Tag Archives: Prosopography

Between French and Roman law: Li livres de jostice et de plet

Image of the Livres de jostice de plet - image source: ENC / BNFA few days after the celebrations of Quatorze Juillet, the French national day, I looked in the digital library with editions of the École nationale de Chartes, one of the French grands établissements, the famous school for the training of archivists and palaeographers. Not only can you find here a heading Édition de textes juridiques, but the text edited here anew and online since November 2016, Li livres de jostice et de plet, belongs to the classic legal texts of medieval France. The edition appeared online in 2016. Interestingly this text survives in its entirety only in a single manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. fr. 2844). The text shows clear influences of Roman law, a fact sometimes used to frown upon. How sensible is it to judge the value of its text depending on the presence or absence of influences? It seems useful to look at it here in some detail, also because the new edition curated by Graziella Pastore comes into its own thanks to an accompanying website with more information, a combination that could serve as a model.

Between two laws

Li livres de jostice de plet is a treatise written in Old French and composed in the mid-thirteenth century in the Orléanais, the region around Orleans. Its twenty chapters follow the divisions of the Digesta Iustiniani: The chapters 1 to 10 follow the Digestum Vetus (D. 1 to D. 24.2), chapters 11 and 12 correspond with the Infortiatum (D. 24.3-D. 38), and the remaining chapters 13 to 20 with the Digestum Novum (D. 38-D. 50). The university of Orleans was famous for its law faculty, a fact which came into new light only since the twentieth century in research conducted at Leiden. I will refer to both universities later on.

In the edition published in 1850 by P.N. Rapetti – online in the Internet Archive – the parts of the chapters which contained translations of the Justinian Digest had been skipped. The manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. français 2844 has been digitized (Gallica). Some rather prominent notes written in later centuries show up on the cover and the first pages of the black-and-white digitized microfilm. The description of the edition explains that two other manuscripts have been adduced to complete textual lacunae in the part corresponding to the Infortiatum.The manuscript Bordeaux BM, 354 can be consulted online in the Selène digital library of the Bibliothèque Municipale in Bordeaux, but I could not find an online version of the other manuscript, Rouen BM 794. The use of these manuscript reminded met about my post last year about medieval laws in translation where I did not mention the Livres de jostice et de plet. In the online Catalogue collectif de France you can restrict your search to manuscripts and archives, and you will find in it information about both manuscripts, although this often leads you only to the nineteenth-century Catalogue général. On the other hand, the information about the manuscript BnF, ms. fr. 2844 given in the online edition is also very general. In the new edition all paragraphs with direct translations from the Digest are given in blue print.

In my earlier post I referred to the online bibliography of the Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français (DEAF), and this time I was much more aware how succinct the information it gives is. Interestingly there are two articles for the Livres de jostice et de plet, the first for the old edition without the Digest fragments, the second for those parts taken over from Roman law edited by Pastore. The entry in the DEAF points even to some mistakes in her edition.

Another rather elemental thing jumped into my face: How should one translate the title of this treatise, and where do we find online information about Old French? Jostice is clearly to be associated with justice, but plet is not a quite transparent word. Luckily a number of French dictionaries can be consulted online, including those for medieval French. The ATILF platform leads you to research projects, digital text corpora and dictionaries such as the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français for medieval French between 1300 and 1500, and the bibliography for the Godefroy, the nickname of the Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle edited by Frédéric Godefroy (10 vol., Paris 1880-1905), digitized in the Gallica digital library of the BnF. It is also very nifty accessible at Lexilogos with an option to switch dictionaries. Godefroy brings you to the word plait, with as its primary meaning “accord, convention, traité”, but also “procès, querelle, jugement, discussion”, to mention only the most relevant meanings. The compact dictionary edited by the famous linguist A. Greimas, Dictionnaire de l’ancien français jusqu’au milieu du XIVe siècle (Paris 1968) gives for plait seven main meanings with brief examples.

The etymology of plait is revealing: Plait stems from placitum, explained in the lemma plaid as being conform to the will. In Italian legal history the placita are charters with verdicts which contain in a number of cases formulaic references to Justinian’s Digest. Only in the eleventh century such references clearly point to actual use of the Digest. The online version of the DEAF with a preliminary version of the letters G to K gives a very elaborate lemma for justice and its various spellings. It is seducing to translate the title of the treatise with an alliteration, The Book of Justice and Judgment, but “The Book of Justice and Procedure” seems a reasonable translation.

