German Society at the Close of The Middle Ages. Belfort Bax

Chapter I
First Signs of Social and Religious Revolt.

The echoes of the Hussite movement in Bohemia spread far and wide through Central Europe at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was not in vain that Ziska bequeathed his skin for the purposes of a drum, since the echoes of its beating made themselves heard for many a year in Bohemia and throughout Central Europe. The disciples of the movement settled in different countries, and became centres of propaganda, and the movement attached itself to the peasants’ discontent. Amid the various stirrings that took place, there are one or two that may arrest our attention owing to their importance and their typical character.

It was in the year 1476, when Rudolph of Scherenberg occupied the Episcopal See of Würzburg, that a cowherd, named Hans Boheim, of the neighbouring village of Niklashausen, who was accustomed to pipe and to drum at local festivities, at places on the banks of the little stream called the Tauber, was suddenly seized with an inspiration of preaching for the conversion of his neighbours from their sins. It appeared to him that his life had been hitherto sinful; he gave up all participation in village feasts, he became a dreamer and announced that he had had visions of the Virgin. In the middle of Lent he proclaimed that he had been given a divine mission from the Mother of God herself to burn his pipe and drum and to devote himself entirely to preaching the Gospel to the common man. All were to abandon their former way of life, were to lay aside all personal ornament, and in humble attire to perform pilgrimages to Nihkashausen, and there worship the Virgin as they esteemed their souls’ salvation. In all this there was nothing very alarming to the authorities. Peasantly inspirations were by no means unknown in the Middle Ages; but the matter assumed another aspect when the new seer, Hans Pfeifferlein, or “the little piper” as he was nicknamed, announced that the Queen of Heaven had revealed to him that there should henceforth be neither Emperor, Pope, Prince, nor any lay or spiritual authority; but that all men should be brothers, earning their bread by the sweat of their brows, and sharing alike in all things. There were to be no more imposts or dues; land, woods, pastures, and water were to be free. The new Gospel struck root immediately. The peasant folk streamed to Niklashausen, from all sides, men and women, young and old, journeymen, lads from the plough, girls from the fields, their sickles in their hands, without leave of lord or master, and without preparation of ally sort whatever. Food and the necessary clothing; and shelter were given them by those on the way who had already embraced the: new Kingdom of God. The universal greeting, among the pilgrims was “brother” and “sister”.

This went on for some months, the young prophet choosing chiefly Sundays and holidays for his harangues Ignorant even of writing, he was backed by the priest of Niklashausen, and by perhaps two or three other influential persons. Many were the offerings brought to the Niklashausen shrine. Well nigh all who journeyed thither left some token behind, were it only a rough peasant’s cap or a wax candle, Those who could afford it gave costly clothing and jewellery. The proclamation of universal equality was indeed a Gospel that appealed to the common man; the resumption of their old rights, the release from every form of oppression, as a proclamation from heaven itself, were tidings to him of great joy. The prophetic youth was hailed by all as the new Messiah. After each week’s sermon he invited the congregation to return next week with redoubled numbers; and his commands were invariably obeyed. Men, women and children fell on their knees before him, crying: “Oh, man of God, sent from heaven, have mercy on us and pity us”. They tore the wool threads from his shaggy sheepskin cap, regarding them as sacred relics. The priests of the surrounding districts averred that he was a sorcerer and devil-possessed, and that a wizard had appeared to him, clad in white, in the form of the Virgin, and had instilled into him the pernicious doctrines he was preaching. In all the surrounding country his miracles were talked about. The Bishops of Mainz and Würzburg and the Council of Nürnberg forbade their villeins, under heavy penalties, from making the pilgrimage to Niklashausen. But the effect of such measures only lasted for a short time.

Finally, on the Sunday before the day of Saint Kilian, Hans Boheim, on the conclusion of his discourse, invited his hearers, as usual, to come on the next occasion. This time, however, he ordered men only to appear, but with arms and ammunition; women and children were to be left at home. No sooner did the tidings of this turn of affairs reach the ears of the Bishop at Würzburg than the latter resolved to forestall the movement. He sent thirty-four mounted men-at-arms after nightfall to Niklashausen; they burst upon the sleeping youth, tore him from the house where he lay, and hurried him to Würzburg, bound on horseback. But as it was near the end of the week, 4000 pilgrims had already arrived at Niklashausen, and, on hearing the news of the attack, they hurried after the marauders, and caught them up close by the Castle of Würzburg. One of the knights was wounded, but his comrades succeeded in carrying him within the walls. The peasants failed to effect the intended rescue. By the Sunday, 34,000 peasants had assembled at Niklashausen; but the report of the capture of Boheim had a depressing effect, and several thousands returned home. There were nevertheless some among the bands who, instigated probably by Boheim’s friend, the parish priest of Niklashausen, endeavoured to rally the remaining multitude and incite them to a new attempt at rescue. One of them alleged that the Holy Trinity had appeared to him, and commanded that they should proceed with their pilgrim candles in their hands to the Castle of Würzburg, that the doors would open of themselves, and that their prophet would walk out to greet them. About 16,000 followed these leaders, marching many hours through the night, and arriving early nest morning at the castle with flaming candles, and armed with the roughest weapons. Kunz von Thunfeld, a decayed knight, and Michael, his son, constituted themselves the leaders of the motley band. The marshal of the castle received their, demanding their pleasure. “We require the holy youth,” said the peasants. “Surrender him to us, and all will be well; refuse, and we will use force.” On the marshal’s hesitating in his answer, he was greeted with a shower of stones, which drove him to seek safety within the walls. The bishop opened fire on the peasants, but after a short time sent one of his knights to announce that the cause of their preacher would be duly considered at a proper time and place, conjuring them at the same time to depart immediately in accordance with their vows. By cajolery and threats he succeeded in his object; the bands raised the siege of the castle, and dispersed homewards in straggling parties. The ruffianly scoundrel no sooner observed that the unsuspecting peasants were quietly wending their way home in small bodies, without a thought of hostilities, than he ordered his knights to pursue them, to attack them in the rear, and to murder or capture the ringleaders. The poor people, nevertheless, defended themselves with courage against this cowardly onslaught; twelve of them were left dead on the spot; many of the remainder sought shelter in the church of the neighbouring village. Threatened there with fire and sword, they surrendered, and were brought back to Würzburg and thrown into the dungeons of the castle. The majority were liberated before long; but the peasant who was alleged to have received the vision of the Holy Trinity, as well as he who had wounded the knight on the occasion of the attempt at rescue a few days before, were detained in prison, and on the following Friday were beheaded outside the castle. Hans Boheim was at the same time burned to ashes. The leader of the revolt, Kunz von Thunfeld, a feudatory of the bishop, fled the territory, and was only allowed to return on his formally surrendering his lands in perpetuity to the bishopric. Such was the history of a movement that may be reckoned as one of the more direct forerunners of the peasants’ war.

