Chronology of the Peasants' Revolt

Chronology of the Peasants' Revolt

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30th May, 1381: Thomas Bampton, the king's tax collector for Essex, is chased out of Brentwood by villagers from Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford.

2nd June, 1381: Chief Justice, Sir Robert Belknap and a small party of soldiers are chase out of Brentwood. Two of Belknap's men are captured and killed.

6th June, 1381: Sir Simon Burley's serf, John Belling, is rescued from Rochester Castle.

7th June, 1381: Wat Tyler is elected leader of the rebels. John Ball is rescued from Maidstone Prison.

8th June, 1381: The people of Yalding receive news of the rebellion.

9th June, 1381: Sir John Legge, the king's tax collector for Kent, hears about the rebellion and returns to London. Wat Tyler and the rebels march to Canterbury.

10th June, 1381: The rebels enter Canterbury. The castle and the Archbishop of Canterbury's palace are ransacked.

11th June, 1381: The Kent rebels leave Canterbury and begin their march to London. The marchers break into several manor houses on the way and destroy any documents concerning the feudal system. Imprisoned serfs are set free by the rebels.

12th June, 1381: The rebels from Kent arrive at Blackheath on the outskirts of London. Soon afterwards the Essex rebels arrive at Mile End. Rebels receive new; that peasant rebellions are taking place all over England. Peasants also begin arriving in London from Surrey, Sussex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 people in Wat Tyler's army.

13th June, 1381 (morning): News reaches the rebels that Richard II has left Westminster Palace and gone to the Tower of London. The king's main adviser, John of Gaunt, is in Scotland. Two senior members of the government, Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king's treasurer, Robert Hales, are with the king. Richard talks to the rebels from the Tower by St Catherine's Wharf. Wat Tyler sends a letter to Richard II. The king, who only has an army of 520 men, agrees to meet the rebels at Rotherhithe.

The king arrives at Rotherhithe on a barge. The rebels demand that the king's leading advisers, John of Gaunt, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Hales, John Legge, should be executed. The king is unwilling to leave his barge and after a few minutes he returns to the Tower of London.

13th June, 1381 (afternoon): The Kent rebels arrive at the Southwark entrance to London. Supporters of the rebels inside the walls lower the drawbridge. The rebels now enter London. Soon afterwards they set fire to John of Gaunt's Savoy Palace.

14th June, 1381 (morning): Richard II agrees to meet Wat Tyler and the rebels at 8.00 a.m. outside the town walls at Mile End. At the meeting Wat Tyler explains to the king the demands of the rebels. This includes the end of all feudal services, the freedom to buy and sell all goods, and a free pardon for all offences committed during the rebellion.

The king immediately grants these demands. Wat Tyler also claims that the king's officers in charge of the poll tax are guilty of corruption and should be executed. The king replies that all people found guilty of corruption would be punished by law. Charters are then handed out that have been signed by the king. These charters give serfs their freedom. After receiving their charters the vast majority of peasants go home.

14th June, 1381 (afternoon): About 400 rebels led by John Starling, enter the Tower of London and capture Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Hales, the king's treasurer and John Legge. Sudbury, Hales and Legge are executed at Tower Hill.

15th June, 1381: William Walworth, mayor of London, raises an army of about 5,000 men. Richard II sends a message to Wat Tyler asking to meet him at Smithfield that evening. At Smithfield, the king ask Wat Tyler and his rebels to leave London. Wat Tyler makes further demands such as the end of tithes, the abolition of bishops, the redistribution of wealth, equality before the law, and the freedom to kill the animals in the forest. William Walworth, mayor of London, begins to argue with Wat Tyler. William Walworth stabs and kills Wat Tyler. The rebels obey King Richard's instructions to leave

23rd June, 1381: Richard II and his army arrive in Waltham from London. Richard II's announces that he has cancelled the charters that he issued in London on 14th June.

28th June, 1381: King's soldiers defeat Essex rebels at Billericay. About 500 rebels are killed in the battle.

5th July, 1381: William Gildebourne. Thomas Baker and other rebels from Fobbing are executed at Chelmsford. During the next few weeks an estimated 1,500 rebels are executed.

13th July, 1381: John Ball is captured in Coventry and taken to be tried at St Albans.

