Tag Archives: Illuminated manuscripts

Telling tales: Chaucer and the law

Illuminated page wit the Summoner - Chaucer, Catnetrbury Tales - Ellesmere Chaucer

The Summoner, illustration in the Ellesmere Chaucer, early 15th century – San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. EL 26 C 9, fol. 81r (detail), source: http://hdl.huntington.org

Medieval literature sometimes touches law and justice, and thus it can be useful to look sometimes beyond the usual range of sources and materials legal historians prefer to study. The Biennial London Chaucer Conference will devote this year’s conference on June 30 and July 1, 2017 to Chaucer and the Law. At least three stories in the Canterbury Tales have lawyers or other persons associated with the law in its title, the sergeant-at-law in the tale of The Man of Law, the manciple and the summoner. Legal professions come into view in some of the other tales, too. The summoner had been attacked in The Friar’s Tale, to mention just one example. This post looks briefly at the upcoming conference, but I will not hesitate to add some personal remarks, too. A few months ago I came across a blog post by Candace Barrington, ‘Beyond the Anglophone Inner Circle of Chaucer Studies’ at In the Medieval Middle, and I could only agree with her about the importance of Chaucer to wider circles. The programme of the upcoming conference seems a major step in bringing him in a different context. Here I try to come closer to the field of literature than I do here usually.

The conference in London is organized at Senate House by the Institute of English Studies at the School for Advanced Studies, in cooperation with the New Chaucer Society and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Senate House is home to the Senate House Library.

A web of tales

If you come more or less from the outside to Chaucer it can really seem you enter a kind of parallel universe. When you spot at the website of the New Chaucer Society the link to the Chaucer Bibliography Online (Mark Allen, University of Texas at San Antonio) the sheer mass of studies about a plethora of subjects is awe-inspiring. With only the search term law you will retrieve more than 400 results. Chaucer definitely is treated as a part of world literature, but Barrington makes it clear it only lately that studying Chaucer has become a worldwide activity which can break though the lines of approach practised in the Anglophone world. Barrington is one of the founders of Global Chaucers, created as the “Online archive and community for post-1945, non-Anglophone Chauceriana”. The resources page of this blog shows you the wide impact of Chaucer and leads you also to a list of modern translations.

Visualizing Chaucer, Robbins Library, University Of Rochester, NY

The social media, too, have a role in creating a wider circle of people delving into Chaucer’s work. Many years ago  the House of Fame, a blog maintained by a modern incarnation of Chaucer, was launched. Meanwhile this modern Chaucer has become a master of funny Middle English tweets by Le VostreGC. For Chaucer and the Law there is the Twitter account Chaucer_Law. I will not give a here a complete guide to Chaucer studies, but some websites can help you very much. Among the short introductions to Chaucer the online exhibit The World of Chaucer. Medieval Books and Manuscripts (Special Collections, Glasgow University Library) is helpful. The University of Sheffield has created a portal for critical editions of the Canterbury Tales where you can easily compare some of the main manuscripts containing this work, including the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century (University of Maine at Machias) is a portal with both the original texts and translations, and a concise web guide. Candace Barrington contributes also to an open access companion to the Canterbury Tales. Siân Echard (University of British Columbia) provides a great service with his web pages on Chaucer: Manuscripts and Books on the Web, but for the image I show here I preferred to visit the website of the Huntington Library. Visualizing Chaucer (University of Rochester, NY) is your online port of call for more images of and around Chaucer. If you hesitate about the importance of images you might want to look at The Robin Hood Project of the Robbins Library of the University of Rochester.

The programme of the two-day conference in London shows a wide variety of sessions. With a sigh of relief I saw the first section is dedicated to A Preface for Chaucerians: Chaucer for Historians, a promise that Chaucer will not be only the subject of literary views. Anthony Musson will discuss the sergeant-at-law, the teller of the Man of Law’s Tale, and Nigel Ramsay will speak about the manciple and his tale. A quick view of the programme shows also that the Canterbury Tales are not the exclusive source linking all contributions. Chaucer’s other works figure here as well. It is about time to confess I, too, look at Chaucer from a foreign perspective. My knowledge of English legal history, too, is refreshed and even extended here., and anyway it is simply necessary to tell something more about the three main figures associated with the law in the Canterbury Tales. The sergeants-at-law were for centuries barristers with the exclusive right to argue cases in the Court of Common Pleas. A manciple was a purveyor of goods for a court or college, sometimes a caterer of food. The summoner was an official in ecclesiastical courts who delivered charges to people compelling to appear in court. Peter Guy Brown will discuss this official in his paper.

Let’s not forget to look briefly at Chaucer himself. Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1343-1400) was a public servant with functions such as a valet de chambre to king Edward III, customs official for the port of London and deputy forester in Somerset. He acted as a royal envoy in France and Italy. In 1386 he became a Member of Parliament. As a poet-diplomat he must have met all kinds of people, and these meetings are in a way mirrored in the figures portrayed in the Canterbury Tales and in his other works. He is a master at playing with reputations and stereotypes.

Of course it will not do to plod here through all papers of the upcoming conference in London, you will find here a personal choice. Some papers refer to other kinds of law as well. Samantha Katz Seal will look at laws of lineage in Chaucer’s work. Julie Chamberlin will discuss legal networks in The Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer’s Complaint unto Pity is the subject of Jonathan Forbes’ paper in which the complaint will be compared to a legal plea. Claire Fennell will discuss a Middle English statute book in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 520. The first day ends with a plenary lecture by Emily Steiner on medieval literature and the limits of law.

The second day will start with a contribution from Groningen. Sebastian Sobecki will give a plenary lecture about Chaucer’s lawyers. Sobecki prepares with Barrington The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Law and Literature. Recently he published Unwritten Verities. The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463–1549 (Notre Dame, IN, 2015). Arvind Thomas will speak about literature and legal maxims. Euan C. Roger will look at Chaucer’s career in royal service by looking at the plea rolls. Among other themes to be addressed are sumptuary laws, the role of conscience, freedom of speech, treason and mercy.

Part of the attraction of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is his skill in picturing people by their conscious or unconscious use of particular language. In many tales he succeeds in disguising the origin of a story. The fragmentary tradition and the signs alluding to a possibly different ordering and sequence of the tales provide space to use widely different perspectives to gain insights. Every tale in the Canterbury Tales forms a kind of microcosmos with a multitude of aspects, and on the other hand they are part of a network of tales. Being aware of the very variety of medieval life, culture and society is not a bad thing when studying medieval law and justice, and Chaucer offers a focus for looking at the fourteenth century.

