German Culture Past and Present
by Ernest Belfort Bax
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The impatience of the prince, the prelate, the noble, and the wealthy burgher at the restraints which the system of the Middle Ages placed upon his activity as an individual in the acquisition for his own behoof, and the disposal at his own pleasure, of wealth, regardless of the consequences to his neighbour, found expression, and a powerful lever, in the introduction from Italy of the Roman law in place of the old canon and customary law of Europe. The latter never regarded the individual as an independent and autonomous entity, but invariably treated him with reference to a group or social body, of which he might be the head or merely a subordinate member; but in any case the filaments of custom and religious duty attached him to a certain humanity outside himself, whether it were a village community, a guild, a township, a province, or the empire. The idea of a right to individual autonomy in his dealings with men never entered into the mediaeval man's conception. Hence the mere possession of property was not recognized by mediaeval law as conferring any absolute rights in its holder to its unregulated use, and the basis of the mediaeval notions of property was the association of responsibility and duty with ownership. In other words, the notion of trust was never completely divorced from that of possession.

The Roman law rested on a totally different basis. It represented the legal ethics of a society on most of its sides brutally and crassly individualistic. That that society had come to an end instead of evolving to its natural conclusion—a developed capitalistic individualism such as exists to-day—was due to the weakness of its economic basis, owing to the limitation at that time of man's power over Nature, which deprived it of recuperative and defensive force, thereby leaving it a prey not only to internal influences of decay but also to violent destructive forces from without. Nevertheless, it left a legacy of a ready-made legal system to serve as an implement for the first occasion when economic conditions should be once more ready for progress to resume the course of individualistic development, abruptly brought to an end by the fall of ancient civilization as crystallized in the Roman Empire.

The popular courts of the village, of the mark, and of the town, which had existed up to the beginning of the sixteenth century with all their ancient functions, were extremely democratic in character. Cases were decided on their merits, in accordance with local custom, by a body of jurymen chosen from among the freemen of the district, to whom the presiding functionaries, most of whom were also of popular selection, were little more than assessors. The technicalities of a cut-and-dried system were unknown. The Catholic-Germanic theory of the Middle Ages proper, as regards the civil power in all its functions, from the highest downward, was that of the mere administrator of justice as such; whereas the Roman law regarded the magistrate as the vicegerent of the princeps or imperator, in whose person was absolutely vested as its supreme embodiment the whole power of the State. The Divinity of the Emperors was a recognition of this fact; and the influence of the Roman law revived the theory as far as possible under the changed conditions, in the form of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings—a doctrine which was totally alien to the Catholic feudal conception of the Middle Ages. This doctrine, moreover, received added force from the Oriental conception of the position of the ruler found in the Old Testament, from which Protestantism drew so much of its inspiration.

But apart from this aspect of the question, the new juridical conception involved that of a system of rules as the crystallized embodiment of the abstract "State," given through its representatives, which could under no circumstances be departed from, and which could only be modified in their operation by legal quibbles that left to them their nominal integrity. The new law could therefore only be administered by a class of men trained specially for the purpose, of which the plastic customary law borne down the stream of history from primitive times, and insensibly adapting itself to new conditions but understood in its broader aspects by all those who might be called to administer it, had little need. The Roman law, the study of which was started at Bologna in the twelfth century, as might naturally be expected, early attracted the attention of the German Emperors as a suitable instrument for use on emergencies. But it made little real headway in Germany itself as against the early institutions until the fifteenth century, when the provincial power of the princes of the empire was beginning to overshadow the central authority of the titular chief of the Holy Roman Empire. The former, while strenuously resisting the results of its application from above, found in it a powerful auxiliary in their Courts in riveting their power over the estates subject to them. As opposed to the delicately adjusted hierarchical notions of Feudalism, which did not recognize any absoluteness of dominion either over persons or things, in short for which neither the head of the State had any inviolate authority as such, nor private property any inviolable rights or sanctity as such, the new jurisprudence made corner-stones of both these conceptions.

Even the canon law, consisting in a mass of Papal decretals dating from the early Middle Ages, and which, while undoubtedly containing considerable traces of the influence of Roman law, was nevertheless largely customary in its character, with an infusion of Christian ethics, had to yield to the new jurisprudence, and that too in countries where the Reformation had been unable to replace the old ecclesiastical dogma and organization. The principles and practice of the Roman law were sedulously inculcated by the tribe of civilian lawyers who by the beginning of the sixteenth century infested every Court throughout Europe. Every potentate, great and small, little as he might like its application by his feudal overlord to himself, was yet only too ready and willing to invoke its aid for the oppression of his own vassals or peasants. Thus the civil law everywhere triumphed. It became the juridical expression of the political, economical, and religious change which marks the close of the Middle Ages and the beginnings of the modern commercial world.

It must not be supposed, however, that no resistance was made to it. Everywhere in contemporary literature, side by side with denunciations of the new mercenary troops, the Landsknechte, we find uncomplimentary allusions to the race of advocates, notaries, and procurators who, as one writer has it, "are increasing like grasshoppers in town and in country year by year." Whenever they appeared, we are told, countless litigious disputes sprang up. He who had but the money in hand might readily defraud his poorer neighbour in the name of law and right. "Woe is me!" exclaims one author, "in my home there is but one procurator, and yet is the whole country round about brought into confusion by his wiles. What a misery will this horde bring upon us!" Everywhere was complaint and in many places resistance.

As early as 1460 we find the Bavarian estates vigorously complaining that all the courts were in the hands of doctors. They demanded that the rights of the land and the ancient custom should not be cast aside; but that the courts as of old should be served by reasonable and honest judges, who should be men of the same feudal livery and of the same country as those whom they tried. Again in 1514, when the evil had become still more crying, we find the estates of Wuertemberg petitioning Duke Ulrich that the Supreme Court "shall be composed of honourable, worthy, and understanding men of the nobles and of the towns, who shall not be doctors, to the intent that the ancient usages and customs should abide, and that it should be judged according to them in such wise that the poor man might no longer be brought to confusion." In many covenants of the end of the fifteenth century, express stipulation is made that they should not be interpreted by a doctor or licentiate, and also in some cases that no such doctor or licentiate should be permitted to reside or to exercise his profession within certain districts. Great as was the economical influence of the new jurists in the tribunals, their political influence in the various courts of the empire, from the Reichskammergericht downwards, was, if anything, greater. Says Wimpfeling, the first writer on the art of education in the modern world: "According to the loathsome doctrines of the new jurisconsults, the prince shall be everything in the land and the people naught. The people shall only obey, pay tax, and do service. Moreover, they shall not alone obey the prince but also them that he has placed in authority, who begin to puff themselves up as the proper lords of the land, and to order matters so that the princes themselves do as little as may be reign." From this passage it will be seen that the modern bureaucratic State, in which government is as nearly as possible reduced to mechanism and the personal relation abolished, was ushered in under the auspices of the civil law. How easy it was for the civilian to effect the abolition of feudal institutions may be readily imagined by those cognizant of the principles of Roman law. For example, the Roman law, of course, making no mention of the right of the mediaeval "estates" to be consulted in the levying of taxes or in other questions, the jurist would explain this right to his too willing master, the prince, as an abuse which had no legal justification, and which, the sooner it were abolished in the interest of good government the better it would be. All feudal rights as against the power of an overlord were explained away by the civil jurist, either as pernicious abuses, or, at best, as favours granted in the past by the predecessors of the reigning monarch, which it was within his right to truncate or to abrogate at his will.

From the preceding survey will be clearly perceived the important role which the new jurisprudence played on the Continent of Europe in the gestation of the new phase which history was entering upon in the sixteenth century. Even the short sketch given will be sufficient to show that it was not in one department only that it operated; but that, in addition to its own domain of law proper, its influence was felt in modifying economical, political, and indirectly even ethical and religious conditions. From this time forth Feudalism slowly but surely gave place to the newer order, all that remained being certain of its features, which, crystallized into bureaucratic forms, were doubly veneered with a last trace of mediaeval ideas and a denser coating of civilian conceptions. This transitional Europe, and not mediaeval Europe, was the Europe which lasted on until the eighteenth century, and which practically came to an end with the French Revolution.


