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

Chapter VI
The Revolt of the Knighthood

We have already pointed out in more than one place the position to which the smaller nobility, or the knighthood, had been reduced by the concatenation of causes which was bringing about the dissolution of the old medieval order of things, and, as a consequence, ruining the knights both economically and politically: — economically by the rise of capitalism as represented by the commercial syndicates of the cities; by the unprecedented power and wealth of the city confederations, especially of the Hanseatic League; by the rising importance of the newly-developed world-market; by the growing luxury and the enormous rise in the prices of commodities concurrently with the reduction in value of the feudal land-tenures; and by the limitation of the possibilities of acquiring wealth by highway robbery, owing to imperial constitutions on the one hand and increased powers of defence on the part of the trading community on the other politically, by the new modes of warfare in which artillery and infantry, composed of comparatively well-drilled mercenaries (Landsknechte), were rapidly making inroads into the omnipotence of the ancient feudal chivalry, and reducing the importance of individual skill or prowess in the handling of weapons, and by the development of the lower of the princes or higher nobility, partly due to the influence which the Roman civil law now began to exercise over the older customary constitution of the Empire, and partly to the budding centralism of authority — which in France and England became a national centralisation, but in Germany, in spite of the temporary ascendancy of Charles V., finally issued in a provincial centralisation in which the princes were de facto independent monarchs. The imperial constitution of 1495, forbidding private war, applied, it must be remembered, only to the lesser nobility and not to the higher, thereby placing the former in a decidedly ignominious position as regards their feudal superiors. And though this particular enactment had little immediate result, yet it was none the less resented as a blow struck at the old knightly privilege.

The mental attitude of the knighthood in the face of this progressing change in their position was naturally an ambiguous one, composed partly of a desire to hark back to the haughty independence of feudalism, and partly of sympathy with the growing discontent among other classes and with the new spirit generally. In order that the knights might succeed in recovering their old or even in maintaining their actual position against the higher nobility, the princes, backed as these now largely were by the imperial power, the co-operation of the cities was absolutely essential to them, but the obstacles in the way of such a co-operation proved insurmountable. The towns hated the knights for their lawless practices, which rendered trade unsafe and not infrequently cost the lives of the citizens. The knights for the most part, with true feudal hauteur, scorned and despised the artisans and traders who had no territorial family name and were unexercised in the higher chivalric arts. The grievances of the two parties were, moreover, not identical, although they had their origin in the same causes. The cities were in the main solely concerned to maintain their old independent position, and especially to curb the growing disposition at this time of the other estates to use them as milch cows from which to draw the taxation necessary to the maintenance of the Empire. For example, at the Reichstag opened at Nürnberg on the 17th November, 1522 to discuss the questions of the establishment of perpetual peace within the Empire, of organising an energetic resistance to the inroads of the Turks, and of placing on a firm foundation the Imperial Privy Council (Kammergericht) and the Supreme Council (ReichsRegiment) — at which were represented twenty-six imperial towns, thirty-eight high prelates, eighteen princes, and twenty-nine counts and barons — the representatives of the cities complained grievously that their attendance was reduced to a farce, since they were always out-voted, and hence obliged to accept the decisions of the other estates. They stated that their position was no longer bearable; and for the first time drew up, an Act of Protest, which further complained of the delay in the decisions of the imperial courts; of their sufferings from the right of private war which was still allowed to subsist in defiance of the constitution; of the increase of customs-stations on the part of the princes and prince-prelates; and, finally, of the debasement of the coinage due to the unscrupulous practices of these notables and of the Jews. The only sympathy the other estates vouchsafed to the plaints of the cities was with regard to the right of private war, which the higher nobles were also anxious to suppress amongst the lower, though without prejudice of course to their own privileges in this line. All the other articles of the Act of Protest were coolly waived aside. From all this it will be seen that not much co-operation was to be expected between such heterogeneous bodies as the knighthood and the free towns, in spite of their common interest in checking the threateningly advancing power of the princes and the central imperial authority, which was for the most part manned and manipulated by the princes.

Amid the decaying knighthood there was, as we have already intimated, one figure which stood out head and shoulders above every other noble of the time, whether prince or knight; and that was Franz von Sickingen. He has been termed, not without truth, “the last flower of German chivalry,” since in him the old knightly qualities flashed up in conjunction with the old knightly power and splendour with a brightness hardly known even in the palmiest days of medieval life. It was, however, the last flicker of the light of German chivalry. With the death of Sickingen and the collapse of his revolt the knighthood of Central Europe ceased any longer to play an independent part in history.