Around the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

Among the commemorations to be included here in 2015 is the most important medieval ecumenical council, the Fourth Lateran Council that took place in November 1215. As it happens the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) closed fifty years ago, and already a brief look at the constitutions of both councils reveals many differences, beginning with the sheer number of decrees and constitutions. With just 70 constitutions and one additional decree, the convocation for a new crusade, the Fourth Lateran Council led by pope Innocent III is remarkably concise in its output which, however, does not diminish its importance.

Some constitutions have received more attention by historians than others, and scholars do try to create a more balanced view of this major historical event. On November 24, 2015 the international congress Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 will begin in Rome, and in Murcia the conference Innocent III and his time will start on December 9, 2015. In this contribution I would like to look at the pictorial representation of this council, and at a project covering a number of medieval church councils.

The image of the Fourth Lateran Council

Logo Parker Library on the web

When you recall for yourself the images most closely associated with the Fourth Lateran Council – often abbreviated as Lateran IV – you might imagine a fresco of pope Innocent III or the famous marginal drawing with debating cardinals in a manuscript of Matthew Paris’ Chronica maiora (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms. 16, fol. 43r). This college tries to protect image rights for this illustration as much as possible. At the website Parker Library on the Web full access is only possible at subscribing institutions. Without complete access you can only browse manuscripts but when you arrive at the very page of the manuscript with this illustration its lower half has been blotted out completely. Corpus Christi College and Stanford University Libraries have announced access to this website will be widened next year.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

The Fourth Lateran Council – from Johannes de Columna o.p., “Mare historiarum”- fifteenth century – detail, Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v

In fact it proves to be very hard to find online any other medieval image of Lateran IV, and this is one of the reasons why this section of my post is rather short. I did find two images in a fifteenth-century manuscript of a chronicle by a Dominican friar, Johannes de Columna, Mare historiarum, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris (ms. Latin 4915, fol. 398v and 399r). You can search for archival collections and manuscripts at the BnF in a special website, and for illuminated manuscripts in the BnF you can use the Mandragore portal. Ms. Latin 4915 has been digitized at Gallica, the digital library of the BnF. The chapter heading indicated in red ink mentions two issues at the council, the condemnation of the views of Joachim de Fiore, and the convocation of a new crusade.

Detail BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 399r

The second image mentions in its heading two other questions dealt with at Lateran IV, the foundation of new religious orders, in particular the Dominicans, and matters between the king of France and barons from England. 1215 was the year of the Magna Charta. This chronicle by a Dominican friar has been lavishly illustrated with more than thousand historiated initials. You cannot fault the illuminator for showing Saint Dominic in this work. It would be great if we had images from the thirteenth century, but this image from the fifteenth century does give you at least the idea that a council is more than a prolonged series of debates between cardinals, bishops, mighty abbots and the pope. In and around the Lateran basilica and palace much more happened in 1215.

Logo Index of Christian Art

For more information about the iconography of the Fourth Lateran Council one should start with consulting an article by Raymonde Foreville, ‘L’iconographie du XIIe concile œcuménique: Latran IV (1215)’, in: Mélanges offerts à René Crozet (…), Pierre Gallais and Yves-François Riou (eds.) (2 vol., Poitiers 1966) II, 1121-1130, reprinted in her volume Gouvernement et vie de l’Église au Moyen-Âge: Recueil des études (London 1979). A second step will be searching the matchless information assembled for the Index of Christian Art (ICA) of Princeton University. You can gain access outside Princeton to all materials at the institutions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Utrecht where you can consult the copies of the card files.

Bishop Rodrigo preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council - Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r - image: Madrid, BNE

Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, preaches at the Fourth Lateran Council – Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r – image: Madrid, BNE

Lately a senior medievalist at Utrecht told me in person with much aplomb the ICA is now available online in open access, but alas this is not correct. You cannot actually access the full online database without going to the university library at Utrecht, having off-campus access or using your membership of another library subscribing to the online version. Luckily I can use this latter opportunity, too, but my first online attempts did not lead me to any artefact showing one of the Lateran councils. The famous drawing by Matthew Paris is indeed present in the card files of the ICA, but the whole manuscript is curiously missing in the digital version. I could even check that the two other manuscripts used by Foreville, the Chanson de la croisade albigeoise by Guillaume de Tudèle (written in 1275; Paris, BnF, ms. Fr. 25425, fol. 81r; digitized at Gallica) and the Codex Toledanus (written around 1253-1255; Madrid, BNE, Vit. 15-5, fol. 22r, digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica) are not present in both versions of ICA. The Festschrift for René Crozet somehow escaped the attention of ICA’s staff. Only thirty percent of the materials within the Index of Christian Art is already available online. The image in the manuscript at Paris described by Foreville is only a sketch for a large miniature, and thus it has not been included in the Mandragore database. For those wanting to use Iconclass I can provide you with the right code for finding images of church councils of the Roman-Catholic Church, 11P3142.

Religious minorities in 1215

Before starting with the second section of this post it might be wise to point to at least some online versions of the constitutions of Lateran IV. At IntraText you will find a full searchable English translation, just as in Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). There is a PDF of the text as published in the collection Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, Giuseppe Alberigo et alii (eds.) (Basel and Freiburg 1962) 206-247, and at Documenta Catholica you will not only the Latin text, but also English and Italian translations. However, scholars dealing with medieval canon law are aware of a critical edition of these constitutions by the late Antonio García y Garcia, Constitutiones Concilii quarti Lateranensis una cum commentariis glossatorum (Città del Vaticano 1981; Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Serie A, Corpus Glossatorum, vol. 2). García y García edited also the contemporary apparatus, a scholarly commentary consisting of glosses, by Vincentius Hispanus and Johannes Teutonicus. Lateran IV is the only medieval council with a similar gloss. Almost all its constitutions were taken over in the Compilatio quarta – without c. 42 and c. 71 – and later in Gregory IX’s Liber Extra (1234), in this case without c. 42, c. 49 and most of c. 71.


Here I would like to bring to your attention RELMIN, a recently finished project in France led by John Tolan (Université de Nantes) dealing with legal texts touching upon the status and treatment of religious minorities in Southern Europe from Late Antiquity until 1500. The bilingual project website brings you to a database housed on a server of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes. You will find here not just texts in Latin, but also in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and a number of medieval vernacular languages. Using the tab for authors you can find conciliar texts filed under their Latin name, all of them starting with Concilium. From the Fourth Lateran Council you will find four constitutions (nos. 67 to 70). No. 67 concerns usury and the Jews, no. 68 the distinction in cloths between Christians and Jews, no. 69 prohibits Jews – and heathen (paganos) – to fulfill public offices, and no. 70 forces converted Jews to refrain from Jewish rites.