[15] One silver groschen = 1-1/5d.

[16] The authorities for the above data may be found in Janssen, i., vol. i., bk. iii., especially pp. 330-46.

[17] Zur Geschichte der deutschen Gesellenverbaende. Leipzig, 1876.

[18] C. 1/5d. The denarius was the South German equivalent of the North German pfennig, of which twelve went to the groschen.



We have already pointed out in more than one place the position to which the smaller nobility, or the knighthood, had been reduced by the concatenation of causes which was bringing about the dissolution of the old mediaeval order of things, and, as a consequence, ruining the knights both economically and politically—economically by the rise of capitalism as represented by the commercial syndicates of the cities; by the unprecedented power and wealth of the city confederations, especially of the Hanseatic League; by the rising importance of the newly developed world-market; by the growing luxury and the enormous rise in the prices of commodities concurrently with the reduction in value of the feudal land-tenures; and by the limitation of the possibilities of acquiring wealth by highway robbery, owing to Imperial constitutions, on the one hand, and increased powers of defence on the part of the trading community, on the other—politically, by the new modes of warfare in which artillery and infantry, composed of comparatively well-drilled mercenaries (Landsknechte), were rapidly making inroads into the omnipotence of the ancient feudal chivalry, and reducing the importance of individual skill or prowess in the handling of weapons, and by the development of the power of the princes or higher nobility, partly due to the influence which the Roman civil law now began to exercise over the older customary Constitution of the empire, and partly to the budding centralism of authority—which in France and England became a national centralization, but in Germany, in spite of the temporary ascendancy of Charles V, finally issued in a provincial centralization in which the princes were de facto independent monarchs. The Imperial Constitution of 1495, forbidding private war, applied, it must be remembered, only to the lesser nobility and not to the higher, thereby placing the former in a decidedly ignominious position as regards their feudal superiors. And though this particular enactment had little immediate result, yet it was none the less resented as a blow struck at the old knightly privilege.

The mental attitude of the knighthood in the face of this progressing change in their position was naturally an ambiguous one, composed partly of a desire to hark back to the haughty independence of feudalism, and partly of sympathy with the growing discontent among other classes and with the new spirit generally. In order that the knights might succeed in recovering their old or even in maintaining their actual position against the higher nobility, the princes, backed as these now largely were by the Imperial power, the co-operation of the cities was absolutely essential to them, but the obstacles in the way of such a co-operation proved insurmountable. The towns hated the knights for their lawless practices, which rendered trade unsafe and not infrequently cost the lives of the citizens. The knights for the most part, with true feudal hauteur, scorned and despised the artisans and traders who had no territorial family name and were unexercised in the higher chivalric arts. The grievances of the two parties were, moreover, not identical, although they had their origin in the same causes.

The cities were in the main solely concerned to maintain their old independent position, and especially to curb the growing disposition at this time of the other estates to use them as milch cows from which to draw the taxation necessary to the maintenance of the empire. For example, at the Reichstag opened at Nuernberg on November 17, 1522—to discuss the questions of the establishment of perpetual peace within the empire, of organizing an energetic resistance to the inroads of the Turks, and of placing on a firm foundation the Imperial Privy Council (Kammergericht) and the Supreme Council (Reichsregiment)—at which were represented twenty-six Imperial towns, thirty-eight high prelates, eighteen princes, and twenty-nine counts and barons—the representatives of the cities complained grievously that their attendance was reduced to a farce, since they were always out-voted, and hence obliged to accept the decisions of the other estates. They stated that their position was no longer bearable, and for the first time drew up an Act of Protest, which further complained of the delay in the decisions of the Imperial courts; of their sufferings from the right of private war, which was still allowed to subsist in defiance of the Constitution; of the increase of customs-stations on the part of the princes and prince-prelates; and, finally, of the debasement of the coinage due to the unscrupulous practices of these notables and of the Jews. The only sympathy the other estates vouchsafed to the plaints of the cities was with regard to the right of private war, which the higher nobles were also anxious to suppress amongst the lower, though without prejudice, of course, to their own privileges in this line. All the other articles of the Act of Protest were coolly waived aside. From all this it will be seen that not much co-operation was to be expected between such heterogeneous bodies as the knighthood and the free towns, in spite of their common interest in checking the threateningly advancing power of the princes and the central Imperial authority in so far as it was manned and manipulated by the princes.

Amid the decaying knighthood there was, as we have already intimated, one figure which stood out head and shoulders above every other noble of the time, whether prince or knight, and that was Franz von Sickingen. He has been termed, not without truth, "the last flower of German chivalry," since in him the old knightly qualities flashed up in conjunction with the old knightly power and splendour with a brightness hardly known even in the palmiest days of mediaeval life. It was, however, the last flicker of the light of German chivalry. With the death of Sickingen and the collapse of his revolt the knighthood of Central Europe ceased any longer to play an independent part in history.

Sickingen, although technically only one of the lower nobility, was deemed about the time of Luther's appearance to hold the immediate destinies of the empire in his hand. Wealthy, inspiring confidence and enthusiasm as a leader, possessed of more than one powerful and strategically situated stronghold, he held court at his favourite residence, the Castle of the Landstuhl, in the Rhenish Palatinate, in a style which many a prince of the empire might have envied. As honoured guests were to be found attending on him humanists, poets, minstrels, partisans of the new theology, astrologers, alchemists, and men of letters generally—in short, the whole intelligence and culture of the period. Foremost amongst these, and chief confidant of Sickingen, was the knight, courtier, poet, essayist, and pamphleteer, Ulrich von Hutten, whose pen was ever ready to champion with unstinted enthusiasm the cause of the progressive ideas of his age. He first took up the cudgels against the obscurantists on behalf of Humanism as represented by Erasmus and Reuchlin, the latter of whom he bravely defended in his dispute with the Inquisition and the monks of Cologne, and in his contributions to the Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum we see the youthful ardour of the Renaissance in full blast in its onslaught on the forces of mediaeval obstruction. Unlike most of those with whom he was first associated, Hutten passed from being the upholder of the New Learning to the role of champion of the Reformation; and it was largely through his influence that Sickingen took up the cause of Luther and his movement.

Sickingen had been induced by Charles V to assist him in an abortive attempt to invade France in 1521, from which campaign he had returned without much benefit either material or moral, save that Charles was left heavily in his debt. The accumulated hatred of generations for the priesthood had made Sickingen a willing instrument in the hands of the reforming party, and believing that Charles now lay to some extent in his power, he considered the moment opportune for putting his long-cherished scheme into operation for reforming the Constitution of the empire. This reformation consisted, as was to be expected, in placing his own order on a firm footing, and of effectually curbing the power of the other estates, especially that of the prelates. Sickingen wished to make the Emperor and the lower nobility the decisive factors in his new scheme of things political. The Emperor, it so happened, was for the moment away in Spain, and Sickingen's colleagues of the knightly order were becoming clamorous at the unworthy position into which they found themselves rapidly being driven. The feudal exactions of their princely lieges had reached a point which passed all endurance, and since they were practically powerless in the Reichstags, no outlet was left for their discontent save by open revolt. Impelled not less by his own inclinations than by the pressure of his companions, foremost among whom was Hutten, Sickingen decided at once to open the campaign.

Hutten, it would appear, attempted to enter into negotiations for the co-operation of the towns and of the peasants. So far as can be seen, Strassburg and one or two other Imperial cities returned favourable answers; but the precise measure of Hutten's success cannot be ascertained, owing to the fact that all the documents relating to the matter perished in the destruction of Sickingen's Castle of Ebernburg.

It should be premised that on August 13th, previous to this declaration of war, a "Brotherly Convention" had been signed by a number of the knights, by which Sickingen was appointed their captain, and they bound themselves to submit to no jurisdiction save their own, and pledged themselves to mutual aid in war in case of hostilities against any one of their number. Through this "Treaty of Landau," Sickingen had it in his power to assemble a considerable force at a moment's notice. Consequently, a few days after the issue of the above manifesto, on August 27, 1522, Sickingen was able to start from the Castle of Ebernburg with an army of 5,000 foot and 1,500 knights, besides artillery, in the full confidence that he was about to destroy the position of the Palatine prince-prelate and raise himself without delay to the chief power on the Rhine.

