1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aulic Council

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AULIC COUNCIL (Reichshofrat), an organ of the Holy Roman Empire, originally intended for executive work, but acting chiefly as a judicature, which worked from 1497 to 1806. In the early middle ages the emperor had already his consiliarii; but his council was a fluctuating body of personal advisers. In the 14th century there first arose an official council, with permanent and paid members, many of whom were legists. Its business was largely executive, and it formed something of a ministry; but it had also to deal with petitions addressed to the king, and accordingly it acted as a supreme court of judicature. It was thus parallel to the king’s council, or concilium continuum, of medieval England; while by its side, during the 15th century, stood the Kammergericht, composed of the legal members of the council, in much the same way as the Star Chamber stood beside the English council. But the real history of the Aulic Council, as that term was understood in the later days of the Empire, begins with Maximilian I. in 1497–1498. In these years Maximilian created three organs (apparently following the precedent set by his Burgundian ancestors in the Netherlands)—a Hofrat, a Hofkammer for finance, and a Hofkanzlei. Primarily intended for the hereditary dominions of Maximilian, these bodies were also intended for the whole Empire; and the Hofrat was to deal with “all and every business which may flow in from the Empire, Christendom at large, or the king’s hereditary principalities.” It was thus to be the supreme executive and judicial organ, discharging all business except that of finance and the drafting of documents; and it was intended to serve Maximilian as a point d’appui for the monarchy against the system of oligarchical committees, instituted by Berthold, archbishop of Mainz. But it was difficult to work such a body both for the Empire and for the hereditary principalities; and under Ferdinand I. it became an organ for the Empire alone (circ. 1558), the hereditary principalities being removed from its cognizance. As such an imperial organ, its composition and powers were fixed by the treaty of Westphalia of 1648. (1) It consisted of about 20 members—a president, a vice-president, the vice-chancellor of the Empire, and some 18 other members. These came partly from the Empire at large, partly (and in greater numbers) from the hereditary lands of the emperor. There were two benches, one of the nobles, one of doctors of civil law; six of the members must be Protestants. The council followed the person of the emperor, and was therefore stationed at Vienna; it was paid by the emperor, and he nominated its members, whose office terminated with his life—an arrangement which made the council more dependent than it should have been on the emperor’s will. (2) Its powers were nominally both executive and judicial. (a) Its executive powers were small: it gradually lost everything except the formal business of investiture with imperial fiefs and the confirmation of charters, its other powers being taken over by the Geheimräte. These Geheimräte, a narrow body of secret counsellors, had already become a determinate concilium by 1527; and though at first only concerned with foreign affairs, they acquired, from the middle of the 16th century onwards, the power of dealing with imperial affairs in lieu of the Aulic Council. (b) In its judicial aspect, the Aulic Council, exercising the emperor’s judicial powers on his behalf, and thus succeeding, as it were, to the old Kammergericht, had exclusive cognizance of matters relating to imperial fiefs, criminal charges against immediate vassals of the Empire, imperial charters, Italian affairs, and cases “reserved” for the emperor. In all other matters, the Aulic Council was a competitor for judicial work with the Imperial Chamber[1] (Reichskammergericht, a tribunal dating from the great diet of Worms of 1495: see under Imperial Chamber). It was determined in 1648 that the one of these two judicial authorities which first dealt with a case should alone have competence to pursue it. An appeal lay from the decision of the council to the emperor, and judgment on appeal was given by those members of the council who had not joined in the original decision, though in important cases they might be afforced by members of the diet. Neither the council nor the chamber could deal with cases of outlawry, except to prepare such cases for the decision of the diet. To-day the archives of the Aulic Council are in Vienna, though parts of its records have been given to the German states which they concern.

Authorities.—R. Schröder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1904), gives the main facts; S. Adler, Die Organisation der Centralverwaltung unter Maximilian I. (Leipzig, 1886), deals with Maximilian’s reorganization of the Council; and J. St. Pütter, Historische Entwickelung der heutigen Staatsverfassung des Teutschen Reichs (Göttingen, 1798–1799), may be consulted for its development and later form.  (E. Br.) 

  1. The Aulic Council is the private court of the emperor, with its members nominated by him; the Imperial Chamber is the public court of the Empire, with its members nominated by the estates of the Empire.