The second website

Banner "Li livres de jostice et de plet"

On purpose I wrote the first part of my post without using the accompanying website, in the hope it will correct some of my findings and anyway tell us much more than I can do here. However, I cannot hide some mixed feelings in my first impressions. The second website is to a large extent a kind of pilot project for the proper use of meta-data. With just twenty titles in the bibliography and five persons discussed in the biographical section this seems too much of a good thing, especially when you see the wide range of possible output forms and the thoughtful addition of preset links to a host of websites, catalogues and digital libraries. Pastore mentions at the second site only the 1918 offprint of an article by Henri Stein, ‘Conjectures sur l’auteur du Livre de jostice et de plet’, Nouvelle revue historique de droit français et étranger 41 (1917) 346-382, but it figures correct in the bibliographical section of her introduction to the online edition. Stein’s contribution is not included at all in the online Bibliographie d’histoire du droit en langue française (Université de Lorraine, Nancy). The bibliography at the second website consists of printed and online editions of archival resources and texts, but the critical studies do not figure in it. The DEAF bibliography refers to a short article by Jaana Seppänen, ‘”Livre de jostice et de plet” – un texte à rééditer?’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 91 (1990) 153-156.

The section Le manuscrit brings you to an embedded version of the digitized microfilm of the manuscript, and to a link for the description of it in the Jonas database of the IRHT at Paris-Orléans. This database with a repertory of medieval manuscripts with texts in medieval French and Occitan gives a short description of the manuscript in the BnF – essentially: written on parchment, 200 folia, dimensions: 350 x 270 mm; language: French (langue d’oil); datation: 1260-1275; origin: Orléanais-Île de France, and the incipit of the main text – and refers for more details to an upcoming article by Graziella Pastore and [Frédéric] Duval, ‘La tradition française de l’Infortiat et le Livre de jostice et de plet’ in the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, one of the oldest European history journals. The issues from 1840 to 2012 can be consulted online at Persée. The entry in the Jonas database does not give the first name of Duval. You might want to check in the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii how many medievalists share the name Duval! At Academia you can look at a poster created by Pastore concerning the matters to be discussed in the promised article, and even better, you can view online a registration of her lecture about Li livres de jostice et de plet given at the École nationale de Chartes on November 29, 2016 for the presentation of the online edition. The results she announces in her lecture make you impatient to read the full story. I will not give a complete spoiler here, but one of the elements which comes into focus is the role of medieval canon law.

The Jonas database does not indicate the presence at the start of the BnF manuscript of a royal ordinance from 1254 (fol. 1r-3r) and some chapters of the Établissements de Saint Louis at fol. 3r-4r, things duly noted by Rapetti. His introduction is certainly still worth reading. For further study of this second legal text the translation by F.R.P. Akehurst, The Etablissements de Saint Louis. Thirteenth-century legal texts from Tours, Orléans and Paris (Philadelphia, 1996) offers itself as a starting point. Of course Pastore should get credits for giving some information about five historical figures around the Livres de jostice et de plet, but sometimes you would want to have not only references to old editions or to Stein’s article. These persons were mainly officers with a royal charge, for example baillif (bailli), and their presence is suggestive. A recent essay by Bernard Ribémont, ‘Compiling and writing a legal treatise in France: the Livre de Jostice et de Plet’, in: News from the Raven: Essays from Sam Houston State University on Medieval and Renaissance Thought, Darci N. Hill (ed.) (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014) 133-142, gives you an idea of paths to pursue. Ribémont does look in particular at the role of medieval canon law and the way canon law texts were translated and adapted in the Livres de jostice et de plet.

Between Paris and Orleans

In my view there is another fruitful way to approach these legal treatises, by paying attention to the university of Orleans. Only last year the online legal history journal Clio@Themis published a special dedicated to the theme La forge du droit. Naissance des identités juridiques en Europe (IVe-XIIIe siècles), “The forge of law. The birth of legal identities in Europe (4th-13th centuries)”, with an article by Kees Bezemer (Leiden), ‘Jacques de Revigny (d. 1296): Roman law as a means to shape French law’. His footnotes refer to a number of his own publications, including ‘French customs in the commentaries of Jacques de Revigny’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 62 (1994) 81-112. Bezemer devoted a book to Revigny, What Jacques saw. Thirteenth-century France through the eyes of Jacques de Revigny, professor of law at Orleans (Frankfurt am Main, 1997). Custom law in the eyes of De Revigny is the subject of the thesis of Laurent Waelkens (Universiteit Leuven) defended thirty years ago at Leiden, La théorie de la coutume chez Jacques de Révigny: édition et analyse de sa répétition sur la loi De quibus (D. 1, 3, 32) (Leiden, 1984). Sadly the online bibliography at Nancy does not contain this study of Waelkens, and for Bezemer only one publication has been entered. Bezemer and Waelkens follow the lead of the late Robert Feenstra who had entered the paths first walked by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954).

