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Early Modern European Archivality: Organised Records, Information, and State Power, c.1500

Early Modern European Archivality: Organised Records, Information, and State Power, c.1500

(p.29) 2 Early Modern European Archivality: Organised Records, Information, and State Power, c.1500
Archives and Information in the Early Modern World
Randolph C. Head
British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

Comparative case-study analysis can provide valuable insights into record-keeping systems within Europe and cross-culturally. Building on a comparison of empirical evidence from 16th-century Lisbon and Würzburg, this chapter makes three methodological arguments. First, a critique of Ernst Posner’s path-breaking Archives of the Ancient World (1972) leads to the conclusion that we must revise our categories for the analysis of record-keeping across cultures. Instead of assimilating non-European repositories to European archives, the broader category of archivality avoids the uncritical naturalisation of European practices while still recognising similarities cross-culturally. Second, archivality is most useful if applied primarily to the accumulation of records by institutions of power, such as empires, kingdoms, and states, as one subset of record-keeping more broadly. Third, inventories and organisational structures represent a particularly promising area for comparative analysis. Comparison of the Lisbon and Würzburg evidence shows two related but diverging archivalities at work in early modern Europe.

Keywords:   information management, archives, record-keeping, inventories, registers, Europe, state papers, comparative history, Lisbon, Würzburg

Introduction: Archives, Comparison, and Archivality

IN THE INTRODUCTION to his path-breaking 1972 study of Archives in the Ancient World, Ernst Posner began by raising a critical terminological and conceptual question: ‘are we justified in calling these records archives?’ Given his earlier statement that ‘archives administration is so intimately connected with the governance of secular and religious affairs and with the individual’s conduct of business that it must be viewed within the context of the cultures in which the archives originated…’, Posner argued that not only the study of record-keeping, but also historiography more broadly depended on understanding ‘the genesis and character of the archives of successive ages, their significance as components of the various cultures, and the considerations that help account for their survival’.1 But if the ways in which material was archived varied profoundly from culture to culture, how had Posner decided which textual material to include from the vast region he was studying? Of the many diverse texts that have survived from Antiquity, not all qualify as archival (however the term might be defined). Posner’s answer to this question rested on his own background as an archival practitioner profoundly steeped in both German and American tradition. He found it relatively easy to identify a series of ‘constants in records creation’—including laws of the land, records of administrative action, accounting records, cadasters, records of persons (p.30) and their obligations, and notarial records—that linked the cuneiform and papyrus repositories he analysed to archival traditions with which he was familiar.2

Posner’s attribution of the features of European archives to his ancient material represented a plausible response to the challenges he faced as a pioneer in the field of comparative studies of record-keeping. Historians today, however, are more cautious about assuming such continuity in analytic concepts. Cultural historiography as practised in the last generation has shown convincingly that historians’ assimilation of past cultures to the present too often rested on the naturalisation of what are in fact highly contingent and historically situated assumptions about human interaction. Rather than following Posner, I will therefore propose a different approach that respects the possibility of comparing record-keeping practices, including cross-culturally, but without naturalising the categories involved—above all the mutable central category of ‘archives’, which is both distinctively Western as well as highly varied in the ways it was applied inside Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. My research concentrates on the finding tools and organisational systems created at various European sites at certain historical moments. This chapter draws in particular on evidence from Lisbon and Würzburg during the first half of the 16th century. A comparison of two European cases highlights the discourses and practices that they shared, as well as their differences. The shared elements, however, should be viewed not as universal constants, but rather as features of European archivality, that is, of a dynamic tradition intimately connected (as Posner correctly noted) to European ways of organising ‘the governance of secular and religious affairs and … the individual’s conduct of business’. In the chapter’s conclusion, I argue for an overarching framework of ‘archivalities’, which simultaneously provincialises European forms while still allowing for useful comparison.3

(p.31) Theoretical Considerations

The study of record-keeping systems faces a particular challenge because of the reflexive nature of treating repositories of records as subjects rather than sites of research. Such reflexivity operates at two distinct levels. First, investigating the history of any system of keeping records means using the records the system has preserved (both their contents and their architecture) to understand the system itself: the means of research and the object of research thus overlap. For work within the Western tradition, this reflexivity is heightened by the way in which Western historians give archives a central place in our practice. Since the 18th century, archives have been treated as collections of potential sources, raw material that allows historians to reconstruct specific pasts, but whose collective existence and organisation remains largely unquestioned except in highly technical terms.4 Historians in this tradition are expected to devote intense scrutiny to the individual record, distilled in textual form as a source, but have generally left the transmission, archival context, and material features of actual documents to specialised disciplines such as diplomatics, archivistics, or sigillography (which were long devalued as mere ‘auxiliary’ sciences).5

Questioning the naturalness of categories such as archive, document, or record therefore destabilises both the objects under study and the methods historians have typically used to study them. However, historical analysis can benefit as well, since a less culture-specific—not to say less Eurocentric—approach to historical records opens the way to analyse record-keeping systems around the world and through the millennia without squeezing them all into a set of analytical categories derived from only one. Additionally, stepping back from the particularities of European archival history can help us recognise just how much both the practices and the contingencies of record-keeping in any tradition shape the histories that those studying it are able to write.

Defining Archivality

One way in which historians have responded to the challenges of investigating the histories of cultures around the globe without inadvertently importing assumptions derived from one culture’s experience—usually, European culture’s—has been to use fresh terminology. New terms can help establish distance between seemingly natural categories and the phenomena—for this study, between categories such as ‘archive’ or ‘record’, and the actual configurations of material substrates, media (p.32) cultures, and textual and visual content that historians encounter in their work, and on which they base their conclusions.

I therefore approach record-keeping systems, including the European ones at the centre of my own research, as the products of diverse archivalities—a term that I propose we use to characterise collections of documents made up of records related to dominion, possessions, and power. Any particular archivality emerges out of the configuration of phenomena at multiple levels of abstraction, including medial forms (e.g. parchment, clay, silk, paper, bamboo, and the writing systems inscribed on them), medial configurations (e.g. rolls, books, tablets), the architecture and the organisation of space in repositories, the staff involved, and so forth, as well as the way a repository embodies cultural forms (law, ceremony, administration) and cultural practices (writing, compiling, sorting, searching, and deploying).6 Defining different archivalities provides a way to distinguish the different ways in which records accumulated, how they were preserved, and how later actors deployed them across multiple cultural contexts and periods. It allows us to distinguish medieval from early modern archivality within Europe, as well as European from Chinese, South Asian, or Islamic archivalities, which rested on quite different modes of making, keeping, and using records.7 Scholars of the Islamic world, for example, have been arguing for a generation that we must ‘stop asking what collections of original documents are available from this society or that, [and] try to understand relationships among the storage of written materials, the contestation of the past, and the strategies of elites’.8 By retaining the root concept of the archive, however, the term ‘archivality’ signals that important homologies do exist across cultures and eras. The similarities with Prussian practice that Posner discerned in Mesopotamia and Persia are real, because he was comparing record-keeping carried out by the ruling groups in pre-modern agrarian empires who had similar interests and fears, and used comparable methods based on writing, which we can meaningfully describe as being at least archive-like.

