Peasants' War (1524–25)

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PEASANTS' WAR (152425)

The Peasants' War was a rebellion by the poor agrarian classes against their overlords, which began in 1524 at Stühlingen and spread to most of the areas of southern and southeastern Germany, including Austria, the Tyrol, Alsace, and the provinces of the lower Rhine. Eventually, the rebellion touched off calls for reform in some South German cities as well, with the urban poor adding their calls for reform to those of the rural peasantry. The causes for unrest were many, including: economic pressures stemming from the commercial revolution; the increasingly burdensome demands of the landed classes; the growing sense of release from traditional social discipline resulting from the events and popular preaching of the early Reformation; the reception of Roman law, which lowered the social position of the German peasants and urban proletariat in relation to the authority of the Holy Roman Empire's princes, magistrates, and nobles; and the tradition of militant peasant action which had produced a number of peasant revolts during the previous half century, including the disturbances at Niklashausen in 1476, the uprisings of the Bundschuh of 1502, of Armer Konrad in 1514, and of Styria and Carinthia in 1515. Nineteenth-century historians once stressed that the Peasants' War resulted from a tragic misinterpretation of the doctrine of Christian freedom, as expressed most vigorously by Martin luther in his On Christian Liberty of 1520. Scholarship since the 1970s has stressed multiple and complex causes for the event and has often styled the Peasants' War as an early social revolution that eventually came to challenge aristocratic institutions and privileges and the hierarchical nature of the social structure.

Peasant demands were codified in the Twelve Articles of Memmingen, widely circulated in 1525, which included: the right of congregational election of pastors, modification of tithe payments, abolition of serfdom, discontinuance of land enclosure, elimination of traditional feudal dues, and reform in administration of justice. The relationship between the German Protestant reformation and the Peasants' War, while not immediate, was perceived at the time to be very real. In his "An Exhortation to Peace in Response to the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants" of 1525, Luther initially counseled Germany's peasants against the use of force and the empire's nobles to conciliate with their subjects. As the conflict escalated to include Thuringia, and as the the peasants of Swabia and Franconia were won over to the doctrines of Thomas Münzer, Luther reacted decisively against the movement. In "Against the Murderous and Robbing Horde of the Peasantry" (1525), he issued a violent attack on them, advising the princes to make every effort to crush the rebellion. philip of hesse, the Elector John of Saxony, and the Dukes Henry and George of Saxony met and defeated Münzer's force at Frankenhausen on May 15, 1525, slaughtering more than 5,000 peasants and capturing and executing their leaders, including Münzer. Anton of Lorraine annihilated the rebel bands in Alsace, while George Truchsess, with the Electors of Palatine and Trier, destroyed those under Metzler at Konigshofen.

Bibliography: p. blickle, The Revolution of 1525, trans. t. brady, jr., and h. c. e. midelfort (Baltimore 1981). g. franz, Der deutsche Bauernkrieg (Darmstadt 1956); Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3, 7 v. (Tübingen 195765) 1:927930. f. zoepfl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg 195765); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 2:5859. b. gebhardt, Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, ed. h. grundmann, 4 v. (Stuttgart 195460) v. 2. j. bÜhler, Deutsche Geschichte (Berlin 1954) v. 3.

[p. l. hughes]