Tag Archives: Medieval canon law

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, 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 was 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 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 new start in medieval canon law

Pope Boniface VIII knew exactly how important the choice of the right opening words was, especially for such publications as his decrees, encyclical letters and decretals. His decretal Rem non novam (Extrav. comm. 2.3.1) issued in 1303 gives its name to an event signalling a development that is partially new and partially a continuation, the restart at New Haven of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law. An inaugural conference which takes its name from Boniface VIII’s decretal will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015. New Haven was home to the institute from 1964 to 1970 when Stephan Kuttner, its founder, hold a chair at Yale University. His institute has figured already several times at my blog. It seems right to bring in this post also to your attention the call for papers for the Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held in Paris in July 2016. Both events are mentioned in the congress calendar of my blog, but in my view they merit more attention.

A new start

Banner rem non novam conference at New Haven

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996) founded the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Kuttner moved to New Haven, and in 1970 he brought the institute to Berkeley, CA. In 1991 the institute moved officially to Germany. In 1996 the library arrived at the university of Munich. I was involved in the restart of the IMCL at Munich, in particular for creating a catalogue of the books in Kuttner’s library, a task done with the gracious support of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Elsewhere on this blog I wrote more about the creation and wanderings of the IMCL. In a way Its travels symbolise the crossing of borders necessary in studying the history of medieval canon law. Stephan Kuttner had to cross the borders of many countries, not only for his research but also to find a home for himself and his family. The IMCL is supported by an institution with a long Latin name, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio (ICMAC) or International Society of Medieval Canon Law.

In 2013 the IMCL returned to the United States, back to New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University offers again hospitality to this institute, now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Apart from books the library of the IMCL contains several collections, especially some 8,000 offprints of scholarly articles, several hundred microfilms both from the original holdings of the IMCL and from scholars such as Gérard Fransen and Rudolf Weigand, and Kuttner’s vast scholarly correspondence. At the Yale Law Library efforts have started to make all these riches better accessible. At the Munich website you can access – in English or German – the library catalogue, the offprints catalogue and the database for twelfth-century decretals based on the research done by Walter Holtzmann and other scholars. To the items in the library and offprints catalogues classifications will be added. The program for the critical edition of texts in the field of medieval canon law will be continued. The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, since 1971 an independent offsping of Traditio, is now published by the Catholic University of America Press.

To celebrate the return of the IMCL to Yale University and to underline its importance a conference and grand opening will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015, with scholars coming from all over the world. Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur, “we tackle a thing that is not new or unusual”, but in fact harbouring the IMCL is special indeed. At its consecutive homes it always added a number of unparalleled collections to its scholarly surroundings. An example: at Munich I catalogued in 1997-1998 for the IMCL ten publications concerning the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín. I was hard pressed to find any library worldwide with at least half of these publications. The great variety of resources now present at New Haven are already reflected in the abstracts of the papers to be presented at the May conference.

Reuniting scholars every four year

Banner ICMCL Paris 2016

With Gérard Fransen (Université Catholique de Louvain) and other scholars Stephan Kuttner organized a conference about medieval canon law in Brussels in 1958. A second conference held in Boston followed in 1963, and a third in Strasbourg followed in 1968. Since 1968 these congresses are held every fourth year, alternately organized east and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law will be held at Paris from July 17 to 23, 2016. The Institut d’Histoire du Droit of the Université Paris-II (Panthéon-Assas) will be the host of this congress, with support from the Université Paris-Sud and other well-known research institutes in Paris.

Over the years a division of the congress into six sections has been developed. For many years research concerning Gratian occupied a separate section or at the very least dominated the section on sources and texts. However, in view of the steady progress of the edition of the first version of Gratian’s canonical collection this theme will surely return. Proposals for papers can be sent to callforpapers@icmcl2016.org before September 30, 2015.

It might seem carrying coals to Newcastle, but it might be actually important to look a bit closer to the proposed sections for the 2016 congress at its bilingual website. Sources and texts fall into the first section, and canonical doctrine into a section of its own, fair enough. The third section is reserved for institutions, legislation and procedure. The application and influence of canon law make up the fourth section. Relationships between law and theology are the subject of the fifth section, and the last section will deal with schools and teaching of law.

