Preface to the Edition and Translation of the Old Frisian Main Text

In: Frisian Land Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Freeska Landriucht
Han Nijdam
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At the end of the 15th century—between 1484 and 1487—the core collection of medieval Frisian law texts was reproduced in the new technology of book printing that was spreading rapidly over Europe. It is unclear how many copies of this book were printed but today nine have survived.

Printing this archaic collection of law texts was remarkable in itself, since many of these law texts had become more and more outdated since the beginning of the 15th century. Whatever its practical use, however, it did showcase the classical legal tradition of the Frisians which was so intrinsically connected to the famous Frisian Freedom, the autonomy which the Frisian lands had enjoyed since the 11th century. The book became generally known as Freeska Landriucht or ‘Frisian land law’. In Old Frisian studies it is generally referred to as Druk (‘printed book’), since this is the only printed work among the Old Frisian law manuscripts.

In this introduction I will first provide some context by sketching medieval Frisia and its society. A short overview f classical Old Frisian law follows, in which I also try to describe some of the peculiarities of legal procedure. This is intended as an aid to better understand the texts presented in this edition. Needless to say, this introduction to medieval Frisia and Frisian law can by its very nature be no more than concise.

Next I will focus on the book itself; first its history and what is known about the project of printing this collection of Old Frisian law texts and then a brief introduction to the various texts in Freeska Landriucht. Finally, I will explain the editorial principles for rendering the Old Frisian text. The Latin Gloss is introduced separately.


Map 1

Early medieval Frisia and the surrounding North Sea area


1 Medieval Frisia

During the Roman period a people who called themselves Frisians lived along the coastal shores of the North Sea. Their material culture and the little linguistic material they left behind indicate they were a Germano-Celtic people.1 During the Migration Period (4th century) the Frisian settlements were largely depopulated. Shortly after 400 AD, new inhabitants coming from the Saxon region of the Elbe–Weser triangle settled there. These soon called themselves Frisians too.2

The new Frisians were a Germanic people and their language and culture were related to those of the Scandinavians and the Anglo-Saxons in England around the same time. Frisia was thus very much a member of the cultures and communities around the North Sea. They were famous for their wealth and trade (see Map 1).3

In the course of the 8th century the Frisians were defeated by the Franks. After the demise of the powerful Frisian king Radbod (Frisian: Redbad) in 719, the Frisian territories were conquered from West to East, the East being subdued in 785.

At the end of that century the Lex Frisionum was composed by order of the Frankish rulers. This ‘Law of the Frisians’ is a remarkable and valuable source of the indigenous law of the period. Since the surviving text is a draft, it contains information that would otherwise surely have been edited out.4

The Lex Frisionum is also the first historical source to describe the three Frisian core regions:

  1. West Frisia: between the rivers Sincfal (Zwin) and Vlie (i.e. the present-day provinces of Zealand, South- and North-Holland in the Netherlands).

  2. Central Frisia: between the rivers Lauwers and Vlie (i.e. the present-day province of Fryslân / Friesland in the Netherlands);

  3. East Frisia: between the rivers Lauwers and Weser (i.e. the present-day provinces of Groningen in the Netherlands and the region Ost-Friesland in Germany).

The Central Frisian area, coinciding with the current province of Friesland (Dutch) or Fryslân (Frisian), is the point of departure or default of the law text: the Lex Frisionum gives the provisions for this area and notes divergences that apply in the other areas. This is done by adding marginal notes and two sets of additiones from legal experts coming from West and East Frisia (more on these below), called Wlemar and Saxmund.

These three regions were conglomerations of the real core territories of the Frisians: the various pagi (Dutch gouw, German Gau) or shires. These have now also been firmly reconstructed, as is shown in Map 2.5 Each pagus must have had a thing or assembly where the inhabitants of the pagus met a few times a year to hold council and to hold court (on which more below).

The Carolingian dominion over the Frisians had a few consequences. First, they had to swear loyalty to the king and pay a tax or tribute in recognition of the Carolingian rule. This tax is called huslotha or huslaga in the Old Frisian sources.6 Also, a count was appointed by the king to safeguard the internal and external affairs of the Frisians. These matters were standard procedure for all peoples that were subdued by the Franks.


Map 2

Early medieval Frisia

De Langen and Mol (2020)

Shortly after the Frankish or Carolingian rule had been established in Frisia, the Viking Age started. The Viking raids on the European mainland, starting at the end of the 8th century, were a reaction to Charlemagne’s ongoing conquests of large parts of Europe, eventually pushing northward towards the Danish border. Also, he implemented a monetary reform that did not go well with the Scandinavians, nor did the fact that Carolingisation meant Christianisation.

It has now been established that the Viking Age affected the Frisians in various ways. First, the Frisians continued to trade with the Scandinavians. The Frisians also went on a Viking expedition with them every now and then. Lastly, the Frisian coasts were raided by the Vikings.7 For Frisia, the most intense period in this respect was between c. 850–950. It caused the Carolingians to lose their grip on this newly conquered part of their realm. Louis the Pious even gave a few Frisian regions in fief to Viking rulers.

In the second half of the 10th century the Viking threat had abated and the bishops of both Utrecht and Münster (the two bishoprics under which the Frisian lands fell) started a restoration campaign which resulted in establishing a finely knit grid of parishes and main churches in the Frisian lands.8 In order to get these churches built and funded, the bishops had to negotiate with the local Frisian elite to finance them by means of dotations of land. During this same period Carolingian counts were established again in Frisia but never resided in the region itself, ruling from a distance.9


Map 3

The Frisian regions that were part of the Frisian Freedom


This mix of events and circumstances must have been the reason the so-called Frisian Freedom or Frisian autonomy developed. Officially the Frisians were part of the Carolingian realm, but basically they ruled themselves, using their age old infrastructure of local and supralocal assemblies or thing meetings to build a grass roots government structure. All freeholders and nobles were eligible for the office of judge-administrator, which rotated every year. During the later Middle Ages, this autonomy was formalised by charters from a number of emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.10

The exception was West Frisia. Here the counts of Holland succeeded in bringing the territory under their authority. The region of the Frisian Freedom thus comprised of Central and East Frisia (see Map 3).

The end of the Frisian Freedom is said not to have come about by threats from the outside, but as a consequence of internal strife. For centuries, the Frisian elite had been divided in two large factions, the Schieringers and the Vetkopers. They had held each other in balance for a long time, but after 1480, due to military innovations and the recruitment of ever larger armies of hired soldiers, the whole fabric of society started to tear. In a last effort to come out on top, the Schieringers requested Duke Albert (Albrecht) III of Saxony (1443–1500) to become gubernator of Frisia. This was granted by Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), who had borrowed huge sums of money from Albert.11 The year 1498 thus marked the end of the Frisian Freedom.

2 A Chronological Overview of the Classical Old Frisian Law Texts

The political developments described above had an important effect on Old Frisian law: it was allowed to grow on its own accord, organically. The legal tradition evolved without interruption, caused by legislative interventions by a king or count aimed at modifying existing law. This is an important observation because this is what has always been the charm of Old Frisian law since legal historians in the 19th century started looking at the various Germanic law traditions.12 Recent research confirms this: classical Old Frisian law is very archaic, and a continuity of legal tradition and practice can be observed from the Lex Frisionum to the later Old Frisian sources. At the same time the tradition grew and evolved organically.

The oldest Frisian law texts are undoubtedly the compensation tariffs or injury lists.13 In many societies across the world, the institution of blood money or wergild (literally ‘man compensation’) was invented in order to stop or prevent an ongoing chain of revenge between factions and families after a homicide had taken place. This meant that the killer would pay a fixed amount of money and valuables to the heirs of his victim in order to buy off revenge.14 This was often accompanied by a ritual of swearing peace between the families involved.

The wergild was then seen as the worth of a man. In early medieval Europe, a specific wergild was attributed to the various estates: half free men (liti), free men (liberi) and noblemen (nobiles). The default always was that for a free man, a nobleman usually having a wergild that was twice that of a free man.

In many societies that had invented the institution of wergild, the concept was used to also put a price on not losing a life, but losing a limb. What is the value of a hand that has been cut off, or an eye that has been poked out or is blinded for the rest of the victim’s life?15 Out of this secondary system, tariff lists grew, which indicated what a perpetrator had to pay a victim if he had injured him in some way. These lists must be seen as the starting point of the negotiations between the two parties, or of the claim that would be presented in court if the matter could not be resolved without legal procedures.

In Frisia, the practice of paying wergild and compensating injuries with money and other valuables was present until the end of the Middle Ages. The oldest attestation of this practice is recorded in the Lex Frisionum, dating to the end of the 8th century. But the tradition was already old by the time it was recorded. Not only do the provisions show a cultural affinity with the law of king Aethelberht of Kent (c. 600), but the wergild in the Lex Frisionum of 53 1/3 gold solidi seems to have originally been based on the Byzantine gold solidus, which had been replaced by the slightly lighter Roman solidus after 575. This would mean that the original wergild had been a round figure of 50 Byzantine solidi.16 So in all, it seems safe to say that the Frisians brought the wergild system and a more primitive version of the compensation tariffs with them when they settled on the Frisian shores in the 5th century.

Obviously, this compensation tariff tradition was transmitted orally for a long time. Even between the Lex Frisionum and the later Old Frisian tradition there is no written continuity.17 The continuity of the orally transmitted legal tradition indirectly attests to the fact that the whole legal infrastructure that was necessary to uphold it stayed in place during the centuries between the 8th century and the later Middle Ages, when the Old Frisian corpus of law texts emerged.

This brings us to the question when the first Old Frisian law texts were composed and written down. This question has been heavily debated, since although the oldest texts have traditionally been dated to the 11th century on the basis of their contents, the oldest Old Frisian manuscripts that have survived date to the end of the 13th century.18

Carolingian monasteries had been founded in Frisia in the 8th century, introducing written culture to the Frisian lands on a permanent basis, albeit on a small scale.19 More importantly, a broad infrastructure necessary to kickstart a culture of writing can be argued to have come into existence with the parochial infrastructure that was built in the second half of the 10th century, as shown by De Langen and Mol.20 This consisted of a network of main churches and parishes. Some of the churches in the larger towns, such as Leeuwarden, are known to have had schools attached to them, were pupils could learn to read and write Latin.21

In this respect, it should be kept in mind that the Reformation in the Frisian lands, which took place around 1580 and the dissolution of the monasteries had a decimating effect on the medieval archives and books that were present there.22 Only a small percentage of the books and manuscripts that had been around survived. But every now and then discoveries are made. In 2015 two tiny fragments of parchment came to light which contained interlineair psalm glosses in Old Frisian, dated 1100–1125 on palaeographic grounds.23 Until then the oldest piece of Old Frisian had been a fragment with interverbal psalm glosses dated c. 1200.24

It therefore seems most likely to assume that the first Old Frisian legal texts were composed and written down in the 11th century and grew considerably in the 12th and 13th centuries (and that the language of the texts was updated to the Old Frisian of that period). The dating of three different texts point to the first half of the 11th century.

First, the text widely seen as the oldest Old Frisian law text, The Seventeen Statutes, was traditionally dated to the 11th century because the Vikings are still mentioned, while the Viking threat in Frisia disappeared after that century, and because the town of Münster is still called by its archaic name Mimigerdaford, a tradition which fell out of use after the 11th century.25 More recently, Henstra has argued that the wergild mentioned in the 15th statute can be dated to the first half of the 11th century. He moreover argues that the text was originally drafted in East Frisia, after which it was received in Central Frisia, and the wergild was expressed in the pounds and ounces that were used in that region.26 (Other scholars think The Seventeen Statutes originated in Central Frisia).27

As already discussed earlier, The Seventeen Statutes probably contain even older material, going back to the Carolingian age. In this respect it is interesting to note that the first ten statutes deal with the relationship between the king and the Frisians, making them almost a political pamphlet rather than a law text (see the introduction to text VI below). For now it is important to note that even though the text may contain even older material, the first half of the 11th century seems to be the period it has been written down.

The second Old Frisian law text that has traditionally been dated to the 11th century is The Synodical Law of Central Frisia. This has recently been confirmed by Jan Hallebeek (see the introduction to text XI below for more detail). Again, this text both seems to contain older material, as it is said to have been partially based on a handbook from the beginning of the 10th century, and younger material, since the text shows various signs of later development.

The third text that deserves attention in this context concerns a small text, called Fon Jelde (‘concerning wergild’), which describes how the wergild was updated in various stages. It is explicitly linked to the 16th statute, which says that all free Frisians (i.e. the freeholders and nobles) have the right to compensate their deeds by means of paying money rather than having to undergo corporal punishment (text VI,16). The beginning of Fon Jelde reads:

Concerning wergild

1. In order to be able to compensate crimes with money, the people chose the first wergild to be set at 12 marks. After that, the kin received 6 marks on top of that, to distribute among themselves.28

In all, the text describes nine stages, which Henstra analysed and dated. He dated the first stage at the beginning of the 11th century.29

A secondary question that comes into view is whether the first versions of these texts were written in Frisian, i.e. the vernacular, or in Latin.30 This question—Latin first or Frisian first—also has been debated for a long time in Old Frisian studies, for a number of Latin versions of various Old Frisian law texts are indeed extant. Only, these existing texts have all evidently been translated from Old Frisian into Latin. If the oldest Frisian law texts would have started off in Latin, these versions would then have been translated into Frisian in the 12th century at the latest (because the Old Frisian of the most archaic texts goes back to at least the 12th century and is possibly even older: this is currently under discussion), after which these Latin prototexts would have disappeared without a trace. Subsequently, some of the texts would then again have been translated into Latin in the 13th century.31 This is not a likely scenario.

The last complicating factors to be mentioned are firstly that the law texts continued to develop for a long time, making them fluid and hard to pinpoint, i.e. they do not stem from one moment in time, but paragraphs were added, the language of the text was updated, etc. Secondly, the legal practice out of which these texts grew and in which context they were used, continued to have a strongly oral character for a long time, at least until the beginning of the 15th century. This orality is also reflected in the law texts.32

To conclude this discussion on the origins and earliest development of the Old Frisian laws in the 11th–13th centuries, it may be clear that there are still many issues to be addressed. However, the hypothesis seems justifiable that the oldest texts were written down in the 11th century. More texts arose in the course of the following centuries.

With a focus on the texts presented in this edition, I will now give a short overview of the chronology of the Old Frisian text corpus. The classical tradition comes to an end around 1400 in Central Frisia, when it is replaced by a younger tradition, on which more below.

