The legal foundations of post-mortem examinations in early modern Flanders. Princely legislation, custom, doctrine and judicial practice

in Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'Histoire du Droit / The Legal History Review
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Because of its manifold references to the consultation of medical experts in homicide and infanticide cases, the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1532) is often regarded as an important milestone in the development of early modern forensic medicine. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the County of Flanders, a principality within the Habsburg Netherlands, witnessed a similar upsurge in the production of normative and doctrinal texts aiming to regulate forensic activities. Drawing on princely legislation, local customary law and the writings of the jurists Filips Wielant and Joos de Damhouder, this contribution will compare the corpus of Flemish legal texts with its practical application by the myriad of law courts operating within the county. As the princely legislation only laid out a general framework, the regulation of the forensic post-mortem was essentially an issue of local governance. The local nature of forensic practices should however not be overestimated. Evidence from preserved post-mortem reports demonstrates that there were more similarities between towns and regions within the county than actual differences.