Tag Archives: Legal history

Slavery depicted and described

The cover of the rare books catalogue on slavery

Image from Marcus Rainsford, “St. Domingo, of het land der zwarten in Hayti en deszelfs omwenteling (…)” (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1806), used on the cover of the catalogue

Sometimes I find a new subject for a blog post by looking in my list with possible themes, sources and legal systems, but every now and then a subject appears without any prior notice. This week I found in my mailbox an announcement about a new catalogue of a rare books seller on the subject of slavery. One of the major changes in world history is surely the way slavery became the object of massive criticism and protests after many centuries of more or less accepted existence. Legal history should provide space not only for the study of the history of legal doctrine, its teaching and legal institutions, but also for the impact of both elements on society. Slavery was kept in place and force by laws and customs. Anyway, slavery is a major subject pointing to the grim consequences of plain injustice and enchained human liberty, but such views, too, have their history. The catalogue (PDF, 3,8 MB) contains items from many countries and periods, and you will find here only a selection to make you curious for more. Many items have beautiful illustrations.

Yet another reason to look at this catalogue is the firm behind it. Thirty years ago the rare books firm publishing this catalogue had its seat at the lovely Oudegracht, the main medieval canal in the old city of Utrecht, but it has retreated to a more rural setting in the hamlet ‘t Goy, now part of the garden city Houten to the south-east of Utrecht. In fact this firm was probably the first antiquarian book firm which I dared to visit as a student. At its present pretty location in a renovated old farm you will find a second antiquarian bookseller who works with the other firm in association. This legal figure is rather interesting, because you will want to be sure who is the seller of valuable items. I will briefly look at this legal aspect, too.

From highlight to highlight

In order to present here a somewhat coherent choice I had better start with the book figuring on the cover of the catalogue shown above. No. 24 in the catalogue with 28 items is the Dutch translation of a work by Marcus Rainsford. Rainsford came to Haiti in 1799 and became an admirer of Toiussaint l’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion. No. 5 is a French translation of a work by Willem Bosman, Voyage de Guinée (…) (Utrecht: Schouten, 1705), according to the catalogue one of the earliest descriptions in print of West-Africa and the slave trade in this region.

Among the most important items is no. 3, an official transcript of the will of a slave owner on Jamaica, the merchant Joseph Barnes († 1829). It is good to note the attached probate form of the court of Doctors’ Commons, and a seal of the prerogative court of the archbishop of Canterbury. Rather special is also a book by Philip Howard, Slave-catching in the Indian ocean (…) (London 1873) who wrote about the Asian slave trade (no. 7). Very rare is the book of Bartholomeus Georgiewitz (Bartol Djurdjevic), Voyage de la saincte cité de Hierusalemme (…) (Liège: Streel/De la Coste, 1600), a book written by a former slave who spent 13 years in Ottoman captivity after the battle of Mohács in Hungary (1526) (no. 9).

The catalogue is really a jigsaw puzzle of items stemming from many countries. In a number of cases we find translations, for instance a French translation of Alexander Grailhe’s plea in the case of the will of the philantropist John McDonogh (1779-1850) (no. 12) who bequeathed a fabulous amount of money for the foundation of public schools in New Orleans and Baltimore with free access for both white and black children. Texas figures in no. 26 with an edition of Ordinances and decrees of the consultation, provisional government of Texas (Houston: National Banner Office, 1838).

North Africa is the region in a book ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de La Faye, Voyage pour la redemption des captifs aux royaumes d’Alger et Tunis (…) (Paris: Sevestre and Giffart, 1721) (no. 18). The story told here concerns three members of the Ordre de la Sainte Trinité who tried to free Christian slaves. East Africa is the subject in no. 11, with two French reports about languages in East and Equatorial Africa and slavery, the first published in Mauritius in 1846 , the second in Paris in 1850, with a letter by the ethnographer Eugène de Froberville. A Dutch translation of William George Browne, Nieuwe reize naar de binnenste gedeelten van Afrika, door Egypte, Syrie en Le Dar-four (…) (2 vol., Amsterdam: Allart, 1800), an account of travels in Egypt, Syria and Sudan figures as no. 6.

Dutch historians will note the works of two rather famous brothers, the politician Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp with a volume of letters about the end of the Dutch East India Company [Brieven aan een participant in den Oost-Indischen Compagnie (3 parts, Amsterdam: weduwe Doll, 1802-1803); no. 14], and a rare copy of a novel by his brother Willem van Hogendorp [Kraskoepol (…) (Rotterdam: Arrenberg, 1780) ; no. 15] about the dangers of harsh treatment of slaves. At the time of writing he was an official in the East India Company. A different slant on Dutch Caribbean history comes into view with no. 19, the illustrated album amicorum of Henry van Landsberge, governor of Suriname between 1859 and 1867, the period of the abolition of slavery in this Dutch colony (1863). British matters are at stake in two major reports about slavery for the House of Commons printed in 1848 and 1849 (no. 16).

Some reflections

In the paragraph above I have deliberately put some items together which might have been placed in a regional order in the catalogue, too, but the catalogue shows the random nature of the subjects covered in the books and manuscripts offered for sale.

