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A letter from William of Holland (1217)


Translated letter: 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the law, which is called kora(1), of the inhabitants of Middelburg, established by the oath of those persons whose names and seals are affixed below.
1.Wherever the inhabitants of Middelburg move themselves or their belongings, they will be under the protection and safe conduct of both counts and their justices, who nonetheless command stable peace to all, both foreigners and natives, coming to Middelburg.
2.Whoever in Middelburg strikes someone in order to maim or cut off the person’s limb, should be fined a fourth part of a homicide or more; he will pay doubly for that which occurred outside kora, and he will seek the count’s grace.
3.Whoever wounds a man within kora, will pay to the count 3 pounds, ½ to the town.
4.Moreover whoever scalps a man and strikes him with a club or a fist, or angered against him beats, throws, strikes, or seizes him, will pay to the count ½ pound, 5 shillings to the town.
5.Wherever two aldermen with any third burgess seek peace or peaceful cessation of hostilities, whoever denies them will pay to the count 3 pounds, ½ to the town, or even if anyone foolishly impedes the aforesaid peace, will pay to the count ½ pound, 5 shillings to the town.
6.Whoever in Middelburg pledges peace by oath and the very same person then breaks it, will pay to the count 2 pounds, to the town 1 pound, if he is convicted by three aldermen; if any of his kin breaks this peace, he will pay 1 pound to the count, to the town ½ if it is demonstrated by three aldermen that this deed was the cause of the aforesaid strife; moreover he will pay for every crime that he has committed there, as kora declares; and whoever first breaks kora there, will pay for the breach of peace if he is convicted by three aldermen.
7.Whoever verbally abuses aldermen seeking peace, and the aldermen divulge this there, he who is proven to have done this will pay 1 pound to each of them; further, if in that matter (i.e. incident) kora is broken against the aldermen or he wounds in that matter, whatever crime is inflicted on them, will be paid to them fourfold.
8.All residing in Middelburg should be held under one law, and any of these must seek the alderman’s justice for his fellow townsman.
9.If anyone will have wanted to have the alderman’s justice from his fellow townsman, he will make a request at the hall of justice; but if he, against whom this is done, is not present and is proved to be in Walcheren, he will be called to respond on the first legal day; if he comes and nonetheless adheres to the law, or even if he does not come, he will be banned nonetheless, and the ban will never be lifted, unless he carries out the alderman’s justice and his property is distributed according to the judgment of the aldermen. If a schout(2) or the aldermen refuse to do the law for one who is requesting, they will not stand in judgment unless the one requesting holds (or seeks) the jurisdiction of aldermen.
10.Whoever is banned from Middelburg by an alderman, if anyone in Walcheren is shown by three aldermen from Middelburg to have held that man, he will pay to the count 10 pounds, 1 to the town and he will pay that man’s (i.e. the banned man’s) debt.
11.Whoever among the inhabitants, having taken up arms with the intention of fighting goes out of the town, without common counsel and without safe conduct of the inhabitants, may not return to the town before he obtains the count’s favor, and he will pay 1 pound to the town if he is convicted by three aldermen.
12.Wherever in Middelburg a dispute or fight arises, whoever having taken up arms advances without common consent and counsel, will pay to the count ½ pound, 5 shillings to the town.
13.If any of the inhabitants of Middelburg, having taken up arms, seeks out and fights at the home where (another) resides, he will pay the aforesaid 10 pounds, 5 to the count, 1 to the town.
14.Whoever in Middelburg, having taken up arms, is sought out at another person’s home, the seeker will pay to the resident 5 pounds, and to the enemy 5, to the count 6; moreover whoever, having taken up arms, comes to the aid of the one seeking, will pay to the count 3 pounds, ½ to the town, and the damage which is done externally to the house will be restored twofold; damage which is done outside of the house will be restored individually as will be established by three aldermen.
15.Whoever lives outside Middelburg and has banned a burgess from Middelburg, to whatever debt may exist, in no way may the ban and the debt be increased unless in the hall of justice of Middelburg when the ban is declared by the bailiff and his aldermen; and then the justice of the town and the aldermen from the property of the banned will bring about the fine and emendation of payment.