In the years 1491 and 1492 occurred the rising of the oppressed and plundered villeins of the Abbot of Kempten. The ecclesiastics on this domain had exhausted every possible means of injuring the unfortunate peasants, and numbers of free villeins had been converted into serfs by means of forged documents. The immediate cause of the revolt, however, was the seizure, by the abbot, of the stock of wine of a peasant who had just died, in addition to the horse which he was empowered to claim. An onslaught was made by the infuriated peasants on the monastery, and the abbot had to retire to his stronghold, the Castle of Liebenthann, hard by. The Emperor ultimately intervened, and effected a compromise. But the first organised peasant movement took place in Elsass[1] in 1493, and comprised burghers as well as peasants among its numbers. They were for the most part feudatories of the Bishop of Strassburg. By devious paths the members of this secret organisation were wont to betake themselves to the hill of Hungerberg, northwest of the little town of Schlettstadt. The ostensible objects of the association were complete freedom for the common man, reformation of the Church in the: sense that no priest should have more than one benefice, the introduction of a year of jubilee, in which all debts should be abolished, the extinction of all tithes, dues and other burdens, and the abolition of the spiritual courts and the territorial juridical court at Rothweil. A Judenhetze also appears amongst the articles. The leader of this movement was one Jacob Wimpfeling. The programme and plan of action was to seize the town of Schlettstadt, to plunder the monastery there, and then by forced marches to spread themselves over all Elsass, surprising one town after another. It would seem that this was the first peasant movement that received the name of Bundschuh, and the almost superstitious importance attached to the sign of this hind emblazoned on the flag is characteristic of the Middle Ages. The banner was the result of careful deliberations, and the final decision was that as the knight was distinguished by his spurs, so the peasant rising to obtain justice for his class should take as his emblem the common shoe he was accustomed to wear, laced from the ankle up to the knee with leathern thongs. They fondly hoped that the moment this banner was displayed, all capable of fighting would flock to the standard, from the villages and smaller towns.

Just as all was prepared for the projected stroke, the Bundschuh shared the common fate of similar movements, and was betrayed; and this in spite of the terrible threats that were held out to all joining, in the event of their turning traitors. It must be admitted that there was much folly in the manner in which many persons were enrolled, and this may have led to the speedy betrayal. Everybody who was suspected of having an inkling of the movement was forced to swear allegiance to the secret league. Immediately on the betrayal, bodies of knights scoured the country, mercilessly seizing all suspected of belonging to the conspiracy, and dragging them to the nearest tribunal, where they were tortured and finally quartered alive or hung. Many of the fugitives succeeded in taking refuge in Switzerland, where they seem to have been kindly welcomed. But the Bundschuh only slept, it was by no means extinguished.

In the year 1502 nine years later, the bishopric of Speyer, the court of which was noted for its extravagance and tyranny, had to face another Bundschuh. This second movement had able men at its head, and extended over well nigh all the regions of the Upper and Middle Rhine. It similarly took the nature of a conspiracy, rather than of an open rebellion. Within a few weeks, 7000 men and 400 women had been sworn into the league, from a large number of villages, hamlets and small towns, for the larger towns were purposely left out, the movement being essentially a peasant one. The village and mark of Untergrünbach was its centre. Its object and aim was nothing less than the complete overthrow of the existing ecclesiastical and feudal organisation of the Empire. The articles of the association declared: “We have joined ourselves together in order that we may be free. We will free ourselves with arms in our hands, for we would be as the Swiss. We will root out and abolish all authorities and lordships from the land, and march against them with the force of our host and with well-armed hand under our banner. And all who do not honour and acknowledge us shall be killed. The princes and nobles broken and done with, we will storm the clergy in their foundations and abbeys. We will overpower them, and hunt out and hill all priests and monks together.” The property of the clergy and the nobles was to be seized and divided; as in the former case, all feudal dues were to be abolished, the primitive communism in the use of the land, and of what was on it, was to be resumed. The pass-word, by means of which the members of the organisation were known to one another, was the answer to the question:

“How fares it?” The question and answer were in the form of a rhyme:-

“Loset! Was ist nun fur ein Wesen? “

“Wir mögen vor Pfaffen und Adel nit genesen.”

This may be paraphrased as follows:-

“Well, now! And how doth it fare?”

“Of priests and of nobles we've enough and to spare.”