15th July, 1381: John Ball, is hung, drawn and quartered at St Albans.

29th September, 1381: Peasants under the leadership of Thomas Harding make plans to capture Maidstone.

30th September, 1381: Leaders of planned rebellion arrested at Boughton Heath. Later, ten of these men are found guilty of treason and executed.


From the 1340s onwards, the catastrophic plague, known as the Black Death, had swept through England, killing between a third and half of the population. These huge death tolls led to a shortage of labour, and then to major changes in the social structure as agricultural workers were able to demand better treatment and higher wages from their landlords.

Resentment among these workers was simmering when, between 1377 and 1381, a number of taxes were levied to finance government spending. This prompted a violent rebellion in June 1381, known as the Peasants' Revolt. A large group of commoners rode on London, storming the Tower of London and demanding reforms from the young King Richard II. The rebellion would end in failure. A number of important rebels were killed, including their leader Wat Tyler, pictured here. Richard quelled the rebellion by promising reforms but failed to keep his word. Instead, punishments were harsh. Despite its failure, the incident is seen as a defining moment in the history of popular rebellion.

This image is from a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart (the chronicles cover the years 1322 until 1400 this version was created c.1483). Froissart described the Peasants' Revolt in detail. Here he explains the roots of the rebels' resentment: 'Never was any land or realm in such great danger as England at that time. It was because of the abundance and prosperity in which the common people then lived that this rebellion broke out. The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed. [that their lords] treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they laboured or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.'


From the 1340s onwards, the catastrophic plague, known as the Black Death, had swept through England, killing between a third and half of the population. These huge death tolls led to a shortage of labour, and then to major changes in the social structure as agricultural workers were able to demand better treatment and higher wages from their landlords.

Resentment among these workers was simmering when, between 1377 and 1381, a number of taxes were levied to finance government spending. This prompted a violent rebellion in June 1381, known as the Peasants' Revolt. A large group of commoners rode on London, storming the Tower of London and demanding reforms from the young King Richard II. The rebellion would end in failure. A number of important rebels were killed, including their leader Wat Tyler, pictured here. Richard quelled the rebellion by promising reforms but failed to keep his word. Instead, punishments were harsh. Despite its failure, the incident is seen as a defining moment in the history of popular rebellion.

This image is from a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart (the chronicles cover the years 1322 until 1400 this version was created c.1483). Froissart described the Peasants' Revolt in detail. Here he explains the roots of the rebels' resentment: 'Never was any land or realm in such great danger as England at that time. It was because of the abundance and prosperity in which the common people then lived that this rebellion broke out. The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed. [that their lords] treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they laboured or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.'

Timeline of the Peasants Revolt 1381

This timeline of The Peasants Revolt covers the main events of the causes and courses of the people’s rebellion. It was a popular uprising of mainly lower class labourers. The causes of the Peasants Revolt were a mixture of economic and political issues. The Revolt saw people from the South East and East Anglia rise in a spontaneous protest. They were led by Wat Tyler and John Ball. The peasants marched to London, killing several important Lords. Here they met with Richard II, In a confrontation afterwards, Wat Tyler was killed. The rebellion dissipated after Richard II led the people away from the scene.

Timeline of the Peasants Revolt 1381

Causes timeline

1348-1350 The Black Death killed a huge number of farm labourers. This created a shortage of workers driving up demand and wages.

1351 The Statute of Labourers imposed wage limits to prevent pay demands getting out of hand. It also said that people could not refuse to work for the wage set down in law.

1360 John Ball, a Lollard priest, begins preaching about the peasants rights to freedom.

1369 Things start going badly in the wars in France. Extra men, and costs, were needed. This was unpopular.

1377 Richard II, a ten year old boy, becomes King. The country is run by his Uncle. Government is unstable and unpopular.

1377 John of Gaunt introduces the first Poll Tax. This is levied to pay the costs of the war in France.

1381 The third Poll Tax in four years is imposed. It is levied on everybody aged 15 or older, no matter how much wealth they had.

The Spark

30th May 1381 A Tax Collector attempts to take tax from the people of Fobbing, Kent. The collector, Thomas Bampton, was dismissed by the villagers, led by Thomas Baker. The argument that followed became a riot. The Revolt had begun.

