Blackstone and Architecture: “Blackstone’s Commentaries: A Work of Art?” An exhibition talk by Cristina S. Martinez, Ph.D., University of Ottawa. Friday, April 17, 2015, 11:00am-12:00pm, Room 122, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT.

Blackstone famously compared the English law to a Gothic Castle. Though he was writing at the start of the Gothic revival, his approach was rather classical, and, of course, Blackstone wrote about architecture before he wrote about law. It is an interesting thought that he may have used an orderly classically-trained architect’s eye to the task of organizing English law in his Commentaries.

A legal treatise as a work of art? Very few people would confuse the two, yet William Blackstone wrote about architecture before turning to law, and may have brought his orderly artist’s eye to bear in organizing the law in his landmark Commentaries on the Laws of England, an 18th-century bestseller and the most influential book in the history of Anglo-American law.

On Friday 17 April, 2015, the Yale Law Library will host a talk by Dr. Cristina S. Martinez entitled “Blackstone’s Commentaries: A Work of Art?” in conjunction with the exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries“, already noted in this Blog. Her talk will be accompanied by Mark Weiner’s video, “Blackstone Goes Hollywood”, which includes interviews with Mike Widener and Wilfrid Prest, co-curators of the exhibition. The talk will take place Friday, April 17, in Room 122 of Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street, at 11am. It is free and open to the public. This Blog urges anyone nearby who can to attend.

The speaker, Dr Martinez, received a PhD in Art History and Law from Birkbeck College, University of London. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa and a Faculty Member of the International Summer Institute for the Cultural Study of Law at the University of Osnabrück in Germany. She is the author of the forthcoming book Art, Law, and Order: The Legal Life of Artists in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Manchester University Press) and contributed “Blackstone as Draughtsman: Picturing the Law” to the collection edited by Wilfrid Prest, Re-Interpreting Blackstone’s Commentaries (2014).

AS already noted in this Blog, the exhibit “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries” is on display through June 2, 2015, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School. The exhibition will then travel to London, where it will be on view September through November 2015 at the library of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, and then on to Sir John Salmond Law Library, University of Adelaide, December 2015 to February.

The exhibit can also be viewed in the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site.  For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, at (203) 432-4494.

This Blog-entry is adapted from:


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Magna Carta – Again: Book Offer for readers of this Blog

This Blog has already mentioned more than once the the 800th anniversary of the grant at Runnymede of Magna Carta in 2015. One suspects it will be mentioned again a few times more before the end of the year. The story of how Magna Carta came into being, and has been interpreted since, and its impact on individual rights and constitutional developments has more twists and turns than any work of historical fiction, as the lecture of Sir John Baker recently discussed here would confirm.

Hart Publishing has just published Magna Carta Uncovered by Anthony Arlidge and Igor Judge. These are interesting authors, since Anthony Arlidge has been a Queen’s Counsel for over 30 years and in 1990 he was called upon during a case to argue the meaning of clause 40 of Magna Carta, while Igor Judge was a judge for 25 years and retired as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in 2013.

This means the authors bring a different perspective from that of most historians and legal historians as they can draw on wide legal experience and forensic skills to uncover the original meaning of the liberties enshrined in Magna Carta, and to trace their development in later centuries up to the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. By providing that the powers of the King were not unlimited, the Charter was groundbreaking, yet it was also a conservative document, following the form of Anglo-Saxon charters and seeking to return government to the ways of the Norman kings.

If readers of this Blog are interested in this book they can get a 20% discount by following the link below.


1. Who Made Magna Carta?
2. William Marshal
3. What Was Magna Carta?
4. Religion
5. Rebellion
6. Freemen
7. Law and Order
8. Trial by Peers – Clauses 39 and 40
9. Taxes
10. The King Under the Law
11. London and Other Cities
12. Commerce
13. Robin Hood and the Royal Forests
14. Wales and Scotland
15. The Charter Restored
16. Towards Democracy
17. Due Process
18. The Charter Survives
19. The Rule of Law
20. ‘Reason of State’
21. Ship Money
22. Independence of the Jury and the Right to Silence
23. Towards an Independent Judiciary
24. The Bill of Rights
25. Rebellion in America

Nov 2014 9781849465564 204pp Hbk RSP: £25 Discount Price: £20

Please click on the link below and click the ‘Pay Now’ tab. Please then write ref: BS5 in the voucher code field and click apply:

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Commercial law and ius commune in sixteenth century Low Countries

On 3 April, at the  Centre for Legal History of Edinburgh University, Prof. Dave De ruysscher of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) gave a lecture on ‘Voluntary Bankruptcy in the sixteenth century Low Countries: Municipal Law, Doctrine and Economic Policy’.  Looking at the significant differences from city to city and their legal development, De ruysscher highlighted the complex relationship between bankruptcy, economy and society. From his captivating account, an underlying question became clear: to what extent should we still rely on pan-European ius commune narratives?