Sickingen, although technically only one of the lower nobility, was deemed about the time of Luther’s appearance to hold the immediate destinies of the Empire in his hand. Wealth, inspiring confidence and enthusiasm as a leader, possessed of more than one powerful and strategically-situated stronghold, he held court at his favourite residence, the Castle of the Landstuhl, in the Rhenish Palatinate, in a style which many a prince of the Empire might have envied. As honoured guests were to be found attending on him, humanists, poets, minstrels, partisans of the new theology, astrologers, alchemists, and men of letters generally; in short, the whole intelligence and culture of the period. Foremost among these, and chief confidant of Sickingen, was the knight, courtier, poet, essayist and pamphleteer, Ulrich von Hutten, whose pen was ever ready to champion with unstinted enthusiasm the cause of the progressive ideas of his age. He first took up the cudgels against the obscurantists on behalf of Humanism as represented by Erasmus and Reuchlin, the latter of whom he bravely defended in his dispute with the Inquisition and the monks of Cologne, and in his contributions to the Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum we see the youthful ardour of the Renaissance in full blast in its onslaught on the forces of medieval obstruction. Unlike most of those with whom he was first associated, Hutten passed from being the upholder of the New Learning to the role of champion of the Reformation; and it was largely through his influence that Sickingen took up the cause of Luther and his movement.

Sickingen had been induced by Charles V. to assist him in an abortive attempt to invade France in 1521, from which campaign he had returned without much benefit either material or moral, save that Charles was left heavily in his debt. The accumulated hatred of generations for the priesthood had made Sickingen a willing instrument in the hands of the reforming party and believing that Charles now lay to some extent in his power, he considered the moment opportune for putting his long-cherished scheme into operation for reforming the constitution of the Empire. This reformation consisted, as was to be expected, in placing his own order on a firm footing, and of effectually curbing the power of the other estates, especially that of the prelates. Sickingen wished to make the Emperor and the lower nobility the decisive factors in his new scheme of things political. The Emperor, it so happened, was for the moment away in Spain, and Sickingen’s colleagues of the knightly order were becoming clamorous at the unworthy position into which they found themselves rapidly being driven. The feudal exactions of their princely lieges had reached a point which passed all endurance, and since they were practically powerless in the Reichstags no outlet was left for their discontent save by open revolt. Impelled not less by his own inclinations than by the pressure of his companions, foremost among whom was Hutten, Sickingen decided at once to open the campaign.

Hutten, it would appear, attempted to enter into negotiations for the co-operation of the towns and of the peasants. So far as can be seen, Strassburg and one or two other imperial cities returned favourable answers; but the precise measure of Hutten’s success cannot be ascertained, owing to the fact that all the documents relating to the matter perished in the destruction of Sickingen’s Castle of Ebernburg. It is certain, however, that operations were begun before any definite assurances of help had been obtained, although had the first attempts had any appearance of success there is little doubt that such help would have been forthcoming.

The campaign was unfortunate from the beginning. Nevertheless, but one of the associated knights saw that the moment was inopportune. The rest were confident of success, and a pretext was speedily found in the fact that Sickingen’s feudal superior, the Archbishop of Trier (Treves), had refused to compel two councillors of that city to repay him 5,000 Rhenish guilders (gülden) which he had paid as ransom for them to a certain knight, Gerhard Börner, who had taken them prisoners. This was a sufficient casus belli for those times; and Sickingen thereupon issued a manifesto in which he declared himself the champion of the gospel, and announced his intention to free the subjects of the archbishop from the temporal yoke of their tyrant, who had acted against God and the imperial majesty, and from the spiritual yoke of godless priests, and to place them in possession of that liberty which the gospel (i.e., the new gospel of Luther alone could afford.

