Tag Archives: Netherlands

Mapping Australia, an encounter between art and maps

Start of the exhibition "Mapping Australia: Country to Cartography"In my latest post the importance of maps for combining both classical and digital approaches for historical research got some attention. It is not a coincidence that I would like to follow this trail by looking at a number of examples, but I had not expected that an exhibition in Utrecht would become the focus point. The Dutch king opened on October 3, 2016 the exhibition Mapping Australia. Country to Cartography (AAMU, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht). Old maps and modern visions of maps created by Australian artists with aboriginal ancestors are presented here together. The exhibition is a part of the commemoration of 400 years Dutch discovery of Australia in the so-called Dirk Hartog Year, named after the Dutch schipper who in 1616 involuntarily sailed to the west coast of Australia. It offers a good opportunity to look at the digital presence of relevant maps showing Australia at the portal Old Maps Online and the recently redesigned portal Memory of The Netherlands. In 2010 I looked here briefly at this remarkable museum and its collection of law poles.

On the map

Late 17th century Dutch map of "Hollandia Nova

Hollandia Nova – “Kaart van den Indischen Archipel, tusschen Sumatra en Nova Guinea (…)” – late 17th century – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe, no. 344

The exhibition at Utrecht shows mainly but not exclusively Dutch maps of Australia. There are also more general maps of the southern hemisphere. The maps have been chosen from the holdings of Utrecht University Library and the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Some 2,000 old maps held at Utrecht have been digitized and can be found online at Old Maps Online. The maps held at The Hague come from a special map collection created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe). The map to the right is one of the items on display at the AAMU and happens to feature prominently in a thematic dossier about Australia at the website of the Nationaal Archief. Among the digitized items of the Nationaal Archief is Abel Tasman’s journal from 1642 (NA, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 121). Tasman, made also drawings of the coastal areas he saw.

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

Perhaps the most stunning historic object comes from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The very fact it is held in their holdings struck me forcefully. You could argue that the Dirck Hartogh tin dish is not just an object of Dutch maritime history, but also a telling object in Australian history. Dirck Hartogh ordered the carving of his arrival on October 25, 1616 with the Eendraght on the west coast of Australia at the island which still bears his name, Dirk Hartogh Island. Willem de Vlamingh found this dish eighty years after the landing, replaced in with a copy and brought the original dish back to Amsterdam. Thus the oldest object from Europe that ever touched Australian soil returned to its point of depart in Europe.

Old Maps Online has gained its importance as a quick way to find historical maps precisely because it brings together maps from different angles, countries and perspectives. In the case of Australia it matters enormously to have rapid access to these old Dutch maps because they contain details not presented on other maps, and thus they have influenced cartographers elsewhere very much. Any reader of Simon Garfield’s On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does (London 2012) will be aware how not only the actual shape and contents of a map are important, but also the visions mapmakers create. The combination of rich collections from several countries, each bringing both maps printed nearby and in foreign countries, makes Old Maps Online into the rich and invaluable resource it has become.


The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains now 132 collections from 84 institutions. You can search for these collections and institutions, or choose a preset theme. The theme Maps and atlases yields nearly 19,500 results. However, this filter has been programmed to include also topographical drawings. You can adjust the filters to include only maps which brings you to some 1,400 maps. If I choose for marine charts (365 items) you cannot search immediately for a specific location. In its current look it is more practical to look for a location in general and subsequently narrow your search to maps or charts. The portal gives access to an impressive total of nearly 800,000 items. Depending on your search question, either a general question which you want to explore or a more restricted one, you will encounter many interesting items. It is still possible to view the famous topographical collections such as the Atlas Schoemaker directly. This double use of the word atlas should serve as a reminder that even though digital materials might have been digitized with a view to historical research the sources themselves were not made with this intention. For the purpose of this blog post you should perhaps begin with the digitized atlases from the holdings of the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Mapping with a different mind-set

Artistic maps at the exhibition "Mapping Australia"

Maps created by Judy Watson

The historical maps of Australia form a major part of the exhibition at Utrecht, yet the modern art works which either mirror old maps or reflect concepts of space and spatial representation attract rightfully your attention. In particular the work of Judy Watson invites you to rethink the role of maps, especially the names of locations. The Dutch and English deliberately gave their own names to Australian locations which of course had and have their own names given by the indigenous people of Australia.

Lawpoles at the AAMU, UtrechtApart from drawings and paintings there are also minor objects to be seen, such as beautifully carved shells, and some larger objects, a number of law poles. Interestingly, the law poles belong to the main collection of the AAMU. They are part of a series of contemporary art works which have helped setting the boundaries of land belonging to indigenous people. This theme was itself the focus point of an exhibition at the AAMU in 2010 about which I reported here briefly. I cannot help thinking now that these law poles are here very much museum objects instead of being elements of the present state of affairs in Australia regarding indigenous people. The past years a number of contemporary Australian art works has been shown around Australia in travelling exhibitions.

Place names of Australia - viedo installtion by Judy Watson

Any of my thoughts to be just looking at an art exhibition was dispelled when I spotted among the place names projected in a video installation by Judy Watson on a map of Australia Cape Grim and the Cape Grim Massacre. Watson’s point is not only recording such grim places as Cape Grim and Suicide Bay on Tasmania, but showing the sheer impact of a majority of English and Dutch names for Australian locations. The Dutch might not have occupied physically much Australian territory at any time, but giving locations a Dutch name was definitely done with to commerce and control. Van Diemen Land and Tasmania are not exceptional examples of lasting Dutch influence. I would like to mention here the online Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Centre for Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, where you can pursue this approach and much more.

Reading the sources

Logo Wat Staat Daer

At the website of the Dirk Hartog Year you can find in the section Dirk’s Library information about his life and voyages for the Dutch East India Company, and not as you might expect books about him or even his personal library. I could not help inspecting the transcriptions of some of the historical records – including the tin dish from 1616 – and noticing gaps and misunderstandings. Instead of frowning upon this situation it is better to point to a brand new website about Early Modern Dutch palaeography, Wat Staat Daer? [What Is Stated There?]. Three archives in the province Noord-Brabant launched this website earlier this month. Even if it is not a tutorial it does give you not only a number of documents to decipher, but also a digitized version of a handy booklet by Willem Bogtman, Het Nederlandsche schrift in 1600 [Dutch Handwriting in 1600] (Amsterdam 1938; reprint 1973) showing you the variety of forms of letters in Dutch documents. Some users of Wat Staat Daer? point to an online tutorial for Early Modern Dutch palaeography of the University of Amsterdam. One user gives the link to a website for Dutch sixteenth-century palaeography using records of criminal justice at The Hague for a very short period, 1575 to 1579; in particular the reference section is very useful. Hopefully these websites help also all those investigating traces of Dutch history in locations from New York to Brazil and from South Africa to Sri Lanka and Indonesia or the global impact of the Dutch East India Company. The VOC Kenniscentrum and the Atlas of Mutual Heritage are among the virtual harbors where your research into the history of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie can start.

Among the many activities of the Dirk Hartog Year some of them are clearly connected to the events of 1616, its immediate impact and historical influence. The Western Australia Museum created a small but interesting online exhibition, 1616 – Dirk Hartogh. At the website of the Duyfken 1606 Replica you can find more information about important Dutch voyages to Australia in the seventeenth century. This autumn the replica of the Duyfken is sailing along Australia’s west coast in remembrance of Dirk Hartog’s journey. The Nationaal Archief gives an overview of other Dutch activities concerning “1616” in 2016 and 2017. The Dutch National Archives have produced a glossy magazine with the flawed title Boemerang. Nederland-Australië 400 jaar, which you can download as a PDF. I feared it was only available in Dutch, but luckily the website of the Dirk Hartog Year contains a link to the English version. The choice of subjects in this colourful magazine is really not narrow-minded. It would be one-sided to leave out here the websites of the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, but enough is enough. For me writing this contribution has been in some way a voyage of discovery, although I have collected over the years a selection of links to websites touching Australia’s legal history on my legal history website. Hopefully I can seduce you to look out for uncharted territories, to rethink the importance of historical and linguistic borders, and to get inspiration from artists who raise difficult questions about our own time.

