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There is a tradition that Eleanor, Duchess of Acquitaine, one of the most remarkable personages of her sex, as far as energy of character is concerned, on the occasion of her visit to the Holy Land with her first husband, King Louis VII of France, who was one of the leaders of that disastrous expedition, known as the Second Crusade (A.D. 1147), was much struck by the circumstance, that she met with Customs of the Sea embodied in writing and accepted in the East as Maritime Laws. It is not improbable that certain Maritime Customs had at that time been reduced into writing for the use of the merchants and mariners of Western Europe, who had obtained the privileges of what has been termed Consular Government in the Syrian ports, subsequent to the first Crusade (A.D. 1099). This circumstance is stated by Cleirac in the introduction of his work on the “ Usages and Customs of the Sea,''* to have suggested to Queen Eleanor on her return to Acquitaine, the project of reducing into writing the Customs of the merchants and mariners of the Atlantic seaports, and these Customs were subsequently embodied under her direction in a Collection of Sea Laws, to which the title of “ Judgments of the Sea" has been attached, although in some cases they are styled by the earlier title of “Customs of the Sea." A Custom, in the legal sense of the Gallican term “Coutume," ought not to be confounded with a mere usage. An usage as such was not necessarily binding in Law, but it became binding after it had been recognised by a Judgment, and it thereby acquired the distinctive title of a Custom. Hence the saying of the mediæval jurists, “ Lex," by which was meant the traditional text of the Roman Law, " est sanctio sancta, bona autem consuetudo est sanctio sanctior, et ubi consuetudo loquitur, lex omnis tacet.” Hence our own Bracton says, “Cum autem fere in omnibus regionibus utantur legibus et jure scripto, sola Anglia usa est in suis finibus jure non scripto et consuetudine.”+ A Custom however • Us et Coustumes de la Mer. Bourdeaux, 1647. 4to. + Lib. i., ch. 1., scc, 2.
was for the most part allowed to remain unwritten, and when it had to be enforced as Law, proof of it had to be given by the testimony of skilled experts, and this unwritten condition of Law was, for a long time, preferred by an unlearned laity, jealous of their liberties, who feared to subject themselves to written laws, the record of which might be at any time falsified by a skilful clerk. Hence the reluctance of the great Barons under the Feudal system to acknowledge any written record of the Law, which they had to obey, and thus we find that the testimony of skilled experts was called in to vouch the Law in the early part of the reign of William the Conqueror in the two great causes, of which a record has been preserved to us by the Annalists of his reign. In the earlier of these two causes, which is known by the name of the Plea of Pinenden in Kent, it is recorded that Aegelric, the aged Bishop of Chichester, was brought into Court by command of the King to inform them as to the Law. He is described by the annalist as “Vir antiquissimus et legum terræ sapientissimus, qui, ex præcepto Regis, advectus fuit ad ipsas antiquas legum consuetudines discutiendas et edocendas."*
It is not easy to determine how or when the practice, which had been instituted in the reign of Theodoric the younger, of enrolling judicial acts fell into disuse, or how and when it was revived in Western Europe. But it would seem to have been resumed at Oleron before the time when the Judgments of the Sea were there compiled, as the full title, under which those judgments have been handed down to us in the earliest MSS., is “The Rolls of Oleron of the Judgments of the Sea.” Such is the title prefixed to those Sea Laws in the oldest extant MS. of them, which exists at the present time in the Archives of the Guildhall of the City of London, as well as in the oldest translation of them into the Flemish tongue, which is preserved in a MS. volume in the Archives of the Town Hall of the City of Bruges. Both · * Selden in his notes on Eadmer cites this passage from the Rochester MS. these MSS. are in a handwriting of the fourteenth century, the Guildhall MS. being rather the earlier of the two MSS. There is no extant record of the text of these Sea Laws, which is of an earlier date, for the Black Book of the Admi. ralty, in which they are inserted, is of a later handwriting.
There is little doubt that the Judgments of Oleron are the judgments of a tribunal exercising maritime jurisdiction according to the Custom of the Sea. It is a disputed point whether their name entitles us to regard them as the judg. ments of a Court established at Oleron, or as the judgments of various Maritime tribunals in the Duchy of Acquitaine, which were compiled at Oleron, where Queen Eleanor loved to reside, and which, from that circumstance, had the name of the island connected with them.
