Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gentili, Alberico
GENTILI, ALBERICO (1552–1608), civilian, and one of the earliest systematic writers upon international law, the second son of Matteo Gentili, by his wife Lucrezia, daughter of Diodoro Petrelli, was born 14 Jan. 1552, at Sanginesio, an ancient walled town of the march of Ancona, where his father was a physician. The family had long been favourably known throughout the marches for attainments in law and medicine. Matteo had studied medicine at Pisa, and was also a man of wide general culture. Alberico was sent to the university of Perugia, where he attained the degree of doctor of civil law on 22 Sept. 1572. Two months later he was elected ‘prætor,’ or judge, of Ascoli, but shortly afterwards settled in his native town, where he filled various responsible offices, and in particular was entrusted with the revision of its statutes. Both father and son belonged to a confraternity suspected (no doubt justly) of meeting for the discussion of opinions hostile to the Roman church. The inquisition was upon the track of the heretics, and Matteo was obliged to fly from his country, taking with him Alberico and a younger son, Scipio, destined to become famous as a teacher of Roman law at Altdorf. At their first halting-place, Laibach, Matteo, doubtless through the influence of his brother-in-law, Nicolo Petrelli, a jurist high in favour with the court, was appointed chief physician for the duchy of Carniola. In the meantime the papal authorities had excommunicated the fugitives, and soon procured their expulsion from Austrian territory. Early in 1580 Alberico set out for England, preceded by a reputation which procured him offers of professorships at Heidelberg and at Tübingen, where Scipio was left to commence his university studies. Alberico reached London in August, with introductions to Battista Castiglioni. He soon became acquainted with Dr. Tobie Matthew, dean of Christ Church, and so with the Earl of Leicester, who, as chancellor of Oxford, furnished him with a letter which was publicly read in the convocation of the university on 14 Dec., recommending him as a learned exile for religion, and requesting his incorporation. On 14 Jan. 1581 Gentili was accordingly incorporated from Perugia as a D.C.L., so gaining the right of teaching law, which he first exercised in St. John's College. Contributions for his support were made also by Magdalen and Corpus Colleges, and from the university chest. He lodged at New Inn Hall, for many centuries a favourite haunt of the legal faculty. Matteo Gentili soon followed his eldest son to England, but after some years' practice of his profession in London became a confirmed invalid, and, dying in 1602, was buried at St. Helen's, Bishopsgate. Alberico in 1582 published a remarkable volume of dialogues in defence of the older school of jurists, as against the ‘humanists’ and their leader, Cujas. Henceforth he seldom passed a year without producing a new book, confining himself at first to the civil law, but before long dealing with the law of nations, the subject which he made peculiarly his own.
The Oxford civilians (lately, with those of Cambridge, congregated for London practice in the College of Advocates) were already recognised as experts in the rudimentary science of the law of nations. In 1584 Gentili was consulted by the government as to the proper course to be taken with the Spanish ambassador, who had been detected plotting against Elizabeth, and it was in accordance with his opinion that Mendoza was merely ordered to leave the country. Gentili chose the topic to which his attention had thus been directed as the subject of a disputation when Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney visited the schools at Oxford in the same year, and the disputation was, six months later, expanded into the ‘De Legationibus,’ dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney. In 1586 Gentili was appointed to accompany the embassy of Horatio Pallavicino to the elector of Saxony, and bade farewell to his English friends, apparently with no intention of returning. In the autumn he was at Wittenberg listening to a disputation by his brother Scipio, procuring a professorship there for Conrad Bruno, and dedicating a book to the Dukes of Brunswick and Lüneburg. But in June 1587 he was recalled to Oxford, through the influence of Walsingham, to become regius professor of civil law. In this capacity he delivered at the comitia of 1588 an oration on the ‘Law of War,’ which resulted in the publication in successive parts of his ‘De Jure Belli Commentationes Tres’ (1588–9), destined to develope nine years later into the work upon which his reputation mainly rests, the ‘De Jure Belli Libri Tres.’ The same subject was further illustrated in the ‘De Injustitia Bellica Romanorum Actio’ (1590); but, in the profusion of books which followed, Gentili touched upon an extraordinary variety of topics, dealing not only with questions of civil and international law, but also with witchcraft, casuistry, canon law, biblical exegesis, classical philology, the Vulgate, English politics, and the prerogative of the crown. He maintained the lawfulness of play-acting against Dr. J. Rainolds, afterwards president of Corpus, who had censured the performance of the ‘Rivales’ by William Gager [q. v.] before the queen on the occasion of her visit to the university in 1592. He was also involved in discussions as to the occasional permissibility of falsehood, and as to the remarriage of divorced persons. Strong language was freely used in these controversies, and Gentili had to complain of being described as ‘Italus atheus.’