Applying the term ‘archivality’ thus provincialises the European-based terminology that currently predominates in the study of record-keeping. As outlined in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s influential collection of essays, Provincializing Europe, provincialising existing categories begins by rejecting implicit or explicit assertions that a single culture’s disciplinary framework can provide a universal approach to cultural phenomena from other cultures.9 As my own research into (p.33) European archives has persuaded me, the term ‘archive’ (along with the related terminology used today) is in fact tightly bound to culturally and temporally specific Western conceptions of law, power, authority, and human memory.10 Nevertheless, a common thread linked European uses of the term, always relating to law and dominion while combining older ideas of a treasury of documents that could prove the possession of privileges, with newer assertions that a sovereign’s collection of records possessed public faith (publica fides).11

By provincialising the research category of archives and subsuming it under the less natural term archivality, we can continue to use it where it is applicable, and even draw on it across cultures where it usefully distinguishes some phenomena from others—but now not in terms of universal or natural criteria, but simply because all comparison rests on the assumption that the comparanda are similar, as well as different.

Framing Comparison: Archives, Inventories, and their Terminology

Comparison is a powerful method of investigation when applied to the history of archivality.12 Comparing diverse cases allows historians to discern phenomena not visible through the investigation of a single repository of records, while avoiding pitfalls such as reading too much into the features of a particular accumulation or assuming that local peculiarities represent a larger pattern (or, indeed, a universal principle). At the same time, the amount of information that accumulates while studying multiple cases—especially in a particularist, rather than generalising, discipline such as history—also means that comparison is more likely to be fruitful when the range of phenomena included is narrowly defined, which helps prevent the devolution of comparative analysis into a tapestry of differences. In my research on early modern European archives, I restrict the phenomena I include by focusing on organisational tools such as inventories, registers, copybooks, and the articulation of archival spaces. Major efforts to reorganise an existing collection have been one focus, as has been the initiation of new methods for managing the flow of documents into, through, and out of particular chancelleries.

(p.34) An Islamic Comparison

Since the 1990s, scholars of many major world regions have been carrying out similar investigations of record-keeping practices as an independent subject of research. Since the questions in each case are vast and the challenges large, it is far too early to reach any comparative conclusions. Rather, a brief review of recent work on Islamic record-keeping demonstrates how important it is to question expectations that derive from European experience, as well as how ongoing debates are refining our understanding of the record-keeping practices (and their consequences for the preservation or destruction of documents) characteristic of various pre-modern Islamic polities. The Islamic case is of especial interest because the older scholarship has generally maintained that almost no archival records remain from the Abbasid and Mamluk periods, even as most scholars treated the few documents that have survived (many of them in unusual repositories such as Christian monasteries or in the Cairo Geniza, a product of ritual textual practices on the part of Cairo’s Jewish community) as the equivalents of European princely or papal archives.

The apparent lack of ‘archives’ in the pre-Ottoman Islamic Middle East has been the subject of considerable recent debate, to which Michael Chamberlain’s Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190–1350 was an important early contribution. Arguing that the absence of surviving political archives from Syria in his period resulted from a fundamentally different relationship among recorded texts, elite contestation, and cultural strategies for making and using memories, Chamberlain maintained that biographical dictionaries rather than chancellery records represented the key venue for Islamic record-keeping in his period. Such legal and notarial records that the Seljuk and Mamluk sultans and their officials did produce were soon discarded, in contrast to medieval Europe, where such documents were the most important venue for political memorialisation and consequently experienced loving preservation, copying, and cataloguing.13 Chamberlain’s ambitious study thus proposes a fundamentally different architecture of power and cultural capital at work in Damascus, one that produced a fundamentally different textual record, as well. This view drives Chamberlain’s critique of older research that kept looking for ‘collections of original documents’.

Recent articles by Tamer El-Leithy and Konrad Hirschler circle back to the problem of legal and political documents (as opposed to the literary sources Chamberlain championed) in a way that both builds on and critiques Chamberlain. As El-Leithy observes against Chamberlain, ‘legal documents were routinely produced by notaries and courts; they were assiduously preserved by individuals and families, who later consulted and brandished these written forms of evidence (p.35) in disputes and conflicts’.14 El-Leithy seeks not to rehabilitate older views of such documents that depend on Eurocentric assumptions, however, but rather to ‘interrogate the basic categories of our investigation, especially “archive”’,15 through an investigation of archiving practices that concentrates on ‘the precise context in which documents were produced and transacted’ and the resulting ‘social uses, and logic, of archival collections’.16 In a recent article, Konrad Hirschler further problematises the supposed scarcity of Islamic archival documents by turning directly to the category of archive. ‘Rejecting this idea of the centralized archive enables us to reconfigure research into attitudes toward document preservation in terms of archival practices. These practices, for their part, were inscribed in specific cultural and social fields well beyond the central bureaucracy’—an observation that is equally applicable to medieval and early modern European archival practices.17

Terms such as historical anthropology, archiving practices, and archival practices thus allow for comparison while respecting differences in how different polities in different cultures used written records. In contrast to Chamberlain’s radical approach, which implies that genres of textual record are largely incommensurable across cultures—charters and chronicles here, biographical dictionaries there, and other genres again in China, South Asia, and beyond—El-Leithy and Hirschler recognise that the circumstances of large agrarian empires with literate bureaucracies were likely to produce what we today call ‘archival documents’.18 But this is not enough: in contrast to Posner’s easy transfer not only of forms and offices, but of hermeneutic context and thus legibility from European models to other circumstances, all of the scholars of the Islamic world cited here insist that we must look much more closely at material forms, practices of production and deployment, and contexts of interpretation before simply assuming that the Abbasids, Seljuks, Mamluks, and European princes were all doing the same thing with their legal and administrative records. In this, they anticipate and demonstrate the possibility (p.36) of diverse cultural frames for the production, preservation, and deployment of archive-like records that motivates the term ‘archivality’ as well.

European Archivality and Its Terminology

In what follows, I seek to further explore Western European archivality around 1500, in a period when it was rapidly evolving in response to identifiable changes in the way rulers, elites, and populations interacted and contested control over people, land, and (increasingly) distant lands. Before delving into the specific embodiments of archivality that were at work—specifically, in major archival reorganisations that took place in Lisbon and Würzburg after 1500—a quick overview of the terminology that I make use of is necessary. This terminology very much grows out of the ongoing, though far from stable, European tradition, since the comparison here involves only European archives, and the terms below are defined in a way that is artificially precise compared to general usage at any time since the 14th century. Nevertheless, establishing a coherent set of terms is especially important when evidence in multiple languages and from multiple periods is involved.

Since the invention of writing, humans have been creating records—that is, they have been using texts and images in various media to memorialise actions seen as important, so as to make an authoritative recollection of that action possible at some later time. Records took physical form through the conjunction of a material substrate, specific medial forms, and actual text in the production of a document—which is a material object, rather than an abstract trace of memorialised knowledge. Record creation was only one way writing was put to use, of course, nor were all records and the documents that carried them equal: some were carefully preserved and zealously guarded, others might function as traces, memories, or proofs for a shorter or longer time, then be discarded without hesitation. Some records were kept secret and hidden, others engraved into wooden, metal, or stone tablets and publicly displayed.19

Record creation has a long history in the regions that became Europe, and accelerated again after the 11th century in tandem with the production of texts in many forms, from amulets and inscriptions to scholarly compendia and literary masterpieces. In medieval Europe, charters containing a single record, created with the purpose of recording the memory of a specific act (ad perpetuam rei memoriam is the conventional phrase), form a prominent group of documents (p.37) with its own diversity of sub-genres. Records in Europe took material form in diverse ways, however, not only as original charters, but also as authenticated or non-authenticated reproductions, as register entries in manuscript books, or as loci in later published collections. Reproducibility is a key feature of records, but depending on the medium and mode of reproduction, subtractions or additions to what was originally recorded inevitably took place; thus the documentary context (materially, visually, and in who possessed it) was often as important as the actual text for shaping a record’s meaning.