By an effective piece of audacity, that of sporting the Imperial flag and the Burgundian cross, Franz spread abroad the idea that he was acting on behalf of the Emperor, then absent in Spain; and this largely contributed to the result that his army speedily rose to 5,000 knights and 10,000 footmen. The Imperial Diet at Nuernberg now intervened, and ordered Sickingen to cease the operations he had already begun, threatening him with the ban of the empire and a fine of 2,000 marks if he did not obey. To this summons Franz sent a characteristically impudent reply, and light-heartedly continued the campaign, regardless of the warning which an astrologer had given him some time previously, that the year 1522 or 1523 would probably be fatal to him. It is evident that this campaign, begun so late in the year, was regarded by Sickingen and the other leaders as merely a preliminary canter to a larger and more widespread movement the following spring, since on this occasion the Swabian and Franconian knighthood do not appear to have been even invited to take part in it.

After an easy progress, during which several trifling places, the most important being St. Wendel, were taken, Franz with his army arrived on September 8th before the gates of Trier. He had hoped to capture the town by surprise, and was indeed not without some expectation of co-operation and help from the citizens themselves. On his arrival he shot letters within the walls summoning the inhabitants to take his part against their tyrant; but either through the unwillingness of the burghers to act with knights, or through the vigilance of the Archbishop, they were without effect. The gates remained closed; and in answer to Sickingen's summons to surrender, Richard replied that he would find him in the city if he could get inside. In the meantime Sickingen's friends had signally failed in their attempts to obtain supplies and reinforcements for him, in the main owing to the energetic action of some of the higher nobles. The Archbishop of Trier showed himself as much a soldier as a Churchman; and after a week's siege, during which Sickingen made five assaults on the city, his powder ran out, and he was forced to retire. He at once made his way back to Ebernburg, where he intended to pass the winter, since he saw that it was useless to continue the campaign, with his own army diminishing and the hoped-for supplies not appearing, whilst the forces of his antagonists augmented daily. In his stronghold of Ebernburg he could rely on being secure from all attack until he was able to again take the field on the offensive, as he anticipated doing in the spring.

In spite of the obvious failure of the autumnal campaign, the cause of the knighthood did not by any means look irretrievably desperate, since there was always the possibility of successful recruitments the following spring. Ulrich von Hutten was doing his utmost in Wuertemberg and Switzerland to scrape together men and money, though up to this time without much success, while other emissaries of Sickingen were working with the same object in Breisgau and other parts of Southern Germany. Relying on these expected reinforcements, Franz was confident of victory when he should again take the field, and in the meantime he felt himself quite secure in one or other of his strong places, which had recently undergone extensive repairs and seemed to be impregnable. In this anticipation he was deceived, for he had not reckoned with the new and more potent weapons of attack which were replacing the battering-ram and other mediaeval besieging appliances. Franz retired to his strong castle of the Landstuhl to await the onslaught of the princes which followed in the spring. After heavy bombardment Sickingen was mortally wounded on May 6th, and the place was immediately surrendered. The next day the princes entered the castle, where, in an underground chamber, their enemy lay dying.

He was so near his end that he could scarcely distinguish his three arch-enemies one from the other. "My dear lord," he said to the Count Palatine, his feudal superior, "I had not thought that I should end thus," taking off his cap and giving him his hand. "What has impelled thee, Franz," asked the Archbishop of Trier, "that thou hast so laid waste and harmed me and my poor people?" "Of that it were too long to speak," answered Sickingen, "but I have done nought without cause. I go now to stand before a greater Lord." Here it is worthy of remark that the princes treated Franz with all the knightliness and courtesy which were customary between social equals in the days of chivalry, addressing him at most rather as a rebellious child than as an insurgent subject. The Prince of Hesse was about to give utterance to a reproach, but he was interrupted by the Count Palatine, who told him that he must not quarrel with a dying man. The Count's chamberlain said some sympathetic words to Franz, who replied to him: "My dear chamberlain, it matters little about me. It is not I who am the cock round which they are dancing." When the princes had withdrawn, his chaplain asked him if he would confess; but Franz replied: "I have confessed to God in my heart," whereupon the chaplain gave him absolution; and as he went to fetch the host "the last of the knights" passed quietly away, alone and abandoned. It is related by Spalatin that after his death some peasants and domestics placed his body in an old armour-chest, in which they had to double the head on to the knees. The chest was then let down by a rope from the rocky eminence on which stands the now ruined castle, and was buried beneath a small chapel in the village below.

The scene we have just described in the castle vault meant not merely the tragedy of a hero's death, nor merely the destruction of a faction or party, it meant the end of an epoch. With Sickingen's death one of the most salient and picturesque elements in the mediaeval life of Central Europe received its death-blow. The knighthood as a distinct factor in the polity of Europe henceforth existed no more.

Spalatin relates that on the death of Sickingen the princely party anticipated as easy a victory over the religious revolt as they had achieved over the knighthood. "The mock Emperor is dead," so the phrase went, "and the mock Pope will soon be dead also." Hutten, already an exile in Switzerland, did not many months survive his patron and leader, Sickingen. The role which Erasmus played in this miserable tragedy was only what was to be expected from the moral cowardice which seemed ingrained in the character of the great Humanist leader. Erasmus had already begun to fight shy of the Reformation movement, from which he was about to separate himself definitely. He seized the present opportunity to quarrel with Hutten; and to Hutten's somewhat bitter attacks on him in consequence he replied with ferocity in his Spongia Erasmi adversus aspergines Hutteni.

Hutten had had to fly from Basel to Muelhausen and thence to Zuerich, in the last stages of syphilitic disease. He was kindly received by the reformer, Zwingli of Zuerich, who advised him to try the waters of Pfeffers, and gave him letters of recommendation to the abbot of that place. He returned, in no wise benefited, to Zuerich, when Zwingli again befriended the sick knight, and sent him to a friend of his, the "reformed" pastor of the little island of "Ufenau," at the other end of the lake, where after a few weeks' suffering he died in abject destitution, leaving, it is said, nothing behind him but his pen. The disease from which Hutten suffered the greater part of his life, at that time a comparatively new importation and much more formidable even than nowadays, may well have contributed to an irascibility of temper and to a certain recklessness which the typical free-lance of the Reformation in its early period exhibited. Hutten was never a theologian, and the Reformation seems to have attracted him mainly from its political side as implying the assertion of the dawning feeling of German nationality as against the hated enemies of freedom of thought and the new light, the clerical satellites of the Roman see. He was a true son of his time, in his vices no less than in his virtues; and no one will deny his partiality for "wine, women, and play." There is reason, indeed, to believe that the latter at times during his later career provided his sole means of subsistence.

The hero of the Reformation, Luther, with whom Melanchthon may be associated in this matter, could be no less pusillanimous on occasion than the hero of the New Learning, Erasmus. Luther undoubtedly saw in Sickingen's revolt a means of weakening the Catholic powers against which he had to fight, and at its inception he avowedly favoured the enterprise. In some of the reforming writings Luther is represented as the incarnation of Christian resignation and mildness, and as talking of twelve legions of angels and deprecating any appeal to force as unbefitting the character of an evangelical apostle. That such, however, was not his habitual attitude is evident to all who are in the least degree acquainted with his real conduct and utterances. On one occasion he wrote: "If they (the priests) continue their mad ravings it seems to me that there would be no better method and medicine to stay them than that kings and princes did so with force, armed themselves and attacked these pernicious people who do poison all the world, and once for all did make an end of their doings with weapons, not with words. For even as we punish thieves with the sword, murderers with the rope, and heretics with fire, wherefore do we not lay hands on these pernicious teachers of damnation, on popes, on cardinals, bishops, and the swarm of the Roman Sodom—yea, with every weapon which lieth within our reach, and wherefore do we not wash our hands in their blood?"[19]