We will probably have to look also at an earlier generation of professors at Orleans, to the predecessors of Jacques de Revigny and Pierre de Belleperche, such as Guido de Cumis and Jean de Monchy. In this respect and for a good balance I have to mention a study by Marie Bassano, “Dominus domini mei dixit. . . “; Enseignement du droit et construction d’une identité des juristes et de la science juridique. Le studium d’Orléans (c. 1230-c. 1320) (Ph.D. thesis, Université Paris-2, 2008).

There is a clear need to look past the blinkers! From my point of view there seems to be a gap between an outdated belief on one side that any influence of Roman law in French medieval legal history is harmful, perhaps because this legal system contributed to the power of the French kings, and on the other side the fact Roman law offered itself as a normative system with the possibility to give legal customs a proper place. The French kings had indeed strong ambitions to become as powerful as their English counterpart and the German emperor, and they, too, enlisted everything and everyone that seemed useful for that purpose, with or without explicit use of Roman law. The online edition of Graziella Pastore should indeed offer yet another stimulus to look again at France in the thirteenth century in an open way. Using the French translations of Meijers’ articles concerning Orléans and French law provided by Robert Feenstra and H.FW.D. Fischer [Études d’histoire du droit (4 vol., Leiden 1956-1973)], and the studies of Bezemer and Waelkens, often accessible in French, give us the critical mass to do this. Let’s hope Pastore quickly puts things in order at the second website and brings us the promised new article in the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes which should do justice to the almost two centuries long tradition of the École nationale des Chartes.

A postscript

On September 22, 2017 Kees Bezemer will retire from Leiden University after 42 years. A meeting in his honour will be held at the Law Faculty.

Love and natural law

Homepage Natural law project, Universität ErfurtSometimes a title can be very evocative or curious. When I read about an upcoming conference about Love as the principle of natural law. The natural law of Johann Gottlieb Heineccius and its context at Halle on November 24 to 26, 2016, I simply wanted to know more about this event. What is the connexion between love and law? What is the role of love in or for natural law? In this post I would like to make a foray into the history of natural law, an important movement in the European legal history of the Early Modern period. The event at Halle is organized by the platform Natural Law 1625-1850, an international research project led by scholars at Erfurt, Halle and Bayreuth.

Love is the word

The project Natural Law 1625-1850 aims at studying natural law as a phenomenon which connect law with other disciplines, such as philosophy, political thought, theology and the arts. Natural law as a concept or a set of ideas gained importance not only in Western Europe but also in North and South America. To help achieving this aim the project website will eventually contain digitized sources, a scholarly bibliography and a biographical database, all surrounded by a scholarly network with accompanying events.

Portrait of J.G. Heineccius

Portrait of Heineccius by Christian Fritzsch in his “Opera posthuma” (1744) – Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel / Porträtdatenbank Franckesche Stiftungen, Halle

The conference in Halle has as its objective getting Heineccius out of the shadows cast by his much more famous colleague Christian Wolff (1679-1754). In fact the main venue of the conference, the Christian-Wolff-Haus at Halle, is the very house where Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (1681-1741) lived for some years, too. Heineccius’ major book concerning natural law, his Elementa iuris naturae et gentium (1737) was certainly as influential as any of Wolff’s publications. Before you start arguing that the scope of this conference is rather small, it is good to be aware of a second conference organized by the platform around the theme Sacred Polities, Natural Law and the Law of Nations in the 16th-17th Centuries (Budapest-Olomouc, November 10-12, 2016). Exactly the impact of natural law across the borders of Northern and Southern Europe, continental and common law, and the exchanges between Protestant and Catholic Europe will be discussed at this event.