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Magna Carta: Statute or Myth?

On 2 April, under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Law and Literature at the University of St Andrews, Sir john Baker gave an excellent lecture in St Salvator’s Hall on “Magna Carta: Statute or Myth?” As one could imagine, the lecture was learned, wide ranging and elegant; but after a fascinating exploration of the historic Magna Carta of King John, Sir John focused on the 1580s, arguing that it was then that it started to take on much of the meaning currently attributed it. This can be traced through readings given in the Inns of Court by Puritan lawyers. Sir John also discussed Coke, King James and Magna Carta. Ultimately he wisely concluded, what all lawyers know, that it is not the words that make the law, it is the interpretation that matters. Ultimately it was Coke’s view that was to count.

St SalvatorsSir John

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Igor Mineo: Alan Watson Seminar

The third Alan Watson Seminar was given by Professor Igor E. Mineo of Palermo University. Prof. Mineo gave a thoughtful and complex paper entitled ‘Historicizing the common good. The ambiguous relationship between “common good” and “commons”‘. In his lecture, Mineo analysed the progressive change in both language and meaning from ‘commons’ understood as specific, material things to ‘commons’ understood as what pertains to the common good of the polity. This change should be appreciated within the manyfold influences of Tomism on fourteenth century political thought, and its consequences may be seen throughout late medieval and early modern times.


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The English Legal Imaginary, Part II: St Andrews Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Law and literature

The Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Law and Literature at the University of St Andrews is hosting the Conference,  “The English Legal Imaginary, Part II”, 1-2 May, 2015, taking place in the School of English. This will follow on from Part I, held at Princeton University, New Jersey, on 17-18 April (for which see

These conferences will involve leading scholars working at the intersections of law, politics, literature and history in early modern England. The conference papers will contribute to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500-1700. Topics include: Roman law and common law; law and drama; law and education; equity, legal reform and literary censorship.

There is really no need to inform readers of this Blog of the importance of the topic nor of the exciting nature of the publications that will result. Those who work on Ancient Law and Society or on the history of Scots law are well aware of the importance of these intersections as constituting an important field of research.

Speakers at St Andrews will include: Martin Butler, Bradin Cormack, Alan Cromartie, Steve Hindle; Rab Houston, Lorna Hutson, David Ibbetson, James McBain, Subha Mukherji, Joad Raymond, Carolyn Sale, James Sharpe, Erica Sheen, Quentin Skinner, Virginia Lee Strain, Elliott Visconsi, Ian Williams, Jessica Winston, and Andrew Zurcher.

The registration fees for this conference are: £30 for students and unwaged, and £40 for waged participants. This fee covers lunch and coffee/tea breaks on both days, in addition to the conference dinner on Friday 1, and the closing wine and cheese reception on Saturday 2 May.

This Blog is advised that places are limited, so early registration is important. Only those who are registered will be admitted to the conference; there are no drop-in sessions.

See further:


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Call for Papers

Call for Papers: Using the past: Romanists, totalitarianism and its legacy
Rome, 22-23 October, 2015.
Villa Lante al Gianicolo, Institutum Romanum Finlandiae

Deadline: May 2, 2015.

The purpose of the project “Reinventing the foundations of European
Legal Culture 1934-1964” ( is to trace the genealogy of the
idea of a common European legal past, its creation, influence and
implications of the theory as an ideological project.

