Peasants Revolt

Peasants Revolt

How did the Peasants Revolt end?

Also, where did the Peasants Revolt end? The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton, in Essex on 30 May 1381.

Peasants' Revolt.

Date 30 May 1381 &ndash November 1381
Location England
Result Suppression of revolt and execution of rebel leaders

Beside this, how was the Peasants Revolt resolved?

The Peasants' Revolt started in Essex on 30 May 1381, when a tax collector tried, for the third time in four years, to levy a poll tax . Soon both Essex and Kent were in revolt . The rebels coordinated their tactics by letter. They marched in London, where they destroyed the houses of government ministers.

Why was the Peasants Revolt significant?

The Whig historians portrayed the revolt as the start of the English people's fight for freedom &ndash as the beginning of the end of the feudal system . They said the feudal system was coming to an end anyway because the Black Death had made labour so expensive.

The Peasants Revolt

I mentioned yesterday that I’m reading the 8-volume History of the English People by John Richard Green. And on Sunday, I got to the part where Richard II, the boy king and grandson of Edward III, was crowned. Boy King Richard got his first test at the tender age of fourteen during the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

What lead up to the Peasants Revolt?

Well, a number of things. But let me give you the Readers Digest condensed version.

There were three things that are chief among the causes: the Plague, subsequent laws against the peasants due to the plague, and onerous taxation.

The Plague first struck England in 1348 and it took more than a year before it began to abate. Though the numbers of dead are difficult to know, Green estimates nearly half the English population fell victim to this “Great Mortality.”

Farm lands lay fallow because there were too few people remaining alive to work the lands. Prices for grain skyrocketed, as did the demand for workers. As a result, the peasants who worked the land were in an excellent position to demand higher pay. And they kinda needed it since the cost of everything including the food they needed to survive became off-the-charts expensive.

Unwilling to meet this higher pay, the landed estates with the help of Parliament enacted a series of laws to bring the peasants into line. First, pay for work would remain at the pre-pandemic levels. Next, they made it illegal for any peasant to relocate in search of better paying work. If you left the farm to which you were bound, you were a fugitive and could be imprisoned for committing the crime of looking for a better paying job.

To add insult to injury, Parliament enacted tax after tax to refill the coffers of the Crown that were depleted after decades of war with France.

This does not make for happy peasants as you can imagine.

And in late May 1381, the Peasants Revolt began.

King Richard II put down the revolt the good old fashioned way. He set the King’s army after them, hunted them down and executed them – starting with the peasant leader Wat Tyler as he was meeting at Smithfield to parley with the 14-year-old King.

These rebels were not arrested and put on trial. Instead, they were summarily executed without due process. And those who killed them were immediately pardoned by the King.

Because, you know, lawlessness is okay when the Ruling Class does it.

Reading about the Peasants Revolt at this moment in time resonated for me as you can imagine.

There are some interesting parallels.

We are also dealing with the aftermath of a once in a century pandemic – though not as deadly as “The Great Mortality.”

We are also seeing our government enacting onerous dictates on us in response to this pandemic. But rather than forcing us to work, they forced us to stay home – going so far as to arrest business owners who defied lockdown orders to keep their businesses open while deploying police to shut down churches.

And now, with the aftermath of the pandemic laying waste to our economy, our government is planning on raising our taxes in order to pay for spending that does not one thing to improve the lives of the people.

We will have to foot the bill despite the fact that we’ve been economically devasted by the government’s pandemic response.

Unequal justice, like that during the Peasants Revolt, is already happening to us. BLM rioters storm DC and set fire to an historic church, yet not one thing happens to them. Meanwhile a bunch of Trump supporters get arrested and held without bail for the crime of wandering into the Capitol taking selfies.

The police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, like the King’s soldiers who executed the rebel peasants, faces no charges for her death. We don’t even know his name.

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

So imagine my surprise this morning when, on the heels of reading about the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the first column I read is Kurt Schlichter’s latest “Letting Hunter Biden Off is a Message to Us Peasants.”

The fact that the loser spawn of Grandpa Badfinger is thumbing his coke-caked nose at the justice system represents not merely the tacky machinations of a crusty pol protecting the family Fredo. It has a deeper and more cynical purpose – to show us that our overlords are unaccountable and that the law is now merely another implement in the regime’s toolkit of oppression. They are telling us that they and their scumbag progeny can do whatever they want, but that we can’t.

In the short term, this is infuriating. In the long term, it could bring down the system our garbage ruling caste inherited.

Our ruling class is clearly ignorant of history. Hardly surprising when you consider that history is the least-taught subject in public schools. Plus, like most “progressives,” these idiots think history began ten minutes ago.

You can’t learn from the past if you ignore its existence.

And these guys are ignoring the past.

You can’t push people to the brink and not expect some kind of equal and opposite reaction. History is chock-a-block with examples of this. And the 1381 Peasants Revolt is only one of many.

Schlichter’s column warns exactly that. Eventually, there will be pushback. And the ruling class won’t like it.

But it was this paragraph that really sealed it for me:

The liberal establishment has succumbed to the temptation to rely on power instead of the law impartially and fairly applied. It further imagines, since our ruling caste is historically illiterate and totally ignorant of human, much less American, nature, that it can flaunt this unfairness and to intimidate us with it. Hitler thought he could bomb the Brits and butcher the Russians into submission. But it just made them madder, and in the end he blew his miserable brains out in a dingy cave.

And, might I add, the Crown thought it could treat the peasants like chattel while taxing them into oblivion, but it just made the peasants revolt.

While Richard II put down this revolt, it wasn’t the last strife to occur during his turbulent and brutal reign. And in the end, his own cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, deposed him and left Richard to die of starvation at Pontifract Castle at the age of 33.

I realize this makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but there’s a reason this current ideological “purge” taking place in the US Military has me nervous. Given history, I can’t help but wonder if the ruling class in America is anticipating the need to deploy US troops against the American people just as Richard II deployed his troops against the peasants.

Yes I know that sounds tin-foil hatty.

History is like spicy food. It repeats on you.

You can’t blame me for wondering if it could happen again.

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9 thoughts on &ldquo The Peasants Revolt &rdquo

“Yes I know that sounds tin-foil hatty.

History is like spicy food. It repeats on you.

You can’t blame me for wondering if it could happen again.”
Taking everything into account I can only conclude that they WANT it to happen again.

I have been sharing with my family snippets from various blogs, where the writers are warning of what is being done to us and what possibly lies in the future. My family thinks I’m a bit tin foil hatty. That’s when I remind them that I was the one to lay in a preparedness supply of food, toiletries, etc. which came in very handy when our area went into extended lockdown for six + months and certain items could not be had for love or money. I’m the one who for years advised them to take vitamin D supplements, which only two years ago my husband’s specialist finally recommended for him. The number one thing that those who got covid and died from it had in common- very low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D supports your immune system. I also have put together a covid treatment kit in case one of us gets sick, because our area hospitals simply put people on ventilators and let them die rather than using the recommended Math+ protocol that easily saves lives. There is a home treatment protocol for the early stages and it was developed by a team of doctors at a leading teaching hospital university in Virginia. My family loves me, but thinks it extreme to prepare. There are rumblings that our state may go into another hard lockdown soon. I love my family enough to take the measures I need to and if they want to think I’m a lovable nut, I can live with that. If you are still getting your news from the alphabet channels, begin to research blogs, independent news sources, and newspapers from outside of the country. It will open your eyes to how much we are being lied to. They are preparing for something. Look up the Great Reset and you will see their blueprint for a two tiered, cashless society where we will own nothing and be their slaves. They openly talk about it at their globalist gatherings which are on tape. That’s how confident they are that we will continue to be sheep.

Not long ago I felt that the one saving grace would be that the police and the military would not follow unlawful orders, like firing into civilians who are peacefully protesting. However, as I see the police in some places apparently happily following dictatorial orders to shut down businesses and “high school girls” taking over the upper echelons of the military I have my doubts. And besides, if the military and police do not follow the orders of our future fuhrers then Senile Joe and Heels up Harris (or whoever is pulling their strings) will just invite in “United Nations peacekeepers” from Communist China.

“…if the military and police do not follow the orders of our future fuhrers then Senile Joe and Heels up Harris (or whoever is pulling their strings) will just invite in “United Nations peacekeepers” from Communist China.”

that will make things really easy. blue helmet…target.

Yep. Not to mention there is a ton of former military and current police/reserves in red states ready to teach asymmetrical and others tactics.


