PhD candidates sought

The Centre for Legal History in the University of Edinburgh has considerable experience in successfully supervising students for the degree of Ph.D. Supervision can be offered in Roman law, Roman and Canon law in the middle ages and early modern period, the history of Scots law, law and the Enlightenment, and slavery and law in the eighteenth century. Recent theses successfully examined include topics as diverse as legal transplants in Francophone Canada, sixteenth-century French legal practice, and moveable succession in the ius commune and Scots law.
Anyone interested should consider contacting Dr Paul du Plessis, Director of the Centre. Help can be given in finding funding to support the studies of appropriate candidates.

Blackstone Exhibition

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) is one of the most important ever writers on law. He is up there with the Gods of Ulpian, Pothier and Savigny. His story is well known, so there is little need to rehearse it. Suffice it to say after education at Charterhouse and Oxford, he was called to the English bar, but spent time as administrator at Oxford before becoming the first Vinerian Professor of the Laws of England and subsequently becoming a judge. He is famous because of his Commentaries on the Laws of England, based on his Vinerian Lectures, the first volume of which appeared in 1765, 250 years ago.

The Yale Law Library, home to the world’s largest collection of Blackstone’s works, is marking the anniversary with an exhibition, “250 Years of Blackstone’s Commentaries.” The exhibition is curated by Wilfrid Prest of Adelaide and Michael Widener, the Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, and consists of more than 40 items, all from the Yale Law Library’s collection, depicting the origins of the Commentaries, its remarkable success as a textbook, and its impact on both legal and popular culture. The items include a volume annotated by one of Blackstone’s students, a legal treatise with Blackstone’s own handwritten marginalia, the first English editions of the Commentaries, early Irish and American pirated editions, abridgments, teaching aids, student manuscripts, critiques, translations (into French, German, Italian, and Chinese), and a 1963 liquor advertisement.

The exhibition 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 (127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT). 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, which was Blackstone’s Inn of Court. From December 2015 to February 2016 it will be at the Sir John Salmond Law Library, University of Adelaide.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Yale Law Library will host a talk on April 17 by Cristina Martinez of Carleton University, who contributed “Blackstone as Draughtsman: Picturing the Law” to the collection edited by Prest, “Re-Interpreting Blackstone’s Commentaries” (2014). Her talk will be accompanied by Mark Weiner’s video, “Blackstone Goes Hollywood,” which includes an interview with Prest.

If Blackstone’s work is the best known work on the Anglo-American common law, the man himself remained in many ways obscure and enigmatic, until the major research programme directed by Wilf Prest at Adelaide started to explore his life, leading to an editions of his letters, a new biography, and several specialised volumes of research. This exhibition is the product of all this work.

Blackstone 250 flyer1


It is interesting to this blogger that one of the most famous portraits of Blackstone shows him in his gown as a Doctor of Civil Law.


Rare Books of Scottish Provenance: Los Angeles County Law Library Sale

On 5 March 2014, Bonham’s in London auctioned some rare books, the property of the Los Angeles Law Library. A number of these had a Scottish association or provenance that illuminates aspects of Scottish Legal History.

The first worth noting, no. 111 in the Catalogue, is a copy of Barnabé Brisson, De verborum quae ad jus pertinent significatione libri XIX apparently once owned by Sir Robert Spottiswoode, and with marginal notes in his hand. Spottiswoode is remembered by Scots lawyers for his own Practicks, published in a printed version by his grandson in 1706; your blogger is lucky enough to own the grandson’s own copy: The Brissonius is an important humanistic work, perhaps reflecting Spottiswoode’s education in France, but certainly indicating the interest of Scots lawyers of his generation.

