Aachen gaff letter - Aachener Gaffelbrief

Aachen Gaffelbrief is the name of a historical constitution of the Free Imperial City of Aachen , which was first struck in 1450 and, after being updated several times, lasted until 1794. The Gaffelbrief played an early role in the democratization movement, especially of the common citizens and the tradespeople who organized themselves in guilds , who felt that they were no longer represented by the majority ruling patricians and aristocrats , and also reflected the historical development of the Aachen guild system. The origin of the word gaff is derived from Low German / Kölschen Word fork from, which originally meant a two-pronged (meat) fork.


Since the granting of the rights of a free imperial city in 1166 by Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa , Aachen was initially headed by a royal official. In 1250 the management passed to the council headed by the mayors. This so-called Erbrat consisted of two mayors, two Rent - and builders , lifelong elected aldermen of aldermen chair [1] and the deputies of the nine counties of Aachen the Aachener Reich. The craftsmen, who until 1428 were only united in more or less loose "brotherhoods" or so-called "Ambachten", were not represented in the city council.

Due to an economic boom in the skilled craftsmen with simultaneous mismanagement of the city administration and the introduction of a Reich tax , the citizens saw themselves no longer represented in a timely manner and sued for codetermination. Protests and riots followed. The first significant uprising of the cloth makers and weavers was started in 1368 by the ruling mayors Jakob Colyn and Konrad von dem Eichhornbloodily depressed. Nevertheless, in the period that followed, the Ambachten tried to gradually organize themselves into proper guilds by means of statutes and ordinances. In 1428 they suffered another setback when ten new Ambachten were founded, which if necessary tried to use force to gain influence on legal reforms. This uprising was also caused by a deceit by the former mayor Konrad von dem Eichhorn, a son of the aforementioned, dejected and executed a large number of the ringleaders in the market square. It was not until 1437 that the ten guilds were allowed to send six members from their ranks and only in special cases to the council. Finally, after years of bitter disputes and violent unrest, an agreement was reached on a contractually regulated co-determination, which was first written down in the Aachen gaff letter of 1450. Those politically entitled guilds, which from then on were represented in the council with members entitled to vote, have since been referred to as “gaffs”, which is how the treaty got its name. Outside of Aachen, so-called gaffs only existed in Colognewhich went through a similar historical and political development as in Aachen, but had already regulated their state-democratic constitution in 1396 in a so-called " Verbundbrief " and in which 22 Cologne gaffs were involved.

With the following gaff letters, the Aachen guilds succeeded step by step in transforming the city from a formerly aristocratic self-government into a democratic one and thereby strengthening its self-importance for the region. The guilds were from now on the central point of contact for all public life, and only through these the citizen could find political right and political protection, and therefore every citizen was obliged to acquire their membership.

First gaff letter 1450

The first Aachen gaff letter resulted in a completely new composition of the Aachen city council, which from now on included deputies from eleven guilds and half of which was re-elected every year. These eleven recognized guilds consisted of the "Star Guild" [2] , which belonged exclusively to aristocrats and which represented a continuation of the previous old heir and from which the lay judges were elected, as well as the "Bock Guild" [3] , the society of patricians, in which the scholars, doctors, lawyers, merchants and officials had organized themselves. Also from the guilds of foremen (cloth manufacturers and woolen weavers), brewers , butchers , Löder ( tanners ), blacksmithsas well as from the four "societies" for the "Löwenberg", the "black eagle" [4] , the "Pontort" and the "Altenstern", which in turn consisted of the upper classes and patricians.

This newly established city council was divided into a small and a large council. The small council, with a total of 40 people, included two councilors from each of the eleven guilds, two mayors (one of whom was elected from the lay judges and one from the bourgeoisie), two lay judges (mostly the longest serving lay judges), a chancellor (clerk), two furriers, two foremen and nine "Christoffeln", as the envoys from the nine counties were called. The term of office for the mayors was one year and from the end of this period they continued to belong to the council as so-called "stale" mayors in a high position and could then be re-elected as mayor a year later, which was mostly just a formality was more like an appointment. The small council dealt with the city and state sovereignty and formed the higher and appellate court. The great council was also granted four further councilors from the eleven guilds and thus comprised 84 members. Among other things, he was responsible for general affairs, judged life and death and elected the new council members.

