Henry the Wrangler and The Decrees of Ranshofen

A portrait of Henry made in c. 990, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Lit.142 4v. Image in public domain.

Our scene unfolds around the year 990 at Ranshofen. The Duke of Bavaria, Henry II, known as ‘the Quarrelsome’/’the Wrangler’, had summoned the most important bishops and counts of his territory. There, he issued a remarkable series of decrees. The text survives in a manuscript produced at Freising and was copied into it before 994, making it a contemporary witness to the law-making activities of the so-called ‘vice-king’ of the Ottonian realm.


While we think that dukes often had responsibilities to keep the peace in their duchies, Henry’s decrees are the most striking example of this and the holding of assemblies: a way to bring together the most important members of the local aristocracy. In this case, Henry’s text is especially interesting, because (as Timothy Reuter put it) ‘the constitutions of Ranshofen … represent more elaborate legislation than anything the kings themselves produced’. Despite their importance, the decrees have not (to my knowledge) ever been translated into a modern language, although in 1986 Stefan Weinfurter paraphrased and produced a commentary considering the first six decrees.


What follows is a translation into English that attempts to retain an accurate interpretation of the text but focuses on readability. The original is available in Latin here.

The first page of the text: BSB Clm 6426 147v. Reproduced under CC-by 4.0


  1. If a male or female slave runs away from their lord as a fugitive and is found in the household of another: if he should keep them unjustly and refuse to return them, then the lord [from whom they escaped] can swear an oath by himself [i.e. without the need for oath-helpers to confirm its validity] that the slave is his. 

    And on the other hand, the lord in whose household the fugitive was found needs to prove by oath that neither did he hold the slave through theft or fraud, nor will he by knowledge of any enmity force him to hold to the oath*, and then will return the slave without delay. If, however, the slave runs away whilst under the care of this new lord [i.e. before they can be returned], then the new lord shall render compensation to the slave’s original lord.


  1. For those who refuse to obey these statutes: if he is an advocate of the duke or of the bishop, or of or another lord, then he shall be deprived not only of his office but also of his benefice, in the presence of the duke. If, however, a bailiff (praepositus) of any lord is found guilty in a case of this kind, then he will either receive forty blows, or he can buy himself free from the enforcer (exactor) with the sum of one pound. If a cleric has committed the same thing, then he is subject to the same punishment. If a judgement finder (scabinus) has done it, then he should either be imprisoned for as long as it pleases the duke, or he should be punished [by the same 40 blows]. If, however, a person of lower social standing, whether from the free or the unfree, has perpetrated the same thing, then he shall be punished by flaying. We also command in every way that the punishment should be enacted in the presence of the lord whose slave it is.


  1. If any stranger is admitted to the house of a lord and is placed under his protection, and then commits a theft or other crime, then he must be punished to the satisfaction of the enforcer (exactor), or appear at the public assembly (placitum) of the count. If the thief disregards this and flees in the meantime without paying the fine, the count must pay the same fine in his stead.


  1. If the count had responsibility for the person placed under the bann (forpannitus), and neglected to bring him to the placitum, or unjustly defended him in the placitum, and cannot deny this in the presence of the duke, then he should lose both his comital office and the grace of the duke. If a centenarius or an advocate has acted in the same way, he shall be deprived of his benefice. If a bailiff (praepositus) of another lord has done the same, he shall be flayed.


  1. If any lord has unjustly defended his slave who has committed theft, and will not present him at the placitum of the count in whose county the theft was committed, and is found to be culpable in the case, he will either be incarcerated or condemned to exile.


  1. If the duke accuses counts or scabini of having unjustly defended people who are placed under the bann (forpanniti) or thieves, whether at the placitum or elsewhere, and they cannot absolve themselves through an oath, they shall be imprisoned or condemned to exile.


  1. Slavs should be subject to the same collection of punishments, or banished.


Happily enacted at Ranshofen. Amen.


  1. If, however, someone’s servant (servitor) has been charged with theft or some other crime, then he shall make satisfaction in the county in which the crime was observed.


  1. If he has committed murder, then the decree which was previously enacted should be followed.



* I am very grateful for the assistance of Stefan Esders, Robert Gallagher and Erik Niblaeus for their help in attempting to translate this particularly opaque clause.