2.1 The Manuscripts

First I will briefly discuss the manuscript traditions of East and Central Frisia.33 From the East Frisian region the most archaic manuscripts have survived. At the same time, the tradition comes to a halt earlier than the Central Frisian tradition. The oldest manuscripts stem from the easternmost parts of East Frisia: Rüstringen and Brokmerland. Both regions have produced two complete manuscripts with compilations of Old Frisian law texts stemming from the end of the 13th century. Hunsingo has yielded two almost identical manuscripts with Old Frisian law, stemming from the period around 1350. Three manuscripts from the Emsingo region have survived, the oldest of which stems from c. 1400 (but which is very archaic), the other two from c. 1450. Fivelgo, finally, has given us one manuscript, dating from c. 1430. In all, this amounts to ten manuscripts containing compilations of Old Frisian law texts, beside which a number of fragments have come to light, testifying to what has been lost to us.

The manuscript tradition from Central Frisia starts later and is more diffuse. I will focus on the manuscripts which contain compilations of classical Old Frisian law that are comparable to Freeska Landriucht. There are only two of such manuscripts left today. The voluminous manuscript Jus Municipale Frisonum (Jus or J for short) is a copy from c. 1530 of several older Old Frisian manuscripts.34 It goes back to at least four older Old Frisian text compilations. These original compilations dated from the end of the fifteenth century.35

The second manuscript is called Codex Unia (Unia or U for short).36 It was copied from one or several older manuscripts by the nobleman Syds Unia in 1475.37 In the 17th century, it was in the possession of state historian Simon Abbes Gabbema (1628–1688) but disappeared after his death.38 Fortunately, his acquaintance Franciscus Junius (1591–1677) copied it, probably shortly before or in 1674.39 He made the copy partly in the margins of his copy of Freeska Landriucht (see below, copy J109), partly in a blanc notebook. Even though we are looking at Codex Unia through at least two filters, namely the copying by Syds Unia and Franciscus Junius, this is the most archaic manuscript from Central Frisia we have at our disposal. The language of the oldest, most archaic texts could perhaps date back to the (early) 13th century.40

2.2 The Texts

Focusing on the texts that are in Freeska Landriucht yields the following chronological overview of classical Old Frisian law texts from c. 1000 to c. 1400.41

2.2.1 From the 11th and 12th Centuries

  1. The Seventeen Statutes (text VI)

  2. The Twenty-Four Land Laws (text VIII)

  3. Exceptions to the 17th Statute (text X)

These three texts are so-called Pan Frisian texts, which means that they can be found in manuscripts both from Central and East Frisia.

These seven are the oldest law texts from Central Frisia. Especially the older and the younger Skelta Law show a considerable degree of development and growth.

2.2.2 From the 13th Century

These four texts were added to the oldest core, i.e. the texts which were written down in the 11th and 12th centuries. The 13th century was a prosperous and productive period in the history of Frisia. It also gave rise to a new ideological embellishment of Frisian law, leading to such texts as Of the Two Kings Charles and Radbod and The Statutes of Magnus, all relating how the Frisian Freedom and Law go back to a privilege granted by Charlemagne. The list of all Old Frisian texts which were created during this period is long and will not be treated here.42 Together, these 11 texts form the core canon of classical Old Frisian law texts from Central Frisia.

These additional texts, including nos. 18 and 19 below appear very frequently in the Old Frisian manuscripts. The only text that looks slightly out of place is The Statutes of the Five Districts, which seems to be confined to the area around the town of Franeker. Its alternative title, however, is ‘the old statutes of Opstalsbam’. This might be the reason that this is the only text that pertains to only a part of and not the entire Central Frisian area.

2.2.3 From 14th and early 15th Centuries

These are the youngest texts to have been added to the Freeska Landriucht compilation. The Statutes of Opstalsbam date from 1323 as is stated in the text itself. The Treatise on the Seven Sealands might go back to an older tradition, but this version was probably created in 1417, making this the last but also the absolute youngest text in Freeska Landriucht.

2.3 Jurisprudentia Frisica

After 1400, a new legal tradition came to fruition in Central Frisia.43 It was based on a selection of the paragraphs and provisions from the classical corpus, combined with new material in Frisian, which leaned heavily on Roman and Canon law. The entire text was built up more systematically. It was subdivided into titles, each with its own subject, after the model of the titles in the different parts of the Corpus iuris civilis and the Liber Extra.44 It was also heavily glossed with Latin glosses. The Frisian and Latin texts show a high degree of mutual dependence.

This tradition was called Excerpta Legum or Jurisprudentia Frisica, after the names of the texts in the two major Old Frisian manuscripts which have been handed down: Codex Aysma and Codex Roorda.45 Both manuscripts stem from the end of the 15th century, but Codex Aysma contains a version of this tradition that can be dated to the beginning of the 15th century, whereas Codex Roorda contains the youngest redaction, dating from the end of the 15th century.

Although Frisian charters from the 15th century show that this tradition was used in day to day legal practice, it was not meant to last, since the Frisian Freedom came to a halt in 1498, when Albert III, Duke of Saxony (1443–1500) was appointed as gubernator of Frisia by the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1504 the so-called Saxon Ordinance was issued by this new government, instituting Roman law as the official legal system in Frisia. Since the influence of Roman and Canon law had already been vast in the 15th century, this was not an enormous break with the past.

3 Family and Inheritance

As in many societies throughout the world and ages, family was of key importance to the medieval Frisians. They relied on their family and relatives on more than one occasion. These relationships are reflected in a number of ways in Frisian law.

The closest relatives (father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter) were called ‘the six hands’, the body metaphor attesting to the closeness that was felt to these primary relatives. The Frisians had a system of bilateral descent: the father’s side (called swirdsida ‘sword side’) and the mother’s side (called spindelsida ‘spindle side’) were both equally important, although at the end of the medieval period, the father’s side gained importance.46

Inheritances ideally fell within the six hands. Sons were entitled to a double share of the inheritance of their parents whereas daughters received a single share. If none of the ‘six hands’ were present to inherit, this was very much lamented in Frisian law: it was called an unwene lawa ‘unhoped-for inheritance’ (text VIII,16).

The six hands were also entitled to the wergild of their slain relative. Conversely, they had the responsibility to help raise a wergild if one of their relatives had killed somebody. Another half wergild was raised by and given to the next of kin of both families involved in a homicide. This was called the meitele or ‘kin’s share’. So the ratio of a simple wergild to the kin’s share was 2:1. Put in another way, one third of a full wergild consisted of the kin’s share. In the sources it is sometimes difficult to discern which wergild is referred to: the simple or the full wergild.47 In the first paragraph of The Younger Skelta Law an detailed account is given of which kin receives which share of the wergild, including the meitele (text VI,1).

Children came of age at 12 years. From that time onwards they had legal capacity and could act as a litigating party. For women, this meant being able to choose a husband and marry. The classic description of a Frisian marriage ritual is given in The Synodical Law of Central Frisia (text XI,62).

At the wedding, a woman received a dowry from her father. This was kept separate from her husband’s goods. In addition, the wife was entitled to half of the mutually built increase in capital that took place during the marriage (Old Frisian be), but not to her husband’s original inheritance. She could claim her dowry and the be in the event of her husband’s death. However, another legal construction was possible, namely that the wife went into an agreement with her husband, whereby the possessions that the woman had brought into the marriage were declared common property. In return, the man made his wife an heir, so she would inherit together with their children. In the event of his death, she would then inherit a third of the assets.48

Lawful marriage was very important for the status of the children: a free Frisian was born from a free Frisian man and and a free Frisian woman who were lawfully married (text IX,8). And these legitimate children were in turn entitled to the inheritances of their parents.

4 The Farm or Estate

Just as the family was the core unity of Frisian medieval society from a social point of view, so was the farm or the estate from a socio-economic point of view. In Frisia, the fertile lands had been wrought from the sea by building terps or artificial mounds on which houses were built. Later, from the 12th century onwards, the Frisians succeeded in building dikes and thus keeping larger stretches of land dry. This also meant that the total area of land in Frisia grew, as more and more land was reclaimed from either the sea but especially from marshes and peat lands that were surrounded by dikes and thus became arable.

The Frisian farm was an agricultural unit that consisted of a farmstead (the house) and farmland, which could be a combination of arable fields, pasture lands and meadows. Some parts of the wild lands or the communal lands (Old Frisian hemrik) could also be used. The farms could be managed by either noblemen, freeholders or tenants. On the farms, cattle was raised, yielding milk, butter and cheese. Also grain and vegetables were grown. The produce was sold at local and regional markets.

Farms varied in size. There is a tax list from 1479, which gives a nice overview of the categories reckoned with by then. These can be used retrospectively.49 The largest farms counted 100 pondemaat or acres.50 The aristocracy usually owned several of these farms. The freeholders roughly owned one farm, and these could vary between 30 acres up to 50 or even 100 acres. The quality of the soil also varied. Along the coast line of the North Sea lay the most fertile clay soil. Further inland, the land became more peaty or sandy, yielding less produce per acre. According to the tax list from 1479, the number of cows on a farm varied between four and twenty.

The aristocracy would often have erected a simple motte-and-bailey castle (Old Frisian stins ‘stone house’) next to the farm where their residency was. These could be used to defend themselves in a war or a feud. Over the course of the middle ages, some of these grew into real castles where the nobility would take up permanent dwelling.51

The ownership of a farm was an important way to measure someone’s social and legal status. Having a farm made one eligible to the function of gretman or judge-administrator for a period of a year. Also, the size of one’s farm(s) was used to determine which weapons one should bring with him on a military expedition to defend the land (text III,22). The unity of measurement is the worth of the land. It yields this list:

  1. thirty pounds worth of land = a horse and weapon

  2. twenty pounds worth of land = a forged weapon

  3. twelve pounds worth of land = spear and shield

  4. less than twelve pounds worth of land = bow and arrow

Obviously, the highest category must have been reserved for the nobility. The other three categories probably referred to three types of freeholders, attesting to the variation of farm land (in size and quality) they could own.

On ownership, an important remark should be made. In classic Old Frisian law, absolute ownership did not seem to exist. The person who most was considered the owner of a farm was the one who had the most rights of the were ‘guardianship’ or ‘authority’. He would possess the einlike were ‘own authority’ of a farm.52 So although Old Frisian ein does mean ‘own’, ownership seems to have been considered relative and not absolute. This can be inferred from a number of court procedures discussed in the Older Skelta Law, as well as from the institution of the ferdban ‘peace ban’, which meant that the gretman would pronounce peace over the one who held the neste were over a farm.53 This would ensure the owner of the title to sit on his farm undisturbed. The right of niār ‘pre-emption’ or ‘taking over a sale’ (on which more below) also points to the fact that absolute property did not exist.

5 The Church

The Church had been present since the first missionaries came to convert the Frisians in the course of the 7th century. After the Carolingians conquered the Frisians, a few principal churches and a monastery were founded in Frisia. However, as mentioned at the beginning of this introduction, the Viking Age caused a period of turmoil during which the church was practically absent from Frisia. This changed during the second half of the 10th century.

Between c. 920 and 1024 the Ottonian or Saxon dynasty ruled over the Holy Roman Empire. In Central Frisia members of the house of Billung were appointed as count for a few generations.54 During this period the counts of Frisia were members of the highest Saxon nobility. Because they were thus actively involved in the highest politics of the realm, they partly allowed Frisia to take care of its own affairs. This would then also explain the development of the function of the frana (< Proto-Germanic *frawan- ‘belonging to the lord’), the substitute of the count in Frisia in his absence.55 The count himself would only visit Frisia once a year, and then visit the various local courts to preside over them. The Salian dynasty started when Conrad II or the Elder (c. 990–1039) became king in 1024. This dynasty ended with Henry V (1081/1086–1125).

It is within this political context that the bishops of Utrecht started their restoration activities in Central Frisia in the 10th century, after the Viking raids had abated. Bishop Balderic of Utrecht (897–975) was a very influential and successful political actor, who succeeded in bringing the episcopal residence back to the city of Utrecht in 922, after the Utrecht bishops had been forced into exile in the previous decades. He was well connected to the Ottonian kings.

Under Balderic’s initiative, a planned infrastructure was created in Frisia, resulting in a closed network of parishes and churches. This meant that each Frisian now belonged to a parish and a church, where funerals and baptisms were held, and where he had to pay tithes.

This infrastructure also included the creation of a synod in Frisia. Frisia was divided into three deaneries, presided over by an archdeacon. The synod also meant the implementation of an ecclesiastical court system in Frisia. Once every four years, the bishop of Utrecht visited Frisia (called the circatus) and then presided over the synodical court. For the remaining three years, the bishop transferred his ban (his authority) to the dean. The bishop’s synod was his visitation of the lay people in his diocese to monitor the progress of the Christianization process and the well-being of the clerics and churches. Parallel to this, an ecclesiastical court was organised.

During the court session of the synod, matters concerning the church were settled. This could concern a number of categories. Firstly, everything connected with the church, the faith and clerics (such as the position of the clerics and acts of violence against them, the observance of Sundays and holidays, sacrilege and violation of the immunity of the church building, altar theft and corpse theft, but also superstitions and sorcery). Secondly, matters pertaining to marriage and morality (such as abortion, prostitution, adultery, paternity of a child, marriage). Lastly, there were matters that touched on secular law, such as perjury and oath-breaking.

A striking feature of the organization of the synod was that it relied heavily on lay people, who had pledged themselves to the courts and had the duty to bring cases which concerned the synod before the court.56 These sworn witnesses ‘must be free, Frisian, born out of a lawful marriage, sufficiently wealthy to be able to pay a possible fine for perjury and not have forfeited their rights’.57

These local elites from which these sworn witnesses were recruited, had also played an important role in fundraising a number of the original churches out of which the parish infrastructure had been built. These relationships with the local elite are described by De Langen and Mol:

How the fundraising under the local elite was organized is still unclear, though one can form an idea based on what is known about the circatus, the four-year visitation and inspection cycle of the bishop. On this repeated and systematic round through his diocese, the bishop not only had to hold court, but it was also his task to administer confirmations, ordain priests, and consecrate churches and altars, which also implied that he and his staff had to carry a treasure of relics with them. In the churches that served as synodal ‘chairs’ he was of course welcomed by the dean and the local priests. He was, however, also hailed and hosted by the most prominent local laymen, who, in their function as synodal witnesses, were responsible for the proper settlement of the ecclesiastical court cases. In this way, the bishop came into direct contact with the local elite on a regular basis. This offered him ample opportunity to put initiatives for new foundations on the agenda, to be realized within the next visitation cycle.58

It is thus clear that from the 10th century onwards, the Church, together with ecclesiastical law through the synod, had become an intrinsic part of Frisian society.