The idea was to rise at the opportune moment, as the Swiss had done, to free themselves of all intermediate lordship, and to recognise no master below the king of the Romans and the Emperor. “Nought but the justice of God “was the motto of their flag, and their colours were white and blue. Before the figure of a crucifix a peasant knelt, and below was depicted a great Bundschuh, the sign which had now become established as the symbol of the peasants’ movements. With consummate tact, the leaders of the revolt forbade any members to go to confession, and it was the disregard of this order that led to the betrayal of the cause. A peasant in confession revealed the secret to a priest, who in his turn revealed it to the authorities. Ecclesiastics, princes, and nobles at once took their measures. The most barbarous persecution and punishment of all suspected of having been engaged in the Bundschuh conspiracy followed. Those concerned had their property confiscated, their wives and children were driven from the country, and they themselves were in many, cases quartered alive; the more prominent men, by a refinement of cruelty, being dragged to the place of execution tied to a horse’s tail. A tremendous panic seized all the privileged classes, from the Emperor to the knight. They earnestly discussed the situation in no less than three separate assemblies of the estates. Large numbers of those involved in this second Bundschuh managed to escape, owing to the pluck and loyalty of the peasants. A few bands were hastily got together, and, although quite insufficient to effect a successful revolt, they were able to keep the knightly warriors and landesknechte at bay at certain critical points, so as to give the men who had really been the life and intelligence of the movement time to escape into Switzerland or into other territories where they were unknown. In some cases the secret was so well kept that the local organisers remained unnoticed even in their own villages.

For ten years after the collapse of the second Bundschuh in the Rhenish district, the peasants remained quiet. It was not till 1512 that things began again to stir. One of the leaders, who had escaped notice on the suppression of the former conspiracy, was Joss Fritz. He was himself a native of Untergrünbach, which had been its seat. He there acted as Bannwart or ranger of the district lands. For nearly ten years Joss wandered about from country to country, but amid all his struggles for existence he never forgot the Bundschuh. Joss was a handsome man, of taking and even superior manners. He was very careful in his dress, sometimes apparelling himself in black jerkin with white hose, sometimes in red with yellow hose, sometimes in drab with green hose. He would seem to have been at one time a landesknecht, and had certainly taken part in various campaigns in a military capacity. Whether it was from his martial bearing or the engaging nature of his personality, it is evident that Joss Fritz was in his way a born leader of men. About 1512 Joss settled down in a village called Lehen, a few miles from the town of Freiburg, in Breisgau. Here he again obtained the position of Bannwart, and here he began to seriously gather together the scattered threads of the old movement, and to collect recruits. He went to work cautiously; first of all confining himself to general complaints of the degeneracy of the times in the village tavern, or before the doors of the cottagers on summer evenings. He soon became the centre of an admiring group of swains, who looked up to him as the much-travelled man of the world, who eagerly sought his conversation, and who followed his counsel in their personal affairs.

As Joss saw that he was obtaining the confidence of his neighbours, his denunciations of the evils of the time grew more earnest and impassioned. At the same time he threw out hints as to the ultimate outcome of the existing state of things. But it was only after many months that he ventured to broach the real purpose of his life. One day when they were all assembled round him, he hinted that he might be able to tell them something to their advantage, would they but pledge themselves to secrecy. He then took each individually, and after calming the man’s conscience with the assurance that the proposal for which he claimed strict secrecy was an honourable one, he expounded his plan of an organisation of all the oppressed, an undertaking which he claimed to be in full accord with Holy Writ. He never insisted upon an immediate adhesion, but preferred to leave his man to think the matter over.

Joss would sometimes visit his neighbours in their houses, explaining to them how all ancient custom, right and tradition was being broken through to gratify the rapacity of the ruling classes. He put forward as the objects of the undertaking the suppression of the payment of interest after it had amounted to an equivalent of the original sum lent; also that no one was to be required to give more than one day’s service per year to his lord. “We will,” he declared, “govern ourselves according to our old rights and traditions, of which we have been forcibly and wrongfully deprived by our masters. Thou knowest well,” he would continue, “how long we have been laying our claims before the Austrian Government at Ensisheim”.[2]

From speaking of small grievances, Joss was gradually led to develop his scheme for the overthrow of feudalism, and for the establishment of what was tantamount to primitive conditions. At the same time he gave his hearers a rendezvous at a certain hour of eventide in a meadow, called the Hardmatte, which lay outside the village, and skirted a wood. The stillness of the hour, broken only by the sounds of nature hushing herself to rest for the night, was, at the time appointed, invaded by the eager talk of groups of villagers. All his little company assembled, Joss Fritz here, for the first time, fully developed his schemes. In future, said he, we must see that we have no other lords than God, the Pope, and the Emperor; the Court at Rothweil, he said, must he abolished; each must be able to obtain justice in his native village, and no churchman must he allowed to hold more than one benefice; the superfluity of the monasteries must be distributed amongst the poor; the dues and imposts with which the peasants are burdened must he removed; a permanent peace must he established throughout Christendom, as the perpetual feuds of the nobles meant destruction and misery for the peasants; finally, the primitive communism in woods, pasture, water, and the chase must be restored.

Joss Fritz’s proposals struck a sympathetic chord in the hearts of his hearers. It was only when he wound up by insisting upon the necessity of forming a new Bundschuh that some few of them hung back and went to obtain the advice of the village priest on the matter. Father John (such was his name was, however, in full accord in his ideas with Joss, and answered that the proposals were indeed a godly thing, the success of which was foretold in the Scriptures themselves.

The meetings on the Hardmatte led to the formation of a kind of committee, composed of those who were most devoted to the cause. These were Augustin Enderlin, Kilian Mayer, Hans Freuder, Hans and Karius Heitz, Peter Stublin, Jacob Hauser, Hans Hummel — Hummel hailed from the neighbourhood of Stuttgart — and Hieronymus, who was also a stranger, a journeyman baker working at the mill of Lehen, who had travelled far, and had acquired a considerable fund of oratory. All these men were untiring in their exertions to obtain recruits for the new movement. After having prepared the latter’s minds, they handed over the new-comers to Joss for deeper initiation, if he thought fit. It was not in crusades and pilgrimages he taught them, but in the Bundschuh that the “holy sepulchre” was to be obtained. The true “holy sepulchre” was to be found, namely, in the too long buried liberties of the people. The new Bundschuh, he maintained, had ramifications extending as far as Cologne, and embracing members from all orders.

Joss Fritz had indeed before coming to Lehen travelled through the Black Forest and the district of Speyer, in the attempt, by no means altogether unsuccessful, to reunite the crushed and scattered branches of the old Bundschuh. Among the friends he had made in this way was a poor knight of the name of Stoffel, of Freiburg. The latter travelled incessantly in the cause; he was always carefully dressed, and usually rode on a white horse. The missionaries of the Bundschuh, under the direction of Joss Fritz, assumed many different characters; now they were peasants, now townsmen, now decayed knights, according to the localities they visited. The organisation of the movement was carried out on lines which have been since reproduced in the Fenian rising. It was arranged in “circles,” the members of which knew one another, but not those outside the “circle”. Even the beggars’ guild was pressed into the service, and very useful adjuncts the beggars were, owing to their nomadic habits. The heads of the “circles” communicated with each other at intervals as to the number of recruits and as to the morale of their members. They compared notes with the two leaders of the movement, Joss and his friend Stoffel, both of whom rode constantly from place to place to keep their workers up to the mark. The muster-roll would be held on these occasions, as at Lehen itself, after dark, and in some woodland glade, near the village. The village taverns, generally the kitchens of some better-to-do peasant, were naturally among the best recruiting grounds, and the hosts themselves were often heads of “circles”. Strange and picturesque must have been these meetings after night-fall, when the members of the “circle” came together, the peasants in their plain blue or grey cloth and buff leather, the leaders in what to us seem the fantastic costumes of the period, red , stockings, trunk-hose and doublet slashed with bright yellow, or the whole dress of yellow slashed with black, the slouch hat, with ostrich feather, surmounting the whole; the short sword for the leaders, and a hoe or other agricultural implement for the peasant, constituted the arms of the company.

There was a visible sign by which the brethren recognised each other: it was a sign in the form of the letter H, of black stuff in a red field, sewn on to the breast-cloth. There appears also to have been another sign which certain of the members bore instead of the above; this consisted of three cross slits or slashes in the stuff of the right sleeve. This Bundschuh, like the previous one in Untergrünbach, had its countersign, which, to the credit of all concerned, be it said, was never revealed, and is not known to this day. The new Bundschuh was now thoroughly organised with all its officers, none of whom received money for their services.

The articles of association drawn up were the result of many nightly meetings on the Hardmatte, and embodied the main points insisted upon by Joss in his exhortations to the peasants. They included the abolition of all feudal powers. God, the Pope, and the Emperor were alone to be recognised as having authority. The Court at Rothweil and all the ecclesiastical courts were to be abolished, and justice relegated to the village council as of old. The interest payable on the debts of the mortgaged holdings of the peasants was to be discontinued. Fishing, hunting, woods and pasture were to be free to all. The clergy were to be limited to one benefice apiece. The monasteries and ecclesiastical foundations were to be curtailed, and their superfluous property confiscated. All feudal dues were to cease.

The strange and almost totemistic superstition that the mediaeval mind attached to symbolism is here, evinced by the paramount importance acquired by the question of the banner. A banner was costly, and the Bundschuh was poor, but the banner was the first necessity of every movement. In this case, it was obligatory that the banner should have a Bundschuh inscribed upon it. Artists of that time objected to painting Bundschuhs on banners; they were afraid to be compromised. Hence it was, above all things, necessary to have plenty of money wherewith to bribe some painter. Kilian Mayer gave five vats of wine to a baker, also one of the brotherhood, in Freiburg, to be sold in that town. The proceeds were brought to Joss as a contribution to the banner fund. Many another did similarly; some of those who met on the Haydmatte, however, objected to this tax. But ultimately Joss managed, by hook or by crook, to scrape together what was deemed needful. Joss then called upon a “brother” from it distant part of the country, one known to no one in Freiburg, to repair to the latter city and hunt up a painter. The “brother” was in a state of dire apprehension, and went to the house of the painter Friedrich, but at first appeared not to know for what he had come. With much hesitation, he eventually gasped out that he wanted a Bundschuh painted. Friedrich did not at, all like the proposal, and kicked the unfortunate peasant into the street, telling him not to come in future with such questionable orders. The artist instantly informed the Town Council of Freiburg of the occurrence; but as the latter did not know whence the mysterious personage had come, nor whither he had gone, they had to leave the matter in abeyance. They issued orders, however, for all true and faithful burghers to be on the look-out for further traces of the mischief.

