Tag Archives: Parliamentary history

The Hafliðaskrá, a legendary law

Logo Islendinga Sogur, 2018This summer a very special commemoration will take place in Iceland. 900 years ago the first Icelandic laws, the Hafliðaskrá, came into existence. At the seventeenth International Saga Conference to be held at Reykjavik and Reykholt on August 12-17, 2018, the jubilee made it even into the title, Íslendinga sǫgur / 900 years Grágás Laws. What are the Gragas? What do we know about their relationship to this law? How does they relate to Icelandic sagas? I will try to provide an introduction to these laws and some answers to these questions. In two earlier posts Scandinavian laws came here already into view. The first post offered a general overview, and the second post looks at modern translations of Nordic laws.

Laws and literature

Medieval Iceland is famous for its sagas, legendary tales about Iceland’s medieval society with grisly stories, strong men and strange encounters. Icelandic is a language with roots in Old Norse. Approaching the sagas and the Edda, the most famous collection of sagas, is complicated by the existence of two versions, one in prose, the other in poetry.

Let’s first look at the Hafliðaskrá. If you would look in the Wikipedia in its various versions you will find only articles about this law in Icelandic, Swedish and Spanish. The lemma in the Icelandic Wikipedia is very short, the Swedish tells us more, and the Spanish points even to scholarly literature. The Hafliðaskrá is a set of laws proposed in the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, by Hafliði Másson and Bergþór Hrafnsson, a lögsögumaður, literally a law man, knowledgable about the law, a term not so far from the Latin iurisperitus. The Hafliðaskrá is also called the BergþórslögFor the first time in Iceland’s history laws were written down. The great paradox of the Hafliðaskrá is that there is no manuscript witness to its text. We know about it thanks to a saga. It is therefore unclear to which extent any laws issued in 1118 in the Hafliðaskrá are part of the Grágás law collection published around 1200.

Banner Handrit

For the Grágás 55 manuscripts are listed at the Icelandic manuscript portal Handrit, accessible in icelandic, Swedish and English. There is an entry for the Grágás in the English Wikipedia. By the way, this is the point to mention the online version of the Íslensk-ensk orðabók (Concise Icelandic-English Dictionary), online in the Icelandic digital collection of the University of Wisconsin. The etymology of the word Grágás is curious. Either they are literally the Grey Goose Laws, or they were supposed to have been written with goose quills. The bibliography by Halldór Hermannsson, The Ancient Laws of Norway and Iceland. A Bibliography (Ithaca, N.Y., 1911; Islandica, 4) has been digitized and can quickly be accessed as part of Cornell University’s Islandica: A Series in Icelandic Studies where the latest monographs in the Islandica series published since 2008 can be read online, too.

Gragas - ms. GKS 1157 fol., f. 84

The Grágás in the Konungsbok – Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, GKS 1157 fol., f. 84r – source: Handbok i norrøn filologi,
https://folk.uib.no/hnooh/handbok/index.html

Scholars view two manuscripts as the main textual witnesses of the Grágás, the Konungsbók [GKS 1157 fol., since 1979 in the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, Reykjavik; written 1240-1260] and the Staðarhólsbók [Reykjavik, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, AM 334 Fol., written 1260-1281], both accessible online at Handrit, the digital library of Icelandic manuscripts, The Konungsbók manuscript was held for a long period at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, hence its Latin designation Codex Regius. The Grágás were edited by Vilhjálmur Finsen, first from the Konungsbók, published as Grágás: Islændernes lovbog i fristatens tid (…) in four volumes between 1852 and 1870. Finsen added a Danish translation. The first volume of his edition is online at Baekur, the central Icelandic digital library, but you can find all four volumes in the Internet Archive. In 1879 Finsen’s edition of the Grágás in the Staðarhólsbók appeared. Peter Foote, Andrew Dennis and Richard Perkins translated the Grágás into English [Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás (2 vols., Winnipeg 1980-2006)]. You can read the text of the Grágás in Finsen’s edition (vol. 1) also online at the Icelandic Wikisource. Another online version of the first volume of Finsen’s edition is in fact a reprint [Grágás. Konungsbók (Odense 1974)] which mentions other translations, in Latin, Hin forna lögbók Íslendínga sem nefnist Grágás. Codex juris Islandorum antiquissimus qui nominatur Grágás, Johan Frederik Vilhelm Schlegel (ed. and transl.) (Hafniae 1832) and in German, Islandisches Recht. Die Graugans, Andreas Heusler (transl.) (Weimar 1937), published in the series Germanenrechte of the Akademie für Deutsches Recht, an institution created in 1933 to support ideas of the Nazi regime about law and order in the Third Reich. J.F.W. Schlegel (1765-1836) was a Danish nephew of the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel. Heusler (1865-1940) was a Swiss medievalist and a specialist of Germanic and Scandinavian languages literature. Earlier he published for example a study on criminal law in the sagas, Das Strafrecht der Isländersagas (Leipzig 1911; online, Internet Archive).

