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Harvard Law School Library Digital Collections

Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300. HLS MS 220.

Summa de Legibus Normannie
(Liber Consuetudinis Normanniae)
HLS MS 220

There are two compilations of the customary law of the duchy of Normandy that were written in the thirteenth century. One, known as the Très ancien coutumier (the ‘very old custumal’), was written in Latin about the year 1200 when Normandy was still part of the Angevin empire. French and Anglo-Norman translations of it are also known. The other, called by its editor the Summa de legibus in curia laicali (‘summary of laws in the lay court’), was composed, also in Latin, sometime between the years 1230 and 1250, at a time when Normandy was under the direct control of the French crown. It was later translated into French in a version that became known as the Grand coutumier de Normandie. The newly-acquired HLS MS 220 is a manuscript copy of the Summa de legibus written around the year 1300.

The Latin text of the Summa de legibus received a fine scholarly edition by Ernest-Joseph Tardif in 1896.1The last printed edition of the Grand coutumier de Normandie appeared in 1539 in an edition by Guillaume Le Rouillé, and that edition included the Latin text as a sort of appendix. In 1585, the custom was ‘reformed’, and after that all the printed editions of and commentaries on the custom (and there are many) were of the reformed custom. In 1881, William Lau(w)rence De Gruchy, a prominent jurist on the island of Jersey, published a transcription of the Latin and French texts of the 1539 edition with notes indicating the variant readings in the printed editions that were known to him. In 2009, the Jersey and Guernsey Law Review reprinted the De Gruchy edition with an English translation by Judith Ann Everard.

With all this available in print — indeed, increasingly available granted the magic of digital reproduction online (see Appendix)—, why would anyone go back to a manuscript of the Latin text, much less buy one? The question is a fair one. Let us take a few moments to try to answer it.

Tardif’s edition was based on 24 manuscripts, which he painstakingly described in his introduction. While his apparatus does not give a full collation of all 24 manuscripts, it gives the major variants. Tardif did not know our manuscript (which was at the time buried uncatalogued in the library of St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury). So our first question should be: how does our manuscript fit into the textual tradition as Tardif knew it? We will see shortly that it fits in quite well.

More daringly, our manuscript will allow us to do something that Tardif did not undertake. The purpose of Tardif’s edition was to reconstruct, to the extent possible, the original text of the Summa de legibus, which dates, as we have seen, to the to the second quarter of the thirteenth century. For these purposes, our manuscript is late; it probably dates from around 1300. What our manuscript does represent, however, is an intermediate point between the original text as reconstructed by Tardif and the ending point, which we can take to be the text of 1539. At this point, and perhaps somewhat earlier, our text ceased to be a ‘living’ text, and anything that was introduced into the text after this was a copyist’s or printer’s error.

Let us take one small example to illustrate these points, beginning with the image of fol. 26v of our manuscript:

Harvard Law School Library Digital Collections

Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300, fol. 26v (detail). HLS MS 220.

Slightly below the middle of the right-hand column, the reader will notice a rubric ‘de exercitu’, ‘concerning army’. This rubric corresponds to the rubric of what Tardif calls ‘Chapter 22bis‘ of the Summa de legibus. But it is not Chapter 22 in the early printed edition, it is Chapter 25. Chapter 25, as De Gruchy already noted in 1881, is odd. This Chapter 25 has no corresponding Chapter in the French text. Indeed, the next chapter in the Latin text, which begins a new section of the work, is also numbered Chapter 25, and this corresponds to Chapter 25 of the French text. The absence of our Chapter 25 (Tardif’s 22bis) from the French text was also noted by Tardif, and it does not appear in any of the French texts of the custom that I have been able to examine.2

That Tardif called this Chapter 22bis suggests at a minimum that the early printed Latin text contains two more chapters than does Tardif’s edition. We must explore whether our manuscript also contains them. And the mysteries of the numbering system do not cease here. The reader will notice that next to the rubric ‘de exercitu’ there appears in pencil in a later hand, perhaps even a modern one, the Roman numeral ‘xxxix’. This corresponds to the Roman numerals ‘xxxviij’ and ‘xxxix’ at the head of the page, indicating that whoever put them in thought that page folio contained chapters 38 and 39 of the text. Whether these variations represent different elements in the text or simply different ways of dividing it requires further exploration.