Portrait of P.A. Tiele

The wide geographical range of subjects is daunting for most scholars and cataloguers. Each description follows the time-honoured practice of a concise bibliographical description, followed by the price, a summary of the contents and information about the author, the publisher and when necessary the rarity of an item. The descriptions end with a string of abbreviated titles and numbers, references to specialized bibliographies, national bibliographies and sometimes also collective library catalogues. In a number of cases I can determine to which publication or website a reference points, but at many turns I can only assume there is specialized scholarly literature with which I am not familiar. For me this catalogue would benefit from full references, but others will no doubt see familiar landmarks. I fail to understand why the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (KVK) has not been used everywhere, be it even only to state “not in KVK”. The references to NCC stand for the Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, a licensed online meta-catalogue for Dutch university libraries maintained at the Royal Library, The Hague. “Tiele” can stand for a variety of publications by Pieter Anton Tiele (1834-1889), librarian of Utrecht University Library. Tiele published major catalogues of pamphlets in Dutch holdings, a catalogue of the manuscripts in Utrecht UL, a catalogue of Frederik Muller’s collections of travel accounts, and the catalogue of the Bibliotheca Thysiana in Leiden, to mention just his most important contributions. The French and English Wikipedia have short articles about him. For Dutchies there is the website of the Dr. P.A. Tielestichting which promotes research into book history. In one case I could easily identify an abbreviation of a library. JCB stands for the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, Providence, RI, renown for its rich holdings for American and Caribbean history and culture.

The things that strike me every time when I see announcements and catalogues of the two associated rare book firms Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books are the shared phone and fax numbers. Antiquariaat Forum started in 1970 and acquired Asher Rare Books in 2010. Forum Rare Books is active on Twitter for both firms (@ForumRareBooks). To complicate things, there is a third firm at the Tuurdijk 16 in ‘t Goy, Forum Islamic World. The terms of sale of the three firms follow normal book selling practice governed under Dutch law and the rules of the international antiquarian book world, but I cannot help musing about the liability of the seller when things go wrong, and pure humanly who represents a firm on a particular moment. Luckily, Forum is a member of the two major Dutch book selling associations and of ILAB, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. I cannot detect the required registration number of the closest Chamber of Commerce, but surely you will find it on the invoice. On the other hand new buyers have to provide their credentials. Bas Hesselink of Forum Rare Books is known in my country also for the way he speaks about old books and prints in the Dutch television program Tussen Kunst & Kitsch (“Between Art and Kitch”) in which the general public brings objects for appraisal by art experts in the setting of museums.

My concern in writing about this catalogue comes also from my curiosity where these items will eventually be found. Some of them form a substantial enrichment of our knowledge of painful aspects of Early Modern history, and hopefully we will find most of them in the custody of public institutions.

Forum Rare Books and Asher Rare Books, catalogue 2017 Slavery – ‘t Goy (Houten), Netherlands

Editing medieval royal laws from Spain

The start screen of 7 Partidas Digital

Last month I wanted to refresh my blogroll. Among the additions one blog stands out because its name does not start with a letter, but with a number, and it appears now as the very first item of the blogroll, reason enough for further exploration. It is a project for a new edition of laws created by a king with perhaps the best reputation of all medieval kings, at least in modern perception. Alfonso el Sabio, or Alfonso X of Castile, king Alphonso the Wise, wrote the songs of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and he created a famous law collection, the Siete Partidas (Seven Parts). For a new critical edition of this collection the Spanish team of editors have created the blog 7 Partidas Digital: Edición critica de las Siete Partidas, hosted by the Hypotheses network. In this post I will look at this project and I will try to provide some context for it.

Studying medieval laws

Royal legislation in the Middle Ages is not easy to bring under one common denominator. Scholars such as Sten Gagnér (1921-2000) have helped us much to see legislation in new light, in particular in his Studien zur Ideengeschichte der Gesetzgebung (Stockholm, etc., 1960). Armin Wolf focuses in his research on medieval legislation, in particular in Gesetzgebung in Europa 1100–1500: Zur Entstehung der Territorialstaaten (2nd edition, Munich 1996), and like Gagnér he has written about a great variety of laws and lawgivers, including Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284). In 2002 the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main could acquire the vast library of Gagnér. Michael Stolleis, for man years the director of this institute and a scholar trained by Gagnér, wrote a moving and most instructive tribute to Gagnér [‘Sten Gagnér (1921-2000), ein großer Lehrer der europäischen Rechtsgeschichte’, Quaderni Fiorentini 29 (2000) 560-569; PDF]. For many years Wolf, too, worked for and at this institute. His fundamental book about medieval legislation first appeared in a volume of Helmut Coing’s Handbuch der europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte. It is by all means wise to benefit here, too, from the rich resources of this Max-Planck-Institut, starting perhaps with the online catalogue of its library.

