Tag Archives: Medieval law

Visual traces of legal culture and the legacy of Karl Frölich

Banner MPI Frankfurt am Main

Legal historians created legal iconography as an auxiliary science for dealing with images connected with law, justice and legal culture in the widest possible sense. In a century where for many subjects you can find a great variety of online resources the list of online databases concerning this subject is still short. On my own website Rechtshistorie I mention just a dozen digital projects, with resources in English almost absent. On March 31, 2015 the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main launched a new online database for the collections created by a German scholar, Karl Frölich (1877-1953). What is the value of his collections? Do they help understanding the way law and visual culture are studied within the discipline of legal iconography and in other ways, for example in the framework of law and humanities? In this post I will delve into these and other questions and I will compare this new database with similar online collections.

Nomos-SALUTO-INGThe introduction to the new resource at the website in Frankfurt is brief, even when you add the general notice about the Sammlung Frölich and the introductions to research projects concerning communication and representation of law, including legal iconography, However, a virtual exhibition launched last year at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence provides this information. The Nomos of Law. Manifestations of the Law in Picture Atlases and Photo Archives shows items from the Frölich collection, and from collections in Florence and Munich. This exhibition which can be viewed in German, English and Italian contains also a bibliography. It has been created in cooperation with the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte in Munich, home to the oldest German collection in the field of legal ethnology and legal archaeology created by Karl von Amira (1848-1930).

In this post I will first look at the context of Frölich’s career and research. In the second section I will discuss the contents of the newly digitized collection, and I will compare Frölich’s collection with other online collections for legal iconography. The last section offers a glimpse of current and potential uses of Frölich’s materials.

Decades of research under a shadow

Let’s start with a look at Karl Frölich himself, using the article in the online version of the Neue Deutsche Biographie written by Karl Bruchmann [NDB 5 (1961) 652]. Frölich was born in the village of Oker in the Harz region near Goslar, a city often visited by the German emperors in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He studied law in Jena and Göttingen, Frölich got his Ph.D. degree from Alfred Schultze (1864-1946) in 1910 at Freiburg with a study about medieval legal procedure in Goslar [Die Gerichtsverfassung von Goslar im Mittelalter (Breslau 1910)]. Frölich worked from 1905 onwards in Braunschweig at the ministry for the interior. In 1913 he started to study for a degree in economics, but in 1914 he became a judge (Landgerichtsrat). During the First World War he fought as an officer in the German army. Paul Rehme (Leipzig) guided Frölich’s research for his Habilitationsschrift on Verfassung und Verwaltung der Stadt Goslar im späteren Mittelalter (Goslar 1921). In 1921 he started teaching at the technical university of Braunschweig. From 1923 onwards he worked at the university of Giessen as a professor of German legal history where he founded in 1939 an institute for legal history. From 1935 onwards Rechtliche Volkskunde, “legal ethnology”, became his specialization. During the Second World War Frölich served temporarily again in the army. From 1945 he worked for some time at the universities of Berlin, Marburg and Frankfurt am Main. His scholarly career ended with the edition of sources for the history of Goslar.

Image of Karl Frölich, 1952 - Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

Portrait of Karl Frölich, 1952 – image Sammlung Frölich, Frankfurt am Main

The weakness of the biographical article in the Neue Deutsche Biographie is its silence about the period after 1933. How did Frölich react to the powers of the Third Reich? For the field of legal archaeology it was most unfortunate that the Nazi laws pretended to stem from the people, and thus keen on enhancing the position of the field of “legal ethnology”. During the Nazi regime this discipline was not innocent. Frölich is not mentioned in classic studies about German lawyers between 1933 and 1945 such as Ingo Müller, Furchtbare Juristen. Die unbewältigte Vergangenheit unserer Justiz (Munich 1987; 2nd ed., Berlin 2014) and Bernd Rüthers, Entartetes Recht. Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im Dritten Reich (Munich 1988).

