Tag Archives: Scandinavia

A portal for the history of the common law

Screenprint online guide to the history of common law, Bodlieian LibrariesSometimes things arrive really unexpectedly. Good introductions and guides to any research field can help you enormously in getting started, gaining an overall view of things and offering openings to wider context. At my own website for legal history, Rechtshistorie, I offer introductions to several legal systems and their history. Recently a couple of online subject guides were launched by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford which deserve attention here. They amount in fact to a portal. I will focus on the guide to the history of common law, but the other guides are worth visiting, too.

Common law in manifold variety

Logo Bodleian Libraries

A first glance at the new subject guide shows first and foremost an almost overwhelming mass of subjects. It is really a choice to present between thirty and forty subjects on separate pages instead of ordering them a bit by putting for example particular periods or royal courts under separate headings. The first row of headings clearly leads you to more general subjects and some specific sources, the Year Books and law reports. It is easy to point to themes and subjects you might want to add or remove here. Forest law makes a surprise appearance, but you might want to add for example the Inns of Court. Some reshuffling is surely possible, perhaps first of all bringing periods at one level or putting the items in alphabetical order. Anyway I have not yet seen any LibGuide with such a high number of subpages.

In my review of this research guide you must forgive me my personal picks among the headings! Local legal officials is a page giving you general guidance to a fair number of these officials, and understandably sheriffs, constables, justices of the peace and coroners receive most attention here, apart from general information about local government. You will find much more about medieval coroners on my own common law web page.

Under Commentary you will find information about the major current standard works about English legal history and you will be sent also to great historians such as Maitland, Holdsworth, Milsom, Vinogradoff and of course Blackstone. The heading Treatises & Authorities brings you to classic writers such as Coke and Hale, and also to older treatises (Bracton, Britton), but also again to Blackstone. The references to online versions are both to licensed editions only accessible at subscribing institutions, and to free accessible versions. If you have access to subscribers-only materials you are lucky indeed. The free versions give sometimes only a translation of a particular source, a thing not always indicated here.

Among the periods to review here I have chosen a classic era, 1066-1216. The overview of regnal years is most useful, and the choice of electronic resources with both laws and treatises is a good one, as is the choice of studies which you should consult. A second era, 1820-1914, clearly stems from the volume in the Oxford History of the Laws of England. Here the attention to reports is indeed welcome, but I did not find a reference to the U.K. Parliamentary Papers (Proquest). A separate page about the history of Parliament would be very useful, but going to Legislative history solves this apparent omission. On the page about Ireland I missed the Dippam portal with the Enhanced British Parliamentary papers on Ireland. By the way, some pages in this guide have an URL with numeral codes, others contain words which are more recognisable to human eyes. The page on Scotland is strong on important studies and less full for online resources.

The online guide for the history of the common law shows its sheer width by containing a page on canon law. It offers a nutshell guide bringing you to introductions by James Brundage and to some well-chosen studies (Richard Helmholz, Anders Winroth and Stephan Kuttner) and (online) resources. English students starting to discover medieval canon law might want to read also the compact book by Dorothy Owen, The medieval canon law : teaching, literature and transmission (Cambridge 1990).

A web of online guides

The Bodleian Libraries have created similar guides to ancient lawRoman law, the legal history of Western Europe and the history of international law. Using the Bodleian’s general overview of more than one hundred online law research guides the list on the starting page of their LibGuides for law and history can be extended to medieval Scandinavian law and Roman law in translation, a subject dear to me. This overview of translations is very useful. I noticed in particular the online version of excerpts from Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Font (eds.), Women’s life in Ancient Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook in Translation (2nd edition, Baltimore 1992), which deserves inclusion at my own Roman law page. On the page on medieval Scandinavian law I expected a reference to The Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary, a project led by the University of Aberdeen, mentioned here last year. Yet another nutshell guide of the Bodleian Libraries is Witchcraft and the law in Early Modern Europe and the USA: Bad magic by Isabel Holoway. Hannah Chandler contributes an online guide to criminal and judicial statistics, 1800 to present day.

At the end of this quick review our thanks should go to the Bodleian, especially to Elizabeth Wells and Margaret Watson for their courage and librarianship to create five guides covering important fields of legal history. To me it is clear that you can frown at the very number of individual subjects and periods in the guide to the history of common law, but at the same time it invites you also to rethink your assumptions. I remember visiting somewhere an online guide based on LibGuides with many subdivisions which in the end scarcely helped to find the rich resources of the library and university. Personal taste, preferences and concrete research interests will influence your opinions about these guides. However, the most important conclusion is that the Bodleian Libraries and other libraries using LibGuides do not hesitate to face the challenge to give guidance in the virtual world, too, and thus redefine themselves for new service to student and scholars in the age of digital information. With the guides dealing with themes and subjects in legal history the law guides of the Bodleian Libraries set an example to which other institution can aspire. The very presence of LibGuides has already inspired many libraries to create sensible guides to many subjects, and it is good to see legal history among them.

