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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2013

University of California, Riverside
Department of History, University of California, Riverside, CA,


Jean Mabillon's De re diplomatica, whose importance for diplomatics and the philosophy of history is well recognized, also contributed to the seventeenth-century European debate over the relationship among documents, archives, and historical or juridical proof. This article juxtaposes early works on diplomatics by Mabillon, Daniel Papebroche, and Barthélémy Germon against German ius archivi theorists including Rutger Ruland and Ahasver Fritsch to reveal two incommensurate approaches that emerged around 1700 for assessing the authority of written records. Diplomatics concentrated on comparing the material and textual features of individual documents to authentic specimens in order to separate the genuine from the spurious, whereas the ius archivi emphasized the publica fides (public faith) that documents derived from their placement in an authentic sovereign's archive. Diplomatics' emergence as a separate auxiliary science of history encouraged the erasure of archivality from the primary conditions of documentary assessment for historians, however, while the ius archivi's privileging of institutional over material criteria for authority foreshadowed European state practice and the evolution of archivistics into the twentieth century. This article investigates these competing discourses of evidence and their implications from the perspective of early modern archival practices.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, the Newberry Library, and the Chicago Renaissance Seminar. I thank the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Newberry Library for a research fellowship supporting this research. Special thanks to Colin Whiting for Latin translation assistance, to Colin Wilder, Constantin Fasolt, and the Historical Journal's anonymous referees for references.


1 Quoted in Mabillon's, JeanDe re diplomatica (Paris, 1681), p. 239Google Scholar (cited henceforth as DRD), from Daniel Papebroche, ‘Ad tomum II Aprilis propylaeum antiquarium circa veri ac falsi discrimen in vetustis membranis’, in Acta sanctorum Aprilis, ii: Quo medii XI dies continentur (Antwerp, 1675), p. xvi, who in turn was quoting a letter he received from the Jesuit Alexander Wilthemius.

2 Mylerus, Nicolaus, De principibus & statibus imperii Rom. Germ. eorumvè praecipuis juribus succincta delineatio (2nd edn, Stuttgart, 1658), p. 372Google Scholar.

3 Bresslau, Harry, Handbuch der Urkundenlehre für Deutschland und Italien (2nd edn, 3 vols., Leipzig, 1912–31Google Scholar), i, pp. 11–29. Papebroche is the form of the author's name most often found in the anglophone literature; van Papenbroeck, Papebrock and Papebroch also occur.

4 Bresslau, Handbuch, i, p. 27.

5 Foundational works on jurisprudence and historiography in this period include Kelley, Donald R., The foundations of modern historical scholarship: language, law and history in the French Renaissance (New York, NY, 1970)Google Scholar; Pocock, J. G. A., The ancient constitution and the feudal law: a study of English historical thought in the seventeenth century (2nd edn, Cambridge, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Shapiro, Barbara J., A culture of fact: England, 1550–1720 (Ithaca, NY, 2000)Google Scholar; and Hammerstein, Notker, Jus und Historie: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des historischen Denkens an deutschen Universitäten im späten 17. und im 18. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 1972)Google Scholar. Arnoldo Momigliano addressed Mabillon's work, though not primarily the De re diplomatica, in ‘Mabillon's Italian disciples’ (originally published 1966), in idem, Essays in ancient and modern historiography (Oxford and Middletown, CT, 1977), pp. 277–93Google Scholar. Most recently, see Wallnig, Thomas et al. , eds., Europäische Geschichtskulturen um 1700, zwischen Gelehrsamkeit, Politik und Konfession (Berlin, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Blouin, Francis X. and Rosenberg, William G., Processing the past: contesting authority in history and the archives (Oxford, 2011), p. 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Using ‘authority’, here, in the technical sense that emerged in the twentieth century. See Blouin and Rosenberg, Processing, p. 127, for a definition; as they conclude (p. 137): ‘Historicizing the nature of historical narration demands a corresponding historicizing of the essentialism of documents, as well as archival practices.’

