Tag Archives: Medieval law

Celebrating common law beyond Magna Carta

Header Et Seq.

2015 is the year of many celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is silly to try to avoid mentioning it here, but I know my readers expect me to find a different slant on the celebration. The four remaining copies of the 1215 version get ample attention at the British Library. The Lincoln copy was put on show in 2014 at the Library of Congress (Magna Carta; Muse and Mentor). Earlier this year there was much media coverage for the finding of a later copy of Magna Carta at Sandwich, Kent. At first I would have almost believed the news concerned the finding of a fifth copy from 1215, but this was not the case. However, this copy from 1300 combined with a copy of the Forest Charter.

Recently Harvard Law Library decided to digitize its collection of manuscripts and archival records with texts concerning medieval English law. At Et Seq., the library’s blog, there were already two announcements, on March 25 about early English manor rolls by Mary Person, and on April 10 ‘Medieval Manuscripts Online-Magna Carta & More’ by Karen Beck. The riches of the digital collections at Harvard Law Library are certainly no secret, but now it seems they surpass their earlier efforts, this time with support from the Ames Foundation. Person and Beck briefly introduced the new digital collections, but there is a real need to tell more here.

A gateway to medieval resources

Detail of roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16) - image Et Seq.

Detail of a manor roll from Moulton, Cheshire 1518-1521 (Box 2, 16)

Before going quickly to the newly digitized resources it is wise to look at the overview of historical and special collections, the web page on rare books and manuscripts, and finally the overview of digital collections and digital exhibits. This threefold entrance is in some respects confusing, but each approach is itself valuable. The only snag is remembering where you found a particular collections, exhibit or link! By the way, the overview of digital historical databases deals with subscription databases.

The first series of digitized archival records consists of some 170 medieval rolls, mainly manor rolls and account rolls, most of them stemming from five villages in different English counties (Cheshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Staffordshire and Suffolk). Some items are effectively not rolls, but charters. The time range of the items goes from 1305 to 1770, with therefore not just medieval sources. These rolls will be successively digitized during the coming years. As for now you can read online only items from Moulton in Cheshire, with just one court roll [no. 20, Lenten court, 30 Henry VIII (1539-1540)]. There is an online finding aid (inventory) with descriptions of all items and whenever available links to their digital version. To assess the variety of materials digitized at Harvard Law School you might have a look at an earlier post here about medieval rolls. English manor rolls could be easily found using the Manorial Documents Register of the British National Archives. I find it harder to get an overview of them using the new Discovery portal, but in the end you can find for example other rolls for Moulton Manor.

The series of medieval legal manuscripts at Harvard Law School has been divided into two section, the first with forty registers of statutes dating from the early fourteenth century until 1500, the second for nineteen registers of writs. The oldest register of writs (Registrum brevium with also some tracts) dates from around 1275 (HLS MS 24), the latest one from around 1476 (HLS MS 25). One manuscript contains also yearbooks and tracts (HLS MS 193, around 1350). The volumes with compilations of statutes often contain the text of Magna Carta. The oldest manuscript present at Harvard which includes Magna Carta dates from around 1300 [HLS MS 57, Magna Carta cum Statutis]. You can also search for these manuscripts within the HOLLIS catalogue of Harvard University Library, using the filed “Other call number” and entering “HLS MS XXX”, with XXX for the manuscript number.

HLS MS 172, Sherriff's Magna Carta, around 1327

“Sherriff’s Magna Carta”, around 1327 (?, circa 1298) – Harvard Law School, MS 172

A splendid example of the presence of Magna Carta in Englsh legal life is a socalled sherriff’s Magna Carta said to date from around 1327 (HLS MS 172). However, in the overview of manuscripts it is suggested with due hesitance that it might even date from 1297 or 1298. Such copies were read aloud four times every year.

At the website of the Ames Foundation you can consult an overview of all these registers and manuscripts. The Ames Foundation invites scholars to provide more detailed descriptions of manuscripts, something until now only done for HLS MS 184 which contains the Statuta vetera, writs and some tracts. The description of this manuscript does refer to the overview of manuscripts created by John H. Baker, English legal manuscripts in the United States of America : a descriptive list (2 vol., London 1985-1990; Selden Society; reprint 2 vol., Buffalo, NY, 2010), and earlier in English legal manuscripts, vol. 1: Catalogue of the manuscript year books, readings, and law reports in the library of the Harvard Law School, John H. Baker (ed.) (Zug, 1975). The new description of HLS MS 184 gives you for each item in the manuscript the link to the digitized page. For many items you will find a reference to the numbering in the Statutes of the Realm or additional information about editions. The meta-data of the manuscript are not forgotten either. In my humble opinion this example sets a standard for describing English medieval legal manuscripts. The name of the author of this description should definitely be added.