30th May 1381 Other villages started rioting when they heard about the incident in Fobbing.

Timeline of the Peasants Revolt

John Ball, who had been imprisoned in April 1381 was freed from prison by rebels at some point after the initial riots.

7th June 1381 Wat Tyler is appointed leader of the rebels in Kent.

7th to 12th June 1381 The Peasants Revolt was a march through Kent and from Suffolk towards London. It was not a march just of peasants though. Local priests, reeves, smaller landowners were among the rebels. Word was spread quickly throughout the South East and into East Anglia. The march was large.

12th June 1381 The Peasants arrive outside the City of London. It is believed that there were around 30000 people following Wat Tyler by this point, with riots taking place elsewhere.

13th June 1381 One entrance to London is opened by a sympathiser. Many of the Peasants enter the city. John of Gaunts house is sought out and set on fire.

14th June 1381 Richard II meets Wat Tyler at Mile End. Tyler tells Richard II what the Peasants demands are. Richard agrees and signs charters granting the peasants the freedoms that they had demanded.

14th June 1381 Most of the Peasants leave once Tyler has received the Kings charter.

14th June 1381 A group of armed Peasants enter the Tower of London. They find and execute the Kings Treasurer, The Archbishop of Canterbury and another senior official. They find the young Henry of Lancaster but spare him due to his age: he later becomes King.

15th June 1381 An army of Londoners loyal to the King has been hastily put together. Richard II sends a message to Tyler asking for a further meeting, at Smithfield. Tyler and his men meet Richard. Tyler makes more demands. The Mayor of London gets involved in an argument with Tyler. Tyler appears to wave something in the direction of the King and the Mayor stabs him, as do guards. With Tyler dead, Richard asks the rebels to leave London. He personally leads them away from the scene to diffuse the situation.

Aftermath of the Peasants Revolt

23rd June 1381 Richard II withdraws all of the charters that were agreed with Wat Tyler.

5th July 1381 The rebels from Fobbing are executed. In the weeks that follow some 1500 rebels are executed.

13th July 1381 John Ball is captured. He is tried for treason the following day. Found guilty he was hung, drawn and quartered on 15th July 1381.

The Plantagenets
Henry IIRichard IKing John
Henry IIIEdward IEdward II
Edward IIIRichard II
House of Lancaster
Henry IVHenry VHenry VI
House of York
Edward IVEdward VRichard III
Murder of Thomas BecketMagna CartaTen Facts about the Black Death
Edward I's Conquest of WalesMadog ap LlywelynCauses of the Peasants Revolt
Timeline of the Peasants Revolt
Sources and Interpretations
Paston LettersJohn Rous

External Links

British Library – Peasants and their role in Rural Life.

Spartacus Educational – Punishments given to the participants in the Peasants Revolt.


Very little is known about the identity and origins of Jack (possibly John) Cade. Given that the rebel leader did not leave behind any personal documents and the use of aliases was common among rebels, historians are forced to base their claims on rumour and speculation. According to Mark Antony Lower, Jack (or John) Cade was probably born in Sussex between 1420 and 1430 and historians agree for certain that he was a member of the lower ranks of society.

During the rebellion of 1450, Cade took on the title of "Captain of Kent" and adopted the alias John Mortimer. The name Mortimer had negative connotations for the king and his associates as Henry VI's main rival for the throne of England was Richard, Duke of York, who had Mortimer ancestry. [5] The possibility that Cade may have been working with York was enough to prompt the king into moving against the rebels without delay. At the time of the rebellion the Duke of York was in exile in Ireland as of yet no evidence has been found indicating that he was involved in funding or inciting the uprising. It is more likely that Cade used the name Mortimer as propaganda to give his cause more legitimacy. [6] When the rebels were issued a pardon on 7 July 1450, Cade was issued a pardon under the name Mortimer however, once it was discovered that he had lied about his identity, the pardon was rendered void. [7]

Among his followers, Cade's dedication to having the people's complaints heard and restoring order within both local and central governments earned him the nickname "John Mend-all" or "John Amend-all". It is not known whether Cade himself chose the name or not. [8]

