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ARMLEDER , medieval German lawless bands, so called after the leather armpiece worn by the peasantry instead of the metal armor worn by knights; this served as a class label to denote the peasantry in particular during popular disturbances. The Armleder became identified with a gang of Judenschlaeger ("Jew-killers") who ranged Franconia and Alsace from 1336 to 1339. They were motivated by the feelings of hatred in which the Jews were held and the social tensions thus stimulated in Christian society in the first half of the 14th century. The preliminary band of Judenschlaeger was led through Franconia in 1336 by a nobleman claiming that an angel had called upon him to kill the Jews. The following year a tavernkeeper, John Zimberlin, claimed to be a prophet called upon to avenge Christ. He was assisted by a nobleman, Umbehoven of Dorlisheim. Zimberlin gathered together a gang of peasants armed with pitchforks and distinguished by leather armbands, and assumed the title Kunig (king) Armleder. The marauders overran Upper Alsace, and ravaged 120 communities; in many cities the populace handed over the Jewish residents. The Jews of Rouffach, Ensisheim, and Muelhausen (*Mulhouse) were massacred, their belongings in the two first cities confiscated by the bishop of Strasbourg, while the emperor Ludwig of Bavaria lent his tacit support to the crime by exonerating the city of Muelhausen from guilt in return for an indemnity of 1,000 pounds. The assault was repeated in Ribeauville, where it is said that about 1,500 Jews perished. During the prolonged siege of *Colmar the leading citizens refused to surrender the Jewish inhabitants, and on the arrival of imperial troops there

"King Armleder" fled to France; Ludwig thereupon ceded the Jews to the city for 4,000 pounds, thus leaving them to the mercy of the populace. After Ludwig's departure Zimberlin returned to Alsace and continued his depredations. Before long, however, the Armleder began to menace the general peace and security, not confining their attacks to the Jewish population. On May 17, 1338, the bishop of Strasbourg made an agreement with several lords and 12 cities to end the raids and protect the Jews. On Aug. 28, 1339, a ten-year armistice was concluded with Zimberlin, who promised to refrain from further attacks. Additional Landfrieden ("alliances") were concluded to combat brigandage against both Jews and Christians in the Rhine Valley. The attacks persisted in certain districts of Alsace. The Armleder massacres were a prelude to the slaughter of the Jewish population during the *Black Death.

add. bibliography:

F. Lotter, in: Faelschungen im Mittelalter, 5 (1988), 533–83; G. Mentgen, Studien zur Geschichte der Juden im mittelalterlichen Elsass (1995), 350–60; Ch. Cluse, in: Liber amicorum necnon et amicarum für Alfred Heit (1996), 371–92.

[Georges Weill]