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Advanced GCE in HISTORY

UNIT 5: Route 2
Prescribed Document Pack
c. 1517-1555

First, we want to have the full power for a whole congregation to select and elect its own
pastor, and also the power to remove him, if he acts improperly.
Second, since a just tithe has been established in the Old Testament, and fulfilled in the
New we will gladly pay the just grain tithe to the full but in the proper way. It should
be given to God and distributed to his people, paid to a pastor who clearly proclaims the
word of God. We are willing that henceforth our church-wardens, chosen by the
congregation, collect and receive this tithe.
Third, until now it has been the custom for us to be regarded as a lord's personal
property, which is deplorable since Christ redeemed us all with the shedding of his
precious blood. Without a doubt, as true and just Christians, you will also gladly release
us from serfdom, or show us from the gospel that we should be serfs.
Fourth, until now it has been the custom that no poor man has been allowed the right to
hunt game or fowl or to catch fish in flowing water. We think that this is completely
improper and unbrotherly;
Fifth, we also have grievances concerning the use of woodlands. For our lordships alone
have appropriated all the woods, and when the poor man needs wood, he must buy it at
double the price. It is our conviction that, regardless of the kind of woods involved, it
should revert to the whole community.
Sixth, we have a serious grievance concerning labor services, which increase from day to
day. We want some understanding, and accordingly not to be so severely burdened.
Seventh, henceforth we no longer want to be burdened by a lordship; Lords should not
force or compel their peasants, seeking to get more services or other dues from them
without payment.
Eighth, we are aggrieved, because these lands cannot sustain the payments [taxes and
fees] on them, We demand that lords let honourable people inspect these pieces of
property and establish a payment that is equitable, so that the peasant does not work for
Ninth, we are burdened by the great outrage that new laws are constantly being made, so
that we are punished not according to the facts of a case, but sometimes out of envy and
sometimes out of favouritism.
Tenth, we are aggrieved that some have appropriated meadowland as well as fields
which belong to the community. We will take these properties into our hands again,
unless they have in fact been legally bought.
Eleventh, we want the custom termed heriot [this feudal obligation required a dead
peasant's family to make a payment to a lord for the death of "his" serf] to be completely
Twelfth, it is our conclusion and final conviction that if one or more of the articles we
have composed here is not in accordance with the word of God, we will retract these
articles, if they can be shown to be improper according to the word of God.
Extracts from the Twelve Articles of the Upper Swabian
Peasants (February 27-1 March, 1525)


Woodcut showing the peasants meeting to discuss their grievances

From the Title Page to the Twelve Articles (1525)


Pamphlet by the Franciscan Johannes Finding condemning

Luther's stance in the Peasants' War (1525)

The council has appointed me, most benign father to seek your advice in my case against
those who incriminate me. You are my advocate in the Lord Jesus. I beg you not to lend
your ears to those who are defaming me.
It is not my work I am doing, but that of the Lord. If you advise me to write against these
assertions. I will do so, so that the adversaries of the cross may learn to revere the name
of God and to silence the blasphemous mouth, so that the light which comforts us may
shine forth on all who are in the house of the Lord. Please indicate what in all this you
regard as Christian. I firmly believe I have been snatched from my original danger for
other struggles with this world. He who plucked me from the loathsome swamp will
snatch me from the paw of the beast and the lion and the dragon, so that I will not fear
even if I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, for the Lord is with me as a strong
warrior. He himself will provide the voice and the wisdom which none of our adversaries
will be able to resist. What more can I desire! Fare thee well in Christ, model and beacon
to the friends of God!
Thomas Mntzer, whom you brought to birth by the gospel.
A letter from Thomas Mntzer to Martin Luther (July 13, 1520)

Satan made himself a nest at Allstedt, thinking he can fight us while enjoying our peace,
protection, and security.
I am especially glad that none of ours start a disturbance of this kind. They themselves
boast that they do not belong to us, and have learned and received nothing from us.
They come from heaven, and hear God himself speaking to them as to angels. What is
taught at Wittenberg concerning faith and love and the cross of Christ is an unimportant
thing. "You yourself must hear the voice of God," they say, "and experience the work of
God in you. The Bible means nothing. It is Bible Booble Babel,". I have never read
or heard of a more arrogant, imperious holy spirit (if such there be), he [Mntzer] wants
to enforce faith in an immediate and dictatorial manner.
I have already heard earlier from the spirit himself here in Wittenberg, that he thinks it
necessary to use the sword to carry out his undertaking.
Though I realize full well that Your Princely Graces will know how to deal in this matter
better than I can advise, yet I am in duty bound to do my part and respectfully to pray
and exhort you to look into this matter carefully. Your obligation to maintain order
requires you to guard against such mischief and to prevent rebellion.
As far as doctrine is concerned, time will tell. For the present, your Graces ought not to
stand in the way of the ministry of the Word. Let them preach as confidently and boldly
as they are able and against whomever they wish.
But when they want to do more than fight with the Word, and begin to destroy and use
force, then your Graces must intervene and banish them from the country. For we who
are engaged in the ministry of the Word are not allowed to use force. Ours is a spiritual
conflict in which we wrest hearts and souls from the devil. It is written in Daniel [8:25]
that the Antichrist shall be vanquished without human hand.
If we Christians justified our damaging of churches and our violence by Jewish
examples, then it would follow that we are to put all non-Christians to death. For the
Jews were as strictly bidden to put to death Canaanites and Amorites [Exod. 23:23] as
they were to destroy images. But all the Allstedtian spirit would gain by this would be
the shedding of blood. All who did not hear his heavenly voice would be put to the
sword by him.
Martin Luther in his Letter to the Princes of Saxony Concerning the
Rebellious Spirit (July, 1524)