250 years freedom of the press

TheSwedish royal ordinance of 1766The freedom of bloggers is not something you should take for granted. In some countries of the world blogging is really dangerous because governments are not at all at ease about the freedom to express oneself. 250 years ago Sweden saw the first legislation for freedom of print. In Sweden and Finland special websites gave been launched to celebrate this commemoration. Anders Chydenius, the Swedish minister responsible for the epoch-making law, came from Finland. In this post I would like to look at the celebrations and at eighteenth-century Sweden and the impact of this act of legislation.

A long history

Header Frittord 250

The commemoration website Frittord 250 [The Free Word 250] created by the Swedish Academy of Sciences is the first point of access to find out about the law of 1766. The corner with source materials (Källmaterial & resurser) is the only point where you will find information about the historical legislation. You can download a PDF with a digital version of the original law (24 MB) or read it online at the website of the university library in Lund. With fifteen articles in a few pages it is a remarkable concise law. However, this evidentially led rather quickly to changes. Before 1800 there were already five new laws dealing with the freedom of print. The section offers the texts of seventeen ordinances and laws up to 2001. When you press the button In English you will find only a brief summary of the matter at the center of the commemoration. The calendar of activities and blog posts form the major part of the project website. One of the activities is a travelling exhibition Ordets akt [The act of the word], now at the Kulturhuset Stadsteatern in Stockholm.

Saying the focus of Frittord 250 is on the present is an understatement. I happened to find at The Constitution Unit website of University College London in the foreign corner of the section Freedom of Information an introduction about the Swedish freedom of press. Here, too, the story jumps from just one short paragraph about the original law to the current state of affairs. It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of current debates about freedom of speech, freedom of information and the way governments try to interfere with the public sphere, it is another thing to study developments and backgrounds which could be rather important in understanding and interpreting contemporary issues. For the United Kingdom the website of the Constitution Unit gives you at least a short history of developments since the sixties. The links section brings you for example to the international portal Right2Info where you can find much more. Its resources section is very impressive, even when you might wonder whether it is sufficient to mention for some countries only the national ombudsman.

Banner Freedom of Information 250 years

The historical background of the 1766 law gets more space and attention at the Finnish website Freedom of Information: Anders Chydenius 250 years, a website accessible as often is the case in Finland in Finnish, Swedish and English. It is invigorating to read here about the historical, cultural and political background of Sweden’s pioneering law. Chydenius can be termed a very active exponent and propagator of Enlightenment ideas. His plea for freedom of press was part of his campaign in 1765 and 1766 for free trading rights. Maren Jonasson and Perti Hyttinen translated a number of Chydenius’ works in English [Anticipating The Wealth of Nations. The selected works of Anders Chydenius, 1723-1809 (London, etc., 2011)]. This book contains also a translation of the 1766 law. When preparing this post I also visited the website on copyright history of Karl-Erik Tallmo who looks not only at Sweden, but also at the history of copyright in England and Germany. Bournemouth University and University of Cambridge have created the well-known portal Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), and you can also learn something from the digitized texts in the Archivio Marini (Università degli Studi di Pisa).

Instead of only looking at the context of this law we might as well look at this piece of legislation in some detail to establish the width of its impact on information. The law’s full title Kongl. Maj:ts Nådige Förordning, Angående Skrif- och Tryck-friheten, “His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press”, promises much. In the preamble censorship is nominally abolished but technically transferred to the royal chancery. The stress on the benefit for the enlightenment of the people and the observance of laws is remarkable. In the first article a clear limit for the freedom of expression is posed by forbidding anything that goes against the Christian faith. Writings criticising the form of the state and the king himself are prohibited in the second and third article. Publications have to be printed with full names or with the printer’s responsibility to disclose the author’s name. The need for due process in cases in which this is disputed is made explicit. The fifth article stresses the fact only the limitations of the three first articles can set a limit to any expression in print. The following articles deal with matters we would describe today as freedom of information, in particular concerning actions of the government and the judiciary, including the verdicts of judges. The support in the fifth and twelfth article for those wanting to write honestly and correctly about history is not only pleasing for historians, but indeed important. Article 13 is a clause to ensure any subject not included or mentioned falls under the freedom of press, and article 14 expresses the wish to make this law irrevocable. In my view this law can stand scrutiny from modern perspectives in a number of aspects. The law was issued on December 2, 1766. For Chydenius freedom was a crucial element in all his plans for reform and renewal of contemporary Sweden.

