FANDOM


Law in the Empire is a complicated, arcane art. It is said that mastery of the law is secondary only to the study of magic in its difficulty. In Sigmar's time, the law was a simple mixture of tribal custom and "might is right." As the Empire developed, the first property laws came into being—to protect the feudal lords, not the ordinary people. It is not until recent times, and the rise of the middle class, that the law has moved away from this tradition, and become a matter of statutory rights.[1a]

Generally speaking, wherever one commits a crime, there will be two or more competing and conflicting systems of law. The ordered statutes of free towns and cities compete with the rough justice of the roadwardens. The vagaries of religious law vie with guild law for primacy. The word of a noble often brings down a death sentence, whilst the unwritten rules of the thieves' guilds are an unseen influence upon criminals and victims alike. The result is a morass of conflicting jurisdictions that can leave a case hanging for weeks, if not months or even years. Given the complexity of the law and its procedures, the old Reiklander saying rings true: "I keep my enemies close, and my lawyer closer."[1a]

Overview

In theory, the Emperor is free to make whatever laws and regulations he or she wishes and have it apply to the whole of the Empire. The truth is more nuanced, for laws must pass the review of the Prime Estates, who report to the Electors. A bad report is often all the excuse an Elector needs to quietly not enforce the law or deny it altogether, in times of a weak emperor. In such cases, the Emperor, if he is determined to see the law obeyed, will exercise diplomatic and even public pressure on the recalcitrant Elector to come to heel. Often this is enough to gain grudging acceptance. But, if the Elector is determined, an Emperor may claim peremptory jurisdiction and have the case heard in his own courts. In rare cases, continued defiance by an Elector may merit military action, as Karl Franz's ancestor Wilhelm threatened against Elector Gunnwald of Averland in the case of the Pudding Tax Revolt of 2433 IC.[1a]

Imperial Law concerns itself mostly with revenues, security from foreign and internal threats, the regulation of sorcery, and the rooting out of Chaos cults. Many Emperors have claimed jurisdiction over the succession to Electoral thrones when the succession is in dispute, and even the right in extreme cases to depose Electors, elevate new families to the Electoral rank, and even give whole provinces to another Elector, as was the case with Drakwald under Emperor Mandred. Though rooted in ancient law and the precedent set by Sigmar himself, no Elector formally acknowledges this right and all resist it in any but the direst cases, lest a lasting precedent be set.[1a]

Imperial courts exist in all the major cities of the Empire, including the capitals of the Grand Provinces, with judges appointed by the Emperor through the office of the Imperial Attorney-General. Because of conflicting jurisdictions and traditions dating back thousands of years, however, these courts often find themselves in conflict with local bodies. It is not an uncommon site to see Imperial court sessions in the provinces interrupted by Provincial bailiffs armed with a writ giving them authority over the case, leading to extended wrangling while the defendant or parties to a civil case swing in the wind.[1a][1b]

Provincial Law

Law in the Grand Provinces is the purview of the respective Elector. Like the Emperor above, each may issue any needed laws and expect to have them obeyed, though traditions vary from province to province. Autocratic provinces such as Talabecland and Nordland rest all authority in the Elector Count, who knows no check on his power save tradition and the opinions of his lower nobles and notable advisors, informally expressed. Others are more democratic in their rule, such as the Reikland, where the Emperor (and Elector) Mattheus established a parliament at Castle Reikguard in which nobles, high cult officials, and prominent burghers are allowed to advise and consent to provincial laws and taxes, and which also functions as a court of appeals. Even here, however, the Elector Count of Reikland has the final say.[1b]

Law in the provinces concerns itself with civil and criminal matters: crimes against property and persons, and civil suits. In rural areas, feudal law still rules and an offender may be held and bound over for trial at the manorial court of the local lord. In the north and east, hearings take place before the local noble or his bailiff. In the south and west, there is a tradition of jury trials with any handy adult eligible to serve. Thus, people may well find themselves bound by a baron's bailiff to serve on a jury just when they had planned to rob a nearby tomb! Failure to appear, of course, is itself a felony. Appeals are allowed in all areas, but can sometimes take months to be heard, by which time over-enthusiastic local officials may have carried out the sentence.[1b]