Digging up cold cases, a useful metaphor

The start of the Cold cases exhibit in Museum Flehite, AmersfoortA few weeks ago I visited an exhibition with a title which I had associated first of all with law and justice, Cold Cases Amersfoort at Museum Flehite in Amersfoort. Even its subtitle Oude skeletten, nieuwe ontdekkingen [Old skeletons, new discoveries] did not turn me away from making the short journey by train from Utrecht to the lovely small city of Amersfoort. The exhibition was certainly not exactly what I had in mind, but in fact the very difference between my expectations and the actual exhibition made me think. While walking in beautiful old Amersfoort and visiting two other historic locations it seemed these three locations each bring their own perspective. In a way this post it about some of the metaphors we often use almost without noticing them. In the light of a sunny Saturday afternoon they became visible again.

An archaeological approach
Logo Museum Flehite

Cold cases, these words worked for me like a trigger. You might associate this first with reconstructing and analyzing cases, but here archaeologists worked with some five hundred human skeletons, a reminder that however abstract analysis can become you meet here the physical remains of people who walked on the surface of the earth, just as we do now. These skeletons were found during the excavations of cemeteries on four locations, some of them attached to monasteries. Some excavations took place a few decades ago, but with new technical equipment the skeletons can now be studied in far greater depth than a generation ago. Think only about the way tiny fragments containing DNA can now be analysed in a way simply impossible twenty years ago. In this respect the title Cold cases is certainly aptly chosen.

Harm and violenceIn this exhibition you do not just have complete and incomplete skeletons. There is general information, there are showcases about individuals whose skeleton in some way can tell us vital information about their life. There is for example attention for the way you can determine gender and age, or detect traces of diseases. Some skeletons, in particular skulls, show the signs of accidents or violence, others are marked by the deadly effects of a disease. Syphilis came to Europe in the early sixteenth century, and its harmful presence is clearly visible once you now the telling symptoms.

Reconstructing a girlPerhaps the most telling part of the exhibition is the room showing the reconstruction of the face of a young girl. She has received the nickname “The Girl with the Ear Clamp” because of the iron clamp used for head caps found in her grave. A lot of techniques and skills are necessary to reach the final result, a startling lifelike face. In order to bring especially young visitors closer to the work done to achieve such results part of the exhibition is a kind of study room with a laboratory. Every Wednesday an archaeologist can give you more explanations about the exhibition and the way archaeologists can now approach human remains. On other days a story-teller takes you back to late medieval Amersfoort, and on Sunday afternoons you can meet the challenge to reconstruct yourself a skeleton.

Food for thought

When I left a bit earlier than expected the exhibition at Museum Flehite I had enough time to visit two other historic locations. I went first to a museum housed in the remaining buildings of an Early Modern hospital, the Sint Pieters en Bloklandsgasthuis at the Westsingel. In fact it is the only still existing one of its kind. The chapel built around 1500 and the men’s hall from 1536 have survived the centuries. On weekdays visitor can meet actors dressed as inhabitants who re-enact some inhabitants in the year 1907, just before the removal to new premises at Achter Davidshof. The choice to play out this situation with as its surroundings the situation of the nineteenth century might seem startling, but it would indeed be more difficult to stage people from the sixteenth century. The actors tell the visitors they do not yet know the new place and that they are excited and anxious about their new housing. Instead of telling in ample detail about their daily life, as indicated in an ordinance you can read in the main hall, they prefigure almost the way a historian approaches the past. You do not know what is around the corner of what someone will day or do in a few moments, unless a lifetime of patient attention, study and reflection over the years has taught you something fundamental about people living in a particular time and circumstances.

My third visit on a Saturday afternoon in August was to the Mondriaanhuis, a museum documenting the life and works of the Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944), a pioneer of modern art, often associated with the De Stijl [The Style] group whose members favoured cubic forms and sparse use of colors. The museum is located in the very house where Mondrian was born. On the first floor there is a faithful reconstruction of his humble apartment and atelier on the attic of a Parisian house. Even the background noises and fragments of songs from the roaring twenties add to the atmosphere, as if the painter could walk in here any moment. Apart from documenting the life and works of Mondriaan this museum has also space for exhibitions that show his impact on contemporary art. To be honest, the Mondriaanhuis does have only a few works by Mondriaan himself in its holdings. I use the Dutch spelling Mondriaan on purpose!

Looking at the different approaches in these three museums is certainly interesting. At Museum Flehite there is much attention for the how of a reconstruction. At the old hospital there is a sharp contrast between the seemingly timeless space and the expectations of the last inhabitants about their new home. In the Mondriaanhuis the reconstruction of the attic in Paris evokes almost to perfection the surroundings of an artist in the world capital of art. Every approach has its values and shortcomings. I bring these museum together fully aware they cannot be compared completely at the same level, but any comparison goes faulty. We use metaphors from all kind of spheres of life together, often without noticing the funny effect of for example naval terms side by side with agricultural words.

Has archaeology any uses for legal historians? I was hoping this question would show up here sooner or later. When reviewing in my mind the three museums at Amersfoort I would say that any discipline can be important, either on its own or more as a kind of handmaiden in the role of an auxiliary science. At Bordeaux a symposium will be held on February 8-10, 2017 concerning the theme (Re)lecture archéologique de la justice en Europe médiévale et moderne, “An archaeological (re-)reading of justice in medieval and Early Modern Europe”. There will be three main sections, one focusing on justice and space, another on justice and the body, and the third on objects associated with justice. The way archaeological approaches and methods used more commonly by legal historians can interact with each other will be explicitly addressed. The deadline of the call for papers is September 15, 2016. If you think you can convince scholars to use with great benefit the ways archaeologists approach the past, or make inversely them aware of the particular and fruitful ways legal historians work, you are most welcome. Hopefully this post helps you to consider the role of archaeology for legal history, not to solve just one cold case, but to gain perspectives on cases that might be closer connected than you can see at the surface.

Cold cases. Oude skeletten, nieuwe ontdekkingenMuseum Flehite, Amersfoort – June 19 to September 25, 2016

Of manors, towers and castles

Living near Utrecht with its beautiful old inner city and many monuments from earlier centuries can make you wish to look around this town in the heart of the Netherlands to find more monumental buildings or remains of them. People watching last year on television the start of the Tour de France from Utrecht may have looked at some point to a spectacular aerial photo of a castle and the park around it. The castle of Haarzuilens is the largest castle in my country, and it is really in a class of its own. Since 2013 I live almost in the backyard of the former manor Huis Voorn of which only the two eighteenth-century dovecotes survive, a memorial of seigniorial rights, worthy of a post here. Some castles show all the archetypical elements of the fairy castle with one or more towers, battlements and a moot surrounding the premises. Some are accompanied by follies, nineteenth-century – or even earlier – fake buildings, some have become themselves to a large extent reinvented houses.

Thus many buildings are only castles by virtue of their name. The importance of castles for legal history is surely their connection with jurisdiction and rights, and in my country even with the very shape of newly cultivated grounds, in particular in marshy regions. In this post the walking historian rides again! In fact I did ride to these houses by bike. Most of my examples will come from the southeast corner of the province Utrecht, the Kromme Rijngebied, an area named after an old meandering branch of the Rhine. Along and near the Langbroekerwetering, a stream made for drainage of this originally swamp area, there were some forty fortified houses, and luckily for you I will not visit them all, but you might become curious for more indeed.

A tour of castles in Utrecht

The tower of Den Ham, VleutenLet’s start with a most imposing tower at Den Ham near Vleuten, nowadays part of the city of Utrecht. In the mid-nineteenth century most of the fortified house around it has been demolished. The freestanding tower with seven floors is the largest one still standing in my country. The tower is actually for sale, now for only (!) € 1,750,000. I did not put here on purpose a picture made in January 2015, but it can serve to remind you of the problem of heating an old building enough to be comfortable for people in our century! The fortified house ranked as many other stately buildings in Utrecht as a ridderhofstad, literally a knightly manor giving its owner entrance to the States of Utrecht as a member of the gentry. This rule only developed during the sixteenth-century when a first version of a list was published. Thus the States of Utrecht tried to deal with the proliferation of castles, manors and other major private homes and possible claims to qualify for its membership.

