Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
790
COMMUNE, MEDIEVAL

the commune, except inasmuch as that those residing in the town might be required to swear not to conspire against it. The commune (communia, communa, communio, communitas, conjuratio, confoederatio) was formed by an oath of mutual help (sacramentum, juramentum communiae). The members were described as jurati (also burgenses, vicini, amici), although in some communes that term was reserved for the members of the governing body. None but men of free and legitimate birth, and free from debt and contagious or incurable disease were received. The members of the governing body were styled jurés (jurati), pairs (pares) or échevins (scabini). The last was, however, as in Germany, more properly the title of the jurors in the court of justice, which in many cases remained in the hands of the lord. In some cases the town council developed out of this body; but in the larger cities, like Rouen, several councils worked and all these names were employed side by side. The number of the members of the governing body proper varies from twelve to a hundred, and its functions were both judicial and administrative. There was also known an arrangement corresponding to the German alte und sitzende Rat, viz. of retired members who could be called in to lend assistance on important occasions. The most striking distinction, however, as against the villes consulaires was the elevation of the president of the body to the position of maire or mayeur (sometimes also called prévôt, praepositus). As elsewhere, at first none but the civic aristocracy were admitted to take part in the management of the town’s affairs; but from the end of the 13th century a share had to be conceded to representatives of the crafts. Dissatisfaction, however, was not easily allayed; the lower orders applied for the intervention of the king; and that effectively put an end to political freedom. This tendency of calling in state help marks a most striking difference as against the policy followed by the German towns, where all classes appear to have been always far too jealous of local independence. The result for the nation was in the one case despotism, equality and order, in the other individual liberty and an inability to move as a whole. At an earlier stage the king had frequently come to the assistance of the communes in their struggle with their lords. By-and-by the king’s confirmation came to be considered necessary for their lawful existence. This proved a powerful lever for the extension of the king’s authority. It may seem strange that in France the towns never had recourse to those interurban leagues which played so important a part in Italian and in German history.

These two varieties, the communes and the villes consulaires together form the group of villes libres. As opposed to these stand the villes franches, also called villes prévotales after the chief officer, villes de bourgeoisie or villes soumises. They make up by far the majority of French towns, comprising all those situated in the centre of the kingdom, and also a large number in the north and the south. They are called villes franches on account of their possessing a franchise, a charter limiting the services due by the citizens to their lord, but political status they had little or none. According to the varying extent of the liberties conceded them, there may be distinguished towns governed by an elective body and more or less fully authorized to exercise jurisdiction; towns possessing some sort of municipal organization, but no rights of jurisdiction, except that of simple police; and, thirdly, those governed entirely by seignorial officers. To this last class belong some of the most important cities in France, wherever the king had power enough to withhold liberties deemed dangerous and unnecessary. On the other hand, towns of the first category often come close to the villes libres. A strict line of demarcation, however, remains in the mutual oath which forms the basis of the civic community in both varieties of the latter, and in the fact that the ville libre stands to its lord in the relation of vassal and not in that of an immediate possession. But however complètement assujettie Paris might be, its organization, naturally, was immensely more complex than that of hundreds of smaller places which, formally, might stand in an identical relationship to their lords. Like other villes franches under the king, Paris was governed by a prévôt (provost), but certain functions of self-government for the city were delegated to the company of the marchands de l’eau, mercatores aquae, also called mercatores ansati, that is, the gild of merchants whose business lay down the river Seine, in other words, a body naturally exclusive, not, however, to the citizens as such. At their head stood a prévôt des marchands and four eschevins de la marchandise. Other prud’hommes were occasionally called in, and from 1296 prévôt and échevins, appointed twenty-four councillors to form with themselves a parloir aux bourgeois. The crafts of Paris were organized in métiers, whose masters were appointed, some by the prévôt de Paris, and some by certain great officers of the court. In the tax rolls of A.D. 1292 to 1300 no fewer than 448 names of crafts occur, while the Livre des métiers written in 1268 by Étienne de Boileau, then prévôt de Paris, enumerates 101 organized bodies of tradesmen or women and artisans. Among the duties of these bodies, as elsewhere, was the guet or night-watch, which necessitated a military organization under quartiniers, cinquantainiers and dixainiers. This gave them a certain power. But both their revolutions, under the prévôt des marchands, Étienne Marcel, after the battle of Maupertuis, and again in 1382, were extremely short-lived, and the only tangible result was a stricter subjection to the king and his officers.

An exceptional position among the cities of France is taken up by those of Flanders, more particularly the three “Great Towns,” Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, whose population was Flemish, i.e. German. They sprang up at the foot of the count’s castles and rose in close conjunction with his power. On the accession of a new house they made their power felt as early as 1128. Afterwards the counts of the house of Dampierre fell into financial dependence on the burghers, and therefore allied themselves with the rising artisans, led by the weavers. These, however, proved far more unruly, bloody conflicts ensued, and for a considerable period the three great cities ruled the whole of Flanders with a high hand. Their influence in the foreign relations of the country was likewise great, it being in their interest to keep up friendly relations with England, on whose wool the flourishing state of the staple industry of Flanders depended. It is a remarkable fact that the historical position taken up by these cities, which politically belonged to France, is much more akin to the part played by the German towns, whereas Cambrai, whose population was French, is the only city politically situated in Germany, where a commune came to be established.

In the Spanish peninsula, the chief importance of the numerous small towns lay in the part they played as fortresses during the unceasing wars with the Moors. The kings therefore extended special privileges (fueros) to the inhabitants, and they were even at an early date admitted to representation in the Cortes (parliament). Of greater individual importance than all the rest was Barcelona. Already in 1068 Count Berengarius gave the city a special law (usatici) based on its ancient usages, and from the 14th century its commercial code (libro del consolat del mar) became influential all over southern Europe.

The constitutions of the Scandinavian towns were largely modelled on those of Germany, but the towns never attained anything like the same independence. Their dependence on the royal government most strongly comes out in the fact of their being uniformly regulated by royal law in each of the three kingdoms. In Sweden particularly, German merchants by law took an equal share in the government of the towns. In Denmark their influence was also great, and only in Norway did they remain in the position of foreigners in spite of their famous settlement at Bergen. The details, as well as those of the German settlement at Wisby and on the east coast of the Baltic, belong rather to the history of the Hanseatic League (q.v.). Denmark appears to be the only one of the three kingdoms where gilds at an early date played a part of importance.

Bibliography.—The only book dealing with the subject in general, viz. K. D. Hüllmann, Städtewesen des Mittelalters (4 vols., Bonn, 1826–1828), is quite antiquated. For Germany it is best to consult Richard Schröder, Lehrbruch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (5th ed., Leipzig, 1907), §§ 51 and 56, where a bibliography as complete as need be is given, both of monographs dealing with various