Robyn A. Holman

title.none: Murray, Notarial Instruments (Holman)

identifier.other: baj9928.9812.007 98.12.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robyn A. Holman, College of Charleston, holmanr @

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Murray, James M. Notarial Instruments in Flanders between 1280 and 1452. Brussels: Ac ademie royale de Belgique, 1995. Pp. xxvii, 349. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.12.07

Murray, James M. Notarial Instruments in Flanders between 1280 and 1452. Brussels: Ac ademie royale de Belgique, 1995. Pp. xxvii, 349. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Robyn A. Holman
College of Charleston
holmanr @

As the author states in his Foreword, the chief purpose of this publication is to present a collection of edited notarial texts with commentary. Thus the book consists of two major parts: Murray's 122 page introduction, which places the texts in context and discusses the organization and development of the notarial instrument in Flanders over the course of approximately one and one-half centuries; and 68 edited documents. There are also two indices, an index of persons and places, and an index of selected substantive points in the introduction and edition. The volume is complemented by several photographs of medieval documents.

The introduction, entitled "The Public Notariate in Medieval Flanders," is made up of five chapters. The first chapter addresses the rebirth of the institution of the notary public throughout Medieval Europe with the rediscovery of Roman law. The first real attempt to revive notaries was made by Charlemagne who ordered every bishop, abbot and count to have one. The result was the creation of a class of administrative officials called notarii. Centuries passed after the Carolingian attempt at revival before Roman law was again studied. In the late 11th century various towns in northern and central Italy showed a renewed interest in Roman law, but it was particularly in Bologna where the study of the ancient law established itself and flourished. Foreigners were drawn to the University of Bologna which provided instruction in the new ars notarie. During the late 12th and early 13th centuries in the towns of northern Italy, notaries public began banding together to form guilds. Town administrations supervised the notarial guilds just as they did other urban guilds. The notary public differed from the ordinary civic notary in that the civic notary's authority to practice was limited to his place of residence, whereas the notary public by papal and imperial authority could practice anywhere. In Italy the pope and emperor began granting licenses to notaries to practice universally during the 12th century. The incorporation of notaries into self-governing guilds of laymen involved in secular business was characteristic of Italy and the Mediterranean regions in general, but in northern Europe where Roman law had been less influential and which found itself at a distance from such centers of notarial instruction as Bologna, the institution of the notary developed in different ways. In the north of Europe notaries public were unknown before the 13th century, and it was not until the latter part of the century that notaries became at all customary in England. Notarial instruments were not recognized by the English system of common law. In Germany, as in northern France, notaries were confined to a limited range of business which dealt mainly with church affairs.

Chapter 2 of the introduction concentrates on the origins of the notariate in Flanders. The political, linguistic and ecclesiastic situation of the County of Flanders in 1300 was a complicated one. Flanders lay within two spheres of influence: the French Crown and the Holy Roman Empire; which included a corresponding language division, Romance and Germanic. Flanders had no episcopal see and four bishoprics divided Flemish territory among themselves. The bishopric of Tournai included the largest amount of Flemish land within its boundaries. As for secular jurisdiction within Flanders, the great Flemish towns, or drie steden, Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges, were "islands of privilege in the midst of seigneurial jurisdiction." Here aldermen exercised rights of high and low justice within the banlieu of the town. However, most of Flanders was ruled by seigneurial justice. The county was divided into various castellanies, each with its own bailiff, the personal representative of the count, and with its own bank of échevins, (aldermen) who were drawn primarily from the local nobility.

Administrators and scribes provided a significant and successful alternative to notarial instruments. People who desired a public authority's seal simply sought out their nearby échevin. The Church was also in the forefront of granting documents. Thus before 1280 there were no notaries public in Flanders. The first recorded notary public, Henricus de Condé, notary by imperial authority, drew up a document on behalf of the count of Flanders in a case involving the abbot of Bergues-St.-Winoc in this year. By the late 13th century notaries public had established themselves in the service of the Bishop of Tournai. The first of these notaries were usually Italian born or educated and remained employed in the episcopal city of Tournai, although they journeyed to other cities within the diocese. Soon other town governments began occasionally using the services of the notaries. Most early notaries were unable to support themselves solely by their notarial services and most were associated with a local church. By 1310 there were notaries resident in Bruges, in Ypres, and probably in Ghent as well. Of the three cities, Bruges soon emerged as the most important notarial center.

Chapter 3 provides background on the rise of the notariate in the Flemish Church. In the episcopal government of Tournai the development can be seen as a three step process. First, episcopal notaries without public authority served as representatives of the bishop or official. Later, a few notaries public performed certain well-defined tasks. Finally, by the early years of the 15th century, notaries public made up the majority of clerks in episcopal and officials' chanceries. Simple utility was one of the major reasons leading to the adoption of the notaries public, as through their licenses by public authorities they enabled the bishops of Tournai and their officials to handle judicial business, especially outside of the city, without any special authorization. The use of public notaries also reflected the growing practice of the papal curia.

