Dignity and Cessio Bonorum in Early-Modern Dutch Learned Legal Literature
28 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2016 Last revised: 15 Feb 2020
Date Written: September 14, 2016
Imprisonment for debt was a common sanction in the early modern period. Through the learned legal institute of the cessio bonorum, or its customary legal alternatives, insolvent debtors could avoid the shame of prison. Nevertheless, in order to discourage irresponsible administration of one's patrimony, local customs and princely ordinances often added shaming sanctions to the ius commune institute. This contribution first presents the legal framework of the cessio bonorum, as well as some shaming practices, especially in the Low Countries. In its main part, this article analyses early modern Netherlandish learned legal literature on the cessio bonorum and outlines ten different arguments related to honour and dignity. Authors discussed which goods the ceding debtors were allowed to retain both at the moment of the cession and thereafter. On the one hand, fraudulent debtors did not deserve any humane treatment and, thus, neither the benefice of cession. For other classes of debtors on the other hand, like clerics, noblemen or members of the military, the obligations going along with the cession of goods were less severe. The arguments outlined in this paper also illustrate the entanglement of humanitarian and instrumental reasoning.
Keywords: Cessio bonorum, Insolvency, Dignity, Low Countries, Ius Commune
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