Legal History of Germany

Legal History of Germany in Europe

The virtual independence of the German tribes lasted until the union of Austrasia and Neustria in 687, an achievement mainly due to the efforts of Pippin of Heristal, who soon became the actual, though not the nominal, ruler of the Frankish realm. Pippin and his son Charles Martel, who was mayor of the palace from 717 to 741, renewed the struggle with the Germans and were soon successful in re-establishing the central power which the Merovingian kings had allowed to slip from their grasp. The ducal office was abolished in Thuringia, a series of wars reduced the Alamanni to strict dependence, and both countries were governed by Frankish officials. Bavaria was brought into subjection about the same time; the Bavarian law, committed to writing between 739 and 748, strongly emphasizes the supremacy of the Frankish king, whose authority it recognizes as including the right to appoint and even to depose the duke of Bavaria.

The work of Charlemagne

The reign of Charlemagne is a period of great importance in the history of Germany. Under his rule the first signs of national unity and a serious advance in the progress of order and civilization may be seen. The long struggle, which ended in 804 with the submission of the Saxons to the emperor, together with the extension of a real Frankish authority over the Bavarians, brought the German races for the first time under a single ruler; while war and government, law and religion, alike tended to weld them into one people. The armies of Charlemagne contained warriors from all parts of Germany; and although tribal law was respected and codified, legislation common to the whole empire was also introduced. The general establishment of the Frankish system of government and the presence of Frankish officials helped to break down the barriers of race, and the influence of Christianity was in the same direction.

Conrad II in Italy

In Italy, whither he journeyed in 1026 and 1036, Conrad was not welcomed. Although as emperor and as king of the Lombards he was the lawful sovereign of that country, the Germans were still regarded as intruders and could only maintain their rights by force. The event which threw the greatest lustre upon this reign was the acquisition of the kingdom of Burgundy, or Arles, which was bequeathed to Conrad by its king, Rudolph III., the uncle of his wife, Gisela.

Henry III’s internal policy

Henry III acquired, during the first ten years of his rule, an authority which had been unknown since the days of Otto the Great. Early in his reign he had made a determined enemy of Godfrey the Bearded, duke of upper Lorraine, who, in 1044, conspired against him and who found powerful allies in Henry I., king of France, in the counts of Flanders and Holland, and in certain Burgundian nobles. However, Godfrey and his friends were easily worsted, and when the dispossessed duke again tried the fortune of war he found that the German king had detached Henry of France from his side and was also in alliance with the English king, Edward the Confessor.

While thus maintaining his authority in the north-east corner of the country by alliances and expeditions, Henry was strong enough to put the laws in motion against the most powerful princes and to force them to keep the public peace. Under his severe but beneficent rule, Germany enjoyed a period of internal quiet such as she had probably never experienced before, but even Henry could not permanently divert from its course the main political tendency of the age, the desire of the great feudal lords for independence…. Encouraged by the support of the German rebels, Andrew of Hungary repudiated the treaty of peace and the German supremacy in that country came to a sudden end. Among the causes which undermined Henry’s strength was the fact that the mediate nobles, who had stood loyally by his father, Conrad, were not his friends. (1)

The Middle High German Period (1050-1350)

Germany’s greatest medieval preacher, and several legal codes, as the Sachsenspiegel and Schwabenspiegel—only prove that the Germans of the 13th century had not yet realized the possibilities of prose as a medium of literary expression. (2)


Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition)
  2. Id.

See Also

Further Reading

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