Property beyond princely authority: the intellectual and legal roots of Ulrik Huber’s fundamental law


In: Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'Histoire du Droit / The Legal History Review
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  • 1 Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence, University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Law, Oudemanhuispoort 4–6, 1012 CN Amsterdam, The Netherlands


In this paper I argue for a rule-of-law-reading of Ulrik Huber’s fundamental law on freedom of property. My aim is to show that there is enough contemporary intellectual and legal context for such a reading. I do so by arguing along three lines: the medieval tradition that rooted the origin of private property in natural law, protection of property in the constitution of Holland in the seventeenth century, and property rights protected by fundamental law in English common law.


  • 26

     Pennington, The Prince and the Law (supra, n. 25), p. 117. I thank my colleague L. Huppes-Cluysenaer for the reference to Aristotle’s Politics, where we find the idea that also an absolute ruler is bound to ‘customary law’, or ‘constitution’ (discussion is open whether this customary law must be taken for natural or positive law or both, 1287b5; on this question see C.A. Bates, Law and the Rule of law and its place relative to Politeia in Aristotle’s Politics,in: Aristotle and the philosophy of law, Theory, practice and justice, edited by L. Huppes-Cluysenaer and N.M.M.S. Coelho, [Ius Gentium, Comparative perspectives on law and justice, vol. 23], Dordrecht 2013, p. 59–75 on p. 62–64): to rule ‘lawfully’ is to rule according to the will of the subjects (1285a28), and where laws do not rule, there is no constitution (1292a30–35); Bates, ibidem, p. 63: ‘Thus the political community holds that what it holds as law truly encompasses what nature holds to be true about the justice of the matter in question’.

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  • 27

     Pennington, The Prince and the Law (supra, n. 25), p. 124–125; on rights being natural see R. Tuck, Natural rights theories, Their origin and development, Cambridge 1979. B. Sutter, Der Schutz der Persönlichkeit in mittelalterlichen Rechten, Zur historischen Genese der mo­­dernen Grund- und Freiheitsrechte, in: Grund- und Freiheitsrechte von der ständischen zur spätbürgerlichen Gesellschaft, edited by G. Birtsch, [Veröffentlichungen zur Ge­-schichte der Grund- und Freiheitsrechte, 2], Göttingen 1987, p. 17–41, underlines that often the protection of persons and property was effected by means of privileges. Such privileges can well be taken for what we would call a ‘constitution’, see my Hugo Grotius, privileges, fundamental laws and rights, Grotiana, 32 (2011), p. 1–19.

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  • 30

     R. Pipes, Property and freedom, London 1999, p. 8, aligns these traditions with Plato (utopian communism, ethical idealism) and Aristotle (utilitarian realism); see p. 17–18 for the turn within the Catholic Church from ‘defending property as a regrettable but unavoidable reality to defending it on principle’ against the background of the need to protect clerical holdings from seizures by the crown. See also the poverty-discussion in Tuck, Natural rights theories (supra, n. 27), p. 17 ff.

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  • 31

     Garnsey, Thinking about property (supra, n. 24), p. 136; Grotius is ‘the most important figure’ in the history told by Tuck, Natural rights theories (supra, n. 27), p. 58. On Grotius also J. Waldron, The right to private property, Oxford 1990, especially ch. 6.

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  • 34

     Waldron, The right to private property (supra, n. 31), p. 3.

  • 38

     See also Tuck, Natural right theories (supra, n. 27), p. 41 (‘the action was what really mattered’); see also B. Straumann, Is modern liberty ancient?, Roman remedies and natural rights in Hugo Grotius’s early works on Natural Law, Law and History Review, 27.1 (2007), p. 55–85.

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  • 40

     Pennington, The Prince and the Law (supra, n. 25), p. 132 ff. on ‘Natural Law and the Judicial Process’, especially p. 148 ff. (Odofredus on p. 151, Guido of Suzzara on p. 152 ff.).

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  • 41

     S. Goyard-Fabre, Jean Bodin et le droit de la République, Paris 1989, p. 160. See also R.E. Giesey, Medieval jurisprudence in Bodin’s concept of sovereignty, in: Jean Bodin, edited by H. Denzer, [Verhandlungen der internationalen Bodin Tagung in München], München 1973, p. 167–186.

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  • 43

     Giesey, Medieval jurisprudence (supra, n. 41), p. 180–181; see also Pennington. The Prince and the Law (supra, n. 25), p. 24 and 283; Goyard-Fabre, Jean Bodin (supra, n. 41), p. 160–164.

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  • 44

     Giesey, Medieval jurisprudence (supra, n. 41), p. 181 and 183.

  • 57

     Israel, The Dutch Republic (supra, n. 54), p. 438.

  • 70

     Fockema Andreae, De Nederlandse Staat (supra, n. 54), p. 103–104. Also Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelts geschil met de hoven van justitie (supra, n. 59), p. 5–6, fn. 1a, arguing against Gerlach, Het proces tegen Oldenbarnevelt (supra, n. 62), p. 543 fn. 1.

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  • 71

     Rijpperda Wierdsma, Politie en justitie (supra, n. 69), p. 154.

  • 72

     Fockema Andreae, De Nederlandse Staat (supra, n. 54), p. 179–180. Strictly speaking (‘strikt genomen’ in Dutch), for Fockema Andreae also points out that at the end of the eight­eenth century reality showed less arbitrariness then the theory would suggest.

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