Archives, as defined in this chapter, were loci for the collection and preservation of records in diverse documentary forms, with one additional important qualification: while any person or institution could accumulate records, such an accumulation only became archival in the European mode of archivality to the extent that its possessor exercised some form of dominion.20 In the central, high, and late Middle Ages, many individuals and institutions participated in dominion, leading to a dense archival landscape by 1500. With the rise of centralised states claiming sovereignty in the 16th century, a long struggle over the authenticity and force of many repositories began, with royal officials seeking to seize or copy many collections in the territories they ruled, while subjects often resisted such appropriation.21

The importance in Europe of who had made and who possessed records points towards another set of framing conditions for a specifically European archivality, embedded in ‘the governance of secular and religious affairs and with the individual’s conduct of business’.22 Many elements of European archivality derived in important ways from theories of Roman law and from the practices of the late Roman administrative state (or, at least, from how Europeans imagined and imitated Roman law and its practices through the centuries).23 A significant point of reference (p.38) was the establishment in the later empire of a special office, that of the tabellio. By imperial appointment, the tabellio had the capacity to receive, authenticate, and preserve records that documented the terms of contracts, agreements, wills, and other agreements among individuals. His collection, called the tabularium, was by the late Middle Ages viewed as the forerunner of the European public archive. Should disputes arise, evidence drawn from the tabularium possessed special authority as evidence—known as publica fides, public faith—such that the party disputing such evidence bore the burden of proving it was flawed. In short, records registered at a tabularium, the instrumenta authentica, or instrumenta publica, enjoyed both presumptive authenticity and superior authority over other evidence.

Even though the Roman legal system either collapsed entirely or mutated beyond recognition in subsequent centuries, the idea that records preserved and authenticated by public authority were superior to all others remained a pillar of European archivality.24 As early as the 11th century, public repositories reappeared in Italian cities in the form of notaries and their registers, established and licensed now not by the emperor, but by merchant urban communes who had every interest in sustaining the authenticity of contracts. The notarial tradition remained closely aligned with Roman law discourses, which played a vital role across southern Europe, as we will see in Lisbon.25 In the absence of functioning central authority across much of Europe, however, other accumulations of authentic records also flourished, such as the treasuries of charters (sometimes called an archivum) and the cartularies preserved by monasteries. Even here, however, the public status of the guarantor—a lord and his entourage who sealed and witnessed a deed, a commune issued a seal by its lord, or a monastery founded by a noble family and recognised by the church—lent authenticity and forensic force to the records that they preserved. Medievalists have long known that European practices for using records could diverge very far from both Roman and modern expectations, varying substantially from place to place and time to time.26 Yet the essentially (p.39) public character of authentic documents survived as a durable ideal. For this reason, I believe it is appropriate to limit the term ‘archive’ to accumulations of records for which their possessors claimed public authority (no matter how, or how contentiously, that authority was defined), at least until the 19th century. Once national bureaucratic states became the hegemonic political form, the term ‘archive’ took on new, more expansive and heterogeneous meanings, which have continued to evolve into the present.27

European archivality, to sum up, rested on certain ways of creating records, on the forms of documents that were produced to preserve and transmit records, and on an evolving body of underlying discourses about law, public authority, and authenticity that privileged records not only by their content, but also on the basis of who had produced them, what documentary form they took, and the status of the person or institution who controlled the resulting collections. At no point from the 10th to the 19th century were these elements entirely stable, as many scholars have shown. Nevertheless, ongoing family resemblances—integrally connected to ideas about dominion, law, and power—linked generations of record producers to record users in an ongoing, if often fractured and inconsistent conversation.

Discerning European Archivality in Two Case Studies

The following analysis of two major projects to make archival records accessible and useable by their possessors—the Kings of Portugal and the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg after 1500, respectively—seeks both to characterise the archivality involved in each case (showing considerable similarities as well as intriguing differences), and also to illustrate the value of having an overarching category, archivality, that enables comparison and stimulates further research. The late 15th and early 16th centuries were a period of great innovation in European archival collections, as princes and prelates invested heavily in securing the documents that they felt they needed to prove their privileges and possessions, as well as in creating new tools for managing the rapidly growing flow of written (and eventually also printed) information that circulated in European society. A comparative approach quickly makes it clear that this was also a period of growing heterogeneity in record-keeping practice. Not only the two cases discussed here, but further examples such as Savoy and Innsbruck make it clear that while princes and their chancellery servants shared many assumptions about the value of documents, these assumptions by no means constrained them to a single approach as they sought to master the ‘ocean of letters’ they confronted.28

(p.40) The first case, the Portuguese Leitura Nova begun shortly after 1500, relied heavily on notarial forms of authentication, while also deploying parchment, elaborate decorations, and beautiful calligraphy to illustrate the importance of the compilation of royal privileges found on its pages. This remarkable collection of over sixty volumes limited itself to privileges themselves: its creators apparently saw little need to explain or contextualise the royal acts they inscribed—although contemporaneous projects in Lisbon to re-issue royal chronicles, urban statutes, and other genres show that the Leitura was part of a larger project.

A decade later, a chancellery secretary in Würzburg began a lifelong project in his master’s repositories that combined two goals: to make past records accessible for diverse purposes and in relation to multiple starting points, but also to explain the prince-bishops’ secular dominion by mobilising not only forensic records, but also other information, including the history of the formation of the various records themselves. Whereas the Leitura Nova compiled lasting privileges issued by the crown, Lorenz Fries provided an encyclopaedic guide to the political and economic world of the prince-bishops’ realms that also pointed to a diverse array of documents, ranging from charters stored in an inaccessible castle vault across the river to entries in several hundred volumes of registers in the secular chancellery office itself. Whereas the Leitura emphasised authority and reliability, Fries’s Hohe Registratur emphasised information and context. Yet the projects shared many features as well, from their choice of the codex and its associated technologies as a desirable medial configuration to their ongoing valorisation of public instruments authenticated by both their material form and their archival transmission. The very formality and consistency of each project highlights how they drew on contemporary understandings of law and power, and configured available practices into a distinctive product. Both their similarities and differences therefore help to clarify the contours of European archivality at this time, including the wide range of variation possible despite many shared legal, cultural, and technical elements.

The Lisbon Leitura Nova: An Archivality of Royal Authenticity

On the illuminated frontispieces of a series of fine parchment volumes in the Torre do Tombo archive in Lisbon appears a mandate from King Manuel I (r. 1494–1521):

And so that one may find the necessary items for those who may need them, with greater certainty and less labour, we order that [you] organize the aforementioned Tombo [register] and its writs with great diligence. And after they have been (p.41) organized and harmonized, we order that those that appear that they might be necessary at some time be newly copied and written truly.29

With these words, the king initiated an extraordinary archival project known as the Leitura Nova or ‘new reading’, consisting of some 60 volumes of 200–300 parchment leaves each. The Leitura Nova represented the high point of a century of intensifying organisation and the production of new chancellery books in Lisbon, which also included newly copied chronicles and new legislative compilations—all in addition to continued production of the existing register series. Although the Leitura Nova built on an earlier project to rescue the deteriorating registers of Portugal’s early monarchs begun in 1459, their scope, illuminations, and careful tables of contents set these volumes apart from Portuguese and other chancellery books appearing across Europe at this time. The project and its antecedents are particularly revealing of various elements of Portuguese archivality around 1500 because of their legal rigour, sumptuousness, and close connections to the royal patronage system.

