Black Book Of The Admiralty
(
Liber Niger Admiralitatis,)
Vol. 1


The Liber Niger Admiralitatis, or Black Book of the Admiralty, is an illuminated manual of instruction for the Lord High Admiral. It contains details on the appointment and office of admiral, the conduct of cases in the High Court of Admiralty, and a section on the examination and punishment of offenders, and includes the Laws of Oléron, a code of maritime law thought to have been compiled in the thirteenth century under English royal authority, initially to govern the Gascon trade which passed by the island of Oléron, off the west coast of France.

Little is known about the circumstances of the book's compilation, or its early history. The book was consulted at the Admiralty registry by naval historians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but by 1808 it had been lost and the registry clerk claimed that the registry 'had never seen such a book, and knew nothing of it'.

(UK National Archives, HCA 12/1) 



There are several mentions made of it in 1847, in Nicholas Harris', A History of the Royal Navy: From the Earliest Times to the Wars of the French Revolution .  He states, that in "Prynne's Animadversions p.108 who cites the Black Book of the Admiralty" and  that it is a "genuine Treatise on the Dominion of the Sea and a compleat body of the Sea Laws".  Harris attributes it's origins to "have been made by Richard the First about the beginning of his reign by the advice of many lords of the realm at Grimsby in Lincolnshire If the admiral by the King's command arrested any ships for the King's service and he or his lieutenant certified the arrest or returned a list of the ships arrested into Chancery neither the master nor owner of the said vessels should plead against the return that the admiral and his lieutenant are of record. And if any vessel broke the arrest and the master or owner were indicted and convicted by a jury the ship should be confiscated to the King The most memorable of King Richard's marine laws was however the code known to all jurists as the 'Laws of Oleron', though this code is ascribed to Richard, a great part of it had been enacted by his mother Queen Eleanor under the title of the Roll of Oleron and it is singular to that precise date. The book seems to have been  missing until the early 1870s. An edition of the text is appeared in T. Twiss, The Black Book of the Admiralty (Rolls Series, 55, 1871-1876). This was transcribed between 1871 and 1876 by Sir Travers Twiss. The Black Book was thought at the time to be lost, and Twiss worked from related manuscripts and transcripts. Of the four volumes of Twiss' work only the first and fourth relate to the Black Book. Vol. I pp. 1-344 contains the transcripts, and Vol. IV contains minor corrections made after the original was found. The rest are appendices and important notes and documentation on the manuscripts.The languages used can be dual text (pages side by side) in Old French and contemporary English, Latin alone, French alone or English alone.