The Finnish website shows how exactly this wish for perennial and unchanged force was soon thwarted. It makes abundantly clear that the Swedish road was not a linear road of and to freedom of speech, print and information. Alas for those wanting things to be entirely black or white, good or bad, a success or a failure, the Swedish story shows history does not fit into their dualistic world view. Thus history can be perceived as a possible nuisance, a luxury good of elites or something a nation cannot afford anymore. I feel ashamed to live in a country where we have to face the threat of the disappearance of history as a part of the secondary school curriculum . Baron Raoul van Caenegem, the famous Flemish legal historian, wrote already many years ago: “Who hinders, forbids or abolishes the study of history, condemns people to ignorance and gullibility”.

Logo Anders Chydenius Foundation

It is up to you to look at both the Swedish and the Finnish websites, and also to the website of the Anders Chydenius Foundation, yet another example of a trilingual site, to expand your knowledge, deepen your understanding, in short to use your critical faculties to see the values history can provide and the ways it can sharpen our understanding of contemporary society. However, history can be more than a handmaiden guiding you to act wisely in current affairs, it can teach you much about women and men in the past, the ways they faced the problems of their times and aspired to be as much human as we do.

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).

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.

Hunting for origins: the example of companies

A few weeks ago I read about the purchase in 2008 by China of a copper mine at Mount Toromocho in Peru for the sum of 3 billion dollars. It reminded me that I still have a story up my sleeve about another copper mine to illustrate the early history of companies with shareholders, and even better, the company in question still exists. When writing here in 2011 about the oldest share of the Dutch East India Company from 1606 I read also about companies founded much earlier. In this post I want to follow that track. However, this will lead also to questioning the idea and practice of searching for and claiming the earliest occurrence of legal constructions.

Searching for the oldest companies

Logo Hudson Bay Company

My search for companies older than the Dutch example of a company which issued stocks in the early seventeenth century is in itself in no way new or original. In fact I am surprised how much space has been devoted to this search in the English Wikipedia, with inevitably a list of oldest companies. This list is marred by the fact that a number of companies can claim indeed a foundation at a very early date, but they did not start outright as stock companies, the definition to be explored here. It was during a search last year for a particular person that I encountered the website of the Hudson Bay Company, founded officially in 1670. The Hudson Bay Company is proud of its long history. The full name, Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay, indicates clearly the role of stockholders. Its archives are since 1974 at Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 2007 the UNESCO admitted these archives to the Memory of the World Register.

Another necessary distinction to be made is between temporary stock companies and more permanent ventures. In ancient and medieval history and law you will encounter examples of joint ventures which last for just one voyage of a ship. Temporary companies such as the English Guinea or African Company (1577-1580) were followed by the East India Company (1600), the Dutch Noordse Compagnie and the Companie van Verre predated the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), founded in 1602. The name of the VOC indicates that in it a number of earlier companies merged together.

A sale concerning the Stora Kopparberg, 1288

The “founding charter” for Stora Kopparberg, 1288 – image Riksarkivet, Stockholm

When I wrote in November 2011 about the oldest share of the VOC dating from 1606 I found comments on the website of Radio Netherlands Worldwide stating that Stora Kopparberg, a Swedish company, is the oldest existing stock company documented as early as 1288. The text of the June 16, 1288 charter can be found in the printed version of the Svenskt Diplomatarium, digitized at a website maintained at the Riksarkivet in Stockholm (SDHK, no. 1406). You can also use a modern transcription and a more extensive summary in the Svenskt Diplomatarium, all in Swedish. In this charter bishop Peter of Västerås acknowledges the sale of an eight part of the copper mountain called Tiskasjöberg, octauam partem montis cupri dicti Tiscasioberg, to his nephew Nils Christinaeson, who however commutes the sale for the possession of two parishes, Fröslunda and Hasselbäck. The sale was certainly important, because the charter was sealed also by king Magnus Ladulås and four other bishops. How the division of this property into eight parts came into existence is not clear, nor is there any mentioning here of the issue of shares. I feel sympathy for the anonymous comment on the RNW website that one can perhaps describe it better as a privately owned firm with external shareholders. In view of medieval canon law it is indeed the question whether you should see this property of the diocese Västerås as property of the chapter and bishop, a part perhaps of the mensa episcopalis. Were the king and the other bishops sealing themselves shareholders?

Mining at the Stora Kopparberget, also known as the Falu Grava, had started already in the tenth century. A charter from 1347 records the granting of several rights to the miners by king Magnus IV (SHDK, no. 5394; February 17, 1347), and here it becomes clear the mine worked as a company. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this copper mine was the largest source of copper worldwide. In 1862 the official name became Stora Kopparsberg Bergslags Aktie Bolga, a name indicating the issue of stocks. The delving of copper ended in 1992. The UNESCO added the site of the copper mine in 2001 to the World Heritage List. In 1998 Stora AB fused with the firm Enso into StoraEnso.

Are there any other examples of early stock companies? The firm of Francesco di Marco Datini in fourteenth century Prato had certainly partners. The Fondo Datini at the Archivio di Stato in Prato is one of the largest medieval commercial archives still preserved. If I would have to answer at point blank for examples still existing medieval companies I am tempted to look at the so-called Livery Companies in London, late medieval craft and trade associations, but they did originally function as guilds and did not trade as companies. Helmut Coing’s Europäisches Privatrecht 1500-1800 I, Älteres Gemeines Recht (Munich 1985) 523-530, distinguishes between different kinds of trade companies: Personengesellschaften, partnerships with mining companies as a special subspecies, Kapitalgeschafften with for examples the Italian montes – excluding the montes pietatis -, privileged seafaring and colonial companies in England and the Low Countries, and more modern companies from the late seventeenth century onwards.

In France the Société des Moulins du Bazacle was a milling company near Toulouse which was owned since the mid-thirteenth century by shareholders. The mills were driven by the water at the barrage de Bazacle, a dam in the Garonne river. Eventually the shares got traded on the market in Toulouse. The company existed until 1946. Companies are already mentioned in French law in the Livre de Jostice et de Plet around 1260 (Li livres de jostice et de plet, Louis-Nicolas Rapetti (ed.) (Paris, 1850) ch. 7.15, pp. 167-168; online for example in the Hathi Trust Digital Library).

Logo Sumitomo

The webpages of the Hudson Bay Company Archives mention the Japanese keiretsu (business group) Sumitomo. It took over a copper mine founded in 1591 by Riemon Soga in Kyoto. In 1691 the firm started winning copper from the Besshi copper mine which closed only in 1973. Sumitomo Mining Company is the very heart of this business group, one of the world’s largest firms. It is interesting to note that both Stora Kopparberg and Sumitomo had copper mining as a basic activity.

Let’s return briefly to the Wikipedia list of oldest companies. You might indeed object I was too dismissive of its qualities and rejected it too quickly as unuseful. Of course it is a nice list of early enterprises which have continued active until modern times, but not every enterprise took off at its start as a stock company. Here a few examples should suffice to illustrate this argument. The British Royal Mint was founded in 886, but king Alfred the Great did certainly not found a firm. Only in 2009 the Royal Mint became a company with limited liability, Royal Mint Ltd. The second example I know from my own experience in South Germany. The Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan reckons its foundation as a brewery back to a charter issued by the city of Freising in 1040 allowing the abbey of Weihenstephan brewing and serving beer, but surely at that time the brewery was not a separate corporate entity. By the way, the genuineness of the 1040 charter is disputed.

Understandably I will not try to plod through a list of dates and firms to be checked, and produce yet another tedious list. Since already two mines figure in this post it is just an educated guess to look briefly at the Wieliczka salt mine near Cracow in Poland. This mine was already known in the Neolithicum (3500 BC). In the eleventh century the mine was nicknamed Magnum Sal. The oldest shaft still present dates from the thirteenth century. In the late thirteenth century the Cracow Mines Company was founded. The Wieliczka mine operated until 2007. This mine, too, has been added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Mining and law

At the end of this post it might seem I have offered here a kind of tour of the Memory of the World Register and the World Heritage List, with only a very vague link to legal history. You might feel lucky I did not yet include a Dutch twist to this post, but the history of mining law brings me an opportunity to do just that. Mining law is indeed a separate branch of private law. In 1978 J. de Boer defended at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam his Ph.D. thesis on De winning van delfstoffen in het Romeinse recht, de middeleeuwse juridische literatuur en het Franse recht tot 1810 [The extraction of minerals in Roman law, the medieval legal literature and French law to 1810](Leiden, 1978). This thesis has a summary in English. Coing’s survey mentioned above brings you to other studies concerning mining law including works by Early Modern lawyers, for instance the Speculum iuris metallici, oder Berg-Rechts-Spiegel by Sebastian Span (Dresden, 1698; digitized at Heidelberg). In Dutch history mining took place in Limburg and also in the former Dutch East Indies.