The Declaration of Independence
My fellow Americans the evils of a King are well articulated in our first American prayer
our American Mission Staements and the SOUL-lution to the EVILS today are in the first Paragraph of the DECLARATION
My fellow Americans I am born an raised in the land of Fruits an NUTS who’s life style is as if they can become at best Kings and Queens which goes for both males an females
uncivil war is here in Commiefornia an the petty new Tyrants at this vey moment are importing peasants from the south to farm an cook an clean their CLOCKS and to rattle the cages of ONE PEOPLE
HISTORY will be repeated and the few Americans who understand and have a true understanding of who to FEAR and it is not the Poolitical bandits or the peasants from south of the border,or the so-called police or the fancy pants in military Dressups ,or for that matter any foreign army
FEAR GOD ,Divine Providence has saved our bacon before for the few Americans who know God we truly know Peace ,and WE KNOW how to bring the STING OF BATTLE
Soon my fellow Americans evil hypnated americans can an will attempt their great reset
THEY will turn out the Lights an declare The Party is OVER for THEY think They are in control of the switch of LIFE , all they control is the way ONE PEOPLE will become what History has show to all who think they can play at being god using EVIL WAYS to RULE
GODS wild cards who have the SPRIT OF 76 in our souls will water the Tree of Liberty with
our Blood and I guarantee More of mask Nazi’s ,petty tyrants ,foreign army’s, poolitcal bandits BLM antifa will be in the Soil then our ours and the way is always the same as it was written in the year of our lord july 4 1776
because we Believe in the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE
Americans get the job Done we are really Good at cleaning up the mess’s of petty
Tyrants for GOD has always LOVED the Souls of what One People Americans he created in 1776 can do and History has shown what Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness can do when applied
EVIL is real ,
it’s ugly head has shown itself in the light of day again this war this time can be fought but GOD wins it for us and all Americans in this battle know all we can do this time
Is To Hold Until Relieved by GOD

First they will try to take our guns by compliance or, eventually, by confiscation by
black boots into your homes. Only a fool would allow this without war.

The Tin Foil Hatters include many independent YouTubers (Michael Malice, Konstantin Kisin, Frances Foster) and authors (Rod Dreher) that confirm that immigrants who have first-hand experience with totalitarian regimes (in the USSR, Venezuela, and China) sense what is coming and are attempting to sound the alarm. Meanwhile, the media and authorities (who are turning out to have undisclosed financial ties to the CCP) are telling us that everything will be just fine…. there now…. just relax and let us do the thinking. My fear is that by the time the Navy ships sailing in from China dock on the West Coast, the takeover by the “peacekeepers” from our “friends” in China will just be a formality.


In the sixteenth century, many parts of Europe had common political links within the Holy Roman Empire, a decentralized entity in which the Holy Roman Emperor himself had little authority outside of his own dynastic lands, which covered only a small fraction of the whole. At the time of the Peasants' War, Charles V, King of Spain, held the position of Holy Roman Emperor (elected in 1519). Aristocratic dynasties ruled hundreds of largely independent territories (both secular and ecclesiastical) within the framework of the empire, and several dozen others operated as semi-independent city-states. The princes of these dynasties were taxed by the Roman Catholic church. The princes stood to gain economically if they broke away from the Roman church and established a German church under their own control, which would then not be able to tax them as the Roman church did. Most German princes broke with Rome using the nationalistic slogan of "German money for a German church". [4]

Roman civil law Edit

Princes often attempted to force their freer peasants into serfdom by increasing taxes and introducing Roman civil law. Roman civil law advantaged princes who sought to consolidate their power because it brought all land into their personal ownership and eliminated the feudal concept of the land as a trust between lord and peasant that conferred rights as well as obligations on the latter. By maintaining the remnants of the ancient law which legitimized their own rule, they not only elevated their wealth and position in the empire through the confiscation of all property and revenues, but increased their power over their peasant subjects.

During the Knights' Revolt the "knights", the lesser landholders of the Rhineland in western Germany, rose up in rebellion in 1522–1523. Their rhetoric was religious, and several leaders expressed Luther's ideas on the split with Rome and the new German church. However, the Knights' Revolt was not fundamentally religious. It was conservative in nature and sought to preserve the feudal order. The knights revolted against the new money order, which was squeezing them out of existence. [5]

Luther and Müntzer Edit

Martin Luther, the dominant leader of the Reformation in Germany, initially took a middle course in the Peasants' War, by criticizing both the injustices imposed on the peasants, and the rashness of the peasants in fighting back. He also tended to support the centralization and urbanization of the economy. This position alienated the lesser nobles, but shored up his position with the burghers. Luther argued that work was the chief duty on earth the duty of the peasants was farm labor and the duty of the ruling classes was upholding the peace. He could not support the Peasant War because it broke the peace, an evil he thought greater than the evils the peasants were rebelling against. At the peak of the insurrection in 1525, his position shifted completely to support of the rulers of the secular principalities and their Roman Catholic allies. In Against the Robbing Murderous Hordes of Peasants he encouraged the nobility to swiftly and violently eliminate the rebelling peasants, stating,"[the peasants] must be sliced, choked, stabbed, secretly and publicly, by those who can, like one must kill a rabid dog." [6] After the conclusion of the Peasants War, he was criticized for his writings in support of the violent actions taken by the ruling class. He responded by writing an open letter to Caspar Muller, defending his position. However, he also stated that the nobles were too severe in suppression of the insurrection, despite having called for severe violence in his previous work. [7] Luther has often been sharply criticized for his position. [8]

Thomas Müntzer was the most prominent radical reforming preacher who supported the demands of the peasantry, including political and legal rights. Müntzer's theology had been developed against a background of social upheaval and widespread religious doubt, and his call for a new world order fused with the political and social demands of the peasantry. In the final weeks of 1524 and the beginning of 1525, Müntzer travelled into south-west Germany, where the peasant armies were gathering here he would have had contact with some of their leaders, and it is argued that he also influenced the formulation of their demands. He spent several weeks in the Klettgau area, and there is some evidence to suggest that he helped the peasants to formulate their grievances. While the famous Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants were certainly not composed by Müntzer, at least one important supporting document, the Constitutional Draft, may well have originated with him. [9] Returning to Saxony and Thuringia in early 1525, he assisted in the organisation of the various rebel groups there and ultimately led the rebel army in the ill-fated Battle of Frankenhausen on 15 May 1525. [10] Müntzer's role in the Peasant War has been the subject of considerable controversy, some arguing that he had no influence at all, others that he was the sole inspirer of the uprising. To judge from his writings of 1523 and 1524, it was by no means inevitable that Müntzer would take the road of social revolution. However, it was precisely on this same theological foundation that Müntzer's ideas briefly coincided with the aspirations of the peasants and plebeians of 1525: viewing the uprising as an apocalyptic act of God, he stepped up as 'God's Servant against the Godless' and took his position as leader of the rebels. [11]

Luther and Müntzer took every opportunity to attack each other's ideas and actions. Luther himself declared against the moderate demands of the peasantry embodied in the twelve articles. His article Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants appeared in May 1525 just as the rebels were being defeated on the fields of battle.

Social classes in the 16th century Holy Roman Empire Edit

In this era of rapid change, modernizing princes tended to align with clergy burghers against the lesser nobility and peasants.

Princes Edit

Many rulers of Germany's various principalities functioned as autocratic rulers who recognized no other authority within their territories. Princes had the right to levy taxes and borrow money as they saw fit. The growing costs of administration and military upkeep impelled them to keep raising demands on their subjects. [12] The princes also worked to centralize power in the towns and estates. [13] Accordingly, princes tended to gain economically from the ruination of the lesser nobility, by acquiring their estates. This ignited the Knights' Revolt that occurred from 1522 through 1523 in the Rhineland. The revolt was "suppressed by both Catholic and Lutheran princes who were satisfied to cooperate against a common danger". [12]

To the degree that other classes, such as the bourgeoisie, [14] might gain from the centralization of the economy and the elimination of the lesser nobles' territorial controls on manufacture and trade, [15] the princes might unite with the burghers on the issue. [12]

Lesser nobility Edit

The innovations in military technology of the Late Medieval period began to render the lesser nobility (the knights) militarily obsolete. [15] The introduction of military science and the growing importance of gunpowder and infantry lessened the importance of heavy cavalry and of castles. Their luxurious lifestyle drained what little income they had as prices kept rising. They exercised their ancient rights in order to wring income from their territories. [14]

In the north of Germany many of the lesser nobles had already been subordinated to secular and ecclesiastical lords. [15] Thus, their dominance over serfs was more restricted. However, in the south of Germany their powers were more intact. Accordingly, the harshness of the lesser nobles' treatment of the peasantry provided the immediate cause of the uprising. The fact that this treatment was worse in the south than in the north was the reason that the war began in the south. [12]

The knights became embittered as their status and income fell and they came increasingly under the jurisdiction of the princes, putting the two groups in constant conflict. The knights also regarded the clergy as arrogant and superfluous, while envying their privileges and wealth. In addition, the knights' relationships with the patricians in the towns was strained by the debts owed by the knights. [16] At odds with other classes in Germany, the lesser nobility was the least disposed to the changes. [14]

They and the clergy paid no taxes and often supported their local prince. [12]

Clergy Edit

The clergy in 1525 were the intellectuals of their time. Not only were they literate, but in the Middle Ages they had produced most books. Some clergy were supported by the nobility and the rich, while others appealed to the masses. However, the clergy was beginning to lose its overwhelming intellectual authority. The progress of printing (especially of the Bible) and the expansion of commerce, as well as the spread of renaissance humanism, raised literacy rates, according to Engels. [17] Engels held that the Catholic monopoly on higher education was accordingly reduced. However, despite the secular nature of nineteenth century humanism, three centuries earlier Renaissance humanism had still been strongly connected with the Church: its proponents had attended Church schools.

