Alberico Gentili - Encyclopedia

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ALBERICO GENTILI (1552-1608), Italian jurist, who has great claims to be considered the founder of the science of international Jaw, second son of Matteo Gentili, a physician of noble family and scientific eminence, was born on the 14th of January 1552 at Sanginesio, a small town of the march of Ancona which looks down from the slopes of the Apennines upon the distant Adriatic. After taking the degree of doctor of civil law at the university of Perugia, and holding a judicial office at Ascoli, he returned to his native city, and was entrusted with the task of recasting its statutes, but, sharing the Protestant opinions of his father, shared also, together with a brother, Scipio, afterwards a famous professor at Altdorf, his flight to Carniola, where in 1579 Matteo was appointed physician to the duchy. The Inquisition condemned the fugitives as contumacious, and they soon received orders to quit the dominions of Austria.

Alberico set out for England, travelling by way of Tubingen and Heidelberg, and everywhere meeting with the reception to which his already high reputation entitled him. He arrived at Oxford in the autumn of 1580, with a commendatory letter from the earl of Leicester, at that time chancellor of the university, and was shortly afterwards qualified to teach by being admitted to the same degree which he had taken at Perugia. His lectures on Roman law soon became famous, and the dialogues, disputations and commentaries, which he published henceforth in rapid succession, established his position as an accomplished civilian, of the older and severer type, and secured his appointment in 1587 to the regius professorship of civil law. It was, however, rather by an application of the old learning to the new questions suggested by the modern relations of states that his labours have produced their most lasting result. In 1584 he was consulted by government as to the proper course to be pursued with Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, who had been detected in plotting against Elizabeth. He chose the topic to which his attention had thus been directed as a subject for a disputation when Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney visited the schools at Oxford in the same year; and this was six months later expanded into a book, the De legationibus libri tres. In 1588 Alberico selected the law of war as the subject of the law disputations at the annual "Act" which took place in July; and in the autumn published in London the De Jure Belli commentatio prima. A second and a third Commentatio followed, and the whole matter, with large additions and improvements, appeared at Hanau, in 1598, as the De Jure Belli libri tres. It was doubtless in consequence of the reputation gained by these works that Gentili became henceforth more and more engaged in forensic practice, and resided chiefly in London, leaving his Oxford work to be partly discharged by a deputy. In 1600 he was admitted to be a member of Gray's Inn, and in 1605 was appointed standing counsel to the king of Spain. He died on the 19th of June 1608, and was buried, by the side of Dr Matteo Gentili, who had followed his son to England, in the churchyard of St Helen's, Bishopsgate. By his wife, Hester de Peigni, he left two sons, Robert and Matthew, and a daughter, Anna, who married Sir John Colt. His notes of the cases in which he was engaged for the Spaniards were posthumously published in 1613 at Hanau, as Hispanicae advocationis libri duo. This was in accordance with his last wishes; but his direction that the remainder of his MSS. should be burnt was not complied with, since fifteen volumes of them found their way, at the beginning of the 19th century, from Amsterdam to the Bodleian library.

The true history of Gentili and of his principal writings has only been ascertained in recent years, in consequence of a revived appreciation of the services which he rendered to international law. The movement to do him honour originated in 1875 in England, as the result of the inaugural lecture of Prof. T. E. Holland, and was warmly taken up in Italy. In spreading through Europe it encountered two curious cross-currents of opinion, - one the ultra-Catholic, which three centuries before had ordered his name to be erased from all public documents and placed his works in the Index; another the narrowly-Dutch, which is, it seems, needlessly careful of the supremacy of Grotius. These two currents resulted respectively in a bust of GarciaMoreno being placed in the Vatican, and in the unveiling in 1886, with much international oratory, of a fine statue of Grotius at Delft. The English committee, under the honorary presidency of Prince Leopold, in 1877 erected a monument to the memory of Gentili in St Helen's church, and saw to the publication of a new edition of the De Jure Belli. The Italian committee, of which Prince (afterwards King) Humbert was honorary president, was less successful. It was only in 1908, the tercentenary of the death of Alberico, that the statue of the great heretic was at length unveiled in his native city by the minister of public instruction, in the presence of numerous deputations from Italian cities and universities. Preceding writers had dealt with various international questions, but they dealt with them singly, and with a servile submission to the decisions of the church. It was left to Gentili to grasp as a whole the relations of states one to another, to distinguish international questions from questions with which they are more or less intimately connected, and to attempt their solution by principles entirely independent of the authority of Rome. He uses the reasonings of the civil and even the canon law, but he proclaims as his real guide the Jus Naturae, the highest common sense of mankind, by which historical precedents are to be criticized and, if necessary, set aside.

