The ‘Saxon Mirror’ was one of the most important books of medieval law, but literature on it in other Western European languages than German, remains scarce. This article therefore wants to present the Saxon Mirror to French readers by studying its author Eike von Repgow and its content, characteristics and influence. The author also puts forward his own hypotheses concerning the Saxon Mirror. The Saxon Mirror has to be studied together with other texts which used the same material, more in particular the Auctor vetus de beneficiis, and the law book of Görlitz. Making a comparison with texts of feudal law elsewhere, it becomes clear that the Saxon Mirror was based on notes taken by practitioners, which could be compilated in different ways. The differences between the longer and the shorter versions of the Saxon Mirror may be explained by the groups behind them. Specialists of feudal law were responsible for the shorter version, whereas the longer version was the work of aldermen. In this context, it is not unlikely that Eike von Repgow may have been a pleader in feudal courts rather than an alderman.
Although Raoul van Caenegem claimed otherwise, he had very strong views on what legal history should be. In his opinion, legal history belonged to the disciplinary field of history, not to law. The legal historian should not only chronicle past evolutions of the law, but also explain them. To this purpose, van Caenegem himself turned to sociology, trying to work with types and models in order to generalise. Van Caenegem rejected the idea of a Volksgeist and advocated to look at the European context in a comparative legal history. Nevertheless, his ‘Europe’ was limited to the founding members of the European Union, joined by England. He constructed legal history as a history of power and preferred to study groups of law makers instead of individuals. In his legal history, the European ‘Second Middle Ages’, from 1100 until 1750, stand out as the cradle of the modern rule of law, with a special role for the cities of medieval Flanders. Although well-known for a leading handbook promoting the idea of the ius commune, the common law of Europe, van Caenegem actually deemed custom to have been the primary source of law in medieval Europe, whereas the role of the ius commune had been, in his opinion, overestimated. As he showed many times during his distinguished career, van Caenegem wanted legal historians to take part in current debates. In the end, his main lesson from legal history was a plea for moderation, as taking a sound idea to its extreme leads to absurd or unintended consequences.
This article deals with the life and work of the Belgian legal historian R.C. van Caenegem. It shows how van Caenegem’s work was influenced by his teachers, first of all François-Louis Ganshof, but also many others like Theodore Plucknett. Van Caenegem’s research was very diverse and addressed different groups of readers, so that most of them only know a fragment of his work. Van Caenegem learned from Ganshof’s mistakes. Unlike his master, van Caenegem took an interest in sociology and he did not hesitate to publish the grand overviews of history which Ganshof had stopped writing in the second half of his career. Many of van Caenegem’s books on English, medieval and legal history were a product of his teaching. Whereas the books for the students in Ghent, where van Caenegem was burdened by a heavy teaching load, presented a complete survey, the books for select groups of foreign students cherry-picked from legal history and took part in discussions on larger debates. Van Caenegem’s many articles offer a better insight into his personal evolution from a scholar who started out as a jurist, but very soon lost interest in dogmatic legal history and preferred to investigate the lawmakers instead of the law itself. As a historian, van Caenegem put the middle ages first, because in his opinion the middle ages laid the foundations for the modern rule of law. However, these ‘modern’ middle ages only started in the twelfth century. Although he claimed that the future of legal historical research lays in teamwork, van Caenegem himself remained an indvidualistic scholar.
Studies in the History of Private Law is a peer-reviewed book series on the history of private law in the broadest sense. It focuses on the history of the two major families of private law in the world, European and Anglo-American private law. The history of civil procedure is expressly included in the series. There is no restriction in terms of chronology or geography as long as the particular object studied finds its origin in these two families. The approach is preferably comparative in nature, both vertically and horizontally, although studies that approach the subject matter from a different perspective are not automatically excluded. The aim of the series is to study the historical development of particular areas and topics of private law and to explain existing differences and similarities between and within the two major families from a historical perspective. An additional aim is to contribute to a mutual understanding of different approaches to similar problems within the various legal systems. The series also studies the growing need for a
ius commune in today’s globalising world and provides the necessary historical information for those working in the field of harmonisation projects. The series not only incorporates dogmatical studies, but also offers a forum for interdisciplinary studies that do not only concentrate on private law and legal history but which, nevertheless, have private law and legal history as their main theme. In addition, it welcomes studies that study private law in relationship to other fields of law, for example constitutional law.