The overview created by the Ames Foundation makes it very clear that what we encounter here is not just a very regular set of manuscripts. These manuscripts at Harvard will show surprises to those scholars who start with the large labor of dealing in-depth with each of them. The overview points to an unedited tract in HLS MS 24b, a single leaf with a large section of the Tractatus de bastardiae, described in 1997 by Jerome Arkenberg. ‘The Story Behind a Stray Manuscript Leaf’, Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 8.4 (1997) 46–54, an article available also online. I am sure this is only an example, and not an exception of a text yet to be edited and studied.

The digitized manuscripts help us to come closer to the actual versions of texts seen by those dealing with legal matters in the late Middle Ages, and this can correct the more synthesized critical editions of texts such as the Statuta vetera et nova. A comparison with the text versions printed in incunabula editions comes also much more feasible, and these early editions, too, can now be found in digital versions, too. The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) at the British Library increasingly point to digital versions . You can search in these online catalogues for Statuta regnorum and Statuta Angliae or use the GW overview of all editions of statutes.

Magna Carta seen in perspective

In the year of the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta the newly digitized manuscripts at Harvard show above all Magna Carta did not stand alone. It got a place alongside other statutes of the realm. It would be most interesting to see what place or impact Magna Carta had on actual writs, and for answering this question, too, you can now consult at home on the screen of your computer or tablet the digitized registers of writs kept at the magnificent holdings of Harvard Law School. You will benefit also from the resources and articles brought together at the website of the Magna Carta Research Project. As for medieval canon law and Magna Carta, you could very well start with reading an online essay by Anne Duggan at the website of the project Early English Laws. A look at these earlier laws helps also to discern with more precision the new elements within Magna Carta.

At my own web page about legal history you can find among the information about the history of the common law links to other online resources for this subject which merits continuing attention because of the continuities and changes in the history of Anglo-American law at large. Apart from its printed publications and the priceless online Index to Year Book Reports (David Seipp, Boston College) the Ames Foundation is working with Harvard Law School to create further digital access to resources in the field of the history of the common law and medieval law in a wider sense.

The definitive history of Magna Carta will not be written because every generation will come with different questions and methods to approach the old roads to answers, and no doubt each generation will come up with new perspectives worth considering carefully again and again. Thanks to the staff at Harvard University for make these materials accessible for anyone interesting in legal history! As for Et Seq. you can subscribe to its RSS feeds, simply follow the 852 RARE items of this library blog or follow @hlslib at Twitter. If liberty is a value to treasure and foster you cannot pass by in silence this Icon of Liberty, the telling subtitle of a special website created by the American Bar Association for this year’s Law Day (May 1). Magna Carta 800th will keep you informed about many of this year’s celebrations. Among this year’s online exhibitions are Exploring Magna Carta of Boston College Law Library and The Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297 of the Parliament House, Canberra.

A postscript

Linking Magna Carta and medieval canon law is not a whim or an isolated idea. On June 16 and 17 a conference will be held at Saint Louis, Missouri on the theme New Constitutions and Constitutional Beginnings: The Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta 800 years later. The conference is sponsored by the International Society for Medieval Canon Law (ICMAC). The Fourth Lateran Council is the subject of a congress later this year in Rome, November 24-29, 2015: Concilium Lateranense IV: Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

Charlemagne’s Europe, a construction

Banner "The Making of Charlemagne's Europe"

While busy with updating the congress calendar of my blog I spotted an announcement about a project at King’s College London, The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe. The website consists of a database containing one thousand early medieval documents, mainly charters. The database is surrounded with a series of useful guides, instructions, a bibliography and a selection of links. The first aim of the database is to create a unified framework to extract socio-economic and prosopographic information from the selected charters. A second aim is stimulating research into these early medieval legal documents themselves.

As a medievalist I have been trained to use all available written evidence to its utmost extent. My first frown when looking at this database was caused by the fact that not all surviving relevant documents, some 4,500 records, have been included here, but perhaps I expect to much. The database is clearly still in a beta phase. The list of charter editions from which documents have been extracted is fairly long. Some collections have been included entirely, for example the charters in the Diplomata Karolinorum series of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and from many others at least a few items have been selected. From the edition of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores all charters between 768 and 814 have been included.

It is probably wise to remember that we are looking in fact at a pilot project, and not to judge it too quickly. If you insist on having more materials immediately at your disposal, you can relish the presence of many online resources indicated in the splendid array of useful links. In this post I will tell you about my first experiences with the website of this project. The decision to create a database for researching Carolingian charters was not an easy choice. The visions behind this project are relevant for many comparable projects. What are the benefits of this project? Does it help to get closer to the legal realities within the Carolingian empire? Does it help us to refine our perceptions of legal history?

