Alberico Gentili

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Alberico Gentili
Alberico Gentili.jpg
Engraved portrait of Gentili
Regius Professor of Civil Law
In office
1587–1608 (his death)
Monarch Elizabeth I
Preceded by William Mowse
Succeeded by John Budden
Personal details
Born (1552-01-14)14 January 1552
Macerata, Italy
Died 14 January 1608(1608-01-14) (aged 56)
London, England
Nationality Italian
Spouse(s) Lucrezia Petrelli
Relations Scipione Gentili (brother)
Diodoro Petrelli (father-in-law)
Children Roberto Gentili
Parents Dr Matteo Gentili
Alma mater University of Perugia
Known for Substantial contributions to the theory of international law, human rights and war;
First writer on public international law;
Regius Professor
Religion Protestantism

Alberico Gentili (January 14, 1552 – June 19, 1608) was an Italian lawyer, jurist, and a former standing advocate to the Spanish Embassy in London, who served as the Regius professor of civil law at the University of Oxford for 21 years.[note 1] Recognised as the founder of the science of international law,[note 2] Gentili is perhaps one of the most influential people in legal education ever to have lived.[note 3] He is one of the four men referred to as the "Father of international law".[note 4] Gentili has been the earliest writer on public international law [note 5] and the first person to split secularism from canon law and Roman Catholic theology.[note 6] In 1587, he became the first non-English Regius Professor.[note 7]

He wrote several books, which are recognized to be one of the most essentials international legal doctrines, that include also theological and literary subjects.[note 8] Legal scholars say that Gentili was the first who attempted to provide the world anything like a regular system of natural jurisprudence, and his treatise, On the Laws of War and Peace, with all its discolorations, is conceivably at the current day the most complete work on the subject.[note 9]

It was occasioned by a case on which Gentili's counsel was sought. In 1584 Gentili and Jean Hotman, Marquis de Villers-St-Paul were asked by the government to advise on the treatment of Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza, who had been implicated in the so-called Throckmorton plot against Queen Elizabeth I.[note 10]

Early life and family[edit]

Alberico Gentili was born into a noble family in the town of San Ginesio, Macerata, Italy. It has been conjectured that Gentili's mother might have been the source of his early love for jurisprudence, but it was his father, Matteo Gentili, a renowned physician who assumed the role of his tutor in Latin and Greek.[1] He obtained a doctoral degree in law at the University of Perugia at the age of 20.[2]


After his graduation, he was elected as the chief judge of Ascoli, but then settled in his native town, where he filled various responsible offices. Both father and son belonged to a confraternity suspected of meeting for the discussion of opinions hostile to the Roman church. The inquisition was upon the track of the heretics, and Gentili together with his father and one of his brothers, Scipione Gentili, were forced to leave Italy because of their Protestant beliefs. The three first went to Ljubljana, Slovenia, the capital of the duchy of Carniola. From there, Alberico went on to the German university towns of Tübingen and Heidelberg. At their first halting-place, Laibach, Matteo, doubtless through the influence of his brother-in-law, Nicolo Petrelli, a jurist high in favour with the court, was appointed chief physician for the duchy of Carniola. In the meantime the papal authorities had excommunicated the fugitives, and soon procured their expulsion from Austrian territory. Early in 1580 Alberico set out for England, preceded by a reputation which procured him offers of professorships at Heidelberg and at Tübingen, where Scipio was left to commence his university studies. Alberico reached London in August, with introductions to Giovanni Battista Castiglione, the Italian tutor Queen Elizabeth I. Gentili soon became acquainted with Dr Tobia Matthew, the Archbishop of York. On 14th January 1581 Gentili was accordingly incorporated from Perugia as a D.C.L. giving Gentili the right of teaching law, which he first exercised in St John's College, Oxford. Subsequently Gentili was appointed as the Regius professor of civil law at Oxford University by the Chancellor of Oxford University, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.[3]He was commissioned to prepare a revised version of the statutory laws of his home town, a task which he completed in 1577. After a short stay in Wittenberg, Germany, he returned to Oxford.

Gentili held the regius professorship until his death, but he turned more and more to practical work in London from about 1590. He practised in the High Court of Admiralty, where the continental civil law rather than the English common law was applied.[4] In 1600 Gentili was called to the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn.[5] He died in London and was buried in the Church of St Helen Bishopsgate in the City of London.