One tale of the time claimed that Cade was the doctor John Alymere who was married to the daughter of a squire in Surrey. Another rumour suggested that he enjoyed dabbling in the dark arts and had once worked for Sir Tomas Dacres before fleeing the country after murdering a pregnant woman. [7]

In the years preceding the Jack Cade Rebellion, England suffered from both internal and external difficulties and the animosity of the lower classes toward Henry VI was on the rise. Years of war against France had caused the country to go into debt and the recent loss of Normandy caused morale to decline and led to a widespread fear of invasion. Already the coastal regions of England such as Kent and Sussex were seeing attacks by Norman soldiers and French armies. Ill-equipped by the government, English soldiers took to raiding towns along the route to France with their victims receiving no compensation. Henry's call to set warning beacons along the coastline confirmed peoples' suspicions that an attack by the French was possible. [9] These fears and continuous unrest in the coastal counties inspired many Englishmen to rally in an attempt to force the King to address their problems or abdicate his throne in favour of someone more competent. [10] At court the different opinions on how England should proceed in the war with France led to party divisions. Henry favoured peace while his uncle the Duke of Gloucester and other nobles felt England should continue to fight for England's claim to the French throne. Internecine fighting in court eventually led to the banishment of the king's closest friend and advisor William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk. [11]

To add to England's troubles many believed that the king had surrounded himself with advisors who were ineffective and corrupt. At the heart of the corruption scandal was the Duke of Suffolk. When the duke's body washed up on the shores of Dover the people of Kent feared retaliation. Rumours emerged claiming that the king intended to turn Kent into a Royal forest in retaliation for the duke's death. Tired of the exploitation that the Duke of Suffolk had come to represent, the commons of Kent led by Jack Cade marched on London. It is estimated that about 5,000 people took part in the uprising. [12] In the spring of 1450, Cade organised the creation and distribution of a manifesto entitled The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent. The manifesto represented not only the grievances of the people but of several MPs, lords and magnates as well. The document included a list of fifteen complaints and five demands to be brought before the king for scrutiny and dictated the causes of the revolt. The first issue to be addressed was that Cade's followers from Kent were being unjustly blamed for the death of the Duke of Suffolk. Despite the well-known anger of the peasants towards the Duke, the Bill of Complaints dismissed the idea that the rebels were responsible. In addition the rebels called for inquiries into cases of corruption within local and national governments and for the removal of corrupt high officials. Cade's list of complaints goes on to charge King Henry with injustice for not choosing to impeach his underlings and lords even though they were guilty of treasonous and unlawful acts. [13] The king's counselors and officials were accused of rigging elections, extortion, manipulating the king for their own gains and using their close position to the king to oppress those below them. [14] Besides the Duke of Suffolk, the rebels explicitly called out the Lords Saye, Crowmer, Isle, Slegge and Est for extortion. Affiliates of Suffolk, Lord Saye and his son-in-law Crowmer held prominent positions within the king's household and in the local administration of Kent. Both had served several terms as the sheriffs of Kent and as members of the king's council. Furthermore, in 1449, Saye was appointed to the prestigious office of lord treasurer. Isle and Slegge also served as sheriffs and MPs in the county of Kent. [15]

When the king failed to remedy their grievances the rebels marched on London.

In May 1450, the rebels began to join together in an organised fashion and began to move towards London. Cade sent out delegates to the surrounding counties to elicit aid and additional men. [16] By early June more than 5,000 men had assembled at Blackheath, 12 miles (19 km) south-east of the capital city. They were mostly peasants but their numbers were swelled by shopkeepers, craftsmen, and some landowners (the list of pardoned shows the presence of one knight, two MPs, and eighteen squires). Several soldiers and sailors returning via Kent from the French wars also joined in the fray. [17]