Gerhard Köbler (Innsbruck) contributed a chapter on Frölich for the volume Giessener Gelehrte in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hans Georg Gundel (ed.) (Marburg 1982) 242-250. Recently Lars Esterhaus wrote his dissertation about Frölich [Bild – Volk – Gegenstand : Grundlagen von Karl Frölichs „rechtlicher Volkskunde“ (…) [Image-Nation-Object: Foundations of Karl Frölich’s “legal ethnology”] (diss. Giessen 2012; Marburg 2014)]. On his website Gerhard Koebler has created a succinct overview of law professors at the Unviersity of Giessen between 1607 and 2007, with also basic information about Frölich’s career. At his webpage Wer war wer im Deutschen Recht [Who’s who in German law], a massive overview of German lawyers with also a search interface, Koebler adds some crucial facts. In 1941 Frölich became a Gaugruppenverwalter and Hochschullehrer des Gaues Nassau-Hessen des NS-Rechtswahrerbundes. After a year in this role Frölich did active service again in the German army. The university of Giessen closed in the summer of 1942. In 1945 Frölich resumed teaching legal history. In 1946 his behaviour during the war was subject of a procedure for denazification. In July 1946 this procedure started, and two months later he was said to be unbelastet, “correct”, but the military government nevertheless suspended him in November 1946. Still in 1946 the ministry of the interior invested him again with his office, but took away his status as a state official (Beamtenstatus). On February 1, 1949 his professorship ended, and on April 1, 1950 he became officially a professor emeritus.

In the thirties the Deutscher Rechtshistorikertag, founded in 1927, was still a new phenomenon. During the twelve years of the Third Reich only two Tagungen were held, in Cologne (1934) and Tübingen (1936). In Tübingen at the fifth conference Frölich read a paper about the creation of an atlas for legal ethnology (‘Die Schaffung eines Atlas der rechtlichen Volkskunde für das deutschsprachige Gebiet’). Hans Frank, the German minister of justice, held a speech in which he encouraged scholars to enlist the services of legal history for German contemporary law.

I give you this additional information with only brief comments. There was a wide variety of living as a lawyer under the Nazi regime, from supporting explicitly the new Nazi legal order and its ideology at one side, and outright resistance against the regime at the other end. For many people daily life in the Third Reich must have been a grey and grim zone of finding one’s way in a time and places where angels fear to tread. Even at a distance of two generations scholars living now need to imagine themselves in front of the possible deadly choices facing Germans in that dark period. As for Giessen, allied bombers caused great damage to the city in December 1944. After the war the university was at first closed. Only after a few years the university could start again, and only in 1965 a law faculty began again.

Barbara Dölemeyer, responsible for the project to digitize Frölich’s collection, has created a bibliography of Frölich’s publications since 1921. Earlier on she published ‘Karl Frölich und das Institut für Rechtsgeschichte’, in: Rechtswissenschaft im Wandel, Festschrift des Fachbereichs Rechtswissenschaft zum 400-jährigen Gründungsjubiläum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Walter Gropp, Martin Lipp and Heinhard Steiger (eds.) (Tübingen 2007) 1–22, and a shorter article, ‘Bilder als Zeichen alten Rechts – Die Sammlung Frölich’ [Images as signs of old law: The Frölich Collection], Rechtsgeschichte 4 (2004) 264-268. Karl Kroeschell (1927) mentioned some of Frölich’s works in his Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte as examples of still valuable research. Kroeschell says this as author of a legal history of Germany in the twentieth century [Rechtsgeschichte Deutschlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen 1992)]. Hans Planitz and Hermann Baltl wrote necrologies about Frölich for the Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische Abteilung [ZRG GA 70 (1953) 431-432 and ZRG GA 71 (1954) 545-548], the latter with the explicit title ‘Karl Frölich und die rechtliche Volkskunde’. You can find ten digitized publications of Frölich online in one of the digital libraries of the modern Universität Giessen.

The signa iuris

The commemorations of the end of the Second World War, now seventy years ago, have influenced me in creating the long section about Frölich, especially in order to prevent the idea that I would write about Frölich’s material legacy – now held at Frankfurt am Main, Giessen and Munich – without any preparation and consideration for its background. Is it indeed to some extent a poisoned gift, not to be handled except with the greatest possible care, or is it safe to use the images and accompanying papers in a straightforward way? What does he bring us for the study of the signs of law and justice? SIGNA IVRIS is the aptly chosen name of a German scholarly journal for legal iconography and its neighbouring disciplines. It was founded in 2008, with Gernot Kocher, Heiner Lücke and Clausdieter Schott as its current editors. Lars Esterhaus contributed in Signa Ivris 5 (2010) the article ‘Karl Frölich und die “rechtliche Volkskunde“? Eine werkbiografisch orientierte Anfrage’ .

