Ad referendum

Zur Funktionsweise hansischer Versammlungen 1370-1453


  • Dorothea Rettig



The history of parliaments is not limited to their deliberations and acts. It must also embrace their procedure. Despite all differences, the Diet was the Hanse’s parliament. One of its salient procedures was ad referendum, by which the representatives of one or more towns declared themselves unable to say yea or nay to a particular proposal before consulting their town council. A number of scholars have viewed ad referendum as a means of delaying (and thus frustrating) a resolution which was unpalatable to them (commonly for selfish and parochial reasons), thus elevating ad referendum to the slightly disreputable status of a filibuster in the United States Senate, but with the difference that it was, in the end, disastrous for the Hanse. However, scholars have yet to reach a consensus on the precise meaning and significance of ad referendum. This paper analyzes ad referendum between the Peace of Stralsund (1370) and the beginning of the Thirteen Years’ War (1453) with particular regard to the Prussian Hanseatic towns. Four issues are addressed. 1) How was ad referendum designated in the sources? 2) What topics galvanized town representatives to employ ad referendum? 3) Were these matters in fact subsequently debated by the Prussian assemblies of towns and estates? 4) Does the analysis of two selected Diets (Lübeck 1383, Lüneburg 1412) and the corresponding Prussian assemblies shed more light on the procedure? The paper concludes that ad referendum allowed town representatives provisionally to approve a common resolution, but combine that with an appeal for understanding that one was unable to pass a resolution which affected the rights of third parties without consulting them and obtaining their approval. The interpretation of ad referendum by some scholars, namely that it was consciously employed to torpedo unpalatable resolutions and ultimately paralyzed the Diet, can therefore be ruled out of court.