Using the catalogue of the Max-Planck-Institut für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main, you will quickly find more relevant and even earlier works on the history of mining law. In Norway mining law was already codified in 1540. When you combine the results obtained there with a search in the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog for digitized books you will be able to look at a number of relevant works from your screen. The Metallicorum corpus iuris oder Bergk-Recht (Leipzig 1624) by Johann Deucer has been digitized at Dresden. Mining often belonged to the regalia, the royal rights. Eike von Repgow deals with this aspect of mining in the Sachsenspiegel (Landrecht I,35), written between 1220 and 1235, and the gloss by Johann vom Buch from the early fourteenth century expands on it (Glossen zum Sachsenspiegel-Landrecht: Buch’sche Glosse, Frank-Michael Kaufmann (ed.) (3 vol., Hannover, 2002; available online at dMGH, section Leges). The library at Frankfurt am Main is a treasure trove which you might indeed compare to a gold mine for legal historians! Here I have restricted myself to mentioning just a few titles and indicating some aspects.

The lure of looking for origins

American readers might have expected me to deal with originalism as the major subject of this post, but in a way my post is already in itself a comment on any form of originalism. The Legal History Blog is very helpful in tracking the discussions on originalism. One of the major problems with the approach favored by originalists is the question to which origin you would like to point. Do you go back to the debates of the Founding Fathers about the American Constitution, do you look at the early Congress or at congressional debates concerning specific amendments, or do you dare to consider also debates concerning the constitution and statutes of the original states before 1776? As for the Founding Fathers, in the book by Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner and in the web version of their study The Founders’ Constitution (5 vol., Chicago 1987; reprint Indianapolis 2001) you can look even beyond them to the sources and arguments they adduced or debated.

In the wake of the controversies about the American Constitution and its present application many roads have been opened, some of them new and promising, some well trodden and somehow pale. The major flaw with the less interesting perspectives is the Whig interpretation of history, the tendency to use history and law as a handmaiden of the present, in fact only valuable because of the present, and thus sometimes called applied legal history. History and legal history can seem just fuel for debates and are reduced to ammunition for political views. At the very best history and the development of law are not totally neglected in Whig interpretations. In my country the ignorance about history of many members of the Dutch parliament is often shameful. Another problem in the present use and role of the American constitution is the tendency to avoid fundamental debate, and to press for solutions to political questions by the judiciary with as its main vehicle judicial review. A recent attempt in Dutch politics to let a court judge political matters was rightly rejected: the Dutch States General have to decide them, not the courts. Democracy and political debate can regain relevance when they become really relevant and decisive.

As for the history of early companies, it is better not to reduce the history of company law to the sometimes fascinating stories of their foundation or a series of snapshots of all kinds of companies in history, but to look at many aspects of commerce and law in context in longer periods, and to attempt perspectives from all around the world. Legal historians can bring in questions of law to gain insights which historians and other scholars can only neglect at their peril.

Carved in stone: runes and Nordic law

When I started creating the blog roll for my blog, an important element of most blogs, I very soon found a blog using the same design as I do and touching subjects as medieval law which are also in my sphere of interest. Jonathan Jarrett is a very active blogger on the history of tenth-century Europe. When you look at his blog roll you will see he does not only point to many other blogs but also to a host of very useful websites in the field of medieval studies. One of the sites mentioned by Jarrett helped me to find the subject for this post on runes and Nordic law. You will soon see the Dutch twist to this theme!

Late Antique and Early Medieval Inscriptions is a portal created by Mark Handley to printed information and websites concerning inscriptions from Late Antiquity onwards into the Early Middle Ages up to 900 AD. Outsiders might not be completely aware that inscriptions are not the most commonly used source for medieval historians. It takes special training to decipher the texts after having learned the various scripts, and what is more, you will have to acquaint yourself with other technical matters as well before you can safely try to give an interpretation of such inscriptions.

For two reasons I feel prompted to write here about runes. The first impulse comes from Chris Wickham’s book The Inheritance of Rome. A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (2009). One of the images in his book shows the famous Jelling runestone set up by the Danish king Harald Blåtand (Bluetooth). In my hometown Utrecht we happen to have a full-scale copy of this stone, as do by now ten other cities. In January I stumbled for a posting by surprise on a digitized seventeenth century treatise on runes by the Danish historian Ole Worm, [Runir] seu Danica literatura antiquissima (..) (Hafniae [Copenhagen] 1651). It took me some time before I could bring both leads together in a post.

The Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone

The Utrecht copy of the Jelling runestone came to my city in 1936 as a gift from Danish friends of The Netherlands to celebrate 300 years Utrecht University. The stone stands between the Academiegebouw, the central building of Utrecht University, and the medieval cathedral. On the Jelling stone one side has been inscribed in runes. Two other sides of the stone show images and the sequel of the inscription.