Kasteel Heemstede, Houten - photo November 2013The range of castles and manors in the province of Utrecht goes from the tower of Den Ham to almost fairy-tale castles such as Haarzuilens, but I would like to look here at an example closer to the Kromme Rijn river, Heemstede near the former village Houten, now a garden-city to the south-east of Utrecht. Its splendid outlook could convince you it was always as grandiose as it looks now. However, its present incarnation is in fact just a faithful copy of the original building which was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago. It is now home to a hotel. The surrounding grounds have been converted into a golf course. The Amsterdam-Rhine canal with its busy traffic runs close to it.

Castle Beverweerd, Odijk Near the village of Odijk is castle Beverweerd. Until a few years ago it was home to a public school. As you can gather from my picture it is situated in lush surroundings. From the meadow across the castle it becomes clear a number of medieval elements have been added quite recently. Adding such elements is not a new development, it follows closely practices starting in the nineteenth century. I will show you an example in the next section of this post.


Another tower not far from Odijk is located almost at the beginning of the Langbroekerwetering, the main stream created to develop the marshes into a cultivated area. Sterkenburg, “strong fortress”, certainly looks as a stronghold. The flag at the top of the tower adds an element familiar from television series with tales about courageous knights and damsels in distress. Alas I could not take a photograoh to this fortified house because the trees surrounding it make it impossible to view this house completely. To the left of the tower is the main building. In order to make up for the lack of details I could think of nothing else but turning around and taking a picture of the dovecote in the meadow adjacent to Sterkenburg and its grounds. To be sure, this dovecote is indeed a nineteenth-century folly, but something more is the matter in the south-east corner of the province of Utrecht. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century it became fashionable for rich Dutchmen to buy old castles and manors as summer houses.

A matter of rights

The folly of SterkenburgBuying yourself as a landowner a nice large summer resort is one thing, gaining access to the States of Utrecht by getting hold of a place with the eagerly sought rank of a ridderhofstad was surely as important. The presence of other buildings around your reinvented castle or old manor helped to show off your wealth, the sheer size of your landed property. In the case of follies or other embellishments your taste, too, became visible.

Rhynestein, CothenSome castle-like manors suggest a particular right. In the village of Cothen Huis Rhynestein is located at the Kromme Rijn river directly opposite to the village church. Not only a manor, but also a gate survive. The local situation might suggest the lords of Rhynestein did nominate the vicar of this parish. In his book Het Kromme Rijngebied in de middeleeuwen (Zutphen, 1993), the most important and detailed study on the medieval geographic and institutional history of the Kromme Rijn area Cees Dekker showed at many turns that you cannot reach any of such easy conclusions. The sheer number of institutions and people with claims and rights in this area is truly bewildering. Only long familiarity with the relevant archival collections, the experience and all other qualities of a medievalist-archivist par excellence which Dekker impersonated, and a keen personal knowledge of this region could bring his research to bear such rich fruits.

Huis Hardenbroek, Driebergen-RijsenburgOften the key to in-depth knowledge of a castle is getting hold of its archives. Castle Hardenbroek has been and still is in the possession of its founders, probably at least since the early fourteenth-century, with the exception of a dire period of nearly a century when the family had been forced to sell the ancestral home. Twenty years ago the castle archives were entrusted to the care of Het Utrechts Archief, the combined municipal and provincial archives of Utrecht. Hardenboek is located in the village Driebergen-Rijsenburg, but it is actually very close to Langbroek and Cothen.

A note on Dutch archival collections

Logo Het Utrechts ArchiefMany archival collections of castles and manors in the province Utrecht are kept at Het Utrechts Archief, a central point in this small province, and not in the smaller regional archives at Amersfoort, Breukelen, Woerden and Wijk bij Duurstede. Luckily the portal site of the Utrechts Archiefnet makes it possible to search directly in the online finding aids of both Het Utrechts Archief and the four regional archives in the province of Utrecht. Lately the arrival at Utrecht of a very substantial number of archival records for Hardenbroek from the Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the Gelders Archief in Arnhem has given a new push to finish the new inventories for Hardenbroek that will replace the provisional finding aids published in 2000. I use the plural inventories on purpose. In a way the new finding aids will open the road closed by the beautiful gate on my picture.

Logo NKSYou can find more about Dutch castles for example at the website of the Dutch center for castles and manors with a good links section and also at Kastelen in Nederland. There is a special website Utrechtse buitenplaatsen for manors and castles in the province Utrecht. Relevant images can be found online for example in the image database of the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Dutch National Service for Cultural Heritage that has also created a database to search for monumental buildings. Het Utrechts Archief offers online access to almost all its finding aids. You might still benefit from the printed guide to archives in the province Utrecht by A.N. Beets, H.L.Ph. Leeuwenberg and J.G. Riphaagen (eds.), De archieven in Utrecht (Alphen aan den Rijn 1985), the eleventh volume of the series with overviews of Dutch public archival collections (PDF, 9 MB). At present only the volumes 3 to 14 of this important series with a deceivingly long title, Overzichten van de archieven en verzamelingen in de openbare archiefbewaarplaatsen in Nederland, are available online at the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, however among them at least also the last volume, the guide to private archival collections in the Netherlands [H.J.H.A.G. Metselaars (ed.), Particuliere archieven in Nederland (1992)]. The volumes for Drenthe and Gelderland have not yet been digitized, but the separate volume concerning archives in Amsterdam can be viewed online. Even if you have no particular interest in the history of castles and manor these invaluable guides merit your attention for legal history, because the volumes start with a map of jurisdictions before 1795. Sometimes the venom is in the end, but here there is a bait waiting for you!

Opening a book: Legal consulting in the Dutch Republic

A post at my blog in December brought you to three foundations created in Utrecht by seventeenth-century Dutch lawyers. In this post I will look again at one of them, Evert van de Poll, and in particular at traces of his work as a lawyer. Van de Poll had become the advocate of the States of Utrecht and councillor in the provincial court of Utrecht. In his will he had stipulated his books should become part of the municipal library, in 1634 an important collection at the start of the university library at Utrecht. The books in the spotlight of this contribution which fits into my series Opening a book are collections with legal consultations from the seventeenth century. Dealing with them is not a straightforward business, and I will show here some of the problems you encounter when approaching this juridical genre.

J. van Kuyk, the author of the brief biographical notice on Evert van de Poll (around 1560-1602) in the Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek (10 vol., Leiden, 1911-1937) II [1912], col. 1114-1115 – online at Biografisch Portaal – refers to a juridical consultation signed by Van de Poll and included in the Hollandsche Consultatiën, in the third volume published in 1662, no. 95. Alas tracking this reference is not as straightforward as Van Kuyk might have thought, because there are several editions of the Consultatiën, advysen en advertissementen, gegeven ende geschreven by verscheyden treffelijcke rechts-geleerden in Holland. It took me some time to find a digital version of this work. Joannes Naeranus published at Rotterdam editions of this work in six volumes, but he did not publish the volumes in consecutive order, a nice challenge for bibliographers. The first set appeared at Rotterdam between 1645 and 1666 with also an Amsterdam version of the third volume (1647), the second set between 1648 and 1669, and the third set between 1661 and 1670. A fourth set was printed from 1683 onward by his successor Isaac Naeranus. There are also sets printed in Amsterdam from 1716 and 1728, in their turn also reprinted.

The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog does not bring you to a digital version of the right volume from this edition, and after trying some portals to digitized books – actually the Dutch Delpher portal, the portal of the Polish Digital Libraries Federation and the Spanish Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico – it slowly dawned upon me this book might be included at a subscriber’s only project. and thus out of reach for the average researcher. The Firm with the Famous Online Search Engine has digitized volumes from the edition Amsterdam-Utrecht 1736-1768 in the library of the University of Amsterdam, and at Amsterdam are other sets as well. By sheer luck I started my online search in subscribers’ online collections with Early European Books [EEB], a commercial project with for users in the Netherlands free access to books held at the Dutch Royal Library. At first I seemed to have asked for too much, because when looking for consultatiën only other works with Dutch juridical consultations from the seventeenth and eighteenth century appeared to have been digitized, in itself a substantial harvest.


