Urban political violence in the fifteenth century

Jean Chandler, the author of the Codex Integrum series, has just had an academic article on Urban Political Violence published by the Martial Cultures in Medieval Towns project on Hypotheses.

“Medieval urban spaces took on a variety of forms, and in North Central Europe the Free City emerged as a somewhat unique type in the 13th-14th Centuries. Not quite as independent or ruthless as a true City State like Venice or Veliky Novgorod, they were also far more independent than many Western cities like London or Paris. The so called Free Cities of Central Europe were generally speaking largely autonomous and self-managed, while still being integrated into larger polities such as the Holy Roman Empire the Crusader State of the Teutonic Knights, or the Kingdom of Poland.

Aside from external threats, Free Cities also faced many challenges from internal power struggles and political unrest. According to one estimate, there were at least 210 uprisings in just 40 towns in the Holy Roman Empire between the late 13th and mid-14th Centuries. Again, in comparison to true city-states these internal disputes were not quite as extreme or bloody, but they could still be quite consequential. Often various factions would posture and push one another quite a bit before any actual violence broke out. Sometimes this resulted in catastrophe for the town, as was the case in Mainz in 1462, when Bishop Adolph II von Nassau took advantage of ongoing internal strife and captured the city, killed 400 people and heavily fined and then exiled all “disloyal” citizens. He permanently rescinded their rights to self-governance in 1463. In a similar conflict called the Rostocker Domfehde from 1483-1492, Rostock, weakened by internal conflicts over the construction of their new Cathedral, lost their rights to an aggressive Duke Magnus II of Mecklenberg.

Quite often however, the opposite occurred, resulting in the city being significantly strengthened, especially when the factions managed to reach a Rezeß or compromise, such as the famous Hamburg Rezeß of 1410. This conflict started with a public dispute between a visiting duke and an armorer to whom he owed money, leading to a tense standoff between the artisans and the town council which lasted two years. The 1410 Rezeß resulted in the formation of the cities first constitution and the addition of a second house in their internal parliament, contributing to the comparative stability and prosperity that Hanseatic town enjoyed and its status as a republic for the next five centuries.”

To read the full article, check out Urban political violence in the fifteenth century, from Prague to Hamburg!