6 Legal Procedure in Classical Old Frisian Law


Map 4

The districts in late medieval Central Frisia

Mol (2017)

At certain times during the year the free Frisians gathered at thing or assembly meetings.59 The Germanic term thing has been translated in a number of ways: ‘court’ (our general choice in the text edition), ‘court meeting’, ‘assembly’.60 The etymology of the word can be retraced to ‘time appointed for a particular purpose’.61 The thing fulfilled several purposes. It was a meeting which was held at specific times during a year, where all kinds of matters (legal, military, political and religious) concerning the people in a certain district or region (Latin pagus, OFris. )62 were discussed.

Free Frisians had the right, but also the duty, to attend the thing meetings (text III). The legal system was primarily accusatorial: cases could be brought before court by the men who attended the thing meetings. There was no government yet which actively pursued crimes.

Apart from the three regular thing meetings a free Frisian could also be summoned to attend a special meeting. Three types are mentioned in Freeska Landriucht. The first two are related: the bodthing ‘commanded thing / court session’ was ordered by the bishop or the count and took place once every four years. It consisted of two parts, of which the second was called fimelthing (text III,24–25).63 The third, the bōdelthing, was a court meeting concerning a claim to an estate, held at that particular estate (text III,69).

The thing was the assembly of the inhabitants of a certain region. For Frisia the oldest pagi or districts are now firmly established (see Map 2). In Central Frisia, they were called Eastergoa (Dutch Oostergo) and Westergoa (Dutch Westergo), by their very names showing that Central Frisia was an old unity. In the course of the Middle Ages sub-districts came into being. In the 13th century, Westergoa was divided into three sub-districts: Franekeradeel, Wonseradeel and Wymbritseradeel. In Eastergoa, matters are more complicated. The southern part became the district of Bornego, but it is unclear how the northern part was divided in the 13th century. Later, even more subdistricts arose, yielding a situation where there were some 28 districts by the end of the 15th century (see Map 4). These newer districts always followed the borders of the church parishes. Also military obligations continued to be organised according to the districts.64 In short, the districts were an important factor in the lives of medieval Frisians.

During the thing meetings peace was to be observed by all present.65 Old Frisian frethe, ferd ‘peace’ had a temporal as well as a spatial aspect: a peace was ordained both for a specific time and for a specific place. In time, more specific kinds of peace were ordered, such as peace during a market. In Freeska Landriucht, a general peace can be seen to be in place. If someone committed a crime, often a penalty was also exacted for breaking this general peace.

A peace was ordered and warranted by an authority. In Old Frisian this was called a ban. The ban too was a Germanic phenomenon. The meaning of the Proto-Germanic verb *banna- is ‘to speak’ (OFris. banna), so the original meaning must have been ‘to order, to command’.66 The authority to issue a ban rested in final instance with the king who could delegate it to his officials who were active in Frisia (see below). If the ban or order had been disobeyed, the authority of the one who had ordered the ban had been infringed upon, and a fine was exacted from the perpetrator. By extension, ban came to mean more than simply ‘command’: it could also mean ‘jurisdiction’ and ‘district’. This was because similar to the concept of peace, ban also had a spatial aspect.

The officials involved at a thing or court meeting were first of all the count (OFris. greva) or his representative, the frana. We encountered these officials earlier. The count visited Frisia once a year and held court throughout the territory. The lower, day to day jurisdiction was overseen by the skelta, a term which is derived from skeldhata ‘the one who calls out the guilt’ (cf. German Schultheiß, Dutch schout). Thus, the function of the skelta originally was to admonish the congregation of free men to perform the duties they had towards the count, such as paying taxes.67 In Frisia, the skelta thus was an important administrator and also presided over the court. From the end of the 13th century he was called gretman, (OFris. grētmon: literally ‘the man who pronounces the accusations’), to signal that the Frisians had started appointing this official themselves.68 In the translation, I have decided not to translate the terms frana and skelta because of the inadequacy of terms such as ‘magistrate’ or ‘judge’ or any other solution.

Another prominent figure in litigation was the legal expert who was called the āsega, a compound of ā ‘law’ and sega ‘to speak’.69 There has been some debate on what exactly the function of the asega was: whether he would actively recite the entire corpus of law once every year just as the Icelandic lögsögumaðr did, or whether he knew the appropriate rules for specific cases and would deliver them when asked to do so.

In the Old Frisian law texts, the asega—the term is also left untranslated in this edition—can be seen doing a number of things. He tells the skelta what happens next during a procedure: which party should take which oath at a certain phase of the procedure, dictating the oath formulas to the parties, and giving ‘expert legal judgment’, which is the translation I chose for OFris. dōm dela. The first word of this pair is a cognate of English doom, which however, just as with ban, has retained only the negative aspect of the semantics of this term in modern times. It originally meant ‘judgment, verdict, decree’.70 The verb dela means ‘to deal out, to give’.

Several scholars have argued that the legal experts mentioned in the Lex Frisionum, Wlemar and Saxmund, probably were asegas as well, and that the asega was a pre-Carolingian official. They are called sapientes ‘wise men’ in a caption, but this was probably an addition by the 16th-century editor Johannes Herold.71 But even though the sapientes are not called iudex explicitly, they do ‘dictate’ a ‘decree’: Haec iudicia Saxmundus dictavit ‘Saxmund dictated these sentences’.72 In other words, the sapientes and the iudex in Lex Frisionum as well as the asega were all legal experts who knew the rules of the law and of legal procedure: which oaths to take, which formulas to utter, etc.

The glosses to Freeska Landriucht provide some information as well: two glosses to text III,3 (The Older Skelta Law) read: 23. Scelta id est iudex ex parte comitis ‘Scelta i.e. the judge on behalf of the Count’; 24. Aesgha id est iudex terre ex parte potestatis ‘Aesgha i.e. the judge of the territory on behalf of the authorities’. Thus, in the medieval glosses, the skelta and the asega are both called iudex ‘judge’ or ‘magistrate’. I have nevertheless chosen to retain the original Old Frisian terms in the translation in order to keep the distinction between and the special meanings of the terms visible.

The most archaic legal procedure encountered in the Old Frisian law texts (and already in the Lex Frisionum) is also known from other Germanic peoples. A claimant (OFris. klagere, onsprekere, onthingere) brought a case before court (OFris. thing), and the defendant (OFris. haldere, sittere) had the right to deny the charges and to swear innocence (OFris. undswera). If more oaths were required because of the severity of a case, the defendant had to find compurgators to take an oath in his favour. They would swear under oath that the defendant was a man of honour who always spoke the truth. Their function was thus that of a character witness rather than to bear witness of what had actually happened concerning the case at hand.

This again underlines how important honour was in this society. A man of honour did everything out in the open and not secretly, and could be held responsible for his deeds. By extension, the difference between homicide (OFris. daddel, dadslachta, dath, monslachta) and murder (OFris. morth) was whether the killing was performed in the open and openly admitted or whether it was done secretly.73 The same applied to taking something openly (OFris. rāf) or secretly, which was theft (OFris. thiūvethe).74 In honour societies such as medieval Frisia a man of honour could thus deny charges simply by swearing on his honour that he had not done the matter brought against him.

The most common oath form was probably that on the holy relics (OFris. wīthēth) and which had probably replaced an older pre-Christian custom (plausibly by swearing on an oath ring).75 A second type of oath is that on clothing which meant the person took his own garment in his hands and pledged upon those clothes.76 A third type is the fiāēth, which meant one swore on his own possessions.

Because of the rich corpus of Old Frisian law, we are able to fill in some more details of the classical Frisian legal procedure. In order to start a procedure, the claimant would pronounce a complaint before court (OFris. onsprēke) and take an oath in which he formally declared and pronounced his claim against the defendant.

The next step would be that a summons (OFris. lathinge) would be formally announced to the defendant at his home by the bannere, a term which could be translated by bailiff: the bannere assisted the court officials and proclaimed the ban that had been decreed by the officials. If the defendant would refuse to appear before court after he had been summoned up to five times, the community would go to his house and destroy it.77 Appearing before court was a privilege, but also a duty.

If the defendant appeared before court, the skelta or the legal representative of the claimant (OFris. forspreka) would formally put forward the claim. The defendant then was granted a term (OFris. ferst) during which he could decide to either confess (OFris. jā, jechta) or deny (OFris. biseka). If he denied, the claimant would address the defendant personally in court. This was called ‘to accuse higher / more severely’ (OFris. hagra grēta). At this point, the defendant might choose to say he was not obligated to answer. If that happened, the asega, after having been asked by the skelta, would declare that the defendant was obligated to either deny or confess and that if he wished to deny, he had to swear innocence (OFris. undriuchta) with so many compurgators (depending on the severity of the case). The only option that the claimant then had was to refuse to listen to these oaths, thus breaking off the procedure.

If a matter could not be resolved by the legal procedure described here, a solution could be found in a so-called ordeal, in which God would decide a case. A number of ordeals are described in Old Frisian law (texts III and XI). Most frequently used were first the ordeal by water, where the defendant would take an object out of a kettle filled with boiling water. After a certain term had elapsed, officials would assess how well the hand had healed. If it had healed sufficiently, the defendant had won the case. For more serious cases, an ordeal by combat or judicial duel could be held. This meant that the claimant and the defendant, or—as seemed to have become standard practice in medieval Frisia—hired champions would fight each other. After the Fourth Council of the Lateran, held in 1215, forbade the practice of putting God to the test in this way, ordeals slowly died out.78

At the end of the procedure, a verdict was reached. The asega would propose a verdict to the free Frisians present at the court or thing meeting and these would let their assent with the proposed verdict know by some means. This is not described in the Old Frisian sources but is known from other Germanic people.79 After this, the skelta would find in favour (OFris. forth finda) of one party and against (OFris. urbek finda) the other. The Old Frisian terms literally mean: find in front of one and find behind one, indicating that the skelta would stand between the two parties and face the party that had won. This party was then in front of him while the other party was behind him.

Once the verdict had been pronounced in favour of the claimant by the skelta, the claimant had to execute the verdict himself, since medieval Frisia had no strong public authorities, capable of enforcing the judgment.80 Only the community could be adhorted to act as a collective and go to the house of someone not willing to abide by the law, as we saw earlier. In the Younger Skelta Law it is explicitly stated thus (text XII,29):

This is the law, if a thief has been caught and brought before the skelta, and if he is sentenced to death, then the skelta is not obligated to either hang the thief or blind him. Then the bannere has to bind him and lead him to the gallows. Then the claimant has the choice between hanging him himself or paying someone to do it for him.

It also becomes apparent from this clause that the bannere was the closest to an executioner or bailiff with a public law authority, since he was assisting in the execution of the verdict, but only to a certain extent.

The last subject that deserves attention in relation to the verdict and the end of the legal procedure is the concept of compensation. The privilege to compensate all crimes by paying a certain amount of money to the other party was so important, that it forms one of the paragraphs of The Seventeen Statutes. Here it is stated that ‘all Frisians have the right to compensate their wrongdoings with valuables. Because of this, all Frisians will not have to be subjected to punishment by stick or pillory, hot scissors, flagellation or any other corporal punishment’ (text VI,16).

The Old Frisian term for ‘compensation’ is bōte, from which a verb bēta ‘to compensate’ was derived. The etymology of the term is ‘to make better again, repair’.81 The compensation was thus meant to repair what had been damaged. In this edition, I have chosen to use the term ‘compensation’ rather than composition, settlement, or the like. It should be clear, however, that the term ‘compensation’ used here encompassed not only what was needed to repair or make good what had been caused by the act of injuring the victim, but also some penal elements: everything that was necessary to make the victim and his relatives feel that justice had been done and the victim’s honour and position had been restored and at the same time a proper penalty for the crime committed. Needless to say this was a delicate process.82

In some languages the cognates of the Frisian word bote (Modern Dutch, Modern Frisian boete, Modern German Buße) have acquired the meaning ‘fine’: a sum of money to be paid by the wrongdoer as a punishment, which after criminal prosecution was monopolised by the state commonly has to be paid to the public authorities. It is interesting to see that a precursor of this secondary meaning of the term bote already occurs in the Old Frisian texts. Sometimes, bote refers to a compensation (with some penal elements) to be paid horizontally, from the wrongdoer to the victim, but sometimes, it refers to a fine that is to be paid to the community or the count (or his officials, the skelta and the frana). This is expressed in the translation by using the terms ‘compensation’ (in the broad sense as indicated) and ‘fine’ respectively.

Over time—probably in the 12th century—legal procedure started to change. Proof became more important. If things were publicly known (OFris. būrkūth) or if people had seen the defendant doing what he later denied in court, swearing innocence was no longer allowed. This element was already present at an early stage, as the Exceptions to the Seventeenth Statute (text X) which has been dated to the 11th century shows. This text enumerates six cases in which something is done in public, so that it cannot be denied afterwards in court.

Alongside this development towards truth finding, a new group of officials was introduced into the higher and lower courts: the OFris. tolva or konings orkenen ‘king’s witnesses’. The Old Frisian term tolva literally means ‘twelve’: this was a bench of twelve men from a certain district who had sworn an oath to serve the truth. They were respectable men, a delegation of the bystanders at the thing meeting one could say, who knew what was going on in the district, and who also started to actively find the truth concerning cases brought before court. The consent of a majority, or seven of the twelve, was necessary to win a dispute.

Finally, in the context of this evolution of the way proof was dealt with in court, two technical terms deserve some attention: OFris. onbring / onbrinze and OFris. niār.83 If a claim or a crime was burkuth ‘publicly known’, then the defendant could no longer exonerate himself by swearing an oath. In those cases where the defendant had lost this right, the claimant had the right of onbring (noun) or the case was called onbrinze (adjective). The term literally means ‘to bring forth, to present’. This meant the claimant had the right to affirm his claim by swearing an oath. This in turn annulled the right of the defendant to swear innocence.

A term that is related to this is OFris. niār which literally means ‘closer’. It meant that one of the parties had ‘more right’ to either pursue the claim or deny it. A fine example of the game of moves and countermoves these legal rules led to can be found in paragraph 3 of The Younger Skelta Law (text XII,3). A few illustrative sentences from this section:

Nu aegh dy grewa dyne aesgha toe bannen dat hi riucht deeroen deel. Nu deelt dy aesgha dat hy nyaer se mitta oenbring him schieldich toe winnane dan hy se mitta edem deer hy byoeth oenschieldich toe wirdane.