Only when I tried rather desperately to find digitized copies of works published by Naeranus the third volume of the edition Rotterdam 1662 [4°, [8], 716, [68] p.] did appear, and something else became clear, too. On close inspection of the first thirteen results from a title search at EBB I should have noticed the five digitized volumes of the Consultatiën are not from the same edition. For one volume the actual number of volumes of a set was indicated in the search results, and thus I wondered why the Royal Library seemingly did not digitize an entire set. To all appearances it seems that for a number of works in EEB only a part of the title has been included within the meta-data. In the screen print here above you can see “Het derde deel” has been entered as the title, and not the full title, even though you can see at the right the actual title page. For some other volumes the part of the title with the volume number has been recorded as an alternative title. You can imagine how I looked at my computer screen in utter disbelief at this digitization record! A proper description of multi-volume works is distinctly different. Let the record show that the library catalogue at The Hague does contain correct information, but only the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN) makes you unequivocally aware of the exact composition of the sets, but neither catalogue mentions the digitization, something the STCN does normally. The Nederlandse Centrale Catalogus, the Dutch Central Catalogue, only accessible for subscribers and cardholders of the Royal Library, adds only for one eighteenth-century set the digitization by The Firm (6 vol., Amsterdam: Boom and Van Poolsum, 1736-1768). The NCC’s information about holding libraries is not complete, and without the STCN you would not notice this defect. Anyway a caveat lector seems first of all appropriate when you use Early European Books.

Dutch books in American libraries

Logo Hathi Trust

When searching all this information for your benefit, and surely also to learn something myself, I realized the great search engine of the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue does not offer much in the field of American libraries apart from the Hathi Trust and the Internet Archive. WorldCat is not always helpful with books printed before 1800, although I did look at the beta version of OCLC’s new Classify tool to see how this set is described. Luckily you can since a few months search online in The National Union-Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints (…) [NUC] (754 vol., London 1968-1981), digitized for the Hathi Trust Digital Library at the University of Michigan with the help of other institutions and the original publisher. You can search individual volumes of the NUC, but when you use the advanced full-text search mode with the full-text search field for your own search term(s) and setting the title field to “National union catalog, pre-1956”, you can conduct a multi-volume search. The Library of Congress provides a handy PDF with the tables of content for each NUC volume. The only additional trick is probably memorizing quickly at least some of the abbreviated codes for library locations printed at the start of each volume. Unfortunately it seems only a copy at the Library of Congress appears in the NUC, first without a clear indication in vol. 25, p. 529, but completed in the supplementary volume 713, p. 247. In the midst of all bibliographical details it is perhaps necessary to say the Hathi Trust Digital Library does not contain any digitized set of the Consultatiën.

Frontispice first volume of the 1648-1666 edition of the Consultatiën

Frontispice of the first volume of the 1648-1669 Rotterdam edition of the Consultatiën – image Yale University, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Rare 26 10-0473 v.1

Another approach to find sets in the United States might be checking only the catalogues of some major collections where for good reasons you can expect the presence of a particular work. The Library of Congress has indeed sets from both the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, Harvard has two sets from the eighteenth century. The Robbins Collection at Berkeley has what seems to me according to the Melvyl catalog for Californian libraries a mixed set printed at Rotterdam, and two eighteenth-century sets. Columbia has three eighteenth-century sets, and there is one incomplete seventeenth-century set with some volumes from later editions. The Orbis catalog of Yale University Library does not include the set of the second – or maybe the first because of the third volume printed in 1647 at Amsterdam? – Rotterdam edition at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, its volumes are described in the Morris catalog. I did not find any set at Stanford, Cornell and Boston College.

Title page third volue (1662)

The title page of the third volume (1662) – copy Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit – image STCN

At this point it might at last become very clear that you will need to create or use reliable bibliographical information in order to determine and assess exactly which book you are looking at. How sure can we be that the sets mentioned above are indeed original sets? The library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main houses a very large collection of old Dutch juridical books, and there is a most detailed separate catalogue by Douglas Osler, Catalogue of books printed in Spain, Portugal and the Southern and Northern Netherlands from the beginning of printing to 1800 in the library of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main 2000). The STCN gives detailed bibliographical information about each volume of the various sets with consultatiën, advysen en advertissementen, in fact more than the online catalogue of the library at Frankfurt. However, having a printed catalogue at your disposal is not always enough. The catalogue of old books at the Library of the Hoge Raad, the Dutch Supreme Court, does not indicate the printing date of the volumes in their sets.1 The Law Library of Utrecht University does provide in its own summary catalogue and in the main library catalogue sufficient indication of each volume within a set, thus corroborating our information. You will need such information in the face of sequels to our subject, such as the Nieuwe consultatiën, and because of the existence of similar sets for Gelre (Guelders) and Utrecht, with often very similar titles.

Van de Poll cum suis on feudal law

I had better tell you now more about consultation no. 95. It deals with a case in feudal law in Guelders. The case description and the consultation are to be found at pp. 319-323 and were signed on September 20, 1597 by Cornelis Oem, Folkert van Montzema, “E. Pollio” and Folkert Oem. The books from Van de Poll’s legacy at Utrecht University show as their provenance ex dono E. Pollionis. The councillors of the court at Utrecht issued this opinion in an appeal procedure from the provincial court of Guelders where Pieter Doois, dean of the church in Deventer, had brought the case against his younger brother Dirk concerning a fief called Madakker. Earlier Pieter had sold the possession of this fief at the feudal court of the provost (proosdij) of Salland in Deventer. Among the issues at stake was the jurisdiction and law valid for cases concerning a fief, that of its location or that of the court under which it belonged, in this case either the feudal customary law of the proosdij or those of the duchy of Guelders. To complicate matters the appellant pointed also to the matrimonial contract from 1556 which had been confirmed by the lord of his fief. With remarkable speed and economy the councillors at Utrecht decided that this case fell under the feudal law of Guelders. The conditions in the matrimonial contract were null and void. This learned opinion mixes Dutch – with a distinct Eastern flavour – printed in a Fraktur like type with sentences and references in Latin printed in Roman type. Van Kuyk did probably use a register to the six volumes in order to find this reference, probably the earliest register printed in 1696 as a seventh volume of the last seventeenth-century set. The 1696 edition can be viewed online at Early European Books, and I did not find an author index in this volume. Van Kuyk probably used another edition.

Some conclusions

At the end of this post I would like to stress how necessary it is to conduct a full bibliographical search into the printing history of these Dutch consultations before pronouncing with any certainty on the completeness of any set. In this case it is not enough to rely exclusively on the main online catalogues and meta-catalogues. A second conclusion is that even if you are used to sailing the oceans of law and old editions there are some foggy regions. In fact I have hesitated very much about writing this post which does offer only a glimpse of much more work to be done before using these sets with legal consultations in a sensible way. Of course it is very useful that the editors of Grotius’ Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleerdheid, F. Dovring, H.F.W.D. Fischer and E.M. Meijers (eds.) (2nd ed., Leiden 1965) provide a concise overview of consultations signed by Grotius on the base of the 1696 register to the Hollandsche Consultatiën, but they only copied the seventeenth-century summaries. In my view finding an edition of old legal consultations is just a start. The background of the lawyers and the edition should rightfully claim our attention, too, in order to establish its value as a historical source. It is seducing to use digital collections as a kind of sea from which you can haul your information without much ado, but alas this is an illusion exposed already long ago. My encounter with Early European Books may serve as a warning that digital resources can be deceptive. Digital libraries might neglect bibliographical accuracy at their own peril, and this is true for scholars, too.


1. P.P. Schmidt, Catalogus oude drukken in de bibliotheek van de Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Zwolle 1988) and Joost Pikkemaat, The old library of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hilversum 2008), with on a cd-rom Schmidt’s catalogue.