After this failure, Joss bethought him that he had better take the matter in hand himself. Now, there was another artist of Freiburg, by name Theodosius, who was just then painting frescoes in the church at Lehen; to him Joss went one evening with Hans Enderlin, a person of authority in the village, and Kilian Mayer. They invited him to the house of one of the party, and emptied many a measure of vine. When they had all drunk their fill, they went to walk in the garden, just as the stars were beginning to come out. Joss now approached the painter with his project. He told him that there was a stranger in the village who wanted a small banner painted and had asked him (Joss) to demand the cost. Theodosius showed himself amenable as regards this point, but wanted to know what was to be the device on the banner. Directly Joss mentioned the word Bundschuh, the worthy painter gave a start, and swore that not for the wealth of the Holy Roman Empire itself would he undertake such a business. They all saw that it was no use pressing him any further, and so contented themselves with threatening him with dire consequences should he divulge the conversation that he had had with them. Hans Enderlin also reminded him that he had already taken an oath of secrecy in all matters relating to the village, on his engagement to do church work, a circumstance that curiously enough illustrates the conditions of medieval life. The painter, fearful of not receiving his pay for the church work, if nothing worse, prudently kept silent.

Joss was at his wits’ end. The silk of the flag was already bought, and even sewn; blue, with a white cross in the middle, were the colours; but to begin operations before the sign of the Bundschuh was painted, entered into the head of no one. In accordance with the current belief in magic, the symbol itself was supposed to possess a virtue, without the aid of which it was impossible to hope for success. There was nothing left for it but for Joss to start on a journey to the free city of Heilbronn in Swabia, where he knew there lived a painter of some ability. Arrived there, Joss dissembled his real object, pretending that he was a Swiss, who, when fighting in a great battle, had made a vow that if he came out safe and sound, he would undertake a pilgrimage to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), and there dedicate a banner to the mother of God. He begged the painter to make a suitable design for him, with a crucifix, the Virgin and St. John the Baptist, and underneath a Bundschuh. The Heilbronn artist was staggered at the latter suggestion, and asked what he meant. Joss appeared quite innocent, and said that he was a shoemaker’s son from Stein-am-Rhein, that his father had a Bundschuh as his trade-sign, and in order that it might be known that the gift was from him, he wished his family emblem to appear upon it. Round the flag were to be the words: “Lord, defend Thy Divine justice”. These representations overcame the painter’s scruples, and in a few days the banner was finished. Hiding it under his doublet, Joss hurried back to Lehen.

At last all was ready for the great coup. The Kirchweihe (or village festival, held every year on the name-day of the patron saint of a village church) wars being held at a neighbouring village on the 19th of October. This vas the date fixed for a final general meeting of the conspirators to determine the plan of attack and to decide whether Freiburg should be its object, or some smaller town in the neighbourhood. The confederates in Elsass were ordered, as soon as the standard of revolt was raised in Breisgau (Baden), to move across the Rhine to Burkheim, where the banner of the league would be flying. Special instructions were given to the beggars to spy round the towns and in all inns and alehouses, and to bring reports to Lehen. Arrangements were also made for securing at least one or two adherents in each of the guilds in Freiburg. All these orders were carried out in accordance with the directions made by Joss before his departure. But whilst he was away the members lost their heads. When too late they bethought themselves to win over an old experienced warrior who lived in Freiburg, a cousin of one of the chief conspirators at Lehen. Had they done so earlier it is likely enough that he would have been able to secure them possession of the city. As it happened, things were managed too hurriedly. Before matters were ripe the chief men grew careless of all precautions, so confident were they of success. One of the conspirators within the city set fire to a stable with a view to creating a panic, in the course of which the keys of the city gates might be stolen and the leaguers admitted. The attempt, however, was discovered before the fire gained any hold, and merely put the authorities on the alert. Again, three members of the league seized upon a peasant a short distance from the city, dragged him into a neighbouring wood, and made him swear allegiance. After he had done this under compulsion they exposed to him their intentions as to Freiburg. The peasant proving recalcitrant, even to the extent of expressing horror at the proposal, the three drew their knives upon him, and would have murdered him when the sound of horses vas heard on the high road close by, and, struck with panic, they let him go and hid themselves in the recesses of the wood. The peasant, of course, revealed all to his confessor the same evening, and wanted to know whether the oath he had taken under compulsion was binding on him. The priest put himself at once in communication with the Imperial Comirilssatry of Freiburg, who made the City Corporation acquainted with the facts. Two other traitors a few days after came to the assistance of the authorities, and revealed many important secrets. Count Philip of Baden, their over-lord, to whom these disclosures were made, was not long in placing them at the disposal of the Corporation of Freiburg and of the Austrian Government at Ensisheim. Late the following night, October 4, messengers were sent in all directions to warn the authorities of the neighbouring villages and towns to prepare themselves for the outbreak of the conspiracy. Double watches were placed at the gates of Freiburg and on all the towers of the walls. The guilds were called together, and their members instructed to wake each other up immediately , on the sound of the storm-bell, when they were all to meet in the cathedral close. The moment that these preparations were known at Lehen, a meeting was called together on the Hardmatte at vespers; but in the absence of Joss Fritz, and, as ill-luck would have it, in that also of one or two of the best organisers who were away on business of the league, divided counsels prevailed. In the very midst of all this, two hundred citizens of Freiburg armed to the teeth appeared in Lehen, seized Huns Enderlin and his son, as also Elsa, the woman with whom Joss had been living besides other leading men of the movement. Panic now reigned amongst all concerned. Well nigh every one took to flight, most of them succeeding in crossing the frontier to Switzerland. The news of the collapse of the movement apparently reached Joss before he arrived in Lehen, as there is no evidence of his having returned there. Many of the conspirators met together in Basel, amongst them being Joss Fritz with his banner. They decided to seek an asylum in Zurich. But they were fallen upon on the way, and two were made prisoners, the rest, among them Joss, escaping. Those of the conspirators who were taken prisoners behaved heroically; not the most severe tortures could induce them to reveal anything of importance. As a consequence, comparatively few of those compromised fell victims to the vengeance of their noble and clerical enemies. In Elsass they were not so fortunate as in Baden, many persons being executed on suspicion. The Imperial Councillor Rudolph was even sent into Switzerlancl to demand the surrender of the fugitives, and two were given up by Schaffhausen. Joss’s mistress was liberated after three weeks, and she was suspected of having harboured him at different times afterwards. The last distinct traces of him are to be found in the Black Forest ten years later, during the great rising; but they are slight, and merely indicate his having taken a part in this movement. Thus this interesting personality disappears from human ken. Did the energetic and enthusiastic peasant leader fall a victim to noble vengeance in 1525, or did he withdraw from public life to a tranquil old age in some obscure village of Southern Germany? These are questions which we shall now, it is probable, never be able to answer.