German scholars have continued to study the language of the Grágas in great detail, leading to studies like such as Wortschatz der altisländischen Grágás (Konungsbók) by Heinrich Beck (Göttingen 1993). More recently appeared the monograph by Hans Henning Hoff, Hafliði Másson und die Einflüsse des römischen Rechts in der Grágás (Berlin 2012) who studies the person of Hafliði Másson and looks at the influence of Roman law and Christianity on laws in medieval Iceland. He also gives an overview of early Icelandic laws and their manuscript transmission.

While reading about the Grágás it becomes clear this name has been used only since the sixteenth-century. It must be remembered, too, that Iceland lost its independence in the years 1262-1264 to Norway. There is a very substantial distance in time between the surviving manuscripts and their redaction in their rather loose form transmitted over the centuries. Only a few leaves from the twelfth century with laws knwon later from the Grágás have survived [AM 315 d fol, dated 1150-1175]. Alas they are only partially readable at the surface without special light and other modern tools. At Handritin heima, a website in Icelandic, Swedish, Danish and German, you will find palaeographical and codicological guidance to medieval Icelandic manuscripts. We must remember in particular the efforts of Árni Magnússon (1668-1730) to save Icelandic manuscripts and books, but in 1728 a fire in Copenhagen destroyed many printed books and luckily only a smaller number of manuscripts in his house. Lost forever were thus early versions of famous texts such as the Heimskringla. For the prose version of the Edda the Codex Traiectinus, a manuscript written on paper around 1600 and held at Utrecht since 1643 (Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, ms. 1374; digital versionSpecial Collections UB Utrecht) is one of only four more or less complete surviving manuscripts.

Banner Stofnún Arni Magnússonar

The Stofnún Arna Magnússonar (SAM) in Reykjavik honours Magnusson’s heritage and scholarly work and promotes research in the field of Iceland’s cultural history. The institute hosts a number of projects and databases. Six language projects are presented at the Malid portal. The SAM has also created the Íslenskt textasafn, an Icelandic textual corpus, and the ISLEX Orðabókin, a multilingual online dictionary for the various Scandinavian languages. One of the projects awaiting completion is an online catalog of Icelandic manuscripts in Canada and the United States.

The University of Copenhagen has become the home of the Den Arnamagnæanske Kommission, a commission founded in 1772 to govern the Arnamagnæanske Stiftelse, the foundation that safeguarded Magnusson’s manuscripts, books and papers. You can read online at Baekur the 1889 catalogue of the 3,000 manuscripts of which 1,400 remain in Copenhagen. The Danish institute has created a separate website about medieval Nordic manuscripts and the online Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog, a dictionary for Old Norse and Icelandic prose. The project for The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary has so far resulted in a series of translations and studies, and an indispensable bibliography which you can download. Creating the dictionary will be a work for many years. At Septentrionalia you can find a PDF version of Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen’s Grundwörterschatz Altisländisch (1999).

