The Atlantic Prehistory of Private International Law: Trading Companies of the New World and the Pursuit of Restitution in England and France, 1613-43

13 Feb 2018

This article concerns itself with the kind of legal conflicts that broke out in the Atlantic New World between merchant interests from different parts of Europe. Case studies are made of two disputes: one between Samuel Argall of the Virginia Company and a factor on behalf of Antoinette de Pons at the Île des Monts-Déserts, and the other between the Compagnie de Caën and the Kirke brothers at the Saint Lawrence River. Together, these case studies reveal how important it was for merchant interests to have resident ambassadors and state officials advancing their interests in England and France. Procedural difficulties and jurisdictional uncertainty often impeded the road to redress. Additionally, this article suggests that the peacetime reckoning of events associated with warfare provided an optimal opportunity for disaffected private actors to have their claims for redress recognised. The extent to which private overtures for restitution relied upon public acts of diplomacy reveals some of the reasons why it is not possible to date the origins of private international law before the long nineteenth century. Rather we might profitably identify, in events such as these, the prehistory of private international law.