The Forgotten WismarTribunal

David Mevius (1609-1670). Photo: Wikipedia.

The official inauguration of the Royal-Swedish Tribunal in Wismar on 17 May 1653 was a festive occasion. The Wismar Tribunal (Wismarer Tribunal) was the highest court of appeal of the Swedish territories on German soil.  The Swedish Crown acquired West Pommern (VorPommern) and other territories, (including the cities Stettin, Stralsund, Greifswald, the bishopries of Bremen-Verden and Hamburg and the city of Wismar and the districts Poel and Neukloster) as an outcome of the  Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

The Swedish Crown wanted to have a Supreme Court to unify the acquired territories and to strengthen Swedish identity. Monarchs had a clear concept of the importance of an independent judiciary in the seventeenth century, not just for the sake of legal security, legal unity and protection of individuals, but also as (political) unifying tool. Until the acquisition in 1648, the Supreme Courts of the Holy Roman Empire (the Reichskammergericht and the Reichshofrat) were the highest courts of appeal for these territories.  The ambitions of the Swedish Crown became clear by the festivities on May 17th, 1653. A procession from the market square to the Fürstenhof (the seat of the Tribunal) with numerous representatives of the Swedish and German nobility and activities such as dance, music and other performances introduced the official beginning of the Tribunal.

The court was evacuated twice (1675-1680 and 1716-1720), faced financial difficulties and moved to Stralsund and Greifswald (1802-1803). The court was dissolved at the end of Swedish rule in 1803. The contribution to the European court system, however, is obvious. Talented and committed judges presided the court and the years until 1700 presented one of the most sophisticated European supreme courts. The library should be mentioned in particular. Courts didn´t have their own library.  Judges, legal scholars and advocates had possessed libraries however and the Wismar Tribunal acquired the library from David Mevius (1609-1670). Mevius was from German origin, but he had joint the diplomatic Swedish service after 1648. In 1653 he became vice-president of the Wismar Tribunal until his death in 1670. His fame is not only based on his legal library, but also on the procedural rules he drafted (Tribunalsordnung 1657) and his collection of case law (decisiones).  The case law collection of Mevius was available throughout Europe and used by legal practitioners, scholars and students in law. (source: Dr. N. Jörn, ‘Die Stadt Wismar und “ihr” Tribunal’ in Wismarer Beiträge, Heft 15 (Wismar 2003).