Let’s start a tour of the blog 7Partidas Digital, a project at the Universidad de Valladolid. There have been two major adaptations of this legal collection, in the incunabula edition of 1491 (Alonso Díaz de Montalvo) and the edition published in 1555 (Gregorio López), and a semi-official edition in 1807 by the Real Academia de la Historia, but not yet a critical edition. The aim of the project is to bring together all textual sources and present them online, to create an online critical edition and to provide a up-to-date bibliography of relevant scholarship in a Zotero group. The bibliography takes as its starting point the study of Jerry Craddock, The legislative work of Alfonso X. A critical bibliography (London 1986; 2nd edition, 2011). You can consult the 1986-1990 update of Craddock’s bibliography online (eScholarship, University of California). Already the fact that Craddock could adduce manuscripts not earlier included and comment on them should make you aware of the complicated textual tradition of the Siete Partidas and other Alphonsine laws. By the way, Robert Burns added an introduction to the reprint of the English translation of the Siete Partidas by S.P. Scott (first edition 1931; reprint 5 vol., Philadelphia, 2001, 2012).

Logo 7PartidasDigital

The core of the project is the online edition hosted at GitHub which is being created using XML / TEI. TEI stands for Text Encoding Initiative, one of the major metadata standards in creating digital text editions. As for now the project has resulted in editions of some textual witnesses kept at Valladolid. The Siete Partidas is a rather large legal code. The section Léxico explains the incunabula edition in 1491 contains 772,000 words. The first part (Primera partida a.k.a. Libro de los leyes) in one particular manuscript (London, British Library, Add. 20787, sigle LBL) good for more than 165,000 words. The image of a kind of Spanish armada, a fleet with an outsize flagship and many minor vessels around it, is probably a fair description. The project will create a special dictionary for the Siete Partidas, of which the letter Z, the only one already publishedgives you an idea.

The section Testimonios gives you a general overview of relevant manuscripts and their contents, mainly as noted in the Philobiblon project for Iberian medieval manuscripts (Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley), and for a number of them – including LBL mentioned above – extensive descriptions. One of the scholars helping to track down manuscripts with laws issued by Alfonso el Sabio was the late Antonio García y García. A further asset on this web page is an interactive map showing where institutions have relevant manuscripts within their collections. An essential element in this project are the Normas de codificación, the rules for the encoding of the text and the critical apparatus in the XML / TEI pages, and additional guidelines for the transcription of the legal texts.

Access to Alfonso’s laws

Banner BDH

By now you might think all this information does not yet bring you directly to the texts associated with king Alfonso el Sabio, but you could as well admit that some preparation is needed indeed to approach them. I had expected to find here both images of manuscripts and an edition on your computer screen, and therefore I would like to provide you at least with some information about the most important printed editions. A text of the Sieta Partidas was printed twice in 1491 [Las siete partidas de Alfonso X el Sabio, con las adiciones de Alfonso Díaz de Montalvo (Seville: Meinardus Ungut and Stanislaus Polonus, 25 October 1491; GW M42026, online for example in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica)], and two months later again with the same title [(Seville: Compañeros alemanes, 24 December 1491) GW M42028, online in the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico (BVPB)]. The Gesamtkatolog der Wiegendrucke (GW) (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (British Library and CERL) show you concise bibliographical information and lists with extant copies worldwide for both editions rather short lists. The edition by Gregorio de López de Tovar appeared in 1555 and can be viewed online in the BVPB [Las Siete Partidas del Sabio Rey don Alonso el nono (…) (Salamanca: Andrea de Portonariis, 1555)].

The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica brings you not only a number of old reprints, some of them enhanced with useful registers, but also a number of digitized manuscripts. It contains also a digital version of the edition published by the Real Academia de la Historia (Las Siete Partidas del Rey Don Alfonso el Sabio cotejada con varios códices antiguos (…) (Madrid 1807)]. The Hispanic Seminary provides you in its Digital Library of Old Spanish texts in the section for Spanish legal texts with a transcription of the Primera Partida in the 1491 edition. You can find more editions and books about the Siete Partidas in the Catálogo Colectivo del Patrimonio Bibliográfico Español, and for example in the Bibliografía Española en Línea, a service of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and more specifically in the Repertorio del Medievalismo Hispánico (Institución Milà y Fontanals, Barcelona).

In the midst of all these elements I would almost forget to mention the blog posts of Siete Partidas Digital, to be found under Entradas. The most recent contribution in this second is a full-scale article by José Domingues (Porto) about the Portuguese version of the Siete Partidas and its manuscript tradition (A Tradição Medieval das Sete Partidas em Portugal). The first blog post alerts to the 2015 revised online version of Dwayne E. Carpenter, Alfonso X and the Jews: An Edition of and Commentary on Siete Partidas 7.24 «De los judios» (thesis, University of California, 1986), and to new textual witnesses found in the Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, referred to in the edition with the sigle VA4, but alas the links to the finding aid with these archival records and to the article describing them are broken. However, here the project in Valladolid scores with its section on text bearers: The page on VA4 gives you full information, but here, too, you have to reckon with links to Spanish archival records which stem from expired web sessions. You will have to repeat yourself each consecutive step of the search at the rich but cumbersome navigable PARES portal, the digital home to both online inventories and many digitized archival records in Spanish state archives. You will find a quick introduction to Alfonso el Sabio and the texts concerning the legal status of religious minorities in the Siete Partidas in the database of the RELMIN project around the position of these minorities in the medieval Mediterranean, with also some references to basic modern literature, and for each of the relevant texts a translation, an analysis and references to further studies. RELMIN provides you with sometimes both English and French translations.

