Alan Watson seminar in legal history – 26 May

Details of our last event for the academic year below: A paper by a visitor to the centre, Wouter Druwé.

In the early modern period, the Low Countries performed a key role in trade and commerce on the European continent. In their golden ages, Antwerp in the sixteenth and Amsterdam in the seventeenth century attracted merchants from all over Europe and even beyond. The massive development of commerce and finance within this transregional reality raised new normative questions on how to deal with novel financial techniques. Most often, the answers were multifold. Different layers of normativity were at stake: apart from learned legal treatises and commentaries, also moral theological literature, princely or local ordinances, and customary law had to be taken into account. The Netherlandish published volumes of consilia and decisiones – together coined as ‘learned legal practice’ – form two types of legal sources which offer an excellent insight into the combined application of these different normative layers. In consilia, learned lawyers gave their opinion on specific disputes, either before or in the course of legal proceedings. Volumes of decisiones contain reports of decisions by the superior courts of the Low Countries.

After an introduction into the sources and a short overview of the overall Ph.D. project, this paper will deal with the Netherlandish learned legal practice regarding the sale of annuities (emptio-venditio redituum), a common technique to circumvent the prohibition against usury. Someone in need of credit sold an annuity to a buyer-financier who in return paid a purchase price. As of the mid-sixteenth century learned authors accepted that the seller could unilaterally redeem the annuity, even though discussion remained as to the possibility of contractual clauses which temporarily limited that right. As this possibility was only guaranteed in case of pecuniarily constituted annuities, debates also concerned the burden of proof of an annuity’s emptitious nature. Furthermore, this contribution deals with the possibility by a public debtor to mitigate its own annual liabilities through the enactment of legislation. Finally, it is shown that the buyer-creditor was generally denied a right to claim restitution of the capital.

Wouter Druwé (FWO / KU Leuven)

26 May – Legal History Poster

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