Joseph Webb McKnight

LSMU Law Professor Joseph W. McKnightegal historians will be saddened by the death of Joe McKnight on 30 November. Joe, a native Texan, who passed most of his career at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, was one of the most delightful and kindest of men, and also excellent company. An evening spent with Joe and his wife Mimi, whether at their home in Highland Park, or in a restaurant, or indeed in Oxford which they both loved, was always something to be looked forward to as promising excellent food and drink and a great deal of fun and wit, given their quirky and off-beat senses of humour.

A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Joe was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, graduating MA and BCL; later he acquired an LLM from Columbia. Joe was a notable collector of law books, and this blogger certainly remembers bidding for him at an auction in Edinburgh, and then wrapping large numbers of books to post to Texas. When this blogger was a Visiting Associate Professor at SMU, one of the delights was meeting Joe in his office to open the latest parcel of books that had arrived from Europe or Latin America: an unwrapping filled with the sound of clapping as Joe killed the moths that liked the oriental carpet he had in his office.

Joe was a man who loved life and enhanced the lives of others. We have all been enriched by him in many ways. A longer obituary may follow in this blog.

Judith Kelleher Schafer (1942-2014)

SchaferLegal history and the study of the history of slavery have suffered a significant loss with the death on 16 December of Judith Kelleher Schafer at, by modern standards, a relatively early age. A graduate of Sophie Newcomb College and Tulane University, Professor Schafer was a prolific, thorough, and imaginative scholar, with a keen eye for the telling detail and a fine way with words.

Her first book was Slavery, the Civil Law, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana (LSU 1994). A major achievement, this was based on detailed archival research through the records of the court. It was widely and well reviewed, though some reviewers noted a tension between  a theme of “Americanisation” of the law and one of “uniqueness” of the law of Louisiana – a theme that tends to run through Louisiana legal history more generally. Her next monograph was Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in new Orleans, 1846-1862 (LSU, 2003). Again based on detailed archival research, this time in the newspapers and court records of New Orleans, the author stressed that this was not a social history of slaves, freedmen and freedwomen, and slave owners, but a study of how these groups used the legal system. The era was that of intensification of slavery in parts of the U.S.A. in the lead up to the Civil War, as the white population started to become more anxious about the survival slavery and its survival; correspondingly it chronicles the attempts of free black to maintain their status. It is a complex topic. Finally, like many who have carried out detailed archival research, Professor Schafer came across other fascinating material. This resulted in a third monograph: Brothels Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans (LSU, 2009). This explored the brutal lives of women who prostituted themselves in New Orleans, their violence, the violence against them, and how it all fitted in to property ownership and the needs for landlords to make money from tenancies. It is a fascinating book, telling a complex story, filled with illuminating and vivid stories.

I did not know Professor Schafer well; but I met her a number of times socially, and remember her as an elegant, friendly and amusing woman, whose kind politeness was genuine and not simply the product of good manners. I remember her talking about her determination to go home after Katrina, even to a house in a poor state. Anyone who acknowledges in her books the support derived from drinking companions surely deserves a vote! She will be missed by her family and friends as well as by historians of slavery and of Louisiana.

Professor Chris Brooks

Professor David Sugarman has just informed this blog of the sad death of Professor Chris (C.W.) Brooks aged only 65. A native of Maryland, with a first degree from Princeton, and a doctorate from Oxford, Chris joined the Department of History at Durham University in 1980 as a lecturer, rising to the rank of professor. His wide-ranging research interests in the history of early-modern England included a particular focus on the law and its social and cultural implications.

This Blog has a strong interest in the history of the legal professions, and Chris is best known for his exemplary and original monographs in this area in which he opened up new areas of research. The first was Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth. The Lower Branch of the Legal Profession in Early Modern England, (Cambridge University Press, 1986), followed by Lawyers, Litigation and English Society since 1450, (Hambledon, 1998) and Law, Politics and Society in Early Modern England, (Cambridge University Press, 2008). He also produced co-edited collections, (co-edited with J. Barry) The Middling Sort of People. Culture, Society and Politics in England 1550-1800, (Macmillan, 1994) and (co-edited with M.J. Lobban) Communities and Courts in Britain 1150-1900, (Hambledon, 1997). He was a founder-member of the Board of Editors of the Law and History Review and a member of council of the Selden Society. At the time of his death he was preparing the 1625-1689 volume of the Oxford History of the Laws of England.