Normally I would feel rather exhausted, or to be honest definitely feel irritated, to say the least, about such a sorry state of affairs, the combination of a broken link and arduous recovering information using the PARES portal, but this time I can appreciate very much one of the things Sten Gagnér taught his students, not only in his lectures and seminars, but foremost by his own example. At the end of this post I really want to mention something Michael Stolleis made crystal clear in his tribute to Gagnér. He wanted his students to see things for himself in sources, to trace back and check the steps others had set, be they the pioneers and leaders in the various fields of legal history or more average scholars, to see the very words in the sources they found, to assess the meaning and context of words anew. Studying legislation in past and present in all its forms should be an exercise in good thinking, not a slipshod affair, as if you only have to dip your spoon in an ocean of sources. No school, department or faculty can provide you completely with his kind of training, because here your own intellectual honesty and drive to become and be a true historian should work for all you are worth, for all things and people you value most.

A postscript

After the things I siad about the PARES portal I must do justice to the riches of this portal by referring to the wonderful online guide by Scott Cave and Ashleigh Dean, aptly called Taming PARES. Their guide really unlocks this treasure trove!

A journal for the legal history of Morocco

Logo RMHDLast year I heard about the plans for a new legal history journal, the Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit (RMHD). This month the happy news arrived about its upcoming launch. As I was about to write a brief announcement I read online two contributions about Morocco’s legal history, one in Dutch about the new journal in the Flemish Rechtshistorische Courant edited at Ghent University, the monthly bulletin for the legal history of the Low Countries, one at the Legal History Blog about a book published in 2014 concerning law and history in Morocco. It seems worthwhile to connect both items here with a third announcement on a volume of scholarly articles about the centenary of the Moroccan code of contractual law.

Researching Morocco’s legal history

Let’s start here with translating some of the words of Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent University) wrote in the Rechtshistorische Courant about the new journal led by Fouzi Rherrousse (Université Mohammed Premier Oujda): “We can only applaud this initiative for a Moroccan journal for legal history, because it will be the first of its kind in the Arab world. It will try to answer a great need. There is scarce attention for Morocco’s legal history, the subject is not included in the curriculum of the law faculties. It is to be hoped that the new journal changes this situation and gives an impulse to the study of legal history in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. In a globalising world this is also important for European legal historians”. A number of European scholars has joined the comité de lecture, and others are even members of the editorial board.

By some lucky coincidence the Legal History Blog posted a brief announcement about a book the ever-vigilant team of this very active blog apparently had missed earlier. They wanted to make good this omission, for they deem it an important study. The book in question is Etty Terem, Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco (Stanford, 2014). At the publisher’s website you can read the summary, the first chapter and the start of the second chapter. Terem studied a book in eleven volumes published in 1910 by a Moroccan scholar, al-Mahdi al-Wazzani (1849-1923) called al-Mi`yār al-jadīd, the “New Standard Measure”. Al-Wazzani collected many thousand fatwās, legal decisions, pertaining to Mālikī law. He did this just before France got de facto hold of a large part of Morocco. The treaty of Fez in 1912 divided Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate, apart from the international enclave Tanger and a number of other ports. Terem invites you to look closely at the role, meaning, interpretation and impact of this massive legal collection.

Cover of "Le livre jubilaire"The centenary volume I mentioned above [Le Livre jubilaire. Centenaire du Dahir formant Code des Obligations et Contrats, Fouzi Rherrousse (ed.) (Oujda 2017)] was signalled at Histoire du Droit des Colonies, a French portal for colonial legal history. The Dahir was officially published on August 12, 1913. The delay between the centenary and the publication of this scholarly volume does certainly not diminish its importance. In the first section scholars write about contract law and obligations as an element of European legal history, and about different ways of codification in past and present, literally from classical Antiquity to the twenty-first century. The second section contains nine articles on the Code des obligations et des contrats, for example on the preparation by French lawyers of this code of law, Spanish influences, the impact of Roman law, the role of an Italian lawyer, and also the role of this code between law and economic influences.

The website Histoire du droit des colonies alerts also to the 2016 international conference Regards croisés sur l’histoire du droit [Different regards on legal history] held at Oujda. It underlines the role of a series of centenaries in Morocco’s legal history, with not only the Dahir, but also the first official gazette, the Bulletin officiel. The organizers rightly deplored the absence of legal history at the law faculties, only ancient law is an obligatory subject. They want to free the subject from rough generalisations, shame and confusion about the past of Morocco, and the danger of unreflected changes in current law.

Blog posts are usually not long, and I am afraid my average posts are much longer than many readers will expect, but this time I think it is better to offer only a short contribution to be continued at some point in the near future. Pursuing this path will ask some real efforts, think only of the variety in transliteration of Arab names and book titles. There exists a recent selection of texts by Islamic lawyers from the past, Islamic legal thought : a compendium of Muslim jurists, Oussama Arabi, David S. Powers and Susan A. Spectorsky (eds.) (Leiden 2013) to which Etty Terem contributed a fragment from the opus magnum of al-Mahdi al-Wazzani. You might also want to Iook at the French website Colonialcorpus. The most recent issue of the online legal history journal Clio@Themis contains articles in several languages around the theme Revues et empires coloniaux. I have not yet found a web page or website for the new Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit, nor has the first issue appeared in print, but nevertheless I want to wish Fouzi Rherrousse and his team good luck in paving the roads for more space for and more attention to the legal history of Morocco, North Africa and the Arab world.