8 Critical theory appropriated the term archive in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Derrida's, JacquesArchive fever: a Freudian impression (Chicago, IL, 1996)Google Scholar. For a perspective from archival science, see Brothman, Brian, ‘Declining Derrida: integrity, tensegrity, and the preservation of the archives from deconstruction’, Archivaria, 48 (1999), pp. 6489Google Scholar. Post-colonial and feminist historians have been most explicit in developing a critical theory of archivality, e.g. Stoler, Laura Ann, Along the archival grain: epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense (Princeton, NJ, 2009)Google Scholar.

9 An interdisciplinary literature involving archival scientists and historians has begun to emerge, including Blouin and Rosenberg, Processing; Blouin, Francis X. and Rosenberg, William C., eds., Archives, documentation, and institutions of social memory (Ann Arbor, MI, 2006)Google Scholar, and in the work of Ketelaar, Eric, e.g., The archival image: collected essays (Hilversum, 1997)Google Scholar. Further examples may be found in two special issues of Archival science: ‘Towards a cultural history of archives’ (7, 4 (2008)); and ‘Archival knowledge cultures in Europe, 1400–1900’ (10, 3 (2010)).

10 The literature is extensive. See Grafton, Anthony and Marchand, Suzanne, eds., ‘Proof and persuasion’, History and theory, Theme Issue 33 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and more generally Kelley, Donald R., Versions of history from antiquity to the Enlightenment, 1450–1800 (New Haven, CT, 1991)Google Scholar.

11 Völkel, Markus, ‘Pyrrhonismus historicus’ und ‘fides historica': Die Entwicklung der deutschen historischen Methodologie unter dem Gesichtspunkt der historischen Skepsis (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1987)Google Scholar; Quantin, Jean-Louis, ‘Reason and reasonableness in French historical scholarship’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 74 (2011), pp. 401–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar: Corsetti, Carlo, Guerre diplomatiche e storiographia moderna (Rome, 1992)Google Scholar was not available to the author.

12 Fritsch, Ahasver, Tractatus de iure archivi et cancellarie (Jena, 1664)Google Scholar. The tract was republished in 1690 and again in Wencker, Jacob, ed., Collecta archivi et cancellariae jura (Strasbourg, 1715), pp. 1349Google Scholar, to which all citations refer.

13 Germon, Barthélémy, De veteribus regum Francorum diplomatibus, et arte secernendi antiqua diplomata vera à falsis, disceptatio (Paris, 1703)Google Scholar. Theodor von Sickel observed that Germon's work was reprinted three times in its first year: Lehre von den Urkunden der ersten Karolinger (751–840), i: Urkundenlehre (Vienna, 1867), p. 39. On the English antiquarian George Hickes's response: Hiatt, Alfred, ‘Diplomatic arts: Hickes against Mabillon in the Republic of Letters’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 70 (2009), pp. 351–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 Mabillon, Jean, Librorum de re diplomatica supplementum (Paris, 1704)Google Scholar (cited henceforth as DRD-S); Histoire des contestations sur la diplomatique avec l'analise de cet ouvrage composé par le R. P. Dom. Jean Mabillon (Paris, 1708; 2nd edn, ‘Naples’, 1767). All quotations are from the 1767 edition, after reviewing both editions. The Histoire is anonymous, but library catalogues attribute it either to Jacques-Philippe Lallemant (c. 1660–1748) or to Gilles-Bernard Raguet (1668–1748).

15 See Quantin, ‘Reason and reasonableness’; Mersiowsky, Mark, ‘ “Ausweitung der Diskurszone” um 1700: Der Angriff des Barthélémy Germon auf die Diplomatik Jean Mabillons’, in Wallnig, et al. , eds., Europäische Geschichtskulturen, pp. 447–84Google Scholar; and Leclant, Jean, Vauchez, André, and Odon-Hurel, Daniel, eds., Dom Jean Mabillon, figure majeure de l'Europe des lettres (Paris, 2010)Google Scholar.

