Quirini: The Free Towns

[Extract]

From: James Harvey Robinson Readings in European History, The Athen?um Press, Boston , 1906

AS FOR THE government of the free towns, each one rules itself by its council, to which are admitted citizens, traders who are not citizens, and artisans; yet not all the members of these classes are included in the council, for the number varies with the size on the place, and changes from time to time. These councils appoint the magistrates, who administer justice for the time being and, moreover, regulate the revenues and public affairs of the town precisely as if it was a free and independent state.

Some of the towns owe their freedom to privileges granted by the emperor for deeds of valor in the struggle of the Empire against the infidels, who were earlier very troublesome. Others gained their freedom by giving a sum of money to the temporal lord or bishop who held them, and who consented accordingly to cede to the town the territory belonging to it. So many towns have gained their freedom in these two ways during the period that the Germans have enjoyed control of the Empire, that they now number nearly a hundred. In order to maintain their freedom they are accustomed to unite themselves together in leagues for mutual protection and to oppose those princes who would subjugate them. They receive into their leagues those princes of the Empire who wish to join them, whether ecclesiastical or secular. The leagues are temporary and are continued or changed from time to time as suits their members.

The burghers

The burghers of the free towns are all merchants. They live well but dress ill, although there are some very rich people among them. They maintain justice, desire peace, hate the knights heartily and fear the princes, and for this reason the cities form leagues among themselves. The towns are moreover at enmity each with its bishop on account of his desire to exercise the temporal as well as the spiritual authority over the town. This hostility is increased by the natural ill feeling between the burghers on the one hand and the knights and princes on the other, for the bishops are always chosen from among the knights and princes, since the canons, who have the right to elect the bishop, all belong by descent to the noble classes and not to the burghers.

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