It is, however, in a manifesto published in July 1522, just before Sickingen's attack on the Archbishop of Trier, for which enterprise it was doubtless intended as a justification, that Luther expresses himself in unmeasured terms against the "biggest wolves," the bishops, and calls upon "all dear children of God and all true Christians" to drive them out by force from the "sheep-stalls." In this pamphlet, entitled Against the falsely called spiritual order of the Pope and the Bishops, he says: "It were better that every bishop were murdered, every foundation or cloister rooted out, than that one soul should be destroyed, let alone that all souls should be lost for the sake of their worthless trumpery and idolatry. Of what use are they who thus live in lust, nourished by the sweat and labour of others, and are a stumbling-block to the word of God? They fear bodily uproar and despise spiritual destruction. Are they wise and honest people? If they accepted God's word and sought the life of the soul, God would be with them, for He is a God of peace, and they need fear no uprising; but if they will not hear God's word, but rage and rave with bannings, burnings, killings, and every evil, what do they better deserve than a strong uprising which shall sweep them from the earth? And we would smile did it happen.[20] As the heavenly wisdom saith: 'Ye have hated my chastisement and despised my doctrine; behold, I will also laugh at ye in your distress, and will mock ye when misfortune shall fall upon your heads.'" In the same document he denounces the bishops as an accursed race, as "thieves, robbers, and usurers." Swine, horses, stones, and wood were not so destitute of understanding as the German people under the sway of them and their Pope. The religious houses are similarly described as "brothels, low taverns, and murder dens," He winds up this document, which he calls his "bull," by proclaiming that "all who contribute body, goods, and honour that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians, obeying God's command and fighting against the devil's order"; and, on the other hand, that "all who give the bishops a willing obedience are the devil's own servants, and fight against God's order and law."[21]

No sooner, however, did things begin to look bad with Sickingen than Luther promptly sought to disengage himself from all complicity or even sympathy with him and his losing cause. So early as December 19, 1522, he writes to his friend Wenzel Link: "Franz von Sickingen has begun war against the Palatine. It will be a very bad business." (Franciscus Sickingen Palatino bellum indixit, res pessima futura est.) His colleague, Melanchthon, a few days later, hastened to deprecate the insinuation that Luther had had any part or lot in initiating the revolt. "Franz von Sickingen," he wrote, "by his great ill-will injures the cause of Luther; and notwithstanding that he be entirely dissevered from him, nevertheless whenever he undertaketh war he wisheth to seem to act for the public benefit, and not for his own. He doth even now pursue a most infamous course of plunder on the Rhine." In another letter he says: "I know how this tumult grieveth him (Luther),"[22] and this respecting the man who had shortly before written of the princes that their tyranny and haughtiness were no longer to be borne, alleging that God would not longer endure it, and that the common man even was becoming intelligent enough to deal with them by force if they did not mend their manners. A more telling example of the "don't-put-him-in-the-horse-pond" attitude could scarcely be desired. That it was characteristic of the "great reformer" will be seen later on when we find him pursuing a similar policy anent the revolt of the peasants.

After the fall of the Landstuhl all Sickingen's castles and most of those of his immediate allies and friends were of course taken, and the greater part of them destroyed. The knighthood was now to all intents and purposes politically helpless and economically at the door of bankruptcy, owing to the suddenly changed conditions of which we have spoken in the Introduction and elsewhere as supervening since the beginning of the century: the unparalleled rise in prices, concurrently with the growing extravagance, the decline of agriculture in many places, and the increasing burdens put upon the knights by their feudal superiors, and last, but not least, the increasing obstacles in the way of the successful pursuit of the profession of highway robbery. The majority of them, therefore, clung with relentless severity to the feudal dues of the peasants, which now constituted their main, and in many cases their only, source of revenue; and hence, abandoning the hope of independence, they threw in their lot with the authorities, the princes, lay and ecclesiastic, in the common object of both, that of reducing the insurgent peasants to complete subjection.


[19] Italics the present author's.

[20] Italics the present author's.

[21] Saemmtliche Werke vol. xxviii. pp. 142-201.

[22] Corpus Reformatorum, vol. i. pp. 598-9.



Peasant revolts of a sporadic character are to be met with throughout the Middle Ages even in their halcyon days. Some of these, like the Jacquerie in France and the revolt associated with the name of Wat Tyler in England, were of a serious and more or less extended character. But most of them were purely local and of no significance, apart from temporary and passing circumstances. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century, however, peasant risings had become increasingly numerous and their avowed aims much more definite and far-reaching than, as a rule, were those of an earlier date. In saying this we are referring to those revolts which were directly initiated by the peasantry, the serfs, and the villeins of the time, and which had as their main object the direct amelioration of the peasant's lot. Movements of a primarily religious character were, of course, of a somewhat different nature, but the tendency was increasingly, as we approach the period of the Reformation, for the two currents to merge one in the other. The echoes of the Hussite movement in Bavaria at the beginning of the century spread far and wide throughout Central Europe, and had by no means spent their force as the century drew towards its close.

From this time forward recurrent indications of social revolt with a strong religious colouring, or a religious revolt with a strong social colouring, became chronic in the Germanic lands and those adjacent thereto. As an example may be taken the movement of Hans Boheim, of Niklashausen, in the diocese of Wuerzburg, in Franconia, in 1476, and which is regarded by some historians as the first of the movements leading directly up to those of the Lutheran Reformation. Hans claimed a divine mission for preaching the gospel to the common man. Hans preached asceticism and claimed Niklashausen as a place of pilgrimage for a new worship of the Virgin. There was little in this to alarm the authorities till Hans announced that the Queen of Heaven had revealed to him that there was to be no lay or spiritual authority, but that all men should be brothers, earning their bread by the sweat of their brows, paying no more imposts or dues, holding land in common, and sharing alike in all things. The movement went on for some months, spreading rapidly in the neighbouring territories. At last Hans was seized by armed men while asleep and hurried to Wuerzburg. The affair caused immense commotion, and by the Sunday following, it is stated, 34,000 armed peasants assembled at Niklashausen. Led by a decayed knight and his son, 16,000 of them marched to Wuerzburg, demanding their prophet at the gate of the bishop's castle. By promises and cajolery, they were induced to disperse by the prince-bishop, who, as soon as he saw they were returning home in straggling parties, treacherously sent a body of his knights after them, killing some and taking others prisoners. Two of the ringleaders were beheaded outside the castle, and at the same time the prophet Hans Boheim was burnt to ashes. Thus ended a typical religio-social peasant revolt of the half-century preceding the great Reformation movement.

In 1491 the oppressed and plundered villeins of Kempten revolted, but the movement was quelled by the Emperor himself after a compromise. A great rising took place in Elsass (Alsace) in 1493 among the feudatories of the Bishop of Strassburg, with the usual object of freedom for the "common man," abolition of feudal exactions, Church reformation, etc. This movement is interesting, as having first received the name of the Bundschuh. It was decided that as the knight was distinguished by his spurs, so the peasant should have as his device the common shoe of his class, laced from the ankle through to the knee by leathern thongs, and the banner whereon this emblem was depicted was accordingly made. The movement was, however, betrayed and mercilessly crushed by the neighbouring knighthood. A few years later a similar movement, also having the Bundschuh for its device, took place in the regions of the Upper and Middle Rhine. This movement created a panic among all the privileged classes, from the Emperor down to the knight. The situation was discussed in no less than three separate assemblies of the States. It was, however, eventually suppressed for the time being. A few years later, in 1512, it again burst forth under the leadership of an active adherent of the former movement, one Joss Fritz, in Baden, at the village of Lehen, near the town of Freiburg. The organization in this case, besides being widespread, was exceedingly good, and the movement was nearly successful when at the last moment it was betrayed. Even in Switzerland there were peasant risings in the early years of the sixteenth century. About the same time the duchy of Wuertemberg was convulsed by a movement which took the name of the "Poor Conrad." Its object was the freeing of the "common man" from feudal services and dues and the abolition of seignorial rights over the land, etc. But here again the movement was suppressed by Duke Ulrich and his knights. Another rising took place in Baden in 1517. Three years previously, in 1514, occurred the great Hungarian peasant rebellion under George Daze. Under the able leadership of the latter the peasants had some not inconsiderable initial successes, but this movement also, after some weeks, was cruelly suppressed. About the same time, too, occurred various insurrectionary peasant movements in the Styrian and Carinthian alpine districts. Similar movements to those referred to were also going on during those early years of the fifteenth century in other parts of Europe, but these, of course, do not concern us.

