Tag Archives: Hugo Grotius

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

Tom de SmidtLast month Dutch legal historians were saddened to hear about the death of Jacobus Thomas de Smidt (December 19, 1923-February 18, 2013). In several obituaries, for instance by Arthur Elias for Leiden University, by Joke Roelevink for the Huygens Institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and at the website of the Dutch National Archives, the great efforts and merits of Tom de Smidt for the study of Dutch legal history and the organization between Dutch legal historians are commemorated. Among the major projects he initiated are the project on the history of the Great Council of Malines, a project for the edition of the Dutch codifications in the period around 1800, and for example the West Indisch Plakaatboek, a multivolume edition of legal sources for Dutch colonial history in the Caribbean. De Smidt also helped Dutch archives to modernize, and helped the Indonesian government to deal with the records of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian National Archives. People remember his warm personality, his sense of humour and his encouragement to young scholars, and I can testify myself for this. In fact his words “Ja, moet je doen!” [Yes, do it!] are for me among his most characteristic utterances.

Robert Feenstra 1920-2013On March 2, 2013, Robert Feenstra passed away at the age of 92. For legal historians abroad he was without any doubt the best known and most respected Dutch legal historian. This week John W. Cairns (Edinburgh) is one of the first legal historians to commemorate Feenstra. If you want to mention major themes and projects with which Feenstra dealt during his long scholarly life you are faced with a very great variety. The history of Roman law in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire and Dutch legal history give only the boundaries of his research interests. Let it suffice here that only four years ago he published with Jeroen Vervliet a new edition of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)), and that in 2011 he witnessed the completion of the project for the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He continued the research started by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) on the history of the School of Orléans, and many scholars from Leiden have followed him on this path. Feenstra published a number of volumes with articles by Meijers.

For six decades Feenstra was on the editorial board of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Feenstra helped fostering the relations between Belgian and Dutch scholars. Just like Tom de Smidt he served for many years on the board of the Foundation for the Study of Old Dutch Law. Today Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief) wrote a brief obituary for both scholars on the website of this foundation. Surely its own journal Pro Memorie will contain longer obituaries on both scholars in its coming issue. Luckily this journal published in its series Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen [Legal historians from the Low Countries] interviews with both scholars on their scholarly lives and careers (Pro Memorie 5 (2003) 3-38 (Feenstra); with De Smidt in the special issue Prominenten kijken terug. Achttien rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht [Prominent scholars look back. Eighteen legal historians from the Low Countries on life, work and law] (Pro Memorie 6 (2004) 313-329). Feenstra founded a circle of scholars studying the reception of Roman law in the Low Countries – convening either in Leiden or in Antwerp – where young scholars, too, often got and get a chance to present their doctoral research. I remember how I presented the first results of my doctoral research for this circle. The austere company listened patiently, asked questions on subjects I had neglected or problems which I had not yet grasped, and encouraged me to pursue my research. Robert Feenstra had a keen interest in people and he did not fail to help scholars with practical advice and suggestions for sources and literature. One of the things that impressed me always was the way Feenstra corrected his own views expressed in earlier articles. It makes you realizes how Feenstra’s career spanned almost half a century, his tenacity about cherished subjects, and the high scientific standards he applied to scholars and to himself. His presence at scholarly meetings all over the world expressed the continuity of Dutch legal history.

It is sad that both scholars are no longer with us to respond to our ideas, questions and emerging publications, but we can remain faithful to their memory by remembering their tireless efforts, smiling presence and amazing wide interests in contemporary life and legal history, and by following the paths and roads they paved for present-day scholars and future generations.

A postscript

On March 6, 2013, the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main published an obituary of Robert Feenstra. On March 28, 2013 the blog of the Peace Palace Library publshed an in memoriam on Robert Feenstra by Laurens Winkel.