16.Wherever a bailiff warns aldermen by their oath, under ordered ban, whoever then contradicts the said warnings, and the aldermen divulge this, he will pay 10 pounds to the aldermen, 3 pounds to the count, ½ to the town, if he is convicted by three aldermen.
17.Whoever under ordered ban verbally abuses an alderman, beyond a warning, if the alderman demonstrates this, and the other is convicted by three aldermen, he will pay to the alderman 3 pounds, to the count ½, to the town 5 shillings. By contrast, if an alderman under ordered ban abuses anyone with words and he will have shown this, if the alderman is convicted by three aldermen, he will pay 1 pound to the aforesaid, to the count ½, to the town 5 shillings.
18.Whoever under ordered ban breaks kora against an alderman through no fault of the alderman, if he is convicted by three aldermen, he will pay to the alderman 10 pounds, to the count 1, to the town ½. By contrast if the alderman under ordered ban infringes upon anyone through no fault of kora, if he is convicted by three aldermen, he will pay to the aforesaid 5 pounds, to the count 1, to the town ½.
19.If anyone from Middelburg verbally abuses his fellow townsman, if he is convicted, he will pay to him ½ pound, to the count ½, to the town 5 shillings.
20.If a fight erupts between an alderman and another person, whoever of these initiated the fight, if damage occurs to him (i.e. the other party), even if it occurred outside the jurisdiction of the hall of justice, it will be compensated.
21. If anyone kills an alderman, he will pay fourfold.
22.Whatever crime occurs at the hall of justice will be compensated fourfold according to each misdeed, thus as is written, between the alderman and the other.
23.It is unlawful to sell to anyone in Middelburg wine that has been corrupted by water or decomposition; if anyone presumes to sell it, according to what is established in ancient kora, he will compensate, that is he will pay to the count 2 pounds and to the town a single pound.
24.It is forbidden to the inhabitants to engage in mutual jousts/combat. It is forbidden even for those residing outside of Middelburg to enjoy jousts with those residing within.
25.For all in Middelburg, the same peace, which the count has established for them, of coming and going by land and sea, that is through Arna, will be protected; moreover every foreigner, whoever it may be, will have in Arna the same peace that he had in Middelburg.
26.Whenever inhabitants of Middelburg may have anything to do in Walcheren, they should be held in peace and under the safe conduct of the count.
27.If anyone from the land strikes or robs a townsperson outside of the town limits, he will be called to come on the third day to justice; if he comes, he will give the burgess surety; if not he will be banned and will be held in the ban before the count.
28.If any residing outside strikes a townsperson in a dispute, the townsman will seek the alderman’s justice regarding him, and the other will receive (it); if however the townsman presumes to challenge, he will be banned, and the ban will never be lifted unless he carries out the alderman’s justice. By contrast if the plaintiff in a suit is struck by the townsman, he will immediately seek the alderman’s justice.
29.All those things which have come into kora, which the justice and the aldermen were not be able to emend, and if a suit comes before the count, the count himself will decide according to his truth, and the suit will be examined by the aldermen of Middelburg.
30.No one may convict, by any testimony, neither by aldermen from outside nor by the count’s men, a man residing outside Middelburg who is a townsperson, unless it is allowed in this charter.
31.Whoever brings arms into Middelburg at night, if he is discovered, unless it be with the common counsel of the town, he will pay doubly for this, than if he had brought it during the day.
32.It is allowed to three men, henceforth aldermen, that they may bear witness concerning the plunder of 1 pound. Wherever three law-worthy men see something and are admonished under oath, aldermen will testify this; concerning cases which occur at night, they will testify via an investigation.
33.No one residing in Middelburg may testify who holds neither land nor a home in Middelburg, nor may he appear in a document of tribute.
34.Whoever in Middelburg throws another to the ground and is convicted, will pay to the count 1 pound, to the town ½.
35.Whoever maims another such that he should pay less than a fourth part of a homicide, will pay to the count 3 pounds, to the town ½.
36.Whoever resides in Walcheren and wants to pass over into Middelburg with arms, he will secure a townsman for safe conduct; but without (this) the justice and aldermen will seize them and will exact from them the law of the count and the town, that is 3 pounds to the count and 1 pound to the town.
37.No townsman will be able to give a gift of land unless in the presence of the aldermen of Middelburg. None of those residing outside will be able to give land to a townsman, unless in the presence of aldermen from the outside.