An event to celebrate Chris’ life will take place on Saturday 30th August 2014 at 1:00pm in the Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s College, Durham University, Windmill Hill, Durham DH1 3LJ, England. All are welcome.

Donations in Chris’ memory can be made to Linacre College, Oxford, or to The National Humanities Centre, PO Box 12256, 7 Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, NC 27709-2256, U.S.A.

Professor Emeritus Reuven Yaron, 1924-2014

On the morning of 8 April 2014, Reuven Yaron died in his sleep. He was five months short of his ninetieth birthday. I first met Professor Yaron in Vienna, the city of his birth, at the SIDHA Conference in 1994. I never knew him well; but that he was a warm, witty, and charming man with a sly sense of humour was immediately obvious. He was kind and interested in a young legal historian. As a pupil of Alan Watson, I of course knew who Professor Yaron was and had read some of his work. I subsequently met him at events in Aberdeen commemorating his teacher, David Daube. He also contributed to the Festschrift for Alan Watson I edited with Olivia Robinson.

Professor Yaron had emigrated to Palestine in 1937, and had studied law at the University of Jerusalem, before writing a D.Phil thesis at Oxford, under the supervision of Daube, on Gifts in Contemplation of Death in Jewish and Roman Law, published by OUP in 1960. He in fact had started his work with Daube at the University of Aberdeen, before his master moved to Oxford. After teaching at Aberdeen, Professor Yaron taught at the Hebrew University from 1957 until his retirement, serving as Dean from 1967-1971. He also held various public posts in Israel.

Professor Yaron’s main publications are listed in volume 29 of the Israel Law Review, which was dedicated to him on his 70th birthday. His scholarship ranged through the linked fields of Roman law, ancient near eastern law, Jewish law and Aramaic papyri.

While Professor Yaron was full of years, and the death of a man who has had a rich and full life in his ninetieth year can be no tragedy, it reminds us all of the passing of a generation of brilliant scholars who did much to develop legal education in Britain and elsewhere after the Second World War.

Professor A.B. (Basil) Edwards

It is with some sadness that we report the death, earlier this year, of Basil Edwards, Professor Emeritus at the University of South Africa and a well-known scholar on the history of South African law. Professor Edwards was  a firm friend of the Edinburgh Law School and spent a number of sabbaticals in Edinburgh conducting research on the historical links between the Law of Scotland and of South Africa.

With the permission of the Editors of Fundamina, The Journal of the Southern African Society of Legal Historians, we publish an extract from an obituary which will appear in print later this year. The obituary was written by Professor Elsabé Schoeman, University of Auckland, one of his former students:

‘He made a substantial contribution to South African law and legal literature. He was responsible for the chapters on “The Idea of Law”, “Legal Theory”, “The History of South African Law”, “Sources of South African Law” and “Public and Private International Law”, as well as, in conjunction with Prof Joan Church, the chapter on “Introduction to Indigenous Law and the Comparative Method”, in the 1500 page tour de force, Introduction to South African Law and Legal Theory (2nd edn, Butterworths, 1995 (reprint: 1997)). He also authored the monographic LAWSA title, Conflict of Laws (Butterworths, 1993). Apart from numerous articles (including his inaugural lecture, “Choice of Law in Delict: Rules or Approach?” (1979) 96 SALJ 48), notes and case comments, he participated in a number of Festschriften, which saw him unearth gems like Hughes v Wrankmore  ((1813-1814) Court of Appeals for Civil Cases at the Cape of Good Hope), an early international insolvency case. The Selective Paulus Voet (in collaboration with Dawie Kriel and with assistance from Paul du Plessis and Rena van den Berg), was his last academic publication and perhaps the greatest of them all. The final published work contains a translation of those sections of Paulus Voet’s De Statutis Eorumque Concursu Liber Singularis (Amstelodami, 1661) that are relevant to modern conflict of laws. These sections are placed in historical perspective within the context of the rise and fall of statutism in Western Europe, Great Britain, the United States of America and South Africa. The work concludes with a brief appraisal of Paulus Voet’s legacy in South African law.’