A short guide and a portal to legal history

Peace Palace Library
Lately the Peace Palace Library, the library of the International Court of Justice and other institutions in the field of international law in The Hague – all present at The Hague Justice Portal – has restyled its website. The Peace Palace Library (PPL) had a separate blog which has now been integrated into the new website. One of the strengths of the PPL’s website were and are the research guides, a feature which now comes more to the front. The website offers more than fifty guides in ten sections. Among the new guides is a short guide to legal history, the subject of this post. Apart from the new website the PPL is also present online with numerous tweets (@peacepalace). Last year I presented here a comparison of several portals to legal history. The PPL’s legal history guide points to a portal that somehow was not included in this comparison, even though I had spotted it and noticed some of its qualities. In this post I want to make up for this omission.

Legal history at the Peace Palace Library

The history of international law is the main reason for the PPL to devote time, space and attention to this subject. Thus the field of international law is not entirely absent in the new short guide to legal history, but it does not figure too prominently in it. The presence of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in the guide is only natural for the PPL with its rich holdings in editions of Grotius’ works. The Grotius collection is now substantially better shown on the website, with an updated version of the guide on Grotius.

The guide to legal history of the PPL is a guide in a nutshell. Before I will comment on this guide I want to express my admiration for the courage to create a short guide, because in a way it is easier to write a more ample guide. Its five sections present an introduction, a short bibliography, a presentation of a number of selected books as a librarian’s choice, a short links section with at present only six links, including the portal covered in the second part of this post, and a section with links to a number of related research guides, and a nifty link to all items in the category “Legal history” of the PPL’s catalogue. In this guide and in other guides as well the PPL has added consistently links to social media, a print button and a link to a PDF version of the guides. For the legal history guide the PDF function gives you only the librarian’s choice, certainly a bug but one without grave consequences. More awkward is the fact that the French version of this guide on this bilingual website is only partially in French.

The librarian’s choice at the moment of writing this post shows three books, including their covers. The first book is the collection of essays edited by Tracy A. Thomas and Tracey Joan Boisseau, Feminist legal history: essays on women and law (New York 2011). The second item is the chapter by Randall Lesaffer on ‘The classic law of nations, 1500-1800′ in the Research handbook on the theory and history of international law (Cheltenham 2011) 408-440. The third book shown is Law codes in dynastic China : a synopsis of Chinese legal history in the thirty centuries from Zhou to Qing by John W. Head and Yanping Wang (Durham, N.C., 2005).

The very brief introduction on legal history stresses the many sides of legal history. The two paragraphs can be summarized in two sentences. Laws, institutions, individuals and the relation of law to society are all aspects of legal history. Law both reacts to developments in society, but also actively shapes society. The French version tells you only that legal history is concerned with the development of law in history and the question why it changed. The French version continues with the explanation of the aim of the guide, to introduce people to the subject and to the holdings of the PPL in this field.

The bibliography is substantial, but some elements do raise an eyebrow. In particular the choice in the section with reference works is just that, a choice. Thoughtfully all titles have been directly linked to the library catalogue. Three books – with as a nice feature again their covers – are mentioned. I have no problems with the Oxford international encyclopedia of legal history, Stanley N. Katz et alii (eds.) (Oxford 2009), but the two other books have been chosen more arbitrarily. John Hamilton Baker’s An introduction to English legal history (4th ed., London 2002) is certainly a classic, but it inevitably focuses on England. The third book is a collection of essays by William Morrison Gordon, Roman law, Scots law and legal history. Selected essays (Edinburgh 2007), and this choice alerts to the existence of mixed legal systems. However, these choices center around the United Kingdom. Adding a book on for example the European legal tradition or about legal history in one of the world’s major countries or continents would be most helpful.

I cannot help pointing to some other defects in the selection of titles. Why just one issue of the ‘Bibliography of Irish and British legal history’ from the Cambrian Law Review? The link to the online version of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis brings you to the journal Legal History, the sequel to the Australian Journal of Legal History. The choice of books is more balanced, but it is odd to find here again Gordon’s volume of essays and the Oxford encyclopedia of legal history, both already present in the reference section. The other titles are concerned with the legal history of Europe, the United States, China and Rome, with sources for English legal history and with women’s legal history. Under “Documents” only one title is given. Far better is the choice of recent articles and papers about legal history, which range from a discussion of research methods, Islamic jurisprudence and thoughts about the legal history of the twentieth century to a comparison of legal history and comparative law, and the history of the law of nations. Of course it is difficult to create such lists as presented here, but with a relatively small number of corrections and additions it can become more useful. The list of journals on legal history is short and excludes e-journals.