There are many, many laws on the provinces' books; so many that the poor average citizen is left scratching his head in confusion and frustration, wondering which applies and if it’s all some scheme to make lawyers wealthy. Indeed, the city-state of Talabheim, known for being hide-bound by tradition, has precedent books going back to the time of the Founding, and each is lovingly consulted and added to by legal officials. The contradictions in them matter not, for "the lore is the law."[1b]

Specialty Courts

The Empire and its provinces have not created a host of speciality courts, unlike the burghers of Marienburg. Most matters are heard in the normal court system, and criminal and civil cases are often heard one right after the other by the same magistrates. There are a few specialty courts in the Imperial system, however, and this section briefly touches on these.[1b]

Petty Courts

At the low end of the scale for criminal offences, Watch sergeants and captains will adjudicate minor offences such as drunkenness and public brawling in "petty courts" held at the local Watch post. Punishment is typically a fine of from 1 shilling to one crown, and corporal punishment is restricted to a sacking or five lashes. Crimes eligible for greater punishment must be referred to a regular court, with the defendant held for trial. Watchmen who do not feel the matter even warrants bringing to the attention of a Petty Court will issue a spot fine—usually when they feel in the need of a little beer money.[1b]

Guild Courts

Trade guilds have an interest in retaining the public trust, even though they almost certainly have a monopoly on their craft in their particular area. Shoddy workmanship hurts the reputation of the guild, and enough complaints could lead a local ruler to award rights to competitors—something horrifying to every good merchant! And, while apprentices can be a wild, unruly, and immoral lot, it is in the guilds’ interests to rein in those masters who are excessive in their "corrections" and those who do not meet their obligations to their apprentices.[1b]

Guild courts thus evolved as a way for the guilds to police themselves, lest the secular authorities be tempted themselves to closely supervise guild activities. A board of masters, headed by the guild grandmaster in serious cases, will hear charges against a member and issue punishments, ranging from fines and restitution to a loss of apprentices and expulsion from the guild, the last costing the defendant his right to practice the trade at all. The process of expelling a person from a guild confers great shame upon the shunned member. Depending on the quality of the guild, this "black-balling" procedure either involves the guild masters sending round an expulsion note sealed with black wax, or a short, extremely violent exchange round the back of the docks, warehouse, smithy, etc.[1b]

Temple Courts

Most trials for heresy, blasphemy, and offences against a cult's property or its god are tried in public courts. The public enjoys a good spectacle, and an infamous trial for heresy that ends in conviction and burning can have a salutary effect on public morality. In these cases, the cults are content to let the Crown (Electoral or Imperial) prosecutors handle the case with advice from the cults.[1b][1c]

Some cases, however, are too sensitive, embarrassing, or horrifying to let out before the public—or other arms of the government, for that matter. For these special crimes, such as when a priest falls to the worship of one of the Ruinous Powers—the crime of apostasy—discreet "temple courts" will be convened under the auspices of the high priest of the temple, or his superior, should the high priest be the one on trial. Chances for a defendant brought before a temple court are not good, for the presumption of guilt weighs even more heavily in temple courts. Their secretive nature leads to punishments that can be kept out of the public eye, such as immurement in the catacombs of the temple or an isolated monastery, or strangulation followed by beheading and burial.[1c]

Law Enforcement

Working against the thieves, racketeers, cultists, murderers, and other scum of the Empire are its various law enforcement bodies: from the Empire-wide jurisdiction of the Inquisition, through the agents of the various departments such as the provincial Excise, and down to the local watchmen. Bounty hunters and local nobility have their roles, too, acting privately when higher authorities cannot or will not. This section examines law enforcement in the Empire and provides rules for holding trials.

