The Hanseatic League




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When Breslau was made a city in 1261, its citizens and duke Henry requested a copy of the Magdeburg city charter to use as the Breslau charter. The leadership of Magdeburg drew up this document in response. Eventually, the Magdeburg law came to apply to cities throughout the region.

SOURCE: “Breslau Adopts the Charter of Magdeburg.” In Thatcher, Oliver & Edgar McNeal, eds. A Source Book for Medieval History. New York & Chicago: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1905. pp. 592-602.

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(1) When Magdeburg was founded the inhabitants were given a charter such as they wished. They determined that they would choose aldermen every year, who, on their election, should swear that they would guard the law, honor, and interests of the city to the best of their ability and with the advice of the wisest people of the city.

(2) The alder-

men have under their jurisdiction false measures, false scales, false weights, offences in the sale of all sorts of provisions, and all kinds of deception in buying and selling. If they find anyone guilty of such things, he shall pay a fine of three Wendish marks, that is, thirty-six shillings.

(3) The aldermen shall take counsel with the wisest people and then appoint their courts at whatever time they wish. Their decisions rended in court are binding and must be obeyed. If anyone resists their decisions, they shall punish him.

(4) If the bells are rung [to call the inhabitants to court], and anyone does not come, he shall pay a fine of six pence. If he is summond to the court and does not come, he shall be fined five shillings.

(5) If the people who are called hucksters are convicted of cheating, they shall either be beaten and have their heads shaved, or they shall be fined three shillings, according to the choice of the aldermen.

(6) If anyone is convicted of using false weights or measures, the aldermen shall punish him according to the custom of the city, or fine him thirty-six shillings.

(7) The burggrave is the highest judge. He must hold three courts every year: the first one at St. Agatha's day [February 5], the second one at St. John's day [June 24], and the third one week after St. Martin's day [November 11]. If these days fall on holy days or "bound times" [that is, holidays on which, for some reason not here stated, no courts may be held], the court must be put off. If plaitiffs do not appear, the case must be put off. If the Schultheiss does not come, the case must be put off. But the Schultheiss who fails to come must pay the burggrave ten pounds, unless it was impossible for him to come.

(8) All crimes committed 14 days before the burggrave's court meets belong solely to the jurisdiction of the burggrave. But if the burggrave is not there, the citizens shall choose someone else to judge in his place, if anyone has been taken in the very act of committing a crime. The fee of the burggrave is three pounds. When the burg-

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grave rises from the judge's chair, his court is dissolved, and he then appoints the court of the Schultheiss to be held 14 days from the next day.

(9) The Schultheiss holds three regular courts each year: the first one, twelve days after Christmas, the second, on the first Tuesday after Easter week, and the third, at the end of the week of Pentecost. At the close of each of these courts he shall appoint another court [if necessary], to be held fourteen days later. If these courts fall on a holy day, he may put off his court for a day or two.

(10) The fee of the Schultheiss is eight shillings. No one shall be summoned to his court except by the Schultheiss himself or by his beadle. His servant shall not summon anyone. If the Schultheiss is not at home when a crime is committed, the people shall choose someone to judge in his place, in case they have taken some offender in the act. The Schultheiss shall receive his authority as a fief from the lord of the land, and he shall have a fief [besides], and he must be of legitimate birth, and born a citizen of the town.

(11) If a man is wounded and cries for help, and seizes his assailant and brings him into court, and has six witnesses, the defendant is to be shown to the witnesses, so that he cannot escape. If a man inflicts a wound as deep as a nail and as long as a finger, his hand shall be cut off; for killing anyone his head shall be cut off.

(12) Neither the burggrave nor the Shultheiss shall compel citizens to render decisions [that is, assist in holding court] at any other time than the regular sessions of the court, except when a criminal has been taken in the act. But the burggrave and Schultheiss must, every day, try the cases which are brought before them.

(13) If a man is wounded but puts off making complaint [to the proper official] until the next day, the accused may prove himself if he produces six witnesses. If the accused fails to appear at the next three sessions of the court, he shall, at the fourth session, be put under the ban [outlawed, proscribed].