In my view this division shows very convincingly that medieval canon law was not something static and monolithic, even when dealing with eternal values and returning problems for a still united Christendom. Canon law had to react when new laws appeared that might be in conflict with the norms and values it enshrined. Legal matters did touch upon Christian beliefs and vice versa. In the twelfth century it was still difficult to distinguish at all between canon law and theology, and it would be shortsighted to tear them apart too early. Canonical influences can clearly be detected in the procedures of courts, even in courts of civil law. In medieval universities schools rose which defended particular positions about points of law, and of course views changed or gained the upper hand or lost their power. Canon law depended to a certain extent on revived Roman law, but it could as well change the impact of Roman law.

Continuity and change

The original decretal of Boniface VIII deals with a matter that should attract closer attention in the year with celebrations for 800 years Magna Carta. The decretal’s first sentence was “Rem non novam aggredimur, neque viam insolitam ambulamus”, words slightly changed by the organizing committee in New Haven. While borrowing from the preface to Cod. 3.1.14, this pope did change canon law. His decretal was a stepping stone in anchoring norms for valid legal procedure, ensuring that defendants had the right to be brought before a court. The clause of Magna Carta claiming the right to appear before a judge of one’s equals had not yet taken this step forward of granting anyone the right to receive justice in a well-ordered way. Due process is a characteristic of legal procedure shaped to considerable extent by developments in medieval canon law.

Scholars studying medieval canon law have not confined themselves to reading and analyzing only legal texts. Randy Johannesen wrote about the contemporary surroundings and consequences of the decretal Rem novam [‘Cardinal Jean Lemoine’s gloss to Rem non novam and the reinstatement of the Colonna cardinals’, in: Proceedings of the eighth international congress of medieval canon law, Stanley Chodorow (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1992) 309-320]. Tilmann Schmidt published Der Bonifaz-Prozess : Verfahren der Papstanklage in der Zeit Bonifaz’ VIII. und Clemens’ V (Cologne, etc., 1989) about the steps taken against Boniface VIII himself. These are just two examples, but much more can be added to them, as a search within for example the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz can quickly confirm. Looked at in vitro medieval canon law looses its significance for legal history at large, but time and again it is possible to show its many and surprising connections not only with all layers of medieval society, but also with legal developments right until our century.

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 206Cartulaire 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’.

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.

Connecting and relating legal history

This week WordPress, the provider of my blog, turned on a new feature, showing for every post related posts. In the current layout you will find them at the end of every contribution. WordPress has created an algorithm based on the labels added to each post – both categories and tags – to come up with results that stand in some relation to a particular posting. Thoughtfully WordPress makes it possible to turn off the new feature.

It is surely tempting for me to invite the readers of one particular post at my blog to read more posts! The new suggestions feature might be helpful to achieve this aim. However, the very crux is of course the quality of the categories and tags added to my posts. Is it not wiser to rely on them? For every post I try to provide sensible labels, either by selecting one or more categories and a fair number of tags. WordPress gives you a number of suggestions for additional tagging immediately after the publication of a post. For a number of scientific disciplines thesauri have been created, classification systems with terms which help you to locate and describe an object, be it a book, an image or any other object, in a systematic way, and to place it in a coherent and ordered way at its right place within such a system. At the Université Paris-Sud, Faculté Jean Monnet, François Jankowiak and Brigitte Basdevant-Gaudemet and other scholars at the Centre Droit et Sociétés Réligieuses maintain GREGORIUS, an online bibliography for medieval canon law where search terms are added to bibliographical records in a systematic way. It is certainly wise to follow their example, but most often it is really difficult to fit posts within any system on this blog where I try to cover many aspects of legal history.

Adding tags does help people to find information on a particular subject in a systematic way. A title of a publication cannot contain all you might be looking for, and this is even more obvious for languages you are unable to read or speak. Tagging can be a cumbersome affair. It is easy to create confusion. Only lately I noticed that I used both Great Britain and United Kingdom as tags, and I changed this in all relevant cases into United Kingdom. On the other hand some posts touching on the field of epigraphy, the study of inscriptions, have both the tag Epigraphy and Inscriptions, and I guess it is wiser to keep using the term Inscriptions as well. If you look for Holland on this blog for legal history with a Dutch view I must inform you that Holland is currently only the name for two provinces. The country of the Dutch people is called the Netherlands. In order not to find yourself reading involuntarily a post on the medieval county of Holland I use the tag Netherlands as often as necessary.