16 R. C. Van Caenegem, ‘Methods of proof in Western medieval law’, in idem, Legal history: a European perspective (London, 1991), pp. 71–114, provides an overview; see also Bodin, Société Jean, La preuve (4 vols., Brussels, 1963–5)Google Scholar.

17 On Roman archives, Posner, Ernst, Archives of the ancient world (Cambridge, 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Demougin, Ségolène, ed., La mémoire perdue: à la recherche des archives oubliées, publiques et privées, de la Rome antique (Paris, 1994)Google Scholar.

18 Petra Schulte has recently asserted that the term publica fides was not used in this sense before the mid-eighteenth century. Her argument underplays both ongoing public-law understandings of the fides of publica instrumenta as well as the appearance of the specific term publica fides in the ius archivi literature of the seventeenth century. Schulte, Petra, ‘Fides Publica: Die Dekonstruktion eines Forschungsbegriffes’, in Schulte, Petra et al. , eds., Strategies of writing: studies on text and trust in the middle ages (Turnhout, 2008), pp. 1536CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 In medieval canon law, proof was characterized as ‘probatio probata if the proof was derived from a public instrument, but as probatio probanda in case the instrument was a private writing’. Willett, Robert A., The probative value of documents in ecclesiastical trials (De fide instrumentorum) (Washington, DC, 1942), p. 2Google Scholar.

20 Nussdorfer, Laurie, Brokers of public trust: notaries in early modern Rome (Baltimore, MD, 2009)Google Scholar; Keller, Hagen and Behrmann, Thomas, eds., Kommunales Schriftgut in Oberitalien: Formen, Funktion, Überlieferung (Munich, 1995)Google Scholar.

21 Mascardi, Giuseppi, Conclusiones probationum omnium, quae in vtroque foro versantur (3 vols., Venice, 1609)Google Scholar, to which citations refer; the first edition was published from 1584 to 1588. Menochio, Giacomo, De praesumptionibus, coniecturis, signis, & indicijs (Cologne, 1587)Google Scholar.

22 Godefroy, Dionysius, Corpus iuris civilis in quatuor partes distinctum (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1663)Google Scholar, bk 2, cols. 277–83. See also Willett, Probative value, p. 31.

23 Attacks on notaries are vividly evoked in Burns, Kathryn, Into the archive: writing and power in colonial Peru (Durham, NC, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Notably, Mascardi asserts in his Conclusiones, ii, pp. 134–6 (conclusio dccxl, par. 6), that ‘Probationes omnes sunt arbitrariae’, that is, subject to the freely willed discretion of the court.

25 See Willett, Probative value, pp. 9–12, 31. Relevant passages appeared in ‘De probationibus’ (Codex, bk iv, tit. 19) and ‘De fide instrumentorum’ (Codex, bk vi, tit. 21; Digest, ch. xxii, tit. 4).

26 On Roman law in Germany, Stolleis, Michael, Reichspublizistik und Policeywissenschaft, 1600–1800 (Munich, 1988)Google Scholar; and Strauss, Gerald, Law, resistance and the state: opposition to Roman law in Reformation Germany (Princeton, NJ, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 On Conring see Stolleis, Michael, ed., Hermann Conring (1606–1681): Beiträge zu Leben und Werk (Berlin, 1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The quotation is from Fasolt, Constantin, ‘The limits of history: an exchange’, Historically Speaking, 6 (2005), pp. 517CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 7.

28 Citing here from the 1660 edition: von Seckendorff, Veit Ludwig, Teutscher Fürsten-Stat (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1660)Google Scholar, p. 58.