His son was Robert Gentilis, who graduated from Oxford University at the age of 12 and was made a Fellow of All Souls College Oxford at the age of 17 through his father's influence.


Gentili's first book on issues of international law was De Legationibus Libri Tres, published in 1585.

In 1582, Gentili published De Juris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex. This book shows Gentili as a staunch supporter of the bartolist method and an opponent of the French humanist jurists like Jacques Cujas, who applied philogical methods to the sources of Roman law.

In 1589 Gentli first published De Jure Belli Commentationes Tres. An enhanced edition appeared under the title De Jure Belli Libri Tres. This is considered his principal work and a classic of public international law. The book is not only praised for its modernity and its skillful use of civil law concepts, but also for its closeness to the actual practice of international law.

After his death, Alberico Gentili's brother Scipione, who had become a professor of law at Altdorf, published a collection of notes on cases Alberico had worked on as an advocate for the Spanish embassy. The book bears the title Hispanicae Advocationis Libri Duo and appeared in 1613.

All above mentioned books are available in modern editions or reprints:

  • De Iuris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex. Edited by Guido Astuti. Torino 1937.
  • De Legationibus Libri Tres. With an introduction by Ernest Nys. New York 1924.
  • De Iure Belli Libri Tres. 2 Vols. Text and Translation by John Rolfe. Oxford 1933.
  • Hispanicae Advocationis Libri Duo. Text and Translation by Frank Frost Abbott. New York 1921.

Posthumous fame[edit]

Gentili's fame as an international lawyer was soon eclipsed by the publication of Hugo Grotius' seminal work De Jure Belli ac Pacis in 1625, even though Grotius owed much to Gentili's writings. It was only in the 19th century that interest in Gentili revived. This is to a great extent due to Sir Thomas Erskine Holland (1835–1926) who in 1874 devoted his inaugural lecture as professor of international law and diplomacy in Oxford to Gentili. Since then, numerous books and articles have been written about Gentili and his work. In his hometown a monument was erected in his honour.


  1. ^ Vaughan, Ken MacMillan (2011). The Atlantic Imperial Constitution: Center and Periphery in the English Atlantic World. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230111745. 
  2. ^ Julius J. Marke (1999). A Catalogue of the Law Collection at New York University: With Selected Annotations. New York, USA: Lawbook Exchange Ltd. p. 1372. ISBN 978-1886363915. 
  3. ^ See the quotations from the following authors: Piergiovanni, Fuseli, Ulmen, Thomas JR, Kulsrud, Warren, Rio, Calamandrei.
  4. ^ Pagden, Anthony (1991). Vitoria: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). UK: Cambridge University Press. p. xvi. ISBN 0-521-36714-X. 
  5. ^ Woods, Thomas E. (Jr.) (2005). How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-038-7. 
  6. ^ Warren, Christopher (2015). Literature and the Law of Nations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198719342. 
  7. ^ Ulmen, Carl Schmitt (2006). The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum. London, UK: Telos Press. ISBN 978-0230219229. 
  8. ^ "Lessons of Imperialism and of the Law of Nations:Alberico Gentili’s Early Modern Appeal to Roman Law". Oxford Juyrnals. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  9. ^ Jacqui True, Scott Burchill (2009). Theories of International Relations. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-89526-038-7. 
  10. ^ Brown, Carl J. Kulsrud (2000). Maritime Neutrality to 1780: A History of the Main Principles Governing Neutrality and Belligerency to 1780. London, UK: Lawbook Exchange Ltd. ISBN 978-1584770275. 
  1. ^ Douglas M. Johnston (March 15, 2008). The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Aren. Leiden, Holland: Martinus Nijhoff. p. 875. ISBN 978-9004161672. 
  2. ^ Harvey J. Langholtz (2008). The Psychology of Diplomacy (Psychological Dimensions to War and Peace). California, USA: Praeger, Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 1372. ISBN 978-0275971441. 
  3. ^ Adams, Simon (ed.): Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester Cambridge UP 1995 ISBN 0-521-55156-0 p. 212
  4. ^ Vieto Piergiovanni (2000). Comparative studies in continental and Anglo-American legal history. Germany: Duncker & Humblot. p. 236. ISBN 978-3428097562. 
  5. ^ Tetsuya Toyoda (2011). Theory and Politics of the Law of Nations: Political Bias in International Law Discourse of Seven German Court Councilors in the Seventeenth and ... in the History of International Law. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill publishers. p. 220. ISBN 978-9004206632. 

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