Tag clloud Rechtsgeschiedenis blog, 2013

Instead of coming with more doubts about and objections to prefigured reading suggestions I had better tell you what is already provided here. As categories I use Buildings, Centers, Editions, Exhibitions, General, Landscapes, Manuscripts and Scholars. You will find many tags. In the tag cloud on my blog you can easily deduce which themes figure most often on it. As for now the tag cloud is located near the end of the side bar, almost down under. My tweets with @Rechtshistorie come last. I have done this on purpose in order not to detract your attention from the blogroll with a nice selection of institutional blogs, personal blogs on legal history, a number of blogs created at (law) libraries with great interest for legal historians, in particular in the field of old books and manuscripts, and a selection of e-journals for legal history. To me it seems the blogs of law libraries are often overlooked. They do not deal exclusively with legal history, but it is the very point that they do include it that makes them interesting. In other words, I give you every possible chance to get as quickly as possible to other legal history blogs instead of keeping you confined any longer to the posts I have published since 2009.

Searching Aragon’s royal history

Logo International Archives Day

This year’s International Archives Day, an initiative of the International Council on Archives, took place on June 9. In many countries archives organized activities, among them also Spanish archives. Lately I noticed the substantial number of websites devoted to the history of Aragon, and when preparing this post it became clear how many resources you can find online. On my blog I wrote in 2011 and 2012 about the project Europeana Regia which aimed at reconstructing three medieval royal libraries with digitized manuscripts. One of them was the library of the kings of Aragon and Naples. In his acclaimed study Vanished kingdoms: The history of half-forgotten Europe (London-New York 2011) Norman Davies devoted a chapter to Aragon. In fact he had to deal with two kingdoms, both the Reino d’Aragón (1035-1715) and the composite kingdom of the Corona d’Aragón (1162-1716), a confederation of monarchies including in Spain the county of Barcelona and the kingdom of Valencia, and outside Spain Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and Majorca, to mention only its largest parts.

For clarity’s sake I use in this post the Castilian and Aragonese spellings of locations in a multilingual kingdom. The Catalan name of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona is Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó. You can view this website also in Galician, Basque and Valencian. Legal history is certainly present at the websites I mention in this tour of institutions digitizing Aragon’s history.

Digitizing the history of Aragon

In my earlier post concerning Europeana Regia I had tried to make a preliminary list of manuscripts touching on legal history. I found some thirty manuscripts among the more than thousand manuscripts brought together in this project. From the library of the kings of Aragon 294 digitized manuscripts are presented. In 2011 I had found for Aragon only one work touching legal history, a treatise on the genealogy of the Aragonese kings (Paulus Rossellus, Descendentia dominorum regum Sicilie, after 1438; Valencia, BU, ms. BH 394), but luckily there is more. In 2012 I tracked a well-known source in Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4670 A, the Usatici et Constitutiones Cataloniae, a manuscript written at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, and I could also point to Paris, BnF, ms. Italien 408Ordinacione fate per lo S.re Pere Terzo Re d’Aragona supra lo regimento de tuti li oficiali de la sua corte, a manuscript from the 15th century.

On closer inspection, after the closure of the Europeana Regia project, more can be found. Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 63 is the Latin and Catalan version of these ordinances of Pedro III, the Ordinacions de Pere III d’Aragó. A Spanish version of royal ordinances of Pedro IV of Aragon can be found in Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 62. Yet another manuscript at Paris (BnF, ms. Italien 958; written around 1477) contains the text of Orso Orsini’s Del governo et exercitio de la militia. Correspondence of king Ferdinand I from 1458 to 1460 in Latin, Catalan and Italian has been preserved in the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. Espagnol 103. A copy of Guillelmus Duranti’s Speculum iudiciale (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4254) was both owned by the French king Charles VIII and later by the kings of Aragon, but eventually it returned to Paris. An illuminated and glossed Bolognese copy of Justinian’s Institutiones and the Authenticum at Paris (BnF, ms. Latin 4436) belonged once to the royal library in Naples. It is intriguing to note that only one of these nine manuscripts with legal texts is now at Valencia.

