Subject trial

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Audience at the Imperial Court of Justice, copperplate engraving, 1750

As subjects of processes called legal historian those court proceedings in the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation , the subjects of individual states- since the beginning of modern times early against their rich direct territorial rule could make an effort.

Origin and disputes

In the course of the imperial reform under Maximilian I , the Diet of Worms abolished medieval feudal rights in 1495 , proclaimed the Eternal Peace of the Land and created the Imperial Court of Justice as a means of peaceful conflict resolution . In 1498 , King Maximilian put the Reichshofrat as a further final instance under his sole control to the side of this supreme body of jurisdiction in the empire . The order of the Reich Chamber of Justice of 1555 also created the material prerequisites for subjects to be able to take legal action against their sovereignty.

They now had the opportunity to appeal individually or collectively to one of the two highest courts if they had exhausted their legal recourse before the territorial courts or if they refused to accept their claim. Collective actions mostly concerned legal disputes between village or town communities and their respective sovereign rulers, such as forest and pasture , fattening , hunting and fishing rights or the legality of compulsory labor , taxes and duties . Lawsuits by individuals are mostly directed against interference by the authorities in actual or supposedly acquired rights and privileges or against convictions by the territorial courts.

Possibilities and limits

According to Title XLI of the Reichskammergerichtordnung of 1555, the appeal of the appellation was expressly opened to “ poor parties ” who could not afford the usual process fees. They should be assigned “ advocates and procurators and served in vain ”, that is, a lawyer and examining judge should be made available free of charge. A poor person should only pay the court costs when he “ keme to be better able ”. Lively use was made of the possibility of legal action. The wave of lawsuits at the Reich Chamber of Commerce reached a climax in the 1590s, when around 700 complaints were filed annually. Around 1600 the subject trial was considered the everyday form of peasant resistance to official measures. By the end of the 16th century, however, allegations of abuse were voiced by the landlords and lords . In 1586, individual estates of the Lower Rhine-Westphalian Empire complained that

Many wanton subjects rebel against ires ordained authority against ires and if they are tightened by the same authority ires disobedience and iniquity, they then blast arduous trials at the chamber of justice and the majority of et falsis narratis [ie: make an effort with false information ] , characterized dan ir mutwill stiffened and gutte police not fully andobtaining ".

The imperial princes had to understand the fact that there was an appellate authority beyond their jurisdiction as a restriction of their sovereignty. They therefore tried many times to obtain a Privilegium de non appellando from the emperor . As a privilegium limitatum , this restricted the subjects' right of appeal either to certain legal cases or to those above a certain amount in dispute. As a privilegium illimitatum, it completely blocked their way to one of the imperial courts, unless the territorial courts had previously refused to accept their case. The emperor had already granted the elector this privilege in the Golden Bull ; almost all of the larger imperial estates received it until the middle of the 17th century. But they, too, now created the highest courts of appeal as the final instance. The way to the imperial courts was still open to the inhabitants of the small and medium-sized territories.


Despite the exceptions through the Privilegium de non appellando , the possibility of subject trial in the Roman-German Empire created a relatively modern guarantee of legal recourse at an early stage. In addition, the ruling practice of the Reich Chamber of Commerce was presented, summarized, commented on and disseminated in extensive peasant law literature . According to today's experts, both of these contributed to the fact that after the Peasants' War in Germany - unlike in France or England  , for example - there were hardly any major uprising movements among the rural population. A legal awareness developed that saw the last resort in domestic conflict resolution and peacekeeping not in the feud, but in a legal dispute carried out according to fixed regulations. That this was the case is shown by the frequency with which the imperial courts were used.

The Reich Chamber of Commerce alone has received around 80,000 calls in the 300 years of its existence. In addition, there were the proceedings before the Reichshofrat in Vienna, the majority of which were subject processes. The imperial court in Vienna has been preferred by the southern German, Catholic subjects and estates since the second half of the 16th century, because on the one hand its judicial posts were purely Catholic and on the other hand it had the reputation of being faster, more efficient and above all more frequent to decide to the detriment of the sovereigns as the Reich Chamber Court, which is controlled by the estates. This was already criticized by contemporaries because of its clumsiness, especially since the representatives of the estates often blocked each other. Individual procedures took decades or even a century. However, recent research has shown that both imperial courts ruled relatively quickly in most cases.