For any wishes and remarks on the quality of the bibliography the links section and the section with other guides go some way to fulfill them. The links show not only some portals – including the portal in the spotlight of this post – but also a blog, the website of a society for legal history, and the research guide for legal history of an American university. This guide at the University of Minnesota Law Library neatly shows the imbalances in the PPL’s guide. However, the PPL redeems the deficiencies of its legal history guide by its own guides in related fields. You will be pressed hard to find any website which features guides on all these subjects: diplomacy, Antarctica, comparative law, Islamic law, philosophy of law and the use of force, not to mention Hugo Grotius. A number of websites do offer links on these subjects, but not similar guides. More extensive guides certainly exist, and in fact you will find them often using these research guides at the PPL. It might seem that in view of the sheer number of research guides provided by the PPL only some tuning – and translating – of the website is needed. Part of the tuning will be adding the research guide for the League of Nations to the related fields section of the guides.

A portal for legal history?

History of Law website

The portal for legal history I want to discuss here briefly is History of Law. Looking at it again in 2012 some reasons why this website can only in a restricted sense be called a portal are immediately clear. The website lacks links sections, presents no sources or articles, nor is there an events calendar or an overview of research institutions. Yet the PPL alerts to this website in its short guide to legal history. The most obvious reason for the inclusion is the page at History of Law on Hugo Grotius. When I first read it I was charmed by the narrative of Grotius’ life, and only somewhat amazed by the retelling of his escape from the Loevenstein prison in 1621, a story belonging to the heart of the canon of Dutch history. No sources are indicated for this story. A quick search using for once the eponymous search tool which conjures its results by unfathomable stratagems and axioms leaves no doubt which source has been used, Charles Butler’s The Life of Hugo Grotius (…) (London 1826). You can check the book online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and even choose which digitized copy you are going to look at.

Not only at the Grotius’ page of History of Law the original source is not acknowledged, the same is true for other pages. The text on the page on the history of Greek law comes from Martin Ferdinand Morris (1834-1909), An introduction to the history of the development of law (Washington, D.C., 1909). A reprint from 1911 of this work has been digitized for the Hathi Trust. The title “Roman canon law” for another webpage at History of Law should ring a bell with its anachronistic title, if not already the URL http://www.historyoflaw.info. I will not spoil the game of tracking the sources of the other pages of this website which is a nice exercise in source criticism for which you can use facilities available online. If you read the page on testamentary law it is worthwhile to establish who originally attacked the views of Blackstone on the introduction of testaments in England. For tracing the source of the page on Greek legal history I used deliberately the following phrase: “thousand other improvements and inventions of our wonderfully inventive age”!

At History of Law no name can be detected, but in the banner of this website a young man gazes at you. I mailed to him asking for his name, but he has not yet identified himself. Anyway, be it a student hoax or just a fruit of plundering the Internet, it has little to do with modern research on legal history, apart from pointing to the laziness of those thinking you can rely on old works without any consideration, as if the facts of – and the views on – legal history are immutable. The History of Law website is a plain case of plagiarism. Its chief merit is alerting to the works of Butler and Morris. Instead of writing about the views on legal history of Morris, one of the founders of the Georgetown Law School and at the end of his career associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, our anonymous could only copy and paste from this book. Charles Butler (1750-1832) was an English conveyor and lawyer, the first Roman Catholic since 1688 to practise in England as a barrister. In fact he prepared the very legislation making this possible, the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791 (31 George III. c. 32). It is yet another subject worth real study instead of mock history.

