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

The consolidation of territorial governance brought villages under closer princely and urban authority. One change was improved Imperial jurisdiction over villages and small towns, a process sometimes called “judicialization.” In principle, the establishment of new Imperial courts began in Worms in 1495 with the creation of the Imperial Chamber Court [Reichskammergericht]. This document affords a rare, early glimpse into a new channel for judicial appeal that connected the village court, through the local superior jurisdiction, to an Imperial court of justice. The case described here began with a stabbing in a village tavern in Wolfisheim, a commune near Strasbourg in Lower Alsace. One participant, Arbogasts Hans, sued Linsers Hans for injuries and lost wages in the village court, and the village court referred the case to the superior jurisdiction of the city of Strasbourg. Upon his conviction, the defendant appealed the city’s verdict to the Imperial Chamber Court in Esslingen. These documents from the local case in Wolfisheim (“acts of the first instance”) were presented in response to the Chamber Court’s subpoena, which required village officials to supply the appellant with the court records.

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Acts in the First Instance

Linsers Hans vs. Arbogasts Hans
Esslingen, June 18, 1525

To the Well-born, Grave, Most Learned, Honorable, and Distinguished President and Assessors of the Royal [Imperial] Chamber Court at Esslingen, our Gracious Lords.

Well-born, Grave, Most Learned, Honorable, Distinguished, and Gracious Lords. We render you, first of all, our willing and humble obedience. Gracious Lords. We have received our Gracious Lords’ subpoena,* in which we were ordered to produce, in return for a proper fee, for the appellant Linsers Hans all judicial acts and proceedings brought before us in the suit between him and the other party, Arbogasts Hans. Obedient to your command, we then ordered a copy of everything the parties presented to us in our judicial capacity; all this was then transcribed in this dossier or register, and sent as witnesses’ testimonies, following our ancient custom, to the honorable regime of the city of Strasbourg.** This was given to the appellant, at his own cost, in the form transcribed in this dossier or register. This happened just as Your Graces commanded us, as their poor, obedient servants in their gracious protection. The charge and the response between the plaintiff, Arbogasts Hans, on one side, and the defendant, Linsers Hans, on the other, were brought before the mayor and the court of Wolfisheim, just as follows.***

* The equivalent to a writ duces tecum in English law – trans.
** This seems to say that the village court of Wolfisheim had taken down the testimony of the witnesses and that they sent this to Strasbourg when the case was referred to the city council of that city. This means that the village court had a written case-record that was made during the original trial – trans.
*** Following local naming customs, country people were often, but not always, called by a patronym followed by a given name. Thus, Arbogasts Hans is the equivalent of Hans, son of Arbogast. Alternatively, some people, probably newcomers or strangers, were known by their place of origin or residence, such as Thomas of Schaffolsheim – trans.

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