Even if you can object that RELMIN does not do anything new by looking at these constitutions, you can benefit from the translation of the original text, a succinct commentary, the list of manuscripts used in the edition by García y García, the list of older editions of conciliar texts and the bibliography for each constitution. The recent history of the Lateran Council by R. Foreville and G. Dumeige, Les conciles de Latran I, II, III et de Latran IV: 1123, 1139, 1179, et 1215 (Paris, 2007) is duly noted. RELMIN helps you to view these and similar texts in a much larger context of time and space. For the field of medieval canon law you can see how earlier canons influenced later constitutions, decrees and decretals, and you can put them side to side with secular texts. Instead of overloading this post with much more I will add here only the titles of two online Ph.D theses which I encountered while searching for more information about the manuscript in Madrid. Both of them are well worth checking in connection with the Spanish side of Lateran IV: Lucy Kristina Pick, Christians and Jews in thirteenth-century Castile: The career and writings of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo (1209-1247) (University of Toronto, 1995) and Fátima Pavón Cazar, La imagen de la realeza castellana bajomedieval en los documentos y manoscritos [The image of late medieval Castilian kingship in documents and manuscripts] (Madrid, Universidad Complutense, 2008).

Information, knowledge and understanding

I would like to end my musings around the Fourth Lateran Council and its impact in texts and images by pointing you to the wonderful introduction to this council at the website of Kenneth Pennington (Catholic University of America). Antonio García y García contributed a chapter about Lateran IV and the canonists to the History of Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period, 1140-1234, Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington (eds.) (Washington, D.C., 2008) 367-378, and in the same volume Anne Duggan discussed the legislation of all four Lateran councils.

London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

A drawing of the Council of London, 1237 – Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum , ca. 1250-1259 – London, BL, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r

For those insisting to see here at least one of Matthew Paris’ great marginal drawings I can provide the second best thing, an image of the council of London in 1237 in the autograph manuscript of his Historia Anglorum (London, British Library, ms. Royal 14 C VII, fol. 126r). I found this colourful image using the BL’s catalogue of illuminated manuscripts.

The riches of the major portals for illuminated manuscripts at London and Paris help to fill gaps in the Index of Christian Art. In this post I hope to have shown you not just some deficiencies of this project. It is probably wiser to remind yourself of the fact no single large-scale project will be able to contain and cover everything you are looking for. ICA does contain many things not easily found elsewhere, in particular not by the online search machine of the firm seducing us to believe it can find anything. Instead of anything and everything we neeed valuable information helping to add to our knowledge, to widen our perspectives, to sharpen our minds and opening roads to true understanding.

A postscript

Not only the constitutions of Lateran IV were commented upon by medieval lawyers. The second council of Lyons (1279), too, attracted commentaries, for example by Guillaume Durand, the author of the massive encyclopedic Speculum iudiciale.

Mont-Saint-Michel, Chartres and medieval law

Bringing the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and the cathedral of Chartres together in one title is not a bold innovation. The American historian Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918), a descendant from the family with president John Adams among the ancestors, published in 1904 Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, a study of medieval art and culture with a focus on two iconic buildings in France. Whatever the merits of this study, Adams coined for the anglophone world a powerful twin image of the Middle Ages. Historians of the European Middle Ages might grumble about the distortion of medieval civilization created by Adams’ imagination, but it cannot be easily undone. Historians prefer to look behind the facades and to go to the sources and structures behind them.

Mont-Saint-Michel - photo author, 2006

The story of Mont-Saint-Michel is indeed important, and Chartres, too, has more to offer than only the majestic building. Medieval manuscripts are among the resources becoming more and more available online, and this is true also for the Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Digitized manuscripts with legal texts are the subject of this post. I will look at projects for the digitization of medieval French manuscripts, in particular for those stemming from either the abbey on the island off the coast of Normandy, or from the cathedral with so many beautiful elements.

Reconstructing medieval manuscripts and libraries

For historians research concerning medieval manuscripts and libraries is not a new adventure. After the dissolution of the monasteries during the French Revolution manuscripts from abbeys, priories and cathedrals went in France to the nearest municipal library. Thus books from Mont-Saint-Michel came to Avranches, and books from Chartres Cathedral found a new place in the Bibliothèque municipale of Chartres. The manuscripts in French municipal libraries have been described in the nineteenth century in the volumes of the Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France.

The search for online information about medieval manuscripts in French libraries is supported by the portal Biblissima which guides you to projects around medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in France. The Catalogue collectif de France, with its section for manuscripts, should provide a starting point. You can tune this collective catalogue to search only for manuscripts. The project Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux of the IRHT in Paris has no search function for content, but otherwise you can find here many digitized manuscripts. Relevant cartularies and editions of them can be found using the online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes.

Avranches and the Mont-Saint-Michel

In Avranches the 200 manuscripts from the Mont-Saint-Michel get since 2006 special attention at the Scriptorial, the museum built for these manuscripts. In cooperation with the Université de Caen the chronicles in Latin of the abbey from the eleventh and twelfth centuries are being edited and published online, as is the Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel of Guillaume de Saint Pair in Old French, a text from the twelfth century. The two manuscripts of this text are kept at the British Library, Additional 10289 and 26876.


The Bibliothèque municipale of Avranches has no separate website, and the few webpages on the municipal website do not give much information. It is therefore a surprise to find digitized manuscripts held at Avranches in the Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux (BVMM). The website of this portal presenting digitized manuscripts from the holdings of French municipal libraries, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and – as a royal gesture – also one hundred manuscripts kept at Berlin has as its most remarkable feature the absence of a search for authors and titles of texts in manuscripts. One can search for cities, for institutions, for signatures, decoration and complete digitization. Searching texts here with a particular subject, let’s choose law for example, is very cumbersome. I have already taken the trouble of checking for the presence of legal texts for many towns, but this takes a lot of time; I hope to complete a provisional list. For Avranches I found at the BVMM the following legal manuscripts:

  • BM 136: Distinctiones morales ; Sermones; Summa de penitentia – Latin, 155 fol., 13th century
  • BM 145 – Capitularia Caroli Magni et Ludovici Pii – Latin, 112 fol., 12th century
  • BM 147 – Ivo of Chartres. Panormia – Latin, 122 fol., 12th century
  • BM 150 – Bernardus Parmensis, Apparatus in Decretales – Latin, 281 fol., 13th century. (1260-1280)
  • BM 152 – Summa in Gratiani Decretum ; Bonifatius VIII, Liber sextus Decretalium ; etc. – Latin, 171 fol., 13th century
  • BM 206 – Cartulaire du chapitre cathédral d’Avranches, Livre vert – French, 138 fol., 13th-15th centuries