One of the reasons to focus on Heineccius is the simple fact that although his works both in the field of Roman and natural law are famous enough, his own life and career and the development of his views is still a field to be discovered. Luckily there is at least one modern biography by Patricia Wardemann, Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (1681-1741). Leben und Werk (Frankfurt am Main, 2007). In the first edition of Michael Stolleis’ Juristen. Ein biographisches Lexikon. Von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (Munich 1995) Klaus Luig did not mention at all in his contribution Heineccius was first trained as a theologian before he started studying philosophy and law. In this respect the concise article by Rolf Lieberwirth for the Neue Deutsche Biographie 8 (1969) 296-297 is better. The online version of this article at the portal Deutsche Biographie has as great assets direct links to various online projects in which persons appear. The conference program has a judicious mixture of contributions focusing on the person of Heineccius on one side, and on the other side papers discussing in particular his impact in various European countries. Alas only the introductory lecture by Knut Haakonsen and Frank Grunert, with Diethelm Klippel founders of the platform, will address directly the theme of love as a principle of natural law. Here Klaus Luig’s short biographic article is helpful with a terse note that Heineccius meant love as a command of God. Natural law tends to be viewed as an attempt to build a legal system without massive reliance on Christian religion or at the best a decidedly Protestant legal order. Luig adds that precisely this religious character made Heineccius’ views also interesting for lawyers in Catholic countries.

Heineccius published his work in Latin whereas Wolff became famous for his use of German in his learned publications. He gained even praise for his excellent grasp of Latin. Interestingly, there is a modern German translation of Heineccius’ Elementa iuris naturae et gentium by Peter Mortzfeld, Grundlagen des Natur- und Völkerrechts, Christoph Bergfeld (ed.) (Frankfurt am Main, 1994). One of the things that merit attention when looking at natural law is the interplay between theology, philosophy and law. Maybe natural law deserves our attention exactly because it forces you to see legal history in a wider context.

Searching for portraits of Heineccius luckily brought me to the English translation by George Turnbull (1741, 1763) of Heineccius’ Elementa iuris naturae et gentium, now available online in the Online Library of Liberty. The modern introduction to this translation offers a welcome sketch in English of Heineccius’ views and the role of love as a guiding principle. It becomes clear he saw love not as an infatuation, an affinity or an Affekt, but as “the desire for good”, working in our relations to God, ourselves and other people.

Natural law has its attractions as offering a supranational foundation beyond existing legal systems, but in reality either religious influences or Roman law became their actual source. In this respect attempts to create a system for natural law are flawed, but they offer for historians fascinating views as a kind of projection screen for the vision of the lawyers working in this direction. For me it is also the changing character of nature itself that has made me cautious about natural law and its supposed independence of existing forms of law and justice.

A Frisian connection

Banner Franeker Universiteit

Another reason for me to look at Heineccius is the period he spent at the university of Franeker between 1723 and 1727. The university of Franker existed from 1585 to 1811. Heineccius quickly came into contact with for example Cornelis van Bijnkershoek. He wrote a preface to Van Bijnkershoek’s Observationes iuris Romani in the edition Frankfurt and Leipzig: ex officina Krugiana, 1738. In the licensed database of the Corpus Epistolarum Neerlandicarum (Royal Library, The Hague and Picarta) I could find just one letter to Heineccius written by Tiberius Hemsterhuis (Leiden, UB, BPL 3100). Using the search portal for Dutch archives I could find Heineccius as one of the people mentioned in the correspondence now part of the StadhouderlijkerArchief kept at Tresoar, the combined Frisian archive and provincial library at Leeuwarden.

Alas I checked in vain for Heineccius in several online projects dealing with Early Modern correspondence and networks. The project Cultures of Knowledge give you a selection of relevant links. Only the Kalliope Verbund has records for a few letters to and by Heineccius in the holdings of German libraries. The Archivportal Deutschland mentions a portrait of Heineccius and a letter of king Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia from 1737 who did not allow Heineccius to become a professor at Leiden. Just like the university of Harderwijk Franeker was for a considerable number of professors only a stop to go to either Utrecht or Leiden. The letter at the Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Munich [BayHStA, Gesandtschaft Haag 2532] is also traceable through the portal of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, but there is no access to a digitized version of this document. By the way, the Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Universiteiten van Groningen en Harderwijk tot 1811, B.S. Hempenius-Van Dijk et alii (eds.) (Amsterdam 2013) can be downloaded as a PDF, as is the case, too, with the volume Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Utrechtse Universiteit tot 1811, edited by Margreet Ahsmann, Robert Feenstra and Corjo Jansen (Amsterdam, etc., 1993). You will spot several professors who climbed from minor universities to the most famous! It has to be said that these volumes do not offer complete bibliographies in the sense librarians and book historians use this term. They should be seen as extensive finding lists with descriptions of copies of the works of these professors found in major libraries around the world. Robert Feenstra wrote an extensive bibliographical article about Heineccius in the Low Countries, ‘Heineccius in den alten Niederlanden : Ein bibliographischer Beitrag’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 72 (2004) 297-326, and Klaus Luig, too, should be mentioned again, now with his article ‘Heineccius, ein deutscher Jurist in Franeker’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 77 (2011) 219-227.