The deep-reaching importance and effective spread of such movements was infinitely greater in the Middle Ages than in modern times. The same phenomenon presents itself to-day in backward and semi-barbaric communities. At first sight one is inclined to think that there has been no period in the world's history when it was so easy to stir up a population as the present, with our newspapers, our telegraphs, our aeroplane, our postal arrangements, and our railways. But this is just one of those superficial notions that are not confirmed by history. We are similarly apt to think that there was no age in which travel was so widespread and formed so great a part of the education of mankind as at present. There could be no greater mistake. The true age of travelling was the close of the Middle Ages, or what is known as the Renaissance period. The man of learning, then just differentiated from the ecclesiastic, spent the greater part of his life in earning his intellectual wares from Court to Court and from University to University, just as the merchant personally carried his goods from city to city in an age in which commercial correspondence, bill-brokers, and the varied forms of modern business were but in embryo. It was then that travel really meant education, the acquirement of thorough and intimate knowledge of diverse manners and customs. Travel was then not a pastime, but a serious element in life.

In the same way the spread of a political or social movement was at least as rapid then as now, and far more penetrating. The methods were, of course, vastly different from the present; but the human material to be dealt with was far easier to mould, and kept its shape much more readily when moulded, than is the case nowadays. The appearance of a religious or political teacher in a village or small town of the Middle Ages was an event which keenly excited the interest of the inhabitants. It struck across the path of their daily life, leaving behind it a track hardly conceivable to-day. For one of the salient symptoms of the change which has taken place since that time is the disappearance of local centres of activity and the transference of the intensity of life to a few large towns. In the Middle Ages every town, small no less than large, was a more or less self-sufficing organism, intellectually and industrially, and was not essentially dependent on the outside world for its social sustenance. This was especially the case in Central Europe, where communication was much more imperfect and dangerous than in Italy, France, or England. In a society without newspapers, without easy communication with the rest of the world, where the vast majority could neither read nor write, where books were rare and costly, and accessible only to the privileged few, a new idea bursting upon one of these communities was eagerly welcomed, discussed in the council chamber of the town, in the hall of the castle, in the refectory of the monastery, at the social board of the burgess, in the workroom, and, did it but touch his interests, in the hut of the peasant. It was canvassed, too, at church festivals (Kirchweihe), the only regular occasion on which the inhabitants of various localities came together. In the absence of all other distraction, men thought it out in all the bearings which their limited intellectual horizon permitted. If calculated in any way to appeal to them it soon struck root, and became a part of their very nature, a matter for which, if occasion were, they were prepared to sacrifice goods, liberty, and even life itself. In the present day a new idea is comparatively slow in taking root. Amid the myriad distractions of modern life, perpetually chasing one another, there is no time for any one thought, however wide-reaching in its bearings, to take a firm hold. In order that it should do so in the modern mind, it must be again and again borne in upon this not always too receptive intellectual substance. People require to read of it day after day in their newspapers, or to hear it preached from countless platforms, before any serious effect is created. In the simple life of former ages it was not so.

The mode of transmitting intelligence, especially such as was connected with the stirring up of political and religious movements, was in those days of a nature of which we have now little conception. The sort of thing in vogue then may be compared to the methods adopted in India to prepare the Mutiny of 1857, when the mysterious cake was passed from village to village, signifying that the moment had come for the outbreak. The sense of esprit de corps and of that kind of honour most intimately associated with it, it must also be remembered, was infinitely keener in ruder states of society than under a high civilization. The growth of civilization, as implying the disruption of the groups in which the individual is merged under more primitive conditions, and his isolation as an autonomous unit having vague and very elastic moral duties to his "country" or to mankind at large, but none towards any definite and proximate social whole, necessarily destroys that communal spirit which prevails in the former case. This is one of the striking truths which the history of these peasant risings illustrates in various ways and brings vividly home to us.



The year following the collapse of Franz Sickingen's rebellion saw the first mutterings of the great movement known as the Peasants' War, the most extensive and important of all the popular insurrections of the Middle Ages, which, as we have seen in a previous chapter, had been led up to during the previous half-century by numerous sporadic movements throughout Central Europe having like aims.

The first actual outbreak of the Peasants' War took place in August 1524, in the Black Forest, in the village of Stuehlingen, from an apparently trivial cause. It spread rapidly throughout the surrounding districts, having found a leader in a former soldier of fortune, Hans Mueller by name. The so-called Evangelical Brotherhood sprang into existence. On the new movement becoming threatening it was opposed by the Swabian League, a body in the interests of the Germanic Federation, its princes, and cities, whose function it was to preserve public tranquillity and enforce the Imperial decrees. The peasant army was armed with the rudest weapons, including pitchforks, scythes, and axes; but nothing decisive of a military character took place this year. Meanwhile the work of agitation was carried on far and wide throughout the South German territories. Preachers of discontent among the peasantry and the former towns were everywhere agitating and organizing with a view to a general rising in the ensuing spring. Negotiations were carried on throughout the winter with nobles and the authorities without important results. A diversion in favour of the peasants was caused by Duke Ulrich of Wuertemberg favouring the peasants' cause, which he hoped to use as a shoeing-horn to his own plans for recovering his ancestral domains, from which he had been driven on the grounds of a family quarrel under the ban of the empire in 1519. He now established himself in his stronghold of Hohentwiel, in Wuertemberg, on the Swiss frontier. By February or the beginning of March peasant bands were organizing throughout Southern Germany. Early in March a so-called Peasants' Parliament was held at Memmingen, a small Swabian town, at which the principal charter of the movement, the so-called "Twelve Articles," was adopted. This important document has a strong religious colouring, the political and economic demands of the peasants being led up to and justified by Biblical quotations. They all turn on the customary grievances of the time. The "Twelve Articles" remain throughout the chief Bill of Rights of the South German peasantry, though there were other versions of the latter current in certain districts. What was said before concerning the local sporadic movements which had been going en for a generation previously applies equally to the great uprising of 1525. The rapidity with which the ideas represented by the movement, and in consequence the movement itself, spread, is marvellous. By the middle of April it was computed that no less than 300,000 peasants, besides necessitous townsfolk, were armed and in open rebellion. On the side of the nobles no adequate force was ready to meet the emergency. In every direction were to be seen flaming castles and monasteries. On all sides were bodies of armed countryfolk, organized in military fashion, dictating their will to the countryside and the small towns, whilst disaffection was beginning to show itself in a threatening manner among the popular elements of not a few important cities. A slight success gained by the Swabian League at the Upper Swabian village of Leipheim in the second week of April did not improve matters. In Easter week, 1525, it looked indeed as if the "Twelve Articles" at least would become realized, if not the Christian Commonwealth dreamed of by the religious sectaries established throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Princes, lords, and ecclesiastical dignitaries were being compelled far and wide to save their lives, after their property was probably already confiscated, by swearing allegiance to the Christian League or Brotherhood of the peasants and by countersigning the "Twelve Articles" and other demands of their refractory villeins and serfs. So threatening was the situation that the Archduke Ferdinand began himself to yield, in so far as to enter into negotiations with the insurgents. In many cases the leaders and chief men of the bands were got up in brilliant costume. We read of purple mantles and scarlet birettas with ostrich plumes as the costume of the leaders, of a suite of men in scarlet dress, of a vanguard of ten heralds, gorgeously attired. As Lamprecht justly observes (Deutsche Geschichte, vol. v. p. 343): "The peasant revolts were, in general, less in the nature of campaigns, or even of an uninterrupted series of minor military operations, than of a slow process of mobilization, interrupted and accompanied by continual negotiations with lords and princes—a mobilization which was rendered possible by the standing right of assembly and of carrying arms possessed by the peasants." The smaller towns everywhere opened their gates without resistance to the peasants, between whom and the poorer inhabitants an understanding commonly existed. The bands waxed fat with plunder of castles and religious houses, and did full justice to the contents of the rich monastic wine-cellars.