His faults are not few. His style is prolix, obscure, and to the modern reader pedantic enough; but a comparison of his greatest work with what had been written upon the same subject by, for instance, Belli, or Soto, or even Ayala, will show that he greatly improved upon his predecessors, not only by the fulness with which he has worked out points of detail, but also by clearly separating the law of war from martial law, and by placing the subject once for all upon a non-theological basis. If, on the other hand, the same work be compared with the De Jure Belli et Pacis of Grotius, it is at once evident that the later writer is indebted to the earlier, not only for a large portion of his illustrative erudition, but also for all that is commendable in the method and arrangement of the treatise.

The following is probably a complete list of the writings of Gentili, with the places and dates of their first publication: De juris interpretibus dialogi sex (London, 1582); Lectionum et epist. quae ad jus civile pertinent libri tres (London, 1583-1584); De legationibus libri tres (London, 1585); Legal. comitiorum Oxon. actio (London, 1585-1586); De divers. temp. appellationibus (Hanau, 1586); De nascendi tempore disputatio (Witteb., 1586); Disputationum decas prima (London, 1587); Conditionum liber singularis (London, 1587); De jure belli comm. prima (London, 1588); secunda, ib. (1588-1589); tertia (1589); De injustitia bellica Romanorum (Oxon, 1590); Ad tit. de Malef. et Math. de Prof. et Med. (Hanau, 1 593); De jure belli libri tres (Hanau, 1598); De armis Romanis, &c. (Hanau, 1 599); De actoribus et de abusu mendacii (Hanau, 1599); De ludis scenicis epist. duae (Middleburg, 1600); Ad I. Maccabaeorum et de linguarum mistura disp. (Frankfurt, 1600); Lectiones Virgilianae (Hanau, 1600); De nuptiis libri septem (1601); In tit. si quis principi, et ad leg. Jul. maiest. (Hanau, 1604); De latin. vet. Bibl. (Hanau, 1604); De libro Pyano (Oxon, 1604); Laudes Acad. Perus. et Oxon. (Hanau, 1605); De unione Angliae et Scotiae (London, 1605); Disputationes tres, de libris jur. can., de libris jur. civ., de latinitate vet. vers. (Hanau, 1605); Regales disput. tres, de pot. regis absoluta, de unione regnorum, de vi civium (London, 1605); Hispanicae advocationis libri duo (Hanau, 1613); In tit. de verb. signif. (Hanau, 1614); De legatis in test. (Amsterdam, 1661). An edition of the Opera omnia, commenced at Naples in, 1770, was cut short by the death of the`publisher, Gravier, after the second volume. Of his numerous unpublished writings, Gentili complained that four volumes were lost "pessimo pontificiorum facinore," meaning probably that they were left behind in his flight to Carniola.


Several tracts by the Abate Benigni in Colucci, Antichita Picene (1790); a dissertation by W. Reiger annexed to the Program of the Groningen Gymnasium for 1867; an inaugural lecture delivered in 1874 by T. E. Holland, translated into Italian, with additions by the author, by A. Saffi (1884); the preface to a new edition of the De jure belli (1877) and Studies in International Law (1898) (which see, for details as to the family and MSS. of Gentili), by the same; works by Valdarnini and Foglietti (1875), Speranza and De Giorgi (1876), Fiorini (a translation of the De jure belli, with essay, 1877), A. Saffi (1878), L. Marson (1885), M. Thamm (1896), B. Brugi (1898) T. A. Walker (an analysis of the principal works of Gentili) in his History of the Law of Nations, vol. i. (1899); H. Nezarel, in Pillet's Fondateurs de droit international (1904); E. Agabiti (1908). See also E. Comba, in the Rivista Christiana (1876-1877) Sir T. Twiss, in the Law Review (1878); articles in the Revue de droit international (1875-1878, 1883, 1886, 1908); O. Scalvanti, in the Annali dell' Univ. di Perugia, N.S., vol. viii. (1898). (T. E. H.)

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