The critical situation has made it imperative to prepare for, and take action against, every
manifestation of unbelief. In view of all this it has been ordained by God that I should be
put forward, as Ezekiel says, as a wall in front of our poor, disintegrating Christianity;
not just to punish part of it as some imagine, but to seize it in its entirety by the roots,
which God has already done in several places where it was opportune. But Satan is
driving the godless scholars to their downfall, like the monks and priests before them, for
they let their rascally nature peep out when they treated the holy spirit of Christ as the
butt of their scorn and derision, denouncing him as a devil when he appeared in many of
the elect. This is what that mendacious man, Luther, does in the scandalous letter about
me which he sent to the dukes of Saxony. There is not a hint of a brotherly exhortation in
it; he just barges his way in like some pompous tyrant, full of ferocity and hate. I
beseech you, therefore, for the sake of God, to consider earnestly what sort of farce may
ensue if I pay him back for his loud mouth.
Finally, here is my earnest judgement: The Christian faith which I preach may not be in
accord with that of Luther but it is identical with that in the hearts of the elect throughout
the earth, Psalm 67. For even if someone were born a Turk he still has the beginning of
the same faith, that is, the movement of the holy spirit, as it is written of Cornelius, Acts
10. So if I am to be brought to trial before the Christian people then an invitation,
announcement, and communication must be sent to every nation, to those who have, in
faith, endured trials quite beyond their strength, have plumbed the despair of the heart,
and are continually meditating on this. People like that I would gladly have as my
Judges. So why should I then, throw pearls to the swine who publicly mock and, deride
the holy spirit, since Christ has said that they are born of the devil? What should induce
me to let my patience be exploited to cover up their shame? It would be just the same as
their present advice: Christians should suffer and let themselves be martyred and should
not defend themselves. That, however, would be of great benefit to the tyrants, a fine
cover-up to let them practise their shameful deeds.

From a letter written by Thomas Mntzer to Frederick the Wise,

Allstedt (August 3, 1524)

In my earlier book on this matter [Admonition to Peace], I did not venture to judge the
peasants, since they had offered to be corrected and to be instructed; but before I could
even inspect the situation, they forgot their promise and violently took matters into their
own hands and are robbing and raging like mad dogs.
They are starting a rebellion, and are violently robbing and plundering monasteries and
castles which are not theirs; by this they have doubly deserved death in body and soul as
highwaymen and murderers. If a man is in open rebellion, everyone is both his judge and
his executioner; just as when a fire starts, the first man who can put it out is the best man
to do the job. For rebellion is not just simple murder; it is like a great fire, which attacks
and devastates a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land filled with murder and
bloodshed; it makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the
worst disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly,
remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is
just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a
whole land with you.
I will not oppose a ruler who, even though he does not tolerate the gospel, will smite and
punish these peasants without first offering to submit the case to judgement. He is within
his rights, since the peasants are not contending any longer for the gospel, but have
become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious murderers, robbers, and blasphemers,
whom even a heathen ruler has the right and authority to punish.
Martin Luther, from his treatise, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes
Of Peasants (1525)

