Münster´s role during the Peace of Westphalia

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The municipal administration about 1640

In the 17th century about 10, 000 inhabitatants lived within the city walls of Münster; a steady stream of refugees raised the population to about 12, 000 during the war. Two mayors and 22 councellors were elected annually. A legal adviser was in charge of the city´s legal transactions. The municipal secretary was the head of the chancellory and was assisted by two town clerks. The guilds were influential and the city council took their advice into consideration. Two so called "Alderleute" (aldermen) directed the assembly guild. When negotiations toughened, the city council called in a citzen´s committee to solve the problem.

During the war

Münster was endangered only once during ther Thirty Years´ War: Duke Georg of Braunschweig-Lüneburg laid siege to the city in June and July of 1634, aided by troops from Lüneburg, Sweden and Hesse. His headquarters were in Amelsbüren. The siege was unsuccesssful and given up in mid July. This siege was to remain the only serious threat for Münster during the war. The surrounding countryside, however, was completely devastated. Farms and monasteries outside the city were attacked despite and during a "period of neutrality".

The city of peace negotiations

Münster and Osnabrück had already been chosen to be the designated sites for peace negotiations according to the preliminary treaty of Hamburg, concluded on Christmas, 1641. But these two cities were only considered neutral after they had been decreed as such by the "Reichshofrat" (an Imperial Aulic Councillor) Johann Krane before the council of Münster on May 27, 1643. In Osnabrück, Krane proclaimed the neutrality on June 4th. He also announced that Münster had to prepare itself for the arrival of an approximate 10 000 people, consisting of the official peace envoys and their retinue. But since not all of the envoys had as majestic a retinue as the Duc of Longueville, who was accompanied by about 160 escorts, servants and bodyguards, the number of newcomers stayed within reasonable limits.

For the time of the negotiations Münster was freed from its obligations toward the emperor and the state government of the prince-bishop. The city obtained jurisdiction over the ambassadors´ "lower" personel. Johann von Reumont who had been a colonel was appointed town major. He was in charge of four companies, a total of 12oo men, the commanders of which had been sworn in by the city. Reumont was also in command of the "Bürgerfahnen" (brigades of armed citizens) who watched over the city and assisted its ceremonies.

The police authority was given to the city adjutant who also commanded the mounted council servants and gatekeepers. The so called "Bottmeister" were responsible for the surveillance of strangers and beggars as well as for street cleaning and the proclamation of municipal resolutions.

At the beginning of the negotiations a post office was opened on Prinzipalmarkt ( the central street in the heart of Münster), because time and again did the negotiating parties have to send horsemen to the respective cities to inform each other about their resolutions and procurations.

But the royal charters did not necessarily guarantee the safety of the horsemen who carried them, and many a messenger was anxiously and longingly awaited. The round trip to Paris, for example, lasted 10 days; a trip to Madrid could last up to 40 days.

The slowness of the means of communication and the duration of theses trips were some of the reasons the negotiations stretched over such a long period of time. The communication among the envoys in Münster, however, was furthermore hindered by a strict protocol which rivaled the tediousness of the trips to the cities. The participants of the negotiations did not assemble in one large room, as Gerhard Ter Borch´s painting suggests; instead, countless talks between only some of the envoys and one or two mediators, were much more common.

For the entertainment of their cosmopolitan guests the city council gathered showmen, tightrope walkers, acrobats and comedians. There was a public lottery called the "Glückshafen" (lucky port), there were countless shows and events in music and dance and many receptions. "Reichshofrat" Krane had provided for special housing facilities for the "easygoing womenfolk". Despite all these distractions and the luxurious accommodations, the delegates, in particular those from the Mediterranean countries, had a hard time adjusting to Münster´s cold climate and frugal nutrition.

Regular food supply to Münster was problematic. In order to control the price trend, the city council fixed the meat price, supervised free trade and set up food stands. Fish, meat and vegetables were sold at separate marketplaces; butter and cheese had their own stands. But both the steady flow of strangers and refugees and the compulsory transit duty for the belligerent parties raised the food prices despite the city´s efforts to control the price trend. Thus, Münster became one of the most expensive cities in Germany.


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