The scholarly value of Frölich’s own photographs is much enhanced by the fact that he did not just look at Germany or at parts added to the Third Reich, but at other European countries as well. Two pictures show even Rabat in Morocco. In view of this international orientation a search interface in one or more other languages would reflect the variety of countries more correctly. The search interface contains a free search field (Freie Suche), and an advanced search mode with four fields for countries, locations and places; two of them help you to find all items coming from a modern Bundesland or an official smaller region (Landkreis) in Germany. Very important is the presence of two separate search fields for motifs, the first for motifs from a contemporary perspective and the second field for the motifs according to Frölich’s own arrangements. He had planned to publish eventually an atlas with relevant photographs and descriptions for Germany, starting with the region Hessen. The last search field allows you to filter for items and the three present locations of Frölich’s images, papers and other materials. A separate page introduces the subjects and motifs used by Frölich to catalogue and describe his findings, and a more contemporary list of classifications used for the digitized items.

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 - Collection Frölich, SF=G1347_F4124_01a

Postcard of the interior of Nijmegen Town Hall, around 1940 – image Sammlung Frölich

The database at Frankfurt am Main contains nearly ten thousand items, with for the Netherlands 133 items. Among the European countries Belgium is missing at all. For Germany there are some 8,200 items, for Hessen alone nearly 2,300 items. Thus resources for others countries are only a small part of the collection, but nevertheless this is valuable. It quickly becomes clear that there are for my country more digitized letters, postcards and notes than actual photographs or other visual materials. Frölich inquired about cities such as Rotterdam, Middelburg and Nijmegen where the inner cities have been destroyed during the Second World War. Such photographs of buildings before their destruction can be important. W.S. Unger, city archivist at Middelburg, wrote in 1939 he had sent a description of the town hall in a separate letter which does not survive (or still awaits digitization). From Rotterdam came in 1939 two short letters stating objects could not be reached due to the restoration of the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, and there were no medieval objects at all. In view of the year 1939 it is more probably that this museum was busy packing objects and moving them to a safe hiding place in case of war. It seems Frölich definitely restricted his research to medieval objects and artefacts, because other Dutch letters contained the same answer. From Nijmegen came only a postcard with a picture of the schepenbank, the seats of the municipal court within the town hall in Dutch Renaissance style. Frölich’s letter in 1942 concerning Nijmegen mentions specifically his objective to collect information also outside Germany.

“Gericht” at Schleeke near Goslar – image Sammlung Frölich

Back to Germany! Frölich’s collection contains in its present state some 70 items for his beloved Goslar. Goslar’s fate during the Third Reich was in a way determined in 1934 when the Reichsnährstand, the Nazi food organization, was founded in this town. In 1936 Goslar got the title Reichsbauernstadt, the capital of farmers in Hitler’s Reich. All his life Frölich dedicated his efforts in studies of Goslar’s history to its later medieval period, after the days of the frequent visits of the German emperors. He studied in particular the beginnings and working of the city council, the city’s economy and the role of the nearby mines at Rammelsberg exploited since the tenth century.

In his Harzreise (1826) Heinrich Heine had used harsh words for Goslar, a city where the medieval cathedral had been demolished in 1820, leaving just one part of it standing. Is it just a guess that the very presence of Goslar’s remaining historic buildings and locations helped Frölich to become aware of the need for their systematic study in connection with legal history? Perhaps other German legal historians in the first half of the twentieth century had simply not yet done much in the territories covered by Frölich, the spaces and buildings where law and justice got their form. Surely Karl von Amira (1848-1930), the founder of legal archaeology and legal iconography, had collected relevant objects for these fields. He had indeed thought about creating an atlas for both subjects. Eberhard von Künßberg (1881-1941) looked more at legal gestures, no doubt inspired by the materials he encountered in directing the creation of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. Claudius Freiherr von Schwerin (1880-1944) even published from Von Amira’s papers an Einführung in die Rechtsarchäologie (1943). Von Schwerin had become deeply involved with the Nazi’s soon after 1933. The Swiss scholar Hans Fehr (1874-1961) who had studied in Germany, focused on the representation of law in the arts.