Over time, some Catholic institutions had slipped into corruption. Clerical ignorance and the abuses of simony and pluralism (holding several offices at once) were rampant. Some bishops, archbishops, abbots and priors were as ruthless in exploiting their subjects as the regional princes. [18] In addition to the sale of indulgences, they set up prayer houses and directly taxed the people. Increased indignation over church corruption had led the monk Martin Luther to post his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, as well as impelling other reformers to radically re-think church doctrine and organization. [19] [20] The clergy who did not follow Luther tended to be the aristocratic clergy, who opposed all change, including any break with the Roman Church. [21]

The poorer clergy, rural and urban itinerant preachers who were not well positioned in the church, were more likely to join the Reformation. [22] Some of the poorer clergy sought to extend Luther's equalizing ideas to society at large.

Patricians Edit

Many towns had privileges that exempted them from taxes, so that the bulk of taxation fell on the peasants. As the guilds grew and urban populations rose, the town patricians faced increasing opposition. The patricians consisted of wealthy families who sat alone in the town councils and held all the administrative offices. Like the princes, they sought to secure revenues from their peasants by any possible means. Arbitrary road, bridge, and gate tolls were instituted at will. They gradually usurped the common lands and made it illegal for peasants to fish or to log wood from these lands. Guild taxes were exacted. No revenues collected were subject to formal administration, and civic accounts were neglected. Thus embezzlement and fraud became common, and the patrician class, bound by family ties, became wealthier and more powerful.

Burghers Edit

The town patricians were increasingly criticized by the growing burgher class, which consisted of well-to-do middle-class citizens who held administrative guild positions or worked as merchants. They demanded town assemblies made up of both patricians and burghers, or at least a restriction on simony and the allocation of council seats to burghers. The burghers also opposed the clergy, whom they felt had overstepped and failed to uphold their principles. They demanded an end to the clergy's special privileges such as their exemption from taxation, as well as a reduction in their numbers. The burgher-master (guild master, or artisan) now owned both his workshop and its tools, which he allowed his apprentices to use, and provided the materials that his workers needed. [23] F. Engels cites: "To the call of Luther of rebellion against the Church, two political uprisings responded, first, the one of lower nobility, headed by Franz von Sickingen in 1523, and then, the great peasant's war, in 1525 both were crushed, because, mainly, of the indecisiveness of the party having most interest in the fight, the urban bourgeoisie". (Foreword to the English edition of: 'From Utopy Socialism to Scientific Socialism', 1892)

Plebeians Edit

The plebeians comprised the new class of urban workers, journeymen, and peddlers. Ruined burghers also joined their ranks. Although technically potential burghers, most journeymen were barred from higher positions by the wealthy families who ran the guilds. [15] Thus their "temporary" position devoid of civic rights tended to become permanent. The plebeians did not have property like ruined burghers or peasants.

Peasants Edit

The heavily taxed peasantry continued to occupy the lowest stratum of society. In the early 16th century, no peasant could hunt, fish, or chop wood freely, as they previously had, because the lords had recently taken control of common lands. The lord had the right to use his peasants' land as he wished the peasant could do nothing but watch as his crops were destroyed by wild game and by nobles galloping across his fields in the course of chivalric hunts. When a peasant wished to marry, he not only needed the lord's permission but had to pay a tax. When the peasant died, the lord was entitled to his best cattle, his best garments and his best tools. The justice system, operated by the clergy or wealthy burgher and patrician jurists, gave the peasant no redress. Generations of traditional servitude and the autonomous nature of the provinces limited peasant insurrections to local areas. [ citation needed ]

Military organizations Edit

Army of the Swabian League Edit

The Swabian League fielded an army commanded by Georg, Truchsess von Waldburg, later known as "Bauernjörg" for his role in the suppression of the revolt. [24] He was also known as the "Scourge of the Peasants". [a] The league headquarters was in Ulm, and command was exercised through a war council which decided the troop contingents to be levied from each member. Depending on their capability, members contributed a specific number of mounted knights and foot soldiers, called a contingent, to the league's army. The Bishop of Augsburg, for example, had to contribute 10 horse (mounted) and 62 foot soldiers, which would be the equivalent of a half-company. At the beginning of the revolt the league members had trouble recruiting soldiers from among their own populations (particularly among peasant class) due to fear of them joining the rebels. As the rebellion expanded many nobles had trouble sending troops to the league armies because they had to combat rebel groups in their own lands. Another common problem regarding raising armies was that while nobles were obligated to provide troops to a member of the league, they also had other obligations to other lords. These conditions created problems and confusion for the nobles as they tried to gather together forces large enough to put down the revolts. [25]

Foot soldiers were drawn from the ranks of the landsknechte. These were mercenaries, usually paid a monthly wage of four guilders, and organized into regiments (haufen) and companies (fähnlein or little flag) of 120–300 men, which distinguished it from others. Each company, in turn, was composed of smaller units of 10 to 12 men, known as rotte. The landsknechte clothed, armed and fed themselves, and were accompanied by a sizable train of sutlers, bakers, washerwomen, prostitutes and sundry individuals with occupations needed to sustain the force. Trains (tross) were sometimes larger than the fighting force, but they required organization and discipline. Each landsknecht maintained its own structure, called the gemein, or community assembly, which was symbolized by a ring. The gemein had its own leader (schultheiss), and a provost officer who policed the ranks and maintained order. [24] The use of the landsknechte in the German Peasants' War reflects a period of change between traditional noble roles or responsibilities towards warfare and practice of buying mercenary armies, which became the norm throughout the 16th century. [26]

The league relied on the armored cavalry of the nobility for the bulk of its strength the league had both heavy cavalry and light cavalry, (rennfahne), which served as a vanguard. Typically, the rehnnfahne were the second and third sons of poor knights, the lower and sometimes impoverished nobility with small land-holdings, or, in the case of second and third sons, no inheritance or social role. These men could often be found roaming the countryside looking for work or engaging in highway robbery. [27]

To be effective the cavalry needed to be mobile, and to avoid hostile forces armed with pikes.

Peasant armies Edit

The peasant armies were organized in bands (haufen), similar to the landsknecht. Each haufen was organized into unterhaufen, or fähnlein and rotten. The bands varied in size, depending on the number of insurgents available in the locality. Peasant haufen divided along territorial lines, whereas those of the landsknecht drew men from a variety of territories. Some bands could number about 4,000 others, such as the peasant force at Frankenhausen, could gather 8,000. The Alsatian peasants who took to the field at the Battle of Zabern (now Saverne) numbered 18,000. [28]

Haufen were formed from companies, typically 500 men per company, subdivided into platoons of 10 to 15 peasants each. Like the landsknechts, the peasant bands used similar titles: Oberster feldhauptmann, or supreme commander, similar to a colonel, and lieutenants, or leutinger. Each company was commanded by a captain and had its own fähnrich, or ensign, who carried the company's standard (its ensign). The companies also had a sergeant or feldweibel, and squadron leaders called rottmeister, or masters of the rotte. Officers were usually elected, particularly the supreme commander and the leutinger. [28]

The peasant army was governed by a so-called ring, in which peasants gathered in a circle to debate tactics, troop movements, alliances, and the distribution of spoils. The ring was the decision-making body. In addition to this democratic construct, each band had a hierarchy of leaders including a supreme commander and a marshal (schultheiss), who maintained law and order. Other roles included lieutenants, captains, standard-bearers, master gunner, wagon-fort master, train master, four watch-masters, four sergeant-majors to arrange the order of battle, a weibel (sergeant) for each company, two quartermasters, farriers, quartermasters for the horses, a communications officer and a pillage master. [29]