After 1590 Alberico seems to have finally taken up his residence in London with a view to forensic practice, leaving most of his work at Oxford to a deputy, and reappearing there only at the comitia or on the occasion of a royal visit. His name does not occur on the roll of the advocates of Doctors' Commons, but he certainly enjoyed a large business in the maritime and ecclesiastical courts. On 14 Aug. 1600 he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn, and in 1605 accepted, with the permission of King James, a permanent retainer as advocate for the king of Spain. Notes of many of the cases conducted by him in this capacity in the court of admiralty are preserved in his posthumously published work, the ‘Advocatio Hispanica.’ About 1589 he married a French lady, Hester de Peigni, by whom he had Robert [q. v.], Anna, a second Anna (all baptised at the French church in Threadneedle Street), Hester, and Matthew (baptised at St. Helen's, Bishopsgate Street).
Among the opinions of Alberico preserved in the British Museum is one with reference to a suit pending in June 1608 as to property in goods taken by a Tunisian pirate, and it seems he was to argue the case in court. He was probably unable to do so, for on the 14th of that month he made his will, died on the 19th, and on the 21st was buried, in accordance with his last wishes, by the side of his father in the churchyard of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, two feet beyond the ‘nun's grate.’ Hester, the widow, died in 1648 at Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where her daughter Anna the younger became the wife of Sir John Colt of Woodoaks Manor, which passed by the marriage of their granddaughter, Gentilis Colt, into the Tichborne family. None of the other children are known to have had issue. The directions left by Alberico to his brother Scipio that all his manuscripts, except that of the ‘Advocatio Hispanica,’ should be burnt, were not carried out, since no less than fifteen volumes of them, for the most part commonplace books on topics of Roman law, were in 1805 purchased from the representatives of the great collector D'Orville of Amsterdam for the Bodleian Library.
The attractive character and varied accomplishments of Alberico procured him the friendship of such men as Walsingham, Sir Philip Sidney, Bodley, Saville, Henry Wotton, the Paulets, the Sherleys, the Earl of Leicester, and the Earl of Essex. In his exuberant literary activity we may distinguish four periods, viz. (1) of his polemic against the school of Cujas, (2) of his tractates and disputations upon questions of civil and international law, (3) of his controversies on theological and moral questions, and (4) of his disquisitions on politics. His enduring influence has been exercised through the writings of the second period, and by the teaching which accompanied it. There can be no doubt that, coming as he did from the original seat of civilian learning, and bringing with him traditions handed down from master to pupil in unbroken series since the days of Irnerius, he gave a new impulse to the study of Roman law, at a time when, as we are told, ‘the books of the civil and canon law were set aside to be devoured with worms as savouring too much of popery.’ He is described by a contemporary as one ‘who by his great industrie hath quickened the dead bodie of the civill law.’ The College of Advocates of that day was largely recruited from his pupils, many of whom became eminent in their profession. His teaching left its traces on John Selden, nor can it be an accident that in the generation which must have felt his influence Oxford produced two such Romanists as Sir Arthur Duck and Richard Zouch. Still more important were the services of Gentili to the law of nations, which he was the first to place upon a foundation independent of theological differences, and to develope systematically with a wealth of illustration, historical, legal, biblical, classical, and patristic, of which subsequent writers have availed themselves to a much greater extent than might be inferred from their somewhat scanty acknowledgments of indebtedness. His principal contributions to the science are contained in the ‘De Legationibus,’ the ‘De Jure Belli,’ and the ‘Advocatio Hispanica.’ The first of these was the best work upon embassy which had appeared up to the date of its publication. The last is a collection of arguments on questions of prize law, especially valuable as being much earlier in date than anything else of the kind which has been preserved to us. The ‘De Jure Belli’ is a vast improvement on the treatises even of Pierino Belli and Ayala on the same subject. In it Gentili combines for the first time the practical discussions of the catholic theologians with the theory of natural law which had been mainly worked out by protestants. Identifying the ‘Jus Naturæ’ with the consent of the majority of nations, and looking for its evidences to the writings of philosophers, to the Bible, and to the more generally applicable rules of the Roman law, he addresses himself to the novel and difficult task of collecting, criticising, and systematising the rules for the conduct of warfare. Nor does the author confine himself to the discussion of those rules in the abstract. It has been truly observed that the book may ‘be regarded as a legal commentary on the events of the sixteenth century, dealing, from the point of view of public law, with all the great questions debated between Charles V and Francis I, between Flanders and Spain, between Italy and her oppressors.’ The three books of the ‘De Jure Belli’ supply the framework and much of the materials of the first and third books of the ‘De Jure Belli et Pacis’ of Grotius; and it may well be questioned whether the additional matter which forms the second book of the latter work is not too important to be fitly introduced as a mere digression in a treatise on belligerent rights. The marvellous literary success of Grotius long obscured the fame of his predecessor, but in 1875 renewed attention began to be paid to the achievements of Gentili. Committees were formed, alike in his native and in his adopted country, to do him honour; inquiries were instituted which resulted in the ascertainment of many long-forgotten details of his career; a handsome monument was placed in St. Helen's Church as near as might be to his last resting-place; and his greatest work was re-edited at Oxford.