It should be premised that on the 13th of August, previous to this declaration of war, a “Brotherly Convention” had been signed by a number of the knights, by which Sickingen was appointed their captain, and they bound themselves to submit to no jurisdiction save their own, and pledged themselves to mutual aid in war in case of hostilities against any one of their number. Through this “Treaty of Landau,” Sickingen had it in his power to assemble a considerable force at a moment’s notice. Consequently, a few days after the issue of the above manifesto, on the 27th August, 1522, Sickingen was able to start from the Castle of Ebernburg with an army of 5000 foot and 1,500 knights, besides artillery, in the full confidence that he was about to destroy the position of the Palatine prince-prelate and raise himself without delay to the chief power on the Rhine. The grand chamberlain of the celebrated patron of letters and Humanism, Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz, Frowers von Hutten, was in the conspiracy; and it is almost certain that Albrecht himself was secretly in accord with Sickingen’s plan for the destruction of his electoral neighbour. This is shown by the fact that when the Archbishop of Trier appealed to him, as his colleague, for assistance, Albrecht made a number of excuses which enabled him to delay the sending of reinforcements until they were too late to be of any use, whilst at the same time numbers of his retainers and subjects served under Sickingen’s banner.

By an effective piece of audacity, that of sporting the imperial flag and the Burgundian cross, Franz spread abroad the idea that he was acting on behalf of the Emperor, then absent in Spain; and this largely contributed to the result that his army speedily rose to 5,000 knights and 10,000 footmen. The Imperial Diet at Nürnberg now intervened, and ordered Sickingen to cease the operations he had already begun, threatening him with the ban of the Empire and a fine of 2000 marks if he did not obey. To this summons Franz sent a characteristically impudent reply,[1] and light-heartedly continued the campaign, regardless of the warning which an astrologer had given him some time previously, that the year 1522 or 1523 would probably be fatal to him. It is evident that this campaign, begun so late in the year, was regarded by Sickingen and the other leaders as merely a preliminary canter to a larger and more widespread movement the following spring, since on this occasion the Swabian and Franconian knighthood do not appear to have been even invited to take part in it.

After an easy progress, during which several trifling places, the most important being St. Wendel, were taken, Franz with his army arrived on the 8th of September before the gates of Trier. He had hoped to capture the town by surprise, and was indeed not without some expectation of co-operation and help from the citizens themselves. On his arrival he shot letters within the walls summoning the inhabitants to take his part against their tyrant; but either through the unwillingness of the burghers to act with the knights, or through the vigilance of the archbishop, they were without effect. The gates remained closed; and in answer to Sickingen’s summons to surrender, Richard replied that he would find him in the city if he could get inside. In the meantime Sickingen’s friends had signally failed in their attempts to obtain supplies and reinforcements for him, in the main owing to the energetic action of some of the higher nobles. The Archbishop of Trier showed himself as much a soldier as a churchman; and after a week’s siege, during which Sickingen made five assaults on the city, his powder ran out, and he was forced to retire. He at once made his way back to Ebernburg, where he intended to pass the winter, since he saw that it was useless to continue the campaign, with his own army diminishing and the hoped-for supplies not appearing, whilst the forces of his antagonists augmented daily. In his stronghold of Ebernburg he could rely on being secure from all attack until he was able to again take the field on the offensive, as he anticipated doing in the spring.

There is some doubt as to the events which occurred during this retreat to Ebernburg. Sickingen’s adversaries asserted that not only did his army destroy churches and monasteries, but that the houses of the peasants in the surrounding country were plundered and burnt. His friends, on the other hand, maintain with equal vehemence that Sickingen and his followers confined themselves to wiping out of existence as many as possible of the hated ecclesiastical foundations.

In spite of the obvious failure of the autumnal campaign, the cause of the knighthood did not by any means look irretrievably desperate, since there was always the possibility of successful recruitments the following spring. Ulrich von Hutten was doing his utmost in Würtemberg and Switzerland to scrape together men and money, though up to this time without much ‘success, while other emissaries of Sickingen were working with the same object in Breisgau and other parts of Southern Germany. Relying on these expected reinforcements, Franz was confident of victory when he should again take the field, and in the meantime he felt himself quite secure in one or other of his strong places, which had recently undergone extensive repairs and seemed to be impregnable. In this anticipation he was deceived, as will shortly be seen, for he had not reckoned with the new and more potent weapons of attack which were replacing the battering-ram and other medieval besieging appliances.