Portugal fits into a typical Western European trajectory characterised by an explosive growth in record production in the years before 1500, though the stability of the Torre do Tombo, already established in the early 14th century, distinguished Portugal from the neighbouring kingdom of Castile during the relentless wars of the mid-15th century.30 The grand archival projects undertaken by King Manuel reflected his relatively firm position after the internecine struggles of his predecessor’s reign. On the one hand, the kings of Portugal headed a firmly entrenched patriarchal nobility defined by increasingly tightly controlled entails (‘morgadios’) and chapel endowments. Since royal authorisation of these forms of property-holding was essential, the crown gained a means to exert authority over (if not derive much income from) the nobles who controlled the Portuguese landscape.31 The crown’s power to document each entail in a royally licensed register (known as a tombo, thus giving name to the royal archive, the Torre do Tombo) became a linchpin of domestic order. In Lisbon and the other ports, in contrast, the rapid expansion of Portugal’s African, Indian Ocean, and Brazilian colonial projects brought a flood of new revenue to the crown, while also enriching a mercantile bourgeoisie who depended on the crown to protect them from excess noble interference. Under these dual circumstances (which lasted until the death of King Sebastian at the catastrophe of Alcácer-Quibir in 1578), (p.42) royal record-keeping for the metropole concentrated on defining and controlling the nobility’s privileges, a project whose considerable cost was financed by royal income from overseas.

The Portuguese state of the 16th century thus looked modern in its external affairs while still resting on an internal social order characterised by seigniorial property relations.32 Manuel I’s decision to create a permanent, authorised, and splendid archive of royal deeds recorded in books—the Leitura Nova—reflected this political reality as well as the monarch’s ambitions and self-regard. His circumstances shaped royal record-keeping practices, which focused single-mindedly on royal grants of privilege of various kinds—that is, to the traces of authoritative action characteristic of medieval European archival records.

The Leitura Nova volumes that the chancellery began producing in 1504 also reflected a concern for finding authentic records that appears across the continent at the time. The series was organised as a systematic corpus according to a comprehensive scheme intended to preserve and to make accessible the deeds of the royal house; the series’ architecture is laid out in the earliest volume under the heading ‘Ordinance on how this and other volumes are placed and on the manner one should take in the search for writings’.33 Forty-seven of the sixty volumes corresponded to territorial divisions in the royal administration, the comarcas, while some nineteen volumes were oriented to the actions of the king, such as Diritos Reaes, Mestrados, Padrõados, Legitimações, and Privilegios. The vast work of selection from decades of emissions registers into the Leitura Nova thus created a conceptual map of the crown’s areas of interest and activity at the time.

The royal presence was affective as well as organisational, since each volume begins with an illuminated frontispiece bearing the arms of King Manuel. As Sylvie Deswarte argues in her analysis, ‘Conveying the monarch’s desire for centralisation, this series of books appears in each of its volumes (or nearly) as a kind of triumphal standard with arms and the royal emblem.’34 It is thus entirely consistent that along with the licenciado who reviewed the copies in the Leitura against the original records, Manuel I personally signed the first three volumes to be completed.35

King Manuel’s close personal attention to the Leitura Nova corresponds to and amplifies one of the primary differences that distinguish this series from (p.43) earlier registers in the royal archive, namely the great efforts taken to authenticate each volume and each individual leaf. These efforts reflected the growing role that documentary public faith played in European archivality of this era. Several performative features of the Leitura Nova established that the records on its pages were authentic and public, including the use of illumination and decoration, the perfection of the parchment and layout, and the rich bindings that the volumes originally possessed.36 The mise-en-page also directly established the entries’ reliability. Notably, at the bottom of nearly every page of the Leitura Nova, across several thousand leaves, the supervising secretary added his notarial mark, carefully placed to prevent the insertion of additional lines of text. Since the senior chancellery officials were notaries, their signature not only confirmed the absence of tampering, but also gave the entries on the page public faith. The supervising scribe also added an entry on the last inscribed page of most volumes confirming not only his inspection of the contents, but also naming explicitly the total number of leaves.

In content, the Leitura Nova was a selective register, preserving for the king’s use a record of the lasting privileges that he and his predecessors had issued. Careful searching and coding preceded the volumes’ actual production, leaving traces in the primitive registers of each reign. The project’s opulence and the extensive research undertaken in the older registers and in the Torre do Tombo’s loose documents to produce it distinguish the Leitura Nova from typical late medieval and early modern issuance registers.

Manuel’s mandate launching the Leitura Nova also demanded ‘greater certainty and less labour’ in using the collection, which sought to make the crown and its chancellery the central point for issuing and supporting noble privileges in Portugal. The mandate’s call for usability gained visible expression in the extensive analytical tables of contents found at the beginning of each volume, which allowed readers to find specific charter recipients. These tables were keyed closely to the genre of material that each volume contained, and provided the names of individuals, secular institutions, and monasteries whose privileges appeared in the volume, given in tabular but not alphabetical form. Each table is notable for the beauty of its execution, executed in fine calligraphy and spreading generously across many pages of expensive parchment with illuminated titles and large rubricated headings. It seems that what mattered to the Leitura’s creators was representing the individuals, towns and ecclesiastical institutions that had received the king’s grace in tables as in the text, more than listing them in abstract alphabetical order. Manuel’s Leitura Nova thus took place, next to his newly issued legal codes and his equally sumptuous recopying of old royal chronicles, in creating (p.44) a parchment machine for the legitimation and glorification of the Portuguese monarchy according to the neo-Roman and feudal law of privilege and proof.

The Torre do Tombo around 1500 thus represents an example of backward-looking European archivality, which put great emphasis on authentic objects that preserved traces of a ruler’s acts of privilege and patronage. The Leitura Nova embodied the priorities and cultural practices also found in cartularies and archival treasures of charters secreted in monasteries and town halls across Europe, while also reflecting the Portuguese monarchy’s construction as a highly centralised patronage organisation. For royal acts of lasting importance, both symbolic and juridical authentication remained essential. Careful transcription after detailed review ensured that only the truly significant documents gained entry into this canon through a ‘new reading’. These records gained authenticity through their formality of layout, which was then heightened by illumination and by the meticulous notarial confirmations found on every page of the Leitura Nova.

Even as the secretaries of the Torre do Tombo were creating their refined and beautiful tool, however, the growing flood of paper administrative records and European monarchs’ growing craving to be ‘fully informed’ (as Arndt Brendecke puts it) was creating new conditions for records management in archives.37 More and more, political knowledge circulated in genres beyond the formal charter or privilege; in other parts of Europe, chancellery secretaries responded with finding aids very different from Lisbon’s Leitura Nova.