Early in April occurred one of the most notable incidents. It was at the little town of Weinsberg, near the free town of Heilbronn, in Wuertemberg. The town, which was occupied by a body of knights and men-at-arms, was attacked on Easter Sunday by the peasant bands, foremost among them being the "black troop" of that knightly champion of the peasant cause, Florian Geyer. It was followed by a peasant contingent, led by one Jaecklein Rohrbach, whose consuming passion was hatred of the ruling classes. The knights within the town were under the leadership of Count von Helfenstein. The entry of Rohrbach's company into Weinsberg was the signal for a massacre of the knightly host. Some were taken prisoners for the moment, including Helfenstein himself, but these were massacred next morning in the meadow outside the town by "Jaecklein," as he was called. The events at Weinsberg produced in the first instance a horror and consternation which was speedily followed by a lust for vengeance on the part of the privileged orders.

In Franconia and Middle Germany the peasant movement went on apace. In Franconia one of its chief seats was the considerable town of Rothenburg, on the Tauber. The episcopal city of Wuerzburg was also entered and occupied by the peasant bands in coalition with the discontented elements of the town. The sacking of churches and throwing open of religious houses characterized proceedings here as elsewhere. The locking up of a large peasant host in Wuerzburg was undoubtedly a source of great weakness to the movement. In the east, in the Tyrol and Salzburg, there were similar risings to those farther west. In the latter case the prince-bishop was the obnoxious oppressor.

The most interesting of the local movements was, however, in many respects that of Thomas Muenzer in the town of Muelhausen, in Thuringia. Thomas Muenzer is, perhaps, the best known of all the names in the peasants' revolt. In addition to the ultra-Protestantism of his theological views, Muenzer had as his object the establishment of a communistic Christian Commonwealth. He started a practical exemplification of this among his own followers in the town itself.

Up to the beginning of May the insurrection had carried everything before it. Truchsess and his men of the Swabian League had proved themselves unable to cope with it. Matters now changed. Knights, men-at-arms, and free-lances were returning from the Italian campaign of Charles V after the battle of Pavia. Everywhere the revolt met with disaster. The Muelhausen insurgents were destroyed at Frankenhausen by forces of the Count of Hesse, of the Duke of Brunswick, and of the Duke of Saxony. This was on May 15th. Three days before the defeat at Frankenhausen, on May 12th, a decisive defeat was inflicted on the peasants by the forces of the Swabian League, under Truchsess, at Boeblingen, in Wuertemberg. Savage ferocity signalized the treatment of the defeated peasants by the soldiery of the nobles. Jaecklein Rohrbach was roasted alive. Truchsess with his soldiery then hurried north and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Franconian peasant contingents at Koenigshaven, on the Tauber. These three defeats, following one another in little more than a fortnight, broke the back of the whole movement in Germany proper. In Elsass and Lorraine the insurrection was crushed by the hired troops and the Duke of Lorraine; eastward, on the little river Luibas. In the Austrian territories, under the able leadership of Michael Gaismayr, one of the lesser nobility, it continued for some months longer, and the fear of Gaismayr, who, it should be said, was the only man of really constructive genius the movement had produced, maintained itself with the privileged classes till his murder in the autumn of 1528, at the instance of the Bishop of Brixen.

The great peasant insurrection in Germany failed through want of a well-thought-out plan and tactics, and, above all, through a want of cohesion among the various peasant forces operating in different sections of the country, between which no regular communications were kept up. The attitude of Martin Luther towards the peasants and their cause was base in the extreme. His action was mainly embodied in two documents, of which the first was issued about the middle of April, and the second a month later. The difference in tone between them is sufficiently striking. In the first, which bore the title, "An Exhortation to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Peasantry in Swabia," Luther sits on the fence, admonishing both parties of what he deemed their shortcomings. He was naturally pleased with those articles that demanded the free preaching of the Gospel and abused the Catholic clergy, and was not indisposed to assent to many of the economic demands. In fact, the document strikes one as distinctly more favourable to the insurgents than to their opponents.

"We have," he wrote, "no one to thank for this mischief and sedition, save ye princes and lords, in especial ye blind bishops and mad priests and monks, who up to this day remain obstinate and do not cease to rage and rave against the holy Gospel, albeit ye know that it is righteous, and that ye may not gainsay it. Moreover, in your worldly regiment, ye do naught otherwise than flay and extort tribute, that ye may satisfy your pomp and vanity, till the poor, common man cannot, and may not, bear with it longer. The sword is on your neck. Ye think ye sit so strongly in your seats, that none may cast you from them. Such presumption and obstinate pride will twist your necks, as ye will see." And again: "God hath made it thus that they cannot, and will not, longer bear with your raging. If ye do it not of your free will, so shall ye be made to do it by way of violence and undoing." Once more: "It is not peasants, my dear lords, who have set themselves up against you. God Himself it is who setteth Himself against you to chastise your evil-doing."

He counsels the princes and lords to make peace with their peasants, observing with reference to the "Twelve Articles" that some of them are so just and righteous that before God and the world their worthiness is manifested, making good the words of the psalm that they heap contempt upon the heads of the princes. Whilst he warns the peasants against sedition and rebellion, and criticizes some of the Articles as going beyond the justification of Holy Writ, and whilst he makes side-hits at "the prophets of murder and the spirits of confusion which had found their way among them," the general impression given by the pamphlet is, as already said, one of unmistakable friendliness to the peasants and hostility to the lords.

The manifesto may be summed up in the following terms: Both sides are, strictly speaking, in the wrong, but the princes and lords have provoked the "common man" by their unjust exactions and oppressions; the peasants, on their side, have gone too far in many of their demands, notably in the refusal to pay tithes, and most of all in the notion of abolishing villeinage, which Luther declares to be "straightway contrary to the Gospel and thievish." The great sin of the princes remains, however, that of having thrown stumbling-blocks in the way of the Gospel—bien entendu the Gospel according to Luther—and the main virtue of the peasants was their claim to have this Gospel preached. It can scarcely be doubted that the ambiguous tone of Luther's rescript was interpreted by the rebellious peasants to their advantage and served to stimulate, rather than to check, the insurrection.

Meanwhile, the movement rose higher and higher, and reached Thuringia, the district with which Luther personally was most associated. His patron, and what is more, the only friend of toleration in high places, the noble-minded Elector Friedrich of Saxony, fell ill and died on May 5th, and was succeeded by his younger brother Johann, the same who afterwards assisted in the suppression of the Thuringian revolt. Almost immediately thereupon Luther, who had been visiting his native town of Eisleben, travelled through the revolted districts on his way back to Wittenberg. He everywhere encountered black looks and jeers. When he preached, the Muenzerites would drown his voice by the ringing of bells. The signs of rebellion greeted him on all sides. The "Twelve Articles" were constantly thrown at his head. As the reports of violence towards the property and persons of some of his own noble friends reached him his rage broke all bounds. He seems, however, to have prudently waited a few days, until the cause of the peasants was obviously hopeless, before publicly taking his stand on the side of the authorities.

On his arrival in Wittenberg, he wrote a second pronouncement on the contemporary events, in which no uncertainty was left as to his attitude. It is entitled, "Against the Murderous and Thievish Bands of Peasants."[24] Here he lets himself loose on the side of the oppressors with a bestial ferocity. "Crush them" (the peasants), he writes, "strangle them and pierce them, in secret places and in sight of men, he who can, even as one would strike dead a mad dog!" All having authority who hesitated to extirpate the insurgents to the uttermost were committing a sin against God. "Findest thou thy death therein," he writes, addressing the reader, "happy art thou: a more blessed death can never overtake thee, for thou diest in obedience to the Divine word and the command of Romans xiii. 1, and in the service of love, to save thy neighbour from the bonds of hell and the devil." Never had there been such an infamous exhortation to the most dastardly murder on a wholesale scale since the Albigensian crusade with its "Strike them all: God will know His own"—a sentiment indeed that Luther almost literally reproduces in one passage.