The princes, meanwhile, were not inactive. Immediately after the abortive attack on Richard of Trier, Sickingen was placed under the ban of the Empire (Oct. 8), but although the latter had temporarily disbanded his army it was impossible for them to attack him at once. They therefore contented themselves for the moment by wreaking their vengeance on those of his supporters who were more easily to be reached. Albrecht of Mainz, whose public policy had been that of “sitting on the fence all round,” was fined 25,000 gulden for his lukewarmness supporting his colleague, the Elector of Trier. Kronberg, near Frankfort, which was held by Sickingen’s son-in-law, Hardtmuth, was taken by a force of 40,000 men (?); Frowen von Hutten, the cousin of Ulrich, was driven from his Castle of Saalmünster and dispossessed of his estates, whilst a number of the smaller fry equally felt the heavy hand of the princely power. The chastisement of more distant adherents to the cause of the knighthood, like the Counts of Fürstenberg and Zollern and the knights of Franconia, was left over until the leader of the movement had been dealt with.

This latter task was set about energetically, as soon as the winter was past, by the three princes who had specially taken in hand the suppression of the revolt, Archbishop Richard of Trier, Prince Ludwig of the Pfalz, and Count Phillip of Hesse. In February, Sickingen’s second son, Hans, was taken prisoner, and shortly after the Castle of Wartenberg was captured. An armistice which Sickingen had asked for in order that the reinforcements he expected might have time to arrive, was refused, since the princes saw that their only chance of immediately crushing his power was to attack him at once. Towards the end of April a large army of cavalry, infantry, and siege artillery was called together at Kreuznach, not far from Sickingen’s Castle of Ebernburg. Franz, however, was no longer there. He appears to have left Ebernburg for his strongest fortress at Landstuhl some weeks previously, though how and when is uncertain. Here he hoped to be able to hold out for at least three or four months, by which time his friends could deliver him; and when the army of the three princes appeared before the castle he sent back a mocking answer to their summons to surrender, to the effect that he had new walls and they had new guns, so they could now see which were the stronger. But Sickingen had not realised the power of the new projectiles; and in a week after the opening of the bombardment, on the 29th of April, the newly-fortified castle on which he had staked all his hopes was little better than a defenceless heap of ruins. In the course of the bombardment Franz himself, as he stood at an embrasure watching the progress of the siege, was flung against a splintered joist, owing to the gun-stand against which he was leaning being overturned by a cannon shot. With his side torn open he was carried down into a dark rocky vault of the castle, realising at last that all was lost. “Where are now,” he cried, “my knights and my friends, who promised me so much and who have performed so little? Where is Fürstenberg? where Zollern? where are they of Strassburg and of the Brotherhood? Wherefore, let none place their trust in great possessions nor in the encouragements of men.” It must be alleged, however, in their excuse, that his friends doubtless shared Franz’s confidence in the impregnability of the Landstuhl, and were not aware of the imminent straits he had been in since the beginning of the attack. The messenger he had sent to the distant Fürstenberg had been captured by the army of the allied princes; Zollern knew of the need of his leader only with the news of his death; Hutten’s efforts to obtain help in Switzerland had been in vain.

Seeing that now all was over and he himself on the point of death, Sickingen wrote to the princes, requesting them to come and see him. The firing at once ceased, and negotiations were entered upon for the surrender of the castle. On the 6th of May Sickingen agreed to the articles of capitulation, which included the surrender of himself and the rest of the knights in the castle as prisoners of war, his other retainers giving up their arms and leaving the castle on the following day. The Landstuhl with all its contents was to fall, of course, into the hands of the besiegers. As Franz signed the articles, he remarked to the ambassadors: “Well, I shall not he long your prisoner.”

On the 7th of May the princes entered the castle and were at once taken to the underground chamber where Franz lay dying. He was so near his end that he could scarcely distinguish his three arch-enemies one from the other. “My dear lord,” he said to the Count Palatine, his feudal superior, “I had not thought that I should end thus,” taking off his cap and giving him his hand. “What has impelled thee, Franz,” asked the Archbishop of Trier, “that thou halt so laid waste and harmed me and my poor people?” “Of that it were too long to speak,” answered Sickingen, “but I have done nought without cause. I go now to stand before a greater Lord.” Here it is worthy of remark that the princes treated Franz with all the knightliness and courtesy which were customary between social equals in the days of chivalry, addressing him at most rather as a rebellious child than as an insurgent subject. The prince of Hesse was about to give utterance to a reproach, but he was interrupted by the Count Palatine, who told him that he must not quarrel with a dying man. The count’s chamberlain said some sympathetic words to Franz, who replied to him: “My dear chamberlain, it matters little about me. It is not I who am the cock round which they are dancing.” When the princes had withdrawn, his chaplain asked him if he would confess; but Franz replied: “I have confessed to God in my heart,” whereupon the chaplain gave him absolution; and as he went to fetch the host “the last of the knights” passed quietly away, alone and abandoned. It is related by Spalatin that after his death some peasants and domestics placed his body in an old armour-chest, in which they had to double the head on to the knees. The chest was then let down by a rope from the rocky eminence on which stood the now ruined castle, and was buried beneath small chapel in the village below.

