Free Imperial Cities
Free Imperial Cities (Freie Reichsstadte), German towns which were immediately under the Emperor, which exercised free jurisdiction within their territories, and which had an independent position in the Diet or Assembly of the Empire. Their privileges were acquired either by special grant, by purchase, or by force of arms. Their numbers fluctuated considerably, as they were liable to lose their position in the same way as they had gained it. For some time they were judicially under imperial officers, a Reichsvogt, or imperial criminal judge, and a Reichsschultheiss, or imperial civil procurator. These officers they subsequently elected themselves; and the authority of the Emperor, except on special occasions, became merely nominal. At the Diet of Augsburg (1454) the Free Cities were divided into two benches, the Rhenish and the Suabian; and at the peace of Westphalia (1648) they were formed into the third collegium of the Imperial Diet. At the time of the French Revolution they numbered fifty-one, Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, Frankfort-on-the-Main, Hamburg, Bremen, and Worms, being the chief among the Rhenish cities; and Ratisbon, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Ulm, among the Suabian. On the dissolution of the Empire in 1806, Augsburg and Nuremberg went to Bavaria, and Frankfort became the capital of the Confederation of the Rhine. The latter regained her freedom in 1815, but lost it in 1866, since which time Hamburg, Lubeck, and Bremen have been the only Free Imperial Cities. These last have now, by joining the Imperial Customs' Union (Zollverein), surrendered the title so far as financial matters are concerned.