Back to basics

Chronicles and charters are the basic materials for doing historical research on subjects from medieval history. In a way the focus on charters of this project brings you back to a familiar playground. When you start to use the database in its simplest way, by browsing charters, you are immediately struck by the multitude of available filters, not only for classic attributes as the transmission date, repository and place names, but for many more determining elements. The filters help you to analyze a corpus of documents in a very structured way and helps to make comparisons possible on a sound base. In particular connections between people and changes in roles – and status – can become much clearer than they were before.

However, I could not help thinking that somehow you will find here only information that has been already labelled by others, but in fact the project team has done a lot more. They insist on making clear the multiple roles and significance of the information in charters. The student guide of the website gives good examples of the tiny differences in very similar charters that should make on think matters anew. In one charter a person is described as the abbot of a monastery, in the next example he is not. The first example mentions the patron saint of a church, in the next charter this information is not present. The examples show also the necessity of distinguishing the location where the charter was created, the place of a donation, places within a certain territory, and unidentified place names. Tucked away in one of the paragraphs of this guide is the very important remark that the database does not give you the actual text and images of charters. Links to digital versions will be added in the coming months. This basic feature, or should one say: basic lack, deserves more emphasis than just an oblique reference.

Results for DKar I:117

The selection of documents already included in the database was made with an eye to the greatest possible range of places, regions and types of transactions. It should not surprise you that I concluded that even the city of Utrecht, in the Carolingian period decidedly at a distance of the most important places and persons, is present in the database. The charter DKar I:117 (June 8, 777) proved to be a very instructive example. Utrecht is not only the name of the bishop’s see but also of his diocese. The charter was granted at Nijmegen. Several locations in the charter are within the diocese of Utrecht, a number of them at unidentified locations. The recipient of the grant is count Wigger for Alberic, the rector of St. Martin’s at Utrecht. Alberic is a priest. Charlemagne is credited with three qualities: king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and patrician of the Romans. This is the only example of Utrecht in the database, but it contains enough to place it in a wider context. In 778 Alberic became the bishop of Utrecht. Gaining such personal information is one of the aims of the project.

Seemingly strange is the missing location of the Upkirika, one of the objects granted. The database gives for individual elements the exact wordings, and the location super Dorestad places this church at least clearly in the region surrounding this well-known trade centre south-east of Utrecht. Apart from properties the grant includes also a toll right. The image above does not show the large clickable map where you can see identified locations. To the left of the map is a list of all locations mentioned in a charter. A second overview mentions place relationships. In DKar I:117 Leusden is a place within a smaller territory, in Flettheti. I was somewhat mystified that the database has as a place entry Utrecht, territory (Flehiti), and not inversely Flehite, with as description “territory in Utrecht”. The procedures behind place relationships are discussed in an interesting contribution on the project website.

The list of useful links at The Making gives for the Netherlands only the online version of the registers of the counts of Holland and Hainaut between 1299 and 1345 and a link to the online list of medieval cartularies and modern editions at TELMA. In the list of charter sources only the Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant tot 1312 (ONB) has been included. However, a number of Dutch and Belgian charter editions (oorkondenboeken) is even available online. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (OSU) has been digitized by the Huygens Institute, as are the ONB – in a partnership with a foundation for the history of Brabant –  and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (ONH). The portal Cartago leads you to charter editions for Friesland, Groningen and the German region Ostfriesland. Medieval charters from Belgium will become available online in 2015 within a project called Sources from the Medieval Low Countries, supported by the Belgian Royal Historical Commission. You can use a cd-rom with the Belgian Thesaurus diplomaticus from Brepols. The URL for the Diplomata Belgica does not yet function. Among the Scandinavian diplomataria the Svenskt Diplomatarium is not mentioned, perhaps because the oldest document in it dates from 817, just outside the period under consideration here. On that ground you could also exclude the Diplomatarium Norvegicum which starts in 1050. I am sure this and similar information will be swiftly added or corrected.

Apart from browsing for charters you can browse for agents and places with a similar wide range of filters. Conceptually the very act of creating of a charter is seen as amounting to a fact, called a factoid, with connections to places and peoples, and probably changing them, too. It is very advisable to read the contributions at the website about the choice to create a database instead of opting for the use of “mark-up” texts.

By the way, choosing Utrecht as an example in this post is not a random act. The Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies has a fine tradition of research into many subjects of the Carolingian period, including legal history, for example the history of penitentials, see Rob Meens, Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). The latest project Charlemagne’s Backyard looks at the rural history of the Low Countries in the Carolingian period, combining both written and archeological evidence.