Medieval laws in translation

Languages can act as formidable barriers to our understanding of both past and present. Even if you happen to have a talent for foreign languages translations can help you in many ways to gain insight into the messages and form of a source. In medieval Europe many legal sources were written or only accessible in Latin. However, a number of medieval legal texts have been translated into the vernacular. In this post I want to look at a number of medieval translations of such sources and at two modern translation projects. Recent news about these projects offers me an occasion to write about this subject.

Medieval translators at work

In the Middle Ages translating the works of Aristoteles from Greek – or Arabic – into Latin formed probably the largest translation project of a millennium. The volumes with the scholarly edition of the Aristoteles Latinus project are still being published. For many scientific disciplines medieval translators took the trouble of translating important sources. In the field of law, too, one can point to translations. The most massive project, the Basilica, is not only a translation but also an adaptation of Justinian’s Institutes, his Digest, Codex and the Novellae. For some parts of the Justinian codification older Greek translations exist which the translators around 900 used in Byzance. A team at the University of Groningen led by H.J. Scheltema produced a modern critical edition of the text and the scholia, the accompanying glosses [Basilicorum libri LX (17 vol., Groningen 1953-1988)].

A very interesting example of a translated medieval legal text is Lo Codi, a legal commentary from the twelfth century originally written in Occitan, a language spoken in Southern France and Catalonia. Lo Codi has been translated in French, Castilian, Latin and Franco-Provencal. I wanted to check information about this text at the homepage of Johannes Kabatek at the Universität Tübingen. Since his move to Zürich this page has been removed, but luckily he has put them on his private website. At this webpage you can compare different manuscripts and versions. An article about Lo Codi by Kabatek from 2000 is also available online (PDF). Kabatek does show Lo Codi is an independent adaptation of the Summa Trecensis, and not just a translation.

Banner The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary

The first large-scale project I want to introduce in this post is The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen. Not only a dictionary will be the fruit of this project, but also translations of Scandinavian laws. Two volumes with translated laws have already appeared. A few years ago I wrote here about medieval Scandinavian laws, and it is surely helpful to be able to use these translations alongside the original texts. The page for laws of this project provides you with a quick overview of the main laws. the current editions and the planned or already published translations. The bibliography of the dictionary project shows that luckily for some texts translations appeared in the twentieth century, however, in a number of cases into current Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish or Swedish.

Some medieval legal texts have been translated in the sixteenth century. This month I saw an announcement for a lecture in Paris on April 6, 2016 by Patrick Arabeyre (École nationale des Chartes, Paris) on ‘Deux exemples de traduction vers le latin dans le domaine juridique : la traduction d’ordonnances royales par Étienne Aufréri (1513) et la traduction des Coutumes d’Orléans par Jean Pyrrhus d’Angleberme (1517)’ as a part of a conference on La traduction en vernaculaire entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance. The first subject of his lecture were royal ordinances edited by Étienne Aufréri in 1513, and he looked also at the translation by D’Angleberme of the Coutumes d’Orléans (1517). A second lecture by Frédéric Duval, also attached to the ENC, concerned the versions of Lo Codi. In April 2015 Duval presented a paper about French translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Nowadays the French Biblissima portal is a fine gateway to several projects concerning the production and transmission of manuscripts, and using the English interface it is very much accessible. One of the online databases at the École nationale des Chartes is called Miroir des classiques, “Mirror of the Classics”, a project in which Duval participates. Unfortunately this database does not yet contain any notice about translated legal texts, but eventually they will be included. How can one trace more medieval translations? For Ancien Français, one of the phases of medieval French, there just happens to be a resource that can help you. The bibliography of the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF) does lead you to a number of translations, many of them still only existing in manuscripts. The section C of this bibliography shows for example two thirteenth-century translations of the Code de Justinien. The entry at CodiFr mentions Lo Codi and states flatly this is a translation of the Codex Justinianus, a notice clearly in need of some updating. Under the letter I you will find both a complete translation of the Institutiones Iustiniani and an abridged version. Five manuscripts exist with a French translation of the Digestae. The Summa Codicis of Azo, too, exists in a French version, the Somme Acé. By the way, you can find a number of online dictionaries and textual corpora at the website of the Dictionnaire de Moyen Français. For the field of medieval canon law one has to single out the medieval French translation of the Decretum Gratiani. This translation has been edited by Leena Lofstedt, Gratiani Decretum. La traduction en ancien français du Décret de Gratien (5 vol., Helsinki, 1992-2001). I have not taken a complete tour of the sources of the DEAF, but it is certainly rewarding to look for yourself, and not only for matters concerning France. Anglo-Norman texts appear here, too.

Searching in manuscript catalogues will no doubt yield further results. A search in the digital catalogue for archives and manuscripts of the British Library brought me to ms. Royal 20 D IX, a late thirteenth-century French translation of the Authenticum and the Tres Libri, the books 10-12 of the Codex Justinianus. The database Manuscripta Iuridica at Frankfurt am Main contains for example for the French translation of the Institutes – usefully put together as Institutiones Justiniani, versio Gallica – references to thirteen manuscripts. The manuscript in London, too, has not escaped the attention of Gero Dolezalek and Hans van de Wouw, the creators of the Verzeichnis der Handschriften zum römischen Recht bis 1600 (4 vol., Frankfurt am Main 1972) used for the database, nor did they miss the French version of the Digestum Vetus, and the Infortiatum. For Azo you will find not only the translation of his Summa Codicis, but also a translation of his summa on the Digesta.

Twelve volumes and an addendum

Five years ago the last of the twelve volumes of the modern Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis appeared. I wrote here a post about the presentation of the final volume in 2011, and in that post I looked also at other complete translations of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. On Friday April 15, 2016 yet another volume was presented at a symposium in Utrecht. Jop Spruit, the indefatigable founder of the project, translated with Jeroen Chorus also the Libri Feudorum, a twelfth-century text from Lombardy concerning customary law dealing with fiefs. Kees Bezemer wrote the introduction to this translation with facing Latin text. In my view the translators wisely choose to follow the version of the Libri Feudorum as found within the Corpus Iuris Civilis. One of the arguments to include this work on customary law into the curriculum of the medieval law schools was the presence of glosses by Accursius. The modern critical edition gives both the oldest and the most used version (Vulgata) [Karl Lehmann (ed.), Das Langobardische Lehnrecht, (Handschriften, Textentwicklung, ältester Text und Vulgattext, nebst den capitula extraordinaria (Göttingen 1896; online in the Internet Archive)]. However, more versions came into existence. At the symposium in Utrecht Jeroen Chorus gave a talk about possession in the Libri Feudorum. Dirk Heirbaut compared the feudal law in the Libri Feudorum, the Leenrecht van Vlaanderen and the Lehnrecht of the Sachsenspiegel. Rik Opsommer discussed the use of the Libri Feudorum in the practice of Flemish feudal law, and Kees Bezemer looked at the role of feudal law in Early Modern Europe with a focus on a case in seventeenth-century Germany which became the subject of a disputation defended at Frankfurt an der Oder. The best point of depart to start exploring Early Modern German juridical disputations is the digital library of the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main.

The team of Dutch translators hesitated about the right number of the latest volume in the series of translated texts of Roman law. Twelve is such a beautiful number suggesting completeness! They finally opted for 12 Addendum. The set of twelve volumes can still be ordered from Amsterdam University Press.

Until now I have looked almost in vain for other translations of the Libri Feudorum. The translation by Lorenz Weidmann, Die Lehensrecht verdeutscht (…) was printed at least seven times between 1530 and 1541. The German bibliographical project VD 16 does not only make such statements possible, but it leads you also to the digital version of the first edition Augsburg 1530 (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek). Robert Feenstra wrote about it in his article ‘Kaiserliche Lehnrechte. Die Libri feudorum in deutscher Fassung nach Alvarotus und andere Inkunabeldrucke zum Lehnrecht. Mit Beiträgen über Johannes de Vanckel und die casus summarii des Baldus’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 63 (1995) 337-354. There is also an online version of a translation by Jodocus Pflanzmann printed in an incunabula edition, Das buch der lehenrecht (Augsburg 1493; GW 7776). The Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) has a useful overview of editions and partial editions before 1501 of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. GW 7654 is a French translation printed at Paris around 1486 of Justinian’s Institutes, interestingly made in verses. The identification of the probable author, Richard d’Annebaut, is also given in the bibliography of the DEAF with references to the unique manuscript source, London, British Library, ms. Harley 4777.

