The following text is the law of fighting in the city of Gelnhausen. It has a history of transcribing and copies. The first copy was made in the 18th century from the following manuscript München, königl. Hof- und Staatsbibliothek, cod. germ. 2011 (Uffenbach). This was printed by Euler, Nachträge zur Bechtsgeschichte der RSt. Gelnhausen, in: Mittheilungen des Vereins für Geschichte in Frankfurt. Finally I found it in Hessisches Urkundenbuch, Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Herren von Hanau und der ehemaligen Provinz Hanau. Dritter Band. 1350-1375, Published 1894 by S. Hirzel in Leipzig. From there I transcribed and translated it. How much got lost in that process is hard to say. I hope that everyone did the best to preserve the original as far as possible.
The process of translating
The translation of the text was done as literal as possible. One of the biggest issues was to identify the target of the pronouns. E.g. “Damach gibet yeder kempher dem sinen sancti lohannis wyne zu drinken”. There is no direct reference to any noun of the “dem sinen” (to his) in this sentence. Only in the context that the “kaempher” is not the one that fights, but he is the fencing master and will leave the circle, the referring noun could be resolved. In some cases they could not be resolved and the original chaos was preserved.
The terms and their translation
In the following translation the terms of “fighting”, or “fight” are the literal translation of “Kämpfen”. The meaning of this term is in modern times is “judicial duel” or “trial by combat”. I structured the text to make it readable by breaks but did not alter the sequence.
In the text we find a ritualized form of appealing the court, each time during the process of the trial. First the accuser needs to ask for an allowance to make a speech. How this is done, is not part of the text. After the speaker is allowed to make his speech he can present his legal claims and the state of his case. Everything spoken in court was taken as a pledge as we find in the meaning “Versprechen” of the used term “fürsprechen” in the text. Another of multiple meanings of “fürsprechen” is “Vorsprechen” in the meaning of “speaking in front of an audience”. In the text it is translated as “speech in front of the court”, “pledge” and “claim” according to the direct context.
The term “schirmer” in this text is not a fighter. It’s the “Schirmherr”, the overlord or patron (historical meaning as protector). It is not clear if it is the patron of the court or of the speaker.
The term “kaempher” is the most misleading one in the text, because the meaning is quite obvious as “Kämpfer” (fighter). But to the surprise the “kaempher” is not fighting, he leaves the circle of combat just before the fight begins. The “kaempher” is probably the literal translation of the “dimicator” as the fencing master. It is translated as fight-master following the term “fechtmeister” used by Hans Talhoffer on this regard.
The term “raup” (modern German “Raub”) has the meaning of “robbery” and “theft”. It was translated not literally but by the term “wrong”. In this context the “goods” in the expression “the wrong, he had done me and my goods” included the family etc.
In the text we find the expression “dry stunt” which could be literally translated as three hours (“drei Stunden”). But as there was nobody standing with the clock and count the minutes the expression is to understand as “Stand” and to translate as “three times”. A ritualized form of repeating so that it was made sure that he speaks without being contradictory, stands to his cause, and is understood by everybody in the court.
The term “Kolben” is translated as mace and not as club, because from pictures of such weapen we know that this wooden weapon was not a simple club but a special designed mace.
The term “schuwe” (“Schuhe”) is translated as feet according to the measuring unit (27 to 31 cm / 11 to 12 inch). The circle mentioned with 26 feet has a radius of 7.5 to 8 meters.
The measuring unit “elle” (derived from the length of the forearm) was more complicated. Every German town had its own one or more yardsticks (Augsburg small 59.24cm, and tall 61.00cm, Erfurt small 40.38 cm, and tall 54.97 cm, Frankfurt 54.73 cm, Leipzig 56, Nuremberg 60 cm, and 66.10 cm). The length of the preserved Gelnhauser Elle is 55,5 cm. So the length of the mace could be something between 80 to 85 cm.
The “schiffswasen” was a wet meadow near the river outside the fortifications of the city near the mill. This location gives us the indication on the age of the law. In the 14th century the “schiffswasen” and mill were included in the new town fortification as the city extended to the south.