The scene we have just described in the castle vault meant not merely the tragedy of a hero’s death, nor merely the destruction of a faction or puny. It meant the end of an epoch. With Sickingen’s death one of the most salient and picturesque elements in the mediaeval life of Central Europe received its death-blow. The knighthood as a distinct factor in the polity of Europe henceforth existed no more.

Spalatin relates that on the death of Sickingen the princely party anticipated as easy a victory over the religious revolt as they had achieved over the knighthood. “The mock Emperor is dead,'’ so the phrase went, “and the mock pope will soon be dead also.” Hutten, already an exile in Switzerland, did not many months survive his patron and leader, Sickingen. The role which Erasmus played in this miserable tragedy was only what was to be expected from the moral cowardice which seemed ingrained in the character of the great Humanist leader. Erasmus had already begun to fight shy of the Reformation movement, from which he was about to separate himself definitely. He seized the present opportunity to quarrel with Hutten; and to Hutten’s somewhat bitter attacks on him in consequence he replied with ferocity in his Spongia Erasmi adversus aspergines Hutteni.

Hutten had had to fly from Basel to Mülhausen and thence to Zürich, in the last stages of syphilitic disease. He was kindly received by the reformer, Zwingli of Zürich, who advised him to try the waters of Pfeffers, and gave him letters of recommendation to the abbot of that place. He returned, in no wise benefited, to Zürich, when Zwingli again befriended the sick knight, and sent him to a friend of his, the “reformed” pastor of the little island of “Ufenau,” at the other end of the lake, where after a few weeks’ suffering he died in abject destitution, leaving, it is said, nothing behind him but his pen. The disease from which Hutten suffered the greater part of his life, at that time a comparatively new importation and much more formidable even than nowadays, may well have contributed to an irascibility of temper and to a certain recklessness which the typical free-lance of the Reformation in its early period exhibited. Hutten was never a theologian, and the Reformation seems to have attracted him mainly from its political side as implying the assertion of the dawning feeling of German nationality as against the hated enemies of freedom of thought and the new light, the clerical satellites of the Roman see. He was a true son of his time, in his vices no less than in his virtues; anti no one will deny his partiality for “wine, women, and play “. There is reason, indeed, to believe that the latter at times during his later career provided his sole means of subsistence.

The hero of the Reformation, Luther, with whom Melancthon may be associated in this matter, could be no less pusillanimous on occasion than the hero of the New Learning, Erasmus. Luther undoubtedly saw in Sickingen’s revolt a means of weakening the Catholic powers against which he had to fight, and at its inception he avowedly favoured the enterprise. In “Karsthans,” the brochure quoted from in the last chapter, Luther is represented as the incarnation of Christian resignation and mildness, and as talking of twelve legions of angels and deprecating any appeal to force as unbefitting the character of an evangelical apostle. That such, however, was not his habitual attitude is evident to all who are in the least degree acquainted with his real conduct and utterances. On one occasion he wrote: “If they (the priests) continue their mad ravings it seems to me that there would be no better method and medicine to stay them than that kings and princes did so with force, armed themselves and attacked these pernicious people who do poison all the world, and once for all did make an end of their doings with weapons not with words. For even as we punish thieves with the sword, murderers with the rope, and heretics with fire, wherefore do we not lay hands on these pernicious teachers of damnation, on popes, on cardinals, bishops, and the swarm of the Roman Sodom — yea, with every weapon which lieth within our reach, and wherefore do we not wash our hands in their blood?”