How does Frölich’s collection compare with other image collections in the field of legal iconography? The images in Von Amira’s collection in Munich most often show objects, not actual locations and buildings. The image database at Graz puts images somewhat arbitrarily into legal categories, but you can also use the free text search, and anyhow this collection is much smaller. The database RechtsAlterTümer – online of the Austrian Academy of Sciences does cover both objects and locations, but it is geographically restricted to Austria. Today I could not reach the database at Zürich due to some vague technical error. I leave it to you to check and compare all twelve collections, but only after looking at least briefly in the Dutch database at the Memory of the Netherlands where the postcard from Nijmegen in Frölich’s collection is not to be found. The Dutch collection does show for Nijmegen much more than only the court room of the old town hall. In particular the bibliographical references are very useful. Frölich’s research notes, however succinct sometimes, are an asset missing in other collections.

In the country where during the nineteenth century history was refashioned into an academic discipline there are more resources with images and photographs of historical buildings and objects. On my own page for digital image collections – where you can find the twelve online databases for legal iconography as well – I list a dozen online resources for Germany. The Bildindex der Kunst und Architektur, one of the services at the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, is a search portal for several million images from major German cultural institutions, including for instance photographs from the holding of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. You can get some impressions of the sheer scale of the photo collection of this museum when you search for a pillory (Pranger) and receive more than 600 results. The Bildarchiv of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Deutsche Fotothek (Sächsiche Landes- und Univesritätsbibliothek, Dresden) are other major German nationwide resources. In my view it is not only possible and feasible, but necessary to use images and information from other resources to supplement and check whatever you find in the Frölich collection.

Balancing questions and materials

At the end of my post it might seem that the background of the Frölich collection got too much attention instead of its own scope and value. Including a paragraph about Dutch towns and thus making this post still longer was certainly a personal choice. I will end here with some remarks about the way to use Frölich’s publications and images for modern research in the field of German history and geography. The Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS), created by the Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde and the Universität Marburg, is a very substantial portal to the history, cultural heritage and geography of the Bundesland Hessen. At this portal you can use maps, search for digitized resources, thematic dictionaries, use a bibliography and a web repertory, and last but not least search for images and books concerning many themes, among them for example the topography of the national socialism.

In the section Gerichtsstätte in Hessen [Places of justice in Hessen] Wilhelm Eckhardt has created a database with both a simple search mode and a very detailed advanced search mode. In more than hundred cases the references include works by Frölich, or they show photographs he published. The digitized images of the Frölich collection and his notes are no doubt a valuable addition to the materials at this portal. I did look for similar online portals for other German regions, but until now Hessen seems the only example to include material remains of legal history. Here, too, I would adduce information from other image collections to get a more complete picture, but in itself the database for Hessen is a valuable new research tool.

The twentieth century was an age of extremes (Eric Hobsbawm), and legal historians did not escape from its threats, terrors and destruction. The twelve years of the Nazi regime had a great impact on German lawyers and historians, on the ways they looked at Germany’s history, and in some cases abused and stained it. This image of utter darkness has sometimes helped in keeping scholars away from legal ethnology and legal iconography.  With knowledge of the background of Frölich’s work you can start new research following his steps. Diligent and discerning research can benefit from a number of his works and the example of his sustained efforts to study the visual powers of law and justice. Using the wide variety of German image databases and for Hessen its exemplary database for regional history and geography, and at many turns benefiting from the resources and research of the Max-Planck-Institut for European Legal History at Frankfurt am Main, you can gain new insights for research in a fascinating scholarly discipline which enriches our understanding of the impact of law and justice.