The Würzburg Hohe Registratur: Inventing an Archivality of Information

As the royal notaries in Lisbon were producing the volumes of the Leitura Nova, a chancellery secretary in the Prince-Bishopric of Würzburg in Central Germany undertook a comprehensive annotation, reorganisation, and indexing of his master’s archive, whose primary goal was to guide the prince-bishops’ servitors to the information they needed. From 1520 until his death in 1550, Lorenz Fries laboured among holdings of records in document and codex form, ultimately designing and executing a series of interlocking finding tools in book form that provided unusually effective access to this diverse material. Although he never abandoned a typical European discourse of charters as traces of authoritative action, Fries’s project, known as the Hohe Registratur, in fact opened the door to understanding a ruler’s trove of records as a source of information useful in context for the extension and reproduction of wealth and power.38

(p.45) Würzburg lies in south-eastern Germany, historically part of Franconia but with long-standing ties to Bavaria and Austria that intensified in the early modern period. The forms of record-keeping that developed there during the 13th and 14th centuries were unremarkable, and like its peers, Würzburg suffered serious disruption in the 15th century as record-keeping broke down under the leadership of a series of spendthrift and incompetent prince-bishops. Recovery also followed a typical pattern for German states, beginning under the reforming bishop Rudolf II von Scherenberg (r. 1466–95). The reorganisation of the prince-bishopric’s chancellery under Rudolf II showed many parallels to developments in Lisbon: both concentrated on the regularisation of charter issuance, then on the recovery of forgotten charters and the formation of chancellery books to record important charters by category.39

In contrast to the clarity of royal authority in Portugal, the prince-bishops’ territory and income were characterised by diverse forms of possession and by entanglement with the lands and privileges of other lords ranging from local barons to the Holy Roman Emperors. Franconia, where the bulk of the Würzburg possessions lay, was notorious for its fragmented forms of dominion, fractious petty nobility, and endless feuding, which continued right into the 16th century. Meanwhile, the prince-bishops’ own privileges came from many different sources: holdings might reflect donations to the church, papal or imperial grants, monastic property under the bishop’s administration, secular privileges from other nobles (higher or lower), purchases, and myriad other forms. Rather than rising above their rivals by the ability to authorise lineages’ holdings, the prince-bishops and their administrators needed to approach every dispute and every source of revenue with as much information as possible if they were to have any hope of prevailing over other claimants. Not surprisingly, the largest genre of register in the prince-bishops’ chancellery were the Gebrechenbücher, which recorded boundary disputes with neighbouring lords, towns, and individuals.40

Lorenz Fries joined the bishopric’s secular administration in 1520 after university studies in Leipzig, Wittenberg, and Vienna.41 His interest in the prince-bishops’ trove of records is documented by his extensive marginal annotations of records, which appear throughout the corpus surviving from his lifetime. Fries’s reading and annotation served both historical research and his project for a comprehensive guide to the useful knowledge that the records contained. Both (p.46) tasks were made more difficult by the chaos he encountered among the records, and by their physical dispersion in three urban repositories (the chancellery itself and two sets of vaults in the city) along with a vault in the Marienberg castle across the river from the city itself.42

Despite the substantial similarities to the situation in Lisbon—including a typical late medieval European archivality that combined charters and notarial record-keeping, legitimated by legal discourses that drew both on Roman and feudal law—the archival system that Fries and his successor Johann Schetzler created was both deeply different from the Leitura Nova and extraordinarily ambitious in its approach to mobilising knowledge from archives. The multi-volume Hohe Registratur and the finding lists, indexes, and other tools distributed among the entire heterogeneous collection formed an interlocking system for locating useful knowledge that went considerably beyond the lovingly placed but weakly indexed register entries in the Leitura Nova.

The first phase of Fries’s effort to create a usable archive took place in the Marienberg castle, where a large vaulted room contained five armoires full of loose documents, mostly charters, in addition to various odds and ends.43 Thanks to his labours, Fries was able by about 1530 to produce a clear guide to the Marienberg documents that provided both visual images of armoires, drawers, and their labels as well as an overview that he described as a ‘common register, arranged alphabetically, about the abovementioned cases, and what rests in each box, with indication of the box’s number and row’.44 He also produced summary alphabetical indexes, kept with the boxes, that described documents in each box. For the armoire labelled Proprietatis, for example, Fries wrote, ‘one finds in each drawer a particular leaf or quire, also arranged according to ABC, showing what sort of charters are contained within’.45 Significantly, the alphabetical guide to the Marienberg collection, which provided the locations (by case and row) where documents pertaining to various topics or lordly actions could be found, was subsequently bound into the more comprehensive Hohe Registratur.

During the same years, the Würzburg chancellery created or reorganised multiple serial chancellery books, which brought together relevant records on specific topics.46 A wave of rebinding or recopying of older material as well as the launching of many new series left the Würzburg chancellery with some 349 books in 61 series by mid-century. This collection of books represented a key (p.47) operational resource for the chancellery, and saw far more intensive use than the loose charters stacked in the Marienberg castle; and it therefore became the focus of Fries’s project for a comprehensive finding system. Fries’s successor Schetzler copied in an overview of the chancellery books into the beginning of the Hohe Registratur as well, which explained the function of each series along with its history and growth.47

All of this preliminary work by Fries on the corpus of chancellery books and of drawers and cases on the Marienberg became one foundation for the more comprehensive Hohe Registratur, to which we now turn. The Hohe Registratur consisted of a comprehensive three-volume alphabetical guide not to documents, but to the bishops’ possessions, interests, and responsibilities as secular administrators, with specific pointers to relevant records. Some of these pointers referred to the cases and drawers in the Marienberg, but most referenced pages in the sixty-one series of chancellery books, which reproduced the records most often needed for administering the principality.

Evidence from several phases of the Registratur’s production survives to the present, allowing us to gain a good picture of how it was compiled.48 Like the Lisbon notaries selecting old register entries to recopy into the Leitura Nova, Fries worked on the Hohe Registratur in a selective fashion, compiling diverse material according to headwords referring to places, people, or areas of princely interest.49 Unlike the Leitura Nova, however, whose volumes corresponded to provinces, genres of privilege, or royal actions, Fries worked strictly alphabetically. He began with the letter A before 1525, and once he had a rough draft that listed all the relevant material—which took until 1541 !—began again at A with the autograph final version of the Hohe Registratur.50 The date of B has been lost, C was recopied into the codex in 1543, and so forth through the end of volume 1 at K, completed in 1547.51 Although alphabetisation was a well-established technique in European scholarly works, the abstraction it implied—ordering heterogeneous content simply according to the letter names started with—was unusual in late medieval archives, and was truly innovative when applied in such a comprehensive way.

After its introductory oversights of the Marienberg and the chancellery book series, the Hohe Registratur consisted of entries for places, people, or subjects, each referring to specific records located throughout the prince-bishops’ multiple repositories and genres of records. The entries vary considerably in length and detail: some consist of only a few lines, others run pages long. Most explained (p.48) as well as located documents, as Thomas Heiler notes in his detailed study.52 The Hohe Registratur served multiple functions for the episcopal officers who had access to it. It was a finding aid for those in search of specific documents needed to defend privileges or assert dominion. The summary oversight of cases and book series could also guide a clerk who needed to find where a specific genre of record was preserved, or where material about particular topics was collected. Working through the Hohe Registratur’s pages also allowed browsing the headwords alphabetically, allowing it to serve as an ‘encyclopaedia’ of the prince-bishops’ domains and responsibilities—certainly not its primary task, but not insignificant for the training of secretaries and officials. Fries’s design thus allowed later users to benefit from his extensive reading and searching through the records.