(14) If a man dies

leaving a wife, she shall hae no share in his property except what he has given her in court, or has appointed for her dower. She must have six witnesses, male or female, to prove her dower. If the man made no provision for her, her children must support her as long as she does not remarry. If her husband has sheep, the widow shall take them.

(15) If a man and woman have children, some of whom are married and have received their marriage portion, and the man dies, the children who are still at home [that is, unmarried], shall receive the inheritance. Those who have received their marriage portion shall have no part of it [that is, the inheritance]. Children who have received an inheritance shall not sell it without the consent of their heirs.

(16) If a man surrenders anything to another in court, and the other holds it in peaceable possession for a year and a day, he shall can the judge and the Schoeffen as witnesses to the fact [that he has held it for a year and a day], and thereafter no one shall bring a suit against him to recover it.

(17) If a judge or Schoeffe dies, he shall be declared deposed [that is, his office shall be declared vacant] by a session of court in which at least two Schoeffen and four free citizens are present. Then his wife shall receive her share of his property [that is, not until the office is decalred vacant may his widow claim her share of his property].

(18) No one, whether man or woman, shall, on his sick-bed, give away more than three shillings' worth of his property without the consent of his heirs, and the woman must have the consent of her husband.

(19) If the fee or wergeld of the burggrave has been adjudged to him in court, it must be paid to him within sex weeks.

(20) If there are no immediate heirs [that is, children] to an inheritance, the nearest kin shall share it equally.

(21) If a man is wounded and cries for help [but does not seize his assailant] and comes into court and accuses someone who was present [when he received the wound], the accused must answer in court and defend himself. If a

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man accuses more persons than he has wounds, only as many persons as he has wounds shall be prosecuted, but the defendants may clear themselves of the charges with six witnesses.

(22) If an inheritance is left to a boy [that is, his father dies], and he wishes to become a priest, he shall nevertheless receive the inheritance. But if he has an unmarried sister at home, the two shall divide it between them.

(23) If a man transfers a piece of property to another in the presence of a judge and of the Schoeffen, the Schoeffen shall receive a fee of one shilling.

(24) If a man brings a suit against another for a debt and gets a writ of execution against him, the defendant must, on the same day, pay the debt and also the judge's fee.

(25) If a man is sued for a debt and he confesses to the debt, he must pay it within fourteen days. If he does not pay it within fourteen days, he shall pay the judge's fee, and the judge shall order him to pay it within eight days. If he does not pay it within eight days, the judge shall order him to pay it the next day. If he does not pay it, he shall pay the judge his fee for every time the judge ordered him to pay. If he does not have the money to pay, his house shall be taken in pawn for the debt. If he has no house, he shall be seized for debt wherever he may be found. Whoever gives him aid, shall pay a fine to the judge.

(26) If a man's clothes are taken from him by a writ of execution, he has seventeen days in which to call a court session.

(27) If a man of good reputation is acused of having caused a disturbance by day or night, he shall clear himself with seix witnesses, provided he was not seen near the place where the disturbance was.

(28) No widow shall use the capital of her dower or sell it. If she dies it shall go to the heirs of her husband.

(29) If an inheritance is left to children, and one of them dies, the others share it equally.

(30) If a man's house is taken from him as pawn for a debt, so long as the pawn is unredeemed he shall pay the judge a fine every time he enters the house.

(31) If a man is going out of the country as a pilgrim or as a merchant, no one shall hinder him from going because of a debt, unless he brings suit against him for the debt before the judge.

(32) If anyone reviles a Schoeffe while he is on the bench [that is, while he is performing the duties of his office], he shall pay the Schoeffe a regular fine [for an offense against the Schoeffe], that is, thirty shillings, and he shall also pay the judge his fee.

(33) If a man reviles the Schoeffen after they have given a decision, he shall pay each of them a regular fine, that is, thirty shillings, and also pay the judge his regular fine. He shall pay the judge's fine as many times as there are Schoeffen whom he reviled.

