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Pic of the Week: The Hamburg Municipal Code of 1497

The Law Library of Congress recently had the good fortune to acquire a manuscript of Hamburgisches Stadtrecht von 1497 (The Hamburg Code of Municipal Law). In October 1497, the Senate of Hamburg decided to revise the Hamburg code of law. It proposed that the revision would supersede a number of conflicting state codes that were in circulation among the city’s gentry, causing much confusion and discord. The project was completed on November 24, 1497. This manuscript copy of the original text (composed in Middle Low German and Latin) was likely produced in Northern Germany between the years 1570 and 1573. Additional content was added to it in subsequent years through 1670.

Hamburgisches Stadtrecht of 1497. This copy was made in 1570, after the promulgation of a city ordinance dated May 29, 1570 [Photo by Donna Sokol]

The original manuscript of Hamburgisches Stadtrecht von 1497, of which this item is a copy, is well-known for the illustrations it contains–a remarkable series of 18 miniatures depicting scenes relevant to the legal institutions as well as the incidental details of life in Hamburg in the fifteenth century; it can be found in the Hamburg Staatsarchiv, (Senat, Cl. VII, Litt. L, Nr. 2, vol. 1.). The Library of Congress has in its collections modern reproductions of that manuscript and its famous illustrations here and here. Although not as deluxe as the original manuscript, the present volume nevertheless includes numerous illustrations of high quality and the painted arms of the city of Hamburg.

The painted arms of the city of Hamburg [Photo by Donna Sokol]

This volume contains three separate texts: the Hamburgisches Stadtrecht von 1497, the Lange Rezess von Hamburg (1529) (Long Ordinance) and a List of City Councilors originally composed by Hermann Röver in 1543, which appears in this manuscript with additions that were made through the year 1670.

[Photo by Donna Sokol]

Although many manuscript copies of this work–approximately 50–were previously known to exist, this copy was unknown until its recent appearance on the market. Part of its value stems from its inclusion of later texts, which provide historical evidence for the governance of the city from the end of the fifteenth through the middle of the sixteenth century, a period that includes among other seismic historical events, the Protestant Reformation.

Allegory of responsibility, or a representation of “and they shall be two in one flesh” (Mark 10:8) [Photo by Donna Sokol]

Rare book service is available on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Access to rare materials is by appointment and we welcome your inquiries.  For further information, contact me, [email protected].


The Arbor Consanguinitatis, or the Tree of Consanguinity–a device used for measuring degrees of blood relations for purposes of family law, here depicted growing atop a burial mound as dogs emerge from burrows in the ground [Photo by Donna Sokol]

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