The BVMM gives access to 111 completely digitized manuscripts held at Avranches. The last manuscript in this list is originally from Avranches; its contents are the texts of charters which justify its inclusion here. Among illuminated manuscripts from the Mont-Saint-Michel with legal texts are BM 139 with Justinian’s Digesta from the third quarter of the thirteenth century, BM 140 with the Institutiones Iustiniani and the Accursian gloss (second half thirteenth century), and BM 146 with the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals (11th-12th centuries), but of these manuscripts the BVMM presents only a few images of decorated pages. BM 141, 148 and 156, too, contain legal texts for which the BVMM gives only images of a few pages. For BM 210, the Cartulaire de l’abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel (1154-1158), the BVMM makes at least a rich choice of images. The study by Monique Dosdat, L’enluminure romane au Mont-Saint-Michel, Xe-XIIe siècle (Rennes 2006) is a fine introduction to illuminated manuscripts from this great Benedictine abbey. At Enluminures, the French portal to illuminated manuscripts in French public libraries, you can search for manuscripts from Avranches, and at Patrimoine numérique, the portal to French digital collections, there is a useful preselection of illuminated manuscripts.

A further reason to welcome the digitization of manuscripts stemming from the Mont-Saint-Michel is the possibility to study online some of those manuscripts with Latin translations from the twelfth century of Greek philosophical texts. Thanks to the translations made here in the twelfth century many works of Aristotle became available in Latin. The book by Sylvain Gouguenheim, Aristote au Mont-Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne (Paris 2008) created a stir because of its visions concerning the roots of European culture, but this should not draw attention away from the work done on the island of the Mont-Saint-Michel.

At the Université de Caen a project has started for a virtual library with manuscripts and books from the Mont-Saint-Michel. Not only 200 manuscripts have survived the ages, but also some 1,250 printed books. The realisation of this virtual library will highlight the fact that this abbey bristled with life already before the construction of the major abbatial buildings we admire so much. In the eighteenth century the abbey supported the project of the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur to give ecclesiastical history a secure foundation by using old manuscripts and archival records and applying the knowledge created in the historical auxiliary sciences such as palaeography, diplomatics and chronology. The Maurists are the forerunners of the great historical enterprises of the nineteenth century and all those following in their footsteps until this day.

Manuscripts at Chartres

Logo Manuscrits Chartres

Before the Second World War the municipal library of Chartres held nearly 1,900 manuscripts formerly kept at the cathedral and also stemming from other ecclesiastical institutions in and around Chartres. On May 26, 1944 a fire caused by a bomb destroyed the entire library. After years of painstaking work 567 manuscripts could be found as separate entries, 165 of them in various states from nearly unscathed to burned black blocks. In a new project, À la recherche des manuscrits de Chartres, progress has been made to restore the manuscripts, identify texts, and to make images of these manuscripts. This website can be visited in French and English, and a number of manuscripts is now accessible online. The project website has a full bibliography. including a list for all manuscripts (PDF).

One of the main reasons behind the efforts in restoring these manuscripts is their value for studying the history of the School of Chartres in the twelfth century and the authors associated with it. The debate started by the late Sir Richard William Southern about this school has led to many studies which have helped in clearing the fog around teaching and teachers at Chartres. In the first volume of Southern’s Scholastic humanism and the unification of Europe (Oxford-Cambridge, Mass.,1995) you can find the most advanced form of his views. You will turn to this book, too, for his views on the role of Roman law and law schools and the significance of Gratian, his Concordantia discordantium canonum, and the growth of medieval canon law.

In order to trace digitized legal manuscripts at Chartres I could use both the special database for Chartres and the BVMM. I found the following completely digitized manuscripts:

  • Chartres, BM 146: Gregorius IX, Decretales with glosses – Latin, 169 fol., 13th century
  • Chartres, BM 149: Gregorius IX, Decretales – Latin, 338 fol., 13th century (1240-1260)
  • Chartres, BM 150: Innocentius IV, Decretales; Gregorius IX, Constitutiones – both texts end 13th century, Italy; Bonifatius VIII, Liber Sextus – 14th century, France – Latin, 127 fol.
  • Chartres, BM 255: Goffredus de Trani, Summa decretalium – Latin, 102 fol., 14th century
  • Chartres, BM 376: Pseudo-Isidorian decretals – Latin, 365 fol., 11th century

The BVMM presents 84 completely digitized manuscripts from Chartres. If you take the BVMM at face value you would not suspect that sometimes the number of folios of these manuscripts has been mixed up with the number of images. BM 150 is not complete. Strangely BM 255 is not mentioned in the special database. One can add three cartularies to this list:

  • BM 1059: Cartulaire de la léproserie du Grand-Beaulieu-lès-Chartres, Livre noir; 13th century
  • BM 1060: Cartulaire de l’abbaye S. Père de Chartres, Aganon; 12th century
  • BM 1061: Cartulaire de l’abbaye S. Père de Chartres, Aganon – abridged copy, 12th century

BM 1137 is a fourteenth century book for the goods of the mensa episcopalis of the bishop of Chartres, and BM 1138 is a censier from the fourteenth century. You might want to probe me about Ivo of Chartres and his Panormia. At Avranches is a manuscript with the Panormia from the Mont-Saint-Michel, and there is no manuscript of it at Chartres. The website for Ivo of Chartres, his legal works and letters created by Bruce Brasington and Martin Brett confirms this situation. Anyway, it is wise to check also for microfilms of manuscripts at institutions such as the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main and the Stephan-Kuttner-institute of Medieval Canon Law, because it seems these have not always been used for the digitization within the BVMM. The searches at the BVMM and the website for Chartres can be supplemented by using the manuscript search of the Catalog collectif de France. The online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes will help you to locate editions and digital versions of the cartularies mentioned here. This database contains also modern descriptions of cartularies from France and informs you about relevant scholarly literature concerning them.

Research on manuscripts in France

Logo Biblissima

At the end of this post I would like to look briefly at the French manuscript portal Biblissima, a portal that you can view in French and English. The page with online resources of this portal is stunning in its riches. The websites and projects range from digitized old catalogues such as the Bibliotheca bibliothecarum of Bernard de Montfaucon (1739), the scholar who coined the word palaeography, and projects concerning libraries to the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes at Tours, presented here in a post last year, and several projects concerning particular manuscript genres, be they written in Occitan, Old French, Hebrew, Syriac or Greek, or containing sermons or biblical glosses. To give just one example, the JONAS database of the Institut de Recherche d’Histoire des Textes (IRHT) at Paris and Orléans leads you quickly to detailed information about the Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel of Guillaume de Saint Pair. The TELMA platform of the IRHT gives access to databases concerning for example surviving originals of charters before 1121 and for the period 1121-1220.