29 Stolleis, Reichspublizistik, p. 255.

30 The literature on the ius archivi is limited: Udo Schäfer, ‘Authentizität: Vom Siegel zur digitalen Signatur’, in idem and Nicole Bickhoff, eds., Archivierung elektronischer Unterlagen (Stuttgart, 1999), pp. 165–81; Merzbacher, Friedrich, ‘Ius Archivi: Zum geschichtlichen Archivrecht’, Archivalische Zeitschrift, 75 (1979), pp. 135–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Vogtherr, Thomas, ‘Archivtheorie und Archivpraxis im ausgehenden 17. Jahrhundert: Ahasver Fritsch, Jacob Bernhard Multz von Oberschönfeld, und Georg Aebbtlin’, in Cunz, Reiner, ed., Fundamenta Historiae: Geschichte im Spiegel der Numismatik und ihrer Nachbarwissenschaften (Hanover, 2004), pp. 403–9Google Scholar. Pitz, Ernst takes a wider perspective in ‘Beiträge zur Geschichte des Ius Archivi’, Der Archivar, 16 (1963), pp. 279–86Google Scholar. For a non-German context, Lodolini, Elio, ‘Giurisprudenza della Sacra Rota Romana in materia di archivi (secc. xivxviii)’, Rassegna degli archivi di stato, 42 (1982), pp. 733Google Scholar.

31 Ruland, Rutger, Tractatus de commissariis, et commissionibus camerae imperialis quadripartitus (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1604)Google Scholar, to which citations refer; a second edition was published in 1617, another in 1667.

32 Mylerus, De principibus, pp. 368–72.

33 On Fritsch, see Vogtherr, ‘Archivtheorie’, pp. 403–4, and the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (58 vols., Leipzig, 1875–1912), viii, pp. 108–9.

34 Ruland, De commissariis, pp. 139–41 (pars ii, bk 5, ch. 3), ‘De etymologia & definitione archiui’; Fritsch, Tractatus, p. 15.

35 D. Nic. Christoph Lynckeri jcti. celebratissimi, dissertatio de archivo imperii (Jena, 1686), reprinted in Wencker, ed., Collecta, pp. 82–109, at 85. Among the authorities Lyncker lists is Mabillon's DRD, bk 3, ch. 5.

36 Ruland, De commissariis, p. 177 (pars 2, bk 5, ch. 4), refers to Bodin in his discussion of ‘Quinam jus archivi habeant’. On the legal implications of sovereignty: Quaritsch, Helmut, Souveränität: Entstehung und Entwicklung des Begriffs in Frankreich und Deutschland vom 13. Jahrhundert bis 1806 (Berlin, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 Fritsch, Tractatus, ch. 3, ‘Quibus jus archivale competat’, pp. 19–25.

38 Ibid., pp. 20–2. Here, Fritsch took the opposite position from Mabillon (see below), who accorded episcopal archives full public faith, and even claimed it selectively for monastic archives.

39 Ibid., p. 33.

40 This expression directly echoes the topic in Justinian and many early modern tracts known as ‘De fide instrumentorum’.

41 See Godefroy, Dionysius, Praxis civilis, ex antiqvis et recentioribvs avthoribvs … collecta (Frankfurt, 1591)Google Scholar, p. 1539; Mascardi, Conclusiones, i, p. 15 (conclusio cxxviii).

42 Fritsch, Tractatus, pp. 38–9.

43 Pitz, ‘Beiträge’, p. 284, esp. n. 30, showing that university jurisconsults generally treated sealed charters as private testimony.

44 Fritsch, Tractatus, pp. 45, 46.

45 Johannes Schilter, ‘Probatio per archivum’, in Wencker, ed., Collecta, pp. 50–1.

46 Fritsch, Tractatus, p. 48. Schilter, ‘Probatio’, p. 51, uses nearly identical language. Recognition was a technical term for a notary's validation of his sign found on an instrument; see Mascardi, Conclusiones, ii, pp. 326–7, who accepted for older notarial documents that location in an ‘archiuio publico’ was sufficient to establish authenticity.

