Grand Coutumier de Normandie, HLS MS 91
Based on royal legislation and Roman, canon and Frankish law, French medieval customary law prevailed in the pays de coutume, the regions of central and northern France. In these areas the local parlements acted as independent sovereign judicial bodies, basing their decisions on the local customs and privileges.
These customs and usages began to be compiled in the decades before 1300, and in the fourteenth century some provinces sponsored compilations of their own. In 1453 Charles VII ordered the codification of all local and provincial coutumes. The revisions of these collections of local laws continued until the eve of the Revolution, at which time there were sixty provincial coutumes and more than 300 local ones.
The Harvard Law School Library collection of French coutumes contains more than 600 separate editions printed before the Revolution. It also comprises nearly twenty manuscript coutumes, including the Grand Coutumier de Normandie.
The Grand Coutumier de Normandie, a vellum manuscript dating from about 1300, contains 148 leaves. The Library acquired the manuscript on 8 June 1932 from the British booksellers Sweet & Maxwell, who in turn had purchased it at an auction at Sotheby’s (no. 328: ‘the property of a lady’) on 21 March 1932. It is listed as Item 1045 in Volume I of Seymour De Ricci’s Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1935).
Image credit: Detail, Normandy (France). Grand Coutumier de Normandie, circa 1300, seq. 50. HLS MS 91. Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.