Peasant resources Edit

The peasants possessed an important resource, the skills to build and maintain field works. They used the wagon fort effectively, a tactic that had been mastered in the Hussite Wars of the previous century. [30] Wagons were chained together in a suitable defensive location, with cavalry and draft animals placed in the center. Peasants dug ditches around the outer edge of the fort and used timber to close gaps between and underneath the wagons. In the Hussite Wars, artillery was usually placed in the center on raised mounds of earth that allowed them to fire over the wagons. Wagon forts could be erected and dismantled quickly. They were quite mobile, but they also had drawbacks: they required a fairly large area of flat terrain and they were not ideal for offense. Since their earlier use, artillery had increased in range and power. [31]

Peasants served in rotation, sometimes for one week in four, and returned to their villages after service. While the men served, others absorbed their workload. This sometimes meant producing supplies for their opponents, such as in the Archbishopric of Salzburg, where men worked to extract silver, which was used to hire fresh contingents of landsknechts for the Swabian League. [29]

However, the peasants lacked the Swabian League's cavalry, having few horses and little armour. They seem to have used their mounted men for reconnaissance. The lack of cavalry with which to protect their flanks, and with which to penetrate massed landsknecht squares, proved to be a long-term tactical and strategic problem. [32]

Historians disagree on the nature of the revolt and its causes, whether it grew out of the emerging religious controversy centered on Luther whether a wealthy tier of peasants saw their own wealth and rights slipping away, and sought to weave them into the legal, social and religious fabric of society or whether peasants objected to the emergence of a modernizing, centralizing nation state.

Threat to prosperity Edit

One view is that the origins of the German Peasants' War lay partly in the unusual power dynamic caused by the agricultural and economic dynamism of the previous decades. Labor shortages in the last half of the 14th century had allowed peasants to sell their labor for a higher price food and goods shortages had allowed them to sell their products for a higher price as well. Consequently, some peasants, particularly those who had limited allodial requirements, were able to accrue significant economic, social, and legal advantages. [33] Peasants were more concerned to protect the social, economic and legal gains they had made than about seeking further gains. [34]

Serfdom Edit

Their attempt to break new ground was primarily seeking to increase their liberty by changing their status from serfs, [35] such as the infamous moment when the peasants of Mühlhausen refused to collect snail shells around which their lady could wind her thread. The renewal of the signeurial system had weakened in the previous half century, and peasants were unwilling to see it restored. [36]

Luther's Reformation Edit

People in all layers of the social hierarchy—serfs or city dwellers, guildsmen or farmers, knights and aristocrats—started to question the established hierarchy. The so-called Book of One Hundred Chapters, for example, written between 1501 and 1513, promoted religious and economic freedom, attacking the governing establishment and displaying pride in the virtuous peasant. [37] The Bundschuh revolts of the first 20 years of the century offered another avenue for the expression of anti-authoritarian ideas, and for the spread of these ideas from one geographic region to another.

Luther's revolution may have added intensity to these movements, but did not create them the two events, Luther's Protestant Reformation and the German Peasants' War, were separate, sharing the same years but occurring independently. [38] However, Luther's doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" could be interpreted as proposing greater social equality than Luther intended. Luther vehemently opposed the revolts, writing the pamphlet Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he remarks "Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly . nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as one must kill a mad dog if you do not strike him he will strike you."

Historian Roland Bainton saw the revolt as a struggle that began as an upheaval immersed in the rhetoric of Luther's Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church but which really was impelled far beyond the narrow religious confines by the underlying economic tensions of the time. [39] [40]

Class struggle Edit

Friedrich Engels interpreted the war as a case in which an emerging proletariat (the urban class) failed to assert a sense of its own autonomy in the face of princely power and left the rural classes to their fate. [41]

During the 1524 harvest, in Stühlingen, south of the Black Forest, the Countess of Lupfen ordered serfs to collect snail shells for use as thread spools after a series of difficult harvests. Within days, 1,200 peasants had gathered, created a list of grievances, elected officers, and raised a banner. [42] Within a few weeks most of southwestern Germany was in open revolt. [42] The uprising stretched from the Black Forest, along the Rhine river, to Lake Constance, into the Swabian highlands, along the upper Danube river, and into Bavaria [43] and the Tyrol. [44]

Insurgency expands Edit

On 16 February 1525, 25 villages belonging to the city of Memmingen rebelled, demanding of the magistrates (city council) improvements in their economic condition and the general political situation. They complained of peonage, land use, easements on the woods and the commons, as well as ecclesiastical requirements of service and payment.

The city set up a committee of villagers to discuss their issues, expecting to see a checklist of specific and trivial demands. Unexpectedly, the peasants delivered a uniform declaration that struck at the pillars of the peasant-magisterial relationship. Twelve articles clearly and consistently outlined their grievances. The council rejected many of the demands. Historians have generally concluded that the articles of Memmingen became the basis for the Twelve Articles agreed on by the Upper Swabian Peasants Confederation of 20 March 1525.

A single Swabian contingent, close to 200 horse and 1,000-foot soldiers, however, could not deal with the size of the disturbance. By 1525, the uprisings in the Black Forest, the Breisgau, Hegau, Sundgau, and Alsace alone required a substantial muster of 3,000-foot and 300 horse soldiers. [24]

Twelve Articles (statement of principles) Edit

On 6 March 1525, some 50 representatives of the Upper Swabian Peasants Haufen (troops)—the Baltringer Haufen, the Allgäuer Haufen, and the Lake Constance Haufen (Seehaufen)—met in Memmingen to agree to a common cause against the Swabian League. [45] One day later, after difficult negotiations, they proclaimed the establishment of the Christian Association, an Upper Swabian Peasants' Confederation. [46] The peasants met again on 15 and 20 March in Memmingen and, after some additional deliberation, adopted the Twelve Articles and the Federal Order (Bundesordnung). [46] Their banner, the Bundschuh, or a laced boot, served as the emblem of their agreement. [46] The Twelve Articles were printed over 25,000 times in the next two months, and quickly spread throughout Germany, an example of how modernization came to the aid of the rebels. [46]

The Twelve Articles demanded the right for communities to elect and depose clergymen and demanded the utilization of the "great tithe" for public purposes after subtraction of a reasonable pastor's salary. [47] (The "great tithe" was assessed by the Catholic Church against the peasant's wheat crop and the peasant's vine crops. The great tithe often amounted to more than 10% of the peasant's income. [48] ) The Twelve Articles also demanded the abolition of the "small tithe" which was assessed against the peasant's other crops. Other demands of the Twelve Articles included the abolition of serfdom, death tolls, and the exclusion from fishing and hunting rights restoration of the forests, pastures, and privileges withdrawn from the community and individual peasants by the nobility and a restriction on excessive statute labor, taxes and rents. Finally, the Twelve Articles demanded an end to arbitrary justice and administration. [47]

Kempten Insurrection Edit

Kempten im Allgäu was an important city in the Allgäu, a region in what became Bavaria, near the borders with Württemberg and Austria. In the early eighth century, Celtic monks established a monastery there, Kempten Abbey. In 1213, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared the abbots members of the Reichsstand, or imperial estate, and granted the abbot the title of duke. In 1289, King Rudolf of Habsburg granted special privileges to the urban settlement in the river valley, making it a free imperial city. In 1525 the last property rights of the abbots in the Imperial City were sold in the so-called "Great Purchase", marking the start of the co-existence of two independent cities bearing the same name next to each other. In this multi-layered authority, during the Peasants' War, the abbey-peasants revolted, plundering the abbey and moving on the town. [b]

Battle of Leipheim Edit

On 4 April 1525, 5,000 peasants, the Leipheimer Haufen (literally: the Leipheim Bunch), gathered near Leipheim to rise against the city of Ulm. A band of five companies, plus approximately 25 citizens of Leipheim, assumed positions west of the town. League reconnaissance reported to the Truchsess that the peasants were well-armed. They had cannons with powder and shot and they numbered 3,000–4,000. They took an advantageous position on the east bank of the Biber. On the left stood a wood, and on their right, a stream and marshland behind them, they had erected a wagon fortress, and they were armed with arquebuses and some light artillery pieces. [49]

