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date: 18 January 2018

Oleron, the Laws of

The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea
I. C. B. DearI. C. B. Dear, Peter KempPeter Kemp

Oleron, the Laws of, 

a code of maritime law enacted by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married Henry II of England in 1152. It was attributed by her to the Island of Oleron, which lies 32 kilometres (20 mls.) north of the mouth of the Gironde River in western France. The island was part of her duchy and was renowned for the skill and courage of its seafaring population. It is possible the laws were based on the older Rhodian Law of the Mediterranean. They dealt mainly with the rights and responsibilities of ships' captains in relation to discipline, mutiny, pay, cargoes, sickness on board, pilotage, accidents, and similar matters.

The Laws of Oleron were introduced into England in about 1190 by Richard I, son of Henry and Eleanor, and were codified in the Black Book of the Admiralty in 1336 which also contained a list of the ancient customs and usages of the sea. It is unfortunate that the original book disappeared from the registry of the High Court of Admiralty at the beginning of the 19th century. Only a few manuscript copies of parts of it, some dating back to about 1420, are extant and are in the British Museum and Bodleian libraries. All known sources for it were collated in Sir Travers Twiss's Black Book of the Admiralty (4 vols., 1871).