Bringing together in one post the surviving manuscripts from Chartres that did escape the turmoil of war and those at Avranches which seemed to have been luckier, offers at first sight a contrast, but both collections are witnesses to the intellectual and wider cultural history of Europe. Legal manuscripts might seem to have occupied only a small niche at both locations, but this impression can well be misleading. Mont-Saint-Michel became a royal abbey, proud of its privileges and much aware of its strategic location between Normandy and Bretagne. In the twelfth century Chartres was not the only French cathedral with teachers forming schools around them. They had to compete with other cathedral schools, not only with the various schools at Paris, and also with the first European universities. Books of law entered willy-nilly the libraries in and around Chartres. Their presence is a reminder to look for legal texts and their impact outside the many European university towns. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres are truly monuments of medieval architecture and culture.

A 2015 postscript

The website for the manuscripts at Chartres does at present not function properly. The team of Biblissima posted in February 2015 a slideshow in English with many manuscript images at Slideshare, ‘A New Life for the Medieval Libraries of Chartres’.

A 2017 postscript

The Université de Caen launched in 2017 its Bibliothèque Virtuelle du Mont-Saint Michel with manuscripts held at the Bibliothèque municipale in Avranches. Digital versions of manuscripts kept elsewhere will follow in due time.

Legal texts in digitized manuscripts at the British Library

Logo British Library - image http://pressandpolicy.bl.uk/Last week I spotted somewhere on the web an announcement about the digitization of a particularly lavishly illuminated medieval manuscript with a legal text, the Decretales Gregorii IX, the major collection of papal decretals issued in 1234 by command of pope Gregory IX. The manuscript from the fourteenth century which prompted me to write this post is commonly called the Smithfield Decretals (Royal 10 E IV). At the British Library in London the digitization of manuscripts is a project on a vast scale, first of all in view of its rich and manifold collections concerning many themes, periods and countries. A blog dedicated to news on digitized medieval manuscripts at the BL helps you to stay informed about the progress of digitization for manuscripts from a particular period. The BL even advertises a smart phone application for the Royal manuscripts, but this app will no longer be supported.

In this post I will look at legal manuscripts digitized by the British Library. Even if the absolute number of relevant manuscripts is really small, an overview of them might be useful. The variety of periods and legal systems merits attention. To redress the balance I will take into account here also illuminated manuscripts with legal texts for which the BL has digitized at least a number of pages or illustrations. A comparison of the search functions of both catalogues is included, too. At the end of this post it might perhaps be possible to conclude which legal text could be scheduled as a new addition to the eBook Treasures of the British Library.

Searching for digitized legal texts at the BL

Some people will like to know as quickly as possible about the things that make a search interface more effectively or hamper its working. For once I agree in starting with a negative remark: the detailed view with the description – and most often a detailed bibliography – of a digitized manuscript at the BL seemed at first to lack a permanent web address. When you save the URL of this view – without noticing the tiny notice “Show link URL” – and you try to reopen it in a new tab or window you cannot access it anymore. A redirection notice appears, and you have to enter your search again. Thus the link I provided in the first paragraph to the Smithfield Decretals is not the link to the detailed view, but to the first page of the digitized manuscript Royal 10 E IV itself. I will give below the correct links to the full descriptions. In the manuscript view you will find a summary of the content placed at the top of the screen. You can search for manuscripts either using a quick search with two fields, keywords and manuscript numbers, or using the advanced search interface with search fields for keywords, manuscript number, title, author/scribe, provenance and acquisition, and bibliography.

A long search for digitized manuscripts with legal texts yielded as a result a rather short list with only some twenty manuscripts. For each manuscript I give the call number, a summary view of the contents, its date and a link to the full description:

The papyrus with the complete text of the Athenian Constitution is the subject of a recent post at the BL’s manuscripts blog. What strikes me most while searching for these manuscripts is the lack of concise categories added to the description of a manuscript. Of course I realize the difficulty in adding systematic descriptors when dealing with composite manuscripts and convolutes. The sheer number of manuscripts in the British Library has as one of its consequences that some manuscript descriptions can be rather outdated, but newer descriptions are often very detailed.

Some legal texts surfaced really by chance. I looked for the exchequer when I found Harley 1498, an agreement concerning the royal burial chapel at Westminster. This indenture is not a chirograph, a charter split into two or more parts, but a book with indentures. A second part of it is kept at the National Archives, E 33/1. The coronation book of the French king Charles V (Cotton Tiberius B VIII) can serve as a reminder that a coronation is a ritual with legal elements in it. The texts of French coronation ordines have been edited anew by Richard A. Jackson (ed.) , Ordines Coronationis Franciae: Texts and Ordines for the Coronation of Frankish and French Kings and Queens in the Middle Ages (2 vols., Philadelphia, 2001).

After repeated searches with a substantial number of very different search terms with a clear meaning for legal history I still have not found more than this tiny sample from the immensely varied and large manuscript collections of the British Library. I hesitate to include here a fragment of farming memoranda of Ely Abbey from the first quarter of the eleventh century (Add. 61735). The New Minster Liber Vitae from Winchester (Stowe 944) does contain the text of some charters and the will of King Ælfred, but these legal texts are not the core of this manuscript.

For some manuscripts guidance can be found online in repertories, and sometimes even at a specialised blog. Greek manuscripts clearly get special attention in London. The Zonaras blog for the history of Eastern Christian canon law is a very useful guide to this field, and I am happy to point to it for more information about authors such as John Zonaras and Theodoros Balsamon. Manuscripts with text concerning Byzantine law are the subject of two German repertories which are available online at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. You can download PDF’s of both the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil I: Die Handschriften des weltlichen Rechts (Nr. 1-327), Ludwig Burgmann, Marie-Theres Fögen, Andreas Schminck and Dieter Simon (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), and the Repertorium der Handschriften des byzantinischen Rechts, Teil II: Die Handschriften des kirchlichen Rechts I (Nr. 328-427), Andreas Schminck and Dorotei Getov (eds.) (Frankfurt am Main 2011). Both books were published in the series Forschungen zum Byzantinischen Rechts; more PDF’s of some publications in this series can be found at a special subdomain of the website of the Frankfurt institute. English legal manuscripts are being catalogued by the untiring efforts of Sir John Hamilton Baker. He did this also for the Taussig collection with many English manuscripts now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library of Yale University [John H. Baker and Anthony Taussig (eds.), A catalogue of the legal manuscripts of Anthony Taussig (London 2007)].