A plaquette explaining the Jelling runestone

It is very thoughtful that at least a plaque in bronze was provided in 1936 with the stone to explain something of its significance, but more is needed to gain insight into the history and meaning of this rather large object. The Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen has devoted a special website to Jelling and the Jelling runestone. Wickham writes that king Harald ruled from 958 until 987. Around 965 he was baptized. Harald ruled Denmark from Jelling where he put this stone to commemorate his father Gorm.

On Mark Handley’s splendid portal to early medieval inscriptions you can use nearly 500 links to all kind of websites for this subject. For this post I looked to websites telling me more about runes and about the Jelling runestone. Among the databases I quickly found the Scandinavian Runic-text Database (Samnordisk runtextdatabas) at Uppsala Universitet where you can download a database with runic inscriptions, Rundata 2.5. Its interface is only in Swedish in which language I am not very fluent, and therefore this tool takes sometime before you can use it. The Jelling runestone has the signum DR 42. Luckily the website is linked to a forum on runes, the Uppsala Runforum with a generous link collection, and thus I arrived at the website Danske Runeindskrifter of the Nordisk Forskninginstitut, the University of Copenhagen and the Nationalmuseet in Kopenhagen. Although the search interface of the database on this website is only in Danish, somehow searching here was easy. Three inscriptions are to be found at Jelling. Scholars have designated the large stone as Jelling-sten 2, with the number DK SJy 11. In English the text of the inscription is translated as:

King Haraldr ordered these kumbls made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.

indicates a king. Kumbl, kuml in modern Danish, is the word for a monument. The stone was rediscovered only in 1586. Ole Worm saw a notice in the church at Jelling stating this year.

A drawing on the Jelling runestone

The interpretation of the Jelling runestone is complicated by the two images carved on it. Wickham flatly states: “Harald was Christian, but the imagery of the stone is not”. Ole Worm made a famous drawing of the images in his Danicorum monumentorum libri sex (1643). The pages 326 to 338 of his book deal with the Jelling runestone. Incidentally five books by Worm have been digitized at the university of Strasbourg. The inscription below the drawing has been duly noted.

The main figure on the Jelling runestone

This image elicited even more confusion and discussion. For a long time it was assumed Christ was pictured, but only in the nineteenth century scholars concluded the figures represents king Harald. Here, too, one can discern another inscription.

Runes and Nordic law

The modern study of runes has suffered from the abuse of this script and the racist ideology of the German Third Reich. The rune for the letter S was used in the emblem of one of its most deadly organizations. Its use is forbidden in present-day Germany. I remember attending a seminar in Munich where it was made very clear that it is virtually impossible to detect anything German in early medieval Europe. On top of the historical abuse of runes the imagery of the Vikings and the popular imagination still fired by their reputation for ransacking and plundering has deeply marked the way Scandinavian history is looked upon. The Vikings were both raiders and traders. The grim stories collected in the Edda and in particular in the Icelandic sagas picture this northern region as a dangerous area of medieval Europe. It is necessary to be aware of this background, but at the same time one needs to step backwards and to look at Scandinavia’s medieval history in all its aspects, including laws and legal culture.

In fact inscriptions in runic script do not very often contain legal texts. Legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia, too, use seldom runes. Perhaps more manuscripts with laws in runic scripts might have existed once, but only one example has survived. In Danish medieval law it is restricted to the Skånske Lov (Scanian Law), transmitted in runic script only in the Codex Runicus, a manuscript written around 1300 (Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, ms. AM 28 8vo) and once owned by Ole Worm. Other medieval manuscripts with the Scanian Law use the normal alphabet. The website Handrit enables you to find quickly and sometimes very extensive information on medieval Scandinavian manuscripts at Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Some manuscripts have been digitized for this website.

Inscriptions with runes are sometimes witnesses of powerful kings, but they did not legislate using runes. You can check this for inscriptions from Bergen in the Rune Type database of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Oslo. At the website for Danish runes links are provided to relevant websites on runes. Pride of place should go to the Runenprojekt Kiel which leads you to runes in the Futhark script and the places where these have been found in Europe. For The Netherlands only three inscriptions in Futhark are mentioned. The Kulturhistorisk Museum of the Universitetet i Oslo has a runic archive. In Sweden the Swedish National Heritage Board presents a substantial section on runes on its website, including a digital version (PDF) of part 3 of the Gotlands runinskrifter.