Discussing the Libri Feudorum is entering a territory where three decades ago things might have seemed straightforward. Things have changed very much since Peter Weimar’s article ‘Die Handschriften der Libri feudorum und seine Glossen’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 1 (1990) 31-98, reprinted in his volume of essays Zur Renaissance der Rechtswissenschaft im Mittelalter (Goldbach 1997) 171-238, and the study of Gérard Giordanengo, Le droit féodal dans les pays de droit écrit. L’exemple de la Provence et du Dauphiné XIIe – début XIVe siècle (Rome 1988). I must refer you here to online bibliographies such as the one provided by the Regesta Imperii at Mainz to see how much has been written recently about the approach of medieval lawyers to feudal law.

Of course it is possible to use modern translations of medieval legal texts, but in this post I wanted to investigate medieval translations. For searching modern translation one can benefit from the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography which even offers filters for translations containing also the original texts, translations in English, French or other languages. It might be helpful to end here with briefly noting the publication of the revised edition of Fred Blume’s translation of Justinian’s Code edited by Bruce Frier [The Codex of Justinian (3 vol., Cambridge, etc., 2016)]. The German translation project for the Corpus Iuris Civilis reached in 2012 its fifth volume with the books 28 to 34 of the Digest, edited by Rolf Knütel [Corpus Iuris Civilis, Band 5, Digesten 28-34 (Heidelberg 2012)]. Let’s hope the leaders and translators of such projects will and can benefit from the recent Dutch experience in completing a book project with nearly nine thousand pages.

A postscript

Frédéric Duval will present in June 2016 a paper about the late-medieval translations into French of parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis at a two-day conference in Tours, Les traductions médiévales à la Renaissance et les auto-traductions (Tours, June 8-9, 2016).

500 years Utopia

Quentin Matsys, portrait of Pieter Gilles

Portrait of Pieter Gillis by Quentin Matsys – Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – source: Wikimedia Commons

This year I have succeeded so far in avoiding centenary celebrations, but some of them are definitely interesting from the perspective of legal historians. In 1516 Erasmus published his edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum graece, with for us a remarkable title, Novum Instrumentum (…) (Basel: Johann Froben, 1516; VD16 B 4196; online for example at the Swiss portal e-Rara). Even with all its shortcoming this edition proved to be a starting point for many developments in scholarship and theology. Legal historians might prefer to leave the onset of the Reformation to church historians and theologians, but they will certainly not want to forget another book published in 1516, Thomas More’s Utopia (Louvain: Dirk Martens, 1516; more bibliographic details in the Short Title Catalogue Vlaanderen).

The flood of literature about More, his book and his circle make it almost impossible to look at it without preconceived opinions and views. Is it possible to say something new, something worth reading at all within the compass of a blog post? However you may think about this state of affairs, I would like to present one of the main figures appearing in More’s Utopia. Pieter Gillis was a humanist scholar who merits attention for his work in the field of legal history, in particular with his edition of a source for the history of Roman law, yet another book printed by Martens in Louvain. In fact, it is seldom noted at all Gillis was a trained lawyer, and thus certainly prepared for his tasks as the city registrar of Antwerp. He is not the only lawyer you will encounter here.

First editions from Louvain

Why should authors in the early sixteenth century turn to Dirk (Thierry) Martens (1446-1534) for the publication of their books? The Nationaal Biografisch Woordenboek has a fine article on him (vol. VI, col. 633-637). Martens printed his first book already in 1473 in his native city Aalst. He was among the earliest printers of the Low Countries. His first publication – published together with Johann of Paderborn – was a religious work, the Speculum conversionis peccatorum of Dionysius Cartusianus (Denis of Ryckel), a book digitized in the Flemish digital library Flandrica (GW 8420). From 1492 onwards Martens had his firm in Antwerp and since 1512 in Louvain, the only university town of the Low Countries. In 1491 he used for the first time in the Low Countries Greek type fonts. Printing the works students needed provided him with a stable market. Martens is even credited with promoting the use of the Roman type font. He was definitely a printer with some remarkable feats on his record.

Pieter Gillis (latinized Petrus Aegidius) (1486-1533) initially studied law at Orléans (1501). However, soon he became active as a corrector for the printing firm of Dirk Martens. Already in 1503 or 1504 he met Desiderius Erasmus, one of the authors coming to Antwerp to have his books published by Martens. In 1504 Gillis registered as a student at the university of Louvain, and in 1509 Gillis became the city registrar of Antwerp. In 1512 he got the degree of a licentiatus in law from the university of Orléans. Dealing with Gillis is indeed entering also the book trade of his time, one of the reasons I supply for the book titles in this post at least some bibliographical references. The NBW has a good biographical article on Gillis by M. Nauwelaerts (vol. I (1970), col. 4-7). A much older article in German by A. Rivier for the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie can also be consulted online (ADB (1875) 125-126).

The road to More’s Utopia

Ambrosius Holbein, image with More, Aegidius and Hythlodaeus

Ambrosius Holbein’s illustration with the protagonists of More’s Utopia – edition Basel 1518, p. 25; copy Yale University, Beinecke Library

Before going to More’s Utopia I must acknowledge here the great assistance offered in writing this post by the very useful and extensive International Thomas More Bibliography of Romuald Lakowski. The story of how More came to write Utopia scarcely needs retelling. As a diplomatic envoy he met Pieter Gillis in 1515. The two men became friends, and one of the fruits of their meeting was More’s book. In the prologue of Utopia More tells about his encounters with Gillis and Raphael Hythlodaeus, the stranger recently arrived from Brazil whose stories are the very heart of his book. When preparing this post I wondered where people would have found the famous images taken from the first edition of Utopia, the image of the island and the Utopian alphabet. Surely this last feature came into existence thanks to the suggestions and expertise of both Gillis and Martens. Lakowski provided me with the link to a digital version of the first edition of Utopia at a library where you probably will not expect a copy, the Gleeson Library of the Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. The digital books in this library cannot be found using regular online search tools such as the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog and the Universal Short Title Catalogue (University of St. Andrews). Other early editions such as the one published in Paris by Gilles de Gourmont in 1517 (Gallica) and the famous edition by Froben (Basel 1518) can readily be found in various libraries, the latter for example in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

The Latin text of More’s Utopia can be searched in several ways. You will find just the text in The Latin Library, and a colourful version at the Bibliotheca Augustana of Ulrich Harsch, based on the version created at the Oxford Text Archive. For a linguistic approach you can benefit from the search functions offered in the version at IntraText. At first I would have preferred to leave translations out, and thus honour the principle ad fontes so dear to sixteenth-century humanists, but having a translation within your reach is most helpful. The first translation of More’s Utopia was the work of a legal humanist, Claude Chansonnette (Claudius Cantiuncula). Interestingly Cantiuncula (around 1493-1560) had been at Louvain before going to Basle where he published his translation Von der wunderbarlichen Innsel Utopia genannt das andere Buch (…) (Basel: Bebelius, 1524; digitized at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). Cantiuncula decided to translate only the second part of More’s book, not the first half. At this point it is most welcome to point to the bibliographical survey of people connected to Desiderius Erasmus, Contemporaries of Erasmus. A biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation, [CE] P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher (eds.) (3 vol., Toronto-Buffalo-London 1985-1987; reprint 2003). This work contains entries for Pieter Gillis (CE II, 99-101), Dirk Martens (CE I, 394-396) and Claude Chansonnette (CE I, 259-261), and of course for Thomas More (CE II, 456-459).

Among the modern German translations of Utopia the version of historian Gerhard Ritter (1898-1967) is still being reprinted. Ritter made his translation early in his career (1922). You can see in a post from last year my photograph of several pocket law books accompanied by the modern incarnation of Ritter’s translation which gives you also the Latin text.

