Libel played an important and extraordinary role in early modern conflict culture. The article discusses their functions and the way they were assessed in court. The case study illustrates argumentative spaces and different levels of normative references in libel trials in 16th century electoral Saxony. In 1569, Andreas Langener – in consequence of a long stagnating private conflict – posted several libels against the nobleman Tham Pflugk in different public places in the city of Dresden. Consequently, he was arrested and charged with ‘libelling’. Depending on the reference to conflicting social and legal norms, he had therefore been either threatened with corporal punishment including his execution, or rewarded with laudations. In this case, the act of libelling could be seen as slander, but also as a service to the community, which Langener had informed about potentially harmful transgression of norms. While the common good was the highest maxim, different and sometimes conflicting legally protected interests had to be discussed. The situational decision depended on whether the articulated charges where true and relevant for the public, on the invective language, and especially on the quality and size of the public sphere reached by the libel.
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