Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Harold G. Maier

First Page



In the year 1274, Sir Hugh LaPape, knight, vassal, and retainer of his liege lord, Edward the First of England, stood on a hill outside the city of Florence, Italy, and wept. Four years before, Sir Hugh had set off for the Holy Land at the call of his king, leaving behind him a beautiful palace with tall towers, shining in the morning sun. Now he surveyed the remains of that palace, a pile of rubble, in growing anger. Although a vassal of the English king, Sir Hugh had some years before removed himself from England to Florence, Italy, where he became attached to the Guelphs, a party that was disputing control of the city with the rival Ghibbelines. The Guelphs were grateful for Sir Hugh's assistance and, after the Ghibbelines were driven away, ceded him land outside the city walls on which he constructed his palace. While Sir Hugh was at the Crusades, the Ghibbilines threatened to retake Florence and the Guelphs razed the palace to the ground to prevent its tall towers from being used as vantage points to guide the fire of bombards against the city.

Not happy with this course of events but accepting the unpleasant reality before him, Sir Hugh returned to London where in 1275 he filed suit against certain Florentine merchants living there on the then--prevalent theory that citizens of a city or state could be sued for injuries caused by their municipal government. The merchants defended by arguing that they could not be called to account in England for acts done in Florence because that was wholly a matter for Florentine law. In 1281, the King's Council ruled for the merchants, stating:... "it is not the custom of England that anyone answer in the Kingdom of England for any trespass made in a region outside ... [Therefore,] the aforesaid merchants do go without a day. And the aforesaid Hugh to take nothing by his complaint and to be in mercy..."

Thus, the court concluded that it had neither judicial nor prescriptive jurisdiction to try in England any case that arose abroad.