The following terms are not translated, their meaning are according to the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (2):
- Werner (Warner) – an assistant, an adviser at court in case of a judicial duel,
- Grieswart – a second in a duel. He is equipped with a staff to stop the fighting. According to the text each combatant is allowed to call three times for the staff as long as they are not got hold on the other.
- Rinner (Renner) – a runner, usually this terms refers to a horse at tournaments (“Rennen”). In case of trials this is a person (servant) assisting the fighter in several tasks, a messenger or bailiff,
- Lussner (Lüsner) – a Listener, an assessor at court witnessing the trial.
“Iohannes wyn” is the wine that is consecrated on the the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (December 27) before the service. It is believed that this wine protects from evil and that he who is false in the face of God could not consume this holy drink. In late medieval and renaissance times the St. Johns wine was part of many rituals and recipes.
Comments and additions in the text, useful for understanding are marked by [brackets].
1360 Mai 4, law of judical duels in the city of Gelnhausen
Nota: this is the law of fighting, as it is done in ancient times at Gelnhausen. And according to the same city legislation and freedom no citizen of Gelnhausen from the city may be called to fight, but a citizen of Gelnhausen may summon a non-citizen and call for a fight. As it is necessary, the court shall be held on the Schiffswasen, where it has been held since ancient times. And it shall be handled, as it is written in the following.
In the case that one wants to summon another to the fighting, he steps in front of the court and inquires the judge that he allows him to make a request, this he will do. After he got the allowance, he steps into the court between the lay judges and the patron and speaks his pledge how the he was told to: “I summon N., how [the accused] is called with name, under my shield, and under my hat, with my mace, according to the law of fighting, according to the law of the Franks, the land-law, because of the wrong, he had done me and my goods.”, and batters on his shield. This he does for three times at the court.
When he had done this three times, he asked the judge for his rights. Thus a messenger will be ordered to him, who will proclaim it [the summoning] to the other one, who he had named.
After fourteen days he steps again in front of the court with his complete combat-equipment and asked to be allowed to speak in front of the court, this will be done. So he steps into court with his speech, thus he may be asked if he desires a “werner”, a “grieswarten”, and a “rinner”, as he has the right to, he will be granted, if he has the need. Thus he is summoned under his shield, and under his hat with his mace, according the law of fighting, according the law of the Franks, according the land-law, because of the wrong, he had done at him and his goods, and he batters on his shield, so he is asked three times at the court.
Thereafter he inquires to ask, if [his opponent] is summoned, according to the law of fighting. So he is informed: yes, and he [the accuser] will be told, [that the accused is] without remorse. So he walks to the court and stands behind it and waits, as long as the court takes time.
Than at the third time the court takes place, he appears with his complete combat-equipment, that is a grey clothing, that is made on the back and the front with two crosses of white leather, and the hat, and two grey trousers, and steps behind the court and ask to be allowed to speak, this will be done. Thus he steps into court, he is asked, if he requests a “werner”, a “griswarten”, and a “rinner”. As it is his right, he will be granted, if he has the need. Thus he is summoned under his shield, and under his hat with his mace, according the law of fighting, according the law of the Franks, according the land-law, because of the wrong, he had done at him and his goods, so he batters on his shield, this he does for three times. Than he inquires to question [about the regulations as follows]. He will be told that a circle should be drawn and he should wait in it, as long as the court takes time. So he asks how big the circle shall be, and he will be told, that a stake should be driven into the earth, and rope shall be tied on it, and the rope on the stake should be six and twenty feet long. And the circle shall be drawn around the stake. So he inquires to ask, how far the other circle shall be away of the one [drawn]. So he is told four [and a] half feet. So he inquires to ask, how many maces he may have, and he will be told: three. And he inquires to ask, how long they shall be, and he will be told: one and a half ells. So he inquires to ask, where his “griswarten” shall be, and he will be told, with him in the circle. So he inquires to ask, how often he shall request the staff, and he will be told: three times, as long as they have not caught hold of each other; if they caught hold of each other, none may request it. So he inquires to ask, where his “lusserer” should stand, so he is told: to stand in the both circles.