At the same time that the foregoing events were taking place there was a considerable ferment in Switzerland. Increase of luxury was beginning to tell there also. The simple cloth or sheepskin of the old Eidgenosse was now frequently replaced, in the towns especially, by French and Italian dresses, by doublets of scarlet silk, by ostrich feathers, and even by cloth of gold. In the cities domestic architecture began to take on the sumptuousness of the Renaissance style. The coquettish alliance with Louis XI. in the preceding century had already opened a way for the introduction of French customs. Gambling for high stakes became the fashionable amusement in town and country alike. The story of Hans Waldmann, although belonging to a period some years earlier than that of this history, illustrates a decline from the primitive simplicity of the ancient Switzer, a decline which had become infinitely more accentuated and general at the time of which we treat. All this led, of course, to harder conditions for the peasants, which, in the summer of 1513, issued in several minor revolts. In some cases, notably in that of the peasants of Canton Bern, the issue was favourable to the insurgents.

In the neighbouring country of Würtemberg an insurrection also burst forth. It is supposed to have had some connection with the Bundschuh movement at Lehen; but it took the name of “The Poor Conrad”. It was immediately occasioned by the oppression of Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, who, to cover the expenses of his luxurious court, was burdening the peasants with ever-fresh exactions. He had already made debts to the extent of a million golden. The towns, no less than the peasantry, were indignant at the rapacity and insolence of the minions of this potentate. First, an income-tax was imposed without the concurrence of the estates, which should have been consulted. Next, an impost was laid on the daily consumption of meal and wine. The butchers and millers and vintners were then allowed to falsify their weights and measures, on the condition that the greater part of their increased profits went to the duke. “The Poor Conrad” demanded the removal of all these abuses; and, in addition, the freedom of the chase, of fishery and of wood-cutting, and the abolition of villein service. In the towns the poorer citizens, including both guildsmen and journeymen, were prepared to seize the opportunity of getting rid of their Ebarkeit. This movement was also, like the Bundschuh at Lehen, suppressed for the time being. We leave gone at length into the history of the Bundschuh as a type of the manner in which the peasant movements of the time were planned and organised. The methods pursued by “The Poor Conrad,” the midnight meetings, the secret pass-words, the preparations for sudden risings, were in most respects similar. The skilled and well-equipped knighthood of Dune Ulrich, though inferior in numbers, readily dispersed the ill-armed and inexperienced bands of peasants whom they encountered. To this result the treacherous promises of Duke Ulrich, which induced large numbers of peasants to lay down their arms, contributed. The revolt proved a flash in the pan; and although those who had partaken in it were not punished with the merciless severity shown by the Austrian Government at Ensisheim, it yet resulted in no amelioration of the conditions of the people. Many of the leaders, and not a few of the rank and file, fled the country, and, as in the case of the Lehen Bundschuh, found a refuge in Northern Switzerland.

In the autumn of 1517 Baden was once more the scene of an attempted peasant rising, its objects being again much the same as were those of the previous enterprises. Rent and interest were to be abolished, and no lord recognised except the Emperor. The plan was to surprise and capture the towns of Weissenburg and Hagenau, and to make a clean sweep of the imperial councillors and judges, as well as of the knights and nobles. This conspiracy was, however, also discovered before the time for action was ripe. There were also, in various parts of Central Europe, other minor attempts at revolt and conspiracies which it is not necessary to particularise here. The great rebellion of the year 1514, in Hungary, however, although not strictly coming within the limits of our subject, deserves a few words of notice.

At Easter, in that year, the whole of Hungary was stirred up by the preaching of a crusade against the Turks, then hard pressing the eastern frontier. All who joined the crusade, down to the lowest serf, were promised not merely absolution, but freedom. The movement was immensely popular, thousands crowding to the standards. The nobles naturally viewed the movement with disfavour; many, in fact, sallied forth from their castles with their retinues to fetch back the fugitives. In many cases the seizures were accompanied with every circumstance of cruelty. As the news of these events reached the assembled bands in their camp, a change of disposition became manifest. The enthusiasm for vanquishing the Turk abroad speedily gave way to an enthusiasm for vanquishing the Turk at home. Everywhere throughout the camp were heard threats of vengeance. Finally, one George Dozes, who would seem to have been a genuine popular hero in the best sense of the word, placed himself at their head. George Doza’s aims were not confined to mere vengeance on the offending nobles. They extended to the conception of a complete reorganisation of the conditions of the oppressed classes throughout the country. In vain an order came from the Court at Ofen for the army to disperse. Dozes divided his forces into five bodies, each of which was to concentrate its efforts on a definite district, at the same time summoning the whole population to join. The destruction of castles, and the slaughter of their inmates, became general throughout the land. For a moment the nobles seemed paralysed; but they soon recovered themselves, and two of their number, Johann Zapolya and Johann Boremiszsza, aided by the inhabitants of the city of Buda-Pesth, got together as array to save the situation for their colleagues. They were not long in joining battle with the insurgents. The latter, deserted at the beginning by some of their leaders, who went over to the enemy, fought bravely, but had eventually to yield to superior arms and discipline. A large number of prisoners were taken, of whom the majority were barbarously executed, and the rest sent home, with ears and noses cut off.