Everything but law? On revisiting portals for medieval studies

Logo Reti MedievaliHowever vast the variety of all possible sources of information on Internet, and however strong the seduction of One Tool to Find Them All, there has always been a need for gateways and portals to find your way to specific subjects. The field of medieval studies has been lucky to benefit since many years from some great virtual portals and gateways. Some have become my favorites, others I visit only rarely. Lately I realized I use at Reti Medievali only the Calendario, its calendar of scholarly events for searching events linked to legal history which I gather at the congress calendar of my blog. Reti Medievali translates literally as “medieval nets”, because the information of this portal is literally located at a number of separate websites. Can you fetch in medieval law with any of these nets? How does Reti Medievali compare with some other portals and gateways? At least some parts of Reti Medievali can be viewed not only in Italian, but also in English, French, German and Spanish. In the second part of this post I will look at a most valuable contribution to the history of medieval law, the online version of a multi-volume publication published last year. For me its presence at Reti Medievali was a welcome trigger to have a broader look at this portal, to write about it and to compare it with some of its companion portals.

Fishing the seas of medieval studies

Reti Medievali (RM) started in 1998 as an initiative of scholars at five Italian universities to support and unite medieval studies both in the real and the virtual world. RM has even its own society. Since 2001 RM worked also with scholars outside Italy. Nowadays you might see Reti Medievali as a fleet, with on its ships a library, an events calendar, teaching tools, e-books, essays, an internet guide for medieval studies and its own online journal. At RM the section RM Memoria has the least transparent title, but it offers a concise bibliographical introduction to the medieval history of Italian regions and a number of Italian medievalists, and also a small section with three medievalists from abroad and a corner for medieval Spain. Among these scholars are some famous legal historians, for example Carlo Guido Mor, Pietro Torelli and Giovanni Tabacco. Reinhard Elze figures among the three non-Italian medievalists.

My first port of call at Reto Medievali should be the Repertorio. Here you can find at a general level overviews of the situations of medieval studies in eight countries, an overview of scientific journals, and nearly thirty introductions on a number of subjects and themes. Each introduction contains a – sometimes elaborate – sketch on its subject, and then proceeds to relevant sources in archives and libraries, editions, online resources, and closes with a bibliography. Legal history is certainly present here. The report by Riccardo Rao on Le risorse colletive nell’Italia medievale (2007) deals with recent scholarship about communal goods and several forms of medieval commons; Italy gets the main focus, but Rao provides also some references to other countries. Primo G. Embriaco dealt in 2006 in a similar way with the Regnum Italicum and with the power of lords in Italy from the ninth to the thirteenth century. In both introductions he mentions law at a few turns. Enrica Salvatori only mentions statutes in her essay on La civiltà comunale italiana [The civilization of the Italian comune], and apart from the useful references concerning municipal statutes law is nearly absent as a primary subject. Anyway, updating this introduction written in 2003 would be sensible. Tommasso Duranti gives an introduction to late medieval diplomacy (2009), and Nicola Lorenzo Barile deals with Credito, usura, prestito a interesse [Credit, usury, loan with interest] (2010). Reti Medievali could score much higher here if they had not presented the general theme overview with a plugin that your browser might not support in any language version. Translating the titles of the contributions for a number of items within the general scheme would be a most desirable and not too difficult service.

A tour of medieval portals

Instead of being content with such criticisms I prefer to look now first at some other well-known portals and see whether they give more space, a wider view or a more up-to-date treatment of matters concerning medieval law and justice.

Logo MénestrelCan the minstrel of the French portal Ménestrel convince us to visit it regularly for information about medieval law? Luckily there is an English version of many pages, or at least an introduction in English, and in some cases a clear promise to translate particular pages. Ménestrel started as an offspring of the journal Le médiéviste et l’ordinateur (1979-2007), one of the earliest journals concerning the use of computers for medieval studies. Ménestrel wisely admits it will not try to outdo websites which fulfill all possible wishes about a subject, but instead this portal will refer to them. Alas this promise is not kept for the field of medieval law. Although this subject does show up many time when you use the free text search (droit) there is no attempt for a general overview. However, implicitly you can reach legal subjects by looking at the auxiliary sciences (palaeography, codicology, diplomatics) and some of the classic sources such as charters and cartularies. These sections rank with the best guides in this field. In its early days there was a fine section on medieval canon law maintained by Charles de Miramon (Paris, EHESS). but eventually this section was removed. Among the few spots at Ménestrel with space for ecclesiastical law was the section on histoire religieuse, but alas that section, too, is now defunct.