Hoping to disperse the rebellion before any real damage could be done, the king sent a small host of his royal contingents to quell the rebellion. [18] The royal forces were led by Sir Humphrey Stafford (d.1450), of Grafton in the parish of Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, and his second cousin William Stafford (d.1450), of Southwick, Wiltshire (father of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Earl of Devon). The royal forces underestimated the rebels' strength and were led into an ambush at Sevenoaks. In the skirmish on 18 June 1450, the two Stafford cousins were killed. Cade took the expensive clothing and armour of Sir Humphrey as his own. [19] On 28 June, William Ayscough, the unpopular Bishop of Salisbury, was murdered by a mob in Wiltshire. William Ayscough had been the king's personal confessor and his position next to the king had allowed him to become one of the most powerful men in the country. [20] Afraid that he might meet the same fate and shocked by the rebel's military ability, the king sought refuge in Warwickshire. Gaining confidence through their victory the rebels advanced to Southwark, at the southern end of London Bridge. Cade set up headquarters in The White Hart inn before crossing the bridge and entering the city with his followers on 3 July 1450. To prevent any infringement on his comings and goings within the city Cade cut the ropes on the bridge so that they could not be raised against him. [21] Upon entering London, Cade stopped at the London Stone. He struck the stone with his sword and declared himself Lord Mayor in the traditional manner. By striking the stone, Cade had symbolically reclaimed the country for the Mortimers to whom he claimed to be related. Once inside the city's gates, Cade and his men initiated a series of tribunals dedicated to seeking out and convicting those accused of corruption. At Guildhall, James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer, was brought in for a sham trial. Upon being found guilty of treason he was taken to Cheapside and beheaded. [22] Fiennes' son-in-law William Crowmer was also executed by the rebels. The heads of the two men were put on pikes and unceremoniously paraded through the streets of London while their bearers pushed them together so that they appeared to kiss. [23] Their heads were then affixed to London Bridge. [24]

Despite Cade's frequent assurances that his followers would maintain a proper and orderly demeanour, as the rebel host made its way through the city many of the rebels, including Cade himself, began to engage in looting and drunken behaviour. Gradually Cade's inability to control his followers alienated the initially sympathetic citizens of London, who eventually turned against the rebels. When Cade's army returned over the bridge to Southwark for the night, the London officials closed the bridge to prevent Cade from re-entering the city. The next day, on 8 July at about ten in the evening a battle erupted on London Bridge between Cade's army and various citizens and officials of London. The battle lasted until eight the next morning, when the rebels retreated with heavy casualties. One writer estimated that at least 40 Londoners and 200 rebels were killed at the battle. [25]

After the battle on London Bridge, Archbishop John Kemp (Lord Chancellor) persuaded Cade to call off his followers by issuing official pardons, and promising to fulfil the rebel's demands. Although King Henry VI had issued pardons to Cade and his followers, a proclamation written by the King shortly after the rebellion voided all previously issued pardons. The document was entitled "Writ and Proclamation by the King for the Taking of Cade". In the document the King claimed that he revoked the previous pardons because they had not been created or approved by the Parliament. In the proclamation Cade was charged with deceiving the people of England to assemble with him in his rebellion and stated that none of the King's subjects should join Cade or help him in any way. A reward of 1000 marks was promised to whoever could capture and deliver Jack Cade to the king, dead or alive. [26]

Cade fled towards Lewes but on 12 July, in a garden in which he had taken shelter, was overtaken by Alexander Iden (eventual second husband of the murdered William Cromer's widow Elizabeth Fiennes, and a future High Sheriff of Kent). [24] In the skirmish, Cade was wounded and died of his wounds before reaching London for trial. As a warning to others, Cade's body underwent a mock trial and was beheaded at Newgate. Cade's body was dragged through the streets of London before being quartered. His limbs were sent throughout Kent to various cities and locations that were believed to have been strong supporters of the rebel uprising. [27]

To prevent further uprisings, the Duke of Buckingham was given permission from the king to seek out the remainder of Cade's followers and bring them to trial. The search took place in and around areas where support for the uprising was felt to be the strongest—Blackheath, Canterbury and the coastal areas of Faversham and the Isle of Sheppey. The inquiries by bishops and justices were so thorough that in Canterbury (the first area searched by the royal commission) eight followers were quickly found and hanged. [28] Although the Jack Cade Rebellion was quickly dispersed after Cade's death, the royal commission failed to rid England of the feeling of rebellion. Inspired by Cade and his rebellion many other counties in England revolted. In Sussex the yeomen brothers John and William Merfold organised their own rebellion against King Henry VI. Unlike Cade's revolt the men of Sussex were more radical and aggressive in their demands for reform. It is possible the animosity felt by the men of Sussex had arisen in part because the king had revoked the pardons issued to Cade and his followers. An indictment following the Sussex rebellion accused the rebels of wanting to kill the king and all his Lords, replacing them with twelve of the rioters' own men. The rebellions in Sussex did not achieve the same following as that of Cade's. [29]