Is it that the adversary appears, and wants to stand trial, so he steps to the court and inquires to be allowed to speak, this will be done. So he inquires to ask, how he can free himself of the wrong doing, so he will be told: in the circle with his shield and his mace against his opponent. So he inquires to ask for his “warner”, his “griswarten”, for his “lusserer”. They were granted to him. So he inquires the judges that they allow him to step into the circle. This they will do.
So they come into the circle and sit on two chairs. The fight-master of the accuser takes the accuser by the hand and leads him three times around and around in the circle, and asked all the people of the land as he passes by them, that God may help him, for he is true and rightful. And every time he is behind his adversary, he asks him, to refrain from the necessity of the law, so the former keeps quiet. If he had done that for three times, so he sits down on his chair too.
Therafter each fight-master gives to his [client] the wine of St. John to drink. So they stand up, under the shields. So the fight-masters step away of them and the “gryswarten” stay with them in the circle. So they get together.
Is it that he is absent until midday, so an inquiry to request is made by the one who is the accuser, that he had waited long enough in the circle. So it is informed, while it is overdue the right time of day, that he is allowed to leave the circle. And he shall leave with the shield and the mace. And step up to the court. And he is told [the verdict]. Also the judge summons the lay judges to take seat between the circles and around the ring, so that they can see and hear.
1360 Mai 4, Kampfrecht der Stadt Gelnhausen
Nota : Dies ist das kamphrechte, als man es vor zyden gehalden zu Geilnhuszen. Und nach derselben stede gnade und frieheid so vermag man kynen bürger zu Geilnhuszen us der stadt an andere steede zu kamph geheischin, sunder ein bürger zu Geilnuszen mag einen usmann her geladen und kemphlichen geheischen und so des noit were , so soll man das gerichte halden of dem schiffwasen, da isz von alderher gehalten worden ist und damyde umbgeen, als hernoch geschriben steet. Ist, das eyner den andern kemplichen ansprechen will, der drit vür das gericht und bidt den richter, dasz er ym einen vürsprechen erleübe, das dut er. Wann ym der dann erleubit ist, so drit er in das gericht züschen schefen und schirmer, so sprecht ym sin vürspreche vor und er ym noch: ich heische den N., wie er dan heiszet mit namen, unter mynen schilt und unter mynen hüt, mit mym kolben, nach kamphsrecht, nach Frankenrecht, nach landrecht umb den raup, den er an mir und mym gude begangen hat, und schlecht er an sinen schilt; das dut er also dry stunt an dem gerichte. Wenn er dann das also dry stünt gedüt, so biddet er aber den richter fragen des rechten, so wird ym erteylet ein bote, der isz dem andern verkünden soll, den er angesprochen hat. Darnach über viertzehen tage so drit er aber vür das gerichte mit syrne ganzen kamphgezüge und biddet ym aber einen vürsprechen erlauben, das düt man. So drit er aber mit syme vürsprechen im gerichte, so biddet er fragen, wen er eins werners, eins gryswarten und eins rinners begere, obe er die icht billich habe, obe er der bedürfe, das wirt jrm erteilet. Damoch so heischet er yn aber under sinen schilt und sinen hut, mit syme kolben, nach kamphsrecht, nach Franckenrecht, nach des landes recht umb den raup, den er an ym und an syme gude begangen hat, und schlecht an den schilt ; also heischet er yn dry stunt an dem gerichte. Darnach so biddet er fragen, ob er yn geheischen habe, als kamphs rechte ist, so wyset man: ja, so wirt ym erteylt an sin rüwe, so geet er bi dem gerichte und steet darhinder und wort sin, diewyle das gericht weret. Darnch zu dem dritten gerichte, so kommet er aber mit