Since the Reich Chamber Court was occupied equally by Catholics and Protestants, it was used more often than the Reichshofrat by Protestants from the north and east of the empire. According to current research, it thus contributed to the integration of the regions of Lower Germany, which had been remote from the empire since the High Middle Ages, into the empire. The historian Gerhard Oestreich saw the creation of a legal guarantee through the subject trial as a factor that promoted the emergence of a German national consciousness:

Imperial patriotism and imperial admiration meet in the awareness of legal protection against arbitrariness and despotism by the imperial courts, imperial chamber court and imperial court council, which guarded religious freedom, right to emigrate, protection of property, personal freedom, insofar as it existed then legally, confidentiality of letters and orderly court proceedings. "

Instances such as the imperial courts made it clear to the subjects that they belonged to a state, legal and cultural unit that vaulted the territory of their respective sovereign.


  • Johannes Arndt , The case "Meier Cordt versus Graf zur Lippe". A trial of subjects before the territorial and imperial courts between 1680 and 1720 (series of publications by the Society for Research on the Imperial Chamber of Justice , 20), Wetzlar 1997.
  • Bernhard Diestelkamp , The Reich Chamber Court in the Legal Life of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (series of publications by the Society for Reich Chamber Court Research, 1), Wetzlar 1985.
  • Ralf Fetzer, Subordinate Conflicts in the Knights' Monastery of Odenheim from the End of the Middle Ages to the End of the Old Empire (publications of the Commission for Historical Regional Studies in Baden-Württemberg: Series B, Research 150), Stuttgart 2002.
  • Julia Maurer, The “Lahr Trial” 1773–1806. A subject trial before the Reich Chamber of Commerce (sources and research on the highest jurisdiction in the Old Reich 30), Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 1996.
  • Gerhard Oestreich , Constitutional History from the End of the Middle Ages to the End of the Old Reich ( Gebhardt Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte , 11), 4th edition, Munich 1982.
  • Kurt Perels , Denial of Justice in the Old Reich since 1495 (PDF; 4.2 MB) , in: Journal of the Savigny Foundation for Legal History , German Department 25, 1904, pp. 1-51.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard , History of State Power. A comparative constitutional history of Europe from the beginnings to the present , Munich 1999, especially p. 237 f .
  • Rita Sailer, subject trials before the Reich Chamber of Commerce. Legal protection against the authorities in the second half of the 18th century (sources and research on the highest jurisdiction in the Old Kingdom, 33), Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 1999.
  • Martina Schattkowsky : "... that the subjects outside of the law do not want to consent or enter into anything". Litigation in a Saxon manor in the 16th and 17th centuries. In: Jan Peters (Ed.): Manor as a social model. Comparative considerations on the functioning of early modern agricultural societies. (Historical magazine, supplement 18). Munich 1995, pp. 385-400 (preview on Google Books).
  • Winfried Schulze , Reichstag and Reichssteuern in the late 16th century (PDF; 1.9 MB) , in: Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 2, 1975, pp. 43–58.
  • Wolfgang Sellert, Proceedings and Stilus Curiae at the Reichshofrat in comparison with the legal bases of the Reich Chamber Court proceedings , Aalen 1973.
  • Heinz Schilling , farms and alliances. German history from 1648 to 1763 (Siedler Deutsche Geschichte, 5), Berlin 1989, especially pp. 114–116.
  • Werner Troßbach, Social Movement and Political Experience. Rural protest in Hessian territories 1648–1806 (Social History Library), Weingarten 1987.
  • Siegrid Westphal , "Why we have to have a lot of unpleasant activities with this unbearable woman". An individual subject conflict between Duchess Anna Amalia and her subject Maria Elisabeth Döpelin , in: Journal of the Association for Thuringian History 50, 1996, pp. 163-200.

Web links

Single receipts

  1. a b Schilling, Höfe und Allianzen , p. 114
  2. so Georg Schmidt, The Thirty Years War , Munich 1995, p. 16 f
  3. cit. according to Schulze, Reichstag pp. 43–58
  4. see: Reinhard, Geschichte der Staatsgewalt , pp. 296–297
  5. see: Georg Schmidt, The Thirty Years War , Munich 1995, p. 16 and Schilling, Höfe and Allianzen , p. 117
  6. ^ Oestreich, Verfassungsgeschichte , p. 43