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The Lübeck law was the constitution of a municipal form of government developed at Lübeckmarker in Schleswig-Holsteinmarker after it was made a free city in 1226. The law provides for self-government. It replaced the personal rule of tribal monarchs descending from ancient times or the rule of the regional dukes and kings that had been established by Charlemagne. The latter held all of his aristocratic vassals personally responsible for the defense, health and welfare of the tribesmen settled on their estates, including the towns. The Lübeck Law in theory made the cities to which it applied independent of royalty.

Lübeck set about spreading its form of government to other cities around the Baltic Seamarker. Eventually about 100 adopted a government based on the law. It still serves as a foundation for German town laws in many of those cities. Later in the 13th century, cities governed by the Lübeck Law formed into a powerful trade association, the Hanseatic League, which amounted to a confederacy with headquarters at Lübeck.

An official Lübeck law transcript was never available or used until the revised edition of 1586 was printed by printer Johann Balhorn, but rather Lübeck was the a leader in German cities giving rights to town citizens and overturning aristocratic privilege. This was the basis for the Dortmund codemarker in Westphalia, the Goslar codemarker in Saxonymarker and the Magdeburg rights in eastern European towns. References to 'German Law' in the Middle Ages mean laws sprung from the Lübeck law at root.

Main principle

The Lübeck law provided that a city should be governed by a "Rat" (engl. council) having 20 "Ratsherrn" (council members). They were not elected by the citizens, but they would appoint a new member on their own from the city's merchant guilds, considering a key of representation of the guilds in the Rat of the city. The period of office was in principle 2 years, but the Rat could ask a Ratsherr to stay in office, which usually happened, so that the election was for life time. The Rat then elected up to four Bürgermeister (burgomaster, mayor) out of its own row, who shared the power of government. The first burgomaster, usually the eldest of them, acted as a primus inter pares. These rules were in force up to the middle of the 19th century. The burgomasters stayed in office as long as they could, but there are quite a few examples from the Middle Ages in which burgomasters of Hanseatic League city's were sentenced to death for unsuccessful politics.

This model of a city government provided that only the most experienced, influential and personally most successful merchants - and a few lawyers, called Syndics - became member of the Rat. It was also a rule that never a father and his son or brothers could be members of the Rat at the same time, so that influential families could not get a larger influence on the city's politics.

Cities with Lübeck law

See also


  • Dollinger, Phillipe. The German Hansa. Translated and Edited by D. S. Ault and S. H. Steinberg. Stanford University Press, 1970.
  • Wilhelm Ebel: Lübisches Recht. 1. Band, Lübeck 1971 ISBN 3795000300


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