Roadwardens

Roadwardens are, in essence, the watchmen of the countryside, patrolling rural roads and checking on lonely inns and farmsteads. They act in the service of a higher authority, whether chartered town, noble, or even an Elector, to keep that authority’s lands free of outlaws and other dangers. Unlike watchmen, they are often empowered to mete out justice on the spot, holding informal courts at nearby inns or village halls, or even on the road at the scene of the crime. With their resources spread thin in these troubled times, roadwardens often succumb to the temptation to deal summary justice with only the most cursory of hearings, often ending in a hangman's noose.

Witch Hunters

The witch hunters were originally created by the Grand Theogonist Siebold II to act as a bulwark against Chaos and daemon-worshippers. Acting undercover throughout the Empire but bearing a letter of commission with the Grand Theogonist's seal on it, the witch hunters became feared agents of an anti-Chaos inquisition that could reach even to the heights of the Electoral thrones, as when the Elector Count Konrad von Blutheim of Wissenland was revealed as a servant of Khorne in 2011. Their battle atop the highest tower of the palace in Wissenberg is still commemorated in verse and in the local toast, "Look out below!"[1c]

But many Electors and priests of other cults feared the witch hunters and the power they gave the Grand Theogonists. When Magnus the Pious came to the throne, he defused the issue by taking the witch hunters under the Emperor's own authority and charging them to work for the "safety and good of all the Empire, and in the name of all the cults." Since then, they have been a secular arm of the state, though many of their members have religious training. Their headquarters is a forbidding building just a few hundred yards from the Cathedral of Sigmar in Altdorf, with a prison beneath it. Many have entered over the centuries, but few have ever exited—alive.[1c]

The writ of a witch hunter supersedes any local authorities, though a powerful noble or clergyman may be able to defy them in a case of jurisdiction. While not the paranoid maniacs of children's tales, willing to burn a person for looking cross-eyed, the job of witch hunters makes them naturally suspicious and prone to using more force than is needed. It is important to make sure the job is done right, after all.[1c]

Odd Laws of the Empire

In its over 2500 years of existence, the Empire and its provinces have accumulated hundreds of laws that are outdated, contradictory, bizarre, and just plain annoying. Presented here are a baker's half-dozen.[1a]

“No Halfling shall enjoy freedom to come and go at will in Larswald, unless accompanied by their master or wearing their master’s livery.” Passed in 2111 in Averheim, after the then-wealthy Larswald district had suffered a rash of burglaries.[1a]

“All horses shall have their hindquarters covered in cloth when traversing the public streets.” A 24th century law of Middenheim, passed after the Graf had put his foot in the wrong place one too many times. Never enforced after a coachmen's strike and riot, which the Knights Panther refused to put down.[1a]

“Ships berthed at the docks known as ‘Empress Annette’s Quays’ shall pay two shillings per foot of length per day to dock there,” and, separately, “all ships are required to dock at the Empress Annette Quays, unless no room is available.” Issued in Altdorf in 2398 on behalf of the business partner of a court official, who owned warehouses in the district and hired a Halfling exciseman. It is now a rundown and dangerous area.[1a]

“All persons entering the town may carry no weapon longer than a short sword. To do otherwise shall be considered proof of conspiracy to commit mayhem.” Law of Pfeildorf, dated 1977 but rarely enforced, issued after a particularly savage riot at the end of a match between supporters of two sporting clubs.[1a]

“Singing shall be limited to hymns of praise for Lord Sigmar in all taverns for the first three hours after sunset. Fine for violation, 1 Crown per singer, or closure.” Law passed in Nuln in the 2200s during the reign of Albrecht the Pious, sometimes used by the watch to shut down overly rowdy taverns and inns.[1a]

“The River Stir is forbidden to rise higher than the bottom of the Grossweg Bridge.” Wurtbad law passed in wake of the Great Flood of 1512. No instances of enforcement recorded.[1a]

“Any Dwarf has the right of way on public highways during the month of Sigmarzeit.” Averlander law promulgated in the 9th century in honour of the close relationship between King Kurgan and Sigmar. Often only cited by drunken or obnoxious Dwarfs.[1a]

Source

  • 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Sigmar's Heirs
    • 1a: pg. 29
    • 1b: pg. 30
    • 1c: pg. 31

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.