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Lenzen an der Elbe: Town Law with Hanseatic References

Lenzen, which is favorably situated for shipping traffic between the Elbe and Elde rivers directly on the Löcknitz, adopted the law of the town of Salzwedel in the Middle Ages. When exactly this act of transfer took place cannot be determined with certainty. From the available written sources, however, the time period can be narrowed down. In 1219, the Brandenburg Margrave Albrecht II (r. 1205–1220) gave Lenzen as a fief to Count Heinrich von Schwerin († 1228), with which he intended to secure his allegiance and military support.[1] Already in 1237, Lenzen was in possession of the two counts Heinrich (r. 1233–1237) and Bernhard von Dannenberg (r. 1227–1266), who in that year exempted the citizens of Lübeck from trade taxes in their entire dominion, with the exception of the usual customs duties. This happened with explicit mention of Lenzen, Dannenberg and Dömitz.[2] At this time, a considerable settlement with market traffic must have already formed around the castle of Lenzen, which received municipal rights either still under the counts of Schwerin or only from the Dannenbergers. When, at the latest in 1252, the Margrave of Brandenburg, now Otto III (r. 1220–1267), again came to Lenzen, the place was named civitas, i.e. town, in the confirmation document of the same year.[3]

Otto III conceded the same rights to the citizens of Lenzen as all other Brandenburg towns had, including exemption from customs duties in his margraviate territory. In addition, the town was to enjoy the same rights and all freedoms with regard to the rivers Elbe and Elde as it already had under the counts Günzel von Schwerin († 1274) and Bernhard von Dannenberg. Both counts can thus be credited with promoting the urban development of Lenzen. Finally, Margrave Otto confirmed another privilege that was obviously significant for the citizens of Lenzen, according to which the town was allowed to follow the legal customs of Salzwedel and to seek legal advice there.

In this way, it becomes evident that the citizens of Lenzen made use of the Salzwedel law for themselves. Presumably, the majority of the town’s inhabitants came from the Altmark region around Salzwedel and thus advocated the adoption of the town’s legal customs there. A striking difference to the Magdeburg law existed above all with regard to inheritance law regulations and legal principles concerning trade. The connection to Salzwedel also resulted in close contact with cities of the Hanseatic League, such as Hamburg, Lübeck and Rostock, and Lenzen citizens possessed far-reaching networks. The Hamburg debt book of 1288 illustrates this fact[4] since it contains a number of entries, which are connected with money transactions of Lenzen citizens. Accordingly, for example, the trade contacts of Johann von Gorne from Lenzen resulted in family ties to the important Hamburg family Miles, whose members were often active in the town council.[5]

Business relationships and family connections were inextricably interwoven. Salzwedel law also provided a significant basis for contacts, as it had many references to the town laws of the Hanseatic towns on the North Sea and Baltic Sea. In mutual exchange, the towns could rely on similar legal customs, which enabled a higher degree of consensus in everyday dealings with each other and facilitated agreements. For example, through clever policies of their council, Lenzen citizens possessed extensive selling and trading rights in the Hanseatic area. An important commodity shipped there was oak wood, which was cut in the so-called Kuhblank near Lenzen and transported as wagenshot sawn wooden planks (lignorum wagenshot).[6] In addition to wood, Brandenburg grain was an essential commodity shipped north from Lenzen on the Löcknitz, Elde and Elbe rivers. Among the business friends of the citizens of Lenzen in Hamburg were merchants from Flanders. The already mentioned Johannes von Gorne, for example, was in business relations with Jacob von Wedde from Utrecht and promised him the repayment of a monetary debt on July 21, 1295.[7]

Beyond their preferred market town of Hamburg, citizens of Lenzen were in contact with other Hanseatic towns, acquired goods here and sometimes settled there. This often resulted in legal transactions that required settlement between the towns, as can be seen from a document from 1414 preserved in the Tallinn city archives. It states that Claus Ditleves, a citizen of Lenzen, was the brother and heir of Heinrich Ditleves, who had died in Lübeck and was a citizen of Reval, now called Tallinn, and had legitimate claims to property in Reval. In order to be able to take them over, the Lenzen council turned to Reval and confirmed the origin of Claus Ditleves with the request to give him the possessions of his brother.[8] In a typical way, here it is demonstrated that regulations of inheritance processes were an important competence of medieval town councils.

Whether Lenzen, like Salzwedel, oriented itself more strongly to Stendal or Brandenburg law in the late Middle Ages in the course of the consolidation of rule within the margraviate of Brandenburg is not proven due to the lack of sources, but it is obvious, especially since the connection to the Hanseatic League also loosened significantly in the transition to the 16th century.

Author: Sascha Bütow
(English translation: Uli Nickel)



[1] Verein für mecklenburgische Geschichte und Altertumskunde (ed.), Mecklenburgisches Urkundenbuch, vol. 1: 768–1250, Schwerin 1863, no. 251, p. 251.

[2] Ibid., no. 466, p. 463.

[3] Adolf Friedrich Riedel (ed.), Codex Diplomaticus Brandenburgensis, series A, vol. 25, Berlin 1863, no. 3, p. 2.

[4] Erich von Lehe (reviser), Das hamburgische Schuldbuch von 1288 (=Veröffentlichungen aus dem Staatsarchiv der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg 4), Hamburg 1956.

[5] Cf. Erich von Lehe, Hamburgs Verbindungen zu Kaufleuten der Prignitz in der frühen Hansezeit, in: Prignitz-Forschungen 1 (1966), pp. 57–71, here p. 62.

[6] Sascha Bütow, Die brandenburgische Binnenschifffahrt auf Klein- und Nebenflüssen im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert, in: Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Prignitz 11 (2011), pp. 5–92, here p. 82.

[7] Erich von Lehe (reviser), Das hamburgische Schuldbuch (same as note 4), p. 89.

[8] Tallinn, Magistratsarchiv, TLA.230.1I. 529.


Cite as:

Sascha Bütow, Lenzen an der Elbe: Town Law with Hanseatic References, in: Magdeburg Law. A building block of modern Europe, 04/12/2023, https://magdeburg-law.com/historic-city/lenzen-elbe/