While the minor rebellions inspired by Cade's rebellion did not produce a large number of deaths or immediate changes they can be seen as important precursors to the Wars of the Roses. These large battles over the crown of England would result in the end of the Lancaster dynasty and the creation of the Yorks. The weakness of the Lancaster dynasty and the English government had been exposed. In addition, the request made by the rebels in Cade's manifesto that the king welcome the Duke of York as his advisor outright informed the king that the masses wished to see the duke return from exile. [30] When Richard the Duke of York finally did return to England in September 1450 several of his demands and reform policies were based on those made in the manifesto issued by Cade. [31]

There is long-standing tradition that this clash between Iden and Cade took place at a small hamlet near (old) Heathfield in East Sussex. This place had since become known as Cade Street. A monument dedicated to Cade has been placed along the roadside. The monument states that on this location the rebel leader Jack Cade was captured and killed by Alexander Iden. Given that the exact location of Cade's capture is under dispute it is possible that Cade Street was named in error. [32] The monument was erected by Francis Newbury between 1791 and 1819.

The story of Jack Cade's Rebellion was later dramatised by William Shakespeare in his play, Henry VI, Part 2. The novel London Bridge Is Falling (1934) by Philip Lindsay focuses on Jack Cade's revolt. [33] Jack Cade is a prominent character in the historical novel Wars of the Roses, by Conn Iggulden.

Peasant Revolts

There is a long tradition of rebellion by peasants in premodern times. Revolts sometimes occurred because of starvation as a result of crop failure. At other times, peasants revolted as a limited protest against the government of the time. Their intention was not to overthrow the government, but to gain something specific, like relief from high taxes, a flood or an incompetent official. Unlike in China where peasants were occasionally the basis for uprisings which overthrew a dynasty, peasants in Japan never threatened the feudal government. In the Edo period, there were several peasant uprisings, especially after 1800, but the revolts were usually local and small, although they could be frequent.

One example of disturbances by peasants was the revolt which resulted from Princess Kazunomiya’s trip from Kyoto to Edo. She traveled with such a large number of people and huge volume of belongings that the farmers from the sukego villages along the Nakasendo objected strongly to the time and labor they had to devote to her travels. Toward the end of the trip, the service of nearly 20,000 peasants was required, placing a great burden on the peasants. Rather than risking a violent and embarrassing insurrection, the authorities agreed to compensate the peasants for the sacrifices and time they gave to Kazunomiya.

Some peasant uprisings were a form of negotiation by creating a disturbance, especially with a threat of violence, the peasants brought attention to the inability of their local leaders to perform their duties adequately. The possibility of outside attention by someone in authority might force the local leaders to compromise with the peasants. Other uprisings were violent revolts. In both cases, those involved often signed pledges of unity. They would sign their names in a circle so that the ring leaders were impossible to identify by being at the top of a long list.

Some scholars have argued that revolts were caused by extreme suffering, but recent research has shown that most revolts were caused by rising expectations which were not being met or, conversely, the fear that a comfortable standard of living would be lowered. Many of the revolts at the end of the Edo period may have been a method of protest which protected the well-being of the peasants. Or, on the other hand, they may have been more revolutionary in nature.

From the glossary

Heisei is the reign name of the present emperor who succeeded his father on 7 January 1989. In 1956, he became particularly famous for marrying a commoner, someone from outside the Imperial court nobility. It was a popular match, partly because the couple played tennis in Karuizawa, an old post-town on the Nakasendo and a modern resort area, and generally behaved in ‘democratic’ and ‘modern’ ways which were catchwords of the time. The emperor and his family have maintained an openness to the public. They reflect strongly the middle class ideals of many Japanese.


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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.

Chronology of the Peasants' Revolt - History

In the early 1300s, Scotland’s independence was under threat from Edward I of England. The Scots fought back against Edward, the most famous rebel being William Wallace. He crushed the English at Stirling in 1297 and was declared Guardian of Scotland. He was severely defeated the following year at Falkirk and stayed on the run until 1305, when he was captured, hanged, disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered.