38.If any among the men in Middelburg takes his arms into the home of men residing outside in Walcheren, he will pay to the count ½ pound, to the town 5 shillings.
39.If any townsman furnishes his arms to anyone residing outside for the purpose of fighting in Middelburg, he will pay to the count 1 pound, to the town ½.
40.Any orphan that resides in Middelburg, none of his kin or his friends will hold his property, unless he makes a sure certification to the aforesaid townsman.
41.If anyone who resides outside Middelburg and fights against a burgess in Middelburg, officials will come there with a bailiff or a messenger and they will compensate, if they are able, and they will exact peace from the one who resides outside, and so that he may do the law such as the aldermen from Middleburg order, thence he should make surety; if not, then the aldermen with the count’s justice will go to the hall of justice and they will have the bell sounded with the common counsel of the town for the purpose of assembling everyone in Middelburg, so that through them the man may be compelled to stand before the law (i.e. stand trial) of the count and of the town.
42.Further, whoever strikes the bell without the common counsel, will pay to the count 3 pounds, to the town pound.
43.Whoever does not come at the sounding of the bell will pay to the count ½ pound, to the town 5 shillings.
44.If the aforesaid criminal escapes, he will be called to the hall of justice to appear on the third day, and to respond to the law concerning the said dispute he should make firm surety in Middelburg; if the one who has been called will not come, he will be banned and the ban should be held at a hearing of the count, which he will pay when he first appears.
45.If those who reside outside fight in Middelburg, aldermen will come with a messenger of the count or with a bailiff, and they will exact from them the law of the count and of the town; if they deny this, the count’s messenger will come, that is the bailiff, with aldermen to the public seat and he will call the criminals to respond on the third day for themselves and concerning the objections of the townspeople; if those called will not come, they will be banned and will be recorded by name in a written charter in the count’s presence.
46.Every crime occurring in Middelburg, while the count resides between Burness and Hedenese, will be compensated twofold.
47.Whoever residing in Middelburg is proved by three aldermen to have chosen a secular lord other than the count, will pay to the count 10 pounds, to the town 1 pound, and the count himself will judge this.
48.Every wrong which is inflicted on anyone in Middelburg, concerning the dispute it will be compensated twofold than if it had occurred outside.
49.Whatever wrong occurs in Middelburg will be compensated no more than fourfold.
50.In whatever matter for the sake of land the townsmen of Middelburg have lawsuits with others concerning this land, the count will decide the suits through investigation of his truth, which the townspeople will be able to learn from the aldermen.
51.No one will seize, that is proclaim (i.e. accuse), those from Middelburg, unless for their own crimes against the two counts, that is of Flanders and of Holland.
Lady Joan countess of Flanders, William count of Holland, and their castellans from Zeeland have sworn that this law is to be observed inviolably by the people of Middelburg, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1217.(3)

Original letter: 

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti. Amen.
Hec est lex, que kora dicitur, oppidanorum de Middelburch, firmata iuramento earum personarum quarum tam nomina quam sigilla supponuntur.
1.Quocumque oppidani de Middelburch se vel sua moverint, sub protectione et conductu amborum comitum et eorum iustitiariorum erunt, qui nihilominus omnibus tam peregrinis quam indigenis in Middelburch venientibus firmam pacem precipiunt.
2.Quicumque in Middelburch aliquem percusserit ad mutilationem vel truncationem alicuius membri, ut in quarta parte occisi emendari debeat hominis vel amplius, duplo emendabit quam foris koram contigisset, et gratiam comitis queret.
3.Qui vulneraverit hominem infra koram, comiti emendabit III lib., oppido ½.
4.Qui vero hominem decappelaverit et fustibus vel pugno percusserit, aut iratus contra eum pulsaverit vel proiecerit aut percusserit aut arripuerit, comiti emendabit 1/2 lib., oppido V sol.
5.Ubicumque duo scabini cum aliquo tertio burgens[e] pacem vel pacificas indutias petierint, qui eis negaverit, (emendabit) comiti III lib., oppido 1/2 [lib.]; vel eciam si aliquis stultiloquio predictam pacem impedierit, solvet comiti 1/2 lib., oppido V sol.