Meanwhile, George Doza, who had been besieging Szegedin, withdrew his forces, and gave battle to Bishop Csaky and the Count of Temeswar, who were advancing with troops to relieve the town. After two days’ hard fighting, victory rewarded the bravery of the peasants. Doza’s followers demanded vengeance for their murdered and mutilated comrades. The bishop was impaled, and the royal treasurer of the district hanged on a high gallows. But Doza’s was the only division of the popular army that met with any success. The rest, on coming to grips with the nobles, were dispersed and almost annihilated. The remnants joined the forces of their commander-in -chief, whose army was thus augmented from day to day. Doza now issued a decree abolishing king and higher and lower nobility, deposing all bishops save one, and proclaiming the equality of all men before God. One of his lieutenants then succeeded in recruiting what amounted to a second army, containing a large force of cavalry. He moved on Temeswar, but committed the imprudence of undertaking a long siege of this powerful fortress. After two months his army began to get demoralised. A few days before the place would have had to surrender, Doza was surprised by the Transylvanian Army. In spite of this, however, he deployed his troops with incredible rapidity, and a terrific battle, long undecided, ensued. After several hours of hard fighting, one of the wings of Doza’s army took to flight. General confusion followed, in the midst of which Doza might have been seen in the forefront of the battle like an ancient hero, hewing down nobles right and left, until his sword broke in his hind. He was then instantly seized, and made prisoner in company with his brother Gregory. The latter was iminediately beheaded. Doza and about forty of his officers were thrown into a vile dungeon in Temeswar and deprived of all nourishment. On the fourteenth day of their incarceration, nine alone remained alive. These nine, Doza at their head, were led out into the open space before their prison. All iron throne was erected there and made red hot, and Doza, loaded with chains, was forcibly placed upon it. A red-hot iropn crown was laid upon his head, and a red-hot iron sceptre thrust into his hand. His companions were then offered their lives on condition that they forthwith tore off and devoured the flesh of their leader. Three, who refused with indignation, were at once hewn in pieces. Six did as they were bidden. “Dogs!” cried Doza. This was the only sound that escaped him. Torn with red-hot iron pincers, he died. The defeated peasants were impaled and hanged by the hundred. It is estimated that over 60,000 of them perished in this war, and in the reprisals that followed it. The result of the insurrection was a more brutal oppression than had ever been known before.

At the same time various insurrections of a local nature were taking place in Germany and in the Austrian territories. Amid the Styrian and Carinthian Alps there were movements of the peasants, who, in these remote mountain districts, seem to have retained more of their primitive independence. In the south-west of Austria there were three duchies — Kärnthen (Carinthia), Steuermarck (Styria), and the Krain. At Kärnburg, a short distance from Klagenfurt, was a round stone, on which were engraved the arms of the country. When a duke assumed the sovereignty, a peasant belonging to one of the ancient families of a neighbouring village in which this particular right was hereditary, attended to offer the new duke the homage of the peasantry. Round the stone, on which sat the aged representative of the rural communities, the peasantry of the neighbourhood were gathered. The over-lord, attired in peasantly costume, advanced towards the stone. With him were two local dignitaries, one leading a lean black cow, the other an underfed horse. Bringing up the rear followed the remaining nobility and knighthood, with the banner of the duchy. The peasant who was sitting on the fateful stone cried: “Who is he who advances so proudly into our country?” The surrounding peasants answered: “It is our prince who comes”. “Is he a righteous judge?” asked the peasant on the stone. “Will he promote the well-being of our land and its freedom. Is he a protector of the Christian faith and of widows and orphans?” The multitude shouted: “This he is, and will ever be so”. That part of the ceremony concluded, the duke had to take an oath to the peasant on the stone that he would not disdain, for the welfare of the land, in any of the respects mentioned, to nourish himself with such a wretched beast as the cow accompanying him, or to ride on such a lean and ill-favoured steed. The peasant on the stone then gave the duke a light box on the cars, and conjured him in patriarchal fashion to remain ever a righteous judge and a father to his people. The old countryman then stood up, and the nobles surrendered to him the cow and horse, which he led home as his property.

The above singular custom had been kept up in Carinthia until the middle of the fifteenth century, when the Emperor Frederick III refused, in his capacity of local lord, to don the peasant garb, although he compromised the matter by giving the peasants a deed establishing them in their ancient freedom. The growing pressure of taxation and the new imposts, which the wars of Maximilian entailed, led, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, to an agitation here also, and, finally, to a rising in which, it is said, as many as 90,000 peasants took part, but which did not immediately come to a head, owing to timely concessions on the hart of the Emperor. The league of the peasants, in this case, extended over Styria as well as Carinthia and the Krain. It broke forth again in the spring of 1517 owing to renewed oppressions on the part of the nobles. Several castles, during the three months that the revolt lasted, were destroyed, and large stretches of country laid waste. Not a few nobles were hurled from their own turrets. The Emperor Maximilian, who, throughout the whole affair, showed himself not unfavourable to the cause of the peasants, held his hand, as it would seem, so long as the latter confined themselves to punishing the notoriously rapacious among the territorial magnates; but afterwards, when the armed bodies of peasants gradually melted away, and those that remained lost all discipline, degenerating into mere plundering bands, he sent a party of a few hundred knights, who speedily routed the ill-armed and disorderly horde’s. Little quarter was given to the fugitives, and the usual bloody executions followed. There was, in addition, a heavy indemnity laid on the whole peasantry, which took the form of a perpetual tax. The revolt in the Krain lasted longest, and was suppressed with the most bloodshed. Those in Styria and Carinthia came to an end much sooner, and with less disastrous results to those who had been engaged in them.