The combination of flexibility and comprehensiveness makes Fries’s Hohe Registratur a distinctive information management tool in the 16th century. Even though it incorporated traditional assumptions that charters were key assets in defending a domain, the Hohe Registratur expanded far beyond the cataloguing of charters and privileges, instead allowing its users to gain information and perspective from multiple genres of record. It thus points to important changes in European archivality that were under way in the 16th century.53

The Hohe Registratur was only one part of Fries’s larger knowledge system for Würzburg, which comprised the Marienberg archive, the chancellery books with their tables of contents and annotations, the Hohe Registratur itself, as well as his Chronicle of the Bishops of Würzburg and other works.54 This helps explain why the final presentation copy of the Hohe Registratur, on parchment and quite possibly illustrated, resided not in the chancellery but in the Marienberg vaults, out of reach for most uses.55 If the project’s most important purpose, as Heiler has suggested, had been to serve as ‘a finding aid through the accumulated copies of the episcopal see’, Fries and his successor Schetzler would not have located the Registratur in such an inaccessible location.56 Additionally, the logic of producing an elaborate ‘presentation copy’ of an archival catalogue eludes any explanation resting on public display of such a sumptuous work. Neither administrative function nor representation aimed at some larger public exhausts the late medieval understanding how secrecy and sumptuousness could easily go together, and for which even a finding aid to copybooks could simultaneously be understood as a treasure that reinforced the position of a ruler.57 In this respect, the Hohe (p.49) Registratur shares important features with the Leitura Nova, another set of elaborate parchment books kept shut up in a treasury of records.

Points of Comparison between Lisbon and Würzburg

The two archival products traced in this section—the beautiful guide to royal largesse and power embodied in the Leitura Nova and the refined guide to political knowledge found in Lorenz Fries’s Hohe Registratur—together help define a turning point in European archivality.58 Each still participated in the culture of the archival treasury of privilege, in which documents’ memorialising actions shaped most actors’ perception of both why records should be saved or copied, and how their management should take place. These elements point to the longterm stability of Western European archivality. Yet each of these projects also responded to the rapidly growing pace of producing, and to changing patterns of using documents in governance by focusing on records that could be mobilised by means of existing technologies that organised information in books. Even though the memorialising capacity of documents-as-objects remained conceptually important, records-as-information—information that could be circulated in political contestation and deployed in relation to other texts—were what rulers were demanding of their secretaries by the 16th century. By organising and easing access to multiple relevant records on many questions, early 16th-century archivists both instantiated and enabled the textualisation of political knowledge that scholars such as Simon Teuscher have recently described.59 These are the dynamic elements of European archivality, and they developed in close connection with changing forms of dominion and administration that historians associated with the early modern state.

Conclusion: Archivalities Within and Beyond Europe

Europeans by 1500 were energetic record-keepers, as amply demonstrated by the tens of thousands of records compiled into the Leitura Nova’s sixty volumes, or by the scope of the Hohe Registratur, which provided an encyclopaedic catalogue to records dispersed among hundreds of boxes and volumes in Würzburg. (p.50) Both rulers and their agents were convinced of the value of making and keeping detailed records—including the authoritative traces of princely action that had dominated in earlier record production and the rapidly growing corpora of diplomatic correspondence, administrative compilation, and inter-office traffic that diligent scribes were producing in ever-growing amounts. Sometimes, indeed, it seems that the zeal for making and keeping records ran far ahead of the possibilities for ever using most of them: this result, too, seems to be characteristic for European archivality.

As the two archival products discussed here make clear, the zeal to ensure that a ruler possessed extensive, clear, and authoritative records was sufficient to spur sustained projects that made records accessible in new ways: sometimes, as in Lisbon, by selecting, compiling, and copying them, elsewhere, as in Würzburg, by reforming their organisation in repositories while simultaneously creating indexes that could lead a user to where they were. Many other options existed, as well, each reflecting the specific political context involved, the available resources, and the methods familiar to the agents who carried these projects out.

In a sense, every repository in the hands of a domain represents, at least implicitly, a specific archivality, in which various elements took on a specific configuration. The benefit of studying larger projects such as the Leitura Nova or the Hohe Registratur is that the purposes and practices of their makers are easier to discern in the shape of the resulting project. Even when princes expressed intentions for record-keeping, as when they issued chancellery regulations, they tended to be extremely vague about actual practices, while statements about archival practice from actual practitioners remained very rare. Such larger projects also shared many important features, marking them as products of the same archivality of Western European polities around 1500. Most relied on the codex for their final product, with its powerful associated tools for knowledge management and searching; most continued to assume the priority of formal charters as the prime target of searching, however these might be framed and contextualised; and many represented very considerable material investments, with the final products remaining firmly locked in the chancelleries and vaults of their owners.

Yet the Leitura Nova and the Hohe Registratur were also profoundly different. Despite the many shared elements, their makers responded to different conditions of dominion, different prior collections, and different pressures from their lords. The confidence that characterised the Leitura Nova, which compiled the ample evidence of royal grace in Portugal in splendid form, helped focus legal and political attention on the king as the centre of a richly articulated patronage system. The Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, in contrast, were relatively weak rulers whose possessions were entangled with numerous neighbours, some petty but others threatening. Knowing the details of the privileges—from others and to others—that justified the prince-bishops’ control over every village and mill was a central concern, as was the ability to link multiple documents about a given property, even if these belonged to diverse corpora within the entire archive. Even if Roman and feudal law provided a relatively similar superstructure, the actual (p.51) conditions of political life in these two centres pushed their archival products in quite different directions.

A central premise of the chapters in this volume is that as record-keeping burgeoned in Europe and the wider world around 1500, institutions to preserve and protect physical documentation about the past became an increasingly important part of governance, political resistance, and cultural life. We therefore urgently need more studies—and especially more comparative studies—of record-keeping in diverse contexts, as Posner already pointed out forty years ago. Writing history requires that we understand ‘the genesis and character of the archives of successive ages, their significance as components of the various cultures’—which means that we need to use categories that enable us to see how record-keeping in general, and the record-keeping of political authorities in particular, shared important features while also diverging profoundly in different cultures.60 Whereas Posner instinctively aligned the ancient repositories he looked at with European archival paradigms, modern scholarship rejects such an approach on the basis of careful scholarship that shows how the assumptions and practices embedded in European terminology are often not only inapplicable, but also actively misleading.61 For the records of power, provincialising ‘archives’ in favour of ‘archivality’, a category that takes a step back from still-dominant European paradigms, therefore represents an important first step for the comparative research that waits to be undertaken.


Research and writing for this project have been supported by the Newberry Library/National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the University of California Academic Senate, and the Herzog-August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel. Special thanks to Pedro Pinto for assistance with Portuguese manuscripts, and to the many archivists and colleagues who have provided assistance. (p.52)


(1) E. Posner, Archives in the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 4, vii, and 1, respectively. For a deeper discussion of Posner’s significance and approach, see J. M. O’Toole, ‘Back to the Future: Ernst Posner’s “Archives in the Ancient World”’, The American Archivist, 67 (2004), 161–75.

(2) Posner, Archives, pp. 2–3. Posner’s assimilation of ancient practices to European terminology is even more visible in ‘Archives in Medieval Islam’, The American Archivist, 35 (1972), 291–315, in which he unhesitatingly characterises the Ummayad diwan al-rasa’il as ‘the central chancery office of the caliphs’ (297), or speaks of ‘the duties of the registrar and the archivist of the State Chancery’ of the Fatimids (301).