There is a clear tradition of studying Icelandic law in connection with Icelandic literature. This tradition is at work, too, in the choice of themes in the section around the Grágás of the conference in August 2018. Among the themes are the contrast between oral and written culture, the history of legal and administrative institutions, ecclesiastical versus secular law, and of course law and legal culture in the Icelandic sagas. The role of legal knowledge in politics and the historiography of medieval law and legal culture, too, will come into view. One of the things shown here at several points is the need to look at resources in neighbouring Scandinavian countries when you are studying one of them., but of course it is wonderful to go to all these Icelandic digital resources with their short names! While writing the last paragraphs of this post the weather in my country was rather hot. Hopefully it did not lead me to serious errors or omissions. Comments and additional information are always welcome, and to many posts I have added postscripts. Let’s hope the weather and volcanoes on Iceland will not disturb the conference in August.

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Dutch historical newspapers in digital context

Screenprint Delpher-Externe krantenbanken

The results of the Dutch elections last week made headlines worldwide, but they did not offer a ready prompt for a quick reaction here. As usual in the Netherlands in the absence of a two-party system it will take some months to build a new coalition government. Even when there had been a land slide election, it would have taken some time to interpret its impact. By sheer coincidence the Dutch digital library Delpher announced last week a new enriched version which now also includes a lot of local and regional newspapers. Their presence means you can look at historical events and their perception at a deeper level, too. Some weeks ago I spotted also another very different Dutch newspaper which I had not expected to find at Delpher. in fact its digital presence has scarcely been noted at all. These two facts finally pushed me into writing this short contribution. In a way it will be a sequel, too, to my first post in March 2017. A few years ago I published here posts about Dutch digital libraries and on digitized British and Dutch newspapers. Delpher figured also in a post about my country and the First World War.

The riches of Delpher

Logo Delpher

Delpher is a digital platform created by the Dutch Royal Library in The Hague in cooperation with Dutch university libraries. Delpher combines two relatively small digitized book collections with digitized journals, newspapers and typescript of radio bulletins. One of the major assets of Delpher is the possibility to search in all collections with one search action. The digitized newspapers stem not only from the own collection of the Royal Library, but also from libraries and archives elsewhere, in a number of cases outside the Netherlands. The latest addition in the newspapers section (Externe krantenbanken) brings you now easy access to historic newspapers from the province Utrecht held at the Archief Eemland in Amersfoort, the province Noord-Holland (Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem, Regionaal Archief Alkmaar and the Waterlands Archief, Purmerend), and Zeeland (Krantenbank Zeeland). Delpher omits the URL’s of the five individual newspaper collections, but you can see a list of these newspapers when you filter your search results (Kies krantentitel). The overview of digitized newspapers can also be downloaded (PDF). For searching newspapers published during the Second World War Delpher has created a nifty preset filter. I can point you to a list of the eighty digitized journals at the website of the Royal Library. Somehow I cannot really understand why such information is not simply presented at the very platform and spot where you would ask for such things.

Among the digitized newspapers are also a number of official gazettes. Indeed, to my surprise it is not just the Nederlandsche staatscourant in its various incarnations (digitized for 1814 to 1950), but also the Bataafsche staatscourant (1805-1806) and its sequels during the French period until 1814, and even the Verzameling van verslagen en rapporten behoorende bij de Nederlandsche Staatscourant, reports accompanying between 1904 and 1950 the Dutch official gazette. Surely an official gazette stands on a different footing than ordinary newspapers, but nowhere at Delpher its presence and special position is indicated. You might wonder why the Staatsblad, a gazette for official decrees and announcements, and the Tractatenblad, the gazette for treatises, were excluded or not yet included at Delpher. The very copyright on these publications is only one of the matters to consider here. To be able to view legislation and its resonance in public opinion and its consequences in cases heard before the courts reported in both national and local newspapers is a major advance.

Logo Staten-Generaal digitaal

To make things worse, the digital presence of the Staatscourant is not even mentioned at the portal Staten-Generaal digitaal with digitized parliamentary debates and reports for the period 1815-1995. The FAQ corner provides hardly any link. Even the links to current digital versions are not given in the of this project. The Royal Library, too, fails to give the link to either Delpher or a direct link to the digitized historical issues of the Staatscourant on its webpage about its history. Instead of complaining I had better offer you here a direct link at Delpher to the historical issues of the Staatscourant, created by using Delpher’s filter options.