After the two previous events, the first one in Helsinki, in May 2014,
and the second one in Frankfurt am Main, in June 2015, the research
group is organizing a workshop in Rome on the problematic relationship
between history of law and, in particular, Roman law scholars, and the
dictatorial or totalitarian regimes, especially with regard to the
Italian and German ones. We therefore invite papers that explore the
approach of Romanists towards the regime and the influence it had on
their studies. If and to what extent the works of scholars may be
considered as a reaction against the dictatorial power, or means to
support it. The papers may analyze the repercussions that the study of
Roman Law under the regimes had on the Law in force at the time and the
influence it exercised on the later scholars, also with regard to the
foundation of a new idea of European common legal culture.

Confirmed keynote speakers are Lorena Atzeri (Università Statale,
Milano), Cosimo Cascione (Università Federico II, Napoli), Mario Varvaro
(Università di Palermo).

Potential themes include, but are not limited to:
– idealization of Rome and its history and its implications;
– the influence of political circumstances and the experiences in Roman
law scholarship;
– the different narratives of ancient Roman law proposed by the Italian
Romanists, in order either to support, or to criticize Fascism;
– Roman Law in Italy between the regime and the new “Codice civile” of 1942;
– the roots of the new European legal history as a reaction to the
totalitarian past;
– differences between German and Italian Roman law doctrine in
perceiving the role of Roman law and their approach towards the regimes;
– different interpretations of Roman law as a foundation of a new idea
of Europe.

The conference is organized by the FoundLaw project, funded by the
European Research Council.

Please submit your abstract (300 words), in English, as a (word/pdf)
file to Heta Björklund at foundlaw(a) Please include your
name, academic affiliation and address in your email. The deadline for
submission of abstracts is May 2, 2015. We will inform of the selections
by the end of May.

The language of the meeting is English. There is no registration fee.
The organizers are unfortunately unable to aid in the travel
arrangements or accommodation of participants.

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Sir John Baker: Magna Carta, lecture at St Andrews

On 2 April, 2015, Sir John Baker will deliver a lecture at the University of St Andrews under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Law and Literature. The lecture is open to the public.

Magna Carta has had an immense influence on hearts and minds, and even events, over the last eight hundred years. Yet it is not always understood that this has been achieved more by magic than by operation of positive law. Much of the text was obsolete or obsolescent five hundred years ago, and what remained was difficult even for the lawyers of those days to interpret. In any case, no remedies were provided for private subjects in case the words were not observed by the king. The lecture will address some of these legal difficulties and outline how and when they were overcome.


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PhD in Legal History: Opportunity in Glasgow

A studentship is being offered in the School of History at Glasgow on the topic of “Married Women and the Law in Scotland, 1600-1750″. Those who follow such debates will be aware that there has been a lot of controversy over this in English law in recent history, focusing around the significance of what English lawyers called coverture. Social and economic historians know that both married women as well as widows often ran businesses, raising all kinds of very interesting questions. For anyone interested, your blogger would recommend a perusal of Elizabeth Sanderson’s fascinating Women and Work in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh (1996) as an interesting start, showing the variety of work done by women of all classes. This alone raises very interesting questions about married women and the operation of the law. What is offered is an AHRC-funded studentship as part of a very promising project: “Women negotiating the boundaries of justice: Britain and Ireland, c.1100 – c.1750.” The supervisors will Dr Alex Shepherd, who has carried out a lot of work on gender studies particularly concerning England, and Dr Karin Bowie, a noted Scottish historian, who published one of the more interesting specialist books about the Union of 1707.

For further information, see:

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Emanuele Conte: Alan Watson Seminar

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The Second Alan Watson Seminar was given by Professor Emanuele Conte of the Università degli Studi Roma Tre. Professor Conte’s title was “Legal Arguments. Medieval Origins of a European Invention”. In a rich and nuanced paper, Professor Conte emphasised the importance of  procedure to the first medieval Roman jurists, focusing initially on the work of Bulgarus,  his discussion of iudicium, and the opinion of law as what can be used before a public tribunal. Professor Conte discussed the Vulgate reading of D. 50.17.1 that allowed for the creative development of legal rules and argument, as well as reflecting on the work of Pierre de Blois and Pillius in developing his theme.

The first Alan Watson Seminar was given on 2 May 2014 by Dr Xavier Prévost, now Professor of Legal History at Bordeaux. Professor Prévost’s paper will appear as a chapter in J.W. Cairns and P. du Plessis (eds), Reassessing Legal Humanism and Its Claims: Petere Fontes?, Edinburgh 2015 (forthcoming).

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