Behind the doors of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón

Logo Archivos Estatales

Jonathan Jarrett (Oxford) gave in 2011 at his blog A Corner of Tenth Century Europe a nice description of the building of the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona and its workings. The ACA traces its history back to 1318 and offers its own virtual tour. Among the many Pedro’s in Spanish history Pedro el Gran (1240-1285) stands out. The ACA organized in 2012 an exhibition on this king; some information on it can be downloaded (PDF). The ACA shows several virtual exhibitions on its website, for example on its own history, historical maps, and especially on Los Libros de Repartimiento of king Jaime I on his possessions in Mallorca and Valencia.

The first initial in Gratian's Decretum - Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 7, fol. 17 recto - image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

The first initial in Gratian’s Decretum – Barcelona, ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78, fol. 17 recto – image Archivo de la Corona de Aragon

In the online exhibition of illuminated medieval manuscripts at the ACA figure a Liber feudorum major from around 1180, the oldest document kept at Barcelona (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 1), a Liber feudorum Ceritaniae (ACA, Real Cancilleria, registro 4), and a Decretum Gratiani (ACA, Manuscritos, Ripoll 78), actually one of the very few sources for the first version of Gratian’s Decretum. The progress of the project led by Anders Winroth at Yale University for the edition of this version can be followed online. Winroth described Ripoll 78 in his study The Making of Gratian’s Decretum (Cambridge, etc., 2000) without mentioning the illuminated initials. The ACA provides links to several databases with guides for archival research. At PARES, the Portal de Archivos Españoles, you can search for digitized archival records from Spanish archives. The ACA gives you at its website a brief list of items and records present at PARES. Ripoll 78 is among the digitized manuscripts at the ACA which you can view at PARES.

Apart from archival records you will also find digitized manuscripts from the monasteries of Ripoll and San Cugat now kept at the ACA. At PARES you can find resources using the Inventario Dinámico by selecting the ACA and searching the tree-like representation of the various collections. With the more normal search function you can simply type your preferred term and get a result list. In the winter of 1991-1992 I participated at Leiden in the yearly seminar on juridical palaeography. We read some treatises contained in San Cugat 55, in particular at fol. 92 and 93. I suppose you will forgive me for choosing the 87 digitized medieval manuscripts from this monastery as an example of a result list with items at the ACA. Alas the images are disfigured by a watermark of the Archivos Estatales. On the legal manuscripts from both monasteries more information is available online in the Manuscripta Juridica database of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main and in Giovanna Murano’s incipitario of medieval manuscripts with canon law texts. Due to the move to a new building the library of the institute at Frankfurt am Main is temporarily closed, and thus it is really useful to know that you do not have to wait for all of its microfilmed manuscripts if you want to study them.

Among the digitized archival records are ninety registers of the Real Cancilleria from the thirteenth century – a project briefly described here -, registros of other kings, and several trial records (procesos). A large number of records from the Consejo de Aragón and the Real Audiencia have been digitized. It is difficult to choose examples from the digitized riches at the ACA. Surely I would single out in the section Diversos y Colecciones the nearly 200 cartes árabes and the 126 autógrafos of Spanish kings and queens. Trials in civil law, pleitos civiles, are being digitized from the Real Audiencia de Cataluña where some 22,000 trials survive. Archival records for the Gran Priorato de Cataluña del Orden de San Juan de Jerusalén the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, have been digitized, too (ACA, ORM, Gran Priorato, Volúmenes y Legajos).

One of the highlights at the ACA are the socalled Capitulaciones de Santa Fe, which bear also the name of Capitulaciones del Almirante don Cristóbal Colón, the agreement between Christopher Columbus and the Reyes Católicos, signed on April 17, 1492. Some of these documents are kept at the ACA (fondo Real Cancilleria, Diversorum, registro 3.569; PDF, 3,2 MB) and elsewhere in Spain. In 2009 the Capitulaciones were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register. However, the UNESCO photo database shows just two images, and I therefore like to point also to information on an exhibition concerning the Capitulaciones provided by PARES.