Next one may notice no. 147, a very early edition of Grotius’ De jure belli ac pacis libri III, that of Amsterdam 1631. There is no need to emphasise the importance of Grotius’ work. But we know that Scots lawyers when studying in the Netherlands, which they often did between around 1680-1740, often took a Collegium Grotianum, that is a class on the law of nature and nations based on Grotius’s book. The volume has an ex libris inscription of 1702 on its title page, marking its purchase in Leiden by William Mure in 1702. He obviously purchased it when a student at the University there, before admission to the Faculty of Advocates in 1707.  It long remained in the library of the Mure of Caldwell family, who produced many lawyers in the eighteenth century. On Grotius, see also

Finally one may note Acts of Assembly. Passed in the Island of Jamaica; from 1770, to 1783, Inclusive (Kingston 1786). It has a Grant family book plate, and an inscription “J. Grant’s May 6 1789”. Further work would be required, but it is tempting to identify this “J. Grant” as the Scotsman John Grant, Chief Justice of Jamaica (1783-1790), but one would need to be able to make a comparison to be sure. But if so, it connects with Scottish colonialism and slave-owning: see

There are other tempting connections: one book has a provenance: Craigie Hall Library, presumably Craigie Hall on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It is a copy of M. Salamoni, Responsa prudentum, paradoxa, Basel 1530 – a plausible work for a Scottish library. There are other suggestively Scottish names.

Anton Schultingh (1659-1734)

Anton Schulting or Schultingh (1659-1734), after teaching privately at Leiden, where he took his doctorate, held chairs at Harderwijk, Franeker, and Leiden. He is generally best known as a member of the Dutch elegant school of Roman Law (eg van den Bergh, Holländsiche Elegante Schule (2002) 206-208).

Your Blogger has recently seen a copy of Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis (1689), that bears what appears to be his name on the title page as owner. Even more interesting is that it is very extensively annotated in considerable detail. Some of the annotations suggest that the use being made of it relates to teaching, some dates suggesting this was when Schulting was in Franeker. As far as your blogger is aware this is the only evidence that Schulting ever taught a Collegium Grotianum, supposing the notes are indeed his.

Comparison with samples of Schultingh's hand will be made, and a further  Blog entry will follow. The volume is in a private collection.

Freedom of the Seas

Readers of ths blog may be interested in the new Exhibition in the Rare Books Department of the Yale Law School Library. This is devoted to Freedom of the Seas, focusing around the publication of Mare Liberum on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, some four hundred years ago. For those who cannot visit, pictures of the exhibits will be displayed on the Yale Law Library, Rare Books Blog (which can in general be recommended as excellent).

Selden famously replied to Grotius with Mare Clausum; less well known is the response of the Scotsman, and sometime Professor of Law at St Andrews University, William Welwood. Welwood, who had studied at St Andrews and Wittenberg, replied in his Abridgement of All Sea-Lawes of 1613 and later in De dominio maris (1615). It is interesting to note that Welwood's critique was the only one to which Grotius in fact composed a reply. Some of Welwood's arguments were adopted by Grotius when he came to write De iure belli ac pacis (1625), in which he now agreed with Welwood that territorial waters could be possessed.

For the Scots, one of the continuing anxieties about Grotius' arguments was protection of the herring fisheries off the shores of Scotland from Dutch fishermen. These were of enormous economic importance to Scotland, and this anxiety was often reflected in the Scottish records from the middle ages onwards.


See also Hugo Grotius, The Free Sea, ed. by David Armitage, Liberty Fund, 2004, available online at

Important Books Return to Edinburgh

In 1544, an English knight looted a set of 16 books – 15 of which were on Civil or Canon law – from Edinburgh. Until recently these were in the Athenaeum in Liverpool. They have now been acquired by the National Library of Scotland. What is notable is that they came from Cambuskenneth Abbey near Stirling. The first President of the College of Justice was Alexander Mylne, Abbot of Cambuskenneth. This emphasises the importance of these books for the history of Scots law in the first half of the sixteenth century. See p. 12 of

Mylne's own copy of the Infortiatum (Lyons, 1514) has survived. His ownership inscription is dated 1516 and records his then offices of Canon of Dunkeld and Official of Dunkeld. See

Study of these works may throw considerable light on the develoment of Scots law in the first half of the sixteenth century