A first impression

Are there similar projects where you can find more? The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe does use data from the Nomen et Gens project at Tübingen with prosopographical and onomastic information from the eight century. CharteX deals with charters from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The use of maps in the project of King’s College London reminded me of the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt. It is certainly wise to use this geographical information to check and corroborate search results in the KCL’s project. It is surely possible to give more examples of digital projects which support your research into Carolingian legal documents, such as the Carolingian Canon Law Project led by Abigail Firey (University of Kentucky), and the Bibliotheca legum (Karl Ubl, Universität Köln) with the socalled Völkerrechte.

It is a silly joke but The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe is still a bit in the making. The rebuttal by the project team to this remark is really justifiable: They assemble the very evidence to help you to question the truth behind the assumption that Charlemagne and his successors aimed at creating something like a European presence. When you combine the data contained in their database with printed and online editions of Carolingian charters, and preferably also with any other kind of legal documents from this period, you will be able to get a much more detailed view of Carolingian society, the networks and relations. The Making is not the definitive answer to research questions, but it does deserve inclusion in your digital toolkit when doing Carolingian legal history. One of its great merits is its refined conceptual framework for studying and analyzing medieval charters. Even without a working database the approach to Carolingian charters is worth close study. 2015 is just a few days old, there is enough time this year to look at legal history with new eyes!

Rethinking medieval history: Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014)

Phptp Jacques Le Goff - source: L'agenda du médiévisteWith the death of the French medievalist Jacques Le Goff on April 1, 2014 the academic worlds loses not only a prolific historian, but also one of its great inspiring teachers who devoted himself to renewing our insights into medieval people and the medieval world at large. At the heart of his work was the belief that for understanding medieval culture in all its aspects you need to gain insights of medieval minds. The histoire des mentalités was not his invention, but together with Georges Duby he succeeded in applying the ideas of the French Annales school of historiography to medieval history in far greater depth than its founders Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch could ever have hoped for. Johan Huizinga wrote somewhere: “We will need to have a history of the hat”, a history of all those countless elements of daily life which make up your surroundings, without realizing how particular they are. Le Goff choose not material objects as his theme, but he did delve into often neglected sources to find out the habits and workings of medieval minds.

Of his many books the brief study La bourse et la vie. Ëconomie et religion au Moyen Âge (Paris 1986) [Your money or your life. Economy and religion in the Middle Ages, Patricia Ranum (transl.) (New York, 1988)] can be singled out as perhaps entering the fields of legal history more than any other of his publications. On the surface this short book is a sequel to his major study La naissance du purgatoire [The birth of purgatory] (Paris 1981), the history of the slow surfacing of the purgatory, a new theological concept, His foray into economic history might look at first surprising, but it is not when you remember the subtitle of the Annales journal during the second half of the twentieth century, Économies – Sociétés – Civilisations. Among Le Goff’s early publications was a volume for the famous French series of short introductions Que sais-je? on medieval merchants and bankers [Marchands et banquiers du Moyen Âge (Paris 1955)].

It was typical of Le Goff to build his essay-like study about usury and usurers around sources which normally would only figure at the margin of a study touching on legal history. His choice to focus on a number of exempla, medieval short stories often used by preachers, and sermons containing an exemplum about an usurer, is richly rewarded. Le Goff succeeded in this study in offering also an introduction in a nutshell to medieval economic thought. He published this study before most of Odd Langholm’s fundamental studies about medieval economic thought appeared. However outdated Le Goff’s views on medieval economy might become, his lesson that medieval thought came very close to ordinary people remains fruitful and inspiring, not in the least because Le Goff was a great story-teller, too. As few historians before or after him he bridged supposed and real gaps between theories of medieval society and medieval theories at one end, and medieval life and behavior in its various dimensions at the other end. At the heart of Le Goff’s studies were medieval men and women. At the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) he fostered the field of historical anthropology. It is difficult to imagine much modern work on medieval history in France and elsewhere in Europe without the influence of his work and the studies by a number of his students who became themselves influential medievalists, in particular at the EHESS center’s Groupe d’anthropologie historique de l’occident médiéval (GAHOM). You will find here for example digitized literature with exempla and the Thesaurus Exemplorum Medii Aevi.

Le Goff lived long enough to see the great blossom of medieval studies since the last quarter of the last century. He had the greatness and humility to see the blind spots and omissions of his early work. In the 1984 edition of Les intellectuels au Moyen Âge, originally published in 1957, he readily admitted to have underestimated the close relation between intellectuals and urban life, between intellectual power and political power. He cited with approval Giovanni Santini’s Università e società nel XII secolo: Pillio da Medicina e lo Studio di Modena (Modena 1979) who stressed the importance of the common background for cathedral schools and the new medieval universities.