The War of the Peasants was a revolt of the peasants of southern and central Germany,
the causes of which are disputed as a result of religious and political prejudice. At
present the opinion prevails that the revolt was brought about mainly by economic
distress. Up to the end of the fourteenth century the peasants enjoyed a relatively
advantageous position, even though they did not own their land in fee simple, but held it
at a rental, either hereditary or fixed for certain periods. Conditions, however, grew
worse. The increase of population due to prosperity coincided in point of time with the
development of the economic use of money and its injurious influences. The city
overshadowed the country, and at times even exerted dominion over the country districts.
On the other hand leases were not reduced or wages raised, but the lords of the land
sought to make up their losses by unusually heavy taxation. They extended their
authority, increased the services and burdens of the serfs, sought to annul the rights of the
market associations, and to do away with the peasants' hereditary lease of their farms,
only granting the use of woodland, water, and pasteur on condition of heavy rents.
Moreover, the military needs and the growing costs of the local governments led to an
increase of the taxes. This caused great bitterness of feeling, especially in Wrtemberg
and Bavaria. To the burdens imposed by the landlord and the territorial sovereign were
added imperial taxes, regardless of the economic condition of the poorer classes. The
position of the peasants was at its worst in the very small German states, where the
landlord was also the sovereign and desired to live like a prince.
Not only peasants but also cities and nobles took part in the great uprising that is known
as the War of the Peasants. Of the cities only the smaller were economically connected
with the peasants. Large cities, like Frankfurt, Wrzburg, and Mainz, joined the
uprising; but economic conditions do not fully explain their action. It must be assumed,
therefore, that external reasons induced the nobility and the cities to combine temporarily
with the peasants in the great uprising and that the causes of discontent, which were
numerous, varied in the different States. From the end of the fifteenth century great
movements for political reform had been in progress, but on account of the selfish policy
of the territorial princes all attempts to strengthen the central power had failed, and the
Nuremberg Diet of 1524 had completely paralyzed the imperial administration. Part of
the rebels desired to reform the empire. Political disorders were intensified by religious.
For eight years Luther's attitude had disquieted the people and shaken their religious
convictions to their foundations. His declamations about Christian liberty, even if meant
in a different sense, increased the ferment. The opponents of the new doctrine regarded
Luther, and in part still regard him, as the real instigator of the revolt; the rebels
themselves appealed to him in the conviction that they were only carrying out his
From an article called The War of The Peasants published in the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1917)
The Catholic Encyclopedia is a reference guide to events and personalities connected with the
Catholic Church.

It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened if the Peasants' Rebellion had
been successful. Though, many commoners were clearly able to represent themselves
peacefully, rationally and democratically, they had no historic models which could have
given them direction on how a state ruled by ordinary people and not the aristocracy
should be organized and established. Moreover, religious radicalism a belief in the end
of time and the imminent coming of Christ permeated the thought of the time. Mnzer
died, but his influence continued. Other religious leaders, even more radical than
Mnzer, arose. Foremost among these was Melchior Hoffmann (c. 1500-1543) described
by one source as "the evil genius of Anabaptism".
It was mainly Hoffman's so-called "Melchiorite" influence which resulted in the
establishment of an Anabaptist theocracy in the city of Mnster in 1534-35. This was led
by a Hollander, Jan Matthys, who insisted upon universal baptism and, true to Anabaptist
form, declared all real property to be held in common. Catholics and Lutherans fled the
city and by the end of February 1534, the city came under siege. In April Matthys was
killed leading a sortie, and command then fell into the hands of the one-time tailor John
of Leyden (Jan Beukels), who later styled himself as "king". 'King John' dissolved the
city council and put the city under the strict rule of twelve elders or judges styled after
'the tribes of Israel'. Sins made punishable by death included blasphemy, reviling parents,
disobeying a master, adultery, spreading scandal and complaining. Having banned
adultery, 'King John' introduced polygamy. This may have been excusable on
"emergency grounds", since the city now contained four times as many women as men.
Amid great suffering and desperate efforts by the Anabaptist defenders to procure help
from outside sympathizers, the siege of Mnster dragged on until June 25 1535. Then,
after a final assault by the besieging forces, most of the defenders were butchered on the
spot. Condemned by a more leisurely process, 'King John' and other leaders were
publicly killed by torture with red-hot tongs. Their bodies were then suspended in an iron
cage as a lesson for all.
What happened at Mnster may have been the chaos Luther feared. The German
peasants of 1525 had far less power than they thought they had. Overcoming the local
nobility and clergy was one thing. Overcoming the collective might of the nobility and
the established church, whether Catholic or Protestant, was quite another. Simply having
Christ on your side, as both the peasants and the Mnster Anabaptists fervently believed
they had, was not enough in the messy business of war. Moreover, the peasants and
commoners lacked practical, implementable models of governance. The only ones
available to them were those of their oppressors. In adopting these models, they
themselves oppressed. When 'King John' trampled one of his wives to death because she
had disobeyed him, he did so with complete impunity because he was now the law and
could not be questioned or brought to justice. What might have occurred, then, following
the Peasants' Rebellion, was a series of Mnsters, continuing sieges and slaughters, a
descent into chaos, and a far more oppressive re-establishment of the old order than
actually resulted in 1525.
From an internet article by historian Ed Weich, called The Impact of the Peasants Revolt

These articles were discussed and approved by the Brigach valley peasants in the mill
[village] at Kiengen. They were presented to the town council of Villingen on 18
November. They were further used as the basis for negotiations with the commander of
the Swabian League, Georg Truchsess von Waldburg, acting in the name of Archduke
Ferdinand, on 31 January 1525.