6.Quicumque in Middelburch manu pacem pepigerit et ipsemet fregerit, solvet comiti II lib., oppido I lib., si a tribus scabinis convictus fuerit; si quis consanguineorum suorum hanc pacem infregerit, solvet lib. comiti, oppido 1/2, si a III scabinis convincitur hoc factum fuisse causa predicte litis; insuper omne malum quod ibi fecerit, ita ut kora testatur, emendabit; et qui koram ibi prius fregerit, emendabit de fractione pacis, si a tribus scabinis convincitur.
7.Quicumque scabinos pacem petentes verbis viciaverit, et ibi hoc scabini propalaverint, ille qui fecisse comprobatus fuerit, cuilibet eorum lib. emenda¬bit; etiam si illic in scabinos kora frangitur vel illic vulneraverit, quicquid mali ipsis illatum fuerit, quadruplo eis emendabitur.
8.Omnes in Middelburch manentes sub uno iure habeantur, et quilibet eorum cooppidano suo scabinium facere debet.
9.Si quis a cooppidano suo scabinium habere voluerit, ad pretorium postulabit; quod si ille, in quem agitur, presens non fuerit et in Walacra esse comprobatur, citabitur responsurus prima die placiti; si venerit et tamen iuri restititvel etiam si non venerit, bannetur nihilominus, et nunquam banno carebit, donec scabinium fecerit et substantia sua arbitrio scabinorum disponetur. Si scaltetus vel Scabini conquerenti ius facere negaverint, iudicio non stabunt, donec conquerens scabinium habuerit.
10.Quicumque scabinio de Middelburch bannitus fuerit, si quis in Walacra illum tenuisse a tribus scabinis de Middelburch comprobatur, emendabit comiti X lib., oppido I, et debitum illius solvet.
11.Quicumque de oppidanis armata manu, intuitu pugnandi, oppidum exierit sine communi consilio et oppidanorum conventu, non redeat in oppidum antequam gratiam comitis impetraverit, et oppido libram emenda[b]it si a tribus scabinis convincitur.
12.Ubicunque in Middelburch lis vel pugna oritur, qui armata manu advenerit sine communi consensu et consilio, solvet comiti 1/2 lib., oppido V sol.
13.Si quis oppidanum de Middelburch armata manu ad domum, ubi sit manens, quesierit ibique pugnaverit, emendabit predicto X lib., comiti [V], oppido libram.
14.Quicumque in Middelbu[r]ch ad domum alterius armata manu quesitus fuerit, quesitor emendabit obsesso V lib. et hospiti V, comiti VI; preterea quicunque in auxilium querentis venerit armata manu, solvet comiti III lib., oppido 1/2, et damnum quod de foris in domum agitur, duplo restituetur; damnum quod de domo afforas agitur, simplo restituetur, prout tribus scabinis constiterit.
15.Quicumque extra Middelburch manserit et burgensem de Middelburch banniverit, qualicumque debito fuerit, bannus debitumque nullo modo poterit augeri, donec in pretorio de Middelburch cum sculteto et scabinis suis bannum enunciaverit; tuncque iustitiarius oppidi et scabini de substantia banniti bannum et emendationem facient solvi.
16.Ubicunque scaltetus in bannito placito scabinos per iuramentum eorum monuerit, qui tunc dicta monita contradixerit, et hoc scabini propalaverint, X lib. emendabit scabinis, III lib. comiti, oppido ½ si a tribus scabinis convincitur.
17.Quicumque scabinum in bannito placito verbis vitiaverit extra monitum, si hoc scabinus monstraverit et alter a tribus scabinis convincitur, emendabit scabino III lib., comiti ½, oppido V sol. Econtra si scabinus in bannito placito (aliquem) verbis vitiaverit et ille monstraverit, si scabinus a tribus scabinis convincitur, emendabit predicto lib., comiti ½, oppido V sol.
18.Quicumque in scabinum in bannito placito per innocentiam scabini koram fregerit, si a tribus scabinis convincitur, emendabit scabino X lib., comiti I, oppido ½. Econtra si scabinus in aliquem per innocentiam koram in bannito placito infregerit, si a tribus scabinis convincitur, emendabit pre¬dicto V lib., comiti I, oppido ½.