A few conclusions

Instead of spending more time with this portal it is better to return to the research guides of the Peace Palace Library. Luckily the authors of the online guide on Grotius do not mention the History of Law website. The authors at the Peace Palace Library of the short guide to legal history should not hesitate to repair things as quickly as possible, and create a guide that is as trustworthy as the other guides of this important library. Was it the wish to include a website with the story of Grotius in English that misguided the creators of this guide when they added a link to History of Law? Whatever the answer is, it pinpoints the need to approach websites carefully. It is easy to find guides for evaluating web pages.

I feel lucky I did not include the History of Law website in last year’s comparison of legal history portals. With pages on Phoenician law and the laws of Pythagoras a portal on legal history can certainly attract attention, but it should make you wonder when you find also the history of maritime law and Egyptian legal history, too much of a good thing! It is more rewarding to go to the sources, to use and indicate them carefully, to struggle with them honestly and to report your findings in your own words and to put your name at the end. You will not find any legal history portal with a full coverage of all main subjects, nor a website with full-length research guides about each separate subject in legal history.

A rare edition of Grotius

On November 23, 2010, the Peace Palace Library in The Hague announced the acquisition of a copy of the very rare first Paris 1625 edition of De iure belli ac pacis libri tres by Hugo Grotius. This library has probably the largest and richest collection of Grotius editions in the world. The online exhibition for the centenary in 2004 gives a vivid introduction to the Peace Palace library. The announcement states that until now the only known copy of the Paris 1625 edition was at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Almost a year ago my first blog postings were on Hugo Grotius, and it seemed not bad to look at Grotius again. My aim here is mainly to bring some information together. In 2009 the Yale Law Library held an exhibition on Grotius’ Mare liberum. The Royal Library at The Hague created an online edition of Mare Liberum with both a digital version of the first edition from 1609 and a transcription. Robert Feenstra and Jeroen Vervliet published a new Latin-English edition, Hugo Grotius Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leiden 2009). Arthur Eyffinger published a Dutch translation with the Latin text, De vrije zee. Een uiteenzetting over het recht van de Nederlanders om handel te drijven in Oost-Indië (The Hague 2009), and an essay on Grotius and the 1609 truce between the Dutch Republic and Spain, Oorlog, vrede of bestand? 1609 gezien door de ogen van Hugo de Groot (The Hague 2009), with in an appendix translations of several documents.

The Peace Palace Library (PPL) has won a Dutch award for the best digital library of 2010. The PPL uses not only RSS-feeds on its site, but has also a Flickr image collection and a collection of digitized books reachable for subscribers through its own custom developed link system, and these are just a few of the services for library users. As library of the International Court of Justice the PPL participates in The Hague Justice Portal also by virtue of the The Hague Academy of International Law. The PPL presents an online research guide for Grotius, interestingly in the format of a Wikipedia page. In my search for digital libraries with collections on legal history I hoped the PPL would have its own collection of digitized old books, preferably in an open access version, but this is not the case.