They [the peasants] should not have to preserve and protect game, or hunt for
their lords. All game, water, and fowl should be free.
They should not be obliged to hobble their [the lord's] dogs.
They should be free to carry crossbows, arquebus, and flintlocks.
They should not be punished by foresters and huntsmen.
They should not be obliged to carry manure for their lords.
Or obliged to mow, cut, or make hay, or to carry in wood or sheaves.
They should not be restricted in marketing or [the exercise of] trades.
No one who can provide bail should be put in prison or in the stocks.
They should not have to pay tax, assessment, or excise unless it is imposed by
They should not be obliged to give seed corn or to work [the lord's] fields.
No one should be punished for disobedience if he or she marries without the lord's
If anyone hangs or kills himself, the lords should not take his goods.
The lords should not take an inheritance from any person who still has living
They should not be obliged to pay departure-finesor the recognition fee to the
Whoever has wine in his house should be able to retail it without fear of
If the bailiff summons someone because of an alleged offence, and cannot prove it
on good evidence, the accused should not be obliged to pay.
Articles of the Peasants in the Brigach Valley in the Black Forest,
18 November 1524.

The relationship between the Peasants War and the Reformation has been explained in
many different ways. However, it has been assumed rather too readily that one can
simply test the demands and behaviour of the peasants against the prescriptions of the
reformers, and then judge whether the peasants 'really' belonged to the Reformation. A
first way but an inadequate one to 'test' the peasants' movement is to examine Luther's
own response to it. His response was shaped by the violence and the lack of talks
peculiar to the Thuringian outbreak, and by its connections with the 'fanatic' Mntzer.
Luther's first Admonition to Peace was written about 19-20 April 1525, when the Twelve
Articles had circulated, but the worst violence had not yet erupted. It laid equal blame on
the rulers for oppressing the peasants and the peasants for acting as judges in their own
cause. He called for negotiations, and applauded the treaty of Weingarten when news of
it reached him. From 21 April to 4 May he travelled round Saxony preaching to the
peasantry and experienced their excited mood at first hand and at some risk to himself.
By the 10 May the uproar had spread far and wide, and the princes seemed to have
neither the men nor the will to resist the revolt. In some desperation he republished his
tract with a notorious addition, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Other
Peasants. The rulers, he wrote, were to do their spiritual duty by praying, offering terms
to the rebels, and punishing them with swift and brutal force if they refused. So sudden
was the Thuringian rebels' collapse, however, that Luther's addition seemed (and was
taken to be) an encouragement to the senseless murder of already defeated rebels, both
innocent and guilty, which accompanied the suppression of the revolt; then and later, in
fact, he condemned both peasants' and rulers' outrages.
Euan Cameron, an academic historian and specialist, writing in
The European Reformation (1991)

The class that suffered most from the Peasant War was the clergy. Its monasteries and
endowments were burned down; its valuables plundered, sold into foreign countries, or
melted; its stores of goods consumed. They had been, least of all capable of offering
resistance, and at the same time the weight of the people's old hatred fell heaviest upon
them. The lay princes, and to a certain degree the cities, determined to bring about
secularisation in their own interests, and soon the possessions of the prelates in
Protestant countries were in the hands of either the princes or the honourables. The
power and authority of the ecclesiastical princes were also infringed upon, and the lay
princes understood how to exploit the people's hatred also in this direction.
The nobility had also suffered considerably. Most of its castles were destroyed, and a
number of its most respected families were ruined and could find means of subsistence
only in the service of the princes. Its powerlessness in relation to the peasants was
proven. It had been beaten everywhere and forced to surrender. Only the armies of the
princes had saved it.
Nor did the cities generally gain any advantages from the Peasant War. The rule of the
honourables was almost everywhere re-established with new force, and the opposition of
the middle-class remained broken for a long time. Old patrician routine thus dragged on,
hampering commerce and industry in every way, up to the French Revolution.
The sole gainers under these conditions were the princes. They gained not only
relatively, through the weakening of their opponents, the clergy, the nobility and the
cities, but also absolutely through the prizes of war which they collected. The church
estates were secularised in their favour; part of the nobility, fully or partly ruined, was
obliged gradually to place itself in their vassalage; the indemnities of the cities and
peasantry swelled their treasuries, which, with the abolition of so many city privileges,
had now obtained a much more extended filed for financial operations.
The decentralisation of Germany, the widening and strengthening of which was the chief
result of the war, was at the same time the cause of its failure.
Frederick Engels, a radical thinker and author, writing in The Peasant War in Germany (1850)

GCE History Prescribed Document Pack (2006-2009): The Peasants War/SG