The main argument advanced against their being judgments of a Maritime Court at Oleron is that there is no historical record of the existence of any such Court of an importance adequate to commend its judgments to general acceptance ; but the recent discovery of a MS. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, written in a hand of the fourteenth century, and published for the first time in the second volume of the Appendix to the Black Book of the Admiralty,* has thrown new light on this subject. This MS. purports to contain " the good usages and the good Customs, and the good judgments of the Commune of Oleron,” and it discloses to us a tribunal administering the Laws of the Sea to passing mariners of every nationality, the Court in question being the Court of the Mayor of the Commune of Oleron, in which the Prudhommes Burghers were assessors. There has been published in the same
• The MS. is No. 227 in the Douce Collection at Oxford. It is a small quarto on vellum, written in a hand of the fourteenth century, and purports to have been compiled by Guillaume Guischos, clerk of the Commune of Oleron. A judgment given in chapter lxxxvii. on the subject of part owners of ships, discloses to us the fact, that Breton mariners had frequent recourse to the Court, which may account for the early reception of the Laws of Oleron in Brittany.
volume of the Appendix to the Black Book, also for the first time, a collection of the good customs of an English maritime borough in the reign of King John, entitled the Domesday of Ipswich, which is of a period nearly contemporaneous with the Coutumier of Oleron, and in this volume we find mention of a Court, which was held by the Bailiffs of the Borough of Ipswich from tide to tide, to determine pleas according to the Law Marine“ between strange mariners passing, and them that abide not but their tide.” On the other hand, the existence of Courts of the Sea in the Mediterranean at a still earlier period is proved by the Maritime Laws of King Amauri I. of Jerusalem, which have been preserved to us in the Assises of the Burghers' Court of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem; whilst on the shores of the Baltic, a Maritime Court, established at Dantzic under the auspices of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, was so famous in the latter part of the fourteenth century, under the Mastership of Conrad von Jungingen, for the wisdom and equity of its judgments, that masters and mariners of all nations had recourse to it. It is probable that we are indebted for the preservation of the best text of the greater portion of those Northern Sea Laws, which are known by the title of the Maritime Law of Wisby, to the circumstance that the Town Council of Dantzic procured from Wisby, in the middle of the fifteenth century, a copy of the Wisby text of “the Sea Laws," as being much clearer than the text in their own possession. A copy of the letter containing this request is preserved in the Archives of the Town Council of Dantzic, as well as a MS. of Sea Laws, which are identical with the two most important divisions of the Sea Laws printed for the first time at Copenhagen in 1505 by Godfrey of Gemen as the Gotland Sea Laws, and which collection of Sea Laws, in the course of the sixteenth century, became known in the ports of the North Sea as the Wisby Sea Laws. In fact, there can be no doubt that the Roman Empire at its
downfall bequeathed to Europe a common Maritime Law grounded on the Customs of the Sea, and that although that law was accommodated during the Middle Ages to the altered conditions of commercial life in different parts of Europe, and slight discrepancies are discoverable in the Customs of the Sea, which prevailed in the Mediterranean as distinguished from the Northern Seas of Europe, yet there was an universal practice to administer in every country a common Law Marine to passing mariners, and the jurisdiction of the Maritime Courts in civil matters was by custom international. Such we apprehend to have been the state of the Maritime Courts throughout mediæval Europe before the name and office of Admiral came into use, an office which had originally a judicial character only for purposes of war, but which gradually usurped to itself judicial functions in time of peace, and through which the Crown of England during the Edwardian period succeeded in reducing into a more systematic form the administration of the Common Law of the Sea to the merchants and mariners of various nationalities, who frequented the ports of the Realm.
The term Admiral, or Ammiral, as Milton spells the word in his “Paradise Lost," is no doubt derived from an Arabic source. There is no reason to believe that the term Admiral had become familiar to the nations of Europe before the Fourth Crusade (A.D. 1189), when the monkish chroniclers Latinised the Arabic title of Amir or Emir (Admiratus), which was equivalent to that of Commander, and applied it familiarly to the commanders of Arabic or Saracenic squadrons, with which the English fleets came into conflict. The termination "al” is simply a suffix. Thus Amiral-Moumenin, which signifies“ Commander of the Faithful,” was the title assumed by the Arabian Sovereigns of Africa, and it is easy to understand how readily such a title became corrupted by European sailors into “Amiral Moumenin.” The title, however, of Admiral does not appear to have