The attitude of the official Lutheran party towards the poor countryfolk continued as infamous after the war as it had been on the first sign that fortune was forsaking their cause. Like master, like man. Luther's jackal, the "gentle" Melanchthon, specially signalized himself by urging on the feudal barons with Scriptural arguments to the blood-sucking and oppression of their villeins. A humane and honourable nobleman, Heinrich von Einsiedel, was touched in conscience at the corvees and heavy dues to which he found himself entitled. He sent to Luther for advice upon the subject. Luther replied that the existing exactions which had been handed down to him from his parents need not trouble his conscience, adding that it would not be good for corvees to be given up, since the "common man" ought to have burdens imposed upon him, as otherwise he would become overbearing. He further remarked that a severe treatment in material things was pleasing to God, even though it might seem to be too harsh. Spalatin writes in a like strain that the burdens in Germany were, if anything, too light. Subjects, according to Melanchthon, ought to know that they are serving God in the burdens they bear for their superiors, whether it were journeying, paying tribute, or otherwise, and as pleasing to God as though they raised the dead at God's own behest. Subjects should look up to their lords as wise and just men, and hence be thankful to them. However unjust, tyrannical, and cruel the lord might be, there was never any justification for rebellion.

A friend and follower of Luther and Melanchthon—Martin Butzer by name—went still farther. According to this "reforming" worthy a subject was to obey his lord in everything. This was all that concerned him. It was not for him to consider whether what was enjoined was, or was not, contrary to the will of God. That was a matter for his feudal superior and God to settle between them. Referring to the doctrines of the revolutionary sects, Butzer urges the authorities to extirpate all those professing a false religion. Such men, he says, deserve a heavier punishment than thieves, robbers, and murderers. Even their wives and innocent children and cattle should be destroyed (ap. Janssen, vol. i. p. 595).

Luther himself quotes, in a sermon on "Genesis," the instances of Abraham and Abimelech and other Old Testament worthies, as justifying slavery and the treatment of a slave as a beast of burden. "Sheep, cattle, men-servants and maid-servants, they were all possessions," says Luther, "to be sold as it pleased them like other beasts. It were even a good thing were it still so. For else no man may compel nor tame the servile folk" (Saemmtliche Werke, vol. xv. p. 276). In other discourses he enforces the same doctrine, observing that if the world is to last for any time, and is to be kept going, it will be necessary to restore the patriarchal condition. Capito, the Strassburg preacher, in a letter to a colleague, writes lamenting that the pamphlets and discourses of Luther had contributed not a little to give edge to the bloodthirsty vengeance of the princes and nobles after the insurrection.

The total number of the peasants and their allies who fell either in fighting or at the hands of the executioners is estimated by Anselm in his Berner Chronik at 130,000. It was certainly not less than 100,000. For months after the executioner was active in many of the affected districts. Spalatin says: "Of hanging and beheading there is no end." Another writer has it: "It was all so that even a stone had been moved to pity, for the chastisement and vengeance of the conquering lords was great." The executions within the jurisdiction of the Swabian League alone are stated at 10,000. Truchsess's provost boasted of having hanged or beheaded 1,200 with his own hand. More than 50,000 fugitives were recorded. These, according to a Swabian League order, were all outlawed in such wise that any one who found them might slay them without fear of consequences.

The sentences and executions were conducted with true mediaeval levity. It is narrated in a contemporary chronicle that in one village in the Henneberg territory all the inhabitants had fled on the approach of the Count and his men-at-arms save two tilers. The two were being led to execution when one appeared to weep bitterly, and his reply to interrogatories was that he bewailed the dwellings of the aristocracy thereabouts, for henceforth there would be no one to supply them with durable tiles. Thereupon his companion burst out laughing, because, said he, it had just occurred to him that he would not know where to place his hat after his head had been taken off. These mildly humorous remarks obtained for both of them a free pardon.

The aspect of those parts of the country where the war had most heavily raged was deplorable in the extreme. In addition to the many hundreds of castles and monasteries destroyed, almost as many villages and small towns had been levelled with the ground by one side or the other, especially by the Swabian League and the various princely forces. Many places were annihilated for having taken part with the peasants, even when they had been compelled by force to do so. Fields in these districts were everywhere laid waste or left uncultivated. Enormous sums were exacted as indemnity. In many of the villages peasants previously well-to-do were ruined. There seemed no limit to the bleeding of the "common man," under the pretence of compensation for damage done by the insurrection.

The condition of the families of the dead and of the fugitives was appalling. Numbers perished from starvation. The wives and children of the insurgents were in some cases forcibly driven from their homesteads and even from their native territory. In one of the pamphlets published in 1525 anent the events of that year we read: "Houses are burned; fields and vineyards lie fallow; clothes and household goods are robbed or burned; cattle and sheep are taken away; the same as to horses and trappings. The prince, the gentleman, or the nobleman will have his rent and due. Eternal God, whither shall the widows and poor children go forth to seek it?" Referring to the Lutheran campaign against friars and poor scholars, beggars, and pilgrims, the writer observes: "Think ye now that because of God's anger for the sake of one beggar, ye must even for a season bear with twenty, thirty, nay, still more?"

The courts of arbitration, which were established in various districts to adjudicate on the relations between lords and villeins, were naturally not given to favour the latter, whilst the fact that large numbers of deeds and charters had been burnt or otherwise destroyed in the course of the insurrection left open an extensive field for the imposition of fresh burdens. The record of the proceedings of one of the most important of these courts—that of the Swabian League's jurisdiction, which sat at Memmingen—in the dispute between the prince-abbot of Kempten and his villeins is given in full in Baumann's Akten, pp. 329-46. Here, however, the peasants did not come off so badly as in some other places. Meanwhile, all the other evils of the time, the monopolies of the merchant-princes of the cities and of the trading-syndicates, the dearness of living, the scarcity of money, etc., did not abate, but rather increased from year to year. The Catholic Church maintained itself especially in the South of Germany, and the official Reformation took on a definitely aristocratic character.

According to Baumann (Akten, Vorwort, v, vi), the true soul of the movement of 1525 consisted in the notion of "Divine justice," the principle "that all relations, whether of political, social, or religious nature, have got to be ordered according to the directions of the 'Gospel' as the sole and exclusive source and standard of all justice." The same writer maintains that there are three phases in the development of this idea, according to which he would have the scheme of historical investigation subdivided. In Upper Swabia, says he, "Divine justice" found expression in the well-known "Twelve Articles," but here the notion of a political reformation was as good as absent.

In the second phase, the "Divine justice" idea began to be applied to political conditions. In Tyrol and the Austrian dominions, he observes, this political side manifested itself in local or, at best, territorial patriotism. It was only in Franconia that all territorial patriotism or "particularism" was shaken off and the idea of the unity of the German peoples received as a political goal. The Franconian influence gained over the Wuertembergers to a large extent, and the plan of reform elaborated by Weigand and Hipler for the Heilbronn Parliament was the most complete expression of this second phase of the movement.

The third phase is represented by the rising in Thuringia, and especially in its intellectual head, Thomas Muenzer. Here we have the doctrine of "Divine justice" taking precedence of all else and assuming the form of a thoroughgoing theocratic scheme, to be realized by the German people.

This division Baumann is led to make with a view to the formulation of a convenient scheme for a "codex" of documents relating to the Peasants' War. It may be taken as, in the main, the best general division that can be put forward, although, as we have seen, there are places where, and times when, the practical demands of the movement seem to have asserted themselves directly and spontaneously apart from any theory whatever.

Of the fate of many of the most active leaders of the revolt we know nothing. Several heads of the movement, according to a contemporary writer, wandered about for a long time in misery, some of them indeed seeking refuge with the Turks, who were still a standing menace to Imperial Christendom. The popular preachers vanished also on the suppression of the movement. The disastrous result of the Peasants' War was prejudicial even to Luther's cause in South Germany. The Catholic party reaped the advantage everywhere, evangelical preachers, even, where not insurrectionists, being persecuted. Little distinction, in fact, was made in most districts between an opponent of the Catholic Church from Luther's standpoint and one from Karlstadt's or Hubmayer's. Amongst seventy-one heretics arraigned before the Austrian court at Ensisheim, only one was acquitted. The others were broken on the wheel, burnt, or drowned.

There were some who were arrested ten or fifteen years later on charges connected with the 1525 revolt. Treachery, of course, played a large part, as it has done in all defeated movements, in ensuring the fate of many of those who had been at all prominent. In fairness to Luther, who otherwise played such a villainous role in connection with the peasants' movement, the fact should be recorded that he sheltered his old colleague, Karlstadt, for a short time in the Augustine monastery at Wittenberg, after the latter's escape from Rothenburg.