This blogger worked closely with Basil on the Paulus Voet project. It was a monumental work which on more than one occasion nearly drove us both to distraction. I will never forget his kindness and unfailing good humour in the final stages of the project. These are the marks of a world-class scholar and a true gentleman.

Basil Edwards was a remarkable scholar with a keen interest in Roman, Roman-Dutch and modern South African law. Through his scholarship, he continued a long and important tradition of historical scholarship in South African law. He will be missed.

Felix B.J. Wubbe (31.1.1923 – 30.3.2014)


Dear Colleagues and Friends,

 I have just been informed that prof. em. Felix B.J. Wubbe passed away yesterday Sunday 30 March 2014, after a short illness.

The burial ceremony will take place at the Fribourg Cathedral Friday 4th April 2014 at 10.00.

 You can contact the family at:

Clara Wubbe
rue Jean-Grimoux 8
CH-1700 Fribourg

Clara Wubbe (

With emotion and grief, I send you my best regards

Pascal Pichonnaz

Ci-dessous quelques éléments biographiques :

Le Prof. Felix B.J. Wubbe est né le 31 janvier 1923 à La Haye (Pays-Bas). Il a entrepris des études de philologie classique aux Universités de Leiden et Utrecht de 1940 à 1943. De 1943 à 1944, déportation et travail forcé à Berlin, puis “disparu” aux Pays-Bas jusqu’à la fin de l’occupation 1944-1945. Employé dans l’industrie de l’habillement 1946-1952, il a entrepris des études de droit de 1952-1955. Assistant du Prof. R. Feenstra de 1955 à 1961, il fut chargé de cours à l’Université de Münster au semestre d’été 1958 et d’été 1959, remplaçant le prof. Max Kaser. Il a obtenu son doctorat en avril 1960 sous la direction du Prof. Robert Feenstra.

Il a débuté son activité comme professeur ordinaire de droit romain (en français et en allemand) à la Faculté de droit de Fribourg à l’automne 1961. Professeur émérite depuis l’été 1993, il a poursuivi son enseignement pendant une année supplémentaire à la demande de la Faculté.

Doyen de la Faculté de droit et des sciences économiques et sociales de l’Université de Fribourg de 1969 à 1971, il fut aussi président de la section juridique de 1969 à 1973.  Sénateur de l’Université de 1971 à 1974, il fut également président de l’Assemblée plénière de l’Université de 1979 à 1987.

Editeur de la Collection AISUF de 1967 à 1980, membre du comité de rédaction de la Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis (Pays-Bas) de 1965 à 1993, Felix Wubbe fut également vice-président de l’Accademia Romanistica Costantiniana (Perugia) de 1991 à 2010. Il fut en outre un membre assidu de la Société internationale ‘Fernand de Vischer’ pour l’Histoire des Droits de l’Antiquité pendant plus cinquante ans et en a assuré la chronique annuelle pendant de très nombreuses années.

Pascal Pichonnaz

Chiene Memorial Lecture: Professor Thomas Duve, 11 October 2013

Peter Chiene was an Edinburgh graduate in law and philosophy who practised as a solicitor in Edinburgh. He died tragically young in an accident on the Scottish hills. This lectureship in legal history was founded in his memory.

The Peter Chiene Lecture of 2013 will be delivered on 11 October by Professor Dr Thomas Duve, Director of the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt-am-Main, in Lecture Theatre 175, Old College, Edinburgh at 17.30.

