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Alberico Gentili

Alberico Gentili (Lat. Albericus Gentilis; January 14, 1552–June 19, 1608), was an Italian jurist. He later became regius professor of civil law at the University of Oxford and is one of the first writers on public international law.



Alberico Gentili was born into a noble family in the town of San Ginesio in what is now Marche, in Italy. He studied law at the university of Perugia and graduated doctor of law in 1572. He was commissioned to prepare a revised version of the statutory laws of his home town, a task which he completed in 1577. Two years later, together with his father Matteo Gentili (1517—1602), a renowned medical doctor, and one of his brothers, Scipione Gentili, he had to flee from Italy because of their Protestant beliefs. The three first went to Ljubljana, Slovenia, the capital of the duchy of Carniola. From there, Alberico went on to the German university towns of Tübingen and Heidelberg. In 1580 he arrived in England and was appointed regius professor of civil law at Oxford University by the then Chancellor, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.[1] After a short stay in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1586, he returned to Oxford.

Gentili held the regius professorship until his death, but he turned more and more to practical work in London from about 1590. He practised in the High Court of Admiralty, where the continental civil law rather than the English common law was applied. In 1600 Gentili was honorifically admitted to Gray's Inn. From 1605 to 1608 he served as a standing advocate to the Spanish embassy. He died in London and was buried in the Church of St. Helen Bishopsgate in the City of London.

His son was Robert Gentilis, who graduated from Oxford University at the age of 12 and was made a Fellow of All Souls College Oxford at the age of 17 (below the minimum age of 18) through his father's influence.


Alberico Gentili wrote more than twenty books not only on law, but also on theological and literary subjects. Only his most influential legal works are mentioned below.

In 1582, Gentili published De Juris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex. This book shows Gentili as a staunch supporter of the bartolist method and an opponent of the French humanist jurists like Jacques Cujas, who applied philogical methods to the sources of Roman law.

Gentili's first book on issues of international law was De Legationibus Libri Tres, published in 1582. It was occasioned by a case on which Gentili's counsel was sought. In 1584 Gentili and Jean Hotman (1552—1636) were asked by the government to advise on the treatment of Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza (about 1540–1604), who had been implicated in the so-called Throckmorton plot against Queen Elizabeth I. Hotman was the son of the French law professor François Hotman (1524–1590) and—like Gentili—a lawyer trained on the continent who had come to England for religious reasons. He was in the service of the Earl of Leicester. Hotman, too, later published a book on diplomacy, L'ambassadeur, first published in Paris in 1603. Both Gentili and Hotman recommended that the ambassador only be expelled from England.

In 1589 Gentli first published De Jure Belli Commentationes Tres. An enhanced edition appeared under the title De Jure Belli Libri Tres. This is considered his principal work and a classic of public international law. The book is not only praised for its modernity and its skillful use of civil law concepts, but also for its closeness to the actual practice of international law.

After his death, Alberico Gentili's brother Scipione, who had become a professor of law at Altdorf, published a collection of notes on cases Alberico had worked on as an advocate for the Spanish embassy. The book bears the title Hispanicae Advocationis Libri Duo and appeared in 1613.

All above mentioned books are available in modern editions or reprints:

  • De Iuris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex. Edited by Guido Astuti. Torino 1937.
  • De Legationibus Libri Tres. With an introduction by Ernest Nys. New York 1924.
  • De Iure Belli Libri Tres. 2 Vols. Text and Translation by John Rolfe. Oxford 1933.
  • Hispanicae Advocationis Libri Duo. Text and Translation by Frank Frost Abbott. New York 1921.

Posthumous fame

Gentili's fame as an international lawyer was soon eclipsed by the publication of Hugo Grotius' seminal work De Jure Belli ac Pacis in 1625, even though Grotius owed much to Gentili's writings. It was only in the 19th century that interest in Gentili revived. This is to a great extent due to Sir Thomas Erskine Holland (1835–1926) who in 1874 devoted his inaugural lecture as professor of international law and diplomacy in Oxford to Gentili. Since then, numerous books and articles have been written about Gentili and his work. In his hometown a monument was erected in his honour.


  1. ^ Adams, Simon (ed.): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester Cambridge UP 1995 ISBN 0521551560 p. 212


  • William Holdsworth (1924). A History of English Law. Vol. 6. London 1924. PP. 52—54.
  • Diego Panizza (1981). Alberico Gentili, giurista ideologo nell'Inghilterra elisabettiana. Pavia 1981.
  • Angela De Benedictis (1999). Gentili, Alberico. In: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 53. 1999. PP. 245—251.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

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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