Digitized sources for medieval Nordic law

I had better concentrate here on medieval Nordic laws and lead you to some digitized medieval manuscripts containing these texts, and to other digital collections. In March 2011 a manuscript from the Swedish Royal Library returned after 300 years to Copenhagen. The manuscript Codex Holmiensis 37 with the Jyske Lov, the provincial law for Jutland, is now at the Danish Royal Library and can be consulted online; a full description and bibliography are additional assets. At Lund University Library another manuscript with the Jyske Lov has been digitized for the Laurentius Digital Manuscript Library (Mh 18; 14th century), and also a manuscript with the Skånske Lov and also the Skånske Kirkelov (Mh 41; 15th century). A German translation was published in 1593 and has been digitized at Heidelberg (Dat Rechte Judske Lowbock (…) (Schleswig 1593)). Another version in German appeared in print in 1717 (Das Jütisch Low-Buch (…) (Flensburg 1717)). Schleswig-Holstein belonged for many centuries to Denmark. At Lund more legal manuscripts from Scandinavia have been digitized, among them the Sjaellaensfare logh, the laws of Sjaelland (Mh 23; 15-16th century). A critical edition of the Skånske Lov, the Jyske Lov and other medieval Danish laws can be found in Danmarks gamle landskabslove med kirkelovene [Denmarks old provincial laws and ecclesiastical laws], Johannes Brodnum-Nielsen and Poul Johannes Jorgensen (eds.) (8 vol., Copenhagen 1933-1961). Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, AM 4 4to, is another digitized manuscript with the text of the Jyske Lov, this time dating from around 1300.

For later Danish laws I can at least offer the links to text versions of the Dansk Lov issued on behalf of king Christian V in 1583 – edited by Vilhelm Adolf Secher – and the Kongeloven af 1685 (Lex Regia). It is good also to point to the project for the digital editions of the works by the great Norwegian scholar Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) who in many of his works mentions the old Nordic laws and his views on law and justice.

It is not sensible nor possible to provide here a complete overview of digitized legal manuscripts from medieval Scandinavia. The digitized legal manuscripts at Lund contain texts in Old Norse, Swedish and Danish, and this points to the fact that the history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden is closely related. In this post I also mention texts from Iceland, and these, too, cannot be neglected. On Sagnanet, the portal to digitized books and manuscripts with the medieval literature of Iceland, you can find also some texts on jurisprudence (Lögfræði) and legal literature (Lögbaekur). The Swedish Kungliga Biblioteket has not digitized any legal manuscript, but on the website at least two legal manuscripts are briefly introduced, the Kalmar or Åbo manuscript of the Magnus Eriksson Landlag (Magnus Eriksson’s Law of the Realm) (B172) and the Äldre västgotenlag (Elder Westrogothic law) (B 59). The Ediffah project helps searching for manuscripts and archives in both the Swedish Royal Library and five Swedish university libraries.

Apart from digitized manuscripts in particular charters from Scandinavia can be searched online using the Diplomatarium Danicum, the Diplomatarium Norvegicum and the Regesta Norvegica. The Danish charter project is connected to a project presenting Danish medieval texts, among them the Jyske Lov (Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek (KB), NKS 295 8vo), the Skånske Kirkelov (KB, NKS 66 8vo) and the Flensborg Stadsret (Flensburg, Stadtarchiv, Perg. 12 x 17). The Norwegian charter project is a part of the Dokumentasjonprosjektet which leads you to archaeological material, an online dictionary and more texts. One of the digitized manuscripts with a Norwegian law text contains the Magnus Lagabøtes landslov in the Hardenbergs Codex (Copenhagen, KB, GKS 1154 2°). Bergen University Library, ms 1836, is a fragment from a later version of this law, Magnus Lagabøters Nyere Landslov. At Bergen you can also search in the database of the Diplomsamling, a collection with some 1250 charters, 300 of them dating before 1600.

You can search specifically for manuscripts in the REX catalogue of the Danish Royal Library, and you can look in REX also in the holdings of other Danish libraries. One of the digitized manuscripts at Copenhagen worth pointing at is the Södermannalagen of king Magnus Eriksson (KB, NKS 2237 4°), since March 2011 deposited at the Royal Library in Stockholm. Among the Codices Latini Haunienses are some law texts in Latin. Swedish charters can be searched in the Svenska Diplomatarium database of the Riksarkivet in Stockholm.

Digital libraries in Norway do provide online access to source editions on medieval Norse law. The rather restricted search interface of NBDigital, the digital library of the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Olso, may take some time to adjust to, but you can find many digitized books on legal history and relevant source editions. Using the Ask website of Bibsys you can benefit from an advanced search form. In the Bokhylla of the Norwegian Digital Archive you can use for example the volumes of Norges gamle love indtil 1387 [Old laws of Norway until 1387] (5 vol., Christiania 1846-1895), Danske kirkelov (…), Holger Rørdam (ed.) (3 vol., Copenhagen 1883-1889), books on medieval and early modern seals (sigiller), and sources for ecclesiastical history. The Digitalarkivet itself brings you to a rich variety of sources: census records, ecclesiastical administration (kirkebøker), pledge registers and a general searchable database for all these sources. One of the largest Norwegian research projects is concerned with tingbøker, court proceedings, including cases concerning witchcraft. There is a database for searching witchcraft trials. A number of editions of seventeenth-century proceedings is accessible online.