Many seemingly normal qualities and characteristics of current medieval studies, including the study of medieval legal history, such as its awareness of the social context, attention to the close relation of any subject to people and their lives, and the use of a wide variety of sources, are due to the example of Jacques Le Goff. In his late work he turned to major figures of medieval society such as Saint Louis (king Louis IX of France) and Francis of Assisi. He wrote their lives anew as no other before him. It is alway hazardous to predict which of his books will remain influential. I would vote for La civilisation de l’Occident médiéval (2nd edition, Paris 1984; many translations) but you will be excused most readily for taking from the shelves any of his other books and articles. In every single publication you will find yourself in the company of a great historian, a fresh thinker and a generous teacher who always opened windows which had been long closed. The title Pour un autre Moyen Âge (1977) puts it most simply, “for different Middle Ages”. Le Goff gave lectures in my country, too. In 2004 he received the coveted Heineken prize for history. It is strange he was never awarded the Erasmus Prize.

Let us remember Jacques Le Goff whenever we connect legal history to culture and history at large in daring and hopefully fruitful ways. Let’s not forget to keep telling stories making history and law alive for new generations.

The Belgian blog L’agenda du médiéviste alerts in its notice about Le Goff’s death to broadcasts on Le Goff by the French television network France Culture. On the website of the EHESS, too, you will find links to further hommages.

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’.

Pronouncing the city’s law: aldermen as judges

In pre-modern European cities the aldermen were not just members of a city council charged with deciding on city policies. Creating and maintaining policy in the more pregnant sense of daily law and order was one of their prime tasks. In many cities a number of aldermen sat regularly as the city’s judges. In the past years a number of archives has created online databases to search for cases and verdicts in the records of aldermen. Outside the cities schepenen functioned within regional and manorial jurisdictions. We will meet some of them here, too. This post aims at showing you a wide variety of online search possibilities and presentations. The main focus of my post are aldermen in the Low Countries, called schepenen or in French-speaking regions échevins, I will look at seven projects. The Netherlands and Belgium will bring most of the examples adduced here, but I am sure elsewhere more can be found that would merit as much attention as the cities mentioned here.

Pronouncing the law

Curiosity to find out about recent projects for the digitization of the records of medieval and Early Modern aldermen was my first reason to starting looking for online databases and other projects. I was surprised I did not encounter quickly somewhere a list of relevant projects, or at least some links to similar projects at the websites with a particular database. Unfortunately this might suggest such projects are developed in at least relative isolation, or in the worst cases in splendid ignorance or with complete disregard of similar efforts.

The first project I would like to present concerns the records of a number of villages situated in the very heart of the Rhine and Meuse estuary. The schepenen conveyed at Tuil, the village most to the west of the contemporary province Gelderland, now a part of the municipality Neerijnen. Tuil gives the project its name, De Hoge Bank van Tuil, “The High Court of Tuil”. Nowadays we say in Dutch parlance these villages are positioned in the Rivierenland, the Rivers’ Country. Geographically it is more sensible to say they are situated in the Tielerwaard, “The March of Tiel”, between the cities of Tiel and Gorinchem.

The website for the Hoge Bank van Tuil is a project of three historians, Peter van Maanen, Gijsbert van Ton and Marco Schelling. It presents transcriptions of some 1,300 records from 1335 to 1525, from 1631 to 1637, and a number of scattered records yet to be integrated. The team has used records from several archives and printed editions. For some records the transcriptions are accompanied by images of the documents. This project aims at a reconstruction of the activities of this high court by combining data from a large variety of resources. As for now the records are not yet part of a searchable database, but they can be searched with the normal web browser search function. It is one thing to bring these materials together, but the material still needs editing before it can become the contents of a database. Exactly the preparation of this step is probably the main hindrance to tackle for further research in these regional records. Consultation with for example the Gelders Archief in Arnhem, the Regionaal Archief Rivierenland, Tiel, and the Regionaal Archief Gorinchem will surely be most helpful to start preparing a new phase for this project.

The very beginning

The Hoge Bank van Tuil came first in my post because it presents in a nutshell a number of very real questions and problems you face when you start with a project for the digitization of the records of aldermen. What period do you choose? Do you aim at a full reconstruction of archival records concerning a particular institution or jurisdiction, in this case a schepenbank? Do you restrict yourself to the records from one resource, be it records kept at an archive or records surviving sometimes only in print? Do you prepare from the start onwards for the creation of an online database, or would you like to stick with simple web pages? Sometimes you have to wait for the creation of proper archival guides and finding aids before even contemplating a project… Cities and their archival services often choose themselves for the digitization of judicial records. In the case of the Hoge Bank van Tuil three researchers decided to combine efforts for their project.