Our rubric reads ‘de exercitu’. This, as we have seen, corresponds to the rubric in Tardif’s edition. This is not, however, what all of the Latin manuscripts say. Tardif reports variants of ‘de exercitu ducis’ (‘concerning the army of the duke’), ‘de exercitu principis’ (‘concerning the army of the prince’), and, in one manuscript, ‘de exercitu ducis a quibus debeat fieri et qualiter’ (‘concerning the army of the duke, by whom it ought to be made up and how’).3The early printed edition has ‘de exercitu ducis’.4Hence, at least in this regard, our manuscript is closer to Tardif’s reconstruction of the original text than are some of the other manuscripts and the early printed edition.

The first two sentences of this chapter in Tardif’s edition read:5

Exercitus autem servicium est principi cum armis faciendum prout in feodis vel villis fuerit institutum. Et hoc servicium per xl. dies ad subsidium terre vel ad principis necessitatem, cum in aliquam profiscitur expeditionem, debent facere et tenentur illi qui tenent feoda vel in villis resdident ad hoc servicium deputatis.

The same sentences in the early printed edition as transcribed by De Gruchy read:6

Exercitus autem Principis est servitium cum armis faciendum prout in feodis vel villis fuerit institutum; et hoc servitium per quadraginta dies ad subsidium terrae, vel ad Principis necessitatem cum in aliquam proficiscitur expeditionem, debent facere et tenentur illi, qui tenent feoda, vel in villis resident ad hoc servitium deputatis.

Ignoring differences in spelling and punctuation, which are almost certainly the result of editorial decisions (e.g., ‘terre’ vs. ‘terrae’; ‘xl’ vs. ‘quadraginta’), there are no differences in the texts in the second sentence of Tardif and the clause after the semi-colon in early printed edition. We might translate: ‘Those who hold fiefs or who live in towns deputed for this ought to do and are held [to do] this service for forty days in defense [literally, “support”] of the land or for the need of the prince when he sets out on any expedition.’

There is a difference in the first sentence (the clause before the semi-colon in early printed edition), one that is closer to a variant that Tardif notes in two of his manuscripts.7Tardif’s reconstruction may be translated: ‘“Army” moreover is a service to the prince to be made with arms as it is established in fiefs or towns.’ The early printed text is more ambiguous. It could mean either: ‘The “army” moreover of the prince is a service to be made with arms’, etc. Or: ‘“Army” moreover is a service of the prince to be made with arms’, etc.

Almost certainly the second of the two is what is intended. The first translation makes little sense. That means that in ‘principis . . . servitium’ the genitive ‘principis’ is to be taken as an objective genitive, i.e., that is means the same thing as ‘service to the prince’ in the Tardif reconstruction. In both cases, then ‘army’ is to be taken as a name of legal obligation to the prince, like knight’s service in England.

The reason for preferring the Tardif reading is not only that it is found in what Tardif regarded as the earlier and more reliable manuscripts. It is also unambiguous; whereas the alternative is doubly ambiguous: Is ‘of the prince’ to be taken with ‘army’ or with ‘service’, and if the latter is the genitive subjective or objective? Now there is no a priori reason why an unambiguous reading should be earlier than an ambiguous one, but there is a reason in this case to think that it is. The institution being described here was already archaic in the in the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Increasingly, personal service for forty days was coming to be replaced by payment of money in lieu of personal service. As the institution increasingly became one of which the copyists of the text had no personal experience, they would have a tendency to introduce ambiguities where none had originally existed. It is even possible that the payment in lieu of service, which was known as ‘scutage’ in England, became known as ‘army of the prince’ in Normandy.8

What does our manuscript make of these two sentences?

Exercitus aut[?em] seruicium est principi cum armis faciendum prout in feodis uel uillis fuerit institutum § fit hoc subsidium per xla dies ad subsidium terre uel ad principis necessitatem cum in aliquam proficiscitur exepedicionem debent facere et tenentur illi qui tenent feoda uel in uillis resident ad seruicium deputata.

Other than the doubt as to whether ‘aut’ should be extended to ‘autem’, our text clearly corresponds to that of Tardif in the first sentence. From this we may conclude that, as in the case of the rubric, it is closer to the original text.

In the second sentence our text has ‘fit hoc’ in place of ‘Et hoc’. Tardif notes a wide number of variants at this point, of which this is one.9(If we read ‘fit hoc’ we need to put a period after ‘expedicionem’ and begin a new sentence with ‘debent’.) None of Tardif’s manuscripts reads ‘subsidium’ in place of ‘servicium’, nor does the early printed edition. This is pretty clearly an error of our copyist, anticipating ‘subsidium’ later in sentence. The error may be telling, however. ‘Subsidium’, in addition to meaning ‘support’ in the literal sense, also means a money payment, ‘subsidy’ in modern English. Our copyist may be thinking of money payments rather than personal service.