The following is probably a complete list of his writings: 1. ‘De Juris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex,’ London, 1582, 4to; reprinted London, 1584 and 1585, 8vo, and in Panciroli's ‘De Claris Leg. interpr.’ 2. ‘Lectionum et Epistolarum quæ ad Jus Civile pertinent Libri I–IV,’ London, 1583–7, 8vo. 3. ‘De Legationibus Libri III,’ London, 1585 (two editions), 4to; Hanau, 1594 and 1607, 8vo. 4. ‘Legalium Comitiorum Oxoniensium Actio,’ London, 1585, 8vo. 5. ‘De Diversis Temporum Appellationibus,’ Wittenberg, 1586, 8vo; Hanau, 1604, 4to, and 1607, 8vo; Wittenberg, 1646, 8vo. 6. ‘De Nascendi Tempore Disputatio,’ Wittenberg, 1586, 8vo. 7. ‘Disputationum Decas Prima,’ London, 1587, 8vo. 8. ‘Conditionum Liber Singularis,’ London, 1587, 8vo, and 1588, 4to. 9. ‘De Jure Belli Commentatio Prima,’ London, 1588, 4to; ‘Commentatio Secunda,’ 1588–9; ‘Commentatio Tertia,’ 1589; ‘Commentationes I et II,’ Leyden, 1589, 4to; ‘Commentationes Tres,’ London, 1589, 8vo; ‘De Jure Belli Libri Tres,’ Hanau, 1598, 1604, and 1612, 8vo; Oxford, ed. T. E. Holland, 1877, 4to; and in the ‘Opera Omnia,’ 1770, 4to. 10. ‘De Injustitia Bellica Romanorum Actio,’ Oxford, 1590, 4to. 11. ‘Ad tit. de Malef. et Math. item ad tit. de Prof. et Med.,’ Hanau, 1593, and 1604, 8vo. 12. ‘De Armis Romanis et Injustitia Bellica Romanorum Libri II,’ Hanau, 1599 and 1612, 8vo; printed also, merely as by A. G., in Polenus's ‘Thesaur. Antiq.,’ tom. i., ed. Venice, 1737. 13. ‘De Actoribus et de Abusu Mendacii Disp. Duæ,’ Hanau, 1599, 8vo (printed also in Gronovii ‘Thesaur. Antiquit.,’ vol. viii.). 14. ‘De Ludis Scenicis Epistolæ Duæ’ (dated 1593), appended to ‘The Overthrow of Stage Plays,’ Middelburg, 1599, 4to, and Oxford, 1629. 15. ‘Ad I Maccabæorum Disp.,’ Frankfurt, 1600, 4to. 16. ‘De Nuptiis Libri VII,’ Hanau, 1601 and 1614, 8vo. 17. ‘Lectiones Virgilianæ,’ Hanau, 1603 and 1604, 8vo. 18. ‘Ad I Maccabæorum Disp., et de Linguarum Mistura,’ London, 1604. 19. ‘De si quis Principi et ad Leg. Jul. Disp. Decem,’ Hanau, 1604 and 1607, 8vo. 20. ‘De Latinitate vet. Bibl. vers. male accusata,’ Hanau, 1604, 8vo. 21. ‘Laudes Academiæ Perusinæ et Oxon.,’ Hanau, 1605, 8vo. 22. ‘De Unione Angliæ et Scotiæ Discursus,’ London, 1605, 8vo; Helmstedt, 1664, 4to. 23. ‘Disputationes Tres (1) de libris Juris Can., (2) de libris Juris Civ., (3) Latinitate vet. Bibl.,’ &c., Hanau, 1605, 8vo; Helmstedt, 1674, 4to. 24. ‘Regales Disputationes, (1) de pot. Regis absol., (2) de Unione Regnorum, &c., (3) de vi Civium in Regem,’ &c., London, 1605, fol. and 4to; Hanau, 1605, 8vo (‘England's Monarch,’ London, 1644, is a refutation of the ‘false principles and insinuating flatteries’ of this work). 25. ‘De libro Pyano ad Jo. Howsonum Epistola’ (dated 1603) in Howson's ‘Theseos defensio,’ Oxford, 1606. 