No doubt the Digital Library for Dutch Literature (DBNL) has one of the largest online collection of digitized and scanned texts by Hugo Grotius, including the critical edition of De iure belli ac pacis by B.J.A. de Kanter-Hettinga Tromp (Leiden 1939; reprint Aalen 1993). Among the legal texts is the Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid, Grotius’ introduction to Dutch law and jurisprudence, written between 1619 and 1621 and first published in 1631. The scans are from the 1910 edition by S.J. Fockema Andreae, not from the 1965 edition with the additions and corrections from Grotius’ own copy of the 1636 edition now at Lund. Apart from being a lawyer, philosopher and theologian, Grotius was also a renown poet, a historian and a most active writer of letters. This correspondence can be found here, too. The Huygens Instituut of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW) has created a searchable database for Grotius’ correspondence. The PPL research guide for Grotius mentions a link to a new edition of De iure praedae (The law of booty, 1603) at the KNAW site for datasets, but this dataset has not yet arrived. You can find Grotius’ manuscript with a transcription as work in progress of a colloborative edition at the TextLaboratorium. It is great to have this beside the 2005 translation of De iure praedae by Martine Julia van Ittersum at The Online Library of Liberty. The 1868 edition of the Latin text by H.G. Hamaker is available online thanks to the services of the University of Michigan at the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Is there somewhere on Internet a digital version of an old edition of De iure belli ac pacis? The first port of call is The Philological Museum, the initiative of Dana F. Sutton (University of California at Irvine) for a survey of digital editions of texts in Neo-Latin, lists three digital versions of editions printed in Paris in 1625 of De iure belli ac pacis, one at Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, one at the Posner Memorial Collection of the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries in Pittsburgh, and one at Kyushu University, Fukuoka. In their Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (The Hague 1950) Jacob ter Meulen and P.J.J. Diermanse listed at no. 565 three different versions of the first edition. The digitized books in Paris, Pittsburgh and Fukuoka are copies of version 565iii. The PPL has acquired a copy of no. 565i. Other digitized Grotius editions can be found for instance using the catalog of the Hathi Trust Digital Library, an initiative of several American scientific libraries, and the OPACplus of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. In particular the Europeana portal points to the rich collections for Grotius at Munich. It surprised me very much one cannot trace these digitized old editions at the Digitale Sammlungen. Clearly some tuning is needed between the two sites at Munich.

Writing today this posting about Hugo Grotius served for me also as a kind of test case for the use of digital libraries and digital library portals. The portals do not only offer a more or less rough indication of existing materials but present often also important things. When discussing Grotius’ view it matters urgently which old printed version, translation or critical edition one uses. Sometimes Grotius’ opinions were more known in a translated form, as for example Jean de Barbeyrac’s translation of De iure belli ac pacis. The information in the bibliography by Ter Meulen and Diermanse and the succinct guide to the Grotius’ editions at the PPL is therefore very helpful in determining whether to use the first version near at hand in your town or on Internet, or to be more diligent. Even in this posting which offers just a note on Grotius a succinct table of the main texts mentioned and their versions might be useful:

De iure belli ac pacis

  • the third version of the Paris 1625 edition is available online at Gallica and at Pittsburgh
  • several other old editions are available online at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Hathi Trust Digital Library
  • the 1939 critical edition is online at the DBNL
  • the Online Library of Liberty presents both the 1814/1901 translation by Arthur Campbell and the translation by Richard Tuck (2005)
  • only the prolegomena and first book have been translated into Dutch, available online at the DBNL

Mare Liberum

  • the 1609 edition has been digitized alongside a modern Dutch translation at the Dutch Royal Library
  • the Leiden 1633 edition is available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library and also at the SOMNI collection of the Universitat de Valencia
  • the 1916 translation by Magoffin – together with the Latin text - is available online at the Online Library of Liberty, as is Richard Hakluyt’s translation
  • the 1609 edition is available in print with an English translation and a facsimile (Feenstra and Vervliet 2009)
  • the 1609 edition has been translated into Dutch (Eyffinger 2009)

De iure praedae

  • photographs of the manuscript Leiden, University Library, BPL 917, are online at TextLaboratorium with a transcription
  • the 1868 edition by Hamaker is online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library
  • the English translation by Martine Julia van Ittersum is present at the Online Library of Liberty
  • Onno Damsté translated the text into Dutch: Verhandeling over het recht op buit (Leiden 1934)

Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid

  • the second impression ‘s-Graven-haghe, 1631 is online at the Digital Special Collections of Utrecht University Library
  • the 1910 critical edition is available at the DBNL and the Hathi Trust Digital Library
  • the 1965 critical edition is only available in printed form

The Index Translationum of the UNESCO did not bring me to an English version of the Inleidinge, but it mentions translations into several languages of other works. The guide to the PPL’s Grotius collection mentions several English translations of the Inleidinge.

An addendum: when revisiting the online exhibit on Grotius of the Yale Law Library Rare Book Room I noticed several titles mentioned here, too, with digitized title pages. Yale’s copy of the Mare Liberum edition Leiden 1633 is available in electronic form at Yale’s intranet, as is the copy at Harvard at their intranet. Obviously it is not quite feasible to have library cards or subscriptions to all these fine library services, and therefore I focused here on electronic resources in open access.