His title is: “National, Transnational and European Legal Histories: Problems and Paradigms. A German Perspective.” The Lecture will be followed by a Reception in the Lorimer Room at 18.30. All are welcome.


cropped-Blog-Masthead.jpg303 Years of Civil Law



Tony Weir: Memorial Issue: Tulane Law Review

This Blog did not include an obituary for Tony Weir. He was not keen that there should be one published, nor that there be a Gedenkschrift in his memory; but both in fact have now happened.  Our colleague Hector MacQueen produced an excellent obituary in our sibling Blog, Scots Law News:  Now the Tulane Law Review has published a “Symposium” in his honour. In American Law Reviews symposiums are basically themed issues focused on an issue of debate; but Tony, a convivial type, would have appreciated its root meaning of a drinking party with conversation! But though Tony disapproved of Festschriften, he might well have forgiven the idea of a Gedenkschrift or posthumous liber amicorum, even if in a student-edited law review, another pet disapproval. Given your Blogger was one of the contributors, I shall not review the volume: its contents may be found listed and abstracted at  Given Tony’s interests, the essays range over Roman law, legal history, comparative law, and torts or delict, as well as touching on various Weir themes, such as friendship – no doubt an important part of a true symposium! There is also a good introduction by Shael Herman, who, along with the student editors, is to be congratulated. Given Tony’s liking for Tulane, I am sure his shade, if it still waits for the ferryman, would not mind.
One nice memorial to this remarkable man was the private publication (produced by Hart publishing) of a collection of his case notes: a genre of legal commentary in which he excelled: Tony Weir on the Case, ed. by Barnard, Cornish, Hopkins and McBride (Oxford, 2012).

Robert Feenstra: 5 Oct. 1920- 2 Mar. 2013

This Blog is saddened to have to report the death of Robert Feenstra, a truly great legal historian. It is just over two years ago that your Blogger attended his 90th Birthday Symposium, a symposium at which the honorand spoke himself, both cogently and well.

It is too early to evaluate Professor Feenstra's career, or to judge his legacy; but he was certainly one of the most important legal historians of the twentieth century, most noted for his work on Roman law in the Middle Ages, notably the School of Orleans, Roman-Dutch law and early-modern law more generally. He had a particular interest in the intellectual history of law books and legal education. He was also a facilitator, even a fixer, and under him the Tijdschrift voor Rechtgeschiedenis developed into, in your blogger's view, the best general legal history periodical.

Though affable and generous with his time, Professor Feestra very definitely had the style of the grand man, who expected much. He once annouced to two vistors to the Netherlands, who wanted to visit and be shown round Leiden, that your  blogger would do it, as "John knows Leiden as well as anyone" (far from the truth). He met us all at the station in his car, bringing about one of the terrifying car journeys I periodically had with him driving, gave us coffee at his home, then still in Leiden, in what I think of as the other side of the station, before dropping us in central Leiden for me to give the guests a tour. I did my best.

His standards were exacting, once questioning your blogger's English grammar, and I have seen him make a doctoral candidate stand up and translate from Latin in public. But the high standards and expectations were applied to himself and to his own work.

The funeral service will take place this Saturday, 1 PM at the Crematorium Driehuis Westerveld, near Haarlem, reachable by local train from Amsterdam. 

Professor Emeritus William Gordon

As many readers of this Blog will know, Bill Gordon, Douglas Professor of Civil Law Emeritus at the University of Glasgow, died peacefully at home on 1 Septmber 2012. Rather fittingly,  after the Conference in Glasgow in commemoration of its disntiguished Alumnus, Lord Rodger, it was possible for those attending to go to the Thanksgiving Service for Bill at Jordanhill Parish Church, Glasgow on 8 Septmeber.

Bill was in many ways a quiet and unassuming man; but he was a very talented legal historian indeed. He studied in Aberdeen, where he had attended the classes of David Daube, as well having his doctorate supervised by Peter Stein; he also spent time in Leiden working on it at the chair of Robert Feenstra. With this pedgree and his achievements, his appointment as Douglas Professor in Glasgow in 1969 was well merited. He held the chair for thirty years.

Bill offered excellent service for many years as Literary Director of the Stair Society; and he long continued on its Council as a co-opted member, where his wisdom , experience, and understated, sly sense of humour were much appreciated. With this is mind he was elected Vice-President of thse Stair Society in 2011. His own University of Aberdeen honoured him with the honorary degree of LL.D. in 2005.


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