“Freedom through justice” is the motto under which the Gesellschaft für Reichskammergerichtsforschung has summarised the highest court. It is intended to express that the court, founded as a reaction to a comprehensive ban on feuding, offered a real alternative to controversial conflict resolution. The Imperial Chamber Court thus, for the first time, offered subjects the opportunity to force their rulers before the court.
In this context, in 1975, Winfrid Schulze formulated the hypothesis that social and political disputes were “juridified” after the peasants’ revolt in 1525. Statistical evidence on the Imperial Chamber Court confirms this hypothesis, allowing Filippo Ranieri to find that proceedings in the Chamber Court initiated by subjects against their rulers increased in the late 16th Century. Between 1587 and 1589, they account for almost 8% of all cases. This trend continued in the subsequent centuries. A particularly high number of villages filed complaints in the first forty years after the Thirty Years War. This proportion fell in the 18th Century. There are just a few peaks in the periods between 1730 and 1739 and between 1790 and 1799, probably as a reaction to the French Revolution.
If nothing else, this information was sufficient encouragement to bring about a whole series of investigations into cases brought by subjects. However, this research also shows that not all actors restricted themselves to the legal process, but instead that some developed a considerable repertoire of peaceful, and sometimes violent, means of asserting their interests. The route to court depended on many factors, such as the general readiness to use violence and trust in the jurisdiction, as well as the organisation of the court process, the duration, its costs, the enforceability, the contact to the Emperor or the geopolitical situation in the smaller territories etc., or indeed on the specific circumstances, which could have offered alternative routes to conflict resolution. Judicial and extrajudicial conflict resolution was sometimes carried out at the same time. Bernhard Diestelkamp’s studies on the community of Freienseen and its dispute with Count von Solms-Laubach show that the content of the rulings of the Imperial Chamber Court were only accepted following a settlement concluded in Marburg in 1639, since only this settlement corresponded to both the will of the Count and that of the community. Diestelkamp can also show that direct application to the Emperor was a not infrequently used, albeit ineffective, method used by the subjects to attempt to influence the jurisdiction of a court.
In the case of urban conflicts, too, pacification was usually achieved not only through a court decision, but not until a settlement was reached between the council and the citizens, although this could not have been concluded without intervention from the Imperial Chamber Court and sometimes the Aulic Council and the commissions appointed.
The observations show that an extensive repertoire of both judicial and extrajudicial options for conflict resolution was available. Indeed, the two types were often mixed. In order that this can be presented accurately and, at the same time, to ensure comparability with all other sub-projects, the investigation is to be led by the following questions:
Firstly, questions must be asked about the number and backgrounds of the actors. The question of the costs which had to be paid for the dispute must then be clarified. Who was prepared to pay and how did they pay? What was the role played by the poor law, introduced by the Imperial Chamber Court as early as 1495?
This is followed by the questions: How long did the process take? How sustainable was conflict resolution? Who checked that the rulings were enforced efficiently? What conditions were required for all actors to accept the rulings?
Forms of the extrajudicial dispute culture must also be taken into account. For example, there was passive resistance on the part of the subjects, the use of violence on the part of the rulers, and various options for involving the media. Another essential question is therefore, which forms of enforcement were available to whom? And how were they put into practice?
A bibliography of cases brought by subjects will be compiled to form a basis which will then be used to develop an initial grid of the various options for action available. The quantity of data can be increased later through targeted archive studies. In this, it must be noted that judicial conflict resolution has left a great many broad tracks in the archives, while extrajudicial alternatives tend to be found more by chance.
Further problems and difficulties will present themselves in the definition of terms. How “extrajudicial routes to conflict resolution” in the pre-modern period can be defined must therefore be checked.
The objective is to compare the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the longevity or volatility, of the rulings found between subjects and rulers when using courts or other routes to conflict resolution. The ultimate question is: Peace through justice – at what cost?