A postscript

A digitized copy of an early Dutch translation of Grotius’ Mare Liberum, entitled Vrye zeevaert, ofte bewiis van ‘t recht (..) (Leiden-Amsterdam 1614), can be viewed online in the Digital Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. Selections from De iure belli ac pacis have been translated into Dutch and commented on by Arthur Eyffinger and B.P. Vermeulen, Hugo de Groot, Denken over oorlog en vrede (Baarn 1991; Geschiedenis van de wijsbegeerte in Nederland, vol. 8). The Peace Palace Library has created a slideshow concerning editions of De iure belli ac pacis.

A facsimile of the French translation of De iure belli ac pacis by Jean Barbeyrac (Amsterdam 1724) has been published recently: Hugo Grotius, Le droit de la guerre et de la paix (2 vol., Caen 2011).

At the core of law

November is almost passed. People start looking back at this year, and prepare for the coming holidays and search for gifts to present. Looking for new books I could not help spotting a book with a title that made me frown, willynilly, for better or for worse. After a second I realized the title was not at all a surprise. It could be reasonably expected that after so many books starting with The canon of…. someone would present a book with the title The canon of law. The Dutch juridical publisher Ars Aequi Libri has published a volume entitled Canon van het Recht (“Canon of the law”), edited by R.J.B. Schutgens and others. The volume with 260 pages contains fifty essays published earlier in their monthly journal Maandblad Ars Aequi. The blurb about the book states that Corjo Jansen and Jan Lokin, both legal historians, were involved in choosing subjects for the essays. You might notice that the editors hide themselves behind abbreviated Christian names, but the authors’ names are stated in full…

Let’s have a brief look at the historical subjects considered worthy of inclusion in this volume. In chronological order appear Justinian, Irnerius, Grotius, the Dutch East India Company, Beccaria, the French Revolution, the first national codifications of the nineteenth century, the constitutional monarchy and the Historical School. With the trias Diephuis, Opzoomer and Land, famous for their commentaries on the Dutch code of private law that came into function in 1839, the list of items seems to focus only on Dutch matters, starting with Johann Rudolph Thorbecke and the 1848 constitution. However, The Hague gets an article as a center for international law, and the essays about the European Convention on Human Rights, the decolonisation of Indonesia, the Maastricht Treaty, the start of European competition law and the role of legality in modern law prevent the volume from becoming an exclusively Dutch, and worse, an utterly provincial book.

How should one criticize this selection of historical milestones? Instead of picking at the choice of subjects I would prefer looking at the title. Historically a canon is a guideline or rule. Canon law is a system of law which is constituted of such rules. This volume would be much more interesting with an introduction to the juridical concept of a canon, not to mention some decent treatment of the history and influence of canon law. Legal procedure, administrative law and matrimonial law are just a few fields to mention. I am perfectly aware that any selection of major subjects in legal history has severe limits, but in creating a canon of law one exposes these limits even more. The narrowing of subjects to one country and the stress on the last century are understandable, but this technique tends to create a tunnel view. To me these modern canons seem to foster a false sense of identity and certainty which sacrifices the continuities and discontinuities of history, of histories in plural really which interfere with each other.

The Dutch vogue for historical canons started with the canon for Dutch history in 2003 constructed by a team of scholars. The main aim was to establish a series of key facts, subjects and events in Dutch history to be taught in schools at the primary and secondary level. The Dutch Republic of the seventeenth century, Grotius, The Dutch East India Company and the constitution of 1848 figure in this canon. It is interesting to compare it with the online timetable of Dutch history created by the Institute for Dutch History in The Hague.