Muchos libros digitizados

A particular motive to write about Aragon is the proliferation of digital libraries. Last week I encountered yet another digital library, at the Cortes de Aragón. On my website I listed already some twenty-five Spanish digital libraries! The Biblioteca Virtual de Derecho Aragonés is maintained by the Gobierno de Aragón. The Gobierno de Aragón at Zaragoza maintains also its own Biblioteca Virtual. I did know about the Biblioteca Valenciana Digital and the SOMNI, Fondo histórico of the Universidad de Valencia. The Biblioteca Municipal de Zaragoza has its own digital library, too. Some 1100 rare books have been digitized at the Biblioteca Virtual de la Diputación de Zaragoza. You will find manuscripts, incunables and other early editions among the Tesoros of the Biblioteca Universitaria de Zaragoza, a selection from its Biblioteca Digital del Fondo Antiguo. The ACA, too, thoughtfully provides a bibliography of the main publications concerning this archive, with links to digitized resources, some of them available at the Internet Archive.

In the Fondo Documental Histórico of the Cortes de Aragon you can find digitized manuscripts, drawings, maps and books. Among the manuscripts is a fifteenth-century legal treatise, and you will find also manuscripts of the Coran. Fuentes, source editions for Aragonese law, are to be found in the section with printed materials. My interest was guided to the sixteen printed allegaciones, legal pleadings, and the nine volumes with ordinaciones. I found a Dutch twist, too: Blaeu and Hondius figure among the digitized maps.

In 2012 a portal was created around the life and historical works concerning Aragon of the Jesuit Jerónimo Zurita (1512-1580) who became in 1547 the Cronista del Reino, the official historian of the kingdom of Aragón. The portal brings you not only to digitized editions of his books, foremost among them the Anales de la Corona de Aragón (1562-1580), but also to other chronicles, documents showing Zurita’s activities, and digitized studies on this scholar.

A proud heritage

Arragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu,1647

Aragonia et Navarra, map by Joan Blaeu, from: Le Theatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas (Amsterdam 1647) – image Cortes de Aragón, Fondo Documental Histórico

Let’s not overload this post with too much digitized materials from Aragon! At PARES it is wise to look for the history of Aragon not just at the ACA, but also in Madrid and Simancas. The DARA website for the Documentos y Archivos de Aragón is one of the places to look for further guidance. In fact the PARES portal guides you also to the Censo-Guía de Archivos de España y Iberoamérica, an online guide to Spanish and Ibero-American archives. The Gobierno de Aragón gives an overview of Aragonese culture and heritage at the portal Patrimonio Cultural de Aragón. It is possible to mention here a number of archives, but I will restrict myself to the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Zaragoza, with in its holdings records of the Tribunal de la Inquisición de Zaragoza between 1440 and 1621. The ACA is an institution in Barcelona, within Catalonia. The Memòria de Catalunya portal brings you to many collections. One of these collections is specifically concerned with Aragon and contains some 1700 allegaciones, pleadings by barristers who were members of the Illustre Collegi d’Avocats de Barcelona. I could not help noticing the library of this college has also digitized its Atles Blaviana, the Atlas Major of Joan Blaeu (11 vol., Amsterdam 1662), accessible at the Memòria de Catalunya. A very interesting and detailed online bibliography on Aragonese law in past and present is offered at Standum est chartae, the website of the department for derecho civil aragones of the Universidad de Zaragoza.

Of course other Spanish digital libraries offer online access to books and other documents concerning Aragon. It is in particular useful to look at the portal Legislación Histórica de España. The Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid yields many hundreds results after a simple general search for Aragon, among them nearly 200 manuscripts. At Hispana, the general portal for Spanish digitized heritage, it is not only possible to access digitized items, but you can benefit also from the indications found in the directory of digital collections. Similarly the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico helps you to search for materials in many Spanish libraries and archives. A number of Spanish archives, including the ACA, the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, and the general archives at Madrid and Simancas, have created a network for their library catalogues, the Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales. At the end of this post I feel confident that you will find something useful here when you start to study Aragon and the many sides of its legal history. A number of websites mentioned here is also accessible in English. Digitization projects provide in a very real sense a royal road to many valuable resources concerning the kingdoms of Aragon.