 

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.

Opening a book: Simon van Leeuwen and Dutch history

Portrait of Simon van Leeuwen by P. Philippe, 1662 - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Portrait of Simon van Leeuwen by P. Philippe, 1662 – engraving, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

In the galaxy of lawyers in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic Hugo Grotius is at the very center. Other lawyers are judged according to their contributions to legal doctrine. In this view Simon van Leeuwen (1626-1682) would figure near the outer rim, because he was more a compiler and commentator. Nevertheless, he shared with Grotius among other things an interest in Dutch history. In this post I would like to look at Van Leeuwen’s books, and in particular his posthumously published work on Dutch history. This year I could benefit time and again from its information while researching the lives of some people living in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. My curiosity to find out more about his works prompted me to write here in my series Opening a book. Van Leeuwen translated for example also a work in the field of world history. My search brought me back to the repertory of Dutch Early Modern historians, Repertorium van geschiedschrijvers in Nederland 1500-1800 by E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier and G. van der Lem (The Hague 1990), now also available online in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren.

A prolific writer

If you check for Simon van Leeuwen in the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands you will get nearly ninety hits, and the earliest book shown is his edition in 1651 of a work by Quintyn Weytsen, Een tractaet van avarien, a work about general average, cases in maritime law about unavoidable damage to ships, a matter dealt with here three years ago. In 1652 van Leeuwen published his first own book, Paratitula juris novissimi dat is Een kort begrip van het Rooms-Hollandts-reght (Leiden 1652), with in the subtitle the term that made him famous, the Rooms-Hollands recht, the Roman-Dutch Law. I had expected the exhibit of the Robbins Collections of Berkely’s School of Law would at last resurface on its redesigned website, but as for now you can only view the starting page of The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition. Notaries are the subject of his following book, Notarius publicus, dat is, De practycke ende oeffeninge der notarissen (first edition, Dordrecht 1657), but actually it had already been printed a year earlier as an additional part of the second edition of the Paratitula (Leiden 1656). In this book he offers also a dictionary of Dutch law terms, including the neologisms coined by Grotius in his Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche regtsgeleerdheid (1631).

Cover öf the "cesnura foresnsis", 1662 - source: STCN

Cover of the first edition of Van Leeuwen’s “Censura forensis” (Leiden 1662) – copy Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; image: STCN

Van Leeuwen’s practice as a lawyer explains to some extent his choice of subjects. He was born in Leiden where he studied literature and law at the university. After receiving his law degree in 1646 he started as a barrister in The Hague at the Hof van Holland and the Supreme Council, and later in Leiden. In 1681 he returns to the Dutch Supreme Council, the Hoge Raad van Holland en Zeeland. In 1659 appeared his first work on Dutch history, Redeningh over den oorspronck, reght, ende onderscheyt der edelen, ende wel-borenen in Hollandt, literally translated “an argument about the origin, law and distinction of noblemen and gentry in Holland”, a subject which should indeed interest people in a country that aspired to be a real republic of equal citizens. In 1659 appeared also his translation of a book by Petrus Peckius (1529-1589), De iure sistendi, with the Dutch title Verhandelinghe van handt-opleggen ende besetten: dat is, Arrest op persoon ende goederen (Leiden 1659), a book about the way one could arrest people and legally seize goods. His following book is in Latin, which no doubt helped to get noticed by lawyers all over Europe, Censura forensis, theoretico-practica id est Totius juris civilis, Romani […] methodica collatio (Lugduni Batavorum 1662).

A year later appeared an even more ambitious work, an enlarged version of the edition by Denis Godefroy and Antonius Anselmus of the Corpus Iuris Civilis (Amsterdam-Leiden 1663). A few years later Van Leeuwen chose a more restricted subject, court procedure, in his Manier van procederen in civile en criminele saaken (Leiden 1666). In 1667 appeared his translation of a work in Latin on Persian history by Johannes de Laet (1593-1649), Voyagien, naa, en door het groot en magtige koninkryk van Persia (Amsterdam 1667) [Persia seu Regni Persici status variaque itinera in atque per Persiam]. De Laet (latinized Laetius), a student at Leiden of Scaliger, was a pioneer of comparative linguistics and world geography, and also a governor of the Dutch West India Company. Van Leeuwen commands our respect for his wide interest and his personal combination of global and more local matters.

In 1667 Van Leeuwen published also two new works, the Handvesten ende privilegien van den lande van Rijnland, met den gevolge van dien and Costumen, keuren, ende ordonnantien, van het baljuschap ende lande van Rijnland, editions of sources, in particular ordinances and privileges, of Rijnland, the area around Leiden which in one particular respect, water government, formed a unity. We shall see below how he used these sources in the work published only after his death. in 1671 appeared a work on the history of Roman law he wrote together with Arnoldus Vinnius (1588-1657), De origine & progressu juris civilis Romani authores & fragmenta veterum juris consultorum, to which he contributed two chapters.