Wendel Hipler continued for some time at liberty, and might probably have escaped altogether had he not entered a protest against the Counts of Hohenlohe for having seized a portion of his private fortune that lay within their power. The result of his action might have been foreseen. The Counts, on hearing of it, revenged themselves by accusing him of having been a chief pillar of the rebellion. He had to flee immediately, and, after wandering about for some time in a disguise, one of the features of which is stated to have been a false nose, he was seized on his way to the Reichstag which was being held at Speier in 1526. Tenacious of his property to the last, he had hoped to obtain restitution of his rights from the assembled estates of the empire. Some months later he died in prison at Neustadt.

Of the victors, Truchsess and Frundsberg considered themselves badly treated by the authorities whom they had served so well, and Frundsberg even composed a lament on his neglect. This he loved to hear sung to the accompaniment of the harp as he swilled down his red wine. The cruel Markgraf Kasimir met a miserable death not long after from dysentery, whilst Cardinal Matthaus Lang, the Archbishop of Salzburg, ended his days insane.

Of the fate of other prominent men connected with the events described, we have spoken in the course of the narrative.

The castles and religious houses, which were destroyed, as already said, to the number of many hundreds, were in most cases not built up again. The ruins of not a few of them are visible to this day. Their owners often spent the sums relentlessly wrung out of the "common man" as indemnity in the extravagances of a gay life in the free towns or in dancing attendance at the Courts of the princes and the higher nobles. The collapse of the revolt was indeed an important link in the particular chain of events that was so rapidly destroying the independent existence of the lower nobility as a separate status with a definite political position, and transforming the face of society generally. Life in the smaller castle, the knight's burg or tower, was already tending to become an anachronism. The Court of the prince, lay or ecclesiastic, was attracting to itself all the elements of nobility below it in the social hierarchy. The revolt of 1525 gave a further edge to this development, the first act of which closed with the collapse of the knights' rebellion and death of Sickingen in 1523. The knight was becoming superfluous in the economy of the body politic.

The rise of capitalism, the sudden development of the world-market, the substitution of a money medium of exchange for direct barter—all these new factors were doing their work. Obviously the great gainers by the events of the momentous year were the representatives of the centralizing principle. But the effective centralizing principle was not represented by the Emperor, for he stood for what was after all largely a sham centralism, because it was a centralism on a scale for which the Germanic world was not ripe. Princes and margraves were destined to be bearers of the territorial centralization, the only real one to which the German peoples were to attain for a long time to come. Accordingly, just as the provincial grand seigneur of France became the courtier of the King at Paris or Versailles, so the previously quasi-independent German knight or baron became the courtier or hanger-on of the prince within or near whose territory his hereditary manor was situate.

The eventful year 1525 was truly a landmark in German history in many ways—the year of one of the most accredited exploits of Doctor Faustus, the last mythical hero the progressive races have created; the year in which Martin Luther, the ex-monk, capped his repudiation of Catholicism and all its ways by marrying an ex-nun; the year of the definite victory of Charles V. the German Emperor, over Francis I. the French King, which meant the final assertion of the "Holy Roman Empire" as being a national German institution; and last, but not least, the year of the greatest and the most widespread popular movement Central Europe had yet seen, and the last of the mediaeval peasant risings on a large scale. The movement of the eventful year did not, however, as many hoped and many feared, within any short time rise up again from its ashes, after discomfiture had overtaken it. In 1526, it is true, the genius of Gaismayr succeeded in resuscitating it, not without prospect of ultimate success, in the Tyrol and other of the Austrian territories. In this year, moreover, in other outlying districts, even outside German-speaking populations, the movement flickered. Thus the traveller between the town of Bellinzona, in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, and the Bernardino Pass, in Canton Graubuenden, may see to-day an imposing ruin, situated on an eminence in the narrow valley just above the small Italian-speaking town of Misox. This was one of the ancestral strongholds of the family, well known in Italian history, of the Trefuzios or Trevulzir, and was sacked by the inhabitants of Misox and the neighbouring peasants in the summer of 1526, contemporaneously with Gaismayr's rising in the Tyrol. A connection between the two events would be difficult to trace, but the destruction of the castle of Misox, if not a purely spontaneous local effervescence, looks like an afterglow of the great movement, such as may well have happened in other secluded mountain valleys.

The Peasants' War in Germany we have been considering is the last great mediaeval uprising of the agrarian classes in Europe. Its result was, with some few exceptions, a riveting of the peasant's chains and an increase of his burdens. More than 1,000 castles and religious houses were destroyed in Germany alone during 1525. Many priceless works of mediaeval art of all kinds perished. But we must not allow our regret at such vandalism to blind us in any way to the intrinsic righteousness of the popular demands.

The elements of revolution now became absorbed by the Anabaptist movement, a continuation primarily in the religious sphere of the doctrines of the Zwickau enthusiasts and also in many respects of Thomas Muenzer. At first Northern Switzerland, especially the towns of Basel and Zuerich, were the headquarters of the new sect, which, however, spread rapidly on all sides. Persecution of the direst description did not destroy it. On the contrary, it seemed only to have the effect of evoking those social and revolutionary elements latent within it which were at first overshadowed by more purely theological interests. As it was, the hopes and aspirations of the "common man" revived this time in a form indissolubly associated with the theocratic commonwealth, the most prominent representative of which during the earlier movement had been Thomas Muenzer.

But, notwithstanding resemblances, it is utterly incorrect, as has sometimes been done, to describe any of the leaders of the great peasant rebellion of 1525 as Anabaptists. The Anabaptist sect, it is true, originated in Switzerland during the rising, but it was then confined to a small coterie of unknown enthusiasts, holding semi-private meetings in Zuerich. It was from these small beginnings that the great Anabaptist movement of ten years later arose. It is directly from them that the Anabaptist movement of history dates its origin. Movements of a similar character, possessing a strong family likeness, belong to the mental atmosphere of the time in Germany. The so-called Zwickau prophets, for example, Nicholas Storch and his colleagues, seem in their general attitude to have approached very closely to the principles of the Anabaptist sectaries. But even here it is incorrect to regard them, as has often been done, as directly connected with the latter; still more as themselves the germ of the Anabaptist party of the following years. Thomas Muenzer, the only leader of the movement of 1525 who seems to have been acquainted with the Zuerich enthusiasts, was by no means at one with them on many points, notably refusing to attach any importance to their special sign, rebaptism. Chief among the Zuerich coterie may be mentioned Konrad Grebel, at whose house the sect first of all assembled. At first the Anabaptist movement at Zuerich was regarded as an extreme wing of the party of the Church reformer, Zwingli, in that city, but it was not long before it broke off entirely from the latter, and hostilities, ensuing in persecution for the new party, broke out.

To understand the true inwardness of the Anabaptist and similar movements, it is necessary to endeavour to think oneself back into the intellectual conditions of the period. The Biblical text itself, now everywhere read and re-read in the German language, was pondered and discussed in the house of the handicraftsman and in the hut of the peasant, with as much confidence of interpretation as in the study of the professional theologian. But there were also not a few of the latter order, as we have seen, who were becoming disgusted with the trend of the official Reformation and its leading representatives. The Bible thus afforded a point d'appui for the mystical tendencies now becoming universally prominent—a point d'appui lacking to the earlier movements of the same kind that were so constantly arising during the Middle Ages proper. Seen in the dim religious light of a continuous reading of the Bible and of very little else, the world began to appear in a new aspect to the simple soul who practised it. All things seemed filled with the immediate presence of Deity. He who felt a call pictured himself as playing the part of the Hebrew prophet. He gathered together a small congregation of followers, who felt themselves as the children of God in the midst of a heathen world. Did not the fall of the old Church mean that the day was at hand when the elect should govern the world? It was not so much positive doctrines as an attitude of mind that was the ruling spirit in Anabaptism and like movements. Similarly, it was undoubtedly such a sensitive impressionism rather than any positive dogma that dominated the first generation of the Christian Church itself. How this acted in the case of the earlier Anabaptists we shall presently see.

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