For Danish medieval legal history it is useful to be aware of the DigDag project, a historical-geographical atlas for Denmark until 1600, and of the Adkomstregistrering 1513-1550 which provides information on persons, place-names and documents. The Statens Arkiver, the Danish National Archives, offer a number of services at their website; the Danish version lists more than the German and English version! Swedish archival records are being digitized in ArkivDigital, a project completely accessible only for subscribers. The Swedish National Archive has a central database for searching archival collections in Swedish archives. A number of record series in the Swedish Riksarkivet can be searched online, and also a substantial number of databases, for example court proceedings from the dombok for Värmland in the seventeenth century. The Finnish National Archive, too, has started a digital archive. This institution takes also responsibility for the digital Diplomatarium Fennicum for medieval charters from Finland.

The Swedish National Library has digitized a number of Swedish books printed before 1700 (Svenskt tryck före 1700). Among them are an edition of city bylaws, Sverikes rikes stadz lagh (…) (Stockholm 1628) and privileges for merchant towns, Biärkoa Rätten (…) (Stockholm 1687). At Lunds Universitet you can find digitized texts of many laws in the Fornsvenska textbanken, a linguistic corpus for Old Swedish for which critical text editions have been used, in particular the Samling af Sveriges Gamle Lagar edited by Carl Johan Schlyter and others between 1827 and 1877.

Looking for more

Of course I am woefully aware that I have missed a lot of information due to my inadequate knowledge of Scandinavian languages and relative unfamiliarity with Nordic research institutions and their websites. At my pags on digital libraries l have not yet put anything on Denmark… No doubt you can find more using general websites on Scandinavian culture. A nice example is Kulturnät Sverige. Let’s not overload this post and give you just one example from the numerous projects listed at this portal, the digital Svenska ostindiska kompaniet archiv at Göteborg University Library. A number of Danish digital resources for legal history have been brought together by the Kongelige Bibliotek. I found this only after I had finally spotted the Kulturperler search interface on the KB’s manysided website…

You can also find useful information in the ViFaNord, the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Nordeuropa und Ostseeraum, a cooperative project of the universities in Kiel, Greifswald and Göttingen. At the very least ViFaNord will bring you to some websites for specific projects. With some luck I found a Danish website on rape, Voldtaegt, with a page on the history of Scandinavian law pointing to several online sources. For modern Scandinavian law it might be useful to go to Juridisk Nettviser. Hopefully this post satisfies to some extent the curiosity of those interested in the history of law in Scandinavia. It gives you a taste of this subject, at the best a menu card, but not a diner or the complete Scandinavian kitchen.

A practical postscript

Having at your disposal a nice selection of links to digitized sources is one thing, reading texts in medieval Scandinavian languages is something else. I did not mention the Medieval Nordic Text Archive (Menota). For this project a number of links to relevant dictionaries have been put together for your convenience. Menota itselfs brings you to digital editions of mainly literary texts, among them the Heimskringla, and brings you also a fine links selection. A concise guide to Scandinavian studies is provided for example by the UCLA Universitiy Library. For information about current research on legal history in Scandinavia I somehow missed the article by Heikki Pihlajamäki, ‘Legal history in the Nordic countries. A short story of Nordic legal history’, Clio@Themis 1 (2009).

A second postscript

In 2013 Ditlev Tamm and Helle Vogt made a short movie on Translating Medieval Danish Law. In this introduction to their project for the English translation of medieval legal texts from Denmark they show several manuscripts kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. A second movie with Tamma and Vogt in Danish from Det Juridiske Fakultet at the University of Copenhagen focuses somewhat longer on Danmarks Gamle Lov. The University of Aberdeen has a project The Medieval Nordic Laws in coopration with the Ubniversity of Stockholm.. The team will translate law texts and create the Medieval Nordic Legal Dictionary. Since Autumn 2014 there is an accompanying blog with a useful overview of laws and editions to be included.

The coming of Christianity to Scandinavia is the subject of a book by Anders Winroth, The conversion of Scandinavia. Vikings, merchants and missionaries in the remaking of Northern Europe (New Haven, Conn., 2012), and you will enjoy also his The Age of the Vikings (Princeton, NJ, 2014).