Now the count has to order the asega to come to a lawful judgment concerning this matter. Now the asega declares that the claimant has more right to accuse the defendant under oath and thus get him convicted than the defendant is allowed to produce oaths of innocence and thus be found innocent.

The right of niar could also apply if a plot of land was sold. Either relatives or neighbours owning land adjacent to the plot being put up for sale could claim the right to buy that land.84

Overall, it has hopefully become clear that classical Frisian law was built on ancient Germanic foundations, and that the right to exonerate oneself remained firmly in place throughout this classical period, but that regulations and the importance of truth finding grew over time, creating an intricate chess-like legal game with moves and countermoves.

7 The Book

The book Freeska Landriucht consists of 11 quires plus one bifolium on which the prologue and the table of contents are printed (text I in the edition). The quires are numbered A to I and L to M. This means that a quire K seems to be missing exactly at the point where the text reads Hyr eyndighet dat Landriucht der Fresena ende alhyrnei folged Keiser Rodulphus boeck ‘Here ends the land law of the Frisians and after this begins the book of Emperor Rudolf’ (text XV in the edition).85 Also, half a page is left empty at this point.

This observation leads to two conclusions. In the first place it makes it highly likely that texts II to XV were seen as the core canon of Central Frisian law: Freeska Landriucht in the narrow sense of the word. Secondly, the missing quire K might give some clues about the printing process, although it is very hard to see what this actually reveals. It is unlikely that two separate Old Frisian manuscripts had been presented to the printer, since all other Old Frisian law manuscripts that have survived show a collection of texts similar to the entire Freeska Landriucht. Furthermore, the texts in quires L and M also contain Latin glosses (unlike any other extant Old Frisian manuscript), so there is no clear break in that respect either.

It is still a mystery who printed Freeska Landriucht. For centuries, authors have speculated about this. As we will see below, already around 1567 the Frisian nobleman Botte van Holdinga wrote that it had been printed by the priest Hidde van Camminga (the Van Camminga’s were a very prominent noble family). This information can also be found on two younger handwritten title pages in the copies BL (nr. 2) and RA (nr. 8), described below.

Later authors, the first of whom was the historian Ubbo Emmius (1547–1625), thought that the book had been printed in Cologne. The discussion has continued in the centuries since.86

The jury is still out on the question who printed this work. It has become clear by now, however, that this print shop printed five more—Latin—works in the fields of theology and law.87 On the basis of the watermarks in the paper that was used to print Freeska Landriucht, the date has been pinpointed to 1484–1487.88

None of the nine copies of Freeska Landriucht that exist today are identical, as is not uncommon for early printed books. Corrections were made during the printing process, as a result of which all copies show some mutual dissimilarities.89 Despite these mistakes, however, printing Freeska Landriucht was a carefully planned project. This becomes clear when we first look at the Old Frisian text and then compare it to the Latin glosses. This will yield some interesting insights.

First, the detailed table of contents was created with the help of the complete Old Frisian text. The captions that were in the main text were used to create it. Since many of the paragraphs of the Old Skelta Law have captions, this text is overrepresented. Mistakes that were made in these captions are repeated in the table of contents, testifying to the close link between the two. An example of this is text III,16, where the caption reads: Nen Fresa thoer schelta ban tielda ‘No Frisian has to observe the authority of the skelta’, where schelta should read grewa ‘count’, as becomes clear from the actual text of this paragraph. The mistake was repeated in the table of contents (text I). Another example is the caption to text III,52, which erroneously reads Van enis ovirlandis guedes mannes daed ‘Concerning the death of a good foreigner’, which can again be found in the same form in the table of contents, but which should read Van enis overlandis daedes mannes gued ‘Concerning the goods of a dead foreigner’.

A second observation is that the entire Old Frisian text as a whole has been modernised and edited, in various respects. The language of all texts has been updated to the late 15th century. One example of this is the preponderance of the spelling mit for OFris. mith ‘with’.90 Another example can be found in the Younger Skelta Law, where the archaic word OFris. uta was clarified by adding the interjection dat is biwiis ‘that means proof’ (text XII,3 in the edition). This addition is not present in any of the other redactions of this text. On the whole then, the archaic Old Frisian law texts have been carefully dusted off and presented in such a way that they were readable and understandable to a late 15th-century audience.

The Latin glosses, on the other hand, seem to have eluded this update. They date, as Jan Hallebeek and Hylkje de Jong show below in their ‘Preface to the Edition and Translation of the Gloss’, from the period between c. 1250 and 1400.91 The fact that the glosses themselves have not been updated is not surprising, since the Freeska Landriucht tradition had become out of fashion after 1400, becoming more or less replaced by the Excerpta Legum / Jurisprudentia Frisica tradition. But that is not all. A closer inspection of the Old Frisian lemmata with which a number of the glosses start, show that these in several cases point to a variant redaction of the main text in Freeska Landriucht. In total, 139 glosses begin with one or a few words of Old Frisian (a lemma from the Old Frisian main text). Out of these, 18 references in the glosses point to a variant redaction of the Old Frisian text that is alluded to; there is, in other words, a mismatch between the reference in the Gloss and the main text.

One example can be found in gloss 68, which comments the second of the Seventeen Statutes. The reference in the gloss reads alle godes mannen. The main text, however, reads (text VI,2): Dio oder kest is: alle godeshusem, alle godesliodem ferd bi LXXII pondem ‘The second statute is: peace to all churches and all clerics, on penalty of 72 pounds’. So whereas the main text has godesliodem, the reference in the Gloss reads godesmannen. The redaction in Jus, however, does read godesmannum at this point.92

In four instances, the Old Frisian lemmata in the glosses are missing altogether in the main text. One instance is a very special case. In the middle of gloss 182, the following short sentence in Old Frisian can be found: inda scheltena riucht: Iefma ane man biiclaghet itta how and hiine wtoer ferd to liidsene ‘In the Skelta Law: If a case against someone is brought before the court of the count in order to have him outlawed’. The paragraph to which this refers can indeed be found in the Older Skelta Law, in III,56–57. But this exact short sentence is sought for in vain: not only are these exact wordings not found in the Freeska Landriucht redaction, they cannot even be found in any of the extant redactions. We might even be dealing with a translation of a Latin sentence or an addition, which for some reason was not phrased in Latin, but then this would be the only instance in the entire Gloss. The language of this short sentence has been dated to the beginning of the 15th century.93

In short then, a close analysis of Freeska Landriucht yields a number of insights. The Old Frisian archaic law texts were carefully edited so that they could easily be read and understood by a late 15th century audience. The Latin Gloss however, was not updated, thus giving testimony to the fact that this tradition had come to an end by around 1400. The Gloss thus show that there must have existed several manuscripts with glossed compilations of Old Frisian law texts. None of these have survived today, save the first two texts of Codex Roorda, which seems to be the beginning of a Freeska Landriucht like compilation.94 But this compilation breaks off after a few pages. The only other glosses that survived are the handwritten glosses in the copy FG of the Freeska Landriucht (i.e. the copy that was taken as the basis of this edition).

7.1 Early Attestations until the End of the 17th Century

Attestations of copies from past centuries come not only from Central Frisia, but also from East Frisia, both from the Ommelanden (province of Groningen) and Ostfriesland in Germany.

In the Ommelanden, the 14th century saw the decline of Frisian as a written language. Its replacement by Low German (Low Saxon) is often contributed to the influence of the city of Groningen but is more likely the consequence of the strong position of Low German as lingua franca in the North Sea and Baltic Sea regions. In the course of the 15th and 16th centuries a corpus of translations of Old Frisian law texts into Low Saxon grew, which today consists of some 150 manuscripts. In this corpus, there is a marked influence of Freeska Landriucht, which means that one or (probably) more copies circulated there.95

Around 1567, the Frisian nobleman Botte van Holdinga (c. 1500–1577) wrote a history of the Frisians, titled De origine, antiquitate et situ totius Phrysiae libri decem.96 Holdinga was the first to mention Freeska Landriucht. He said it was printed a century earlier:

Caeterum Dns. Hiddo a Camminga, vir nobilis, olim apud Doccumates et postea apud Angumaeos parochus, sub idem fere tempus eundem libellum, ex quo hanc Phrysiae divisionem mutuati sumus, suis praelis in excusum in lucem edidit, licet nomen suum ut typographi ille non addiderit, cujusmodi passim adhuc apud non paucos nostratium exstant.97

Around that time, Sir Hiddo of Camminga, first priest in Dokkum and later in Anjum, printed the book on which our division of Frisia is based on his own press, without adding his name or that of the printer, of which many copies are still around today.

In 1599 Bernardus Furmerius, the second state historian of Friesland, borrowed three books from the library of the city hall of Leeuwarden. One of these can be identified as Freeska Landriucht, since the municipal administrative source in which this event was documented accurately gives the incipit and explicit.98 It is unclear whether he ever returned the books.

Also at the end of the 16th century a strange book was printed which would have a profound influence on Frisian historiography in the centuries to come. It concerns a fictional history of the Frisians, entitled Croniicke ende waarachtige Beschrijvinge van Vrieslant.99 It was written by a certain Andreas Cornelius, who claimed to have used as sources the works of otherwise unkown authors Ocko Scharlensis (purportedly 10th century) and Johannes Vlietarp (purportedly 14th century). The book also recites the story of Magnus, the leader of the Frisian war band, who conquered Rome on behalf of Charlemagne, thus obtaining the Frisian freedom as a reward for this feat. Here Cornelius cites a paragraph from Freeska Landriucht which describes pope Leo giving the Frisians a charter to confirm their privileges (see text V,7 in the edition, and see section 5 below for a more detailed description of this text).100

In 1617 the Frisian scholar Sibrandus Siccama (1571–1622) published an annotated edition of the Lex Frisionum. To demonstrate the continuity from this ancient law of the Frisians to the Middle Ages, he adduced a number of shorter or larger text fragments from Old Frisian law manuscripts. These quotations show that he had access to a distinct Old Frisian manuscript, similar but not identical to any of the few that have survived today (Unia and Jus). But they also show he had Freeska Landriucht at his disposal.101

Franciscus Junius (1591–1677) was one of the first scholars to study the various Germanic languages, such as Gothic, Old English and Old Frisian. The fact that he was a cosmopolite who travelled between England and the Netherlands gave him access to both Old English source material and to sources of the continental Germanic languages. During his stay in the Netherlands he went to great lengths to learn Frisian and to acquire Old Frisian manuscripts. For this, he built a cultural network in Frisia. One of his contacts was the Frisian nobleman Doeke Hemmema (1603–1698), who probably helped him to acquire a copy of Freeska Landriucht (see below, copy J109), but who also reported on his own and other copies he had seen in a letter to Junius dating from 1657.102

In 1664 Christianus Schotanus published his Beschryvinge van de Heerlyckheydt van Friesland tusschen ’t Flie end de Lauwers met nieuwe Caerten. On pages 36–106, he rendered Freeska Landriucht integrally, including the Latin glosses. We do not know whether he used one of the still existing copies or a copy that is now lost.

More could be said about attestations of Freeska Landriucht after 1700, but these attestations partly overlap with information on the provenances of the nine existing copies.

7.2 FG = Leeuwarden, Tresoar Fries Genootschap A III 31 / B 38831 Kluis

This copy is the source text of our edition. All initials have been filled in in red ink, the initial to the prologue (text I in the edition) with a large capital letter in blue ink and the initial of the first text, What Is Law? (text II in the edition), rather elaborately in blue ink with red decorative penwork. FG is bound in a brown leather binding. A quire of five leaves has been added at the front in the 18th century, on which earlier owners left some marks. Among them are notes by Petrus Wierdsma (1729–1811) in which he refers to earlier works which mention Freeska Landriucht.

The copy was well used by contemporaneous users. It has been established that one of the two hands that can be discerned in this copy can be identified as that of Hemma Oddazin, scribe to the city of Leeuwarden from 1486–1493 and 1501–1508. On two pages Hemma Oddazin wrote down three currency conversion tables.103 He also added handwritten glosses to the Gloss, which might be a testimony of part of a larger Gloss tradition to Freeska Landriucht which is now lost to us.104 Because of the strong link to the municipality of Leeuwarden, this might even be the copy the state historian Bernardus Furmerius had borrowed from the city library of Leeuwarden in 1599 (see earlier).

In later times, the copy belonged to Petrus Wierdsma, who probably had it bound and who left notes in the extra quire at the front.105 In 1858 it was bought by J.G. Ottema (1804–1879) when Wierdsma’s collection was auctioned. Ottema then donated this copy to the Fries Genootschap, of which he was a member.106 This copy filled the gap that had been left in the collection of the Fries Genootschap after they had donated their only copy to the Royal Library in The Hague in 1855 (see copy KB, nr. 5 below).

7.3 BL = London, British Library A I 48951

This copy has remained quite blank. There are almost no marginal notes left by previous owners and the initials have not been filled in. It does however contain one very important handwritten note in Dutch at the very end of the book, which reads: In ’t jaer ons Heren dusent vier hondert ende acht ende tachtig geschreven op den dach doet screven woert [maria amor] ‘In the year of our Lord 1488 on the day it was written [maria amor]’.107 This gives an important hard datum ante quem for Freeska Landriucht and fits well with the date that was deduced from an analysis of the paper and its watermarks: 1484–1487.

The copy is bound in a 20th-century brown leather cover.108 On the verso side of the blank leaf that was bound in front of Freeska Landriucht, a handwritten note can be found in Dutch, which relates that this copy originally contained a loose leaf with a handwritten title page. Because this leaf had been so tattered, it had been left out of the new binding. The note does, however, give the text of the title on that discarded leaf:

It Rjuechtboeck fen alre fryja Freezena Freeska Landrjuecht, ien aade tieden Beschrioewen, so az dat Baad di Keizer Kaarl Magnus to Room, om it 800e jeer nei Christus, der nei Rodolf de Keizer, om it 1273e jeer. Droekt ien’t kleaster by Jr Hidde fen Camminga, Parochijaan eerst to Dokkum, da to Aanjum.

The lawbook of all free Frisians Freeska Landriucht, written in old times, as commanded by Emperor Charlemagne around the year 800 AD, and afterwards by Emperor Rudolf around the year 1273. Printed in the monastery by Hidde van Camminga Esq., priest, first in Dokkum, later in Anjum.

This title is identical to that of the copy RA (nr. 8 below).

This copy had been in the book collection of Gerardus Meerman (1722–1771) and his son Johannes Meerman (1753–1815) since at least 1767. One of them thus probably wrote the note just mentioned, and Gerardus or Johannes probably had the copy bound after they had purchased it for their collection.