Heineccius in context

If you want to delve into Frisian history the website of Martin Engels contains lots of transcriptions of documents on many subjects, including the history of the university in Franeker. In the corner Iuridica of his colourful website Engels presents things of more general interest for legal historians. He has created a webpage with the contents of the Practisijns woordenboekje by Franciscus Lievens Kersteman (Dordrecht 1785), a concise glossary of Dutch legal terms. There is a page about the Soevereine Raad or Hof van Gelre in Roermond, a court in the province Guelders. For Frisian legal history Engels made extracts for a glossary of Frisian law in the Early Modern period from S.J. Fockema Andreae, Proeve van een woordenlijst der aan Friesland (onder de Republiek) eigene bestuurs- en rechtstermen (Leeuwarden 1967). The very core of his website are pages about the copy at Leeuwarden of a sixteenth-century collection of legal treatises, the Oceanus iuris, meaning the Tractatus universi iuris or Tractatus illustrium (…) iurisconsultorum (Venetiis 1584-1586), originally donated in the early seventeenth century to the university of Franeker. Engels scanned and indexed the lists of authors in the Oceanus iuris. I wrote here about this massive legal collection and its forerunners in an earlier post. When studying publications by lawyers from Franeker it is useful to look at the Bibliografie van hoogleraren in de rechten aan de Franeker universiteit tot 1811, Robert Feenstra, Theo Veen and Margreet Ahsmann (eds.) (Amsterdam 2003). Personal reasons forced Heineccius to return to Germany. The website on the history of the Franeker Universiteit contains concise but interesting information centered around the Museum Martena in the historical buildings of the Martenastins, a stately mansion in Franeker from 1506. I did not spot Heineccius among the selection of portraits of professors on this website. A search in the rich online databases of the Dutch Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in The Hague yielded no results for Heineccius.

Banner IZEA, Halle

In the team of scholars leading the project on the history of natural law between 1625 and 1850 Frank Grunert (Halle) is clearly the one closest to the German luminaries of the eighteenth century. At the Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für die Erforschung der Europäischen Aufklärung of the Universität Halle he leads the projects for the modern critical edition of selected works of Christian Thomasius (1655-1728) and his correspondence. Eventually the volumes of the edituion of Thomasius’ letters will be put online. The website of the IZEA can be visited in German, English and French. There is also a digitized version of a current bibliography for Thomasius [Bibliographie der Thomasius-Literatur 1945-2008 (Halle 2009); PDF], and you might also want to use Gerhard Biller, Wolff nach Kant. Eine Bibliographie (2nd edition, Halle 2009). Among the recent publications of the IZEA the Handbuch Europäische Aufklärung: Begriffe, Konzepte, Wirkung, Heinz Thoma (ed.) (Stuttgart 2015) stands out, a volume with fifty contributions about central concepts, ideas and the impact of the Enlightenment.

The IZEA is located in the former Rote Schule, the building of the girls school on the grounds of the famous Franckesche Stiftungen zu Halle, the institution which supported the influential pietist movement started by August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), becoming eventually a major phenomenon in German culture. Its buildings survived the DDR period, but it is still chilling to see the highway above street level directly opposite the beautiful grounds and buildings. The Franckesche Stiftungen have created a fine portrait database in which you can find images of many German people. In the digital library of the Franckesche Stiftungen I did notice the Epistolar Franckes, a project for digitizing Francke’s correspondence, but currently there is no trace of Heineccius. Let’s not forget to mention that the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt in Halle is one of the libraries participating in the project VD18, the overview of eighteenth-century German imprints. Its digital library contains a number of Heineccius’ works. The Repertorium Alba Amicorum contains records for the entries in 1719 of Heineccius, Wolff and Francke himself in the album of Immanuel Petrus Geier [Halle, Frankesche Stiftungen, Archiv: AFSt/H D 133].

Within the project Natural Law 1625-1850 four scholars look at German universities (Frank Grunert, Diethelm Klippel, Heiner Lück and Gerhard Lingelbach); Wilhelm Brauneder will focus on universities in Austria. For other countries individual scholars come into action. I would have expected more information on the project website in the very month two scholarly events take place, but perhaps the energy of the organizers was focused for good reasons on these events! Hopefully the attention to the European context of the great figures in the history of natural law and their interest in and connections with other disciplines will lead to interesting results.

Charlemagne’s Europe, a construction


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

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

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

Back to basics

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

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

Results for DKar I:117

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

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

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

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

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

A first impression

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

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