The Walser legislation

It was an issue whether the special legal status of the Walser in relation other alpine nations was an inheritance from Valais or a colonists’ legislation that had been acquired later. In it can be read repeatedly “sicut est illorum consuetude”. But because of Liver’s analyses Zinsli and Ilg conclude that the Walser legislation was the legislation of colonists.

The Walser acquired their new home under favourable circumstances: they lived under the protection of the landlord, retained or gained their personal freedom, took over land and property of the lord as free hereditary leasehold, executed the “lower jurisdiction” in every self-governing community and served as Freie.

The rights of the colonists was not everywhere as unlimited as in the Walser regions of Vorarlberg. It sounds odd that the cleavage between the bondage farmers and the free Walser mountain farmers was so enormous. A Walser was free in the sense that he was not bound to land or its lord. He disposed of the full right to retreat. He did not have to pay a bondage tax or any other serfs’ duties. He did not need to perform statute labour, was not subject to any marriage restrictions and agreed to serve as a Freier which obliged him to defend his landlord’s land. The free hereditary leasehold was a contract of lease between the landlord and the settler who paid a yearly interest which had been set jointly. The hereditary leasehold was not limited temporally; it could be sold, leased out or inherited. Statements proving this can be found in the feudal letter of 1289 for the Walser in Davos and in the contract of hereditary lease over the “Alpe Ragaz” from 1346.

Every Walser community had its own juridical authority. It was presided over by the so called Ammann. The feudal lord only reserved the “Malefizsachen”, the blood-right to himself.

In 1453, the Walser in Tannberg and Mittelberg lost their own jurisdiction. They rose up against the Habsburgs and captured and abused two negotiators of the archduke Sigmund. The archduke had to free his delegates with the force of arms. He suppressed the people from Tannenberg and Mittelberg and forced them to abjure all their former rights. Under the emperor Maximilian the Walser regained all of their rights and in 1563, the people from Mittelberg received their own court and thus became independent from Tannenberg.

The Walser in the county Blumenegg resigned all their rights voluntarily in 1526 and went into serfdom. The mostly unfree peasants in Walgau defied persistently the growing inflow of Walser from the nearby regions of the Großes Walsertal. A great disadvantage for the people from the Großwalsertal was an order by the earl of Werdenberg stating that the Walser lost their rights buying land from farmers in bondage.

Over the centuries, the privileged Walser legislation lost in value as the serfdom of the farmers in the country had to be reduced facing the landlords’ great concessions for the Walser. Eventually, it only remained by name.

The Walser in the county Blumenegg could prevail just as litte; they put themselves under the rule of the Austrian administrator of Bludenz and abandoned the special Walser jurisdiction.

In 1805, all Walser courts were dissolved.

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