Philippe Beaumanoir was a literate jurist who sought to put to writing the legal customs of his part of France, the county of Clermont.

To date, that law had been mostly passed on orally from generation to generation. Beaumanoir set it to writing. To some extent, he was followed (and copied) by other jurists in their districts who wished, too, to codify their customs, the most famous and influential of which became the Coutume de Paris.

Born, Philipe de Remi, he later promoted the title of Philippe de Beaumanoir based on the name of his land holdings.

De Beaumanoir was born in about 1250 at Lorris, France. His father, a knight and an occasional judge and was also known as Philippe de Remi. Records show, for example, that he rendered judgment in a case on January 10, 1257.

Philippe Jr. visited England and Scotland for four years between 1266 and 1269.

When he returned to France, he published two very popular novels, Manekine and Jehan de Dammartin et Blonde d'Oxford, both under pen names of Remi and Beaumanoir.

In 1279, he took possession of his family's estate Beaumanoir and refashioned his name Philippe de Beaumanoir. He had a castle built at Moncel.

At the same time, he was appointed as a local judge and official representative or governor of the French King (bailli). In this capacity, he often travelled to Paris to attend when the king, from time to time, convened a Parliament. In office, there exists a record dated September 27, 1283 at the library of Senlis, relating how a band of armed men under his command, entered a church to seize a suspect. This is ironic because his Coutumes de Clermont en Beauvaisis recognized sanctuary.

Philippe de BeaumanoirIt was also at about this time that he started his work on the Coutumes de Clermont en Beauvaisis, a 70 chapter codification of local law, intended to apply throughout the district of Clermont.

Beaumanoir's stated intention was to transfer the law's dependence on principles as they exuded from ancient cases, and replace that uncertain law with a code, a series of written rules of law; a codification.

Rather than have citizens guess at what a result might be were they to challenge another in a court of law with a result gleaned as best as could be done from a mix of old cases, Beaumanoir wanted a simple rule book so that the citizen would know with certainty and prospectively, what the rule of law was, even as he contemplated legal transactions.

Perhaps the most novel feature of his work: it was not written in Latin, the prevailing language of the clergy and academics, but in the language of the people, the French language.

This may have been a simple matter of necessity: Beaumanoir never mastered reading or writing Latin.

To some, this is a disadvantage reflected in his Coutumes: Beaumanoir could not have read the Roman law classics such as Justinian's Institutes.

But to others, that makes his Coutumes de Clermont en Beauvaisis simply more authentic, unpolluted by any compulsion to defer to the Roman law worshiped by the clergy

His Coutumes de Clermont en Beauvaisis was one of the first law codes to provide for spousal support after divorce.

The Coutumes was comprehensive: it set out the standard width of public roads, the relations between persons of different social standings, and the sentences for a variety of crimes, such as murder in the aftermath of adultery.

The Coutumes sets out the qualifications and jurisdiction of a bailli and the very sensitive jurisdiction of the ecclesiastic courts.

He sets up rules governing lawyers and allows for a party to litigation to select a person other than a lawyer to represent him but in this case, no fees can be payable.

Trials are described and a rudimentary statute of limitations (which is called prescription in the civil law) is established with generous exceptions for those on crusade or on other military duty.

Oral wills are allowed but no-one can disinherit a blood relative.

No original of Beaumanoir's Coutumes de Clermont en Beauvaisis has survived but there are eleven complete copies.

In 1284, Beaumanoir was appointed sénéchal of Poitou (chief judge) and later, in 1287, at Saintonge. In 1289, he went to Rome as part of an official French mission to negotiate public issues with Pope Boniface XIII.

Upon his return to France, he was again appointed bailli at Vermandois and, later, at Touraine.

Beaumanoir died on January 7, 1296, at Monsel and was buried at in the church yard at Compiègne.

His estate was found to be insolvent. To pay his debts, King Philippe IV seized his assets, including the castle at Moncel which then became a favorite of the king as a seasonal residence.

Montesquieu described Beaumanoir as the light of his era ("une lumière de son temps et une grande lumière"). In Remy he has always been idolized for his achievements. The tapestry above, dated about 13 Century, depicts him giving a copy of the Coutumes to Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

REFERENCES:

  • Arabeyre, P. and others, Dictionnaire historique des juristes français (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2007), pages 55-57.
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Phillippe de Beaumanoir, website of the Town of Rémy, France.
  • Salmon, A., Philippe de Beaumanoir - Coutumes de Beauvaisis (Paris: Éditions A. et J. Picard, 1970), pages I to XVIII.