19.Si quis de Middelburch cooppidanum suum verbis vitiaverit, si convictus fuerit, emendabit illi 1/2 lib., comiti ½ oppido V sol.
20.Si pugna inter scabinum et alium evenerit, quicunque eorum pugnam inceperit, si malum ei contigerit, ita si ei extra pretorium eveniret, emendabitur.
21.Si quis scabinum occiderit, quadruplum solvet.
22.Quicquid mali ad pretorium evenerit, de omni forefacto quadruplum emendabitur, ita ut inter scabinum et alium scriptum est.
23.Non est licitum cuiquam infra Middelburch vinum quod corruptum fuerit aqua vel putredine, vendere; quod si aliquis vendere presumserit, secundum quod in veteri kora continebatur, emendabit, id est comiti II libras et oppido solam libram solvet.
24.Non est licitum oppidanis, ut invicem duella recipiant. Etiam illis extra Middelburch manentibus non est licitum cum illis infra manentibus ad duella placitare.
25. Omnibus in Middelburch eadem pax eundi et redeundi per aggerem et per portum, id est Arnam, quam constituit illis comes, servabitur; preterea omnis extraneus, quicunque fuerit, in Erna eandem pacem quam haberet in Middelburch habebit.
26.Ubicumque opidani de Middelburch in Walacra aliquid agere habeant, sub conductu comitis et pace habeantur.
27.Si quis de terra burgensem percusserit vel spoliaverit extra oppidum, citabitur tertia die ad iustitiam venire; si venerit, fideiussorem ponet burgen¬sem; si non, bannetur et in banno tenebitur ante comitem.
28.Si quis extra manens oppidanum querela pulsaverit, oppidanus ei scabinium faciet, et alter accipiet; si autem oppidanus contra presumserit, bannetur, et banno nunquam carebit, donee scabinium fecerit. Econtra si conquerens ab oppidano querela pulsatur, statim scabinium faciet.
29.Omnia que in kora evenerint, que iusticiarius et scabini emendare non poter[i]nt, et si querela ante comitem pervenerit, ipse comes per veritatem suam [termin]abit, et illa per scabinos de Middelburch perscrutabitur.
30.Nullus hominum extra Middelburch manentium potest cum scabinis de extra neque cum hominibus comitis oppidanum ullo testimonio convincere, nisi licitum fuerit in hac carta.
31.Quicumque in Middelburch arma in nocte portaverit, si propalatum fuerit, nisi sit communi consilio oppidi, hoc duplo quam si in die portasset, emendabit.
32.Tribus hominibus est concessum, ut de preda de I lib. testentur, de reliquo scabini. Ubicumque tres legales homines aliquid viderint et iuramento ammoniti fuerint, hoc scabini testabuntur; de causis que in nocte evenerint, per scrutationem testabuntur.
33.Nullus in Middelburch manens potest testimonium dicere, qui neque terram neque domum in Middelburch habuerit, nec in carta tributi invenitur.
34.Quicumque in Middelburch alium ad terram prostraverit et convictus fuerit, comiti emendabit lib., oppido 1/2.
35.Quicumque alium ita debilitaverit, ut minus quarta parte hominis solvere debeat, emendabit comiti III lib., oppido ½.
36.Qui manserit in Walacra, et Middelburch armis transire voluerit, oppidanum arripiet ad conductum; sin autem iusticiarius et scabini inicient eis manus et exigent ab eis ius comitis et oppidi, id est III lib. comiti et oppido lib.
37.Nullus oppidanus poterit do[n]um terre dare, nisi ante scabinos de Middelburch. Nullus extra commanentium poterit terram dare oppidano, nisi ante scabinos de extra.
38.Si quis de hominibus in Middelburch extra commanentium hominum in Walacra arma in domo sua susceperit, comiti emendabit 1/2 lib., oppido V sol.
39.Si quis oppidanus alicui extra manenti arma sua prestiterit ad pugnandum in Middelburch, emendabit comiti lib., oppido ½.
40.Quicumque pupillus manserit in Middelburch, nullus consanguineorum et amicorum suorum substantiam suam habebit, nisi
predicto firmam certitudinem ab oppidano fecerit.
