Slavery Lectures

Some months ago your blogger gave some lectures, in Memory of his Teacher Alan Watson, devoted to the topic of slavery in Eighteenth-Century Scotland. They can be found on Youtube:

Lecture 1: (Enslaved and Enslavers in Scotland)

Lecture 2: (Managing the Enslaved)

Lecture 3: (Challenging Enslavement)


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

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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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).

Alan Watson Seminar

Since the mid-1980s there has been a Legal History Discussion Group in the University of Edinburgh. Originally founded by Professor Peter Birks, it was very many years organised by Professor Hector MacQueen and then later by your blogger. It initially took the form of an hors d’oeuvre and then a main paper, and was accompanied by wine. A minute book preserved in Edinburgh University Archives records meetings from the foundation until around 2000, and makes very interesting reading, indicating how much important research started off in discussion before it.

Recently, the format changed into that of a single paper, resembling that of the School’s Roman Law Group, but instead focusing on legal history from the Middle Ages onwards. The Centre for Legal History is proud to announce that the Legal History Discussion group will now be known as the Alan Watson Seminar after Professor Alan Watson, who held the Chair of Civil Law in Edinburgh from 1968 to 1980. Professor Watson has very kindly agreed to this. The first paper to be given under this new title will be on 2 May 2014 by Dr Xavier Prévost (Université Paris I – Ecole nationale des chartes, Paris), who will speak on ‘The Use of the Glossators and Commentators by Jacques Cujas (1522-1590): A Humanist Criticism of the Medieval Jurisprudence’. A subsequent Blog Entry will discuss Professor Watson and his time at Edinburgh.