syme gantzen kamphgezüge, das ist ein grauer rücke, der ist gemacht hinden und vom mit zweyen crützen von wysem leder, und der hüti auch also und zwo graue hosen, und drit aber hinder das gerichte und biddet ym einen versprechen erleuben , das dut man. So drit er in gerichte, so biddet er fragen, wen er eines wemers, eines griswarten und eines rinners begere, obe er sie icht billig habe, so er der bedürfe, das wird ym erteilet. So heischet er yn aber under einen schilt, under sinen hüt, mit syme kolben, nach kamphsrecht nach Frankenrecht, nach des landes recht umb den raub, den er an ym und an sime güte begangen hat, so schlecht er an den schilt. Das dut er dry stunt: darnach so biddet er fragen, so wirt ym er teylet, das man einen kreis zetten sülle und er sin darynne warten sülle, diewyle das gericht weret; so biddet er fragen, wie wyt der kreyz sin solle, so wird erteylet, dass man einen stecken in die erde schlahen sal und ein seil daran legen sal und das seil von dem stecken sechs und zwentzig schüwe strecken sal und den kreys umb und umb den stecken zetten sal. So bitt er fragen, wie wyt der ander kreysz von dem sin solle, so wirt erteilet: vierden halben schuch. So bit er fragen, wie manchen kolben er haben solle, so wirt erteilet: dry; so biddet er fragen, wie lang sie sin sollen, so wird erteilet : anderthalbe elen lang. So bit er fragen, wo sin gryswarten sin solle, so wird erteilt: by ym in dem kreys. So bit er fragen, wie dicke er den stangen begeren solle, so wird erteilt: dry stünt, diewyle sie sich nit begrifen haben, wan aber sie sich begryfen, so mag er ir keiner me begeren. So bitt er fragen, wo sin Iusserer steen sülle, so wirt erteilt: zu steen in den zweyen kreysen. Ist nu, datz der wydersacher kommet und sich verantworten will, so tritt er ans gerichte und biddet ym einen vürsprechen erleüben; datz tat man. So biddet er fragen, wie er sich des raubes entschlahen sülle, so wirt erteilet : in dem kreys mit syme Schilde und mit syme kolben gein syme wiederschullen; so bidd er fragen umb sin warner, umb sin kryswarten, umb sin Iusserer, die werden ym erteilet. So bittet er den richter, dasz sie jnn erleuben in den kreys zu geen; datz dun sie. Also kommen sie in den kreys und setzen sich uf zween stüle. So nymmet des klägers kempher den kläger bei der hand und führet ihn dry stunt umb und umb in den kreys und biddet das lantfolgk gemeynlichen, als er darkommen ist, datz ym gott helfe, als er wäre und recht habe, und y als dicke, als er hinder sinen wydersacher kommet y so biddet er y yn, dasz er yn desz notrechten erlaise, so swyge hener. Wan er dan datz dry stunt also gedüt, so setzet er auch uf synen stule. Damach gibet yeder kempher dem sinen sancti lohannis wyne zu drinken, so stehen sie dan uf unter die schilde, so geen die kempfen dan von yn und blieben die gryswarten by yn in dem kreys. Also kommen sie zusammen. Weres aber, datz er utzblybe über mittendag, so biddet desz fürsprechen, der da kleger ist, wann er sin übergewart habe in den kreys, so wyset man, dywyle es über recht tagezyt sy, so sy ym erleubet utz dem kreys zu gehen, und er soll geen mit dem schilt und mit kolben and trit an gerichte und man erteylt ihenen. Auch heiszet der richter die schefen züschen die zween kreysz sich setzen umb und umb den ring, datz die da sehen und hören sollen.Used books for this article:
(1) Hessisches Urkundenbuch, Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Herren von Hanau und der ehemaligen Provinz Hanau. Dritter Band. 1350-1375, Published 1894 by S. Hirzel in Leipzig (2) Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (DRW), Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (3) Reichssatzung Deß Heiligen Römischen Reichs, Band 2, Melchior Goldast [Hrsg.], Franckfurt am Mayn, 1613 (4) Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm (DWB)