1835. This journal is an offspring of the Solon project at Plymouth University. Checking for seminars and conferences concerning legal history at the website of the Institute of Historical Research is another thing to do. You will also consult with profit the bibliography of British and Irish legal history compiled at Aberystwyth University, alas only for publications between 1977 and 2005. If you use as a search term the word riot in the database of the proceedings of the Old Bailey for the period 1674-1913 you will find easily more than 400 cases. This website has an extensive bibliography. This fact, too, explains my hesitation to choose any example from these rich court records.

Violence and (legal) history

One blog post is not enough to tell more of the story of violence and its presence in legal history on the local, regional or national level. Here I have only tried to point you to some examples which came to my attention recently. Let’s finish this post with the remark that preparing this post and seeing the great variety in the form of these riots and upheavals, the wide spectrum of issues at stake, the different views on their causes and the very different stories these riots make, has helped me to become more sceptical of easy explanations. No doubt some easy explanations still figure in the presentation I give here of some events. The depth of explanation is probably inversely related to the number of examples given… Sometimes giving a taste of things to explore further is just as important as giving a seemingly complete story.

Expanding stories: a postscript

In order to make it more obvious how many revolts and rebellions can claim your attention a few examples which came to my notice in December 2011. It is only logical to make up here for the rather scarce information on riots in the United Kingdom, even more because the original impulse to write this post stems from the August riots in English towns earlier this year. In my post about the Centre for Legal History in Edinburgh I mentioned the digital collection of Jacobite prints and broadsides at the National Library of Scotland. In the section Historical News of the website of the Institute for Historical Research in London I found a notice about the digitization of the depositions after the Irish rebellion of 1641. Trinity College Dublin has recently launched a website with these depositions. If you search for riots on the website of the Institute of Historical Research you will be richly rewarded. One of the search results is the conference at Brighton from September 5 to 7, 2012 at Brighton on the theme Riot, Revolt, Revolution. To the selection of websites on British History which I made to make up for the relatively short treatment of events in the United Kingdom I would like to add History Online.

The Boston Massacre

The blog In Custodia Legis of the law librarians of the Library of Congress alerted me to documents at the Library of Congress concerning the role of John Adams in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre in 1770, and brought also a special website to my attention. A number of documents has been digitized, and you can find out more at the website of the Boston Massacre Historical Society.

Contemporary history

The riots after the death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, got world wide attention. The Washington University in St. Louis, MO, has created the digital acrhive Documenting Ferguson, and you can look also for example at a Ferguson research guide created by the University of Arizona and a similar guide from Michigan State University. This university has also put online a special guide concerning riots and trials touching upon African-American history, Outrageous Justice: Riots, Lynchings, False Accusations and Court Trials with numerous links to websites about trials and courts.