Legal Practice: Maritime Proceedings at
the Urban Courts
The written laws of northern Europe were mostly compiled in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and reflect the stage of development in sea shipping of this period. As was explained in the first two chapters, these developments in sea shipping influenced the regulation of maritime law. Changes in the relations aboard ship, for example, resulted in the coming into being of new legal problems for which the sea laws had to offer solutions. But although shipping continued to develop in the fifteenth century, only a few new regulations were introduced. Instead, the laws of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were combined and disseminated further across northern Europe. The question that arises is whether these written laws were utilised in legal practice in the fifteenth century, when they no longer reflected the newest developments in sea shipping.
In the previous chapter, direct evidence for the use of these laws (in the shape of explicit references to written laws) was considered, but the actual court proceedings, which truly reflect legal practice in the fifteenth century, remain to be analysed. This analysis will allow us to determine whether the law books were still in use by comparing the written laws with the judgements passed by the town courts. Court proceedings from Aberdeen, Kampen, Lübeck, Reval and Danzig will be considered in this chapter by investigating the decisions in cases of shipwreck, jettison and ship collision. Comparing these decisions will in turn make it possible to establish whether a common legal practice existed in urban northern Europe.
Before turning to these comparisons, some remarks about the sources need to be made. In each of the five towns studied, administrative developments had generally led to the maintenance of urban registers in the later Middle Ages. In these, the town councils recorded important occurrences concerning daily government, as well as court proceedings. The amount of relevant material that can be gathered from these registers varies among the five towns, however. Paradoxically, the most peripheral town, Aberdeen, offers the most information. An almost complete set of council registers has survived for the fifteenth century, providing rich material compared to the other four towns. The offerings for Lübeck, Reval and Danzig are more or less equal, but the sources from the first two mainly