47 Fritsch, Tractatus, p. 49, citing Ruland among his authorities.

48 Notably, these restrictions came largely from the law of notarial practice and authenticity, as demonstrated by comparison of the rules these thinkers cite with Nussdorfer, Brokers, pp. 9–31.

49 Mylerus, De principibus, p. 371.

50 Fritsch, Tractatus, pp. 40–1.

51 The literature on these themes is extensive: see n. 5 above; Hiatt, Alfred, The making of medieval forgeries: false documents in the fifteenth century (London and Toronto, 2004)Google Scholar; and the work of Anthony Grafton, e.g. Forgers and critics: creativity and duplicity in Western scholarship (Princeton, NJ, 1990). On Mabillon, Barret-Kriegel, Blandine, Jean Mabillon (Paris, 1988)Google Scholar, p. 57, notes: ‘the era of the antiquarians was not simply marked by a revolution in taste; it was also marked by a revolution in historical methods … The turn back to antiquity through the collation of vestiges, traces, diplomas, and documents had been inaugurated by philological Humanism.’

52 Sawilla, Jan Marco, Antiquarianismus, Hagiographie und Historie im 17. Jahrhundert: zum Werk der Bollandisten (Tübingen, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 The charters in question are reviewed exhaustively in Theo Kölzer, Studien zu den Urkundenfälschungen des Klosters St. Maximin von Trier (10.–12. Jahrhundert) (Sigmaringen, 1989).

54 Papebroche, ‘Propylaeum’, p. i. Léon Levillain offers a masterful review of Papebroche's argument in ‘Le De re diplomatica’, in Mélanges et documents publiés à l'occasion du 2e centenaire de la mort de Mabillon (Paris, 1908), pp. 195–252, esp. 200–9. The Carmelite order attacked Papebroche, and eventually persuaded the Toledo Inquisition to put the Acta sanctorum on its Index in 1695, an action that Mabillon protested in Rome. Joassart, Bernard, ‘Les Mauristes et les Bollandistes: une même approche de l'érudition?’ in Vauchez, Leclant, and Odon-Hurel, , eds., Dom Jean Mabillon, pp. 567–85Google Scholar.

55 As Papebroche, ‘Propylaeum’, p. i, observed, ‘[Baronio] did not believe that in doing so, he had detracted anything from the church's rights, for which the proof is sufficient in its ancient and just titles of possession.’

56 See Jean Boutier, ‘Étienne Baluze et les “Règles générales pour discerner les anciens titres faux d'avec les véritables”’, in idem, ed., Étienne Baluze, 1630–1718: érudition et pouvoirs dans l'Europe classique (Limoges, 2008), pp. 315–34. Boutier cites a letter from Mabillon to Thierry Ruinart of 25 May 1679 in which Mabillon announces his intention to refute the false rules of ‘Père Pagebrogue’.

57 DRD, sig. a iir.

58 The significance of Mabillon's De re diplomatica for diplomatics and historical philosophy has long been recognized, but other implications of his work need to be researched further, including his extensive use of images and his participation in the French crown's collection and organization of political knowledge. Barret-Kriegel, Jean Mabillon, takes important steps in the latter direction, and Jacob Soll discusses Mabillon in the context of Colbert's use of intellectuals for political projects in ‘Entre bibliothécaire et agent d'information: Baluze au service de Jean-Baptiste Colbert’, in Boutier, ed., Étienne Baluze, pp. 79–92; and in Soll, The information master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's secret state intelligence system (Ann Arbor, MI, 2009), esp. pp. 121–3.

