Coûtumes de Bretagne

  • HLS MS 73_inside front cover_HOLLIS 004071456.tif

    Coûtumes de Bretagne, ca. 1510, inside front cover

    Pictorial bookplate of French antiquarian collector Andre Ramet, a native of Saint Malo in Brittany, adorns the front pastedown.

  • HLS MS 73_fol.1r_HOLLIS 004071456.tif

    Coûtumes de Bretagne, ca. 1510, folio 1 recto

    Inserted into the manuscript’s first leaf is the signature of former owner Monsieur Du Boberil de Cherville.

  • Adams_EB_RS SMC_HOLLIS 15034092_v1_p3.tif

    Notes made by Edward Brinley Adams, July-Sept. 1920, volume 1, page 3

    The July 6 entry notes he purchased from bookdealer Champion a “très ancienne coutume de Bretagne” for 1000 francs.

  • Adams_EB_RS SMC_HOLLIS 15034092_v1_p1.tif

    Notes made by Edward Brinley Adams, July-Sept. 1920, volume 1, page 1

    Adams’ entry on July 2, 1920, notes his arrival in Paris. His entire trip took ten weeks and also brought him to Germany.

Brittany (France), ca. 1510
HOLLIS 4071456

Notes made by E.B.A., July-Sept. 1920
Edward Brinley Adams
Volumes 1 and 2
Red Set Small Manuscript, Box 27, Folder 6
HOLLIS 015034092

In July 1920 on a book-buying mission to France, Edward Brinley Adams, Librarian of the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL) from 1913 to 1922, arrived in Paris “after a seemingly interminable journey.” His penciled notes, scribbled in two blank exam notebooks, provide a glimpse into his visits over several weeks to various Parisian booksellers, noting prices and orders for books on French law. Adams also traveled to Germany. In a separate typescript account of the trip Adams stated: “I found so much to do in France and Germany that I did not attempt to go outside those countries.”

One of the first booksellers he visited was Honoré Champion whose “shop on the quai Malaquais is not imposing but seems stuffed full of books.” There he purchased a manuscript of the “très ancienne coutume de Bretagne” noting that Champion was “to send it at once with some other books to HLS.” That manuscript— now called HLS MS 73—and at least fifty other volumes of French law, arrived in Cambridge that fall.

French customary law—essentially local legal customs—was based on royal legislation, Roman, canon, and Frankish law. Initially conveyed orally, manuscript versions of the Coutume de Bretagne probably appeared in the early fourteenth century and the first printed edition was published in Paris in 1480. HLS MS 73 was most likely written about 1500, and possibly based on a printed edition. As in many such volumes, the “coutume” of Brittany is followed by subsidiary texts. HLSL has almost 900 separate editions of pre-Revolution coutumes, over 50 of them from Brittany.