Light on illuminated legal manuscripts

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library does quickly dispel any misgiving about the percentage of legal texts among the various manuscript collections. Let’s not overdo things here, and first go to the origin of this post, manuscripts with decretals or commentaries on papal decretals. Here, too, you can choose between a quick general search and an advanced search mode.

Prisoner seeking sanctuary, bas-de-page scene from the Smithfield Decretals

Prisoner seeking sanctuary – Smithfield Decretals, British Library, ms. Royal 10 E IV, fol. 206 verso – image British Library

A search for illuminated manuscripts with decretals yields 35 records. For each manuscript you can go to a page with thumbnail images and summary descriptions of the illuminations. Often you will find more detailed images, too. Thus choosing a scene using this overview from the bas-de-page illustrations of the Smithfield Decretals is even easier than using the complete digital version of this manuscript. The illustrations in the lower margins present often consecutive scenes and tales. In August 2012 Alixe Bovey (University of Kent) contributed a very interesting post on the decorations of this manuscript to the BL’s manuscripts blog, ‘Finishing the Smithfield Decretals’. Some books have only penwork flourishes at the beginning of chapters. Among these illuminated manuscripts with decretals I would like to single out Harley 2349, a manuscript written between 1340 and 1450 with papal decretals and statutes of England. The manuscript Royal 10 C IV with the Abbreviatio Decreti Gratiani by Omnibonus, written between 1198 and 1202 has penwork initials and some additional drawings in the margins. Omnibonus’s name made me remember the Omne Bonum, the illustrated encyclopedia by James le Palmer, a clerk of the Exchequer (four volumes, Royal 6 E VI and 6 E VII, written around 1360-1375).

A lawyer addressing an assembly

A lawyer addressing an assembly – British Library, ms. Harley 947, fol. 107r – image British Library (size reduced)

As for other legal texts in illuminated manuscripts you will have to pick your choice from a wide variety of manuscripts, from books with only one decorated initial to manuscripts with lavish almost full-page illustrations in historiated initials. Let one example suffice, the Statuta Angliae. This text and other statutes can be found in nearly sixty illuminated manuscripts. Hargrave 274 (written around 1488) contains the Nova Statuta and is probably the most elaborately illustrated example. Harley 947 (first half fourteenth century) with both the Statuta Angliae and the text of the Magna Carta deserves mentioning for its picture of a lawyer speaking to an assembly.

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts is truly a treasure trove, even if the manuscripts of the Cotton collection have not yet been included. When searching for an image with some relevance for legal history you find yourself here with a mer à boire. Legal iconography will not come back empty-handed from searches at this website or in the Online Gallery of the British Library. It is surely possible to include the BL in a comparison of online image resources of major research libraries, something that might be really interesting. In particular the use of taxonomies such as Iconclass might come into view when comparing different databases. A comparison with a portal such as Manuscripts Online: Written Culture from 1000 to 1500 would be equally valuable. In this post, however, I wanted to give due attention to the world’s second largest library and its manuscript holdings. I invite you to use its resources for yourself and to choose a manuscript that deserves digitization, or even inclusion among the showcases. The British Library has much more to offer, and I am sure this library will be present again in future posts.

A postscript

A very substantial number of digitized manuscripts with legal texts held in the British Library is accessible online thanks to the recent edition project Early English Laws which aims at creating new editions of English laws issued before 1215. Among the 81 manuscripts selected within this project nearly forty are at the British Library. However, here only these pages are shown which contain relevant legal texts. Hopefully it will be possible to include them in their entirety as a part of the BL’s Digitized Manuscripts program.

Legal history and heraldic manuscripts

Recently I noted in a post three digitized manuscripts at Brussels with texts concerning or relating to law, in order to include the digitized armorial Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, ms. IV 1249, written in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. An armorial is a book showing the heraldic arms or blazons of a particular knightly order, for a particular occasion or region. Since I also noted the digitized version of the Grand Armorial de l’Ordre de la Toison d’Or at Paris (Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. Arsenal 4790) it crossed my mind to look for more digitized medieval manuscripts with armorials, and to connect them with medieval law. The Order of the Golden Fleece will serve here as the main example.

The Dutch Royal Library has digitized the Wapenboek Beyeren (The Hague, KB, ms. 79 K 21) written in 1405. You can find images and description of more armorials kept at The Hague at the manuscript website of the Dutch Royal Library. 128 E 20 is an armorial for France and the Southern Low Countries, and 76 E 4 is another armorial, from 1601, for the Order of the Golden Fleece. At the Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum in The Hague is ms. 10 F 7, an Armorial des Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, on which the museum’s manuscript catalogue gives further information, but you can view it at the Royal Library’s manuscript site.

On Gallica you will find only a number of digitized manuscripts with early modern armorials at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but it is more sensible to use the Mandragore database for its illuminated medieval manuscripts. A first search for armorials yields 18 results. To put these results in a perspective, so far the British Library has not yet made accessible any medieval armorial among its digitized manuscripts. Using the advanced search interface I found three armorials, an armorial for members of the Order of the Garter from 1588 (Harley 1864), an armorial with also statutes for the Chevaliers de la Table Ronde de Bourges, written between 1486 and 1533 (Harley 5301), and Harley 6199, Statuts de l’Ordre de la Toison d’Or, written in Bruges between 1481 and 1486. For each manuscript the British Library shows a number of images.

Finding a manuscript with the title Statutes in a search for armorials made me of course wonder whether this manuscript in fact does qualify as an armorial, and it brings me to a subject a bit closer to legal history, the statutes of knightly orders. According to the catalogue record Harley 6199 is the oldest known manuscript with the statutes of the prestigious Order of the Golden Fleece founded in 1430 by duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. I tried to find more about Harley 6199 with the various search options of the manuscript catalogue, but the manuscript did not show at all. The description of Harley 6199 in the BL’s illuminated manuscript catalogue mentions the term armorial only in the description of its binding (!) and in the title of an article concerning this manuscript. The description of the content tells you not exactly where the statutes start and end, only that from fol. 59 onwards of the 77 leaves the arms of the members of the Order are depicted. Luckily the description goes with solid references to publications about the manuscript.

The status of Harley 6199 as an illuminated armorial is confirmed in the database Luxury Bound of Hanno Wijsman (Leiden). In his project on illuminated manuscripts from the Netherlands between 1400 and 1550 Wijsman found some 3,700 manuscripts. Thanks to his database you can quickly find more armorials of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and you will find which armorials contain also the statutes of this chivalric order, apart from Harley 6199 also Aylesbury, Waddesdon Manor, James A. de Rothschild Collection 17, The Hague, Royal Library, 76 E 10, and Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, 2606. You can check here, too, for the earliest copy of the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The British Library probably has in mind the earliest illuminated copy, but anyway in Luxury Bound the manuscripts Besançon, Bibliothèque municipale, Chifflet 91, written between 1473 and 1480, once owned by Lodewijk van Gruuthuse, and The Hague, KB, 76 E 10, written between 1473 and 1478, are earlier than Harley 6199.

Besancon, BM, ms. Chifflet 91, f. 2r

The “Statuts de l’Ordre de la Toison d’Or” – Besançon, Bibliothèque Municipale, ms. Chifflet 91, fol. 2r –  © photo Enluminures (IRHT/CNRS)

For a really early manuscript with the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece a manuscript such as The Hague, KB, 76 E 14, found in the database Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections. written between 1431 and 1446, comes a lot closer to the claim of being the first surviving textual witness. The French website Enluminures will bring you to further illuminated manuscripts with these statutes, apart from the Besançon manuscript also Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, 803. More information on the manuscripts of the earliest statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece and a modern edition of them is to be found in Sonja Dünnebeil (ed.), Die Protokollbücher des Ordens vom goldenen Vlies,1 : Herzog Philipp der Gute 1430-1467 (…) (Stuttgart 2002). The statutes of the Ordre de Saint-Michel are the subject of a fine blog post by Jean-Luc Deuffic.

Much more armorials are to be found in Munich. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek has digitized in the project BSB-Codicon Online some 150 armorials and other illustrated heraldic manuscripts in the Codices iconographici collection. This collection starts with the late Middle Ages and contains manuscripts up to the late nineteenth century. Karen Larsdatter has published on her website a page with a very generous selection of digitized medieval rolls of arms, armorials written on parchment rolls, and she mentions some of these Munich manuscripts. At Zurich yet another roll of arms has recently been digitized, like other rolls at Zurich called the Zürcher Wappenrolle. This roll is kept at the Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, sigature AG 2760 (around 1330-1345).

Heraldry and legal history

At this point it is appropriate to answer the question what heraldry has to do with legal history. What character had chivalric orders such as the Order of the Garter, of the Star and the Golden Fleece? In his acclaimed study Chivalry (New Haven, Conn.-London 1984) Maurice Keen did not fail to find an explicit link between heraldry and medieval law. He mentions several times the treatise De insigniis et armis of Bartolo da Sassoferrato (1313-1357) which has been edited, translated and studied in the volume A grammar of signs. Bartolo da Sassoferrato and his tract on insignia and coats of arms, Osvaldo Cavallar, Susanne [Lepsius-] Degenring and Julius Kirshner (eds.) (Berkeley, Ca., 1994). The authors show that Bartolus wrote only the first part of this tract. The second part which focuses on heraldic colors and uses was probably added by Nicola Alessandri, Bartolus’ son-in-law, who edited in 1358 more incomplete and unpublished treatises shortly after Bartolus had died. The edition of Bartolus’ treatise here is based on some 23 manuscripts, but the editors indicate clearly that much more manuscripts can be found. In a review in 2001 of another edition of the text Cavallar and Kirshner said they had checked twelve manuscripts since 1994.1

Some manuscripts with the texts of Bartolus’ treatise have been digitized. Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 167 Helmst., fol. 159r-162r (sigle Wa in the 1994 edition) can be read online. This manuscript was written around 1420. Tübingen, Universitätsbibliothek, Mc 58, fol. 131v-137v, is another example, written between 1461 and 1463. Of the manuscript Greifswald, Geistliches Ministerium Greifswald, ms. 10.B.V., fol. 259r-262v, written between 1474 and 1476, you can see photographs in black and white at the German website Manuscripta Medievalia, and this permalink brings you quickly to them.

At the Digital Scriptorium, this month still accessible at Columbia University, but soon coming back to Berkeley at the original web address to be maintained by the Bancroft Library, you will find the manuscript Berkeley, Ca., The Robbins Collection, ms. 225, fol. 205v-208r, with images. At fol. 208r another treatise by Bartolus starts, his De tyranno, which ends on the verso folio at the fourth image, and this information is not included in the description. The first half of the manuscript catalogue (ms. 1-120) of The Robbins Collection can be consulted online. Incidentally the study by Cavallar, Kirshner and Lepsius was published by this library. The two manuscripts with Bartolus’ text in the holding of The Robbins Collection, ms. 225 and ms. 148, f. 257r-262r – also described at the Digital Scriptorium – are not mentioned in their study. Ms. 225 was only acquired by the library in 1994. In view of the massive amount of manuscripts and books digitized at Munich it is no surprise to find at least one digitized manuscript with Bartolus’ treatise, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14134, fol. 156r-158v (images 317 to 322). The images seem to stem from a microfilm of this manuscript.

The manuscript tradition of De insigniis et armis is rather extensive. In his article on Bartolus de Saxoferrato from 1964 for the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Francesco Calasso listed already some seventy manuscripts. Some of them merit closer inspection. The description of ms. O.2.35, fol. 97r-103r, by M.R. James in his catalogue of manuscripts at Cambridge, Trinity College – available online – says that fol. 97r is decorated with a shield “or a chevron gu. between three martlets sable“. It is a nice heraldic exercise to establish the exact form of these arms, gold with a red (gueules) chevron between three black (sable) martlets, stylized birds. No doubt someone more versed in heraldry can tell to whom these arms belonged.

Many manuscripts with this treatise first published in 1358 stem only from the fifteenth century. It is rare to find earlier manuscripts. Nuremberg, Stadtbibliothek, Cent. IV 54, fol. 442r-447r – sigle Na in the 1994 edition – was written in Pistoia in 1384. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, C II 15, fol. 60r-6rv was written between 1376 and 1381, and Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibliothek, 194, fol. 135va-140r, was written at this Austrian monastery between 1395 and 1399. The manuscript London, British Library, Add. 8719, has a flyleaf from the fourteenth century with a fragment of Bartolus’ text. In the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw listed more than hundred manuscripts which according to manuscript catalogues contain this text of Bartolus. Some of these manuscripts have been lost by fire or cannot be found anymore after the Second World War, or the attribution is doubtful. Susanne Lepsius studied and edited another treatise by Bartolus, the Tractatus testimoniorum, in Der Richter und die Zeugen [The judge and the witnesses] (Frankfurt am Main 2003). She noted that Bartolus’ treatise is easily the most widespread of his treatises, and that it is probably the most often copied medieval legal treatise. For me the very low number of fourteenth-century manuscripts is puzzling.