Digital wealth: comparing national digital libraries

On April 13, 2013 the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) was launched, an initiative that brings together digitized sources from a number of cultural institutions in the United States. In November 2012 the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (DDB) started which combines the digital collections of over 2,000 institutions in Germany. The DDB is still in its beta-version. A Wealth of Knowledge is the motto of the DPLA. In this post I will try to make a comparison between the new American and German national digital libraries. For this purpose I will look both at rather random chosen subjects, and also at specific subjects with a link to legal history. How rich are both initiatives? Do these two new digital libraries compare favorably with other national digital libraries? Actually it is already interesting to look how many comparable initiatives exist worldwide. A number of them is mentioned on my own webpage for digital libraries. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult to tell a national library portal apart from a general search portal or a national portal for digitized cultural heritage.

The limits of comparison

Logo Digital Public Library of America

Perhaps it wise to start here with a Dutch proverb, je moet geen appels met peren vergelijken, do not compare apples with pears, in other words, don’t compare incomparable things. Each of the digital portals and national digital libraries has its own history, background and very different cooperating partners. In my view it is not unimportant to bear in mind this when I assess the qualities of the DPLA and the DDB. I do not want to judge them, but solely to put the efforts behind both libraries in perspective.

The first impression of the website of the Digital Public Library of America is colourful and inviting. A rolling banner shows an impressive array of beautiful images and photographs of important people and events. Visitors of the website can immediately starting looking at information for particular locations, dates and years. The exhibitions section brings you quickly to a number of themes. For legal history I would like to single out Indomitable spirits: Prohibition in the United States. Below the motto A Wealth of Knowledge you can enter a free text search. The DPLA gives prominent space to its tweets, a news section and its apps, alas not yet the applications to use on smartphones to search its contents, but two separate search interfaces. One of the apps enables searching in both the DPLA and Europeana. I will include this double search app and Europeana, too, in my comparison. For brevity’s sake I will not discuss here the Library Observatory with a more abstract presentation of the search interfaces of contributing institutions.

A first hesitation occurs when you notice no less than three horizontal menus to navigate the DPLA portal. The uppermost menu is definitely more concerned with the background, and perhaps you will scarcely need it. For navigation a site map would be helpful, also when facing the multiple browse and search options, the choice in the presentation of results and the way to filter them. In one of the new items you can read in small print that the DPLA is launched as a beta-version.

Engraving of Aaron Burr

Engraving of Aaron Burr – Enoch Gridley after John Vanderlyn, c. 1801 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

How to probe faithfully the quality of any meta-catalogue or portal to cultural heritage? In my view both well-known matters and rather randomly chosen examples will help clarifying this matter. As for the random example, I will choose subjects and themes which just happened to be within my view these days. At his blog Appealingly Brief Dan Klau wrote on April 18, 2013 a posting on Aaron Burr (1756-1836), the vice-president who shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, and the ancestor of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, the endless speech used to stop senators from voting on bills and other proposals. Until now the filibuster figured on my blog only in his original form as a pirate, and thus I am happy to welcome his namesake!

The DPLA finds 20 results on Aaron Burr. Not one of them is directly connected with the filibuster, but more with the conspiracy for which Burr was indicted on November 25, 1806, and with Liberty Hall in Frankfort, Kentucky, a place visited by Burr. I found just one image of Burr himself. The double app for the DPLA and Europeana, too, brings 20 results from the DPLA, and 3 digitized books in Europeana. It is the constellation of holding institutions in the DPLA that surprises me, and their content. The search term filibuster gives me just six results, all of them cartoons from the twentieth century. No doubt the cultural institutions that cooperate in the DPLA hold great treasures, but you would expect results from digital collections at Ivy League universities, and from libraries such as the New York Public Library, the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Boston Public Library, although this library is present as a general partner in the Digital Commonwealth portal of cultural institutions in Massachusetts, a portal linked to the DPLA. As for now only the NYPL and Harvard Library already participate in the DPLA. In the digital gallery of the NYPL I found 57 images concerned with Aaron Burr. It seems that you cannot search yet all digital collections of Harvard Library in one search action at its website.