As a ray of light is the recent inclusion at Ménestrel of juridical documents in the section for Paris médiéval. In the section with documents you can learn about documents normatifs, sources such as ordinances, and sources judiciaires, in particular sources about the judiciary, but strangely also customary law. However great or small these deficiencies at Ménestrel, it is great to have this guide to medieval Paris. Ménestrel is wonderful for its country overviews of medieval studies and the overviews of archives and manuscripts, and there is also a section on teaching medieval history.

Logo MediaevumAt the German portal Mediaevum, the great online gateway to medieval Germanic languages, it is only in the large section for dictionaries (Wörterbücher) that legal matters come to the surface. Gerhard Koebler (Innsbruck) has created online versions of several of his dictionaries, among them one for medieval High German (Mittelhochdeutsch). Koebler’s website is a veritable portal to Germany’s legal history. Of course Mediaevum mentions the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, a project described here in a post last year. A promising link to a bibliography about Jews in medieval Europe is actually broken, but I did arrive at the Arye-Maimon-Institut für Geschichte der Juden (Universität Trier) and at a project led by Christoph Cluse concerning Medieval Mediterranean Slavery which does contain both a bibliography and a bibliographical database.

Logo ORB

There are several medieval portals with an exclusively English interface. The ORB (Online Resource Book for Medieval Studies) is one of the oldest still working portals. For this portal Brendan McManus created a concise section for medieval law, with reference to online version of Roman law texts, bibliographies for Roman law and canon law, and some links. The Labyrinth (Georgetown University) used to be a substantial gateway to medieval studies, but in its present clear design it is just a web repertory with commented links, lacking law as a general category. The number of relevant law links to be found with a free text search is meagre. Some links lead to the Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University). This university in New York has placed this project conceived by Paul Halsall on a legacy subdomain, but you can still find here a splendid selection of sources in English translation for many subjects and themes, including medieval law and justice, for example about feudalism; the introductions, too, are interesting. However, The ORB and The Labyrinth do not attempt at covering the whole field of medieval studies. You will look in vain for an events calendar, a discussion forum or an online journal.

Logo Netserf-Law

This parade of American portals for medieval history would not be complete without NetSerf, a classic web repertory for medieval studies. Its choice of general subjects is balanced, and every link is accompanied with a concise introduction. The section on medieval law has a main overview and seven subsections, one for documents and the six others for barbarian laws, criminal law and punishment, canon law, Roman law, the English common law and Spanish law. Some pruning might be needed. A nice example is a Carolingian capitulare, a law from 802 figuring among the “barbarian laws”, the “national laws” published within the territories of the Roman Empire between roughly 400 and 750 A.D. Thanks to further subdivisions the section on the medieval period English common law is thoroughly useful. The cross-references are often helpful, and NetSerf is certainly worth visiting.

Let’s not forget here the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which often mentions translation, too. I should have added this reference to my recent post about digitized manor rolls at Harvard Law School, because in this resource you can search directly for editions of particular types of documents. The Avalon Project at the Lillian Goldman Library of Yale Law School has in its section for medieval documents (400-1399) some thirty legal documents and sources, most of them in English translation.

I would have been most happy to show you here a portal to medieval studies from the Netherlands and Belgium, but alas I cannot give you an unqualified example. The website of the Onderzoeksschool Mediëvistiek, the Dutch research school for medieval studies is strong in bringing news and information about scholarly events, as is its Flemish counterpart, the Vlaamse Werkgroep Mediëvistiek. The Contactgroep SIGNUM deals with the social, economic, legal and institutional history of Dutch and Flemish ecclesiastical institutions, but even the fine list of web links does not make this website into a portal site. The Francophone medievalists in Belgium have surely their useful society blog, and also the well-informed L’agenda du médiéviste, but as for now they have not yet launched a portal.