But it was not alone in Germany, or, indeed, in Central Europe, that a general stirring was visible among the peasant populations at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It is true that the great revolts, the Wat Tyler insurrection in England, and the Jacquerie in France, took place long before; but even when there was no great movement, sporadic excitement was everywhere noticeable. In Spain, we read of a peasant revolt, which Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim was engaged by the territorial lord to quell by his supposed magical powers. In England, the disturbances of Henry VIII.’s reign, connected with the suppression of the monasteries, are well known. The expropriation of the people from the soil to make room for sheep-farms also gave occasion to periodical disturbances of a local character, which culminated in 1549 in the famous revolt led by John Ket in East Anglia.

The deep-reaching importance and effective spread of movements was infinitely greater in the Middle Ages than in modern times. The same phenomenon presents itself to-day in barbaric and semi-barbaric communities. At first sight one is inclined to think that there has been no period in the world’s history when it was so easy to stir up a population as the present, with our newspapers, our telegraphs, our postal arrangements and our railways. But this is just one of those superficial notions that are not confirmed by history. We are similarly apt to think that there was no age in which travel was so widespread, and formed so great a part of the education of mankind as at present. There could be no greater mistake. The true age of travelling was the close of the Middle Ages, or what is known as the Renaissance period. The man of learning, then just differentiated from the ecclesiastic, spent the greater part of his life in carrying his intellectual wares from court to court, and from university to university, just as the merchant personally carried his goods from city to city in an age in which commercial correspondence, bill-brokers, and the varied forms of modern business were but in embryo. It was then that travel really meant education, the acquirement of thorough and intimate knowledge of diverse manners and customs. Travel was then not then pastime, but a serious element in life.

In the same way the spread of a political or social movement was at least as rapid then as now, and far more penetrating. The methods were, of course, vastly different from the present; but the human material to be dealt with was far easier to mould, and kept its shape much more readily when moulded, than is the case now-a-days. The appearance of a religious or political teacher in a village or small town of the Middle Ages was an event which keenly excited the interest of the inhabitants. It struck across the path of their daily life, leaving behind it a track hardly conceivable to-day. For one of the salient symptoms of the change which has taken place since that time is the disappearance of local centres of activity, and the transference of the intensity of life to a few large towns. In the Middle Ages, every town, small no less than large, was a more or less self-sufficing organism, intellectually and industrially, and was not essentially dependent on the outside world for its social sustenance. This was especially the case in Central Europe, where communication was much more imperfect and dangerous than in Italy, France, or England. In a society without newspapers, without easy communication with the rest of the world, when the vast majority could neither read nor write, when books were rare and costly, and accessible only to the privileged few, a new idea bursting upon one of these communities was eagerly welcomed, discussed in the council chamber of the town, in the hall of the castle, in the refectory of the monastery, at the social board of the burgess, in the workroom, and, did it but touch his interests, in the hut of the peasant. It was canvassed, too, at church festivals (Kirchweihe), the only regular occasion on which the inhabitants of various localities came together. In the absence of all other distraction, men thought it out in all the bearings which their limited intellectual horizon permitted. If calculated in any way to appeal to them, it soon struck root, and became a part of their very nature, a matter for which, if occasion were, they were prepared to sacrifice goods, liberty, and even life itself. In the present day a new idea is comparative) slow in taking root. Amid the myriad distractions of modern life, perpetually chasing one another, there is no time for any one thought, however wide-reaching in its bearings, to take a firm hold. In order that it should do this in the modern mind, it must be again and again borne in upon this, not always too receptive intellectual substance. People require to read of it day after day in their newspapers, or to hear it preached from countless platforms, before any serious effect is created. In the simple life of former ages it was not so.

The mode of transmitting intelligence, especially such as was connected with the stirring up of political and religious movements, was in those days of a nature of which we have now little conception. The sort of thing in vogue then may be compared to the methods adopted in India to prepare the mutiny of 1857, when the mysterious cake was passed from village to village, signifying that the moment had come for the outbreak. We have already seen how Joss Fritz used the guild of beggars as fetchers and carriers of news and as auxiliaries in his organisation generally. The fact is noteworthy, moreover, that his confidence in them does not seem to have been misplaced, for the collapse of the movement cannot certainly he laid to their account. The sense of esprit de corps and of that kind of honour most intimately associated with it is, it must also be remembered, infinitely keener in ruder states of society than under a high civilisation. The growth of civilisation, as implying the disruption of the groups in which the individual is merged under more primitive conditions, and his isolation as an autonomous unit having vague and very elastic moral duties to his “country” or to the whole of mankind, but none towards any definite and proximate social whole, necessarily destroys that communal spirit which prevails in the former case. This is one of the striking truths which the history of these peasant risings illustrates in various ways and brings vividly home to us.

1. We adopt the German spelling of the name of the province usually known in this country as Alsace, for the reason that at the time of which this history treats it had never been French; and the French language was probably little more known there than in other parts of Germany.

2. It will he seen from the historical map that Breisgau and Sundgau were feudal appanages of the house of Austria. Ensisheim was the scat of the Habsburg overlordship in the district (not to he confounded with the imperial power).