852 RARE: The Weekly Special – A New Acquisition: Summa de Legibus Normanniae

Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300. HLS MS 220 (three-quarter-view).
Normandy (France). Summa de Legibus Normanniae, ca. 1300. HLS MS 220 (three-quarter-view).

The Harvard Law School Library has acquired a previously unrecorded copy of the Summa de Legibus Normanniaea foundation document in the history of the common law – and has posted a digital version on its website.  Unknown to Ernest-Joseph Tardif, whose synthesis of twenty-four manuscript copies in his Coutumiers de Normandie (Rouen, 1896) remains the definitive modern edition of the work, Harvard’s manuscript is as important for its decidedly English provenance (Colophon, leaf 107v: “Explicit liber consuetudinis anglye”) as it is for its variant text and intriguing marginal annotations.

The Summa de Legibus Normanniae is a manuscript treatise written in Latin that describes customary law in Normandy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries:

It was not a complete law code, but a sophisticated, even scientific, treatise on the customary law of Normandy, both civil and criminal, from the perspective of procedural law; legal rights are defined by the procedure for their enforcement, and wrongs are put right with justice and equity.

(J. A. Everard, Le Grand Coutumier de Normandie: The Laws and Customs by which the Duchy of Normandy is Ruled. St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands: Jersey and Guernsey Law Review, 2009, p. xv)

Delay by Snow (folio 45r)
Delay by Snow (folio 45r)

Numbering 127 leaves and containing nearly 130 “chapters” on legal rights, our newly acquired copy sets forth regulations on such topics as marriage, land ownership, finance, trading, the Crusades, trials by combat, outlaws, and military service.  One section (folio 45r) even addresses a legal issue arising from too much snow:

De Dilatione per Nivem.

Si vero visio alicuius terrae sit assignata, et terra per nivem vel pluviarum superabundantiam fuerit occultata, visio et alia querela ad alium terminum sunt prorogandae, cum, nive vel pluviis consumptis, terra fuerit detecta.

Of Delay by Snow

If, at the assigned view of any land, the land should be covered by a superabundance of snow or rain, the view and the complaint are delayed to another term until, with the snow or rain dissipated, the land is uncovered. (J. A. Everard, p. 220)

The Channel Islands, the British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel just off the Normandy coast, to this day retain the Summa de Legibus Normanniae as the principal source of its primary law.


Post contributed by David Warrington


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