41.Si quis extra Middelburch manserit et contra burgensem in Middel¬burch pugnaverit, illuc venient scabini cum scalteto vel nuncio et emendabunt, si poterint, et exigent ab illo qui extra manet, pacem, et ut tale ius quale scabini de Middelburch iudicaverint, faciat, inde ponet fideiussorem; si non, tunc scabini cum iustitiario comitis ibunt ad pretorium et facient sonari campanam cum communi consilio oppidi ad convocandum universos de Middelburch, ut per eos ille cogatur stare iure comitis et oppidi.
42.Etiam quicumque campanam sine communi consilio pulsaverit, emendabit comiti III lib., oppido lib.
43.Quicumque ad sonitum campane non venerit, solvet comiti 1/2 lib., oppido V sol.
44.Si predictus malefactor evaserit, ad pretorium citabitur, ut tertio die appareat et certum fideiussorem in Middelburch ponat de lite preterita iuri responsurus; si citatus non venerit, bannetur et teneatur bannus ad audientiam comitis, quod primo adventu suo emendabit.
45.Si qui in Middelburch certaverint, qui extra manent, venient scabini cum nuncio comitis vel cum scalteto, et exigent ab eis ius comitis et oppidi; quod si negaverint, veniet nuntius comitis, id est scaltetus cum scabinis ad stationem pupplicam et citabit illos malefactores in diem tertium sibi et oppidanis de obiiciendis responsuros; si vocati non venerint, bannentur et nominatim in carta scripti servabuntur presentie comitis.
46.Omne malefactum contingens in Middelburg, comite existente infra Burnesse et Hedenese, duplo emendabitur.
47.Quicumque in Middelburch manens alium secularem dominum quam comitem elegisse a tribus scabinis comprobatur, comiti emendabit X lib., oppido lib., et hoc ipse comes iudicabit.
48.Omne forefactum quod alicui in Middelburch illatum fuerit, de lite duplo emendabitur quam si extra contigisset.
49. Quicquid forefacti contigerit in Middelburch, non amplius quam quadruplo emendabitur.
50.In quocunque negotio pro terra oppidani de Middelburch cum illis de terra litigia habuerint, illa comes per inquisitionem veritatis sue terminabit, quam a scabinis oppidi cognoscere poterit.
51.Illos de Middelburch nemo arestabit, id est pandabit, nisi pro propriis malefactis in duobus comitatibus, id est Flandrie et Hollandie.
Hanc legem iuraverunt domina Iohanna comitissa Flandrie, Willelmus Hollandie comes, et eorum castellani de Selandie ipsis de Middelborgho inviolabiliter observandam, anno ab incarnatione Domini millesimo ducentesimo septimo decimo.

Historical context: 

The countess of Flanders and the Count of Holland set forth a series of laws to be observed in the city of Middelburg in Zeeland. As was the case in Flanders and other areas of northern France and the Low Countries, the jurisdiction of cities in Zeeland was usually in the hands of urban officials called scabini, who were originally appointed by the count of Zeeland (or Holland, or Flanders, whoever was in charge at the time) but gradually became selected by the inhabitants of the city. They exercised both criminal and private jurisdiction to the virtual exclusion of any other authority in the city, except, of course, the Church for canon law cases, and, at least originally, the count himself for particularly grievous crimes. The proceedings were led by a judicial officer known as a schout in Dutch/Flemish (scultetus in Latin, écoutète in French), an important figure who combined legal, administrative, and police duties exercised in the name of the count. With regard to the functioning of the scabini, he acted as a prosecutor, supervising police work, arresting suspects, bringing them to court, and overseeing compliance. (Walter P. Simons)

Scholarly notes: 

1 Kora is a Germanic term for statutory law. 2 According to Professor Walter P. Simons, the Latin term “scaltetus” (or scultetus), “schout” in Dutch/Flemish, was a judicial officer who “combined legal, administrative, and police duties exercised in the name of the count. With regard to the functioning of the scabini (i.e. aldermen), he acted as a prosecutor, supervising police work, arresting suspects, bringing them to court, and overseeing compliance with the aldermen's verdict." There is no exact English equivalent. 3 The translation was provided by Ashleigh Imus.

Printed source: 

Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299, ed. A.C.F.Koch (Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoo, 1970), ep86, 1.567-73.