Skip to main content
Select Source:

Peasants War

Peasants War

A rebellion that lasted from 1524 to 1525 in German-speaking domains of the Holy Roman Empire. The revolt originated in opposition to the heavy burdens of taxes and duties on the German serfs, who had no legal rights and no opportunity to improve their lot. These conditions had sparked conflict in the fifteenth century, but these uprisings remained local and contained. A more widespread rebellion was finally sparked in the 1520s by the movement for reform in the Catholic Church, and the social and political up-heavals that the Protestant Reformation caused. With the authority of church prelates challenged by Martin Luther and others, the peasants saw their cause supported by the Protestant emphasis on individual faith. Empowered in their religious views, and pressed by crop failures that threatened starvation, they saw an opportunity to overthrow the feudal system, in which they were bound to the estates of the nobles and forced to give up the produce of the fields in which they worked.

The revolt began in the summer of 1524 in the county of Stühlingen, in the region of Upper Swabia near the border of Germany and Switzerland. It spread quickly in southern and western Germany, and as far as Switzerland and Austria. In the spring of 1525, there were five large bands of peasants roaming the countryside, burning homes of nobles and princes, and bringing townspeople over to their side. The peasants sought relief from heavy taxes, an end to serfdom, fair trials, and an end to the taxes they owed on the death of a member of their families. They set down these demands in a document known as the Twelve Articles. The rebels seized the town of Heilbronn, where they formed a parliament, as well as Würtzburg, the seat of a Catholic bishop. In Thuringia, the rebels were led by Thomas Muntzer, a fiery Protestant leader.

Poor townspeople and urban artisans joined the rebellion, which also won the support of Huldrych Zwingli, a prominent Protestant leader, but was opposed by Martin Luther. In the meantime, an army of the Swabian League gathered and marched north into Franconia, in central Germany, defeating the peasants in battle at Frankenhausen and Königshofen. About one hundred thousand combatants and civilians were killed before the fighting died down in late 1525, while the armies of the opposition carried out deadly reprisals for the next two years. Small local rebellions continued into the next year in Austria, but the defeat of the peasants in Germany brought a complete repudiation of their demands for a more just economic system. The discontent of the peasants would continue through the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, adding to the bitter conflicts between Protestant and Catholic territories that would finally erupt into the Thirty Years' War in the early 1600s.

See Also: Reformation, Protestant; Thirty Years' War

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Peasants War." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Peasants War." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 12, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/peasants-war

"Peasants War." The Renaissance. . Retrieved October 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/peasants-war

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Peasants' War

Peasants' War, 1524–26, rising of the German peasants and the poorer classes of the towns, particularly in Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia. It was the climax of a series of local revolts that dated from the 15th cent. Although most of the peasants' demands were economic or political rather than religious, the Reformation sparked the explosion. When the peasants heard the church attacked by Martin Luther and other reformers and listened to traveling preachers expound such doctrines as the priesthood of all believers, they concluded that their cause had divine support and that their grievances would be redressed. At Stühlingen, near the Swiss border, a revolt broke out in 1524. The peasants of Swabia and Franconia organized armies, and within a year the war spread over W and S Germany. Aid was given by some discontented nobles, such as Florian Geyer, Götz von Berlichingen, and Ulrich I, dispossessed duke of Württemberg, as well as by large numbers of townsmen. A program called the Twelve Articles of the Peasantry listed among the demands liberty to choose their own pastors, relief from the lesser tithes, abolition of serfdom, the right to fish and hunt, restoration of inclosed common lands, abolition of death duties, impartiality of the courts, and restriction of the demands of landlords to their just feudal dues. These articles were modified variously to suit local conditions. Some atrocities by the peasants (e.g., the massacre of Weinsberg) marked the war, but those committed by their enemies were worse. The revolt received the blessing of the Swiss reformer Huldreich Zwingli and in Thuringia was led by the radical Anabaptist leader Thomas Münzer. Martin Luther, however, condemned the revolt, thus contributing to its eventual defeat. Lacking unity and firm leadership, the peasant forces were crushed (1525) largely by the army of the Swabian League. It is estimated that 100,000 peasants were killed. In Austria, where the revolt continued until 1526, the peasants won some concessions, but in most areas they suffered continued or increased restrictions and had to pay tribute. The peasants' defeat dissuaded further attempts by the peasantry to improve their social and political position.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Peasants' War." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Peasants' War." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 12, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

"Peasants' War." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Peasants War

Peasants' War (1524–25) Rebellion of German peasants, probably the largest popular uprising in European history. Sparked by anger against ever-increasing dues demanded by the princes, there was widespread pillaging in the countryside of s Germany. The peasants hoped for and needed the support of Martin Luther, but he rejected their Charter of Liberties and their rebellion was savagely suppressed.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Peasants War." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Peasants War." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 12, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

"Peasants War." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Peasants' War

Peasants' War

The Peasants' War was an uprising in southern and central Germany in the 1520s. A wide range of common people, including tillers of the soil, village artisans*, and poor townspeople, supported the uprising. The rebels did not want to overthrow the government or the Holy Roman Empire*. Rather, they hoped to end certain practices of nobles and the Roman Catholic Church. The war lasted from May 1524 to July 1526, involved up to 300,000 people, and claimed as many as 100,000 lives.

The revolt began as protests against lords to force them to treat common people justly. The rebels managed to seize supplies from monasteries and to dismantle several castles. They also forcibly occupied a number of German towns. More commonly, however, they captured cannons and supplies from towns that they did not enter. Violence against individuals by the rebels was rare. Battles did not begin until after April 1525, when armies of mercenaries* serving German princes* assembled to crush the uprising. In the one-sided battles that followed, thousands of peasants died.

The Peasants' War occurred in the most urbanized region of the Holy Roman Empire. Since about 1450, western Europe had experienced sizable population growth and an economic upswing. These changes led to greater differences of wealth and status among rural residents. Peasants who owned land controlled village governments and had a better life than landless peasants, laborers, and servants. However, they still owed rents and other payments to landlords, the government, and the church.

Peasants presented their complaints to the nobles in 1525. They resented the efforts of landlords and rulers to take away their time-honored privileges, such as attempts to exclude them from using the products of forests, waterways, and meadows. These products, especially game and fish, were sources of much-needed extra income. Other objects of protest included labor owed to landlords and rulers, excessive rents, and penalties that varied from customary laws.

The Peasants' War did not resolve the peasants' complaints, and smaller uprisings lasted into the 1600s. Because the revolt began with attacks on monasteries, German princes connected it to the religious upheaval sweeping the region. They feared the effects of the lawlessness on their authority and took firm control of the practice of religion. As a result, the Protestant Reformation in Germany lost some of its early energy.

(See alsoArtisans; Mercenaries; Peasantry; Revolts. )

* artisan

skilled worker or craftsperson

* Holy Roman Empire

political body in central Europe composed of several states; existed until 1806

* mercenary

hired soldier

* prince

Renaissance term for the ruler of an independent state

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Peasants' War." Renaissance: An Encyclopedia for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Peasants' War." Renaissance: An Encyclopedia for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 12, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

"Peasants' War." Renaissance: An Encyclopedia for Students. . Retrieved October 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peasants-war

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.