The Peasant War
The Peasant War
CHAPTER II. THE OUTBREAK OF THE PEASANTS WAR
THE GROWING DISCONTENT AMONG THE peasantry had led to many an attempt to curtail the right of assembly in the rural districts throughout Germany. These attempts were specially aimed at the popular merry-makings and festivals which brought the inhabitants of. Different parishes together. Weddings, pilgrimages, church-ales (kirchweihen), guild-feasts, etc., were sought to be suppressed or curtailed in many places. Even the ancient right of the village assembly was entrenched upon, or, in some cases, altogether withdrawn. But it was all of no avail. The fermentation continued to grow. From the spring of 1524 onwards, sporadic disturbances took place on various manors throughout the country. In many places tithes(1) were refused.
The first serious outbreak occurred in August, 1524, in the Rhine valley, in the Black Forest, at Stühlingen, on the domains of the Count of Lupfen, and the immediate cause is said to have been trivial exactions on the part of the countess. She required her tenants on some church holiday to gather strawberries and to collect snail shells on which to wind her skeins after spinning.(2) This slight impost evoked a spark that speedily became a flame running through all the neighbouring manors, where the various forms of corvée and dues were simultaneously refused. A leader suddenly appeared in one Hans Müller, a former soldier of fortune, who was a native of the village of Bulgenbach, belonging to the monastery of St. Blasien. A flag of the imperial colours, black, red and yellow, was made, and on St. Bartholomew's Day, the 24th August, Hans Müller at the head of 1,200 peasants marched to Waldshut under cover of a church-ale which was being held in that town.
Waldshut, which constituted the most eastern of the four so-called "forest towns" - the others being Laufenburg, Säkingen and Rheinfelden - was, at this moment, in strained relations with the Austrian authorities.
The peasants fraternised with the inhabitants of the little town, and the first "Evangelical Brotherhood" sprang into existence.(3) Every member of this organisation was required to contribute a small coin weekly to defray the expenses of the bearers of the secret despatches, which were to be distributed far and wide throughout Germany, inciting to amalgamation and a general rising. Throughout the districts of Baden in the Black Forest, throughout Elsass, the Rhein, the Mosel territories, as far as Thuringia, the message ran: no lord should there be but the emperor, to whom proper tribute should be rendered, on the guarantee of their ancient rights, but all castles and monasteries should be destroyed together with their charters and their jurisdictions.
As soon as the news of the agitation reached the Swabian League, unsuccessful attempts at pacification were made. The Swabian League, it must be premised, was a federation of princes, barons and towns, whose function was keeping up an armed force for the main purpose of seeing that imperial decrees were carried out, and for preserving public tranquillity generally. It was really the only effective instrument of imperial power that existed. As we shall presently see, it was this Swabian League that chiefly contributed to crushing the peasant revolt throughout southern Germany. Meanwhile the forces of Hans Muller were growing, until by the middle of October well-nigh 5,000 men were ranged under the black, red and gold banner. At the same time, the troops at the disposal of the nobility within the revolting area were altogether inadequate to cope with the situation. In the districts of the Black Forest and elsewhere, the Italian War of Charles V. had drained off the best and most numerous of the fighting men.
After marching through the neighbouring districts with his peasant army, whose weapons consisted largely of pitchforks, scythes and axes, proclaiming