Banner Mittelalter blog

In Germany you will find in particular online tutorials for medieval history, for example Mittelalterliche Geschichte (Universität Augsburg), an online tutorial at Tübingen, and a Leitfaden Mittelalter at the e-Studies website of the Universität Köln. Within the Hypotheses network of scholarly blogs the Mittelalter blog has quickly gained a central role. This blog is close to current scholarly events and contributions. In a tree structure for scholarly disciplines at this blog legal history gets a niche in the section for Spezialgebiete (“special areas”), together with the history of medieval philosophy, religious orders and prosopography, surely nice company, but also a bit surprising. This tree has some other remarkable juxtapositions which gives you food for thought. Whatever you might think about this blog with its substantial blog roll, Martin Bertram did not hesitate to publish here last year an article about legal quaestiones from mid-thirteenth century Paris.

The results of this quick tour from a particular perspective are relatively clear. Ménestrel offers scattered information about legal history, but it almost turns the balance with the sections for the auxiliary sciences and its most valuable online guide to medieval Paris where legal records get judicious space. Mediaevum offers less relevant links than Ménestrel, but some of them are really useful. Thanks to its concise sections on medieval law the ORB Net scores better than the Labyrinth. NetSerf scores nicely with its section on medieval law which brings you to further sections with links, basic comments and cross-references. Paul Halsall’s Medieval Sourcebook and Yale’s Avalon project have both substantial attention for medieval legal history, and often they give you quick access to translation in modern English of important legal sources. A round-up of Dutch and Belgian websites did not add much to this tour, although all of them have at least one useful element. In Germany we saw a number of online tutorials for medieval history. The tree structure of the important Mittelalter blog left us somewhat bewildered about the role it accords to legal history.

Summa summarum

At the end of this post I bring Reti Medievali again into view. In my opinion this portal shines out for the sheer range of sections and approaches. Mediaevum is perhaps even better, but it is restricted to the Germanic languages and literature. Ménestrel satisfies many needs and it is strong on some fields with traditional importance for legal historians, but a general section about medieval law is sadly lacking, as are pointers to better resources. The absence of legal history is precisely more visible because the sheer width of disciplines is stunning, and some of these sections are truly superb. Italian medievalists can benefit for the auxiliary sciences from the Scrineum project at the Università degli studi di Pavia, and thus it does not matter so much that the Repertorio of Reti Medievali does have only one section from 2003 on this subject.

I f you create a grid with a number of fields for elements at these portals, such as sections for various disciplines with guides and bibliographies, an event calendar, news, a blog, a digital library, teaching tools and a scholarly journal, preferably in open access, you can quickly see which portal meets most demands. Even though it does not offer you everything in this list, Reti Medievali trumps the other portals when you look primarily for sheer width. Of course I realize that you will often go from one portal to another, and in fact I have set out here how to do this for medieval legal history. RM has a digital library and an online journal, RM Rivista appears since 1999. This journal is supported by Firenze University Press which publishes more journals in open access.

RM e-Book, the series of digital publications, is published also in cooperation with FU Press. The twenty books so far published in open access often touch upon subject related to legal history. Political history, political theory and the interplay between secular and ecclesiastical powers are the main subjects. No. 19 of the series is in itself reason enough to start having a closer look at RM, and in fact this spurred me to start writing this post. The four volumes of Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (2014) are a Festschrift for one of the most versatile contemporary scholars in the field of legal history. These laudatory volumes for Ascheri (1944) deal not only with medieval Italy, but also with towns and cities in Early Modern Europe, the cultural dimensions of the history of law in Europe, and also contemporary law and institutions in Europe and America. The overview of the contents will reassure you immediately of the presence of contributions in English, German and French side by side with articles in Italian. Medieval consilia, Siena and Tuscany, to mention some of Ascheri’s beloved themes, are often addressed by the authors, but in fact you will find articles touching many corners of Europe. The online versions are not just helpful for everyone without access to the printed version, but give you the possibility to search quickly for your own favorite themes and subjects.

The gist of my post is clear: instead of staying with one portal it can be most useful to look elsewhere, sometimes for specific questions, sometimes because of sheer curiosity or the expectation of interesting news just outside your normal fishing grounds. In my experience you will surmount the difficulties of other languages whenever your interests are really awakened. When you come back from one of these portals you might turn to the mighty volumes of the great Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, and find at every turn new aspects of medieval and later legal history. The four volumes build an impressive plea for the importance of legal history, meriting not just a room of its own in the mansions of history, but more convincingly as core connections between periods, subjects and themes.

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 in 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


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 too 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 thought 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.