The Meerman collection was auctioned in 1824, at which point the copy was sold. It ended up in the collection of Richard Heber (1773–1833) a well-known bibliophile who amassed a huge collection during his life. It probably came to the British Museum after the auction of Heber’s collection in 1835.109 At the end of the 20th century the book was moved to the British Library but maintained its shelf mark.

7.4 BN = Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Ms. Néerl. 45

This copy lacks the bifolium with the prologue and table of contents (text I in the edition). It has no marginal notes, but all initials are filled in, some even rather elaborately. The copy is part of a convolute manuscript consisting of four different parts which were bound together between c. 1570 and c. 1590, probably in Groningen.110 The earliest possessor of the convolute is an otherwise unknown Geerd Klaasz schipper. The first two parts of this convolute are manuscripts with Low Saxon translations of Old Frisian law. The first part stems from the middle of the 16th century, but the second part—dubbed Paris II—stems from the end of the 15th century and is important to the study of the Low Saxon corpus.111 The third part contains 15th century law texts from the province of Drenthe. The convolute came into the Bibliothèque Nationale—then called Bibliothèque du Roi—between 1682 and 1730. This is based on the fact that the copy BN is mentioned in the handwritten catalogue of the library that was created in 1730.

Through an analysis of the handwritten addendum of eight texts to this copy of Freeska Landriucht, which has become known as Codex Parisiensis in Old Frisian studies, Gerbenzon has been able to show that this copy has been in use in the South East of Central Frisia (Sânwâlden and Stellingwerf regions) in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It thus gives a unique insight in the daily legal practice in this period.112

7.5 J109 = Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Junius 109

This copy is bound in a parchment binding. At the front and at the back, leaves have been inserted. A few initials have been filled in. Otherwise, this copy shows no traces of any previous owners other than those of its only known owner, Franciscus Junius (1591–1677). Junius acquired his copy of Freeska Landriucht around 1657.113 In 1659 he lent it to his friend Jan van Vliet (Janus Vlitius), who returned it a year later and eventually succeeded in acquiring a copy for himself (see below, copy M60, nr. 6). After Junius’s death, his collection of manuscripts, including this copy of Freeska Landriucht, was transferred to the Bodleian Library.

7.6 KB = The Hague, Royal Library 150 C 36

This copy is bound in parchment and interleaved.114 Most of the interleaved pages have been left blank. On the first pages, however, someone has translated the Frisian text into Dutch. This seems to be a 16th-century hand. On the last page of this copy one of the earliest owners left a trace: Dit boeck hoert toe Sybout Aysma ‘This book belongs to Sybout Aysma’.115 Sybout Aysma (ca 1534–1604) also owned a manuscript with Old Frisian law texts, belonging to the younger tradition of the Jurisprudentia Frisica, which was named after him: Codex Aysma.116

A second trace was left by state historian Simon Abbes Gabbema (1628–1688), in the form of a marginal note in his handwriting.117 After Gabbema, the copy came into the hands of Nicolaas Tholen (1725–1770), assistant editor of the Groot Placaat en Charterboek van Vriesland. This Gabbema-Tholen connection makes it highly likely that this copy too (see below, copy RA, nr. 8) had been part of the library of the state historians of Friesland, which was placed in the Gabbema Gasthuis after the death of Simon Abbes Gabbema in 1688. This library was rediscovered by Georg thoe Schwartzenberg en Hohenlansberg (1733–1783) when he was preparing his monumental edition of Frisian sources, the Groot Placaat en Charterboek van Vriesland around 1765.118 Although the details are unknown, KB was later acquired by J.M. van Beyma thoe Kingma (1781–1847) and finally bought by the Fries Genootschap at the auction of Van Beyma thoe Kingma’s library after his demise.

As a consequence of the rediscovery of the Gabbema collection by the Schwartzenberg team, several manuscripts of this immensely important library, which contained many unique medieval Frisian manuscripts, ended up in the possession of J.F.M. Herbell (1752–1819), who became assistant to Schwartzenberg after the untimely death of Tholen. This separated a number of important manuscripts from the original Gabbema collection, which had remained relatively intact until then. After Herbell’s death in 1819, his collection of books and manuscripts was put to auction. A sizable part of this collection was then bought by the Royal Library (‘Koninklijke Bibliotheek’) in The Hague. The purchase of the Royal Library remained in the care of H. Amersfoordt (1796–1842)—one of the three founding fathers of the Fries Genootschap (founded 1827)—until 1832, when it was transferred to The Hague.

In 1855 an agreement was reached between the Fries Genootschap and the Minister of the Interior, which entailed that the important collection of manuscripts which had been bought by the Royal Library at the auction of the collection of Herbell in 1819 (and which mostly had come from the Gabbema collection) would return to Frisia and be placed under the care of the Fries Genootschap.

In return for this gesture, the Royal Library received the copy KB from the Fries Genootschap. For the occasion of the exchange, the Leeuwarden municipal archivist, historian and member of the Fries Genootschap, Wopke Eekhoff (1809–1880), who had managed the practicalities of the deal with the Royal Library on behalf of the Fries Genootschap, included a handwritten introduction to this Freeska Landriucht copy.119

7.7 M60 = Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Mareschalli 60

This copy is bound in a parchment binding. All initials have been soberly filled in. The book is interleaved. This copy was acquired by Jan van Vliet (1622–1666), a colleague of Franciscus Junius who worked on an edition of Freeska Landriucht between 1659 and 1665.120 He originally borrowed the copy owned by Junius (J109) but in 1660 he received this copy (M60) as a gift from his friend Thomas Browne (1604–1673).121 After Van Vliet’s demise, his copy came into the possession of Junius, who in turn gave it to his long time friend and former pupil Thomas Marshall (1621–1685). This copy then became part of the collection of manuscripts of Marshall that was transferred to the Bodleian Library after his death.122

7.8 PB = Leeuwarden, Tresoar Hs 1074 R

This copy is bound in a brown leather binding. It contains two bifoliums with the prologue and table of contents (text I of the edition), of which one is a misprint, bound after each other.123 The copy shows marginal notes in various hands, the oldest of which seems to be from the early 16th century.

This copy formed part of the library of Oldersum Castle situated in East Frisia in the 16th century and is the only surviving book of that library today.124 After the death of the nobleman Hero II of Oldersum in 1589, an inventory of the library was made in the context of the legal affairs that had to be seen to, since Hero had left no heir. In the aftermath of these legal affairs, the copy came into the hands of Henricus Reiningius of Coevorden, a public notary. A year later, on 15 October 1590, he in turn gifted the book to Rembartus Ackema, a legum doctor, who at the time was prefect of nearby Leerort but originated from Groningen. A handwritten note by mr. Jacob Warmolt Keiser (1737–1821), dated 1792, relates that he acquired this copy from Samuel Wolther Tjassens (1739–1814) in exchange for a number of manuscripts. At this point, it is unknown how the copy ended up in the Provincial Library in Leeuwarden (now Tresoar).

7.9 RA = Leeuwarden, Tresoar, Toegang 326 (Familie thoe Schwartzenberg en Hohenlansberg) No. 3945a

This copy is bound in parchment and interleaved. The first bifolium containing the prologue and the table of contents (text I in the edition) is missing. All initials are filled in blue and red ink. Other than this, the copy shows no traces of contemporary use.

The interleaving was heavily used by the first known owner, Simon Abbes Gabbema (on whom and on what follows see earlier, copy KB, nr. 5). On these leaves he noted variant forms of the texts in Freeska Landriucht, which he copied from the various Old Frisian and Low German law manuscripts he either owned himself, or which he had borrowed from acquaintances in his network.125

By a ‘great coincidence’ as he himself describes it, this copy was bought by the same man who had rediscovered the Gabbema collection around 1765: Georg thoe Schwartzenberg en Hohenlansberg.126 It still forms part of the family archive of the Schwartzenberg family, which is now housed at Tresoar, Leeuwarden.

A quire of two leaves was later added to this copy, by means of which a title page was created. The text of this title page is the same as in copy BL (nr. 2, earlier). Moreover, to this was added: doorsteeken met schoon papier, en vergeleeken met verscheidene hantschriften door Simon Abbes Gabbema, gelastigde geschiedschrijver van Friesland ‘interleaved with blank paper and compared with various manuscripts by Simon Abbes Gabbema, state historian of Frisia’. This text seems to date to the 18th century: further research is required, also on the relation between this copy and the BL copy.

7.10 UB = Utrecht, University Library J Oct 1112

This copy also is part of a convolute.127 It was bound together with one of the five other books that are known to have been produced by the workshop of the ‘Freeska Landriucht printer’: the Statuta provincialia et synodalia Trajectensia.128 The works are bound together in a greenish brown leather binding with some decorative gold tooling on the covers dated to the second half of the 18th century.129

This copy has some of the initials filled in with a green ink, which has now faded considerably. It shows a fair number of old marginal notes, dating to the late 15th / early 16th centuries. It has, in other words, been used.

The copy was once—in the early 16th century judging from the writing—in the possession of Fecke Sipkes, as can be read on f. 87r: fecke sipk zoon possidet me. We do not know who Fecke was or what happened to this copy in the centuries to follow. It was finally bought by the University Library of Utrecht in 1899 at the auction of the library of mr. Willem Jan Royaards van den Ham (1829–1897), who had been an avid collector of rare books and manuscripts during his life.130 The library’s main reason for buying this copy probably was the second book of this binding, The Provincial and Synodical Statutes of Utrecht.

8 A Short Introduction to the Individual Texts

8.1 Text I. Prologue

The compilation starts with a prologue and a table of contents. This text falls into three parts. It begins with a dedication to St. Mary and a commemoration of Frisian law, which Charlemagne granted the Frisians because they had fought valiantly for him in Rome (a reference to the story told in text V).131 After that a concise overview of the contents is given, consisting of seventeen parts. This cannot be coincidental, for The Seventeen Statutes (text VI) is the oldest and most important Old Frisian law text; in other words, the number seventeen had a special meaning.132 Thirdly, a more detailed table of contents is given. This overview gives all the captions that are present in the compilation. The effect of this is that The Older Skelta Law (text III) is overrepresented, taking up almost two thirds of this table.

8.2 Text II. What Is Law?

This text can be best be viewed as a general preface or introduction to Old Frisian law. That is why it always appears as the first text in the law manuscripts from Central Frisia. It tells where law originally came from, tracing its origin back to Mosaic law and then through the ancient empires on to the Holy Roman Emperors and finally to Old Frisian law. In terms of its content, the text shows similarities with the Book of Emperor Rudolf (text XVI) and with the Prologue to the Seventeen Statutes and Twenty-Four Land Laws (text VII).

The form of the text is that of a catechism: the paragraphs begin with a question which is then answered. Pieter Gerbenzon has demonstrated that its main source is the Summa Coloniensis (the Summa Elegantius in iure divino), an anonymous commentary on the first and second part of Gratian’s Decretum, dating from 1169. He also manages to shed more light on the canonistic source of the extensive pseudohistorical continuation: the Decretum Gratiani (c.1140), in which for this section elements from the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville (560–636) have been adopted. On the basis of this, and because the Summa Coloniensis fell into disuse after 1220, Gerbenzon dates What Is Law? to the early 13th century. However, as Gerbenzon indicates himself, once the text had reached Frisia, it might have been used until the late 13th century.133

8.3 Text III. The Older Skelta Law

After the introduction to Old Frisian law provided by the previous text, The Older Skelta Law forms the start of the core of archaic law texts from Central Frisia. It ends with its counterpart, namely the Younger Skelta Law (text XII). As their names suggest, these two texts are related. They both contain comparable material. The Older Skelta Law shows a long history of development over the centuries: this collection of jurisprudence is thought to have originated in the 11th century, but material was added until the 13th century.134

The text starts with regulating how the count, who visited the land once a year, should hold court, which as we saw earlier seems to be a preamble that was added to the text at a later stage. It then continues with a great amount of information on procedural law, one of the reasons for the fame of this text in scholarship. The text is long: the version in Freeska Landriucht comprises 83 paragraphs. Earlier I explained the function of the skelta, who appears so often in the text that it was named after him. Apart from procedural law, it contains information concerning a.o. which weapons a free Frisian should own and use in defence of the land. A lot of attention is also given to the various types of ordeals. The procedure for the ordeal by combat is described in detail.

The title given to this text has changed somewhat over the last decades. Karl von Richthofen (1811–1888), who might be called the founding father of Old Frisian studies, used the title ‘Das Schulzenrecht’ in his 1840 edition of Old Frisian law texts.135 He in turn refers to the introduction of Matthias von Wicht’s (1694–1778) edition of the East Frisian Land Law. Von Wicht was the first to give the title ‘Schulzenrecht’ (Skelta Law) to the text, referring to a Latin gloss to Freeska Landriucht, which provides a confirmation that the title Skelta Law was also used in medieval Frisia.136 This is gloss 182, which I discussed earlier. The short Old Frisian sentence that can be found in this gloss begins with a reference to the Older Skelta Law, as it reads: in da scheltena riucht ‘in the Skelta Law’.

Interestingly, the copy FG of Freeska Landriucht that was chosen as the basis for this edition yields another name for the text that seems to have been overlooked until now. At the bottom of p. 84, a marginal gloss can be found to a paragraph in The Eight Provisions (text IX) made by the late medieval possessor of this copy, Hemma Oddazin. It connects a paragraph in this text with one in the Older Skelta Law. The gloss reads: Vide autem int grewe riucht de eodem ‘However see about this also in “the Count’s Law” ’. This also is a logical way to refer to the Older Skelta Law, since it indeed starts with describing the authority and jurisdiction of the count when he arrives in Frisia to hold court.

Some redactions of the Older Skelta Law, such as the one in Jus and the Middle Dutch translation Landrecht der Vriesne, start with ‘(this is) land law of the Frisians’. Especially after de Middle Dutch translation had been edited in 1996, it was thought by scholars that this must have been the title after all.137 However, since the whole compilation is also called Freeska Landriucht ‘Frisian land law’, Nico Algra opted for the title Landrecht van Westergo (‘Land Law of Westergoa’). Eventually, Old Frisian scholars went back to using the traditional name, since this caused the least confusion and had been the custom for so long.

8.4 Text IV. Of the Two Kings Charles and Radbod

This is the first of a number of mythological texts in this collection, which at first glance seems like a foreign body in a collection of legal texts.138 It tells the story of how ‘king Radbod’ and ‘king Charles’ both came to Frisia and claimed dominion over the land. The battle which followed was fought out in the form of what is known as the ordeal by cross, performed by both kings. This ordeal consists of each party standing on either side of a cross and stretching out their hands horizontally; whoever lowers his arms first loses. The story tells how the kings ‘stood still’ for 24 hours, after which king Charles won the duel through a ruse. He dropped his glove, which Radbod then graciously picked up from the ground and returned to Charles. Upon this, Charles exclaimed: “Now you have become my vassal!”. The story ends with Radbod retreating from Frisia and returning to Denmark.