The fact that this chapter is not included in the French text suggests that it came to be regarded as obsolete. We should, however, be cautious in assuming that it was obsolete at the end of the thirteenth century. This page of our manuscript is festooned with glosses. They report judgments and rulings concerning the text in question. Considerable more work is needed with these glosses. Preliminarily, however, I can report, that four of the six rulings are dated: Michaelmas, 1207; Easter, 1208; Michaelmas, 1282; and Easter, 1287.

The final section of this chapter tells us that in the ‘time of the English’ every tenant by knight’s service in Normandy was obliged to have a horse and arms, and when he reached the age of twenty-one, he was obliged to become a knight. Lest we think that this provision is obsolete, our manuscript immediately adds two ordinances of Philip the Fair to the same effect, one of which is dated in 1293, and both of which are quoted in full.10

While this chapter appears only in the Latin text, most of the chapters in the Latin text, have corresponding chapters in the French text. The French text is less well treated by modern scholarship. If Tardif intended to edit it, he never did. No census of the manuscripts that I know of is available. The Harvard Law School Library has, however, a copy of the French text in manuscript that is almost contemporary with our manuscript of the Latin text. The temptation to compare the two should not be resisted.

Finally, there is the question of the English provenance of the manuscript. The manuscript was in England not later than the last quarter of the fourteenth century, and there is no reason to think that it ever left England after that time. Whether it was in England earlier than that, or even whether it was made in England, is less sure. But let us take the known fact: Why would someone in England want a copy of a manuscript that described the custom of Normandy after Normandy had ceased to be a possession of the English crown? That is a puzzle that is yet to be solved.

Charles Donahue, Jr.
Paul A. Freund Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
September 2011

Appendix—Online Resources for the Study of HLS MS 220

HLS MS 91, the French version of the custumal, c. 1300, is available online.

The editio princeps of the Grand coutumier de Normandie appeared in Paris in 1483. HLS holds two copies, and it is available online in the collection of incunabula of the City Library of Troyes.

The title page of the 1539 edition of the Grand coutumier reads in part:

Le grand coustumier du pays & duche de Normendie : tres utile & profitable a tous practiciens : euq[ue]l [i.e. enq[ue]l?] est le texte diceluy en francoys proportionne a lequipolent de la glose ordinaire et familiaire. Auec plusieurs additions … / composee par scie[n]tifique personne Maistre Guillaume Le Rouille

(This last is not just publisher’s hype. At least according to French Wikipedia, Guillaume Le Rouillé was, indeed, a ‘scientifique personne’. The gloss mentioned in the title is extensive.)

Le Rouillé’s edition is available online as part of the Gale edition of the Goldsmiths’ Library (HUID & PIN required).

L’Ancienne Coutume de Normandie, reimpression éditée avec de légères annotations par William Laurence De Gruchy, Juré-Justicier à la cour royale de l’ile de Jersey (Jersey, St.-Hélier: Charles Le Feuvre, 1881)

De Gruchy is available on Google Books.

Coutumiers de Normandie: textes critiques pub. avec notes et éclaircissements par Ernest-Joseph Tardif. Rouen, E. Cagniard, 1881-1903. 2 vols. in 3
[t. I] 1. partie: Le très ancien coutumier de Normandie. Texte latin. — (1881)
t. I, 2. partie: Le très ancien coutumier de Normandie. Textes français et normand. — (1903)
t. II: La summa de legibus normannie in curia laicali. (1896)

T. 1, 2 and t. 2 are available online as part of Harvard’s Google project: vol. 1. vol. 2.

It was apparently intended to do t. 1, 1, but it does not seem to have been done.


  1. Coutumiers de Normandie, ed. E.-J. Tardif (Rouen 1896), vol. 2, of work that also includes editions of the Très ancien coutumier in Latin (vol. 1, pt. 1, 1881) and the French and Norman texts of the same work (vol. 1, pt. 2, 1903).
  2. See Tardif, 2.68–71 and p. 71 n.8; De Gruchy, pp. 66–69 and p. 66 n.6.
  3. Tardif, 2.68 n. 11.
  4. De Gruchy, p. 66.
  5. Tardif, 2.68–69.
  6. De Gruchy, p. 66.
  7. Tardif, 2.69 n. 1: ‘exercitus autem principis cum armis faciendus est’. It is possible that the reading in the early printed edition involves a combination of the readings evident in the manuscripts.
  8. Compare Maitland, H.E.L., i, 267.
  9. Tardif, 2.69 n. 2.
  10. HLS MS 220, fol. 27v – 28v.

Image credit: Detail, Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300. HLS MS 220.
Harvard Law School Library. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.