I will keep my promise and write indeed a short post, but I must add a few remarks. You might have noticed my references in Dutch to some elements of the Delpher portal. Despite my honest admiration for all the efforts going into Delpher which make it a goldmine for all those delving into Dutch history, books, journals and newspapers, I would like to urge the creation of an interface with at least one additional language. If you agree that such digital initiatives are valuable and important for Dutch culture and history, they might be interesting, too, outside a relatively small country as the Netherlands. As creator of Rechtshistorie, a bilingual website about legal history, I am fully aware of the tasks facing you to create and maintain websites or portals in more than one language. The Dutch Royal Library is an important partner in a number of international projects, and it is only natural to follow with a multilingual interface for all its websites. Adding English or other languages to the interface of Delpher would in particular work as an expression of gratitude to international partners. Among them are such institutions as the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Kungliga Biblioteket in Stockholm, Calvin College, the National Archives, Kew, the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich and the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Meanwhile the teams of the Royal Library should be able to deal quickly with the omissions and gaps mentioned here. Hopefully I have won your curiosity to visit Delpher for the first time or again, and let linguistic barriers not stop you to use it!

A postscript

In May 2017 Delpher announced the addition of 75 journals (PDF). You will quickly spot in this list more staatsbladen for the former Dutch colony in the Indonesian archipelago, and several journals concerning legal statistics. The presence of the Rechtsgeleerd magazijn (1882-1938), a platform for the publications of leading Dutch lawyers, and also the Weekblad van het Regt (1841-1943) is to be applauded. In June 2017 yet another batch of newly digitized journals was announced, with the Staatsblad voor het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (1951-2005) and the Indische tijdschrift van het recht (1915-1942), a legal journal concerning law in the Dutch East Indies. In the latest addition (August 2017) I noticed the Bijvoegsel (Supplement) to the Staatsblad for the years 1851-1841, the Gouvernementsblad van de kolonie Suriname (1873-1950),  the legal journals Rechtsgeleerde bijdragen en bijblad (1885-1894) and the Nederlandsche jaarboeken voor regtsgeleerdheid en wetgeving (1839-1851), and also Van Stockum’s naam- en zaakregister van wetten, Algemeene Maatregelen van Bestuur en Koninklijke Besluiten (…) (1936), a register to Dutch legislation and official decrees since 1813.

Laws under the double eagle of the Habsburg empire

Double eagle of the Austrian Empire, around 1870? - source: Wikimedia Commons

Double eagle of the Austrian Empire, around 1870? – source: Wikimedia Commons

When you want to find resources concerning the history and laws of the Habsburg Empire you will be inclined to look first of all at sources in Vienna. However, in Budapest, too, you can find important sources. The Doppeladler, the two-faced eagle in the blazon of the Habsburg rulers, looked in two directions, and this hint should be followed indeed! In this post I will look both at Austrian and Hungarian resources. The existence of a very interesting portal to digitized sources in Hungary prompted me to write this contribution.

However, the image of an eagle should remind you to look beyond what is immediately visible to human eyes. A second thread in this post is the importance of parliamentary libraries and the online availability of official gazettes. Hopefully this will not only make your curious about the legal history of the Habsburg empire, but indeed ready to explore relevant resources at your computer screen.

Starting in Vienna…

Logo ALEX, ONB, Vienna

Legal historians wanting to do research about law and justice in Austria can benefit in particular from the ALEX project of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. If you would like to enlarge the territory of your search you can go immediately to the links for similar resources in Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The ALEX project brings together historical legislation, parliamentary records, jurisprudence and a host of legal journals. You can find laws as they were originally published in the official gazettes for the various regions of the Habsburg Empire, or use some of the official – and semi-official – collections. The series started by Joseph Kropatschek, Sammlung aller k.k. Verordnungen und Gesetze vom Jahre 1740 bis 1780 (first edition in 8 volumes, Vienna 1786) with laws published between 1740 and 1780 got in 1789 the formal name Theresianisches Gesetzbuch, the “Theresian Code”. It figures also in the blog ALEX dazumal accompanying the ALEX project. The blog posts can help you finding quickly materials for a particular subject, for example electoral legislation, hunting laws, migration and much more. In the section where you can set filters for particular regions or the whole empire (Gesamtstaatliche Gesetzgebung) you can choose the language of your preference, be it German, Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish, Slovenian or Italian. Ruthenian and Rumanian have yet to be added…