At present it seems the DPLA has enlisted the services of only a few major institutions, among them The Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Searching the Smithsonian collections for Burr yields more than 200 results. Looking for Burr on the website of the NARA will easily bring you 75 results. Clearly not of all of them connect immediately to digitized materials, but still the difference is very large. Somehow the aggregating process behind the DPLA is not working as completely and correctly as possible. However, the DPLA is helpful in another way: when you click on More subjects you will find a nice overview of associated themes. For Burr the filibuster is missing among these proposed subjects.

Culture and knowledge

Logo Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek

The second library portal in my comparison is the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (DDB). At its launch in November 2012 only a beta-version became visible, thus inviting criticism. The first impression of the DDB is austere, a white background with only a search interface, a slide show with just six pictures, and two clear menus. A sitemap seems at first superfluous, but with a view to the future it is wise to include it already. The language of the search interface can be switched to German or English. Below the general free text search field you can click on Advanced search where you will find initially find just two search fields. However, you can add search fields at will, choose from ten categories, and set the character of a boolean search on “AND”or “OR”. The link to institutions brings you to a map of Germany and a search interface to filter for archives, libraries, museums, research institutions, media and monument protection. At present nearly 2,000 German institutions contribute to the DDB.

The Grimm brothers

The Grimm brothers, drawing by Ludwig Emil Grimm, 1843 – Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen – image Deutsche Fotothek, Dresden

How to test the qualities of the DBB in a fair and reliable way? 150 years ago Jacob Grimm died, the eldest of the Grimm brothers. Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) was not only responsible for the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812) – the fairy tales had their own bicentennial last year; a digital version of the first edition is present at the Deutsches Textarchiv – and with his brother for the Deutsches Wörterbuch, but published also a number of works which touch upon legal history, starting perhaps with a famous article ‘Von der Poesie im Recht’, Zeitschrift für geschichtliche Rechtswissenschaft 2 (1816) 25-99, on the poetry of the law, and editions such as the texts in Reinhart Fuchs (Berlin 1834) and the Deutsche Rechtsalterthümer (first edition in two volumes, Göttingen 1828).

Just entering “Jacob Grimm” in the DDB gives you already more than 200 results, with 80 images of either Jacob Grimm or both him and his brother Wilhelm. You will find the first three volumes (A to Forsche) of the Deutsches Wörterbuch. The DDB does not bring you to a digitized version of the 1816 article, online in the digital library for German legal journals of the nineteenth century at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main. The DDB does contain the Reinhart Fuchs from 1834, and a letter on the subject of this book on several medieval versions of the Ysengrinus story by Grimm to the philologist Karl Lachmann, Sendschreiben an Karl Lachmann von Jacob Grimm über Reinhart Fuchs (Berlin 1840). The DDB lists several digital copies of the 1828 and 1854 editions of the Deutsche Rechtsalterthümer. Twice it is stated the first edition appeared in Leipzig, but the title pages of both volumes of this edition mention Göttingen. The error is due to the source of the meta-data on the digitized copy in question, in this case the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

With Grimm I choose an example from the very heart of German romanticism and scholarship. The formal end of the German Holy Roman Empire came in 1803 with the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, a decision of the German Reichstag at Regensburg. One of its consequences was the end of the secular power of a number of German ecclesiastical institutions over large territories, and the secularisation of all possessions of German monasteries. Many libraries were torn apart and ended in the holdings of new large libraries such as the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. By some German scholars 1803 has been described as a more decisive turn in German history than the French invasion by Napoleon. The DDB shows 106 results concerning this decision, not just books, but also links to archival records. Alas the links to the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart are only links to the online finding aids, not to the archival records themselves. When searching for Jacob Grimm at Europeana you get literally hundreds results. A search for the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss as a subject brings at Europeana only four results, but they happen to be the digitized appendices to the decision of the Reichstag with detailed information about institutions and territories. These volumes have been digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. If you search for titles with the same word, you get seven results, again from the same library.

