AZO OF BOLOGNA [with] BLANOSCO, Johannes de.


AZO OF BOLOGNA [with] BLANOSCO, Johannes de. Summa Codicis. [with] Libellus super titulo Institutionum de actionibus.

[France (probably southern), mid-thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries]


180 leaves (plus a modern paper endleaf at front and back), formed of two units: (a) fols. 1-137, complete, collation: i-vi8, vii10, viiixiv8, xv4, xvi-xvii8, xviii3 (original last leaf a blank cancel), text in double column of 73 lines of a good and compact university hand, rubrics in red, 2-line tall and thin initials in alternate red or blue with contrasting penwork, larger initials in same with more ornate penwork surround and infill, some pages with glossing in margins in smaller script, occasional marginalia and inscription at foot of first leaf describing second portion of book; and (b) fols. 138-180, complete (text ending on last line of last leaf with explicit of the work), collation: xix-xxiii8, xxiv3 (comparison of text with that of the slightly later witness: Sion/Sitten, Médiathèque Valais, MS. S 102, showing text continuous here, and so original last leaf a blank cancel), double column of 70 lines in a rounder and more mature university hand, the uppermost line with decorative cadels extending into the border, capitals decorated with internal penstrokes and designs, paler and darker red rubrics, 2-line initials in blue with more rounded scrolling red penwork surround and infill, spaces left for rubrics; both parts slightly cockled and with small spots and stains, text a little scuffed in places on first leaf, trimmed at top, else excellent condition, 380 by 225mm.; in brown calfskin over pasteboards, scuffed in places.

Decorated manuscript on vellum.

A notably large and handsome legal sammelband, from the dawn of the gothic age, containing two important legal treatises – the second of great rarity and never appearing on the market before.


  1. Most probably written and decorated for use in a southern French monastic community. The later provenance strongly suggests that this was the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary of Lagrasse, in the Languedoc at the foot of the Pyrenees in south-western France. The house was founded in the seventh century, raised to abbey status in 779 by Charlemagne, and closed during the Secularisation of French monasteries following the Revolution, with its goods seized by the State in 1789 and sold.
  2. Monsieur Chapuy(?), priest (curé) of Lagrasse: his ex libris marks in pencil on front endleaf in a hand of c. 1800. Extensive antiquarian notes on second author in later pen on verso of same leaf, signed ‘Giray’. Then sold at auction, presumably by one of his heirs, in Lyon in the early twentieth century: a sale ticket of this date issued by Monsieur Guillot of the Hôtel des Ventes, 19 Rue Confort-Rue de l’Hopital 6 in that town, loose in front of volume.
  3. Reemerged in sale in Nîmes 2022, the subject of several news reports and blogs.


A fine, large law codex with two important ms texts, produced in France between the mid-C13 and early C14. No other copy of the second work, ‘Libellus super titulo de actionibus’ – a fundamental text in feudal law – appears to have ever come to the market before.

Medieval lawyers had a sizeable corpus of local/customary, Roman and Ecclesiastical law at their fingertips by the middle of the C12, but experienced enormous problems with its practical application and interpretation. The C12 and C13 saw various grand attempts, including the works in this sammelband, at producing a workable legal system, to navigate the myriad of often conflicting legislations and interpretations.

‘Libellus super titulo de actionibus’ – the second text, copied in the early C14 – is a commentary on Book IV of Justinian’s Institutiones, completed in the 1250s. It survives in perhaps ten mss, none recorded outside institutional collections and none appears to have come to the market before. ‘Libellus’ is a milestone of feudal law, and, for the first time in a systematic way, it ‘raised the question of the place occupied by the French king and his officials, […] the barons, their vassals and other elements of the feudal hierarchy, within the Roman legal framework’ (Jones, p.215), with particular attention to the ‘actio’ of homage. Johannes de Blanosco (also Jean de Blanot or de Blanosque; c. 1203-81) was doctor of Canon and Civil Law at Bologna and later legal advisor to the Duke Hugh IV of Burgundy. ‘Attempts to situate Roman legal thought within the pre-existent northern French legal structure and efforts to apply Roman legal principles to contemporary circumstances brought Roman jurists in France to confront a fundamental problem: whether or not the French king could be equated with the “princeps” of Roman law’ (Jones, pp.215-16). By stating that ‘Rex Francie in regno suo princeps est, nam in temporalibus superiorem non recognoscit’ (The King of France is emperor in his own kingdom, and does not acknowledge anyone superior to him in temporal matters – here on fol.154v), Blanot discussed the independence and ‘freedom’ of the Kings of France within their kingdom and, though never explicitly, in relation to the Holy Roman Emperor. ‘Kings who held a de facto sovereign authority, even if not de iure sovereignty, over their realms were generally designated independent, or “free,” kings. What made a king “free” or “unfree” depended entirely on whether or not they complied with an antecedent rule of recognition: does the king, as a matter of fact, recognize the superior authority of another in temporal matters?’ (Lee, p.59). This remarkably important text – the basis of the concept of national sovereignty, much debated today – survives in perhaps ten mss, none recorded outside institutional repositories and none appear to have come to the market before.

‘Summa Codicis’ – the first, copied in the mid-C13 – was one of the favourite texts used by glossators to augment medieval law codices. Azo of Bologna (also Azzo or Azolenus; c. 1150-c. 1230) was professor of law at Bologna – the epicentre of medieval legal studies. The text itself was most probably composed between 1208 and 1210. It is an attempt to analyse and interpret the entire Corpus iuris civilis, the compilation of Roman law made by the sixth-century Roman emperor, Justinian. The work was incorporated into that of his pupil Franciscus Accursius, and forms the basis of the standard glosses found encircling and framing the text of the ‘Decretals’ in most medieval manuscripts and early printings of that text. The motto ‘Chi non ha Azzo, non vada a Palazzo’ (‘Don’t go to court, if you don’t know your Azo’) was common among late medieval Italian lawyers, foreseeing the failure of jurists who were not sufficiently prepared. Despite its fundamental importance to medieval law, the text remains unedited apart from some C16 printings and their reissues and modern facsimiles.

R. Feenstra, \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'Jean de Blanot et la formule \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"Rex Franciae in regno suo princeps est\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\', Etudes d\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'histoire du droit canonique...Le Bras. Vol.II (1965), pp.885-95; C. N. Jones, ‘The eclipse of empire?: Perceptions of the western empire and its rulers in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century France’, unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University, 2003; D. Lee, Popular Sovereignty in Early Modern Constitutional Thought (2016); M.Boulet-Sautel, \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'Jean de Blanot et la conception du pouvoir royal\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\', in Septième centenaire de la mort de St Louis (1976), pp.57-68.
Stock Number: L3988 Categories: , , ,