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Library Exhibition: Early Printed Law Books from the Holy Roman Empire 1484-1534

The potential of the printing press in spreading knowledge and propaganda was realised within a matter of decades.  Its role in the Protestant Reformation and the dissemination of the newly-discovered works of classical literature are well-known.

It also had a major effect on the development of law.   Copies of documents could be reproduced quickly and cheaply, and without the scribal inaccuracies which crept into legal manuscripts.  Rulers and law-making bodies soon spotted the potential this offered for codifying and publicising legal texts.

The Inn holds a very fine collection of these early legal publications, a selection of which are on display in the Library.  The exhibits are all books printed in what is now Germany.  They include a number of legal and bibliographic firsts, including:

  • the first book published by a woman (Anna Rütgerin’s Sachsenspiegel of 1484),
  • the first criminal law code of the Holy Roman Empire,
  • a magnificent title-page designed by Albrecht Dürer’s pupil Martin Caldenbach,
  • a version of the first printer’s device.

In addition to their historical significance these are enlivened by superb woodcuts and are a visual treat.  This is a great opportunity to view some little-known treasures of the Inn. The exhibition runs until 30 June.