Transnational Normativity in an Age of Estrangement. Loans and Credit in Consilia and Decisiones in the Northern and Southern Low Countries (ca. 1500-1680).
In the early modern period, the Low Countries performed a key role in trade and commerce on the European continent. In their ‘Golden Ages’, Antwerp and Amsterdam attracted merchants from all over Europe, and even beyond. The development of commerce and finance within this transregional reality raised new normative questions on how to deal with novel financial techniques. At the same time, public, private and ecclesiastical debtors were in a constant need of credit too, not least because of the devastating wars, which led to religious and institutional divisions in Europe as a whole, and the Low Countries in particular.
Consultations by learned lawyers to litigants or judges in specific cases (consilia) and private collections and reports of decisions by the higher courts of the Low Countries (decisiones) offer important insights on how the learned law (ius commune) on different aspects of loans and credit was applied in practice, and how references to Roman and canon law fitted within the wider transregional and multilayered normative framework. The published volumes of consilia and decisiones, which have largely been neglected by earlier legal historical scholarship, constitute the core sources of this dissertation.
The dissertation contains six main chapters. The first chapter focuses on the origins and the literary genre of the consilia and decisiones, and presents all forty-four published volumes of those Netherlandish sources of ‘learned legal practice’. In the following chapters, the substantive (legal and moral theological) normative framework on several financial techniques is analyzed: simple money lending and the taking of interest (chapter 2), the sale of annuities (chapter 3), the transfer of bonds and bills of exchange (chapter 4) and partnerships and representation in financial affairs (chapter 5). The sixth and final chapter discusses the consequences of monetary fluctuations on credit relationships. In each chapter, the law of evidence plays a central role.
Four recurring themes serve as connecting threads between the different chapters. First, this dissertation investigates the extent to which the legal debates as they were reflected in the published volumes of consilia and decisiones, were based on a multilayered and transregional normativity. Legal arguments were drawn from a whole range of normative sources of different kinds and origins. Secondly, special attention is paid in every chapter to the impact of the Church, the Bible, and particularly the moral theological debates regarding the prohibition against usury and justice in exchange on the studied consilia and decisiones, both in the Southern and the Northern Low Countries. Thirdly, this dissertation concludes that the political and religious upheaval did not lead to a revolution of the normative framework on loans and credit. Authors on both sides of the institutional border continued to read and quote their common forefathers and their contemporary neighbours. Some evolutions were certainly specific to either the Dutch Republic or the Spanish Netherlands, but important differences also existed at a provincial level. Finally, this project clarifies the function and nature of – as well as the methods of argumentation used in – the published sources of Netherlandish ‘learned legal practice’.