Much more can be said about the relevant manuscripts. I have created a list on which figure now nearly 140 manuscripts with De insigniis et armis. At least a few of them merit more attention in connection with heraldry. London, British Library, Stowe 668, has on fol. 45-52v, a French translation of Bartolus’ text, but this manuscript contains among the other heraldic texts also the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece and those of the Order of the Garter. This manuscript was once owned by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald. Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Rawlinson B. 120, was written by William Smith Rouge Dragon, a fellow of the College of Arms. It has Bartolus’ text from fol. 23 onwards in an English translation. Apart from the modern English translation by Cavallar, Kirshner and Lepsius – which you can find partially online on the Heraldica website of François Velde – and the older translation in the edition of E.J. Jones, Medieval heraldry. Some fourteenth century works (Cardiff 1943) a translation in Slovakian exists in the volume Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Tractatus de insigniis et armis / Traktát o znameniach a erboch, edited by Ladislav Vrtel and Mária Munková (Bratislava 1999), based on a manuscript in the archdiocesan archives of Kosice. The edition by Mario Cignoni (Florence 1998) contains a translation in Italian. The edition by Felix Hauptmann (Bonn 1883) is accompanied by a German translation. A few years earlier Gustav A. Seyler had already provided a German translation.2 A fifteenth-century Spanish translation with the title Tratado sobre las insignias y escudos de armas, is available, too, in a modern edition of the text in the manuscript Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Res. 125.3

Searching medieval legal manuscripts

Instead of creating a much longer post with too much manuscripts it is just as useful to give more indications of the road to them. Hanno Wijsman’s database Luxury Bound guides you to illuminated manuscripts from the Burgundian Low Countries, and the Verzeichnis by Dolezalek and Van de Wouw is indispensable in finding medieval legal manuscripts. For Bartolus manuscripts in Spanish and Italian libraries have been tracked down and described by Emanuele Casamassima and Antonio García y García in Codices operum Bartoli a Saxoferrato recensiti, part I, Iter Italicum, and part II, Iter Hispanicum (2 vol., Florence 1971-1973). Thomas Izbicki and Patrick Lally have followed their footsteps in ‘Texts attributed to Bartolus de Saxoferrato in North American manuscript collections’, Manuscripta 35 (1991) 146-155. More repertories of medieval legal manuscripts do exist, for example in the field of medieval Roman law the Repertorium manuscriptorum veterum Codicis Justiniani, Gero Dolezalek and Laurent Mayali (eds.) (2 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1985), for German customary law Deutsche Rechtsbücher des Mittelalters, Ulrich-Dieter Oppitz (ed.) (3 vol., Cologne 1990-1992), and for medieval canon law in particular A catalogue of canon and Roman law manuscripts in the Vatican Library, of which sofar two volumes have appeared, edited by Stephan Kuttner and Reinhard Elze (Città del Vaticano 1986-1987). It is certainly possible to expand this paragraph, but these studies cover much.

You can find online information on manuscripts with texts concerning medieval canon law in the lists created by Gero Dolezalek and Giovanna Murano. Brendan McManus, too, provides useful additional information in his manuscript lists. Among the links provided by Dolezalek is the database of microfilms and CD-ROM kept at the Sezione di Storia del Diritto medievale e moderno in Milan. Microfilms of medieval legal manuscripts can also be consulted at Munich and Frankfurt am Main.

A wider view

Those wanting to pursue the history of heraldry will benefit from the Bibliographie héraldique internationale compiled by Michel Popoff. The analysis by Cavallar, Kirshner and Lepsius makes it crystal clear how Bartolus’ approach did not focus only on heraldic arms, but on any sign or mark people might use. Thus he could include a discussion of the trade marks used by artisans and merchants. Bartolus did not only look at knights and noble people, but looked first and foremost on city life in Tuscan towns which had and have connections with towns all over Europe. The three authors rightly warn us not look at medieval legal treatises in isolation. In the case of Bartolus it is far more interesting to relate his views on particular subjects to his main commentaries, and to make comparisons between his treatises, a path masterfully shown by Diego Quaglioni in his study Politica e diritto nel Trecento italiano (Florence 1983) with editions of three treatises on political themes by Bartolus. In this post you find just some aspects of larger issues which deserve further study. I am happy to share here some fragments from a virtual workbench, and to point you to the works of some leading scholars in the field of late medieval law.

A postscript

At his blog Archivalia Klaus Graf alerts to the online version of the study by Sonja Dünnebeil at Prosopographica Burgundica, a site with a digital library for the history of the Burgundian court, a database on the personnel of this court as indicated in the ordonnances d’hôtel, and also a database on Burgundian heralds. Graf points to a very recent study by Torsten Hiltmann, Spätmittelalterliche Heroldskompendien. Referenzen adliger Wissenschaft im Zeitalter gesellschaftlichen Wandels (Munich 2011). Hiltmann has built Prosopographica Burgundica, an initiative of Werner Paravacini and the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Paris. If you want to look at websites about medieval heraldry you will find the selection and comments at the relevant pages of the Virtual Library Historische Hilfswissenschaften in Munich most useful. This Virtual Library for the historical auxiliary sciences  – in German or English  – is a classic website for medievalists. Since July 2012 you can search the Verzeichnis of Dolezalek and Van de Wouw online at the website of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main.

A final addition: news about research on medieval heraldry can be conveniently found at the Heraldica Nova blog maintained by Torsten Hiltmann (Münster), with an overview of digitized armorials from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, with for example Kassel, UB, 4 Ms. Hist. 4, another manuscript with the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece.. For an overview of medieval armorials and available editions you should visit the website of Steen Clemmensen.


 1. Osvaldo Cavallar and Julius Kirshner, ‘”Ne ultra scarpas”. Un cultore d’araldica fuorilegge”, Ius Commune 27 (2001) 297-311 – this review of the edition by Mario Cignoni (Florence 1998) is available online.
2. Gustav A. Seyler, ‘Domini Bartoli de Saxoferrato Legum doctoris Tractatus de insigniis et armis’, Viertelsjahrschrift für Heraldik, Sphragistik und Genealogie 7 (1879) 268-283.
3. Jesús D. Rodriguez Velasco, ‘El “Tractatus de insigniis et armis” de Bartolo y su influencia in Europa (con la edición de un traducción in castelllana cuatrocentista)’, Emblemata. Revista aragonesa de emblemática 2 (1996) 35-70.