As he had done in earlier encounters with the peasants, the Truchsess negotiated while he continued to move his troops into advantageous positions. Keeping the bulk of his army facing Leipheim, he dispatched detachments of horse from Hesse and Ulm across the Danube to Elchingen. The detached troops encountered a separate group of 1,200 peasants engaged in local requisitions, and entered into combat, dispersing them and taking 250 prisoners. At the same time, the Truchsess broke off his negotiations, and received a volley of fire from the main group of peasants. He dispatched a guard of light horse and a small group of foot soldiers against the fortified peasant position. This was followed by his main force when the peasants saw the size of his main force—his entire force was 1,500 horse, 7,000-foot, and 18 field guns—they began an orderly retreat. Of the 4,000 or so peasants who had manned the fortified position, 2,000 were able to reach the town of Leipheim itself, taking their wounded with them in carts. Others sought to escape across the Danube, and 400 drowned there. The Truchsess' horse units cut down an additional 500. This was the first important battle of the war. [c]

Weinsberg Massacre Edit

An element of the conflict drew on resentment toward some of the nobility. The peasants of Odenwald had already taken the Cistercian Monastery at Schöntal, and were joined by peasant bands from Limpurg (near Schwäbisch Hall) and Hohenlohe. A large band of peasants from the Neckar valley, under the leadership of Jakob Rohrbach, joined them and from Neckarsulm, this expanded band, called the "Bright Band" (in German, Heller Haufen), marched to the town of Weinsberg, where the Count of Helfenstein, then the Austrian Governor of Württemberg, was present. [d] Here, the peasants achieved a major victory. The peasants assaulted and captured the castle of Weinsberg most of its own soldiers were on duty in Italy, and it had little protection. Having taken the count as their prisoner, the peasants took their revenge a step further: They forced him, and approximately 70 other nobles who had taken refuge with him, to run the gauntlet of pikes, a popular form of execution among the landsknechts. Rohrbach ordered the band's piper to play during the running of the gauntlet. [50] [51]

This was too much for many of the peasant leaders of other bands they repudiated Rohrbach's actions. He was deposed and replaced by a knight, Götz von Berlichingen, who was subsequently elected as supreme commander of the band. At the end of April, the band marched to Amorbach, joined on the way by some radical Odenwald peasants out for Berlichingen's blood. Berlichingen had been involved in the suppression of the Poor Conrad uprising 10 years earlier, and these peasants sought vengeance. In the course of their march, they burned down the Wildenburg castle, a contravention of the Articles of War to which the band had agreed. [52]

The massacre at Weinsberg was also too much for Luther this is the deed that drew his ire in Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants in which he castigated peasants for unspeakable crimes, not only for the murder of the nobles at Weinsberg, but also for the impertinence of their revolt. [53]

Massacre at Frankenhausen Edit

On 29 April the peasant protests in Thuringia culminated in open revolt. Large sections of the town populations joined the uprising. Together they marched around the countryside and stormed the castle of the Counts of Schwarzburg. In the following days, a larger number of insurgents gathered in the fields around the town. When Müntzer arrived with 300 fighters from Mühlhausen on 11 May, several thousand more peasants of the surrounding estates camped on the fields and pastures: the final strength of the peasant and town force was estimated at 6,000. The Landgrave, Philip of Hesse and Duke George of Saxony were on Müntzer's trail and directed their Landsknecht troops toward Frankenhausen. On 15 May joint troops of Landgraf Philipp I of Hesse and George, Duke of Saxony defeated the peasants under Müntzer near Frankenhausen in the County of Schwarzburg. [54]

The Princes' troops included close to 6,000 mercenaries, the Landsknechte. As such they were experienced, well-equipped, well-trained and of good morale. The peasants, on the other hand, had poor, if any, equipment, and many had neither experience nor training. Many of the peasants disagreed over whether to fight or negotiate. On 14 May, they warded off smaller feints of the Hesse and Brunswick troops, but failed to reap the benefits from their success. Instead the insurgents arranged a ceasefire and withdrew into a wagon fort.

The next day Philip's troops united with the Saxon army of Duke George and immediately broke the truce, starting a heavy combined infantry, cavalry and artillery attack. The peasants were caught off-guard and fled in panic to the town, followed and continuously attacked by the public forces. Most of the insurgents were slain in what turned out to be a massacre. Casualty figures are unreliable but estimates range from 3,000 to 10,000 while the Landsknecht casualties were as few as six (two of whom were only wounded). Müntzer was captured, tortured and executed at Mühlhausen on 27 May.

Battle of Böblingen Edit

The Battle of Böblingen (12 May 1525) perhaps resulted in the greatest casualties of the war. When the peasants learned that the Truchsess (Seneschal) of Waldburg had pitched camp at Rottenburg, they marched towards him and took the city of Herrenberg on 10 May. Avoiding the advances of the Swabian League to retake Herrenberg, the Württemberg band set up three camps between Böblingen and Sindelfingen. There they formed four units, standing upon the slopes between the cities. Their 18 artillery pieces stood on a hill called Galgenberg, facing the hostile armies. The peasants were overtaken by the League's horse, which encircled and pursued them for kilometres. [55] While the Württemberg band lost approximately 3,000 peasants (estimates range from 2,000 to 9,000), the League lost no more than 40 soldiers. [56]

Battle of Königshofen Edit

At Königshofen, on 2 June, peasant commanders Wendel Hipfler and Georg Metzler had set camp outside of town. Upon identifying two squadrons of League and Alliance horse approaching on each flank, now recognized as a dangerous Truchsess strategy, they redeployed the wagon-fort and guns to the hill above the town. Having learned how to protect themselves from a mounted assault, peasants assembled in four massed ranks behind their cannon, but in front of their wagon-fort, intended to protect them from a rear attack. The peasant gunnery fired a salvo at the League advanced horse, which attacked them on the left. The Truchsess' infantry made a frontal assault, but without waiting for his foot soldiers to engage, he also ordered an attack on the peasants from the rear. As the knights hit the rear ranks, panic erupted among the peasants. Hipler and Metzler fled with the master gunners. Two thousand reached the nearby woods, where they re-assembled and mounted some resistance. In the chaos that followed, the peasants and the mounted knights and infantry conducted a pitched battle. By nightfall only 600 peasants remained. The Truchsess ordered his army to search the battlefield, and the soldiers discovered approximately 500 peasants who had feigned death. The battle is also called the Battle of the Turmberg, for a watch-tower on the field. [57]

Siege of Freiburg im Breisgau Edit

Freiburg, which was a Habsburg territory, had considerable trouble raising enough conscripts to fight the peasants, and when the city did manage to put a column together and march out to meet them, the peasants simply melted into the forest. After the refusal by the Duke of Baden, Margrave Ernst, to accept the 12 Articles, peasants attacked abbeys in the Black Forest. The Knights Hospitallers at Heitersheim fell to them on 2 May Haufen to the north also sacked abbeys at Tennenbach and Ettenheimmünster. In early May, Hans Müller arrived with over 8,000 men at Kirzenach, near Freiburg. Several other bands arrived, bringing the total to 18,000, and within a matter of days, the city was encircled and the peasants made plans to lay a siege. [58]

Second Battle of Würzburg (1525) Edit

After the peasants took control of Freiburg in Breisgau, Hans Müller took some of the group to assist in the siege at Radolfzell. The rest of the peasants returned to their farms. On 4 June, near Würzburg, Müller and his small group of peasant-soldiers joined with the Franconian farmers of the Hellen Lichten Haufen. Despite this union, the strength of their force was relatively small. At Waldburg-Zeil near Würzburg they met the army of Götz von Berlichingen ("Götz of the Iron Hand"). An imperial knight and experienced soldier, although he had a relatively small force himself, he easily defeated the peasants. In approximately two hours, more than 8,000 peasants were killed.

Closing stages Edit

Several smaller uprisings were also put down. For example, on 23/24 June 1525 in the Battle of Pfeddersheim the rebellious haufens in the Palatine Peasants' War were decisively defeated. By September 1525 all fighting and punitive action had ended. Emperor Charles V and Pope Clemens VII thanked the Swabian League for its intervention.

The peasant movement ultimately failed, with cities and nobles making a separate peace with the princely armies that restored the old order in a frequently harsher form, under the nominal control of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, represented in German affairs by his younger brother Ferdinand. The main causes of the failure of the rebellion was the lack of communication between the peasant bands because of territorial divisions, and because of their military inferiority. [59] While Landsknechts, professional soldiers and knights joined the peasants in their efforts (albeit in fewer numbers), the Swabian League had a better grasp of military technology, strategy and experience.

The aftermath of the German Peasants' War led to an overall reduction of rights and freedoms of the peasant class, effectively pushing them out of political life. Certain territories in upper Swabia such as Kempton, Weissenau, and Tyrol saw peasants create territorial assemblies (Landschaft), sit on territorial committees as well as other bodies which dealt with issues that directly affected the peasants like taxation. [59] However the overall goals of change for these peasants, particularly looking through the lens of the Twelve Articles, had failed to come to pass and would remain stagnant, real change coming centuries later.

