ALFONSO X, King of Castile and Leon, called 'The Wise' (1221-1284). Las siete partidas. With additions by Alfonso Díaz de Montalvo. Seville: Meinard Ungut and Stanislaus Polonus, 25 October 1491.
Two volumes, super chancery 2o (302/305 x 218 mm). 438 leaves (of 442, lacking the sheet [two conjugate leaves] inserted between A2 and A3, containing the end of the table of contents, and blank leaf ooo6; blanks A1 and LL10 mounted to free endpapers in vol. 2; other blanks preserved). 62 lines and headline. 2 columns. Gothic type 114 (headlines), 2:111 (paragraph headings, tables, colophon and 1:82 (text). Opening of each partida printed in red. (2a2 with tear near gutter not affecting text, 2f1.8, 2E1.10 and 2J1.10 reinforced along gutter, some staining in the first two gatherings, some marginal worming not affecting letters in three gatherings, headlines cropped in first four gatherings, others occasionally shaved.) 19th-century Spanish half calf, marbled boards (text blocks split at center, some wear and rubbing). Provenance: some early Spanish and Latin marginalia in several early hands, pointing hands and fingers; M. Barrachina (purchase inscriptions dated 20 May 1874 on front free endpapers); Don A. Canovas del Castillo (bookplate); Hispanic Society of America (bookplate; ink stamp on first text leaf).
VERY RARE FIRST EDITION OF SPAIN'S MOST IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION TO THE LAW. The Siete partidas (Seven-part Code), compiled during the reign of Alfonso X of Castile (1252-1284), intended to establish a uniform body of normative rules for the kingdom. The codified text was originally called the Libro de las leyes, and was given its present name in the 14th century. The influence of the Partidas was broad, influencing not only Spain but Latin America as well, where it was followed for centuries. It has been called a "humanist encyclopedia," covering subjects well-beyond its principal purpose as a legal code, including philosophical, moral and theological topics. Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian and Islamic perspectives are all discussed (see Boisard, Marcel A. (July 1980), "On the Probable Influence of Islam on Western Public and International Law", International Journal of Middle East Studies 11(4): 429-450 [435-6]).
The work was commissioned by the principal Castilian jurists of the day, and was written between 26 June 1256 and 28 August 1265. Alfonso X himself directed its composition, though scholars debate both his precise role and the jurists consulted in its writing. In the 18th century, the Jesuit historian Andrés Marcos Burriel promoted the idea that Alfonso X alone wrote the text, but 20th century scholarship now contends that while the King certainly provided the goals of the text and subjects to be examined, the text was not finished until the 14th century (see Alfonso Garciá-Gallo, "El 'Libro de las leyes' de Alfonso el Sabio. Del Espácula a las Partidas," 1951-52).
Written in literary Spanish style, the prologue outlines the objects, using an acrostic of the King's name: A servicio de Dios (For the service of God) L affe cathóica (The Catholic faith) F izo Nuestro Sennor Dios (Our Lord God did) O onmras sennaladas (Special rites) N ascen entre los ommnes (Among men there arise) S esudamente dixeron (The ancient wise men sagely said) O luiodança et atreuimiento (Forgetfulness and boldness). Alfonso, actively pursuing the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, may have been seeking a universal legal code to encompass the entire Empire. Scholars have also argued, however, that because the text was written in Spanish, his intents may have been more local and not over-reaching. In any event, the partidas established Castilian as the common language, unifying Spain's legal system and synthesing a diverse range of influences.
The influence of the Partidas itself spread beyond the Iberian peninsula to the Spanish and Portuguese governments in the New World, a fact that is still felt today. More than sixty cases in states as varied as Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico and California mention Las Siete Partidas in their legal opinions and some have been published as recently as the 1990s (see Marilyn Stone, "Las Siete Partidas," in: The Legal Translator, September/October 2003).
EXCEEDINGLY RARE: according to American Book Prices Current, no copies of the first edition of the Partidas, either complete or incomplete, have sold at auction since at least 1940. BMC X, 38; Goff P-124; Haeb(BI) 518; HC 12426; IBE 4296; IBP 4163; Kurz 24; Vindel(A) V 93.