The last independent work published during Van Leeuwen’s life was a book on the history of Leiden, Korte besgryving van het Lugdunum Batavorum nu Leyden (Leiden 1672). The collection of legal consultations Bellum juridicum: ofte Den oorlogh der advocaten (Amsterdam 1683) is ascribed to him, but there is reasonable doubt about his authorship. One of the reasons for this doubt is that we know Van Leeuwen helped in this very year Cornelis Cau in publishing the third volume of the massive collections of ordinances issued by the General Estates and the States of Holland, the Groot placaet-boeck, vervattende de placaten […] van de […] Staten Generael […] ende van de […] Staten van Hollandt ende West-Vrieslandt (third volume, The Hague 1683).

Holland’s history brought to higher levels

Frontispice of Batavia Illustrata, 1685

Frontispice of Van Leeuwen’s “Batavia Illustrata” (1685) – copy Royal Library, The Hague – image STCN

With Van Leeuwen we encounter a writer interested in several subjects: Dutch law, Dutch history, Roman law and even world history. In my view he clearly aspired to have a part in major projects both within Holland and on an European scale. Only by considering this context you can arrive at an explanation for the title of his posthumously published massive work Batavia illustrata, ofte Verhandelinge vanden oorspronk, voortgank, zeden, eere, staat en godtsdienst van Oud Batavien (…) (1 vol. in 2 parts, The Hague 1685), “Illustrious Holland, or a treatise on the origin, progress, traditions, state and religion of Old Batavia. Van Leeuwen presents here materials around an enlarged edition of a work by Wouter van Goudhoeven (1577-1628), D’oude chronijcke ende historien van Holland (first edition 1620), in itself a continuation of the so-called Divisiekroniek, first printed in the early sixteenth century. Van Leeuwen does not only follow the foot steps of Dutch historians, but chooses a title, Batavia Illustrata which in a way sounds as a conscious imitation of the title of a famous work on the history of Italy, Italia illustrata by Flavio Biondo. The frontispiece of Van Leeuwen’s opus ultimum shows in front of the two angels with the title at the left an allegory of the Dutch virgin with a staff bearing the hat of library and a hand caressing the Dutch lion, and at the same time telling Clio, the muse of history, the stories of Holland’s glory which she jots down in the book on her knees. If you read the complete title on the title page you cannot miss the double approach of this work, a continuation and improvement on earlier histories and a work based on research in oude schriften ende authenticque stukken, “old manuscripts and original records”.

The gentry, too, appears in Van Leeuwen’s long title. An overview of genteel families in Holland is a major feature of his book, with lots of genealogical detail. It reads almost as a who is who of Dutch Early Modern history. Inevitably this work has been digitized by the Great Global Search Firm, but only in black-and-white. You had better use the version in the Digitale Sammlungen of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (vol. 1, vol. 2). The last part of the second volume contains several lists of all kind of Dutch officials, including the board members of three major hoogheemraadschappen, the independent boards responsible for water control and protection against the sea, Rijnland, Delfland (around Delft) and Schieland (near Rotterdam). Here you will find out why the museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam is situated at a lane called Matenesserlaan, not only because of a field name, but also in recognition of the role of a powerful family. During my research on members of the Van Matenesse’s I found often more in Van Leeuwen’s book than in modern Dutch biographical works conveniently accessible online at the Biografisch Portaal. Of course I could also spot at some turns information which clearly is not correct, but in general this work is reliable.

For me the point in writing here about Van Leeuwen is the fact he was not just a second-rank writer about Dutch law, however right this judgment surely is. Van Leeuwen did efforts to republish or translate the work of others, and he succeeded in collaborating on important publications of other Dutch authors. He did not only publish source editions, but used them also for his own historical works. Through his manuals on Dutch law, legal procedure and notarial law his influence on Dutch practitioners of the law was substantial. Both the original and the English translation of his work on the Roman-Dutch law influenced law in South Africa.

A postscript

On May 19, 2017 the fifth and final volume of the series “Bibliografie van de Nederlandse Rechtswetenschap tot 1811  Bibliography of jurists of the Northern Netherlands active outside the Dutch universities to the year 1811, edited by the late Robert Feenstra and Douglas Osler (Amsterdam 2017), will be officially presented at the Peace Palace in The Hague. No doubt Van Leeuwen, too, figures in this volume, and the multitude of the reprints and re-editions of his works will come much more into view.

John Noonan, judge and historian

John T. Noonan Jr. - photo Kenneth Pennington, 1998

John T. Noonan Jr – Erice,1998 – photo Kenneth Pennington

Should an historian act as a judge, pronouncing verdicts on the past? Should a judge express views about the past or even use the past for his judgments? How can legal history help judges? Can you imagine that knowing about the history of medieval canon law, a subject seemingly quite distant from modern times, can prepare someone to become a respected judge? For a moment you might think I seduce you to follow me in an experiment, but I had rather tell here about the experiences of a scholar and judge who dealt in his life with exactly the questions at the start of this post. On April 17, 2017 John T. Noonan Jr. died. He served for thirty years as a judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Before and during his period as a judge he did research in the field of medieval and modern canon law. Noonan (1926-2017) wrote also about American law in past and present. A number of obituaries have appeared which focus on his contributions as a judge. Here I would like to honour his achievements by looking at his work as a legal historian.