Marx and Engels Edit

Friedrich Engels wrote The Peasant War in Germany (1850), which opened up the issue of the early stages of German capitalism on later bourgeois "civil society" at the level of peasant economies. Engels' analysis was picked up in the middle 20th century by the French Annales School, and Marxist historians in East Germany and Britain. [60] Using Karl Marx's concept of historical materialism, Engels portrayed the events of 1524–1525 as prefiguring the 1848 Revolution. He wrote, "Three centuries have passed and many a thing has changed still the Peasant War is not so impossibly far removed from our present struggle, and the opponents who have to be fought are essentially the same. We shall see the classes and fractions of classes which everywhere betrayed 1848 and 1849 in the role of traitors, though on a lower level of development, already in 1525." [61] Engels ascribed the failure of the revolt to its fundamental conservatism. [62] This led both Marx and Engels to conclude that the communist revolution, when it occurred, would be led not by a peasant army but by an urban proletariat.

Later historiography Edit

Historians disagree on the nature of the revolt and its causes, whether it grew out of the emerging religious controversy centered on Martin Luther whether a wealthy tier of peasants saw their wealth and rights slipping away, and sought to re-inscribe them in the fabric of society or whether it was peasant resistance to the emergence of a modernizing, centralizing political state. Historians have tended to categorize it either as an expression of economic problems, or as a theological/political statement against the constraints of feudal society. [63]

After the 1930s, Günter Franz's work on the peasant war dominated interpretations of the uprising. Franz understood the Peasants' War as a political struggle in which social and economic aspects played a minor role. Key to Franz's interpretation is the understanding that peasants had benefited from the economic recovery of the early 16th century and that their grievances, as expressed in such documents as the Twelve Articles, had little or no economic basis. He interpreted the uprising's causes as essentially political, and secondarily economic: the assertions by princely landlords of control over the peasantry through new taxes and the modification of old ones, and the creation of servitude backed up by princely law. For Franz, the defeat thrust the peasants from view for centuries. [64]

The national aspect of the Peasants' Revolt was also utilised by the Nazis. For example, an SS cavalry division (the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer) was named after Florian Geyer, a knight who led a peasant unit known as the Black Company.

A new economic interpretation arose in the 1950s and 1960s. This interpretation was informed by economic data on harvests, wages and general financial conditions. It suggested that in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, peasants saw newly achieved economic advantages slipping away, to the benefit of the landed nobility and military groups. The war was thus an effort to wrest these social, economic and political advantages back. [64]

Meanwhile, historians in East Germany engaged in major research projects to support the Marxist viewpoint. [65]

Starting in the 1970s, research benefited from the interest of social and cultural historians. Using sources such as letters, journals, religious tracts, city and town records, demographic information, family and kinship developments, historians challenged long-held assumptions about German peasants and the authoritarian tradition.

This view held that peasant resistance took two forms. The first, spontaneous (or popular) and localized revolt drew on traditional liberties and old law for its legitimacy. In this way, it could be explained as a conservative and traditional effort to recover lost ground. The second was an organized inter-regional revolt that claimed its legitimacy from divine law and found its ideological basis in the Reformation.

Later historians refuted both Franz's view of the origins of the war, and the Marxist view of the course of the war, and both views on the outcome and consequences. One of the most important was Peter Blickle's emphasis on communalism. Although Blickle sees a crisis of feudalism in the latter Middle Ages in southern Germany, he highlighted political, social and economic features that originated in efforts by peasants and their landlords to cope with long term climate, technological, labor and crop changes, particularly the extended agrarian crisis and its drawn-out recovery. [15] For Blickle, the rebellion required a parliamentary tradition in southwestern Germany and the coincidence of a group with significant political, social and economic interest in agricultural production and distribution. These individuals had a great deal to lose. [66]

This view, which asserted that the uprising grew out of the participation of agricultural groups in the economic recovery, was in turn challenged by Scribner, Stalmetz and Bernecke. They claimed that Blickle's analysis was based on a dubious form of the Malthusian principle, and that the peasant economic recovery was significantly limited, both regionally and in its depth, allowing only a few peasants to participate. Blickle and his students later modified their ideas about peasant wealth. A variety of local studies showed that participation was not as broad based as formerly thought. [67] [68]

The new studies of localities and social relationships through the lens of gender and class showed that peasants were able to recover, or even in some cases expand, many of their rights and traditional liberties, to negotiate these in writing, and force their lords to guarantee them. [69]

The course of the war also demonstrated the importance of a congruence of events: the new liberation ideology, the appearance within peasant ranks of charismatic and military-trained men like Müntzer and Gaismair, a set of grievances with specific economic and social origins, a challenged set of political relationships and a communal tradition of political and social discourse.

Peasants Revolt

Medieval England experienced few revolts but the most serious was the Peasants’ Revolt which took place in June 1381. A violent system of punishments for offenders was usually enough to put off peasants from causing trouble. Most areas in England also had castles in which soldiers were garrisoned, and these were usually enough to guarantee reasonable behaviour among medieval peasants.

An army of peasants from Kent and Essex marched on London. They did something no-one had done before or since – they captured the Tower of London. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the King’s Treasurer were killed. The king, Richard II, was only 14 at the time but despite his youth, he agreed to meet the peasants at a place called Mile End.

What were the peasants angry about and why had they come to London ?

1. After the Black Death, many manors were left short of workers. To encourage those who had survived to stay on their manor, many lords had given the peasants on their estates their freedom and paid them to work on their land. Now, nearly 35 years after the Black Death, many peasants feared that the lords would take back these privileges and they were prepared to fight for them.

2. Many peasants had to work for free on church land, sometimes up to two days in the week. This meant that they could not work on their own land which made it difficult to grow enough food for their families. Peasants wanted to be free of this burden that made the church rich but them poor. They were supported in what they wanted by a priest called John Ball from Kent.

3. There had been a long war with France. Wars cost money and that money usually came from the peasants through the taxes that they paid. In 1380, Richard II introduced a new tax called the Poll Tax. This made everyone who was on the tax register pay 5p. It was the third time in four years that such a tax had been used. By 1381, the peasants had had enough. 5p to them was a great deal of money. If they could not pay in cash, they could pay in kind, such as seeds, tools etc., anything that could be vital to survival in the coming year.

In May 1381, a tax collector arrived at the Essex village of Fobbing to find out why the people there had not paid their poll tax. He was thrown out by the villagers. In June, soldiers arrived to establish law and order. They too were thrown out as the villagers of Fobbing had now organised themselves and many other local villages in Essex had joined them. After doing this, the villagers marched on London to plead with the young king to hear their complaints.

One man had emerged as the leader of the peasants – Wat Tyler from Kent. As the peasants from Kent had marched to London, they had destroyed tax records and tax registers. The buildings which housed government records were burned down. They got into the city of London because the people there had opened the gates to them.

By mid-June the discipline of the peasants was starting to go. Many got drunk in London and looting took place. It is known that foreigners were murdered by the peasants. Wat Tyler had asked for discipline amongst those who looked up to him as their leader. He did not get it.

On June 14th, the king met the rebels at Mile End. At this meeting, Richard II gave the peasants all that they asked for and asked that they go home in peace. Some did. Others returned to the city and murdered the archbishop and Treasurer – their heads were cut off on Tower Hill by the Tower of London. Richard II spent the night in hiding in fear of his life.

On June 15th, he met the rebels again at Smithfield outside of the city’s walls. It is said that this was the idea of the Lord Mayor (Sir William Walworthe) who wanted to get the rebels out of the city. Medieval London was wooden and the streets were cramped. Any attempt to put down the rebels in the city could have ended in a fire or the rebels would have found it easy to vanish into the city once they knew that soldiers were after them.

At this meeting, the Lord Mayor killed Wat Tyler. We are not sure what happened at this meeting as the only people who could write about it were on the side of the king and their evidence might not be accurate. The death of Tyler and another promise by Richard to give the peasants what they asked for, was enough to send them home.

Walworth, bottom left hand corner, killing Tyler. Richard II is just behind Tyler and also addressing the peasants after Tyler’s death

By the summer of 1381, the revolt was over. John Ball was hanged. Richard did not keep any of his promises claiming that they were made under threat and were therefore not valid in law. Other leaders from both Kent and Essex were hanged. The poll tax was withdrawn but the peasants were forced back into their old way of life – under the control of the lord of the manor.

However, the lords did not have it their own way. The Black Death had caused a shortage of labour and over the next 100 years many peasants found that they could earn more (by their standards) as the lords needed a harvest in and the only people who could do it were the peasants. They asked for more money and the lords had to give it.