The deacon of Christianity occupied the second tier of the Church judicial structure in Flanders. The deacon was at first a rival of the notary public in issuing legal documents. Although evidence is scarce, it is thought that, like the episcopal official, many deacons in important urban centers, such as the deacon of Bruges, employed public notaries in their courts. Some deacons themselves held notarial licenses, as did parish priests and chaplains. Monasteries, especially the Benedictine establishments, used notaries to a limited extent-- usually for problems involving donations made to churches under the monastery's patronage. Some of the notaries employed by monasteries may have been simultaneously chaplains at these churches.

Notaries public in civil employment is the topic discussed in chapter 4. Though the notary public was a latecomer to the county of Flanders, the large and prosperous towns of the region, as well as the rich agricultural areas controlled by the count of Flanders, would seem to provide a climate well suited to the growth of the notoriate. By the 11th century towns had gained the right to administer and judge their populations. By the early 13th, towns were ruled by groups of aldermen who came to perform many of the same functions as did the notaries public in southern Europe. As the wealth and power of the Flemish towns neared their peak in the late 13th century, most of the work of town government was entrusted to a body of city clerks called stadsklerken who assisted the aldermen in their roles as judges, administrators, and legislators. These clerks were sometimes employed as diplomatic couriers or as representatives of the town at church courts and were also called upon to draw up documents for townspeople who sought the town's seal on a contract. Clearly, this provided serious competition for the notaries, who, though not excluded from town chanceries, tended to be employed only in exceptional cases where city clerks lacked the specialized skills required by the situation. An important area in which notaries public did serve on a town's behalf was in cases heard before Christian courts.

Law experts and notaries public entered the political scene around the same time. When in 1280 the count of Flanders intervened to settle a quarrel between the abbot of St. Winoc and some of his monks, what was particularly unconventional in the count's intercession was the use of a notary public and a legum professor. Notaries, however, gained acceptance less readily into the permanent employ of the count than did the lawyer. The Flemish counts took advantage of the services of notaries to meet short-term administrative emergencies. It was above all in cases involving ecclesiastic courts that the notary's services became essential. The trend of limited or temporary use of notaries was only reversed during the second half of the 14th century.

As employment in the count's or town's service was periodic, most notaries carried out tasks for individual clients. The most frequent occasion upon which a notary was employed by a layman was in the witnessing of pious gifts to religious organizations. There is little documentation to show whether or not notaries were employed by Flemish merchants in their business affairs, though the colonies of foreign merchants residing in Flemish towns formed a special group of notarial clients.

The concluding section of the introduction is called "Typology and Diplomatics of Flemish Notarial Documents." The types of notarial documents used in Flanders fell into two categories: first, the notary acted in his own name; and secondly, an individual, corporation or group stated at the beginning of the document that it had requested the notary to draw up the document. Both types were completed with the notary's eschatocal (paragraph) and sign manual and could be augmented by one or more seals. The texts of chirographs (identical texts written on a single sheet of parchment which was then cut in two) could be inserted in the body of the document.

The nature of Flemish society produced a notarial instrument which was distinct from the Italian model in both outward appearance and in uses of legal formulas. While in southern Europe the notarial instrument was meant to satisfy the rigors of business, the Flemish product was often used to lend dignity to a religious donation or to record events of particular importance. The Flemish document was ornate, almost always written on parchment, and with few exceptions, drafted in Latin. Notarial cartularies were rarely used in Flanders and were not considered the source of authentic records as was the case in Italy.

A representative sample of notarial texts makes up Part II of this volume which the author calls "the edition." In a short technical introduction Murray and his collaborators for this portion of the work justify their choice of documents selected for inclusion by indicating their preference for original texts rather than copies, a desire to present examples of the changes in the form and use of the notarial instruments over time, and a consideration of the inherent significance of the documents themselves. The presentation of the texts in edited form was subject to the rules and guidelines of the Royal Commission of History (Belgium). Most of the texts included come from urban areas, with Bruges contributing more than any other Flemish city. While a few are written in the vernacular, most are in Latin. One genre of document that is little represented here is the last will and testament. According to Murray, Flemish notaries rarely assisted in the preparation of this type of document.

The indices and photographs complete this work. The instructions for using the indices are misleading. The page references are to the introduction (not to the edition), and the edition references are indicated by document numbers (not pages) and by smaller-case line numbers.

Unfortunately, careless formatting and editing errors are found throughout this volume. Words are artificially hyphenated when they are not line final (p. 14 autho-rity, ma-tured, p. 44 Bru- ges, p. 29 re-ceive); foreign words are not always italicized (p. 3 Tabelliones, p. 19 drie steden, p. 127 invocatio, narratio, corrobaratio); subtitles are incorrectly spaced (p. 48, p. 123); punctuation marks misplaced (p. 89 a semi-colon begins the line); and there are even occasional misspelled words (p. 315 gramatically) and sentence fragments (p. 33. "And lastly . . ."). Such mistakes may be tolerated in a doctoral dissertation, which this began as, but should have been eliminated before the presentation of the final product.

Although typographical errors like those mentioned slightly mar the appearance of the printed copy, they in no way detract from the quality of the research. Murray's diligent investigation of this subject has resulted in a wealth of information for the reader on the preparation and authentication of written documents, the rise of the institution of the public notary, the professional careers of various individuals, and the different layers of power and authority in Medieval Flanders.