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Imperial Reform (1495)

The first phase of the Imperial Reform under Maximilian I began with the legislation enacted on August 7, 1495, by the Imperial Diet at Worms. Two of its principal enactments concerned the Perpetual Public Peace (A) and the Common Penny (B). The Perpetual Public Peace is noteworthy for its definitive abolition of the right of feud and its establishment of a regime of law and order. The Common Penny was the first direct tax levied by the Empire. It was renewed several times, the last time in 1544, and then abandoned forever in favor of the older matricular system, whereby money to support fixed numbers of cavalry and infantry in units called "Roman months" was apportioned among the Imperial Estates in accordance with Imperial tax registers. Note the stark contrast between the language of this document and that found in passages from the Golden Bull of 1356. While the latter is couched in highly symbolic language and refers to specific persons, this law is framed in more general, more secular, and more purposeful language. The statutes of 1495 initiated a reform process that came to an end in 1521. Among other achievements, the process led to the founding of the Imperial Chamber Court [Reichskammergericht] in 1495 and the creation of the Imperial Circles [Reichskreise] in 1512. These institutions needed a generation or more to become secure. The Common Penny, on the other hand, failed, as did all other attempts at fiscal reform.

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A. The Perpetual Public Peace.

Worms, August 7, 1495

We, Maximilian, Roman King by the grace of God, Conserver of the Empire for all ages [ . . . ] send Our grace and good will to each and every of Our and the Holy Empire's electors, princes spiritual and temporal, prelates, counts, barons, knights, servitors, commanders, vicedoms, guardians, wardens, officials, headmen, mayors, judges, councilors, burghers, communes, and all other subjects and sworn subjects, whatever their dignity, status, or condition, who read this, Our royal mandate or a transcript thereof, or have it read or them, or are shown it. Ever since We were elected to the high honor and burden of the Holy Roman Empire and succeeded to its governance, We have seen that constant attacks are being made, and long have been made, against Christendom, whereby many kingdoms and rulers of Christian lands have been subjected to unbelievers, so that they now rule right up to the boundaries of the Holy Empire and have in recent times both notably increased their depredations against the cities, lands, and properties held by Our Holy Father the pope and the Roman churches and violently seized other lands and jurisdictions of the Holy Empire. These attacks have brought both the Holy Empire and all of Christendom heavy losses, damages, and the loss of population, honor, and dignity and will continue to bring them, if, after timely and broad consultation, a stable, binding condition of law and order is not established, maintained, and made effective in the Empire. To this end, following the unanimous counsel of honorable and high-born persons, Our dear nephews, uncles, electors, princes spiritual and temporal, also prelates, counts, barons, and Estates, We have proceeded to establish, ordain, and make a common peace for the Holy Roman Empire and the German Nation, and We establish, ordain, and make this peace by the power of this proclamation.

1. That from this moment on, no person of whatever rank, status, or condition shall make war on others, or rob, declare feud with, invade, or besiege them, or help anyone else to do so in person or through servitors; or violently occupy any castle, town, market, fortress, village, farmstead, or hamlet, or seize them illegally against another's will, or damage them with fire or in any other way, or assist by word or deed or in any other way support or supply any perpetrators of such deeds, or knowingly harbor, house, feed, or give drink, aid, and comfort to such persons. On the contrary, whoever has a quarrel with another shall take his case to the courts and tribunals that have settled such cases in the past, and such matters now belong and will continue to belong in the future under the law establishing the Imperial Supreme Court.

2. And to this end, We have abolished all publicly proclaimed feuds throughout the Empire, and, based on the plenitude of Our Roman royal power, We forbid and abolish them in and by virtue of this mandate.

3. And if anyone, whatever his or her rank or status, acts or undertakes to act against one or more persons belonging to the groups named in the following article, he or she shall be legally placed, with all proper penalties, under Our and the Holy Empire's ban. Thereupon all persons will be permitted, without legal liability, to lay hands on them and their possessions. Further, all agreements, obligations, and leagues, by which banned persons may receive aid and comfort, shall be null and void when it comes to those who proceed to arrest them. Further, all fiefs of the banned shall revert to the feudal lord, who shall not be obliged, so long as the violator of the peace lives, to grant them to him or his feudal heirs, or to allow his people any use of them.

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