Peasants Revolt

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Peasants' Revolt

Stirrings of rebellion

The revolt began in Essex, at the end of May, with an attack by men from Fobbing and surrounding villages on John Bampton and other justices who were part of an investigating commission. Another commission, led by Sir Robert Belknap, Chief Justice of Common Pleas, attempted to deal with rioters at Brentwood, but this provoked further violence. The revolt quickly spread across the Home Counties and East Anglia.

Death of Wat Tyler

The rebels then converged on London. By 12 June groups from Kent and Essex had reached the suburbs. The government hesitated. It chose to negotiate and arranged a meeting at Blackheath between the 14-year-old king, Richard II, and the Kentish rebel leader, Wat Tyler. The rebels demanded the heads of 'traitors', among them the king's uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. This was refused. They then forced their way into London, attacking and looting property - including Gaunt's residence at the Savoy - and releasing prisoners from Newgate Prison.

Harsh retribution

The government quickly swung into action, ordering sheriffs to proclaim the enforcement of peace and to take whatever measures were necessary to crush the revolt. Judicial commissions were appointed to restore order, authorised to deal with the rebels 'according to the law and custom of England'. Only one county offered active resistance - Essex. Here retribution was harshest. In the course of the judicial hearings, 19 rebels were executed by hanging and another dozen by hanging and drawing. The Peasants' Revolt was over.

Peasants&rsquo Revolt?

The popular term for the events of 1381 is terribly misleading. It is because of this name that one of the greatest myths about the revolt exists: that it was simply an uprising of ale-drenched oafs brandishing rusty agricultural implements. Nothing could be further from the truth: the revolt was neither an exclusively rural phenomenon, nor a rebellion of just peasants. For the ripples of discontent passed through the inhabitants of the great towns and cities of 14 th -century England, and the mob itself included members of the aristocracy and knightly class. Historians thus prefer to call it ‘The Great Revolt&rsquo.

It was not just peasants who were furious about the social and economic conditions in 1381. The eastern county of Norfolk is a case in point. Actively participating in the rebellion there was one Sir Roger Bacon, a knight from the manor of Baconsthorpe. As well as generally participating in the orgy of violence, he even took command of a battalion of rebels, and led them on a brutal assault against the city of Norwich. Another member of the knightly class involved was Thomas Gyssing, son of Sir Thomas, who had served as MP for Norfolk in 1380.

Although plenty of peasants were involved in the Great Revolt, they found many allies in the cities. In London, for example, the complicity and participation of the urban population was crucial to the uprising&rsquos success. In the early stages of the rebellion, when small protests were taking place in Essex and Kent, two London Butchers, Adam Attewell and Roger Harry, rode out to the counties to inform the rebels that they could count on support from the capital if they came to London. When they did come, Londoners were crucial in leading the way to important targets and providing intelligence.

Though closer economically to peasants than aristocrats, professionals such as Attewell and Harry were most certainly not serfs legally tied to a lord&rsquos estate. These men, whilst hardly wealthy, had a much greater degree of economic and political freedom than the peasants. Yet whilst they would have taken being called ‘peasants&rsquo as an insult, they were as much involved in the revolt as their poorer allies. As we will see over the coming items on the list, it is absolutely vital that images of the bumbling peasant-gang be purged from our minds when thinking of The Great Revolt of 1381.

Where Luther Got It Wrong: The Peasants’ Revolt

I am deeply grateful for the sabbatical summer I spent reading about Luther and the Reformation, among other things. Thank you.

LEAD asked me to share a few of my gleanings. This is a small portion of a chapter I wrote for some future work, perhaps a Lenten study on the Reformation.

The Reformation meant an increase in education. It launched a flurry of hymn-writing. Luther translated the Bible into German. The liturgy and sermons were brought into in the language of the people. The laity began receiving the cup. And while there was sadly a division in the church, the Roman Catholic side also initiated reforms.

But all was not well. Luther was often acerbic, harsh and unbending. He called the Pope the Antichrist. He said Copernicus was trying to turn the whole world of astronomy upside down (54:359), and tried to prove him wrong from Scripture (Joshua 10:12). He said men had broad shoulders and narrow hips, therefore possessing more intelligence, whereas women had broad hips and a wide fundament for keeping the house and raising children. And who hasn’t read Luther’s senile ranting about the Jews in his 1543 pamphlet, that Luther scholars prayed would get lost in the dustbin of history?

I want to devote these next few paragraphs, however, to another place where Luther got it wrong, and missed a huge opportunity: Luther’s stance on The Peasants’ Revolt of 1525.

In Luther’s day, the vast majority of Europeans did not live in cities. According to Princeton Reformation scholar Kenneth Appold, most Europeans were rural peasants living in some form of feudal servitude. Since 95% of them did not know how to read or write, their names are not known, and their story is often not told in books chronicling the events of the Reformation.

Long before Luther was born, in the mid-14th century, the Black Plague began to devastate Europe. The Black Plague, also known as the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague killed over 100 million people, around half of Europe.

The Plague had a curious consequence. As the populations of Europe were decimated, there was a considerable surplus of grain. With 100 million less mouths to feed, there was more grain than needed. The laws of supply and demand being what they are, this superabundance of food led to steep drop in the price of grain. The result, of course, meant that the lords of a predominately agrarian economy got a considerable haircut. Their profits plummeted.

In order to offset these losses, the lords increasingly found ways to pass costs on to their subjects, most of whom were peasants farming on land owned by the lord. Rents were raised. Leases were extended to a lifetime, essentially making slaves or indentured servants out of the farmers. Some rents went beyond a lifetime, indenturing peasants’ children and grandchildren. If debts were not paid, the poor land workers could be jailed and their families forced to work them out of jail. The lord of the manor would also offer protection, for a fee. Serfs who were beholden to their master would have to ask permission to travel, or to marry. Laws favorable to the aristocracy were often passed that widened the gap between peasant and lord.

In addition, the lords began to fence in their considerable properties. Peasants had less access to common lands for hunting, fishing and gathering firewood. Peasants could be fined or jailed for poaching. Lords could confiscate personal property. When a peasant died, the lord could help himself to the peasant’s belongings. Serfs were the lowest class of feudal Europe. As their situation worsened, the complaints increased and uprisings began to surface.

These peasants never envisioned a democratic society or an end to feudalism. They did not call for the termination of serfdom, at first anyway. They simply wanted to return to the fairer practices of antiquity. They wanted access to common lands.

Sometimes the lands belonged to monasteries, so the landowners were prince-abbots. Peasants who questioned practices that smacked of extortion would be reprimanded, deprived of property, accused of larceny, or in some cases excommunicated. Tensions increased as peasants protested. Mercenaries would be sent in to plunder uppity villages.

In 1524 a few unrelated skirmishes flared up. In Stülingen, in the middle of the harvest, the Countess of Lupfen ordered her serfs to collect snail shells to use as thread spools. Over a thousand peasants gathered, formed a committee and drew up a list of complaints. Other concurrent events blended into a large scale revolt running across southwest Germany. In time they formed a confederation and drew up the Twelve Articles, stating their cause. They wanted to elect their own pastors. They wanted to use their tithes (10% or more of their crops) to pay their pastor rather than sending those tithes on to an external church entity that sent them a pastor not of their choosing. They called for an end to serfdom, and the restoration of hunting and fishing rights.

Luther sympathized with the peasants’ plight. He denounced the unjust practices. Many peasants found a ringing voice in Luther’s writings, especially his most famous treatises, On Christian Freedom, which had been published in 1520, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In On Christian Freedom, Luther stated, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Luther meant this theologically. Christians were not subject to Moses’ law, only to Christ’s law to love one another, as Paul had said in Romans 13:8. The peasants, however, heard this as a type of manifesto. While not yet a Jeffersonian “all men are created equal,” which was to come two centuries later, they heard a fresh wind of freedom from an intolerable situation. Luther’s writings were not the cause of the revolt, but they certainly appealed to the peasants.

When the revolts began to turn violent, Luther opposed them. He claimed the peasants had misunderstood what he was saying, and while he felt their cause was just, he could not support their insurrection and breaking of the peace. Responding to the peasants he wrote, Against the Murderous, Thieving Hoards of Peasants (Wider die Mordischen und Reubischen Rotten der Bawren). In this tract, Luther instructed the German Nobility to strike down the peasants as one would kill a mad dog. This was just what the Lutheran and Catholic aristocracy wanted to hear, and it is precisely what they did. The revolt was put down. When the smoke cleared 100,000 peasants were dead.

