Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vacarius

VACARIUS (1115?–1200?), civilian, doubtless of the school of Bologna, where he may even have listened to the teaching of Irnerius, was the first to introduce the study of the revived Roman law into England. It must have been early in life that he acquired a reputation which led to his being brought to England (perhaps by Becket on the occasion of his mission to Pope Celestine in 1143), together with a supply of books of the civil law, for the purpose of assisting Theobald [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, in his struggle to wrest the legateship from Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester. This was accomplished in 1146, and in 1149 we hear of Vacarius as lecturing on the laws of Justinian to crowds of rich and poor (R. de Monte) in the then rudimentary university of Oxford (Gerv. Cant.), and as composing, for the use especially of his poorer hearers (R. de Monte), an abridgment, in nine books, of the Digest and Code of Justinian, not dissimilar in design to the ‘Summa Codicis’ attributed to Irnerius. The work, which seems to have been popularly known as the ‘Summa Pauperum de Legibus,’ or ‘Liber Pauperum’—whence the nickname ‘pauperistæ’ afterwards bestowed upon Oxford civilians—evidently became a leading text-book at Oxford, where in 1190 the Frisian student Emo, afterwards abbot of Bloomkap, and his brother Addo, spent sleepless nights in making a copy of it. Nearly complete manuscripts of this important work are preserved at Worcester, Bruges, Prague, and Avranches. There is an imperfect manuscript of it at Königsberg, and fragments are in the Bodleian and in several of the college libraries at Oxford. The manuscript used by Wenck in 1820 has unfortunately disappeared.

Towards the end of his reign Stephen destroyed all the books of ‘Italian laws’ upon which he could lay his hands, and silenced the teaching of Vacarius. There is ample evidence that the check thus given to the study of Roman law was of short duration (‘Deo faciente,’ says John of Salisbury, ‘eo magis virtus legis invaluit, quo eam amplius nitebatur impietas infirmare’); but Vacarius can hardly have resumed his lectures at Oxford, since from about this time his long life was devoted to the work of an ecclesiastical lawyer in the northern province, and more especially to the service of Roger of Pont l'Évêque (d. 1181) [q. v.], who, after having been previously archdeacon of Canterbury, became in 1154 archbishop of York. ‘Magister Vacarius,’ as he is always described, was rewarded some time before 1167 with the prebend of Northwell in the college of secular canons at Southwell. To this period of his life must doubtless be ascribed the composition of two tracts, the ‘De assumpto Homine’ and the ‘De Matrimonio,’ which are preserved in manuscript in the library of the university of Cambridge. The former is of a theological and metaphysical character; the latter is of a legal character, being written to maintain that the essential element in marriage is ‘traditio’ rather than, as Gratian would say, ‘copula carnalis,’ or, as Peter Lombard, mere ‘verba de presenti.’ Both tracts have recently been described by Professor Maitland, who has printed the ‘De Matrimonio’ in extenso. Vacarius seems to have been at Paris on the business of Archbishop Roger in 1164. Together with Richard (d. 1178) [q. v.], sixth abbot of Fountains, he was commissioned about 1166 by Alexander III to decide a matrimonial lawsuit. He accompanied Archbishop Roger when that prelate was summoned by the pope in 1171 to clear himself by oath of certain charges before the archbishop of Rouen and the bishop of Amiens at Aumâle. In 1174 he witnessed an agreement between Archbishop Roger and Hugh de Puiset [q. v.], bishop of Durham, and about the same time was judge-delegate in a controversy between the abbey of Rievaulx and Alan of Rydale. In 1175 he acted in a similar capacity between the priories of St. Faith's and Coxford in Norfolk. He occurs as witness to a charter of Gysebourne priory in 1181. Some time after 1191 he was allowed by the pope to cede half of his prebend to his nephew Reginald. The name of ‘Magister Vacarius’ occurs for the last time in 1198, in which year he was commissioned, together with the prior of Thurgarten, by Innocent III to carry into execution in the north of England a letter touching the crusade. Vacarius is not to be identified with Vacella of Mantua, a contemporary commentator upon Lombard law.

[The texts of most of the original authorities for Vacarius are set out and annotated by the present writer in Oxf. Hist. Society's Collectanea, ii. 1890. See also Wenck, Magister Vacarius (Leipzig, 1820), and in Opusc. Acad. ed. Stieber, 1834; Mühlenbruch, Obs. Juris Rom. i. 36; Hänel, in the Leipz. Lit. Zeitung, 1828, No. 42, p. 334; Savigny, Geschichte, iv. 423; Stölzel, Lehre von der operis novi denuntiatio, 1865, pp. 592–620, and in the Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte, vi. 234; Catal. gén. des MSS. des bibl. publ. de France: Départements, t. x.; F. Liebermann, in English Historical Review, 1896 pp. 305, 514 (cf. p. 747), 1898 p. 297; and Prof. F. W. Maitland, in Law Quarterly Review, 1897, pp. 133, 270.]

T. E. H.