Quaestiones non minus utiles…cum tractatibus de inditiis et tortura, et de gabellis.

Venice, apud haer. Girolamo Scoto, 1585.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. Three parts in one, pp. (lx) 267 (i). Roman letter, some Italic. Woodcut vignette to t-p, woodcut printer’s device to last, decorated initials. Occasional slight yellowing, blank lower outer corner of one fol. torn. An excellent copy in contemporary limp vellum, three remaining ties. The odd early (editorial?) annotation, later ex-libris ‘Abb. Bracnus’ to t-p. 

An excellent copy of this scarce manual for legal practitioners—a lesser known yet extremely representative work in the history of the early modern ‘ius commune’. Francesco Personali (d. 1624) was a lawyer from the city of Mirandola in the Duchy of Modena, at the service of Scipione and Ferrante II Gonzaga. Prefaced by detailed indexes, the manual—his major work—was divided into three sections: general ‘quaestiones’ followed by two short treatises on ‘circumstantial evidence and torture’ and ‘tax duties’. ‘Quaestiones’ discussed major points of civil law including not only the customary cases of heredity and dowry but also issues of social cohabitation like litigation between neighbours about the construction of buildings on private land if they affected communal living. The second section contributed to C16 criminal law debates concerning the trial system and methods of the earlier ‘praxis inquisitoria’ and the quality and quantity of ‘indicia’ sufficient for incrimination, incarceration and torture. These included written documentation and its degree of trustworthiness—e.g., if written by a deceased, it was admissible solely if the author was a person of ‘bona fama’. ‘Fama’ was a fundamental concept as a person’s social reputation could determine whether they would be targeted by the investigating authorities ‘a priori’. For instance, in case of domestic theft, only guests or servants of ‘mala fama’ were initially tortured, since domestic thefts could also be committed by extraneous people. Instead, in case of domestic murder, the perpetrator was most likely hiding among the residents, hence all those living in the house should be tortured—owners, guests and servants alike. Personali’s manual thus illustrated the paradox in the rule of law equating the judicial standing of defendant and witness in the administration of torture. The final treatise on taxation discussed the rationale of specific kinds of taxation (e.g., on animals) as well as ways to investigate tax fraud and the ‘indicia’ needed to prove it—a fundamental source for the understanding of the intersections between the private sphere and the increasingly complex administrative and fiscal regulations of the modern state. A scarce, remarkable and comprehensive product of Renaissance legal history.

No copies recorded in the US.

Not in BM STC It., Brunet, Graesse or Adams. L. Garlati, ‘“Il grande assurdo”: La tortura del testimone nelle pratiche d’età moderna’, Acta Histriae 19 (2011), 81-104; G.A. Palazzolo, Prova legale e pena: La crisi del sistema tra evo medio e moderno (Napoli, 1979).


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