(34) If a man needs evidence that a quarrel or fued was legally settled in court, he shall appeal to the judge and Schoeffen in whose presence the fued was settled. If they have died, he shall take the testimony of the free citizens who were in court at the time.

(35) The judge shall not reverse a decision of the Schoeffen.

(36) If a fued is settled out of court and one of the parties afterward renews it, the other party shall prove that it was settled by bringing six witnesses who saw and heard the settlement.

(37) If a fued is settled in court and a pledge given [that the fued shall not be renewed] and some of them [that is, one of the parties to it] renew it and they are convicted of it before the judge and the Schoeffen, they shall lose a hand for inflicting a wound on any of the other party, and their head if they have killed anyone. If a man who did not agree to the settlement of the fued renews it, he shall pay the wergeld, that is, nine pounds for a wound and eighteen for killing anyone.

(38) If a man attacks another with intent to wound, and does wound him, he shall lose a hand for a wound, and his head if he kills him.

(39) If a man is beaten with rods on his back and abdomen so as to make black and blue spots and to cause swellings, he shall show himself to the judge and to the free citizens in court that they may see the effects of the blows,

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and then he has grounds for suit against those who beat him. But if he is beaten on his head and arms and has no other proof, the accused shall clear themselves in the regular way. If they confess [that they beat him], each one shall pay his fine, and the judge's fee besides. If the man whom they beat dies, they must all answer in court for his death. If he does not die, only one of the them shall answer in court, the others shall go free.

(40) The burggrave and not the Schultheiss shall have jurisdiction over the crimes of attacking from an ambush, violating women, and attacking with intent to kill. If the one attacked has wounds and shows them to the judge and has witnesses who heard him cry for help, the accused shall answer in court to the charges.

(41) If anyone dies leaving an inheritance and no heirs appear within a year and a day to claim it, it shall go to the king.

(42) If a man who has three or more children is killed, and someone is accused by one of the children of having killed his father, but is not convicted, and the court gives him a certificate that he did not commit the crime, the other children shall not renew the charge against him.

(43) If a man enters suit against another, he shall make a deposit with the judge [to cover expenses?]. He shall not give this deposit to the judge, but he shall receive it back [after the suit is ended].

(44) If a man seizes a horse and declares that it was stolen or taken by force from him, he shall prove it in court. He in whose posession the horse was found, shall appeal to witnesses and name them and swear by the saints that he is not practicing any deception in appealing to witnesses. After he has named his witnesses, the man who is called as a witness shall go with him a reasonable distance [that is, to meet the witnesses who have been named]. If he cannot produce the witnesses whom he boasted of having, he shall give security to the judge for the fine and the expenses to which the man who claimed the horse has been put, and he shall set a day when he shall appear in court. If he says that he bought the

horse in the public market, he shall restore the horse to its owner and he shall lose the money which he paid for it. But he shall not pay a fine. The judge shall not assess a fine for the non-payment of his fine.

(45) If a man claims a piece of property or an inheritance, he shall not bribe the judge in order to secure a favorable decision. If a man enters a suit against another [but in the meantime the matter is settled outside of court], he shall pay nothing except the fee of the judge.

(46) If a man who has been wounded does not wish to make charges against anyone, the judge cannot compel him to do so.

(47) If a man is outlawed or condemned, no one but his heirs shall take his property.

(48) If a man dies without having disposed of his property, it shall go to his children, if they are his equals in birth. If one of the children dies, its share goes to its mother, but she cannot dispose of it without the consent of her heirs.

(49) When a child is twelve years old it may choose whom it will as guardian. The guardian must render an account to the mother and to the children of his management of the inheritance.

(50) If one man says to another, "You are my property," but the man thus claimed can prove his freedom, no similar claim shall ever be made against him again. A man can prove his freedom by the testimony of three of his mother's relatives and three of his father's relatives. These witnesses may be either male of female.

(51) Playing at dice is not a crime.

(52) If a man is security for anything and dies, his children are not responsible for the security. If a man is security for a debt, he must pay it and make everything good.