(3) Not discussed here is the very different way Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida universalised the word ‘archive’ as a philosophical term. Although critical theory has been important for recent developments in archival science and the historiography of archives, many scholars have found Foucault’s and Derrida’s appropriation of the term ‘archive’ unhelpful for the narrower field. See e. g. B. Brothman, ‘Declining Derrida: Integrity, Tensegrity, and the Preservation of the Archives from Deconstruction’, Archivaria, 48 (1999), 64–89; J. Ridener, From Polders to Postmodernism: A Concise History of Archival Theory (Duluth, MN, Litwin Books, 2009); D. Schenk, ‘“Archivmacht” und geschichtliche Wahrheit’, in R. Hering and D. Schenk (eds), Wie mächtig sind Archive? (Hamburg, Hamburg University Press, 2013), pp. 21–43.

(4) See most recently the special issue of the journal Storia della Storiografia, 68 (2015), entitled Archives and the Writing of History and edited by Filippo de Vivo and Maria Pia Donato.

(5) Studies in the intellectual history of these sub-disciplines represent a rapidly growing field. See F. X. Blouin and W. G. Rosenberg, Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011); D. Saxer, Die Schärfung des Quellenblicks: Forschungspraktiken in der Geschichtswissenschaft 1840–1914 (Berlin, De Gruyter, 2014).

(6) On archival configurations, see R. C. Head, ‘Configuring European Archives: Spaces, Materials and Practices in the Differentiation of Repositories from the Late Middle Ages to 1700’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 498–518; Markus Friedrich, Die Geburt des Archivs: Eine Wissensgeschichte (Munich, Oldenbourg, 2013).

(7) The allusion to ‘making, keeping, and using’ refers to M. T. Clanchy’s classic From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066–1307, 3rd edn (Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

(8) M. Chamberlain, Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190–1350 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 18. Possible comparative lessons from Islamic record-keeping are briefly reviewed below in ‘An Islamic Comparison’.

(9) D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2000).

(10) After scattered appearances from Late Antiquity onward, forms of the term ‘archive’ become more common in Europe after 1500, naming both a place for preserving certain documents, and the documents themselves as a collectivity. Etymologies of the term appear by the mid-16th century; see the section entitled ‘De etymologia, & definitione archiui’, II.V.3, in R. Ruland, Tractatus de commissariis, et commissionibus camerae imperialis quadripartitus (Frankfurt am Main, Nicholas Hoffman, 1604 [first edition in 1597]).

(11) For an extended discussion, see R. C. Head, ‘Documents, Archives and Proof around 1700’, The Historical Journal, 56 (2013), 909–30; Y. Potin, ‘Entre trésor sacré et vaisselle du prince: Le roi médiéval est-il un collectionneur?’, Hypothèses (2003), 45–56.

(12) Further discussion in R. C. Head, ‘A Comparative Case-Study Approach to Historical Archives in Europe’, in A. Gilliland et al. (eds), Research in the Archival Multiverse (Melbourne, Monash University Publishing, 2016).

(13) Chamberlain, Knowledge and Social Practice, p. 178: ‘This study has suggested that it is the biographical dictionary rather than archive that constituted the main repository of [medieval Damascenes’] critical practices of social survival.’

(14) T. El-Leithy, ‘Living Documents, Dying Archives: Towards a Historical Anthropology of Medieval Arabic Archives’, Al-Qantara, 32 (2011), 389–434, at 390.

(16) El-Leithy, ‘Living Documents’, 393. Following this path, Maaike van Berkel seeks to reconstruct archival practices in Baghdad by using surviving narrative sources: ‘Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad’, Journal of Abbasid Studies, 1 (2014), 7–22.

(17) K. Hirschler, ‘From Archive to Archival Practices: Rethinking the Preservation of Mamluk Administrative Documents’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136 (2016), 1–28.

(18) El-Leithy’s critique of Chamberlain goes considerably beyond this point to suggest that Chamberlain, like his critics, is too concerned with a defensive effort to find either documents or their epistemological equivalents (such as biographical dictionaries) that can lend an aura of authenticity (one that reproduces older European celebrations of documents as ‘relatively unmediated window[s]’ on the past) to their research. El-Leithy, ‘Living Documents’, 391–2; the quoted phrase appears in footnote 4, drawn from L. Sundelin, ‘Introduction: Papyrology and the Study of Early Islamic Egypt’, in P. Sijpesteijn and L. Sundelin (eds), Papyrology and the History of Early Islamic Egypt (Leiden, Brill, 2004).

(19) One of Posner’s path-breaking contributions was to show the richness and diversity of ancient record-making and -keeping; more recent contributions include M. Brosius (ed.), Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions: Concepts of Record-Keeping in the Ancient World (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003); J. P. Sickinger, Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1999); S. Demougin (ed.), La mémoire perdue: A la recherche des archives oubliées, publiques et privées, de la Rome antique (Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1994).

(20) My research has led me to move away from a universal definition of an archive—‘a more-or-less ordered intentional collection of documents believed to be important’—towards a definition that takes greater account of European legal and material expectations about authoritative records. For the universal definition, see R. C. Head, ‘Mirroring Governance: Archives, Inventories and Political Knowledge in Early Modern Switzerland and Europe’, Archival Science, 7 (2007), 317–29, at 318. An extended analysis of the early modern understanding in Head, ‘Documents’.

(21) E.g. J. Soll, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2009); M. Menne, ‘Confession, Confusion and Rule in a Box? Archival Accumulation in Northwestern Germany in the Age of Confessionalization’, Archival Science, 10 (2010), 299–314; and B. Vögeli, ‘Der Rothenburger Aufstand von 1570’, Jahrbuch der Historischen Gesellschaft von Luzern, 10 (1993), 2–40.

(23) For the traditional view that Roman law established principles of public proof that were recovered in Western Europe after the year 1000: R. C. Van Caenegem, ‘Methods of Proof in Western Medieval Law’, in R. C. Van Caenegem, Legal History: A European Perspective (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 1991), pp. 71–114. However, Elio Lodolini, ‘Archivi privati, archivi personali, archivi familiari, ieri e oggi’, in S. Mastruzzi et al. (eds), Il futuro della memoria (Rome, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, 1997), vol. 1, pp. 23–69, at 34, observes that the relevant passages in Ulpian and Justinan are probably later interpolations. For a critical view, see P. Schulte, ‘Fides Publica: Die Dekonstruktion eines Forschungsbegriffes’, in P. Schulte et al. (eds), Strategies of Writing: Studies on Text and Trust in the Middle Ages (Turnhout, Brepols, 2008), pp. 15–36.

(24) The complex intertwining of what the continental European tradition calls public and private law is essential for understanding these developments, but beyond the scope of this brief description.

(25) On Italian notaries, see L. Nussdorfer, Brokers of Public Trust: Notaries in Early Modern Rome (Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). See more generally Société Jean Bodin, La Preuve, 4 vols (Brussels, Éditions de la Librairie Encyclopédique, 1963–5).

(26) The pre-eminence of oral over written evidence in the central Middle Ages is a trope in the older literature (e.g. La Preuve, 2: 545–6), although now under challenge, see for example W. Brown et al. (eds), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013). An important study of longue durée changes in how documents were kept and used is T. Hildbrand, Herrschaft, Schrift und Gedächtnis: Das Kloster Allerheiligen und sein Umgang mit Wissen in Wirtschaft, Recht und Archiv (11.–16. Jahrhundert) (Zurich, Chronos, 1996). Also essential are B. Bedos-Rezak, ‘Towards an Archaeology of the Medieval Charter: Textual Production and Reproduction in Northern France’, in A. Kosto and A. Winroth (eds), Charters, Cartularies and Archives: the Preservation and Transmission of Documents in the Medieval West (Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2002), pp. 43–60; S. Teuscher, Lord’s Rights and Peasant Stories: Writing and the Formation of Tradition in the Later Middle Ages (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

(27) C. Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology, trans. G. Winthrop-Young (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2008).

