The Ames Foundation

The Ames Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of the first volume since 1938 in its regular series, which is under the literary directorship of Professor Charles Donahue, Jr., of the Harvard Law School:

edited, translated, and introduced by
Mary Elizabeth Basile,
of the Massachusetts Bar,
Jane Fair Bestor,
Research Associate, Brandeis University,
Daniel R. Coquillette,
J. Donald Monan University Professor, Boston College,
and Charles Donahue, Jr.,
Paul A. Freund Professor Law, Harvard University

Lex mercatoria, the short treatise edited and studied here, is the earliest known treatment of what a later age would call “the law merchant.” It was written in England in the late thirteenth century and exists in only one known copy, which is found in sections of the Little Red Book of Bristol that date from the mid-fourteenth century. The treatise was first published in 1900 in a limited edition that has long been out of print. A translation published without the Latin text in 1962 failed to gain scholarly approval. Because the work provides important insights into the legal framework of English commerce in the reign of Edward I, the editors of this volume have re-edited and retranslated the text, showing that although the fourteenth-century copy is quite corrupt, the sense of the treatise is largely recoverable.

Three of the editors, two legal historians and an historical anthropologist, collaborated in writing the introduction. It argues that Lex mercatoria is not simply a work of exposition. Rather, within the form of an ordo iudiciarius, the anonymous author wrote not only an instructional manual on how to conduct a mercantile court but also made a series of recommendations for improving the process in such courts. The work is informed by a sophisticated and cogently argued view of an ideal relationship between mercantile law and common law. This fact leads the editors to consider anew the vexed question of the relationship between the two, not only as it may have been conceived in the thirteenth century, but also as it was conceived in the seventeenth century and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all periods in which the relationship was a matter of controversy. The position of mercantile law over time is shown to be integrally linked to the transformation of the common law into the national law of England, a change in which events in the first third of the seventeenth century played a key role. The introduction concludes with a consideration of the historical evidence in relation to anthropological work on legal pluralism.

Overall the volume contains 374 pages: 212 pages of introduction, 86 pages of text and translation (including an edition of a very brief treatise On the laws of merchants from a manuscript statute book), and 76 pages of “back matter.” It is bound in maroon cloth and contains four plates, two illustrating the manuscript and two showing drawings of markets (from somewhat later dates).

The Ames Foundation has once again agreed that members of the Selden Society may purchase copies at a special concessional rate: US$50. The price to non-members is US$60. All prices include the cost of surface dispatch, if payment in U.S. dollars is sent with the order. For an order form click on Ordering Information.


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This page last updated 07/30/1999. Contact Rosemary Spang with comments.
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