Logo Scabinatus

The project that prompted me to write about digitized verdicts of aldermen is concerned with verdicts of the échevins in Liège. The website Scabinatus 4000 was launched last autumn by the Université de Liège. The actual database contains acts from the vast series of scabinal registers kept at the Archives de l’État in Liège dating from 1409 until 1797. Some 1,750 (!) registers exist with each around 400 pages, good for some 750 acts. The registers 1 to 67 could be searched online already at a website of the Belgian National Archives, but this website with registers for the period 1409 to 1510 was last updated in 2007.

On the new Scabinatus website the registers 68 to 153 have been added, reaching now 1558. You can search for particular registers, a particular kind of acts (e.g. approbation, arbitrage, wills and witness statements), toponyms, a particular date or period, the kind of goods at stake, names, professions and social status. The website of the National Archives offered drop down lists for the kind of acts and the kind of goods. The scale of this project is clearly staggering. The functionality of the search screen is very detailed, and you are thus able to conduct all kind of searches. Comparisons in activities over long periods become here possible and fairly reliable. However, this database does not offer the complete text of acts, but only a summary with a lot of details. You will need to view the original registers for further research. This project has clear limits in time and resources which seems understandable in view of the sheer number of records to be processed.

New roads to the records of aldermen

Logo Itinera Nova

At Louvain (Leuven) the municipal record-office has combined forces with a German partner, the Universität Köln, for its joint project Itinera Nova. The city of Louvain can boast a series of 1128 scabinal registers from 1362 to 1795. The project started in 2009, and more than one million pages will be transcribed by volunteers. 255 registers are now available online, mainly for the periods 1362-1460 and 1550-1590. Knowing the difficulties sixteenth-century handwriting can pose it becomes very interesting which role the transcribing software MONK, a tool created at the university of Groningen, has played here. The MONK website presents extensive word samples from the Louvain registers. The Itinera Nova project in cooperation with the department at Cologne for Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung involves crowd-sourcing. An online tutorial helps volunteers to start transcribing pages with a basic knowledge of palaeography. On April 25 and 26, 2013, Louvain hosted an international congress with the title Itinera Nova: Tools, People & History, The blog De Digitale Archivaris [The Digital Archivist] published a series of posts in Dutch about this congress. The website of Itinera Nova can be viewed in Dutch, English and French. You can browse at will and conduct general searches, and there is an advanced search option with drop down menus. You can also restrict a search to a particular register or period. From the transcriptions you can go directly to images of the original register. Registered users can get access to the annotation screen.

One of the major assets is a search interface for annotations. Compared to the project for Liège the texts of the records seems to be the focus and very heart of the project at Louvain. The Scabinatus project allows much more the serial analysis of similar acts, but the website does not bring you to the actual records, images or transcriptions. The approach for Liège seems to have been determined by scholars, the approach at Louvain is much closer to the general public. The schepenen of Louvain served as a court of appeal for other cities following the rule of hoofdvaart. Later in this post we will meet Den Bosch, one of the cities which went to Louvain for this purpose.

Dutch projects

For those readers waiting for a regular element of my blog, commonly known as the Dutch view, I will discuss next some Dutch projects. In March 2013 the Regionaal Archief Tilburg launched the Charterbanka charter database, the result of the combined efforts of archivists and visitors of the regional archive working together in a crowdsourcing community with its own website. The Charterbank contains some 450 medieval charters mainly issued by local schepenen from Tilburg and surrounding places. The search interface has fields for place, date, record number, inventory number, and persons adding their seal. In the result view you can enjoy images of the document, read the transcription in a rather small column, consult information about the seal or seals when present, and check for relevant literature and comments. This project focuses on the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period with a regional approach. Charters until 1312 from Noord-Brabant can be found online in the Digitaal Oorkondeboek van Noord-Brabant.

At ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), commonly called Den Bosch, the regional record office, with as its current name Brabants Historisch Infomatiecentrum, has created an online database with records created by both schepenen and notaries in small towns and villages in the present-day province Noord-Brabant. With some 180,000 records the harvest seems at first rich, but only in a few cases you can study a long period, mainly for Lith and Veghel. Resolutions of the Dutch Supreme Council for Brabant, the Raad van State in The Hague, from 1629 onwards, are also present in this database. In my view they constitute a very important source, but they are in a different class, even if they deal with the villages and towns of Brabant. The Dutch description of the database emphasises the possibility to search for persons in these records. Online projects with a genealogical approach flourish at this regional record office, and I could trace many of my own ancestors using the results of these efforts, but for dealing in real depth with other records this approach is narrow. Scans of many records are available, but you will encounter many items which surely touch upon history and legal history but do not strictly concern the activities of aldermen. The useful overview of processed records and items bears witness to the wide range of records deemed fit for inclusion. However, the word genealogie (genealogy) in its URL seemed at first telling. By choosing in the left-hand menu Gescande bronnen (“Scanned resources”) you can already search directly in a number of digitized registers of schepenen, by selecting the schepenprotocollen.

Very much city-centered are the efforts at the Stadsarchief Den Bosch for the analysis of and access to the series of aldermen’s charters and registers starting with the famous Bosch’ Schepenprotocol. In this massive series running from 1360 to 1811 the schepenen of Den Bosch dealt with matters concerning voluntary jurisdiction, passing acts on the purchase and sales of real estate, probate inventories, acts concerning guardianship, etc. I must strike a harsh note: to my surprise there is here no online database. The information for a database concerning the criminal jurisdiction has been assembled in the project Dataschurk (“Data Villain”). You can download all relevant inventories, an inventory of criminal dossiers and summaries of the dossiers themselves, and there are indexes on record number and name.

Decades of painstaking research have resulted in a rich harvest of materials. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol itself can be consulted on microfiches. It will certainly take courage to create a workable database which brings all information together and makes them accessible in a most reliable way. Luckily archivist Geertrui van Synghel can guide your research with her guide Het Bosch’ Protocol: een praktische handleiding (‘s-Hertogenbosch 1993), and her study “Actum in camera scriptorum oppidi de Buscoducis”: de stedelijke secretarie van ‘s-Hertogenbosch tot ca. 1450 (Ph.D. thesis Leiden 2006; Hilversum 2007) with a cd-rom containing 5735 scabinal charters and acts written by the city’s secretaries until 1450. The Bosch’ Schepenprotocol transcends the city borders with the letters of surety enabling the confinement of psychiatric patients, even at institutions as far away as Liège. In his comment Christian van der Ven (Den Bosch, BHIC) announces that preparations for a digital version of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol are in a final phase.

Making choices about periods and subjects

Logo Stadsarchief Amsterdam

Last week The Guardian included the city archives of Amsterdam in a survey of Europe’s best free museums. The building of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam is surely imposing, but the reason for being featured here are the archival records kept here and the way their contents are disclosed more and more online. When I look at sources with a relation to legal history you can choose from a substantial variety of resources. The example I present here is restricted to a particular class of verdicts, those concerning “averij grosse“, general average or in German “Grosse Haverei”, cases in maritime law in which either a ship, a cargo or both had suffered unavoidable damage in emergency situations, and costs thus made or yet to be made or recovered had to be divided in an equal way [Archief van Schout en Schepenen, nos. 2806-2924, Vonnissen terzake van averij grosse, 1700-1810]. A separate chamber of the schepenen for “Assurantiën, Averijen en Zeezaken” dealt with relevant affairs.

Two splendid overviews of the history of European private law, Helmut Coing’s Europäische Privatrecht, I: Älteres Gemeines Recht (1500 bis 1800) (Munich 1985) 554-555, and Reinhard Zimmermann’s The law of obligations. Roman foundations of the civilian tradition (Oxford 1996) 406-412, provide you with basic information about the legal principles at stake, the role of the Lex Rhodia de iactu (D. 14.2.2), and references to important commentaries, including those issued in the period of the Roman-Dutch law. Zimmermann gives the date of publication of the first edition of Quintyn Weytsen’s early treatise in Dutch on general average as 1651. According to the information in the Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands this can be corrected to a first appearance in print in 1617 as an appendix to Cornelis van Nieustad’s Curiae Hollandiae, Zelandiae & West-Frisiae decisiones (…) Item een tractaet van avarien gemaeckt door Quintijn Weytsen (…) (Leiden 1617), and a first separate edition in 1631 [Een tractaet van avarien, dat is Ghemeene contributie vande koopmanschappen ende goederen inden schepe bevonden (Haarlem, 1631)].

Quintyn Weytsen (1518-1565) became a councillor in the Court of Holland only in 1559, and in 1561 and 1562 he was also charged with hearing accounts in the province of Zeeland, information easily gathered from resources such as the Dutch Biografisch Portaal and the Repertorium van ambtsdragers en ambtenaren 1468-1861 (The Hague, Huygens Instituut). Some of the later editions of his work, specifically Adriaen Verwer’s Nederlants see-rechten, avaryen, en bodemeryen (editions e.g. 1711, 1716 and 1730) contain also two ordinances concerning general average from 1551 and 1563 which no doubt prompted him to write his treatise. The lapse of half a century before a printed edition was published is remarkable. The 1617 edition gives no introduction at all for Weytsen’s text, and therefore his short text (from p. 226 onwards) might have been circulating already in manuscript – or perhaps a much read pamphlet? – long before.