In addition, the gaff letter regulated the requirements for admission to the city council, the election periods and the voting rules at the respective meetings. There was also a warning against unfair election manipulation and the various unlawful practices associated with it, which were first referred to as blemish . In addition to the rights of the guilds, the Gaffelbrief laid down their public and public duties, such as fire fighting or the local military.

Second gaff letter 1513

In the period that followed, especially from 1477 onwards, the patricians tried to expand their position again in their favor and to exploit existing loopholes in their favor. In addition, they decided with the help of imperial privileges by Frederick III.that both the lay judge's chair, which was made up of aristocrats without exception, and the councilors from the nine counties were to serve for life and only half of the council representatives of the gaffs were to be renewed annually. This led to unauthorized agreements, manipulations and dependencies as well as a creeping erosion of the first gaff letter. Measures were also blocked that would bring about a tax relief for the middle class and at the same time pay off the city's debt burden. At the same time, on the other hand, through newly formed professional groups, the number of guilds increased, or through the incorporation of further craft businesses into existing guilds, so-called "splits", their composition and strength. This all led to massive unrest again,Gilles from the Buschoffsstave , and partly to the Reich Chamber of Commerce in Wetzlar . This situation finally resulted in a new contractual agreement on February 15, 1513, the second Aachen Gaffelbrief, in which the Aachen mayors Everhard von Haren and Wilhelm Colyn, who are considered to be reformers, played a major role.

In this constitutional treaty it was regulated that the Gaffelbrief of 1450 should on the one hand be reaffirmed and on the other hand through the involvement of the guilds of bakers, copper masters (inspired primarily by the Amya family ), shopkeepers , carpenters , tailors , pelzers and the shoemakerWith their respective split ends and the four companies mentioned above, the handicrafts were now more strongly represented again by a total of 12 gaffs. The new composition of the now 44 councilors at the small council was now structured as follows: two citizens, rent (one of which was always the stale mayor), work, wine and builder, six excise administrators, also called new men , as well as two representatives from each of the 14 gaffs. With the exception of the new men and the rent, wine and builders, whose term of office had been extended to three years, the councilors were re-elected half annually. Furthermore, the council remained the two resigned mayors as so-called stale onesreceived on a consultative basis and could be re-elected as governing mayor a year later. At the big council, as already stated in the first gaff letter, another four representatives of the 14 guilds were added. The seating arrangement stipulated that the two ruling mayors should sit at a raised table, next to them two Syndici and the council secretary, each without voting rights. Then followed the two stale mayors, the two star lords, the two master builders, renters, wine and builders, the two councilors from the buck and the six new men and finally the representatives of the gaffs.

Despite various crises such as the Aachen religious unrest and its influence on the religious composition of the city council, regional economic crises, but also the great city ​​fire of Aachen in 1656 and its consequences, this Aachen constitution lasted for a long time. Nonetheless, from the 17th century onwards there were increasingly excesses of neglect, after more and more incumbent mayors endeavored to either partner with a stale predecessor as a coupleto keep in office for several years or to use the same methods to enforce close relatives or favorites as successors. Similar manipulations also took place in the elections within the guilds, which increasingly turned out to be the real weak point of the gaff letters. This situation was reinforced by the fact that all guilds, regardless of their number of members, were entitled to the same number of council representatives, which gave the elite guilds, some of which had fewer than 100 members, an advantage over the various craft guilds, which often had more than 1000 members in their ranks . Even a developing New Party could not and did not want to change anything about this, since it applied the same practices out of its interests. In thisThe new party was mainly formed by the financially strong merchants, which included above all the cloth and needle manufacturers who had emerged from the economic boom in their branches of industry in the previous decades. Opposite them were the representatives of the Old Party , who had already held a magistrate's office for a long period of time and tried to defend this with conservative and traditional views.

Third gaff letter 1681

In the third and last official gaff letter of January 21, 1681, no fundamental changes were made to its predecessors due to the experience of the last few years. Rather, on the basis of operational experience, it provided an explanation and supplement and, in particular, deepened the powers of the city council and the mode of council elections. For example, it was stipulated that only a citizen of marital birth, of impeccable repute and who had not married a “dubious person”, was entitled to vote. Furthermore, he had to be at least 25 years old and was not allowed to be a “stranger”, meaning non-Aacheners, as a servant, recipient of orders or loyal to tenantsserve. Likewise, he was only allowed to be set up by the gaff, to which he mainly belonged due to his professional activity. The guilds themselves could not push through any further changes in their favor, since from a commercial point of view their heyday had passed for the time being. However, in this gaff letter, the rampant practices of complaining were officially punished, but their clarification and legal follow-up were not seriously pursued, since all legal and political decision-makers themselves benefited from this situation or were even involved in it.