Promises to be fulfilled…

How to assess the results presented in the DPLA and the DDB? Even when bearing in mind we have only been in touch with the beta-version of both digital portals a feeling of disappointment is not far away. For all its colourful and alluring aspects the actual search results at the DPLA are meagre. When you try to search for the same subjects in the online collection databases of some of the major participating institutions you get more results than are at presented harvested by or aggregated at the DPLA. The presence of less well-known digital libraries in the DPLA is a promise for the future. It is good that the nets of the DPLA are not only cast in familiar fishing waters. No doubt the number of participating institutions will steadily grow. In itself it is a strength that this portal does transcend the borders and limits of the traditional library. Images, sound recordings, archival records and artefacts are welcome in the DPLA without any prejudice. The side effect is, however, that books are not as prominently present as you would wish them to be. Some subjects are distinctly nearly absent in the DPLA. The last thing I expected to find in the DPLA among the few results for decretals was a digitized copy at the Brigham Young University of a rare edition of a medieval decretal taken from the edition of the Compilationes antiquae (Lerida 1576) by Antonio Agustín.

The DDB is a bit of a paradox. I have never seen before a digital portal with nearly 2,000 cooperating institutions behind it. I had expected more and more interesting search results for the examples I have chosen here. They stem from a pivotal period in German history and culture. It is not very reassuring to find that searches elsewhere, for example at Europeana and in the collections of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek yield more results than at the DDB. Especially when you realize German regional meta-catalogues, and at the top of them the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog, help you to track books, including digitized copies, in a very quick and reliable way, the question arises what the aims and goals of the DDB are. Is one it aims to do better than the BAM-Portal? The BAM-Portal finds more results, but on closer inspection only a portion of them concerns digitized materials.

How do the DPLA and DDB compare to similar national and international initiatives? Europeana came into view here already several times. A search for Aaron Burr at the European Library brings you 35 digital results. I found for the filibuster 68 results, with just 5 digital resources. Among the results you can filter for disciplines, which is helpful to find the right kind of filibuster. A similar search for the decision in 1803 to dissolve the Holy Roman Empire yields 23 digital results, with again mostly items digitized at Munich.

Worldwide several library portals exists which combine the forces of several national or even foreign collections to present their digitized resources. Here just a few examples: Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, increasingly aggregates also digitized books from other libraries, for example at Lyons and Toulouse. The Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura is an Italian initiative which combines the forces of a number of thematic and special collections. In Mexico a number of institutions work together in the Biblioteca Digital Mexicana. Fifty digital libraries in Poland can be searched using the portal of the Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowech. The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel Cervantes is a portal of several major Spanish institutions. For Catalonia the portal Memòria Digital de Catalunya brings you to even more institutions. In the portal Digital NZ – Á-Tihi Aotearoa a number of cultural institutions in New Zealand bring digitized collections together.

One of the main factors for the success of digital library portals is the way data and meta-data are harvested and aggregated. In countries where many different digitization standards prevailed it is surely more difficult to create a successful portal website. The Polish consortium of digital libraries unites institutions which use exactly the same system. Efforts to create a national portal can diminish the financial means for participating institutions to digitize materials that you would like to find also at the national level. The launch of the DPLA took place in Boston. It was no coincidence that I mentioned the position of the Boston Public Library. Its participation in the Massachusetts portal Digital Commonwealth surely poses both possibilities and limits.

Not the least factor in the success of digital portals is sticking to international standards and at the same time creating a tool that is useful for users with different interests and backgrounds. Some portals might in fact be closer to a kind of national showcase than a research tool that fits the needs of scholars from various disciplines. Sometimes it is clear you will start your search elsewhere: for digitized historical maps a first orientation is given at such portals as David Rumsey’sOld Maps Online and Archival Maps, and a second major resource to use for this purpose is the GEO-LEO-portal of the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg and the university library at Göttingen. In my view the DPLA and DDB should get the benefit of doubt. It is clear that they do not yet fulfill all high expectations, but at the same time it is wise to realize nobody would see them as the one and only gateway to digital resources in a particular country. Hopefully constructive comments will be more helpful than harsh early criticisms to create the first complete releases of the DPLA and DDB more satisfactorily. These promising portals deserve a second chance.

A postscript

The portal to historical maps of David Rumsey will shortly join the forces of the DPLA. Among the European portals I could have mentioned the Spanish portal Hispana.