In the second episode of the story, Charles ordered the Frisians to choose a law for themselves. In order to accomplish this, he called twelve delegates of the Frisians before him. Several times, they asked for a delay and in the end they were still unable to choose law. Enraged, Charles condemned them to be put in a ramshackle boat which would withstand only a small amount of strong weather. Once at sea, they prayed to God. Suddenly, a thirteenth man appeared who steered the ship to shore and taught them law there. This, in other words, is a story about the divine origin of Frisian law.

King Radbod was the greatest Frisian king from the early Middle Ages, who died 719.139 In this text he is presented as a Danish king. King Charles must refer to Charlemagne (747–814), who according to the ideology granted the Frisians their freedom, as is also narrated in the next text, The Statutes of Magnus. Historically then, this clash of kings is problematic since they were never contemporaries. One might be inclined to think that in that case Charlemagnes grandfather Charles Martel (688–741) might be meant by ‘king Charles’, but this is highly unlikely, for the outcome of the text is that ‘king Charles’ gives the Frisians their freedom. Hence Charlemagne must certainly be meant.

Obviously then this text does not date from the early Middle Ages, but correctly dating it is difficult. It is probably safest to say it dates from the flowering period of Old Frisian law, the 13th century. The seal of the West Frisian city of Medemblik from 1294 shows a boat with 13 persons on board. It is generally thought that this image refers to the story of the thirteenh man and the divine origin of Frisian law.140

Some elements, such as the ordeal by cross and the dropping of the glove hint at a familiarity with the chansons de geste and chivalric romances. At the same time, a link has been suggested to a few 14th-century monasteries in the first episode of the story,141 whereas the second episode has been interpreted as reflecting a Germanic myth of the origin of law.142 In conclusion then this story still presents us with a number of unsolved puzzles. The main reason for its inclusion in this compilation must have been to show the divine origin of Frisian law.

8.5 Text V. The Statutes of Magnus

This text first relates how the Frisians won their freedom from Charlemagne by conquering the city of Rome for him. The second part however, the actual seven statutes, can be seen as a legal text. These statutes for the most part echo the older Seventeen Statutes (text VI).

The story in this text, also called the Saga of Magnus tells how pope Leo was taken prisoner by the Romans and blinded. Charlemagne, who is said to be Leo’s brother in this story proclaimed a call to arms across the nations who fell under his control. The Frisians, led by Magnus, travelled to Rome to come to Charlemagne’s aid. They are portrayed as naked and slaves to the Vikings, in other words, the lowest of the lowest. They were sent ahead to do the dirty work, but miraculously succeeded in taking Rome. Once inside, they would only let Charlemagne enter the city if he promised them freedom. This left Charlemagne with no other option than proclaiming the Frisians to be a free people. They then received a charter signed and sealed by both Charlemagne and Leo as proof. Back home, they stored the precious charter in the church of Almenum (now part of the town of Harlingen).

Magnus is not a typical Frisian name. Presumably, a few traditions have come together here. Firstly, the name can refer to Saint Magnus of Trani who lived in the third century. His relics ended up in the church of the Frisians in Rome, which dated to the 8th century and in later times was devoted to both Saint Michael and Saint Magnus. Magnus could also be interpreted as a reference to Carolus Magnus—Charlemagne. In 846 the Frisians, Franks and Saxons assisted emperor Lothar in fighting of an attack of the Saracens on Rome. This might be the kernel of historical truth behind this story.143

The fictional story of Magnus is thought to date to the 12th century. It was then retold until the end of the Middle Ages. The seal of the land Westergoa, dating 1270 shows Magnus standing upright, holding the Frisian banner he planted on the highest tower in Rome. According to the story, this banner was brought home and later revered as one of the holy Frisian regalia. The seal bears the inscription Sanctus Magnus Dux Frisonum.

8.6 Text VI. The Seventeen Statutes

This text represents the absolute core of classical Old Frisian law. Together with its standard companion The Twenty-Four Land Laws it can be found in all Old Frisian law manuscripts, both from Central and East Frisia, as well as in numerous Low German translations. This in itself is proof of regular contacts between the Frisian lands and the notion of a shared Frisian identity. The Seventeen Statutes are slightly older than The Twenty-Four Land Laws and date from the 11th century.

The title does not really convey what this text contains: the ‘Frisian Declaration of Independence’ or ‘Frisian Magna Charta’ would have been more apt. The text enumerates the privileges the Frisians enjoy in relation to the Holy Roman Emperor. They are free to be left undisturbed on their own estate, have to pay only a small amount of taxes to the emperor and to the church, do not have to go on a military expedition for too long and too far, etc.

Because of their prominence in Old Frisian law, The Seventeen Statutes and The Twenty-Four Land Laws are the most studied texts.144 Yet not all puzzles are solved. There is for instance the peculiar fact that it has been observed that linguistically the text originated in East Frisia, whereas the content points to Central Frisia.145

Another enigma is the age of the text. Nico Algra came to the conclusion that in the course of time the text grew out of a core of the first ten paragraphs. He assumed that this core was based on a capitulary Louis the Pious issued in 814, in which he gave the Frisians and the Saxons back their ancestral lands. These lands had been confiscated by Charlemagne to punish them for their rebellion around 785.146

8.7 Text VII. Prologue to the Seventeen Statutes and Twenty-Four Land Laws

This prologue provides historical and divine legitimacy for Old Frisian law. It traces back the history of law to Moses and the Jewish people. Since Moses received the stone tablets from God, law has a divine origin. The text then traces the law from the Roman emperors to the German emperors. Since the last emperor mentioned is Emperor Frederick II (1220–1250), it is assumed that the prologue was written in the first half of the thirteenth century. This historical legitimation of Old Frisian law is also addressed in text II What Is Law? Both texts thus show intertextuality. This material can also be found in The Book of Emperor Rudolf (text XVI).

Brian Murdoch not only shows that these kinds of prologues to law texts are a near universal phenomenon, already starting with the laws of the Mesopotamian king Hammurabi (c. 1810–c. 1750 BC), but also analyses the medieval European background of this text tradition.147 In that sense, this short prologue is a small window to the way in which medieval Frisia took part in the learned tradition of medieval Europe.

8.8 Text VIII. The Twenty-Four Land Laws

This text is the standard companion of The Seventeen Statutes (text VI). It is thought to be slightly younger, which would mean that it dates from the late 11th or 12th century. It continued to evolve until the 13th, perhaps even the 14th century.148 The Twenty-Four Land Laws can be characterised as a collection of jurisprudence from Frisian courts. Hence, its focus is far more on internal legal affairs than The Seventeen Statutes.

Just as the number seventeen bore a special symbolic meaning, so did twenty-four.149 Therefore it is interesting to see that the number of twenty-four provisions was contained at all costs. In the East Frisian tradition it can be observed that in some older redactions the number of twenty-four paragraphs was exceeded, so that one version even has 26 paragraphs.150 Also, there is variation between the various redactions, more so than in The Seventeen Statutes.

The final result is a collection of jurisprudence plus some reiterations of The Seventeen Statutes. The text was clearly intended for internal use: there is no mention of any king or count, and the matters that are addressed concern sale of land, matrimonial assets, inheritances, protection of widows and orphans, rape, and arson by night, to name but a few.

8.9 Text IX. The Eight Provisions

The Old Frisian title of this text, Da Acht Doemen, literally translates as ‘The Eight Dooms’. Old Frisian dōm, just as all occurrences in the other Old Germanic languages of the same etymon, means ‘judgment, verdict, decree’. The original meaning in Proto-Germanic seems to have been ‘to have an opinion’, as is still reflected in the English verb ‘to deem’.151 I decided on a more neutral translation for the title of this text, and thus arrived at ‘provisions’.

It is almost impossible to discern a common thread throughout the paragraphs in this text. They deal with matters such as at which age a girl is allowed to marry (§ 1), the payment a son has to give his mother for having kept him safe from harm when he marries (§ 2), rent (§ 3), and inheritances (§§ 4–8).152 As far as the content is concerned, there are some links to The Older Skelta Law. Partly because of this, this apparently archaic text is usually dated to the 12th century.

8.10 Text X. Exceptions to the Seventeenth Statute

This short text describes six cases in which a free Frisian is not allowed to swear innocent or deny the accusations brought against him. It concerns acts or circumstances in which the defendant has either made public statements or commitments himself, or has been caught red-handed, such as the second exception, where a moneyer is apprehended with counterfeit coins.

The text is directly linked to The Seventeen Statutes (text VI), because these cases are exceptions to the 17th statute in that text, which states that a free Frisian is always allowed to swear innocent in court. Since these two texts are related and also describe the same archaic phase of law, this text too is thought to have originated in the 11th century.153

8.11 Text XI. The Synodical Law of Central Frisia

The infrastructure of parishes and churches that was established in the Frisian lands in the second half of the 10th century also brought the synod to these regions. With this, Central Frisia was divided into three deaneries (Eastergoa, Westergoa and Sudergoa). The synod court session was a by-product of the bishop’s synod, the original goal of which was a visitation to monitor the progress of Christianization, whether the lay people were behaving virtuously as well as the well-being of the clerics and the churches. The bishop of Utrecht visited Frisia once every four years and then presided over the synodical court. For the remaining three years, the bishop transferred his ban (his authority) to the rural deans.

During the synodical court sessions, matters were discussed and tried that concerned the church. First, everything related to the church, religion and clerics (such as the position of clerics and acts of violence against them, the observance of Sundays and holidays, sacrilege and violating the immunity of the church building, altar robbery and corpse robbery, but also superstition and sorcery). Second, matters related to marriage and morality (such as abortion, prostitution, adultery, paternity of a child, marriage). Lastly, matters that touched on secular law, such as perjury and oath breaking.

This text bears testimony of the antiquity of the synod in Frisia. The oldest core of the text was traditionally dated to the 11th century.154 This has recently been confirmed by Jan Hallebeek. Because the text testifies of the undivided jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop and the fact that no mention is yet made of the Utrecht archdeacons who came into function around the year 1000, he dates the oldest phase of this text to the period before 1050.155 Note that again, just as was the case with the dating of The Seventeen Statutes, the dating is pinpointed to the first half of the 11th century. Finally, Mari van Buijtenen was the first to observe that this text was inspired by the Libri duo de synodalibus causis et disciplinis ecclesiasticis by Regino of Prüm (840–915), dating from the beginning of the 10th century.156

The Old Frisian text that has reached us is however a version that grew considerably in time. A recent philological analysis shows that at least three sections can be discerned.157 Only the Freeska Landriucht version includes the first of these three sections, which is partly written in Frisian, but for the most part in Latin. This section is missing in all other redactions. Van Buijtenen suspected that this is a younger part because mention is made of postsynodalia (a session that was held after the official meeting ended, to settle and conclude certain matters) and of a tax called cathedraticum, which is supposed not to have existed in the bishopric of Utrecht before 1300.158 The Latin installation form and oath form for a new parish-priest, which are only printed in Freeska Landriucht at the very end of the text also seem to be part of this text layer.

Structure of the text

Section I

paragraphs 1–17

Section II

paragraphs 18–38

Section III

paragraphs 39–63

The transition between section II and III is marked by a paragraph that resembles a prologue, which tells how Pope Leo gave the Frisians the synodical law. This puts us in familiar ideological territory, for this is a reference to The Statutes of Magnus (text V).

At the beginning of section III of the text in the versions in Jus and Unia, a block of paragraphs that could already be found at the beginning of section II is repeated: it is as if the text starts again.159 A few other paragraphs are repeated as well in these two sections: on grave robbery (§§ 25 and 46), abortion (§§ 24 and 60), adultery (§§ 31 and 61), and proof of marriage (§§ 36 and 62). Sections II and III thus must be seen as parallel versions of the text, which at a later stage were merged together.

Finally, the relationship with the Older Skelta Law deserves some attention. Both texts originated in the 11th century, and both continued to grow and evolve until the 13th century. One text dealt with secular matters, the other with ecclesiastical matters. Just as these two domains touched every now and then, so do these two texts.

The most striking parallel is the fact that only in these two texts the same provision can be found about the state the four roads leading to a church must be in, and how things must be arranged if the church borders on water or on a main road. Although these two provisions are not literally the same, the wording is such that they seem to go back to a common original text.160 Lastly, only in these two texts do we find a large amount of paragraphs on ordeals. The ordeals quickly disappeared, certainly in an ecclesiastical context, after the Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215: another clear sign that the evolution of these texts came to a halt in the 13th century.

8.12 Text XII. The Younger Skelta Law

This is the last text of the old core of archaic law texts from Central Frisia, that started with What Is Law? (text II) and the pendant of this Younger Skelta Law namely The Older Skelta Law (text III). These two Skelta Laws are strongly linked. They probably once formed one big collection of jurisprudence and formulas, that was split up in the course of time.

One of the signs that the two texts are strongly linked is that the first two paragraphs of the text in the Freeska Landriucht and Unia redactions form the last paragraphs of the Older Skelta Law in the Jus redaction.161 Interestingly, these two paragraphs are used in the prologue in Freeska Landriucht to describe the entire text: ‘The ninth part contains the compensations for homicide’.162

This intertextuality does however not mean that they are not two distinguishable texts. Nico Algra shows that ordeals are no longer mentioned in The Younger Skelta Law, while they are very prominent in The Older Skelta Law. On the other hand, The Younger Skelta Law describes in detail how dikes and sluices should be maintained. Algra connects this with the regular flooding which took place in the years 1248 and 1249.163 In all, Algra suspects this text came into existence around 1160 and grew until c. 1270.164

Just as The Older Skelta Law, this text provides an enormous amount of procedural law. It is famous for containing a large number of formulas which should be spoken by claimant or defendant at certain stages during the procedure.

8.13 Text XIII. The Statutes of the Five Districts

This is the most understudied text in the compilation. It is dated to the late 13th or early 14th century. The five districts (OFris. dēl ‘part, district’) referred to in the title are situated in the north of Westergoa in Central Frisia (Barradeel, Menaldumadeel, Franekeradeel, Baarderadeel, Hennaarderadeel). Franeker was one of the very old administrative centres in Central Frisia.