Header image RepöstRG (Predella of the Neustädteraltar, Stephansdom, Vienna)

The second way to find Austrian legislation between 1500 and 1918 is literally a gateway. Heino Speer (Klagenfurt) has created the Repertorium digitaler Quellen zur österreichischen Rechtsgeschichte in der Frühen Neuzeit [RepÖstRG), a repertory in two versions, one programmed in HTML, the other one using WordPress. This double gateway offers not only access to legislation, but also to (older) scholarly literature. You can search here in chronological or territorial order. With additional information for persons and the spread of Protestantism in Austria Speer deserves praise for his marvellous efforts, in particular when you can also turn here to the Corpus Iuris Civilis in several editions.

…. and going to Budapest

Logo Hungaricana portal

Vienna and Budapest are cities along the Danube river. It is only logical to visit also Budapest. The Hungaricana portal, accessible in Hungarian and English, pushed me into writing about the Habsburg Empire. The Hungaricana portal shows on its start page five main sections, a gallery with images, digitized books in the library, historical maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also separately searchable at MAPIRE with a trilingual interface, more maps and plans, and finally digitized archival records. The library sections contains also publications issued by museums and archives, including publications of the Österreichisches Nationalarchiv. In particular the archives section brings you to a great variety of digitized sources, for example medieval charters, documents from the city of Budapest, royal letters and decrees, and a census from 1767.

The databases page shows the full strength of Hungaricana. The Régi Magyar Könyvtár [RMK, “Old Hungarian Library”] with digitized old works written in Hungarian, can only be viewed in Hungarian. It contains also the bibliography created by Károly Szábo of works published in Hungarian between 1531 and 1711 and books in other languages printed in Hungary between 1473 and 1711, all with their RMK number and additional information. The maps section, too, can only be viewed in Hungarian, and thus you might have to rely on the quality of the translating tool in a well-known browser.

Header DTT - screenprint

Hungaricana is operated by the Parliamentary Library of Hungary. In the Digitalizált Törvényhozási Tudástár, the Digital Parliamentary Databases, accessible in Hungarian and English you can find much, from laws, legal books, national and ministerial gazettes to legal journals, parliamentary proceedings and decrees. The search interface is in Hungarian and English. This digital library is clearly comparable to the Austrian ALEX portal and indeed a veritable portal for Hungary’s legal history.

Header Visegrad Digital Palriamentary Library

Interestingly there is a second portal with information about the parliaments of countries within the borders of the Habsburg Empire. The Visegrád Digital Parliamentary Library has links to digitized sources for Austria in the ALEX portal, for Hungary from 1861 onwards, Poland (1919-1939 and from 1989 onwards) and for Slovakia since 1939. Visegrád is the Hungarian town on the Danube where the leaders of four East European countries signed in 1991 a covenant for cooperation, the Visegrád 4. In fact the Visegrád portal leads you directly to the Joint Czech and Slovak Digital Parliamentary Library, with both current and historical information; the links of the Visegrád portal for the Czech Republic do not work, but you can find the right links in the Digitální Repozitár of the Czech parliament. This website goes even beyond the Habsburg empire to sources from medieval Bohemia. You will perhaps also want to look at the ten historical maps of the Visegrád portal covering the period 1815 to 1999, but you will surely want to use its multilingual dictionary of parliamentary terms.

At the end of this post I will try to suppress my wish to give you here much more information, but perhaps it will suffice to tell you that I included information about and links to a number of official gazettes on the digital libraries page of my legal history site. In some cases you will see the exact link, in other cases you will find them as a part of a parliamentary library, and there are some portals for gazettes, too. On my page concerning digital archives you can find out more about archives in Austria, Hungary and Poland. I hope to add soon information about the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but meanwhile you can already use the links at some archive portals which will help you in your research under the watchful eyes of the double eagle in its various incarnations.