Robert Bruce saw Wallace's death. He had initially sworn allegiance to Edward - but when he supported Wallace's revolt, Edward destroyed Robert's land. They eventually made peace and Robert became one of the Regents of Scotland. However, in 1306, while Edward planned to take control of Scotland, Robert was wondering how to defeat him. He tried to collaborate with his nearest rival to the throne, John Comyn. But, unable to agree, Robert ended up killing Comyn during a heated argument.

Robert had to act quickly for fear of arrest. On impulse he had himself crowned king of Scotland. It was a high-risk tactic, knowing what had happened to Wallace. In 1320 Robert sent an embassy to Rome bearing a 'Letter from the barons and freeholders, and the whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to Pope John XXII' , better known as the Declaration of Arbroath, asking the Pope to recognise Scottish sovereignty.

Originally in Latin, it is one of the most rousing documents ever written in support of a nation's freedom, It details the ancient history of the Scottish people and lists the oppressive activities of the English. At its heart is the following defiant, stirring and justly famous section: ‘ for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.’ The text shown here is a copy of the declaration, made about 65 years later.

Peasants' Revolt

Peasants' Revolt. This rebellion in 1381 was the first large-scale popular uprising in England. It began in Essex, in the village of Fobbing. Kent soon followed, and the rebels moved rapidly to London. There were also significant risings in East Anglia, Bury St Edmunds, and St Albans. The rapidly changing economy, in the aftermath of the Black Death, provides one explanation for the rising the inadequacy of the government, the church, and the failure of the war with France another. The spark to the revolt was provided by the third poll tax, which was to be levied uniformly at 1 shilling a head, and so bore particularly hard on the poor. Commissions to investigate the low level of returns provoked the Essex uprising. The rebellion took a dramatic and strongly political turn in London, where the rebels took and executed the archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, the treasurer, and others. Radical demands were made by Wat Tyler, one of the peasant leaders, at Smithfield: serfdom was to be abolished there was to be no law save the law of Winchester (an obscure request) outlawry was to be abandoned lordship was to be divided between all men. There should be only one bishop, and one prelate the wealth of the church should be distributed among the people. Wat Tyler was killed at this meeting. Resistance elsewhere in the country was short-lived. Perhaps the one lasting achievement of the revolt was that very few poll taxes were levied again in England for some 600 years.

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The Peasants’ Revolt

Throughout this article I’ve tried to answer:

How they reacted (describe what happened)

Why they reacted this way

What impact this would have had on the lives of the people involved.

The peasants’ revolt was a post-black death uprising of the peasants that took place in 1381, in England. When the black death had slowly died out, England had a major deficit of labourers. Therefore bringing a myriad of changes such as: changes in the social structure, as peasants re-evaluated their worth. Higher wages as well as well as better overall treatment.

Not to much surprise, the government strongly turned down the peasants’ demand for higher wages. The government even introduced a new law which meant peasants could not be given such a rise in their salary.

Later, the government introduced a new poll tax, which turned out to be devastating for the peasants. This new poll tax meant that any citizen over the age of 15 had to pay one shilling. If it turned out you didn’t have any money to pay, you would have to pay in tools, or seeds. Peasants, at the time, strongly relied on these items as they were scarce, and without them, they simply could not survive.

On the 30th May, the peasants were enraged following the introduction of this new poll tax. Peasants from all over England, violently stormed into London, protesting their rights to at the time 15-year-old King Edward II. Later, King Edward II had realised what was occurring, thus retreating to his safety in the Tower of England. The peasants continued with their ongoing annihilation throughout England, massacring anyone who was involved with the government, destroying Savoy Palace, throwing any artifacts that were there to the the Thames, and burning books, as well as temples. It was estimated that around 40,000 peasants were involved in this revolt.

The peasants soon occupied the Tower of England, finding and later beheading Simon Sadbury (Lord Chancellor), and Sir Robert Hales (Lord High Treasurer)

The annihilation of the government hadn’t stopped there, the peasants continued ‘protesting’, and murdering government officials up until November. The number of fatalities is unknown, but Wikipedia cites that it is around 1,500.