(53) If a man wounds another within the corporate limits of the city [that is, on ground which is under the jurisdiction of the city] not in self-defense, wrongfully, and without provocation, and the wounded man turns and wounds him and cries for help, but because of his wounds is not able to reach the court first and make charges against his assailant, and his assailant,

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although he was the first to make the attack, maliciously and insolently comes into court and makes charges, the one who was first attacked shall come into court on the same day and prove by those who heard his cry for help that the other was the first to make the attack. If he can prove this he shall win his case. But he must appear the same day.

(54) If two men who are from Wendish territory, even though they are not both Wends, wound each other within the corporate limits of the city, and one of them comes into court and makes charges against the other according to Wendish law, the other must answer him according to the same law.

(55) When a man dies his wife shall give his sword, his horse and saddle, and his best coat of mail. She shall also give a bed, a pillow, a sheet, a table-cloth, two dishes and a towel. Some say that she should give other things also, but that is not necessary. If she does not have these things, she shall not give them, but she shall give proof for each article that she does not have it.

(56) If two or more children inherit these things [names in section 55], the oldest shall take the sword and they shall share the other things equally.

(57) If the children are minors, the oldest male relative on the father's side, if he is of the same rank by birth, shall receive all of these things [names in section 55] and preserve them for the children. When they become of age, he shall give them to them, and in addition, all their property, unless he can prove that he has used it to their profit, or that it has been stolen or destroyed by some accident without any fault of his. He shall also be the guardian of the widow until she remarries, if he is of the same ranks as she is.

(58) After giving the above articles the widow shall take her dower and all that belongs to her; that is, all the sheep, geese, chests, yarn, beds, pillows, cushions, table linen, bed linen, towels, cups, candle-sticks, linen, women's clothing, finger rings, bracelets, head-dress, psaletrs, and all prayer-books, chairs, drawers, bureaus, carpets, curtains, etc., and there are many other trinkets

which belong to her, such as brushes, scissors, and mirrors, but I do not mention them. But uncut cloth, and unworked gold and silver do not belong to her

(59) All the possessions of the man except those named in section 55 belong to his inheritance. If her has given anything to pledge, he who has the right to shall redeem it if he wishes to do so.

(60) If one of the children becomes a priest he shall share in the inheritance equally with his brothers, but not if he becomes a monk.

(61) If a boy is put into a monastery but leaves it before he becomes of age, he retains his legal status; that is, he may inherit fiefs from his father and has all the protections of the law of the land. But if a man becomes a monk, he loses all his rights and fiefs, because he has denied his military duties. The monks of the monestary which he has entered shall be witnesses of this.

(62) Cases shall be tried in the order in which they are entered. The plaintiff and the defendant have each the right to speak three times during the trial. Each one may speak until the beadle orders him to stop.

(63) In all cities it is the law that the judge shall give decisions. A man who has a representative shall not speak in court. If the judge asks him whether he agrees with what his representative says, he must answer Yes or No, or he may ask for permission to speak.

(64) If anyone wishes to challenge a fellow citizen to an ordeal by duel, he must ask the judge to permit him to challenge the peace-breaker in a legal manner. If this request is granted, the accuser must ask how he should challenge so as to have the support of the law. The answer is, by pulling the defendant at his collar. After the challenge, he shall tell the defendant why he challenged him. He must accuse him of having broken the peace either on the king's road, or in a village. He shall declare in which way the peace was broken. But he must accuse the defendant of having wounded him and done him violence. And this he may prove by showing his wounds or scars. Further, he shall accuse the defendant of

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having robbed him of his property and of having taken enough to make an ordeal necessary. He shall accuse him of all these three crimes at once. If he omits one of these he is deprived of the privilege of the ordeal.

The honorable Schoeffen and the aldermen of Magdeburg drew up this law of Magdeburg for the noble duke, Henry, and his citizens of Breslau, and, if necessary, will aid them in keeping it. They gave it at the request of Henry the duke and of his citizens of Breslau. In the year 1261....