Public houses and civic tensions in early modern Bern
Bars (Drinking establishments) -- Switzerland -- Bern -- History Social control -- Switzerland -- Bern -- History
This paper focuses on tensions associated with urban public houses in the Zwinglian Swiss republic of Bern. It discusses a wide range of conflicts over public houses, not only in the capital, but also the smaller dependent towns of the republic territory. Two main levels of tensions can be distinguished: 1) Within individual urban communities, there were frequent conflicts between traditional civic rights to sell alcohol and the authorities’ concern over threats to public order posed by too many drinking establishments. The latter was not unfounded, as a high proportion of violent crime resulted from challenges to personal honour in public houses. 2) Public houses also sparked disputes between dependent towns and the ruling city council of Bern. At stake here was the defence of local autonomy against increasing territorialization. From the sixteenth century, the council sought to regulate the hospitality trade from the centre, while urban communities emphasized the ancient right to supervise their own public houses.The paper contributes to the lively debate about the extent and success of ‘elite’ attempts to enhance social discipline in early modern historiography. It highlights the sustained defence of civic liberties in an increasingly polarized socio-political environment and the wider context of European state formation.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Urban stability and civic liberties: two fundamental concepts and the practice of crime control in early modern european cities (1400-1800)