Apart from Freeska Landriucht, the statutes can be found in the manuscripts Jus and Unia. The version in Jus carries an enigmatic title: ‘The Old Statutes of Opstalsbam’. This would then imply a relation to the actual Statutes of Opstalsbam (text XX below), dated 1323. Almost no one has tried to find an explanation for this, thinking it must have been a mistake. Nico Algra, however, points to parallels between these statutes and the Statutes of Opstalsbam and suggests this text might have been drawn up by the same type of organisation as the actual Statutes of Opstalsbam.165

It is clear that more study is needed. What can be observed for now is that the text varies considerably from one version to the next. The size varies between 35 and 41 paragraphs (the Freeska Landriucht redaction consists of 38 paragraphs). On top of that, the various versions have quite a number of unique paragraphs, not shared by the other versions.166

8.14 Text XIV. The Calculated Tariffs


Map 5

Districts in 13th century Central Frisia


As stated earlier, the compensation tariffs form the oldest layer of Old Frisian law, going back to the early Middle Ages. In East Frisia, one single tariff, the General East Frisian Compensation Tariff, was in use, probably dating back to the 11th century (as a written text), until it was gradually replaced in the course of the 13th and 14th centuries by regional tariffs.

In Central Frisia, all surviving manuscripts stem from the 15th century or are direct copies from 15th-century exemplars. They contain a large number of regional compensation tariffs. Most of these tariffs are rather concise: c. 130 provisions on average. It has become clear that these younger tariffs can be traced back to tariff groups (A to D), which can be ascribed to the 13th century districts of which Central Frisia then consisted (Map 5).

Group A:

(Northern) Eastergoa

Group B:

Wymbritseradeel (Westergoa)

Group C:

Franekeradeel (Westergoa)

Group D:

Wonseradeel (Westergoa)

Only the texts in Group C, represented by two redactions—one in Jus, one in Freeska Landriucht—grew in size. And it seems that the text present in Freeska Landriucht, entitled The Calculated Tariffs, developed into a general Central Frisian tariff, reaching a size of 262 paragraphs (i.e. twice that of the tariffs in the other groups). The fact that this tariff is the only one present in Freeska Landriucht supports this assumption.

8.15 Text XV. Conversion Directive for Wergilds

It is quite understandable that a text like this one follows the previous compensation tariff, for here the wergilds in the various districts in Central Frisia are listed and conversions are provided. At the same time, this is not a common text in the Old Frisian compilations. It only also appears in Jus.167 For a long time, this text had not been studied. That changed with the studies Dirk Jan Henstra made of the money systems in medieval Frisia, on which he published several works. Henstra dates the text to (the beginning of) the 15th century.168

Even though much has now become more clear concerning this text, some problems remain. Henstra found a few inconsistencies in the conversions which are hard to explain. In his first analysis of this text, he suggested that the term grata ‘groat’ might refer to a groat which Emperor Sigismund (1368–1437) allowed the Frisians to mint in Leeuwarden, but which seems to have never been struck in reality. If this is true, then this text is directly connected to the negotiations of the Frisians with the Emperor in order to have their ancient freedom formally acknowledged by him. Text XXI below almost certainly was written shortly before 1417 as part of the lobby to obtain the charter from Sigismund.

In his second analysis of this text, Henstra was more hesitant to link the inconsistencies to the Sigismund groat. Instead, he considered the possibility that during ca. 1275 and 1375 the compensations of the tariffs were doubled as a result of the so-called Truce of God or Treuga Dei movement of the 12th century, which tried to curb violence and feuding.169 The inconsistencies in the conversion text might then be an attempt to solve this problem and convert the compensations to the then current situation, which meant dividing the old compensations by two.

Finally, this text forms the end of an entire section, for at the end this sentence is inserted: ‘Here ends the land law of the Frisians and after this begins the book of Emperor Rudolf.’ Apparently, these first fifteen texts were seen as Freeska Landriucht per se as mentioned earlier.

8.16 Text XVI. The Book of Emperor Rudolf

This is a long and enigmatic text. It is a mixture of historical fiction and law. Moreover, it is partly written in rhyme. As observed earlier, as far as its historical fiction is concerned, it is related to the texts What Is Law? (text II) and the Prologue to the Seventeen Statutes and Twenty-Four Land Laws (text VII).

The structure of the text is roughly as follows. It tells how the Frisians had a meeting with Emperor Rudolf, who had summoned them before him at a place called Bordeus. After an introduction (§§ 1–3), Rudolf addresses the Frisians directly and gives them four ‘exceptions’ (§§ 4–8), six ‘key provisions’ (§§ 9–21), then he gives an historical overview of the origin of law (§§ 22–23), four things ‘because of which I commanded you to come’ (§ 24), five peace orders (§ 25), after which the main text comes to a conclusion and the Frisians are said to return home (§§ 26–27). But although this seems to mark the end of the text, it still continues with a number of regulations (§§ 28–30).

On the whole, many of the provisions that are given in this text are not new, but can be found in the various previous law texts in this compilation. So what was the purpose of this text and at what moment in time was it drawn up?

In this respect, one of the main questions is of course who is Emperor Rudolf? One candidate is Rudolf of Swabia, also known as Rudolf of Rheinfelden (1025–1080). He was an important figure in the 11th century, as he revolted against his brother-in-law, Emperor Henry IV (1050–1106), and was elected as anti-king in 1077 at the onset of the Investiture Controversy, which had begun as a conflict between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII (1015–1085) an ended in 1122. This would fit one solution for the date given in the text, which would yield 24 June 1080.

This solution also fits the mentioning of Alemania ‘Germany’. This would then mean that the place were Rudolf and the Frisians meet, Bordeus, is not to be interpreted as Bordeaux in France, but as Bardowick in Saxony (between Hamburg and Lüneburg), which used to be called Bordeus vicus. If Bordeus indeed refers to Bardowick, then it must also be assumed that, for whatever reason, the element vicus was dropped in the Old Frisian text.170

The other candidate is king Rudolf I of Germany (1218–1291). The whole text does indeed point to a later date: it has all the characteristics of a younger text. Also, the text contains an attestation of the concept of ‘the Frisian Freedom’ (text XVI,1), which is another argument for a later date.171

As for the date, the text is dated to the 13th century. This is then almost two centuries after the meeting of Rudolf of Swabia with the Frisians would have taken place, if this ever happened at all. It has even been suggested that both Rudolf and Bordeus are perhaps better viewed as fictional names, created in order to deliver the message that was intended by the text.172 Even though this argument seems to fit the character of the text, it must be said that the Frisians have sought to have their freedom and privileged status confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor throughout their history (see earlier and see below, text XXI).

8.17 Text XVII. Market Law

This text regulates the competence of the skelta concerning a market with respect to the normal situation of the land law. A market was an event that usually took place once a year and often during special holidays. For that reason it is specifically mentioned that these holidays should not be an impediment for the skelta to hold court. The text is dated to the 13th century173

8.18 Text XVIII. Unmendable Crimes

This text enumerates five crimes for which only the Pope can grant absolution; so-called casus papales. In Old Frisian the term swarta swengen is used, which is odd: the term literally means ‘black pourings’ and occurs in the compensation tariffs (see text XIV). It concerned an insulting act, in which the perpetrator poured unclean liquid (urine, but also beer) over the victim with the aim of insulting him. The text must have originated in a clerical environment and is thought to date from the 14th century. The text is always accompanied by the following text.

8.19 Text XIX. On Forceful Robberies

In every Old Frisian manuscript in which this text occurs, it is accompanied by the previous text. It is then also dated to the 14th century. The three extant versions (Unia, Jus174 and Freeska Landriucht) all have the first seven paragraphs in common. The first three paragraphs deal with instances of robbery. The last four however describe instances where a person should enjoy peace, for instance when he visits the secular and synodical courts. Jus and Freeska Landriucht then each have a separate eighth paragraph. These thus must have been added later.175

8.20 Text XX. The Statutes of Opstalsbam

The Opstalsbam was a court assembly located near Aurich in East Frisia. The first attestations of a League of the Opstalsbam stem from the early 13th century (c. 1220). The league was an alliance of all Frisian lands. Representatives from the various Frisian regions convened once a year at the Opstalsbam to hold an assembly where international legal and political matters were discussed. Also, its members would assist each other if they were threatened by foreign attacks. In what era this League first originated is unknown.176

Because of its location, it is thought that the League of the Opstalsbam was created in East Frisia, and that Central Frisia joined later. The Statutes of Opstalsbam, however, were drawn up in Central Frisia on 18 September 1323. This was a time when the Frisians from this region were more and more threatened by the claims the Count of Holland made to this part of Frisia. The text then is interpreted as an attempt to revive the old League of the Opstalsbam which had slowly gone into hibernation.

The Statutes of Opstalsbam is generally acknowledged as the first Old Frisian law text in which a demonstrable influence of Canon law can be observed.177 Furthermore, there is talk of Frisian sealands: an ideological way to refer to the Frisian lands. In one of the myths of origin of the Frisians, the Frisian lands were founded by one of three brothers, Friso, Saxo and Bruno, who travelled from India to these regions. Friso begot seven sons to each of whom he gave one of the seven Frisian sealands.

A few other peculiarities of the text are first that there are two Old Frisian versions, a short one consisting of 24 paragraphs (this version can be found in Freeska Landriucht) and long one consisting of 36 paragraphs, as well as a Latin version, also consisting of 24 paragraphs. According to Henk Meijering the Latin version was the original text. The Frisian short versions were translations of this original Latin version. The longer versions, both the Latin and the Frisian are seen as secondary developments.

Finally, a striking detail of the text is that paragraphs 22 and 23 are left blank in the version encountered in Freeska Landriucht (i.e. the short Frisian version). Paragraph 22 was designed to determine which mendicant order was allowed to ask for alms in the various lands.178 Paragraph 23 deals with currency: the long version describes which currency was allowed in the Frisian lands and gives the conversion tables for the various coins.179 It is thought that the short versions have retained the original reading of the text. According to this view, each land would fill in these paragraphs according to their specific situation.

8.21 Text XXI. A Treatise on the Seven Sealands

The final text of the compilation is a short description of the free Frisian lands, symbolically designated as ‘seven sealands’. The description starts in the west, with Westfriesland and ends at the Weser area in Germany. Surprisingly enough, it also mentions the regions to the south of the Frisian lands in the Netherlands, Drenthe and part of Overijssel, which traditionally were Saxon territories. Apparently, they were seen as potentially becoming part of the political union of the Free Frisian lands.

Because the text describes the political situation of the time, this redaction can be dated rather precisely around 1417. It is thought, however, that it made use of an already existing text on the topic. The hypothesis is that the treatise formed a part of the file of manuscripts that were used during the negotiations the Frisians had with Emperor Sigismund in 1416–1417, which eventually led to the famous privilege Sigismund granted the Frisians.180 This sealed charter acknowledged and confirmed the ancient freedom of the Frisians.181 The Frisians had first started petitioning for obtaining such a charter from the Roman Emperor in the 13th century.182

9 Principles Underlying the Edition and Translation

In order to make Freeska Landriucht as accessible as possible to a wider audience, I have chosen for a critical edition of the text. This means I have added punctuation and created complete sentences which start with capitals. I have also added text numbers and paragraph numbers. These make it possible to compare the texts with the other surviving text versions. Numerals have been written as words if the Old Frisian text does so and given as Arabic numerals if the Old Frisian text renders them as Roman numerals. These Roman numerals have always been rendered in capitals in the edition. The page numbers of the original are given in the left margin.

The spelling of the Old Frisian is made as transparent as possible and has been as much as possible conformed to the standard spelling used in the most recent dictionary of Old Frisian, the Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch.183 This mainly effected the spellings of ⟨i⟩ and ⟨j⟩ on the one hand and of ⟨u⟩, ⟨v⟩ and ⟨w⟩ on the other. A few examples: ⟨houe⟩ is rendered as hove, ⟨wrherich⟩ as urherich in the edition.

This choice also effected compounds, which were written together according to the Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch. Conversely, certain words that were written together in the source text were separated, for instance ⟨schilma⟩ became schil ma ‘shall one’. But because we are dealing with a word pair that was highly frequent, we encounter a contracted form ⟨schima⟩ twice. These were left as they were. The same applies to a contracted form ⟨endma⟩ < ende ma ‘and one’. Another contraction is ⟨schilmet⟩ which should be read as schil ma hit which I decided to render as schil met.

For this edition, the copy Fries Genootschap (FG) was chosen as the source text.184 Only the printed text of this copy is rendered, not the marginal handwritten notes made by the medieval owner, Hemma Oddazin.185 Since the nine surviving copies of Freeska Landriucht show some variation, as we described earlier, the following approach for the main text, i.e. the Old Frisian text, was chosen. If the text in FG is corrupt and one of the other copies has a correct reading, this correct form is given in the footnote to the emendation with a reference to the copy which has this correct reading.186


In the spring of 2014, Chris Lutgendorff made the preliminary edition and preliminary translation of three texts (IV, XIII and XXI) as part of a traineeship he did at the Fryske Akademy. Second, a big thank you to Jorieke Savelkouls, who checked the English of the translation on several occasions. Third, I would like to thank the Pastei research group (Wytze Fopma, Riemer Janssen, Anne Popkema and Herre de Vries) for their feedback on this introduction, which especially involved the history of Freeska Landriucht as a book project and the provenance of the extant copies. Finally, I would like to thank my co-editors Jan Hallebeek and Hylkje de Jong. Without their expertise in the field of legal history and especially on Canon and Roman law, this edition would never have come about.


Seebold, ‘Die Friesen’; Schrijver, ‘Frisian between the Roman and Early-Medieval Periods’.


Hines and IJssennagger-van der Pluijm (eds.), Frisians of the Early Middle Ages.


Lebecq, Marchands et navigateurs frisons; Nicolay, The Splendour of Power.


Siems, Studien zur Lex Frisionum; Nijdam, ‘The Body Legal in Frisian Law’.


De Langen and Mol, ‘Vikingen en de Kerk in de Friese landen’, De Langen and Mol, ‘Koning Redbad’.


Henstra, Friese graafschappen, 20–22.


IJssennagger, ‘Between Frankish and Viking’.


De Langen and Mol, ‘Church Foundation and Parish Formation’.


Henstra, Friese graafschappen.


Vries, ‘Frisonica libertas’.


Mol, ‘Hoofdelingen en huurlingen’.


Nijdam, ‘Indigenous Or Universal?’; Schwartz, ‘Comparative Legal Reconstruction’.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht; Nijdam, ‘Belichaamde eer, wraak en vete’; Nijdam, ‘Compensating Body and Honor’; Nijdam, ‘Indigenous Or Universal?’.