It is easy with our 21st century, post-American Revolution eyes to judge Luther for his lack of democratic values. Luther was a product of Late Medieval feudal society. He wanted to part in anarchy. Nevertheless, his decision cost him the support of the peasants, who, in time, identified with the more egalitarian Anabaptist movement. He sided with the powerful over the powerless. Because Luther and his parents were neither peasants nor rural, it is likely that he didn’t fully understand their plight. Lutheranism henceforth became a religion for the upper classes.

What can we learn? One who sees part of the gospel may not see all of it. There were no clear winners and losers in the Reformation. There were many players besides Lutherans and Catholics. There were Anabaptists and Calvinists. This was not a bipolar conflict. Luther is at best a flawed hero. Approach Reformation Sunday with some humility. If you find yourself siding with the rich and powerful over the poor and powerless, beware. You might just be on the wrong side of history.

Why did Medieval peasants’ revolt?

The most common reasons peasants’ revolted was the lack of food, high taxes or feeling oppressed/unrepresented. Of course, it did not have to just be one of these a single revolt could have multiple factors. With it sometimes being quite hard to separate the political, economic, and social causes as they can quite often overlap. Often in medieval Europe if the revolt was against the government, they were not attacking the monarch but instead their advisors who they believed were corrupting the monarch.

So, what is the difference between a revolt, rebellion, revolution, riot, and an uprising? According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • Revolt- an attempt to get rid of a government, often by using force or taking violent action against authority, no longer want to be controlled or ruled.
  • Rebellion- action against authority to change the political system, against the normal and accepted rules or behaviours.
  • Revolution- a change in the governing of a country, often a replacement of the old political system with a new one, can include violence and war but not always.
  • Riot- people acting violently, nosily, and uncontrollably in public as a form of protest, showing displeasure or disapproval about something.
  • Uprising- opposition of authority, often with violence.

Although we should be careful with applying these definitions back in time as they are defined using modern world views and were sometimes used interchangeably.

We will now look at a couple of European medieval revolts, why they were revolting and what happened to the rebels. Some of these took place over longer periods of time others happened quite quickly. Some happened over a small area while others took over a much larger area. This is a rather small selection of revolts but should show you the general reasons that caused revolts. For many uprisings and revolts of the peasantry, we do not have a lot of sources due to them not being the ones writing about it. So sometimes there is just a small reference within another work, while others have a whole entry in a chronicle about them.

We will begin in Flanders for the 1323-1328 revolt. Flanders seems to have had quite a few revolts and is one of the most studied areas for revolts due to the number of surviving sources. Cohn mentions there being around 25 revolts between 1200 and 1348. The revolt started as small rural revolts before merging into an urban rebellion. The causes of this revolt, the rise in taxation, bad harvests leading to starvation, and pro-French policies and the hatred of nobility. The revolt ended up in the Battle of Cassel, which the Flemish lost. With their defeat came heavy fines for the cities who participated, those who took part in the battle had their properties taken from them. Cities had their privileges restricted, and Bruges, Ypres and Kortrijk had their fortifications destroyed. So, what started as little revolts became a full rebellion, caused by heavy taxation and anti-French ideas.

Next into Estonia for the 1343-1345 St George’s Night Uprising. The cause for this rebellion, the want for freedoms, political and religious. Since the late 1190s, the Estonians were being conquered and converted by the Danes and the Livonian Sword Brothers (a religious military order). By the time of the uprising, it was the Teutonic Order in charge of the southern part while Denmark held the north. The Estonians were forcibly converted and there were heavy taxes with little rights and political instability in the region. Then in 1343 on St George’s Night, the people of the province of Harrien rose up, the plan: to massacre the Germans and Danes and burn the houses and churches. This then spread to other Estonian provinces. The Teutonic Order retaliated but could not put down the resistance for a couple of years. In the end many Estonians were slaughtered and much of the Estonian native nobility were removed. The Danes also sold their part of Estonia to the Teutonic Order. The causes of this revolt? Lack of freedoms and heavy taxation.

Now to Florence for the Ciompi’s Revolt of 1378-1382. This was a city revolt centred around the lack of guild representation for many artisans and labourers. You had to be part of a guild to participate in the government so there was a feeling of being ignored. They also had to pay heavy taxes and there was a tension between the upper and lower classes. Although was not a fixed hierarchy for knowing where you belonged. Started with peaceful demands but when these were ignored, turned to violence. The Ciompi did succeed for a while. They did take over the government with minor guilds in charge with all classes being represented. But this did not last as the economy fell and conflicts between guilds continued. The ciompi were disbanded and the major guilds took back control. In the end 85 people were exiled, with 44 being invited back a week later 3 were executed and another 12 were killed. This revolt shows that if people are over-taxed and do not feel represented, they will rise up and try to take some of that power.

And finally, the Transylvanian Budai Nagy Antal Revolt of 1437-1438. Bit of background, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, but many of the inhabitants of the region were excluded from politics. The year before the tithe (type of tax) due to a debasement of the coinage. Then in 1437, the bishop demanded that tax and the current years tax all in one lump sum, which obviously many people could not pay. The tax had been increasing due to Hungary’s war with the Ottomans. Those who could not pay were excommunicated and whole villages were interdicted, could not preform baptisms and death rites among other important Christian rituals. Also, a fine was added if the tax was not paid. So obviously there was a revolt, not just the peasantry was involved, lesser nobles also participated. Battles and segies occurred with massive losses of life. In the end the peasants were defeated, with the leaders being executed, and others mutilated. The cause of this revolt was mostly tax with undertones of political elements.

So, you can see, there was a few reasons that medieval peasants revolted. So if you want to be a medieval ruler, if you want to limit the amount of revolts you face please make sure your people are fed, their taxes are not too high and they represented or at least not very heavily oppressed. If you make sure you do all that, your peasants are much less likely to revolt. Your nobles still might try and overthrew you occasionally, though.

Dictionary Definitions.

Some stuff you can read on peasant revolts.

Popular Protest in Late Medieval Europe by Samuel Kine Cohn. Published by Manchester University Press in 2004.

Also by Cohn, Lust for Liberty: the Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425: Italy, France, and Flanders. Published by Harvard University Press in 2004.

The Logic and Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440. By Oxford University Press in 2015.

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 St ü hlingen, 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 W ü rtzburg, 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 K ö nigshofen. 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.

The Jacquerie was a French peasant revolt in northern France in 1358, that got its name from the nobility&rsquos habit of contemptuously referring to all peasants as Jacques or Jacques Bonhomme, after a padded over-garment worn by them called a &ldquojacque&rdquo. The uprising was led by a well off peasant named Guillaume Cale, from Beauvais, about 50 miles from Paris.

France at the time was undergoing a rough patch following the outbreak of the Hundred Years War, with the peasantry, upon whose toil all rested and through whose fields the armies marched and pillaged, enduring the roughest patch of all. Their overlords, the French nobility, were not doing well, either, and their prestige had sunk to a low ebb after decades of humiliating defeats. Early in the century, France&rsquos aristocrats had turned tail and fled at the Battle of the Spurs, leaving the infantry commoners to be slaughtered, and more recently, they had suffered catastrophic defeats at the hands of the English in the Battles of Crecy and Poitiers.

The latter battle was particularly humiliating because the nobility allowed the French king&rsquos capture. Its aftermath was also particularly onerous upon the peasantry, because the English demanded a huge ransom for the king&rsquos release, which ransom was ultimately squeezed from the peasants. Finally, the French nobility failed in their basic function and the raison d&rsquoetre that justified their high status, of protecting the populace from enemy depredations. Unchecked by the peasants&rsquo aristocratic overlords and supposed protectors, bands of English and Gascon mercenaries roamed the countryside, pillaging and raping, at will.

Matters came to a head on May 21st, 1358, when peasants from a village near the Oise river killed a knight, then roasted him on a spit and forced his children to eat his flesh. The revolt spread quickly, as peasants razed local castles and slaughtered their inhabitants, and soon, the disparate rebel bands in the countryside began coalescing under the leadership of Guillaume Cale, who then joined forces with Parisian rebels under Etienne Marcel.

The revolt burned hot, but it also burned out quick, and the undisciplined and untrained rebels were soon routed once the militarily trained and better armed nobles organized and set out to suppress the revolt. The Paris uprising collapsed after its leader was assassinated, while Guillaume Cale, with his peasant army assembled to meet that of the nobles, unwisely accepted an invitation for truce talks with the armed nobles&rsquo leader, Charles the Bad of Navarre. Cale was treacherously seized when he showed up, tortured, and beheaded. The now-leaderless peasant army was then ridden down by knights and routed, after which the peasants were subjected to massive collective reprisals and a reign of terror in which around 20,000 were killed.

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