Near to major themes in law and society

The obituaries I have seen until now understandably focus on his work as a judge. In particular the obituary issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals mentions a number of major cases – with full references – to which Noonan contributed, sometimes with a dissenting opinion which was eventually followed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Even Wikipedia gives substantial quotes from these important cases in the article about Noonan. The obituaries in the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times single out his political independence. Noonan was a Catholic who opposed abortion, but he certainly could not be labelled conservative. In the Commonweal Magazine‘s obituary there is attention for Noonan’s clear views about liberalism, but also on Shakespeare and the lack of attention to the Bard’s religion. The Faculty Lounge has a short notice by Alfred Brophy about Noonan’s passing, but he redeems it by sending you to a moving tribute at the blog of Diane Marie Amann (University of Georgia). She goes straight to the heart of the matter by showing Noonan in action. If you prefer to skip the section here below about the impact of medieval canon law you are right to proceed to her fine post.

Noonan came from Boston and studied at Harvard University, Cambridge and the Catholic University of America. To mention only his academic posts, he was a professor at Notre Dame University between 1961 and 1966 and from 1967 onwards at the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall). His first book was on a subject touching medieval canon law, theology and economic history, The scholastic analysis of usury (Cambridge, MA, 1957). In a modern textbook about medieval views of the economy [Diana Wood, Medieval economic thought (Cambridge, etc., 2002)] the two chapters about usury frequently refer you to Noonan’s book. Intention is one of the keys in understanding and defining usury and interest. His second book, Contraception. A history of its treatment by the Catholic theologians and canonists (Cambridge, MA, 1965; enlarged edition, 1986) appeared at a crucial moment in the history of the Catholic Church, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council when pope Paul VI created a commission to study contraception. He invited Noonan to participate in it as a consultant. Another study, too, brought medieval theology and canon law together [Power to dissolve. Lawyers and marriage in the courts of the Roman curia (Cambridge, MA, 1972)].

How authors come to a subject can be mysterious, but I think it is not entirely by chance that Noonan wrote about matters of life and death, in particular about moral conduct. Bonds dissolved or not are also at stake in his book on The Antelope : the ordeal of the recaptured Africans in the administrations of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1977). I could not resist going to the digital collection Slavery in America – discussed here in some detail last year – and to check for the presence of this case around a ship with slaves in 1820. Changing views on slavery are among the subjects in his study A Church that can and cannot change. The development of Catholic moral teaching (Notre Dame, IN, 2005). The personal conduct of judges through the centuries is the subject of Bribes. The intellectual history of a moral idea (New York, 1984). Many students of American law will know about his volumes with selected cases around religious freedom and the responsibilities of lawyers.

It is tempting to discuss here more of Noonan’s books which discuss developments in American law from a historical perspective, but I promised you to focus on medieval canon law. A fair number of Noonan’s articles can conveniently be consulted in the volume Canons and canonists in context (Goldbach 1997). Articles about medieval canon law appear not only in the few journals created for this field, but also elsewhere, sometimes in Festschriften. Thus the volumes in this series are most useful, also for the additions and corrections added by the authors. The bibliographical database of the Regesta Imperii (Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mainz) lists most of Noonan’s articles about medieval canon law.

Noonan wrote two major articles about the author of the Decretum Gratiani, a subject at the heart of the modern study of medieval canon law, because Gratian’s book is often seen as the core and cause of the very birth of medieval canon law. In the first article, ‘Was Gratian approved at Ferentino?’, Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law N.S. 6 (1976) 15-28, he investigates the historical evidence around a papal approbation of Gratian’s textbook. The second article, ‘Gratian slept here: the changing identity of the father of the systematic study of canon law’, Traditio 35 (1979) 145-172, is an object lesson in making distinctions about reliable and unreliable evidence. Noonan crushes sloppy thinking and careless repetition of unchecked information. Even his colleague at Berkeley, Stephan Kuttner, receives a frown at one point. Thirty years later Anders Winroth could establish at last some facts about the life of Gratian with certainty in ‘Where Gratian Slept: The Life and Death of the Father of Canon Law’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte. Kanonistische Abteilung 99 (2013) 105-128. Kenneth Pennington gives at his website a more colourful presentation of John Noonan’s work on Gratian, including the covers of some books and some remarkable photographs of Noonan.

Intention is a matter of concern in medieval canon law ever since its appearance in the twelfth century as a subject in medieval theology. It is through canon law that intention became a theme in criminal law. Judges were called upon to consider someone’s intentions. Stephan Kuttner, Noonan’s teacher in Washington, D.C., wrote the classic study tracing this development [Kanonistische Schuldlehre von Gratian bis auf die Dekretalen Gregors IX systematisch auf Grund der handschriftlichen Quellen dargestellt (Città del Vaticano 1935)] and Noonan clearly studied it in great depth. For Noonan the facts and intentions counted in judging historical situations. In his view facts matter indeed, because he wanted to judge cases, not persons. Some of his views of famous American judges can be found in Persons and masks of the law : Cardozo, Holmes, Jefferson, and Wythe as makers of the masks (New York, 1976). Noonan did not keep ethics and moral questions at a safe distance. Making the right judgments is only possible when knowledge of the law, insight into what consist justice and a fine-tuned and ever developing conscience come into action, or to put it more briefly, where mind and heart fully work together. It is exactly how Noonan impressed those who met him. Being a judge and a historian in one person is challenging, but he had the greatness to achieve this in a long and fruitful life.