Boehm, ‘The Natural History of Blood Revenge’.


Miller, Eye for an Eye; Oliver, The Body Legal.


Nijdam, ‘A Comparison’; Henstra, The Evolution of the Money Standard, 289–290.


Nijdam, ‘Law and Political Organisation’, 143. Siems, Studien zur Lex Frisionum.


Bremmer, Hir is eskriven; Bremmer, ‘The Orality of Old Frisian Law Texts’.


Dirk Jan Henstra suggests The Seventeen Statutes might have been written down with the assistance of the monastery of Reepsholt: see Henstra, Fon Jelde, 109. For the monastery of Staveren: see Mol and Van Vliet, ‘De oudste oorkonden’.


De Langen and Mol, ‘Church Foundation and Parish Formation’.


Bremmer, Hir is eskriven, 30.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’; Bremmer, Hir is eskriven: 11–17.


Langbroek, ‘So viel geschrieben, so wenig geblieben’.


Langbroek, ‘Condensa atque Tenebrosa’.


Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig Landrechten, 252–255; Bremmer, ‘Het boek is af’, 80, arguing in favour of a dating after 1200, points to a last mention of Mimigerdaford in a charter from 1202.


Henstra, Fon Jelde, 99–126.


Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig landrechten, 210–213.


Buma and Ebel (eds.), Das Fivelgoer Recht, 170–171. See text XII,1 in the edition below for a detailed description of the distribution of the kin’s share of the wergild.


Henstra, The Evolution of the Money Standard, 299–302; 304–313.


Bremmer, Hir is eskriven, 81–86.


Popkema, ‘Old Frisian’; Reinders, ‘Die Sprache’. The only exception might be the Latin part of the The Synodical Law of Central Frisia, which is only present in Freeska Landriucht, but which needs further analysis. See Van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese Vrijheid, 153; Nijdam, ‘Het Westerlauwers Seendrecht’, 316.


Bremmer, ‘The Orality of Old Frisian Law Texts’; Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht; Nijdam, ‘A Comparison’; Nijdam, ‘The Body Legal’.


For a more detailed overview: see Johnston, ‘The Old Frisian Law Manuscripts’.


Buma, Ebel and Tragter-Schubert (eds.), Westerlauwerssches Recht I.


Nijdam. Lichaam, eer en recht, 486.


Sytsema, ‘Codex Unia: Edition and Reconstruction’.


Siebs, Westfriesische Studien.


The function of state historian or ‘landshistorieschrijver’ was created in 1590 by the States of Friesland. Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 308; Eekhoff, ‘Lijst’.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 323–324.


Versloot, Mechanisms of Language Change, 70–75. More recently, Versloot has expressed the uncertainty that exists for reconstructing Old Frisian back to the 11th century. In other words, by absence of actual written sources it is hard to reconstuct how Old Frisian exactly looked like in the 11th century. Personal communication Arjen Versloot (Amsterdam University).


For a description of the contents of these texts, see section 8 of this introduction.


For an overview of Frisian law texts: Gerbenzon, Apparaat voor de studie van Oudfries recht. For the dynamics of the 13th century: Bremmer, Hir is eskriven, 91–118.


Gerbenzon, Excerpta Legum; Gerbenzon, ‘Aantekeningen over de Jurisprudentia Frisica’.


On the Corpus iuris civilis and the Liber Extra see below, ‘Preface to the Edition and Translation of the Gloss’.


Buma, Gerbenzon and Tragter-Schubert (eds.), Codex Aysma.


Noomen, ‘Consolidatie van familiebezit’.


Henstra, The Evolution of the Money Standard, 265–266.


Algra, Oudfries Recht, 353–355.


De Langen en Mol, ‘The Distribution and Subdivision of Farmland’, 6.


The pondemaat was a unity of acreage. Measured with the ‘royal rod’ it amounted to .375 hectare and was thus roughly comparable to the English acre (.405 hectare).


Noomen, De stinzen in middeleeuws Friesland.


Agra, Ein, 74 vv.


Vries, ‘Also dat wy habbet ferdban kloppet’.


Henstra, Friese graafschappen, 84–92.


Boutkan and Siebinga, Old Frisian Etymological Dictionary, s.v. frana.


De Langen and Mol, ‘Church Foundation and Parish Formation’, 17.


Hallebeek, Layci erant coiudices, 16.


De Langen and Mol, ‘Church Foundation and Parish Formation’, 51.


Green, Language and History, 35–39; Iversen, ‘Concilium and Pagus’.


Vogt and Nijdam, ‘Translating a Medieval Legal System’, 38–53; Green, Language and History, 36.


Green, Language and History, 35.


I will only indicate vowel lengths in Old Frisian words in this introduction the first time the term is mentioned.


Alrga, ‘Rechtshistorische aspecten’, 121–125.


Mol, De Friese volkslegers.


Lambert and Rollason (eds.), Peace and Protection.


Boutkan and Siebinga, Old Frisian Etymological Dictionary, s.v. Bon1. Note that Modern English has only retained the negative aspect of these semantics: to ban means ‘to forbid’.


Algra, ‘Rechtshistorische aspecten’, 103, 107; Erler and Neidert, ‘Schultheiß, Schulze’.


Noomen, De stinzen in middeleeuws Friesland, 84.


Algra, Oudfries Recht, 99–100; Gerbenzon, ‘Der altfriesische asega’.


On this, also see the individual introduction to tekst IX, The Eight Provisions, in paragraph 5 below.


Gerbenzon, ‘Der altfriesische asega’, 88–90.


Lex Frisionum, Additio Sapientum Tit. III,59: Eckhardt and Eckhardt (eds.), Lex Frisionum, 94.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 166; Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, 26–34.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 71; 124; Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, 93–101, 206.


On oaths in Old Frisian: Popkema, ‘Die altfriesischen Eidesbezeichnungen’. On oath rings: Beck, ‘Eidring’.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 179.


A custom known in large parts of medieval Europe (German Wüstung, French arsin et abattis de maison).


Buma, Het Godsoordeel; Neumann, Der gerichtliche Zweikampf.


Algra, ‘Rechtshistorische aspecten’, 165–166.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 172–173.


Boutkan and Siebinga, Old Frisian Etymological Dictionary, s.v. beta, bote; Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 60–62.


Miller, Eye for an Eye.


Nijdam, Lichaam, eer en recht, 166–167.


Algra, Ein, 76–79; Vries, ‘Nijaer is sijd ende pliga’.


Popkema, ‘Aspekten fan it Freeska Landriucht’, 173.


Schouten, ‘Hypothese op hypothese stapelen’.


Kruitwagen, ‘De Freeska Landriucht-drukkerij’; Van Thienen, ‘A Date for the Freeska Landriucht Press’, 141–142; Schouten, ‘Hypothese op hypothese stapelen’, 168.


Van Thienen, ‘A Date for the Freeska Landriucht Press’.


Popkema, ‘Aspekten fan it Freeska Landriucht’.


Nijdam and Versloot, ‘Kodeks Siccama’, 141–144.


See also: Hallebeek, ‘The Gloss to the Saunteen Kesta’.


Buma and Ebel, Westerlauwerssches Recht I, 136 (J VI,2).


Personal communication Arjen Versloot (Amsterdam University).


Gerbenzon, ‘Aantekeningen over de Jurisprudentia Frisica’.


Gerbenzon, Excerpta Legum, 42–43; Meijering and Nijdam, Wat is recht?, 28–29; 589; Sytsema, De 17 Keuren en de 24 Landrechten.


Tresoar Leeuwarden, 9056 Hs B.


Tresoar Leeuwarden, 9056 Hs B, fol. 49v–50r.


Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden, Recesboek F4, fol. 361v; on this source see:


Bolhuis van Zeeburgh, Kritiek der Friesche geschiedschrijving; Noomen, ‘Suffridus Petrus’.


Cornelius, Croniicke ende waarachtige Beschrijvinge, fol 21v (2nd edition 74/75).


Nijdam and Versloot, ‘Kodeks Siccama’.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 321–322.


Henstra, Fon Jelde, 253–273.


See ‘Preface to the Edition and Translation of the Gloss’.


De Vries, ‘Midsiuwske Fryske rjochtshânskriften’.


Een en dertigste verslag der handelingen, 30.


It is unclear what maria amor means. At the moment, this entry is difficult to read. It should be reexamined.


Personal communication Anne Tjerk Popkema and Herre de Vries, who inspected this copy in 2018.


Pollard et al., Catalogue of books, 110.


Gerbenzon, Codex Parisiensis, 1–26; Gerbenzon, ‘Canon and Roman Law’; Popkema, ‘On the Provenance’.


Meijering and Nijdam, Wat is recht?, 35–36, passim.


Gerbenzon, ‘Canon and Roman Law’.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 324.


It can be consulted online here:


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 313.


Gerbenzon, Excerpta Legum, 21–24; Buma, Gerbenzon and Tragter-Schubert (eds.), Codex Aysma.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 313.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’. Much remains unclear about the Gabbema collection and its fate: it has recently become apparent that part of it was transferred to his successor in office and after that followed a different route, also to end up eventually with Schwartzenberg. See: Popkema, ‘On the Provenance’, (Fs).


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 313. This text, also handwritten by Eekhoff, can also be found in Leeuwarden, Tresoar Hs 1327.


Dekker, The Origins of Old Germanic Studies, 115–122.


Dekker, ‘The Old Frisian Studies’, 118.


Hunt et al., A Summary Catalogue, 992, 999.


De Vries, ‘Misprintinge leit skiednis bleat’; Popkema, ‘The Freeska Landriucht (1074R)’.


Popkema, ‘The Freeska Landriucht (1074R)’.


Nijdam and Savelkouls, ‘The Manuscript Collection’, 319–320.


Schwartzenberg, Groot Placcaat en Charterboek II (1773), lxix; Popkema, ‘On the Provenance’, (Fs).


It can be consulted online here:


Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (Statuta Traiectensia (Utrecht): Provincialia et synodalia):


Janssen, ‘ “Freeska Landriucht” ’.


Janssen, ‘ “Freeska Landriucht” ’.


Johnston, ‘Old Frisian Law and the Frisian Freedom Ideology’, 194–195. On the Frisians and their relationship with Saint Mary see: Van Lengen, ‘Karl der Große, Jungfrau Maria und andere Heilsbringer’.


Stein, ‘Seventeen’; Bremmer, ‘More than Language’, 105–109.


Gerbenzon, ‘Bijdrage tot het bronnenonderzoek’, 18. This is also suggested by Jan Hallebeek (personal communication).


See: Steller, Das altwestfriesische Schulzenrecht; Fairbanks, The Old West Frisian Skeltana Riucht; Algra, ‘De datearring fan it Skeltarjocht’.


Von Richthofen, Friesische Rechtsquellen, 387–400.


Von Wicht, Das Ostfriesische Land-Recht, Vorbericht, 97.


Breuker (ed.), Landrecht der Vriesne.


Buma and Ebel, Westerlauwerssches Recht I, 126–131 (J IV); An edition of all three redactions can be found in: Steller, Abriß der altfriesischen Grammatik, 121–125.


Nijdam and Knottnerus, ‘Redbad, the Once and Future King’.


Bremmer, Hir is eskriven, 125–126.


Noomen, ‘Hachens en Wachens’.


Birkhan, ‘Eine altfriesische Tradition’.


Salomon, Friesische Geschichtsbilder, 78–121.


See a.o.: Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig landrechten; Algra, ‘The Relation between Frisia and the Empire’; Hallebeek, ‘The Gloss to the Saunteen Kesta’; Henstra, ‘De eerste optekening’; Schmidt, ‘Friesische Freiheitsüberlieferungen’; Hoekstra, Die gemeinfriesischen Siebzehn Küren; Vries, Asega is het Dingtijd?, 51–53.


Munske, Der Germanische Rechtswortschatz, 202–205; Algra, ‘The Relation between Frisia and the Empire’.


Algra, ‘The Relation between Frisia and the Empire’, 7–14.


Murdoch, ‘Authority and Authenticity’.


Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig Landrechten, 349–371.


Bremmer, ‘More than Language’, 107–108.


Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig Landrechten, 349–350.


Green, Language and History, 44–49.


Vries, Asega, is het dingtijd?, 65.


Algra, Zeventien Keuren en Vierentwintig Landrechten, 273–278.


Van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese Vrijheid.


Hallebeek, Layci erant coiudices, 8–9.


Van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese Vrijheid, 154, 168–182.


Nijdam, ‘Het Westerlauwers Seendrecht’.


Van Buijtenen, De grondslag van de Friese Vrijheid, 153.


IX,25–28 / U 26–30.


Old Skelta Law: text III,14; Synodical Law: text XII,43.


Algra, ‘Een datering van het “jong” Schoutenrecht’, 90.


See text II.


Algra, ‘Een datering van het “jong” Schoutenrecht’, 64.


Algra, ‘Een datering van het “jong” Schoutenrecht’, 78.


Algra, ‘Rechtshistorische aspecten’, 160.


Nijdam, ‘Old West Frisian bī thā sida’, 20–21.


Buma and Ebel, Westerlauwerssches Recht I, 424–429.


Henstra, The Evolution of the Money Standard, 337–349. Henstra, Fon Jelde, 253–274.


Henstra, Fon Jelde, 270.


Bos-van der Heide, Het Rudolfsboek, 17–19.


Vries, ‘Frisonica libertas’, 7.


Bremmer, ‘More than Language’, 123–124.


Van Buijtenen, Frieslands middeleeuwse marktrechten.


Buma and Ebel, Westerlauwerssches Recht I, 246–250.


Meijering and Nijdam, Wat is recht?, 402.


Meijering, De Willekeuren van de Opstalsboom, 288–297.


Meijering, De Willekeuren van de Opstalsboom, 279–280.


Meijering, De Willekeuren van de Opstalsboom, 57; 150–152.


Meijering, De Willekeuren van de Opstalsboom, 59; 152–162.


Vries, ‘Frisonica libertas’, 4.


Vries, Asega, is het dingtijd?, 71–72. Edition and Dutch plus Frisian translation of this text according to the Freeska Landriucht version: Vries, Asega, is het dingtijd?, 496–499.


Meijering, ‘De zeven zeelanden’.


Hofmann and Popkema, Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch.


Leeuwarden, Tresoar Fries Genootschap A III 31 / B 38831 kluis.


Henstra, Fon Jelde, 253–273, also see earlier.


For the principles underlying the transcription of the glosses and emendations of this transcription see below, ‘Preface to the Edition and Translation of the Gloss’.

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