Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
342
IMPERIAL CITIES OR TOWNS—IMPEY

had also cognizance in cases of refusal to do justice; and it acted as a court of appeal from territorial courts in civil and, to a small extent, in criminal cases, though it lost its competence as a court of appeal in all territories which enjoyed a privilegium de non appellando (such as, e.g. the territories of the electors). The business of the court was, however, badly done; the delay was interminable, thanks, in large measure, to the want of funds, which prevented the maintenance of the proper number of judges. In all its business it suffered from the competition of the Aulic Council (q.v.); for that body, having lost all executive competence after the 16th century, had also devoted itself exclusively to judicial work. Composed of the personal advisers of the emperor, the Aulic Council did justice on his behalf (the erection of a court to do justice for the Empire having left the emperor still possessed of the right to do justice for himself through his consiliarii); and it may thus be said to be the descendant of the old Kammergericht. The competition between the Aulic Council and the Imperial Chamber was finally regulated by the treaty of Westphalia, which laid it down that the court which first dealt with a case should alone have competence to pursue it.

See R. Schröder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1904); J. N. Harpprecht, Staatsarchiv des Reichskammergerichts (1757–1785); and G. Stobbe, Reichshofgericht und Reichskammergericht (Leipzig, 1878). (E. Br.) 


IMPERIAL CITIES OR TOWNS, the usual English translation of Reichsstädte, an expression of frequent occurrence in German history. These were cities and towns subject to no authority except that of the emperor, or German king, in other words they were immediate; the earliest of them stood on the demesne land of their sovereign, and they often grew up around his palaces. A distinction was thus made between a Reichsstadt and a Landstadt, the latter being dependent upon some prince, not upon the emperor direct. The term Freie Reichsstadt, which is sometimes used in the same sense as Reichsstadt, is rightly only applicable to seven cities, Basel, Strassburg, Spires, Worms, Mainz, Cologne and Regensburg. Having freed themselves from the domination of their ecclesiastical lords these called themselves Freistädte and in practice their position was indistinguishable from that of the Reichsstädte.

In the middle ages many other places won the coveted position of a Reichsstadt. Some gained it by gift and others by purchase; some won it by force of arms, others usurped it during times of anarchy, while a number secured it through the extinction of dominant families, like the Hohenstaufen. There were many more free towns in southern than in northern Germany, but their number was continually fluctuating, for their liberties were lost much more quickly than they were gained. Mainz was conquered and subjected to the archbishop in 1462. Some free towns fell into the hands of various princes of the Empire and others placed themselves voluntarily under such protection. Some, like Donauwörth in 1607, were deprived of their privileges by the emperor on account of real, or supposed, offences, while others were separated from the Empire by conquest. In 1648 Besançon passed into the possession of Spain, Basel had already thrown in its lot with the Swiss confederation, while Strassburg, Colmar, Hagenau and others were seized by Louis XIV.

Meanwhile the free towns had been winning valuable privileges in addition to those which they already possessed, and the wealthier among them, like Lübeck and Augsburg, were practically imperia in imperio, waging war and making peace, and ruling their people without any outside interference. But they had also learned that union is strength. They formed alliances among themselves, both for offence and for defence, and these Städtebünde had an important influence on the course of German history in the 14th and 15th centuries. These leagues were frequently at war with the ecclesiastical and secular potentates of their district and in general they were quite able to hold their own in these quarrels. The right of the free towns to be represented in the imperial diet was formally recognized in 1489, and about the same time they divided themselves into two groups, or benches, the Rhenish and the Swabian. By the peace of Westphalia in 1648 they were formally constituted as the third college of the diet. A list drawn up in 1422 mentions 75 free cities, another drawn up in 1521 mentions 84, but at the time of the French Revolution the number had decreased to 51. At this time the Rhenish free cities were: Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, Lübeck, Worms, Spires, Frankfort-on-the-Main, Goslar, Bremen, Hamburg, Mühlhausen, Nordhausen, Dortmund, Friedberg and Wetzlar. The Swabian free cities were: Regensburg, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Ulm, Esslingen, Reutlingen, Nördlingen, Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, Schwäbisch-Hall, Rottweil, Ueberlingen, Heilbronn, Memmingen, Gmünd, Dinkelsbühl, Lindau, Biberach, Ravensburg, Schweinfurt, Kempten, Windsheim, Kaufbeuern, Weil, Wangen, Isny, Pfullendorf, Offenburg, Leutkirch, Wimpfen, Weissenburg, Giengen, Gengenbach, Zell, Buchorn, Aalen, Buchau and Bopfingen. But a large proportion of them had as little claim to their exceptional positions as the pocket boroughs of Great Britain and Ireland had before the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832.

By the peace of Lunéville in 1801 Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, Worms and Spires were taken by France, and by the decision of the imperial deputation of 1803 six cities only: Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen, Augsburg, Frankfort-on-Main and Nuremberg, were allowed to keep their Reichsfreiheit, or in other words to hold directly of the Empire. This number was soon further reduced. On the dissolution of the Empire in 1806 Augsburg and Nuremburg passed under the sovereignty of Bavaria, and Frankfort was made the seat of a duchy for Karl Theodor von Dalberg, elector and archbishop of Mainz, who was appointed prince primate of the Confederation of the Rhine. When the German Confederation was established in 1815 Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen and Frankfort were recognized as free cities, and the first three hold that position in the modern German empire; but Frankfort, in consequence of the part it took in the war of 1866, lost its independence and was annexed by Prussia.

In the earlier years of their existence the free cities were under the jurisdiction of an imperial officer, who was called the Reichsvogt or imperial advocate, or sometimes the Reichsschultheiss or imperial procurator. As time went on many of the cities purchased the right of filling these offices with their own nominees; and in several instances the imperial authority fell practically into desuetude except when it was stirred into action by peculiar circumstances. The internal constitution of the free cities was organized after no common model, although several of them had a constitution drawn up in imitation of that of Cologne, which was one of the first to assert its independence.

For the history of the free cities, see J. J. Moser, Reichsstädtisches Handbuch (Tübingen, 1732); D. Hänlein, Anmerkungen über die Geschichte der Reichsstädte (Ulm, 1775); A. Wendt, Beschreibung der kaiserlichen freien Reichsstädte (Leipzig, 1804); G. W. Hugo, Die Mediatisirung der deutschen Reichsstädte (Carlsruhe, 1838); G. Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte (Kiel, 1844 fol.); G. L. von Maurer, Geschichte der Städteverfassung in Deutschland (Erlangen, 1869–1871); W. Arnold, Verfassungsgeschichte der deutschen Freistädte (Gotha, 1854); P. Brülcke, Die Entwickelung der Reichsstandschaft der Städte (Hamburg, 1881); A. M. Ehrentraut, Untersuchungen über die Frage der Frei- und Reichsstädte (Leipzig, 1902); and S. Rietschel, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der deutschen Stadtverfassung (Leipzig, 1905). See also the article Commune. (A. W. H.*) 


IMPEY, SIR ELIJAH (1732–1809), chief justice of Bengal, was born on the 13th of June 1732, and educated at Westminster with Warren Hastings, who was his intimate friend throughout life. In 1773 he was appointed the first chief justice of the new supreme court at Calcutta, and in 1775 presided at the trial of Nuncomar (q.v.) for forgery, with which his name has been chiefly connected in history. His impeachment was unsuccessfully attempted in the House of Commons in 1787, and he is accused by Macaulay of conspiring with Hastings to commit a judicial murder; but the whole question of the trial of Nuncomar has been examined in detail by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, who states that “no man ever had, or could have, a fairer trial than Nuncomar, and Impey in particular behaved