The topic of medieval maritime law has attracted increasing interest in the past three decades.1 It is, however, a theme that deserves much more attention in this age of Europeanisation and internationalisation. Because maritime law regulates sea shipping, which connects different ‘nations’, it is intrinsically international or supranational. Or is it? The existence of a common maritime law in northern Europe has regularly been presumed, but has never been proven. For example, it is often supposed that the Rôles d’Oléron were generally used throughout northern Europe or, at least, that they formed the basis for other northern European sea laws.2 The Wisby or Gotland Sea Laws are also sometimes named as having been used throughout the area.3 A few years ago Albrecht Cordes raised doubts as regards the existence of a medieval lex mercatoria as a fixed common law regulating trade throughout northern Europe.4 Such doubts extend to maritime law
1 Götz Landwehr has written several articles and monographs dealing with medieval maritime law, such as Haverei; ‘Prinzipien der Risikotragung’; ‘Seerecht im Ostseeraum’; Seerecht der Hanse. Other studies include: V. der Decken, Seearbeitsrecht im Hamburger Stadtrecht; Forte, ‘“Kenning be kenning”’; Frankot, ‘The practice of maritime law’; ‘Jurisdictions in the law of the sea’; ‘Maritime law and practice in late medieval Aberdeen’; ‘De “Ordinancie van Staveren”’; ‘Diversity and unity’; Friedland, ‘Maritime law and piracy’; Goetze, ‘Der Anteil Lübecks’; Jahnke, ‘Hansisches Seerecht’; Jahnke and Graßmann, eds, Seerecht im Hanseraum; O’Sullivan, Ahndung von Rechtsbrüchen; Schweitzer, Schiffer und Schiffsmann; Ward, World of the Medieval Shipmaster. Somewhat older are Krieger, Ursprung und Wurzeln and Wolter, Schiffrechte der Hansestädte.
2 Most recently: Jahnke, ‘Hansisches Seerecht’, 65; Ward, World of the Medieval Shipmaster, 20. Other examples include: Biederstedt, ‘Eine neue Handschrift des Seerechtes von Damme’, 26; Ditchburn, Scotland and Europe, 32; Forte, ‘“Kenning be Kenning”’, 57; Friedland, ‘Maritime law and piracy’, 33; Pohlmann, ‘Quellen des Handelsrechts’, 806, 808; Runyan, ‘The Rolls of Oleron’, 98, in which the Rôles d’Oléron have been described as the ‘canon for Europe’s northern seas’; Wagner, Handbuch des Seerechtes, 67.
3 Wagner, Handbuch des Seerechtes, 68–9, according to which the Waterrecht, a compilation of Rôles d’Oléron and Ordinancie, was used in most maritime towns in northern Europe; similar assumptions are made by Stoob, Die Hanse, 205, who calls the Ordinancie ‘hamburgische Ordinancie’; Van den Auweele, ‘Zeerecht’, 224; Robinson, Fergus and Gordon, Introduction to European Legal History, 161, states that the Wisby Sea Law was widely used in Hanseatic towns such as Lübeck and Hamburg and other northern ports, superseding local customs.
4 Cordes, ‘Mittelalterlichen Lex mercatoria’, revised version in English: ‘Lex mercatoria’. He writes (after note 25): ‘it was not before 1600 that the term “Lex mercatoria” was used in the sense of a system of substantive trade law – used in this sense by English merchants as an instrument against the disliked common law. Mentioning the Lex mercatoria’s