A meeting of lawyers

Title page of Gillis' edition with the Epitome Aegidii

The title page of Pieter Gillis’ edition of the Epitome Aegidii – Louvain: Martens, 1517 – copy Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

The excellent website of Lakowski with its most useful bibliographies for many subjects concerning Thomas More and his Utopia taught me looking at legal matters around Thomas More is not something new. In this post I will just look at a few aspects. Let’s go back to Pieter Gillis who published in 1517 a number of sources in the field of Roman law. Dirk Martens printed his Summae sive argumenta legum diversorum imperatorum… Caii et Iulii Pauli Sententiis (USTC 403069; digital copy at the Digitale Sammlungen, Munich). The Latin title of his book is certainly long, but it does clearly indicate the constituing parts edited by Gillis. His work contains the editio princeps of the Epitome Aegidii, a shortened version of the Breviarium Alaricianum/Lex Romana Visigothorum, in itself a reworking of the Codex Theodosianus. The manuscript he used contained also a shortened version of Gaius’ Institutiones (Epitome Gai) and the Sententiae Pauli. Among the rare Early Modern editions of these texts is a very rare book by the famous Dutch book collector Gerard Meerman, Specimen animadversationum criticarum in Caii Jcti Institutiones (…) (Lutetiae Parisiorum: apud Merigot, 1747).

The story of Pieter Gillis’ edition is intriguing. What manuscript did he use? Surprisingly Marcel Nauwelaerts wrote in his article for Contemporaries of Erasmus about Gillis’ edition “of which is a manuscript is preserved in the library of the University of Leiden (MS BPL 191 ba)” (CE II, 101). Is there truly a manuscript once owned or written by Petrus Aegidius? Many manuscript catalogues at Leiden can be consulted online in its Digital Special Collections. The manuscript Leiden, UL, BPL 191 BA can even be viewed online. The catalogue entry by P.C. Molhuysen makes it very clear this manuscript belonged to Paul Petau who wrote a brief summary of the content on the flyleaf. It seems Nauwelaerts was too eager to find a manuscript connected with Gillis. The manuscript has also been described within the online project Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections, but here, too, things are not completely straightforward. Searching for the Epitome Aegidii yields only the manuscript Leiden, UL, VLQ [Vossiani Latini in quarto] 119. When searching directly for BPL 191 BA you find it with as its title Epitome legis Romanae Visigothorum, which is in itself not wrong, but not complete either.

Finding out more about the Epitome Aegidii

Logo Bibliotheca legum

A few years ago Karl Ubl (Universität Köln) started the Bibliotheca legum, a project dealing with early medieval law in France. The project deals with many texts and a multitude of manuscripts, including those with Roman law texts and the early medieval codes conveniently known as the Völkerrechte, “laws of the nations”, because they were addressed to the populations of certain territories. The Breviarium Alaricianum, also known as the Lex Romana Visigothorum, is among them. The Epitome Aegidii, too, figures in this project, currently with thirty manuscripts. Here it becomes clear the Dutch manuscript portal should also refer to Leiden, UL, BPL 114, also consultable online. When you search for “Epitome edited by Aegidius” you will find it together with BPL 191 BA, but without Voss. lat. qu. 119. The Manuscripta juridica database at Frankfurt am Main uses the term “Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Breviarium Alarici”) (Epitome Aegidii)” and offers 25 manuscripts.

The Epitome Aegidii is also among the many subjects in the opus magnum of the late José Maria Coma Fort. His book Codex Theodosianus: historia de un texto (Madrid 2014) is also available online in the digital repository of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (PDF; 3,8 MB). Last year Faustino Martinez Martinez reviewed this book most approvingly for the online journal Forum Historiae Iuris. Here I can scarcely do justice to the efforts of José Coma Fort. He mentions Gillis at several turns and discusses his edition in detail at p. 371-375. He concluded the manuscript Gillis used is probably no longer extant. Coma Fort brings into relief the way Gillis’ edition was almost unknown until Meerman’s reimpression, and he looks in particular at the discussions concerning the Epitome Aegidii of humanist scholars such as Bonifacius Amerbach, Johannes Sichard and Johannes Cujacius. Did they willingly ignore the editio princeps? Even today it can be considered a rare book. One of the earliest general bibliographies, Konrad Gessner’s famous Bibliotheca universalis (Tiguri [Zürich] : Froschauer 1545; online at e-Rara) has an entry for Petrus Aegidius without his legal work (p. 543). The USTC has references to eleven copies. Using the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog I could add copies at Lausanne, Vienna (ÖNB, online) and Heidelberg. The Vatican Library, too, has a copy. The tenacity of Wouter Nijhoff and especially M.E. Kronenberg in creating together the Nederlandsche bibliographie van 1500 tot 1540 (‘s-Gravenhage 1923-1971) comes only sharper into view for current scholars with so many resources within easy reach online. In their bibliography NK 15 is the entry for Pieter Gillis’ book, and NK 1550 deals with Martens’ edition of More’s Utopia.

Dirk Martens of Aalst printed at Louvain in 1516 yet another editio princeps, the first edition of the book on legal argumentation by a Dutch lawyer, Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), his Topicorum seu de locis legalibus liber, a work I studied for my Ph.D. thesis. In 2011 I presented here a post about the digital versions of several sixteenth-century editions of this book, incidentally one of my most often read posts. It is only fitting to revisit in the 200th post of my blog Louvain in 1516. At the end of this post I realize how I like to bring things together in one post. Hopefully you will not mind the way I led you here to such important resources as the Bibliotheca legum and José Maria Coma Fort’s great book on the transmission of the Codex Theodosianus!

A postscript

University College London organizes on June 30 and July 1, 2016 the graduate conference Imagined Worlds in the History of Political Thought, an event also in coniunction with the quincentenary of Thomas More’s Utopia. You can send a proposal for papers before April 15, 2016, by mail to conference@historyofpoliticalthought.net.

The edges of medieval law

Cover "The edge of the world" (Penguin edition, 2015)Every now and then a book comes along that grabs your attention. The Dutch translation of Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: How The North Sea Made Us Who We Are (2014) with its beautiful cover lured me into buying in the end the Penguin edition (2015) and starting to explore its contents. After a number of recent books about the role in European history of the Mediterranean, in particular the one by David Abulafia, a kind of antidote extolling the importance of the North Sea and the regions around it in medieval times is surely welcome. Michael Pye belongs to the line of British authors outside academia who year after year present us with vigorously written and entertaining history books. Awareness of the many corners of history and the importance of detail studies does not diminish the secret longing for history in the grand manner. Does Michael Pye, trained at Oxford in modern history, succeed in creating a convincing history of this part of Europe? In this post I will look in particular in the way Pye deals with medieval law. Law and justice get a large space in his study, sufficient justification to deal with it here.

Twelve chapters and an introduction

Pye organized his book in twelve chapters with some 320 pages, embellished by two maps and twelve full colour images, and fortified by nearly fifty pages with end notes giving substantial references to scholarly literature. It needs perhaps underlining these facts before starting to analyze its contents. Pye aimed to discuss matters scholars regularly research, he uses their research and thus he deserves attention both by the general public and at a scholarly level. In a captivating introduction Pye skilfully sets the scene for his book and points to some of the problems daunting the historiography of the countries around the North Sea. He is quite right to refer to the bias caused in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by nationalist views, and to warn for their partial survival, in particular our respect for Bede the Venerable and his book on the history of the English people. Bede’s work cannot been read as a historical work of our times. There are clear limits to his knowledge and method, and powers guiding his vision of Christianity and its coming to British isles. The quality of this introduction is most promising for the following chapters.

The first chapter has a provocative title, ‘The invention of money’. Were the Frisians the first people to use money in the lands north of the Rhine left empty by the Romans? Pye argues this region became already in the eight century a trading zone where Franks, Frisians and Saxons traded commodities with each other, even luxury goods. I could not detect a clear chronology in this chapter. Putting the town of Tiel between Utrecht and Arnhem is a bit awkward when Tiel is some forty kilometers to the south-east, and Arnhem seventy kilometers to the east of Utrecht. Dorestad makes more sense as a point of reference. The second chapter about the way this early medieval society was to some extent definitely a world of the book, seems to me much more convincing.

