Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2013 Issue

Crime and Punishment in Paris in 1412 – A Catalogue from UCLA

E021574e-0782-4570-8d23-a51999731a41

A leaf from the Chatelet records.

We were fortunate enough to receive a fascinating catalogue published earlier this year by the UCLA Library in Los Angeles, six hundred years in the making, so to speak. Its title is Crime and Punishment in Paris, 1412, and it is the result of much research by Richard and Mary Rouse. The thought of crime and punishment in 1412 sounds like something barbaric, but this is an account of low level crimes, the kind of things a court was more interested in making go away than in exacting severe retribution. It is a picture of the daily conflicts and disputes that go on quietly in courtrooms everywhere today, the sort of things most of us avoid, but others perhaps not so fortunate deal with on a regular basis. It is a record that one would expect long ago to have been lost to history. It would have been but for a fortuitous stroke of good luck.

 

The story of how this record managed to survive is almost as exciting as the find itself. As the catalogue notes, the record UCLA researchers found is 75 years older than any others from the Chatelet, a prison and court for less serious crimes in Paris in the 15th century. No one thought such records worth preserving. Indeed, they were so little regarded that a bookbinder centuries ago trimmed them down and used them to stuff the binding of another book. That book eventually made it from France to UCLA where, in the 1940s, it was determined it needed to be rebound.

 

When the old binding was removed, six leaves from the Chatelet records from the spring of 1412 were discovered. The binder thought the pages worthless and tossed them in the trash. Fortunately, an assistant, J.R. McClurkin, found them interesting, retrieved the leaves, and took them home. Forty years later, now retired, McClurkin gave them to UCLA library's special collections. It was there that Richard and Mary Rouse, along with the late John Benton of the California Institute of Technology, identified the leaves. A translation was published in 1999, and now with this catalogue, we have a translation along with detailed information about the settings of the various crimes described.

 

Since the size of the binding was smaller than the original records, the leaves were trimmed. The result was that some copy was lost. Fortunately, enough remains to get a good look at what was happening in 1412 – what were the lower level crimes, and what was the punishment. The punishment, it turns out, was not severe. Most “criminals” were released either the same day or within a day. One-quarter of the cases were the result of debts, but these debtors weren't being sent off for long stretches in debtors' prison, as happened regularly many centuries later. That may be explained by an interesting twist. The creditor was required to pay the debtor's room and board while in prison, encouraging them to reach settlements and payment schedules with those who owed them money quickly.

 

The records contain the name of the accused, the arresting officer, the reason for the arrest, and other details of the case, often including its disposition. It is likely that the records provide a look at what typically went on in the court as there are 71 records covering three random dates (April 24-25, May 20-21, and May 23-24, 1412). Here are a few examples from the “people's court” of Paris 600 years ago.

 

Record #2. Lorin de Clerc, a cobbler, was arrested at the request of Pierre du Fossé. De Clerc had pulled off the cloak du Fossé's wife was wearing and threw it in the mud. Evidently, this was meant as an insult to her, though the reason for this is unknown. The cobbler was held for two days.

 

Record #4. Since part of the record is missing, it is not certain who brought this complaint, but likely it was Jehan Grimault, a vineyard keeper from the countryside. Apparently, Jehannin Huet, a laborer, not only stole some of Grimault's belongings, but his wife as well. The pair ran off to Paris. Huguette Grimault received the honor of a two-day stay at the Chatelet, while Huet was held for 12 days, and then only freed conditionally (the conditions are not stated).

 

Record 8. Here is a dispute between two doublet-makers (a doublet was a kind of jacket worn during the Middle Ages). Jehan le Promoteur claimed that Alain du Val had taken a pair of scissors from him. Du Val responded that he wanted to get to the truth of the matter. This was a common response by those accused. Both were released the day of the arrest, presumably the right man in possession of the scissors.

 

Record #10. Regnaut d'Esply, a servant, was arrested on the request of Jehannette Patin, wife of Laurens Patin. Laurens was a blind beggar, who was given a spot at Notre Dame to pursue his trade. It seems that d'Esply had a scam where he would give a blind beggar some coins but take back in change currency worth more than he had given. He was released on some unstated condition (presumably to return the money and stop doing this).

 

Record #13. Five ladies engaged in the world's oldest profession were arrested. Prostitution was legal, but only within certain zones, and if carried out in a reasonably discreet manner. These ladies must have created too much of a disturbance, upsetting their neighbors. They were all conditionally released.

 

Record #32. Henryet du Pré, a servant, was arrested at midnight for breaking down the door of Cardine Sebile, a prostitute, and for wearing a sword. Carrying swords was illegal in Paris, there being no right to bear swords at the time.

 

Record #44. Robert Charles approached the court, not because he had committed a crime, but to seek absolution for a past one. His past crime was attempted suicide, also illegal in Paris. He had stabbed himself repeatedly with a knife, though evidently not in the right places to accomplish the task. Charles had a letter of pardon from the King, but that needed to be officially confirmed by the court.

 

Record #49. Guillaume de Saint George, an innkeeper, was taken in on a charge of assault against Jehannin Coiffart. However, Saint George did not assault Coiffart. His wife, Perrette, did. Evidently, Coiffart believed Saint George needed to do a better job of keeping the little lady under control. The court must not have been too upset by his role because despite this charge and one of renouncing God, Saint George was set free the same day.

 

If Jerry Springer were around in 1412, he probably would have had a field day with the Chatelet. They dealt with lots of disputes that would have made great fodder for afternoon television. If there is one conclusion to be drawn from these 600-year-old records, it is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions