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Frederick I Barbarossa:
Affirmation of the Right of a Priest to Make a Will, 1165

In this case of a controversy about an inheritance in movable goods, an appeal was made to the Emperor. His decision in favor of the right of the clergy to make a will is explained in the document itself. This decision would apply to all people under the jurisdiction of the Emperor.

In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Frederick, by divine favor, Emperor of the Romans, ever Augustus.

l. Just as it is certainly held both by human and by divine law to be definitely criminal that any one either by tyrannical violence or by any other detestable craftiness should attempt any damage or harm to the Holy Church of God, which prepares us for our heritage of divine adoption, so everyone, who takes up its defense, advancement, and liberty provides for himself certain hope of remuneration in the presence of that Tremendous Judge. Wherefore be it known to all the faithful of Christ and of our empire, both the living and their posterity, that a certain canon of St. Paul's in Worms, Werner by name, being on a bed of sickness, when he had already despaired of life and the question of his last will was already before him, having called together some of his fellow canons and his mother and the rest of his relatives, made his will and distributed his movable goods to every church in Worms, and to his mother and to whomsoever else he wished both for the good of his soul and for charity's sake, and, no one contradicting the donation, he died. It happened afterwards that Gundolffus, the stepfather of the deceased, namely the husband of his mother, by reason of the inheritance which fell to the mother, whose lawful master he was, with malignant zeal, demanded everything formerly ordained by the will and strove in every way to break the will, claiming, as the law taught, that no one on a bed of sickness could leave any of his goods or movables without the consent of his heirs, except five solidi. Wherefore he oftentimes complained against the church of Worms but the case was not settled.

2. At length when we were at Worms holding solemn court, the said case between lay and cleric, each holding different opinions on the matter, was for a long time aired in our presence. When a final opinion was sought from both cleric and layman, the cleric claimed that the last will of a clergyman concerning his movable goods should be fixed and unbroken, which opinion the layman contradicted. And so after a long altercation about the case and continual equivocation about the matter involved, the cleric, with the consent of the canons, proved from the laws of the emperors and the decrees of the Roman pontiffs that the said will should remain fixed and should not be made void by any infraction.

3. We, therefore, following in the footsteps of our great imperial predecessors, Constantine the Great, Justinian, Valentinian, Charlemagne, and Louis, and respecting their sacred laws as divine edicts, are not ashamed to imitate the Emperor Constantine who decreed concerning Holy Church and her goods and privileges: "Everyone when dying shall have freedom to leave what he wishes and his decisions shall not be broken. For there is nothing more due to men than that the writing of their last will be unshackled, because they cannot make another, and their decision should stand because they cannot return again."

4. Also we revive the sacred law of the Emperor Valentinian written to the pretorian prefect Palladius. "If any one at any time makes his will or adds a codicil according to law, or names a sole heir, executor, or trustee, either by reason of death or by any other last decision or by reason of a certain plenty while alive, or by contract of sale or gift, or by any other title whatever, and should wish to leave to the said venerable church his patrimony or a part of his patrimony in estates, farms, houses or rents, serfs, coloni and their cattle, his decisions shall be kept unbroken without any change."

5. Having heard these sacred laws and decrees of Charlemagne and Louis, who were about equally zealous for the nurture of divine religion and the Catholic Faith, we have decreed that the will of the venerable cleric of the church of Worms concerning his movable goods, what he wished to leave to any one, church or person, in his last will, either for the remedy of his soul, or out of respect for any one, and his right to make a will with the testimony of at least two of his brothers---We decree that this shall assuredly remain fixed forever.


Monumenta Germaniae Historiae, Legum, L. Weiland, ed., (Hanover, 1893), Sectio IV,

Tome I, pp. 321-322; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 339-340.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, October 1998


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