Hermann Conring and the Science of German Legal History

Hermann Conring

Hermann Conring

On November 9, 1606, German intellectual Hermann Conring was born. Conring made significant contributions to the study of medicine, politics and law. He made significant studies on blood circulation, and later in his career addressed himself to politics. Conring was polyhistor and Reichspublizist, as well as medical doctor and personal physician of Queen Christina of SwedenDanish State Councillor and director of the Bremen-verdische Archive in Stade. He is regarded as the founder of the science of German legal history. In addition, Conring also conducted research in the fields of philosophy, physics and medicine.

Hermann Conring was born into a family of ministers in a town in East Frisia, a territory ruled at that time by the counts of Cirksena, which would later become Germany. Early, he became familiar with the Latin language and ancient classical writings. At the University of Helmstedt, Conring studied philosophy starting at the age of only 14. In 1625, Hermann Conring followed an invitation by Matthias van Overbeck to study at Leiden University. There, he developed his interest in science and medicine. After his studies at Leiden, Conring taught  the son of Arnold Engelbrecht, at that time chancellor of the Principality of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Around 1632, Hermann Conring was appointed professor of philosophy and rhetoric at the University of Helmstedt. It is believed that around 1660, Conring began to lecture statistics as a forerunner of modern government statistics. But the topic he taught was political science.

Hermann Conring is regarded as the father of German legal history. It is believed that already at Leiden University, he developed a great interest in the topic and began to research into the development of German law. In 1963, he started to get involved with the constitutional law of the German Reich which he also reflected in his lectures in the years after. In his major publication De origine iuris Germanici from 1943, Conring refuted the Lotharian legend and proved that there is no legislative act of Emperor Lothar III of Supplinburg, who made Roman law into imperial law.

Conring not only dealt with the history of laws in force in the German Reich, he further included the institutions issuing them in his deliberations and discussed against what background the laws had a certain effect. His book was published in three editions illustrating the development of German law from the time of the Germans to Franconian and post-Franconian times. However, the contemporary reaction to the work was mostly negative and Conring was even accused of plagiarism by Johannes Gryphiander.

Hermann Conring was one of the last German universal scholars. He is regarded as the founder of the science of legal history. He supported the famous Wolfenbüttel library, today’s Herzog August Bibliothek, with expert opinions and advice. In his honour, the oriental field cabbage bears the scientific name Conringia orientalis.

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