The two following chapters are perhaps the best part of Pye’s book. He succeeds in creating a view of the role of the Vikings in Western Europe and Scandinavia which goes way beyond the clichés of savage men from the North destroying the peace brought by Charlemagne to his new empire. There was more to the Vikings than only violence and pillaging. They were traders who enlarged the range of early medieval trade. They traded not only in Russia, but came even to Byzantium. In the end they, too, became settlers who founded even new port towns. A number of new books, for example those written by Anders Winroth, can give you a fuller portrait of the Vikings and their impact, but Pye gives in fifty pages a fresh picture with much relevant material and discussions of important topics.

Laws are everywhere

Let us not plod here through every chapter in chronological order. One of the reasons you might want to read Pye’s book carefully is his attention to medieval law and legal matters. The space he creates for showing and discussing law and justice is a relief after reading history books which relegate law to a tiny corner or dismiss it in a few paragraphs as a dull matter.

Pye’s sixth chapter, ‘Writing the law’, gives in nearly thirty pages his first main discussion of medieval law. He describes the way the early medieval ordeal was succeeded by a new approach to facts. Pye uses Merovingian formulae and carefully notes the views of learned men in the ninth century who already opposed the ordeal, but his indication of time is sloppy. The rise of lawyers as a profession leads him to speculate about the rise of professions in general. Surely this a major development in medieval society which needs a through investigation and explanation. One of my troubles with this chapter is the zigzagging between centuries and subjects, including the use of runes, the creation of letters of exchange and the forgery of charters. For me there is a fine line between telling stories which bring something fundamental, and a way of writing where just one example after another serves to make a point. In the end you read a loose narrative chain posing as a convincing argument, instead of a patient analysis of a number of cases for a single matter, question or hypothesis. There is a distinct tendency in this book to impress with short stories and vignettes, leaving me in the end somewhat breathless.

On the other hand I cannot leave this chapter judged only on some rather external characteristics. Is the waning of the use of the ordeal the only thing that really mattered? Why does Pye look closely at the use of runes on artefacts, but not at Scandinavian laws? Why does he completely miss the renewal of legal procedure and the increasing role of counts and kings, in particular in Flanders, Normandy and England? Pye mentions two articles by Raoul Van Caenegem, but he seems unaware of this scholar’s monographs and editions. He tends to cite very often new literature and to look only seldom at older studies. Scholarly literature in German or Dutch is almost absent, which is remarkable for a book written for a substantial part in Amsterdam with the aid of the staff at the university library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He simply misses the fundamental recent articles by Winfried Trusen and Lotte Kéry about the growth and background of the inquisitorial method, nor does he mention any book about medieval judges. Pye writes for example about the importance of judging intention, citing an article from 1964 by John W. Baldwin, but apparently not using his book about the social views of Peter the Chanter.

Pye’s ninth chapter, ‘Dealers rule’, is perhaps the best part. His presentation and discussions of merchants and trade exemplified in the German Hansa is vigorous. The Hansa wanted to be established a rule of its own built on sheer power, trying to keep outside the normal power relations and legal frameworks by concentrating on the sea. Pye has a keen eye for the particular position of merchants in late medieval society. He rightfully shows how the Hansa in a way continued the practices of earlier merchants. This chapter owes it force certainly also to the quick association one can make nowadays with the role of international trade and multinational firms.

The tenth chapter, ‘Love and capital’, very much centers also around law and legal customs. Pye discusses here the role of matrimonial and hereditary law helping women to secure a position within marriage and outside it, for example living as beguines in one of the great Flemish beguinages, or trading in the absence of their husband. Incidentally, when telling the story of a woman living as a beguine at Bruges who was abducted in 1345 by her family, Pye does use an article in Dutch, helped by Dutch scholars, but only in this case. Only two pages after he started telling this story he gives the year when this happened. If it is really important particular developments in Northern Europe were so pivotal in European and world history, I would prefer to know more exactly when and where something happened. Just two maps to figure out the position of a particular town or location mentioned in this book is simply not enough. The British Isles, the Low Countries, Scandinavia and the Baltic need separate maps. It weakens an interesting chapter. His case for the growing independence of medieval women, too, would have deserved more careful research. Bringing in medieval views of sexuality seems to mask the somewhat one-sided documentation of this chapter. It is one thing to bring social and economic history together with legal history, but something else to create a convincing chapter which does not consist only of colourful stories and brilliant side remarks. Dutch readers will remember the book by Matthijs Deen about the Frisian isles and the Wadden Sea [De Wadden. Een geschiedenis (Amsterdam, 2013)], a book with both space for good stories and calm analysis.

You should not think I did not like reading this book. It is a splendid read, and some of Pye’s ideas and views are really worth close consideration. The short eleventh chapter offers a captivating sketch of the impact of the plagues, starting with the Black Death in 1348, and the way they serves as a kind of ultimate terror calling for stricter control of social life by laws and regulations. Pye succeeds also in making you aware of medieval views and the changing role of rational thought in them, but here, too, he acts sometimes as if he was the first to discuss this matter. By chance I received this week a select bibliography of current scholarship about the impact of the Black Death, which makes me more cautious about generalizing views. Alas Pye selects his reading list very arbitrarily.

The Book of Everything

In the two last chapters Pye brings his story to his own period, the Early Modern history of Europe. Medieval developments paved the way for the world hegemony of the Dutch empire in the seventeenth century. It was not just a case of the Dutch winning with much luck their struggle for independence against the mighty Spanish forces, but having at their disposal all the skills, knowledge and connections needed to establish a sea-born empire thanks to the migration of merchants from Flanders who head to leave Antwerp. Seemingly novel ways of finance were not so new. I could not help grinning reading the last chapter with on the back of my mind the books by Russell Shorto about Amsterdam and New York. Trade, cultural exchange and fierce convictions to create by all means space for unhampered trade and commerce were surely important for the success of the early Dutch Republic.

The Edge of the World promises to give us a completely new history. One cannot fault an author for his ambition, but Pye has made things difficult for himself. Even Johan Huizinga did not try to tell in The Waning of the Middle Ages the complete story of the fourteenth and fifteenth century in France and the Low Countries, but restricted himself on purpose to medieval literature. Huizinga had published a scholarly edition of legal sources from Haarlem [Rechtsbronnen der Stad Haarlem (‘s-Gravenhage, 1911)]. However, he did not use legal materials and accounts as primary sources in his 1919 book, enough for one critic to remark privately it was only a novel. Pye does refer in his notes to a number of printed editions, but he seldom uses archival records or manuscripts. I am totally convinced a historical novel can sometimes help you to understand a period much better. The Dutch author Hella Haasse succeeded in her 1949 novel Het woud der verwachting [“In a dark wood wandering” (Chicago, 1989)] in evoking France in the late fourteenth century, and at some turns she even surpassed Huizinga’s insights and evocative style.

Too often Pye supposes a particular story can stand for a number of corroborating sources. It makes him somewhat careless and cavalier with his source materials. It is one thing to turn the lights on the many colours of medieval history and society, but the very glitter of little stories too good to leave out has taken over here from critical examination. A round of killing your darlings would have helped very much. Geography and maritime history really suffer. Pye sells too many alluring stories as if only they provide us with the causes of changes and insight into forces behind continuities. His enthusiasm is admirable, but it does also mar this book.

Only on finishing my own review I have looked at some of the reviews of Pye’s book in the Anglo-American World and in Dutch media. The opinions and reviews show a wide spectrum from admiration for a writer choosing narrative above analysis and his own way to deal with a vast subject, to outright dismissal – Adam Nicolson in The Spectator – because at too many turns Pye got his facts wrong, something journalists and historians should truly worry about. Such facts have blunt or sharp edges which can hit equally painful. On the other hand scholars should rightfully and sincerely accept the challenge of doing a better job themselves. We need imagination and vision, keen perception of perspectives, skills to squeeze out the meaning of written sources and artefacts, unflagging attention to get things right, respect for truth, a willingness to question and learn, and the courage to combine fine analyses with good writing. Deep thinking and rethinking will not make the history of Northern Europe grey. It will help to show the many hues of blue and green on the waves sailed by all kinds of medieval people.