For whom does one publish a volume of essays on major legal developments through the centuries, either worldwide or centered around the history of one country? Is it only meant for law students who are happy to have survived obligatory courses in legal history, or for lawyers who want to dip a bit into legal history for their leisure? Perhaps such a volume can induce people to look further and better, and one cannot object against this. These essays were published originally in a monthly legal journal. Ars Aequi invites readers to comment on the essays. At least there is a second chance to read them and to be amused or annoyed by the vogue of historical canons. Asking to define the core of law is a perennial quest. It means posing a valid and necessary question never to be answered easily.

Centers of legal history: Leiden

A fortnight ago I wrote about Frits Grapperhaus, the deceased Leiden specialist of the history of taxation. At the very moment that I would like to write about Leiden as a center of legal history another scholar from its university has died, Pieter Willem Pestman. Today Gregg Schwendner, the creator of the blog What’s New in Papyrology, notes the obituary and bibliography on the website of the Leids Papyrologisch Instituut. No doubt this obituary will be translated into English.

Teaching and research at the Leiden department for legal history has three general focuses, the history of Roman law, European private law and European public law. However, some more specific themes are forever associated with research by scholars from Leiden. Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) is famous as the scholar who almost single handed started modern research into the legal doctrines developed at the medieval university of Orleans. His personal library included many early printed books and manuscripts. For many years the department was housed at the Gravensteen, the former county and city prison. Meijers’ books were kept separately in a special room. Nowadays these books and his collection of manuscripts are kept at Leiden University Library. Mentioning medieval legal manuscripts and Leiden must include the yearly Friday privatissimum, the special seminar in which paleographers and legal historians decipher and study together medieval manuscripts with juridical texts.

The Gravensteen, Leiden

Not just medieval law is studied at Leiden. Hugo Grotius gets deservedly attention as one of the most distinguished scholars of the Dutch Golden Age, and not just from the viewpoint of Dutch legal history. A juridical court, the Great Council of Malines, has been the focus of a project which touched both learned law and institutional history. Many sources for Dutch legal history have been studied and edited by scholars from Leiden. And how can one write about legal history at Leiden without due reference to the ongoing research into the history and the influence of Roman law? You do not have to agree with the idea that Roman law can immediately contribute to the creation of modern European supranational law in a kind of renewal of the 19th century Pandektistik, but you cannot ignore Roman law if you study for instance the new Dutch Burgerlijk Wetboek which shows more influence from Roman law than Meijers,  initially charged with the drawing of this new code of civil law, had in mind.

It is difficult for me not to expand all this information or just to mention more legal historians, for example those who studied at Leiden and now work elsewhere. One should of course refer to the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Today one has to remember those scholars no longer with us. However, let me at least thank legal historians working or trained at Leiden for all encouragements, constructive criticism and kind help given since many years to me and many others.

See for an interview with Pieter Willem Pestman the article by Boudewijn Sirks and Bernard Stolte, ‘ Piet Pestman: interview met een papyroloog tussen mens en recht in het oude Egypte’, in: Prominenten kijken om. Achttien rechtsgeleerden uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht, Theo Veen et alii (edd.) (Hilversum 2004 (= Pro Memorie 6 (2004)) 347-359.

Grotius’ Mare Liberum online

Collecting, cataloguing and preserving important old books is one thing, presenting their contents online is another job. The Dutch Royal Library at The Hague, has created a digital version of the first edition of Grotius’ Mare liberum to celebrate the new translation into Dutch by Arthur Eyffinger. You can choose to view the Latin original or the new translation. On the special website Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (in either English or Dutch) you can find more information on the celebrations in the Netherlands around this epoch making work. The Peace Palace Library of The Hague, too, devoted a blog item to the festivities commemorating Grotius: Robert Feenstra and Jeroen Vervliet, the director of the Peace Place Library, have published a new translation in English (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)).

A salute to Hugo Grotius from Yale

Today I visited the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Their online exhibition on the Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)  and his famous book Mare Liberum triggered me to finally create this new blog. Four hundred years ago, in 1609, the first edition of this book on international law was published at Leyden. You can see the impressive selection of books that all show the huge influence of his book at the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Well worth looking at, both at the blog and as a visitor to the Lilian Goldman Law Library in New Haven, Connecticut.