(28) The expression comes from Gérard de Montaigu, secretary to the Kings of France in the late 14th century. The text is published in F. Delaborde, Étude sur la constitution du Trésor des Chartes (Paris, Plon-Nourrit, 1909), p. cxxx. On Savoy, see P. Rück, ‘Die Ordnung der herzoglich savoyischen Archive unter Amadeus VIII (1398–1451)’, Archivalische Zeitschrift, 67 (1971), 11–101. On Innsbruck, see R. C. Head, ‘Structure and Practice in the Emergence of Registratur: the Genealogy and Implications of Innsbruck Registries, 1523–1565’, in A. Brendecke (ed.), Praktiken in der Frühe Neuzeit (Cologne, Böhlau, 2015), pp. 492–502.

(29) The mandate is published in S. Deswarte, Les enluminures de la Leitura Nova, 1504–1552 (Paris, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1977), pp. 230–2.

(30) On earlier practices: A. de Jesus da Costa, ‘A Chancelaria Real Portuguesa e os seus Registos, de 1217 a 1438’, Revista da Faculdade de Letras: Historia (Porto) Ser. II, 13 (1996), 71–101. For the historiography, see Judite Antonieta Gonçalves de Freitas, ‘The Royal Chancellery at the End of the Portuguese Middle Ages: Diplomacy and Political Society (1970–2005)’, e-journal of Portuguese History, 7 (2009), (accessed 5 September 2015).

(31) M. de Lurdes Rosa, O morgadio em Portugal, séculos XIV–XV. Modelos e formas de comportamento linhagístico (Lisbon, Estampa, 1996).

(32) João José Alves Dias (ed.), Nova História de Portugal, vol. 5: Portugal do Renasicmento à Crise Dinástica (Lisbon, Editorial Presença, 1999), p. 349.

(33) Cited in Deswarte, Enluminures, pp. 233–5. On the overall arrangement of the Torre do Tombo during the production of the Leitura Nova, see F. Ribeiro, ‘Como seria a estructura primitiva do Arquivo da Casa da Coroa (Torre do Tombo)?’, in L. Adao da Fonseca et al. (eds), Os reinos Ibericos na Idade Media: livro de homenagem ao Professor Doutor Humberto Carlos Baquero Moreno (Porto, Ed. Civilização, 2003), vol. 3, 1401–14.

(35) Manuel’s signature appears, according to Deswarte, in Leitura Nova volumes 9, 17, and 30, which were formally completed and signed on 11 and 12 September 1504. See Deswarte, Enluminures, Appendix V.

(36) A. J. Dias Dinis, ‘Relatório do século XIV sobre o Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo’, Anais la Academia Portuguesa da Historia, Ser. II, 17 (1968), 117–58 ‘Relatório do século XIV sobre o Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo’, Anais la Academia Portuguesa da Historia, Ser. II, 1 7 (1968), 117–58, at 154: ‘Sam estes liuros encadernados en tauoas, cubertos de couro de bezerro, con tachões de latão dourados, com as insignias e armas rreaes nelles in[s]culpidas.’

(37) A. Brendecke, Imperium und Empirie: Funktionen des Wissens in der spanischen Kolonialherrschaft (Cologne, Böhlau, 2009).

(38) See in general T. Heiler, Die Würzburger Bischofschronik des Lorenz Fries (Gest. 1550): Studien zum historiographischen Werk eines fürstbischöflichen Sekretärs und Archivars (Würzburg, Ferdinand Schöningh, 2001). The Hohe Registratur is now available online:

(39) On archival practice in Würzburg before 1520, see T. Frenz, ‘Kanzlei, Registratur und Archiv des Hochstifts Würzburg im 15. Jahrhundert’, in G. Silagi (ed.), Landesherrliche Kanzleien im Spätmittelalter (Munich, Arebeo-Gesellschaft, 1984), pp. 139–47; and Walter Scherzer, ‘Die Anfänge der Archive der Bischofe und des Domkapitels zu Würzburg’, Archivalische Zeitschrift, 73 (1977), 21–40.

(40) Described by August Schäffler, ‘Die Urkunden und Archivalbände des hochstiftisch wirzburgischen Archives im 16. Jahrhundert’, Archivalische Zeitschrift, 10 (1885), 141–57 and 11 (1886), 19–52, at 11: 35–43.

(41) A brief biography appears in August Schäffler, ‘Die “hohe Registratur” des Magister Lorenzen Fries’, Archiv des historischen Vereins von Unterfranken und Aschaffenburg, 22 (1874), 1–32, at 4–6.

(42) The degree of disorder is suggested in Frenz, ‘Kanzlei’, 142–3, who uses the term ‘Archivchaos’.

(43) Frenz, ‘Kanzlei’, 143, attributes the actual armoires to Fries; Schäffler, ‘Die Urkunden’, 148, and following him Heiler, Die Würzburger Bischofschronik, p. 72, note clear evidence of continuity from the pre-Fries to post-Fries Marienberg vault.

(44) The register’s title as found in the version copied into the Hohe Registratur and published in Schäffler, ‘Die Urkunden’, 150. A very clean manuscript in Fries’s own hand of the entire description, including hand-coloured drawings of five cases, survives as Staatsarchive Würzburg, Manuskript 43.

(46) The various series of volumes, and the reign when each began, are laid out in Schäffler, ‘Die Urkunden’, 24.

(47) See Schäffler, ‘Die Urkunden’, 19–21, with a transcription, 28–52.

(48) Preliminary drafts for certain letters of the alphabet (designated the Entwurf in older literature) survive from the 1520s, along with a corrected and much expanded autograph set of volumes 1 and 2 (the Concept). See Heiler, Die Würzburger Bischofschronik, p. 109.

(51) Fries himself did not live to complete volume 2, while the third volume is entirely Schetzler’s work.

(53) Other scholars have documented aspects of this transition recently, though without using the term ‘archivality’. See esp. Brendecke, Imperium, for a probing and wide-ranging analysis of information management in the Spanish empire; and F. de Vivo, Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007).

(55) This copy was lost in a fire in 1572.

(57) On secrecy and the public role of archives, see E. Ketelaar, ‘Records Out and Archives in Early Modern Cities as Creators of Records and as Communities of Archives’, Archival Science, 10 (2010), 201–10; and D. Navarro-Bonilla, ‘El Mundo Como Archivo y Representación: Símbolos e imagen de los poderes de la escritura’, Emblemata, 14 (2008), 19–43.

(58) This juncture was characterised by Robert-Henri Bautier as a transition from ‘[l’époque] des trésors des chartes (XIIe–XVIe siècle)’ to one ‘des archives arsenal de l’autorité (XVIe–début du XIXe siècle)’. Bautier, ‘La phase cruciale de l’histoire des archives: la constitution des dêpots d’archives et la naissance de l’archivistique (XVIe–XIXe siècle)’, Archivum: Revue Internationale des Archives, 18 (1968), 139–49.

(59) I am indebted to Teuscher’s work for this insight: Teuscher, Lord’s Rights; and Teuscher, ‘Document Collections, Mobilized Regulations, and the Making of Customary Law at the End of the Middle Ages’, Archival Science, 10 (2011), 210–30.

(60) Posner, Archives, as cited in footnote 2.

(61) See Chapter 12 in this volume.

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