Law Treatise Manuscript Leaf


Law Treatise Manuscript Leaf
English, ca. 1510

Language: Latin

ink on paper
height 14.7 cm
width 10.7 cm

Portland State University Library Special Collections    
Mss. 15, Rose-Wright Manuscript Collection no. 7


Earl Lasin, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, Winter 2005
By 1300, medieval law was no longer dominated by personality, local custom, trial by ordeal, kinship, compurgation, wergeld, or individual rights of judgment. Two powerful and often conflicting legal systems had emerged, however, and the central monarchies and the church were gaining the power to make law (Nelson, Feudal courts were eliminated and replaced by a series of royal courts to which the people could appeal. It was necessary to accommodate or reconcile various local customs. Accommodation led to an emphasis upon written evidence, and this, in turn, led to the regularization of legal forms and the appearance of professional legal scribes: the notaries. Reconciliation led to the reduction of local laws and customs to a set of general principles known as common law. The church-controlled matters that involved oaths and the sacraments: testaments, marriage and divorce, and even many business contracts. It also handled all matters of heresy and cases involving clergymen. A complex system of appellate courts arose, a number of special papal courts, and an ecclesiastical law code known as canon law.

This manuscript page was from a page probably belonging to a larger book dated at or around 1510. The physical dimensions of the page are similar to that of an ordinary paperback novel. It is written in brown ink and the rubrics on the page are in red ink. The lack of illumination and the small size suggest that it came from a student textbook. There are no lines for the scribe to form his inscriptions on so it would suggest that the scribe is an expert or master scribe (Osley, Scribes, and Sources). There are marginal notes on the left side of the manuscript that indicated what letter was to be inscribed.

Suggestions for further reading

  • Kuttner, Stephen, and Elze, Reinhard. A Catalogue of Canon and Roman Law Manuscripts in the Vatican Library. Vol 1. Vatican City, 1986.
  • Oliver, Lisi. The Beginnings of English Law. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2002.
  • Osley, A.S. Scribes and Sources. Boston, MA: David R. Gordine Publishing, 1980.
  • Ramstein, Matthew. Manual of Canon Law. Hoboken, NJ: Terminal Printing & Publishing Co., 1948.


Wilma Fitzgerald, PhD, SP - Quoted with permission from an unpublished study
Unidentified text said to be Canon Law (?). Saec. XVI in. England. One paper leaf with no visible watermark. 147 x 107 (105 x 80) mm., one column, 24-25 lines.  Initials two-lines high, red, some letters pointed in red. Purchased from (5-8-97) dealer Bruce Ferrini Western Medieval & Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts 754 Kenmore Blvd. Akron Ohio 44314. 330-753-7447.Item # 34-56. Dealer(s) marks: EL-61 561 and 34-56.