Bruce R. O'Brien

title.none: Akehurst, trans., The Etablissements de Saint Louis (O'Brien)

identifier.other: baj9928.9705.005 97.05.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Bruce R. O'Brien, Mary Washington College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Akehurst, F.R.P., trans. The Etablissements de Saint Louis: Thirteenth-Century Law Texts from Tours, Orleans, and Paris. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Pp. xliv, 177. $32.50. ISBN: ISBN 0-812-23350-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.05.05

Akehurst, F.R.P., trans. The Etablissements de Saint Louis: Thirteenth-Century Law Texts from Tours, Orleans, and Paris. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Pp. xliv, 177. $32.50. ISBN: ISBN 0-812-23350-6.

Reviewed by:

Bruce R. O'Brien
Mary Washington College

Although Louis IX of France had a reputation in his own day as a wise judge, he appears to have been only a reluctant legislator. To correct this failing, an increasingly obvious one for a high medieval monarch, an anonymous editor in the decades after the king's death laid claim for him to a recently compiled but unattributed collection of procedural rules and customary codes which have traveled ever since under the title Etablissements de saint Louis. Though there is little of the saintly king within this treatise, there is much of great importance concerning the procedures of the Chatelet of Paris, the customs of Touraine-Anjou, and the customs of Orleans. This compilation, last edited in the 1880's by Paul Viollet in a massive 4-volume work, has now been translated for the first time into English by F. R. P. Akehurst, professor of French at the University of Minnesota. Pof. Akehurst [hereafter A] is moving here through territory with which he is already familiar; his translation of the thirteenth-century Coutumes de Beauvaisis of Philippe de Beaumanoir appeared in 1992 and established A as a gifted anglophone pioneer in the ponderous world of the earliest legal treatises written in French. He continues that good work by providing a lucid and faithful translation of the Etablissements, all clarified by annotation linking it to contemporary thirteenth-century French legal texts and practices. The picture of French law that this opens up is one filled with status, injury, and procedure. The law is by and large who you are (class and gender) as well as where you live (in what region, under which lord). A's translation brings this world to life.

A accomplishes this by producing a superb translation which makes the archaic, the bizarre, and the technical accessible to readers. This accessiblity begins with the clarity with which A explains what he has in fact translated and how it relates to the published edition. Working with the text of the Etablissements as reconstructed by Viollet, A takes great pains to show readers where Viollet (and by consequence A) have departed from the manuscript witnesses through emendation, and where his English equivalent may not share the semantic field of the original it purports to translate. A has done a particularly comendable job signaling the ambiguities of terms that might otherwise have been read as narrowly defined or technical. A case in point is his rendering of "ses achaz et ses conquestes" (Book 1, c. 10) as "purchased or otherwise acquired real property" (p. 15), which is explained in a detailed note on the interchangeability of those terms in the Etablissements (terms which in other contexts can mean "property purchased alone" ["acquets"] and "property purchased with a partner" ["conquestes"]). A might also have added that the manuscripts of the Etablissements confirm this fuzziness of usage, with three (Viollet's MSS V, K, and U) replacing "conquestes" with a form of "acquets" and four others (Viollet's D, G, H, and I) dropping "et ses conquestes" entirely (Viollet, Etablissements de saint Louis,2:20, nn. 11-12). As a translation, A's Etablissements has much to recommend it.

The introduction A provides may not serve his translation all that well. It is brief (24 pages), too brief in my estimation for a text as complex as the Etablissements. Much is left in need of explanation or definition (e.g., "king's domain" on p. xxv). The introduction alternately presumes quite a bit of knowledge about French medieval law and assumes that the reader is a student newly arrived to the subject. For instance, although A sets the literary context of the Etablissements by simply naming its contemporaries (e.g., Pierre de Fontaines' Conseil, p. xxii), he also simplifies, for clarity, the separation of procedure from substantive law, a separation most legal historians would argue never really existed in practice at such an early date or in what passed for non-Roman jurisprudence before the later Middle Ages. In trying to satisfy both learned and student audiences in such a narrow space, perhaps A has set himself a task almost impossible to accomplish. The murk surrounding thirteenth- century French law needs more light if a reader is to see the law's forms.

One of the regretable omissions from the introduction is any extended discussion of the transmission of the text during the Middle Ages. While A admits that he is a translator, not an editor, he nevertheless might have wished to include something about the several surviving medieval "editions" of the Etablissements, three of which are represented in his translation. Viollet tentatively identified four medieval "editions" (1:436), and in his own edition attempted to reconstruct the first edition, the original compilation, produced by 1273. Because of gaps in the surviving manuscripts, especially in the singular witness to the first edition (Beauvais, archives municipales, Reg. AA2 [Viollet's D]), Viollet had to rely on manuscripts of the second edition in order to produce a complete text. His edition therefore reproduces a hybrid of the first two medieval editions. In neither of these editions, however, was there a prologue attributing the compilation to Louis IX. That prologue, Viollet argued, appeared only in a small group of manuscripts of the third edition (Viollet 1:448-55). What A has translated, then, is a text which combines parts of the first three medieval editions, a combination only witnessed by a few manuscripts. This fact should have been discussed more explicitly as it ought to inform interpretation of the text.

This last point leads me into some final speculation on the status of the Etablissements as what some would call an "imposture," a code which pretends to be something (the laws imposed by Louis IX) that it is not. Historians who use the Etablissements note that the attribution is false, as this is the conventional wisdom, and do cite it as representing some form of thirteenth-century custom. However, it seems likely that this false attribution can explain in part the poverty of work on the treatise. Few have followed in Viollet's footsteps, leaving us little better off than when his magisterial edition appeared between 1881 and 1886. The prologue that contains this attribution is, as already mentioned, a later addition to the text, an attachment to some copy of the third edition which, by Viollet's manuscript dates, must have been written and put in place sometime between 1273 and 1300. One wonders, naturally, what had changed in the world of French legal texts to suggest to some writer the idea of composing and affixing such a prologue to this treatise on regional customs in Paris, Tours, Anjou, and Orleans? King Louis was canonized in 1297 and this might explain the chosen date, cited in the prologue, for when the king was said to have "made and imposed these laws": 1270, the year of the king's mad crusade against Tunis and his death. But other events might easily have provided the necessary impetus. The extension of royal power under Philip III (1270-1285), combined with the usual medieval veneration of goods branded as antiques, might be all the explanation one needs for why Louis IX was written into the Etablissements. An investigation of the resemblances between France and England, which also gave birth to legal apocrypha and royal impostures, might prove fruitful. The topic is open.

Much indeed of interest is put out for view by A's excellent translation. One can feel assured that, unlike Viollet's work which seems to have stifled further research, A's translation will prove the bait which will not only pull students into the world of thirteenth-century French law, but inspire new work on the Etablissements to answer the many important questions it raises.