A portal for the history of the common law

Screenprint online guide to the history of common law, Bodlieian LibrariesSometimes things arrive really unexpectedly. Good introductions and guides to any research field can help you enormously in getting started, gaining an overall view of things and offering openings to wider context. At my own website for legal history, Rechtshistorie, I offer introductions to several legal systems and their history. Recently a couple of online subject guides were launched by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford which deserve attention here. They amount in fact to a portal. I will focus on the guide to the history of common law, but the other guides are worth visiting, too.

Common law in manifold variety

Logo Bodleian Libraries

A first glance at the new subject guide shows first and foremost an almost overwhelming mass of subjects. It is really a choice to present between thirty and forty subjects on separate pages instead of ordering them a bit by putting for example particular periods or royal courts under separate headings. The first row of headings clearly leads you to more general subjects and some specific sources, the Year Books and law reports. It is easy to point to themes and subjects you might want to add or remove here. Forest law makes a surprise appearance, but you might want to add for example the Inns of Court. Some reshuffling is surely possible, perhaps first of all bringing periods at one level or putting the items in alphabetical order. Anyway I have not yet seen any LibGuide with such a high number of subpages.

In my review of this research guide you must forgive me my personal picks among the headings! Local legal officials is a page giving you general guidance to a fair number of these officials, and understandably sheriffs, constables, justices of the peace and coroners receive most attention here, apart from general information about local government. You will find much more about medieval coroners on my own common law web page.

Under Commentary you will find information about the major current standard works about English legal history and you will be sent also to great historians such as Maitland, Holdsworth, Milsom, Vinogradoff and of course Blackstone. The heading Treatises & Authorities brings you to classic writers such as Coke and Hale, and also to older treatises (Bracton, Britton), but also again to Blackstone. The references to online versions are both to licensed editions only accessible at subscribing institutions, and to free accessible versions. If you have access to subscribers-only materials you are lucky indeed. The free versions give sometimes only a translation of a particular source, a thing not always indicated here.

Among the periods to review here I have chosen a classic era, 1066-1216. The overview of regnal years is most useful, and the choice of electronic resources with both laws and treatises is a good one, as is the choice of studies which you should consult. A second era, 1820-1914, clearly stems from the volume in the Oxford History of the Laws of England. Here the attention to reports is indeed welcome, but I did not find a reference to the U.K. Parliamentary Papers (Proquest). A separate page about the history of Parliament would be very useful, but going to Legislative history solves this apparent omission. On the page about Ireland I missed the Dippam portal with the Enhanced British Parliamentary papers on Ireland. By the way, some pages in this guide have an URL with numeral codes, others contain words which are more recognisable to human eyes. The page on Scotland is strong on important studies and less full for online resources.

The online guide for the history of the common law shows its sheer width by containing a page on canon law. It offers a nutshell guide bringing you to introductions by James Brundage and to some well-chosen studies (Richard Helmholz, Anders Winroth and Stephan Kuttner) and (online) resources. English students starting to discover medieval canon law might want to read also the compact book by Dorothy Owen, The medieval canon law : teaching, literature and transmission (Cambridge 1990).

A web of online guides

The Bodleian Libraries have created similar guides to ancient lawRoman law, the legal history of Western Europe and the history of international law. Using the Bodleian’s general overview of more than one hundred online law research guides the list on the starting page of their LibGuides for law and history can be extended to medieval Scandinavian law and Roman law in translation, a subject dear to me. This overview of translations is very useful. I noticed in particular the online version of excerpts from Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Font (eds.), Women’s life in Ancient Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook in Translation (2nd edition, Baltimore 1992), which deserves inclusion at my own Roman law page. On the page on medieval Scandinavian law I expected a reference to The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen, mentioned here last year. Yet another nutshell guide of the Bodleian Libraries is Witchcraft and the law in Early Modern Europe and the USA: Bad magic by Isabel Holoway. Hannah Chandler contributes an online guide to criminal and judicial statistics, 1800 to present day.

At the end of this quick review our thanks should go to the Bodleian, especially to Elizabeth Wells and Margaret Watson for their courage and librarianship to create five guides covering important fields of legal history. To me it is clear that you can frown at the very number of individual subjects and periods in the guide to the history of common law, but at the same time it invites you also to rethink your assumptions. I remember visiting somewhere an online guide based on LibGuides with many subdivisions which in the end scarcely helped to find the rich resources of the library and university. Personal taste, preferences and concrete research interests will influence your opinions about these guides. However, the most important conclusion is that the Bodleian Libraries and other libraries using LibGuides do not hesitate to face the challenge to give guidance in the virtual world, too, and thus redefine themselves for new service to student and scholars in the age of digital information. With the guides dealing with themes and subjects in legal history the law guides of the Bodleian Libraries set an example to which other institution can aspire. The very presence of LibGuides has already inspired many libraries to create sensible guides to many subjects, and it is good to see legal history among them.