The pages on general average at the website of the municipal archive of Amsterdam were launched in Autumn 2013. They offer a succinct introduction to the doctrinal side of things, and introduce you to the procedure before the bailiff and schepenenOne of the important things stated is that both the Dutch East India Company and the West India Company did not use the services of this court, because the administrators took care of freighting and transport. Statements confirmed on oath before Amsterdam notaries about cases of avarij formed the starting point of the procedure; you can find them using an index of these scheepsverklaringen (PDF), some 5,400 cases. The hint to check the Amsterdamsche Courant for its notices about shipwrecks and averages in its scheepstijdingen is most useful. You can check this newspaper in digital format at the new Delpher portal of the Dutch Royal Library. Do reckon with variant spellings such as avarieavary, avarij and averij! The suggestions to look in other record series for further information are most helpful. In the database of the Amsterdam city archives you find a digital version of the index created in 1980. The search interface allows you to search for the names of shippers and ships, harbours of depart and arrival, and dates. Two examples of cases from 1726 and 1780 help you to prepare your specific search actions. A search action leads you to further information on a particular case, often supplemented with thumbnail images of the documents.

Can I mention anything negative about this project in Amsterdam? With just two titles about general average this information is rather to short, and the reference to the article by Ivo Schöffer lacks the page numbers (pp. 73-133). Elsewhere on the website a treasure page has been dedicated to the case of the vessel St. Antonio di Padova which was attacked by pirates off La Spezia in 1704. The ship commanded by Jan Lens suffered a lot of damage during a four-hours fight. Repairs were made in Genua. The page shows a part of the notarial statement on this case. Somehow the section on general average does not link directly to this showcase, the only relevant page translated completely into English. In view of the international standing and importance of this archive the maIn point to criticize is alas the absence of a page-to-page translation into English of its marvellous website. The Amsterdam city archives ask people to pay for full-scale images of scanned documents, but before deploring this you must realize they offer a very rapid scanning on demand service.

Different situations, different approaches

In many fields awards and prizes are given yearly for the best project. Is it possible and sensible to do this for this group of six random picked projects? In a bird’s-eye view we saw:

  • transcriptions from the Rivierenland in the Hoge Bank van Tuil
  • large-scale indices and an analytical approach in the Scabinatus 4000 project for Liège,
  • crowdsourcing, transcriptions and images, with even an annotation tool for Itinera Nova at Louvain
  • images and transcriptions of charters at Tilburg
  • indexes for both scabinal and notarial registers, and a growing number of scanned registers for the province of Noord-Brabant
  • inventories, indexes and finding aids concerning the wide judicial functions of the schepenen of Den Bosch – with a printed guide and a cd-rom of the earliest records but without a database –
  • finally the verdicts from Amsterdam concerning maritime law from a distinct period, with an online searchable index and scanned images which have to be paid for.

If you put these seven projects into a grid you can probably more easier see which qualities they share or lack. What makes these projects successful or not? I cannot predict what visitors of these websites will want to know nor what they would like to have at hand on the screen of their computer or tablet. Some researchers might want to start making grand analyses as quickly as possible and therefore applaud transcriptions and online indices, others prefer painstaking transcriptions of the originals or of images provided by an archive. The pioneers for the Rivierenland have not yet reached the phase of building a database. One archive, the city archive at Den Bosch, does not provide a database, and I suppose this is a policy decision, because so much energy has already been put into the resources in question during more than twenty years. For other cities printed critical editions of the verdicts of schepenen exist, and thus the need for an online database might be less urgent.

Even though this is a rather long post I still feel I have treated all projects presented here rather briefly. It is wise not to judge their qualities too quickly! A stronger objection is the choice of examples which is very much personal, but at least also for a part guided by the lack of an easy overview of relevant digitization projects for this particular kind of resource. I would not feel ashamed if this post serves as a stepping stone for more and better.

A postcript

In his comment Christian van der Ven of the BHIC at Den Bosch stresses the actual cooperation of Dutch archives for this kind of projects. I have taken over his factual corrections, and the important information about online access to a number of registers of schepenen already avaiable now at the BHIC, and the appearance of the Bosch’ Schepenprotocol in digital form in the near future.

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.

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

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

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

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

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

A postscript

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