Diestelkamp, Bernhard, Der deutsche König als oberster Richter im Hoch- und Spätmittelalter Eine neue Positionsbestimmung

and Bernhard Diestelkamp


The German king as highest judge in the Mid- to Late Medieval period. A new paradigm. Conventionally it is assumed that the king was the highest judge in the medieval Empire. However, many times this turns out to be a misconception. The idea of a ‘highest’ judge suggests a relationship of superiority and inferiority as well as successive stages of appeal which, in fact, did not exist in the customary law. The article analyzes sources from the late medieval Imperial Aulic Court examining when and in which contexts the term ‘highest judge’ was used first. Aside from little evidence in the 14th century numerous records can be found in 15th century documents. It is hardly a coincidence that these findings concur with the increase of references on appeal trials based on the learned law around this time. In this respect the designation of the king as the highest judge marks the transition of the judicial organization in the wake of the reception of the Roman and canon law.

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The Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte (ZRG, also known as the Savigny Journal) represents an integral part of European legal history research, having made a significant contribution to the current state of the discipline.