26. ‘Hispanicæ Advocationis Libri Duo,’ Hanau and Frankfurt, 1613, 4to; Amsterdam, 1661 and 1664, 8vo. 27. ‘In tit. de Verborum Significatione,’ Hanau, 1614, 4to. 28. ‘De Legatis in Testamento,’ Amsterdam, 1661, 8vo. 29. ‘A Discourse on Marriage by Proxy’ is attributed to Alberico Gentili by Anthony à Wood. ‘Alberici Gentilis J. C. Prof. Reg. Opera Omnia in plures tomos distributa,’ Naples, 1770, was interrupted, after the appearance of vols. i. and ii., by the death of Gravier, the printer. It contains Nos. 9, 12, and 27. ‘Mundus alter et idem, auct. Mercurio Britannico,’ Hanau, 1607, though attributed by Bayle to Bishop Hall, is thought by Blaufus (Vermischte Beyträge, ii. 328) to be by Alberico Gentili. The following are Gentili's unpublished writings: 1. ‘De Probationibus Libri IV.’ 2. ‘Consultationum Volumen.’ 3. ‘Quæstionum publice Disput. Liber.’ 4. ‘Commentarius ad Edict. de Annona’ (Gentilis complains, in the dedication to ‘De Diversis Temporum Appellationibus,’ of the loss of all these, ‘Quæ pessimo pontificiorum facinore mihi omnia perierunt,’ possibly in his flight to Carniola). 5. ‘Verborum et Historiarum Juris ex Accurs. et Bartol. Comm. duo’ (mentioned in ‘Dial. II’). 6. ‘In Aldi Manutii Orthographiam Annotationes.’ 7. ‘De præmio Coronæ Muralis disputatio’ (both mentioned in ‘Ad. Maccab. I’). 8. ‘De Poetis Disputatio.’ 9. ‘De potiore interpr. Decalogi in sec. tab.’ (both mentioned in ‘De Actoribus et Spectatoribus’). 10. A volume of ‘Leggi ed ordini straordinarii da aggiungersi allo statuto composto e riformato dall' egregio ed eccellentissimo messer Alberigo Gentili’ was, according to Benigni, presented by Alberico to San Ginesio. 11. The D'Orville MSS. in the Bodleian Library contain ‘De papatu Romano Antichristo assertiones ex verbo Dei et SS. patribus, Alberico Gentili Italo auctore.’ The manuscripts of the ‘Condicionum Liber,’ of the ‘De Verborum Significatione,’ and of the ‘Advocatio Hispanica’ are in the same collection. The library of Corpus Christi College possesses the manuscript of the correspondence between Dr. Rainolds and Alberico (ccciii, ccclii). All the works of Gentili were placed in the ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum’ in 1603.[Archives of San Ginesio, Perugia, and Oxford; D'Orville MSS. in Bodleian; Lansdowne MSS. vols. cxxxix. cxlv. in Brit. Mus.; State Papers, Dom. Eliz. vols. cxliv. cxlvii.; wills of Alberico and Hester Gentili at Somerset House; prefaces and dedications to the several works of Alberico Gentili; G. M. Konigius's Bibliotheca vetus et nova, Altdorfii, 1678; T. Benigni in Colucci Antichità Picene, vol. vii. Fermo, 1790; W. A. Reiger's Commentatio, Groningen, 1867; T. E. Holland's Inaugural Lecture, London, 1874, and his Preface to De Jure Belli, Oxford, 1877; G. Speranza's Studi, Rome, 1876; A. Fiorini, Di A. G. e del suo diritto di guerra, Leghorn, 1877; A. Saffi's Letture, Bologna, 1878.]