Chapter 1

The Different Character of the Laws of the German People

March 31, 2020

AFTER the Franks left their own country, they compiled the Salic laws with the help of their own sages. The Ripuarian Franks under Clovis joined the Salians and preserved its own customs. Theodoric, king of Austrasia, ordered them to be written. He also collected the customs of those Bavarians and Germans who were dependent on his kingdom.

Germany was weakened by the migration of so many people. The Franks conquered all before them. They made a retrograde march and extended their dominion into the forests of their ancestors. Very likely the Thuringian code was given by the same Theodoric, since the Thuringians were also his subjects.

The Frisians were subdued by Charles Martel and Pepin, so their law cannot be prior to those princes.

Charlemagne was the first to reduce the Saxons. He gave them the law that still exists. These two last codes prove that they came from conquerors.

As soon as the Visigoths, the Burgundians, and the Lombards, had founded their respective kingdoms, they put their laws into writing as well.

The laws of the Salics, Ripuarians, Alemans, Bavarians, Thuringians, and Frisians are admirably simple. They have an original coarseness and a spirit which no change of manners had weakened. They received only a very few changes, because all those people, except the Franks, remained in Germany. Even the Franks laid there the foundation of a great part of their empire so that they only had German laws. Corporal punishment was not tolerated by the Salic and Ripuarian laws.

But the laws of the Visigoths, Lombards and Burgundians were different. Their character considerably changed from the great change which happened in the character of those people, after they had settled in their new habitations.

  • The kingdom of the Burgundians did not last long enough to admit of great changes in the laws of the conquering nation. Gundebald and Sigismond collected their customs and were almost the last of their kings. They removed from the Salic and Ripuarian laws, whatever was absolutely inconsistent with Christianity. But they left the main part untouched.
  • The laws of the Lombards received additions rather than changes.
  • The laws of Rotharis were followed by those of Grimoaldus, Luitprandus, Rachis and Astulphus. But they did not take a new form.
  • The laws of the Visigoths were different. Their kings made them new, with the help of the clergy.
    • Like the laws of the Burgundians, they allowed corporal punishments.
  • The kings of the first race

The provinces of the Burgundians and Visigoths were greatly exposed. They tried to=

  • conciliate the affections of the ancient inhabitants,
  • give them the most impartial civil laws

But the Frank kings had established their power, so the Franks had no such considerations.

The Saxons lived under the Franks. The Saxons had an intractable temper and prone to revolt. Hence we find in their laws the severities of a conqueror, which are not to be met with in the other codes of the laws of the Barbarians.

We see the spirit of the German laws in=

  • the pecuniary punishments, and
  • the spirit of a conqueror in those of an afflictive nature.

The crimes they commit in their own country are subject to corporal punishment.

The spirit of the German laws is followed only in the punishment of crimes committed beyond the extent of their own territory. They are plainly told, that=

  • their crimes shall meet with no mercy, and
  • they are refused even the asylum of churches.

The bishops had an immense authority at the court of the Visigoth kings. The most important affairs were debated in councils. All the maxims, principles, and views of the present inquisition, are owing to the code of the Visigoths. The monks have only copied against the Jews, the laws formerly enacted by bishops.

In other respects, the laws of Gundebald for the Burgundians seem pretty judicious. Those of Rotharis, and of the other Lombard princes, are still more so.

But the laws of the Visigoths, those, for instance, of Recessuinthus, Chaindasuinthus, and Egigas, are puerile, ridiculous, and foolish and were stuffed with rhetoric and void of sense; frivolous in the substance, and bombastic in the stile.

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