59 Mabillon deals with this question most explicitly in DRD-S, pp. 3–4 . See the discussion below.

60 Ibid., p. 241. Mabillon accepts that only episcopal archives can be called public in general (p. 239).

61 Mabillon's influence on diplomatics in France is traced by Paul Bertrande, ‘Du De re diplomatica au Nouveau traité de diplomatique: réception des textes fondamentaux d'une discipline’, in Leclant, Vauchez, and Odon-Hurel, eds., Dom Jean Mabillon, pp. 605–19. See also Mersiowsky, ‘“Ausweitung”’; and Christian Albertan, ‘Bénédictins et Jésuites devant la question historiographique dans la première moitié du XVIIIe siècle’, in Leclant, Vauchez, and Odon-Hurel, eds., Dom Jean Mabillon, pp. 89–101.

62 See Quantin, ‘Reason and reasonableness’.

63 Cited from Hiatt, ‘Diplomatic arts’, p. 364.

64 See Mersiowsky, ‘“Ausweitung”’, for a detailed discussion of the Mabillon–Germon debate, generally supporting Mabillon's arguments; and Hiatt, ‘Diplomatic arts’, pp. 351–2, for a concise overview of early responses to Mabillon. Early critics included the royal historiographer Adrien de Valois (1607–92), who addressed Mabillon tangentially in his bitter attacks against the Jesuit Pierre-François Chifflet (1592–1682).

65 Germon was not the only one making such arguments. In 1705, for example, Jacob Friedrich Reimmann published an essay to the same effect about coins entitled ‘De necessitate scepticismi in studio genealogico’ in 1705 (discussed in Völkel, ‘Pyrrhonismus Historicus’, pp. 178–9 n. 45).

66 Germon, De veteribus, p. 41. As on other issues, the Histoire des contestations elaborated considerably, with even greater emphasis on foi publique, e.g. pp. 12–13: ‘Finally – and this is most worthy of attention – we have in the public archives many charters of the youngest race [of kings], after St Louis, which cannot be reasonably contested … But public depositories scarcely furnish us with a single act older than St Louis: to judge the truth of titles much older than this king, it has been necessary to draw on the archives of particular houses (maisons particulieres), which provide the rule for others.’

67 Germon, De veteribus, pp. 8–9.

68 Ibid., p. 46.

69 Ibid., p. 19, after noting, ‘Nor by these conclusions do you undermine ancient sacred and profane books, even if believed to have been of papyrus, bark or parchment, of which very many nevertheless survived and are in every hand.’

70 Histoire des contestations, pp. 16–17.

71 Discussions of the public sphere in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were launched by Habermas's, JürgenThe structural transformation of the public sphere (orig. 1962; English trans. Cambridge, 1991)Google Scholar, and show no signs of abating. Habermas's references to Roman law do not invoke public faith in the specific neo-Roman law sense used here.

72 Germon, De veteribus, p. 16.

73 Ibid., p. 94. Germon's sarcastic tone was recognized by contemporaries, as noted in the Histoire des contestations, e.g. p. 9.

74 Doublet's collection appeared as Histoire de l'abbaye de S. Denys en France (Paris, 1625).

75 Histoire des contestations, p. 67, puts the question more directly: ‘Where did all those Merovingian charters from the archives of Saint-Denis come from, which were not there in the ninth century, and which Doublet found there in the sixteenth; which were not there in the time of Doublet, and which Père Mabillon found there sixty years later?’ Mabillon responded to the discrepancy in DRD-S, p. 7.

76 DRD-S, p. 1.

77 Ibid., p. 2.

78 Ibid. Here, Mabillon seems to be equating diplomatics with the art of connoiseurship, which was also emerging at this time. I thank Bronwen Wilson for bringing this point to my attention.

79 Ibid., pp. 2, 5 respectively.

80 Ibid., p. 6, in emphatic language: ‘Verum de quaestione facti hìc agitur. Factum constat’, Mabillon declares (‘Truly we are dealing here with a question of fact. The fact stands firm’).

81 Ibid., p. 4.

82 Ibid., p. 3.

83 Ibid., p. 4.

84 Ibid. Here, Mabillon shows his familiarity with the debates over scepticism and Pyrrhonism that raged during his lifetime. Quantin, ‘Reason and reasonableness’, explains the issue of moral certainty.