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Village Violence, Imperial Justice – Wolfisheim (Alsace) (1524/25)

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ACCUSATION. The plaintiff, Arbogasts Hans, presented his charge through his counsel. It happened on the seventh day of the year 1524, that Arbogasts Hans and Linsers Hans were drinking with other villagers in Bruscher’s house. Hurtzels Lentz and Schlucken Jerg of Wolfisheim quarreled, and Hurtzels Lentz pulled his knife and tried to harm Schlucken Jerg.* When Arbogasts Hans saw what had happened, he ordered them to keep the peace and said to Schlucken Jerg, “Stand still and keep the peace, no one will harm you.”** Despite the admonition to keep the peace by Arbogasts Hans, who meant harm to no one, Linsers Hans approached him with a bread knife, and, despite the warning, he stabbed Arbogasts Hans in the side three times. When Arbogasts Hans noticed that Linsers Hans’s son wanted to join in the affair, he lunged at Linsers Hans first and struck him under the arm. He was defending his own life. Then Veltin, the village beadle [Heimbürge], warned them to keep the peace.*** Despite this warning, Linsers Hans pushed Arbogasts Hans onto a bench and gave him a fourth stab in the body. And had God Almighty not bestowed His grace on Arbogasts Hans, it is probable that he would have died from these four wounds. The same Arbogasts Hans complains bitterly of this act, saying that no one can say or imagine what consequences the blows might have had for him. And if Arbogast could have paid his way out of them, he would have sooner paid a hundred gulden than suffered such stabbings. Because Linsers Hans hurt him so badly, and because there was no provocation on his part, Arbogast Hans demands, as his right, that Linsers Hans pay him compensation, for the shearer is worthy of his hire. And he requests recompense for his upkeep during the seven weeks that he was wounded and for his lost wages. And for the crime committed in this affair, the overlord’s action suffices without costs or damages to Arbogasts Hans.**** Also, Linsers Hans must accept and pay all the costs that Arbogasts Hans has paid out in order to bring his suit to court. So he believes to have made clear what is just.

RESPONSE. Linsers Hans answers through his counsel, Hans Trumenschlager. Item, his counsel says that he finds it strange and disconcerting that Arbogasts Hans brings such a charge against Linsers Hans. It is quite impossible that Linsers Hans could have committed such a crime. The counsel also finds it disconcerting that Arbogasts Hans so strongly accuses Linsers Hans before the overlord with the intention of pinning this grave act on his client. Therefore, he stands here as before a judge, hoping that a hearing of the witnesses will make clear that Linsers Hans did not commit this deed, and hoping, too, that after the hearings Linsers Hans will be acquitted and relieved of the legal costs.

* Literally, Lentz: “pulled from leather,” that is, from a sheath – trans.
** Ordering another person to “keep the peace” was the legal duty of every burgher or villager, and failure to do so was a prosecutable offense – trans.
*** This man is the village beadle or policeman, and Linsers Hans’s refusal to desist aggravates the act – trans.
**** This refers to the criminal rather than the civil aspect of the affair. The village court could try civil cases, but criminal justice belonged to the higher authority – trans.

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