This gaff letter was now valid for the next more than 100 years as the constitution of Aachen, but in 1786 there was again an increasing weakening due to post-pushing and the associated increase in power through nepotism, especially within the upper class, with simultaneous economic weakening of the gaffs. This in turn led to considerable and violent unrest and uprisings, this time more within the party landscape between the old and new parties themselves and less between the guilds and the established ones. This intolerable situation, bordering on anarchy, lasted until 1792 and went down in the history of the city of Aachen as " Aachener Mäkelei "one. As early as 1790, twelve guilds and a part of the council under the direction of Christian Wilhelm von Dohm as well as other citizens from the bourgeoisie, such as the publisher Peter Josef Franz Dautzenberg, put a new and updated fourth gaff letter as a draft to resolve these permanent issues in front. This was even endorsed by the Perpetual Reichstag in Regensburg and the Bailiwick of Jülich , but in the end there was no further discussion or resolution. Due to the French invasion in 1792 as part of the First Coalition War and their occupation of the left bank of the Rhineas well as the subsequent takeover of the municipalities for the Arrondissement d'Aix-la-Chapelle from 1794, this phase of political instability was ended and Aachen experienced another period of economic boom and political stability in the next few decades.


Individual evidence

  1. Christian Quix : Historical-topographical description of the city of Aachen and its surroundings , DuMont, 1829, p. 78:

    “The Schöppenstuhl, or the high jury in Aachen, probably had its origins under the Carolingians, and will probably have been the first court in Aachen, after a while. He asserted imperial immediacy, albeit with some disagreement on the part of the city magistrate. Its jurisdiction was extensive in ancient times. It consisted of fourteen lay judges, some of whom were nobles, some of whom were ennobled by the office itself, and a syndic. The members kept their posts for life and replaced the outgoing ones with their own choice. Father and son, brother and brother could sit next to each other in the jury at the same time. "

  2. Christian Quix, Historical-topographical description of the city of Aachen and its surroundings , DuMont, 1829, p. 74:

    “The star guild, or that of the nobles, mostly consisted only of the lay judges. The canonici of the Münsterstift could be accepted into this guild, which seems to be a remnant of the previous offering and a reminder of the ancient constitution or government of the city, in which government the members of the imaginary monastery participated, and which arose from the free men was. Your Leufe (guild house) was the Haus zum Stern on the LA Nro market square. 1016. They also owned a meadow in front of St. Adalbertsthore on the Worm. "

  3. Christian Quix, Historical-topographical description of the city of Aachen and its surroundings , DuMont, 1829, p. 105:

    “The buck guild was a society that was constituted in 1412, with two Greven at its head, whom it, like the guilds, elected annually from among its members. It consisted of some thirty members, all of whom were of good birth and did not have to be affiliated to any other guild. It first called itself the Society of Lewenberg , a Nro on Büchelstrasse. The house in 1137, which she took back to Miethe in 1442 from Gerart van Haren, aldermen of Aachen. But afterwards she moved into the house called the goat, and was given the name: 'The gentlemen of the goat'. Because almost all lawyers, doctors, etc. were members of this society, it was called the Scholars' Guild "

  4. According to Eberhard Quadflieg (1905–1982; Walks through Alt-Aachen , 1941, p. 36f), this guild, which appeared in 1450, was named after the old "Haus zum Schwarzen Adler" (burned down in 1656; since Jakobstraße leads into the market and one only 1905 discovered the alleged foundations of the old black eagle under the market 45 - the new black eagle - some located this guild rather southwest in the Jakobstraße 45). Quadflieg has as the oldest document a basic interest from a deed from 1258 ( "in domo sita in foro que aquila dicitur") as well as a von der Ahr family ("who also had the house name as a family name") who sold this inn on the market in 1370. A. Huyskens ( The Aachener Gemäldesammlung Bettendorf , in: Aachener Kunstblätter 14, 1928, p. 49) suspected in 1928 that the designation of this inn as black , ie "Zum Schwarzen Adler" , could have something to do with the Aachen city arms, which was first used in 1350 , because in 1394 the widow of the buyer v. 1370 "Grete zen Swartzen Ayr".