It is, however, in a manifesto published in July, 1522, just before Sickingen’s attack on the Archbishop of Trier, for which enterprise it was doubtless intended as a justification, that Luther expresses himself in unmeasured terms against the “biggest wolves,” the bishops, and calls upon “all dear children of God and all true Christians “to drive them out by force from the sheep-stalls”. In this pamphlet. entitled “Against the falsely called spiritual order of the Pope and the bishops.” he says: “It were better that every bishop were murdered, every foundation or cloister rooted out, than that one soul should be destroyed, let alone that all souls should be lost for the sake of their worthless trumpery and idolatry. Of what use are they who thus live in lust, nourished by the sweat and labour of others, and are a stumbling block to the word of God? They fear bodily uproar and despise spiritual destruction. Are they wise and honest people ? If they accepted God’s word and sought the life of the soul, God would be with them, for He is a God of peace, and they need fear no uprising; but if they will not hear God’s word, but rage and rave with bannings, burnings, killings, and every evil, what do they better deserve than a strong uprising which shall sweep them from the earth? And we would smile did it happen. As the heavenly wisdom with: “Ye have hated my chastisement and despised my doctrine; behold, I will also laugh at ye in your distress, and will mock ye when misfortune shall fall upon your heads’.” In the same document he denounces the bishops as an accursed race, as “thieves, robbers, and usurers”. Swine, horses, stones, and wood were not so destitute of understanding as the German people under the sway of them and their Pope. The religious houses are similarly described as “brothels, low taverns, and murder dens”. He winds up this document, which he calls his bull, by proclaiming that “all who contribute body, goods, and honour that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God’s dear children and true Christians, obeying God’s command and fighting against the devil’s order;” and on the other hand, that “all who give the bishops a willing obedience are the devil’s own servants, and fight against God’s order and law”.[2]

No sooner, however, did things begin to look bad with Sickingen than Luther promptly sought to disengage himself from all complicity or even sympathy with him and his losing cause. So early as the 19th of December, 1522, he writes to his friend Wenzel Link: “Franz von Sickingen has begun war against the Palatine. It will be a very bad business.” (Franciscus Sickingen Palatino bellum indixit, res pessima futura est.) His colleague, Melancthon, a few days later, hastened to deprecate the insinuation that Luther had had any part or lot in initiating the revolt. “Franz von Sickingen,” he wrote, “by his great ill-will injures the cause of Luther; and notwithstanding that he be entirely dissevered from him, nevertheless whenever he undertaketh war he wisheth to seem to act for the public benefit, and not for his own. He is even now pursuing, a most infamous course of plunder on the Rhine.” In another letter he says: “I know how this tumult grieveth him (Luther),"[3] and this respecting the man who had shortly before written of the princes, that their tyranny and haughtiness were no longer to be borne, alleging that God would not longer endure it, and that the common man even was becoming intelligent enough to deal with them by force if they did not mend their manners. A more telling example of the “don’t-put-him-in-the-horse-pond” attitude could scarcely be desired. That it was characteristic of the “great reformer” will be seen later on when we find him pursuing a similar policy anent the revolt of the peasants.

After the fall of the Landstuhl all Sickingen’s castles and most of those of his immediate allies and friends were of course taken, and the greater part of them destroyed. The knighthood was now to all intents and purposes politically helpless and economically at the door of bankruptcy, owing to the suddenly changed conditions of which we have spoken in the Introduction and elsewhere as supervening since the beginning of the century: the unparalleled rise in prices, concurrently with the growing extravagance, the decline of agriculture in many places, and the increasing burdens put upon the knights by their feudal superiors, and last, but not least, the increasing obstacles in the way of the successful pursuit of the profession of highway robbery. The majority of them, therefore, clung with relentless severity to the feudal dues of the peasants, which now constituted their main, and in many cases their only, source of revenue; and hence, abandoning the hope of independence, they threw in their lot with the authorities, the princes, lay and ecclesiastic, in the common object of both, that of reducing the insurgent peasants to complete subjection.

Some few of the more chivalrous knights, foremost among whom was Florian Geyer, retained their rebel instincts against the higher authorities, and took sides with the popular movement. They fought, however, in a forlorn hope. As we shall now see, provincial centralism, as in Italy, and not national centralism as in France, England, and Spain, was destined to be the political form dominant in Germany far into the modern period. The disasters and discomfitures of the Peasants’ War, which we shall presently describe, removed the last obstacle to the complete ascendancy of the provincial potentates, the princes of the Empire; for this event was the immediate cause of the final disintegration of medieval life, and the undermining of the last survivals of the free institutions of the communal village which had lasted throughout the Middle Ages.

1. Franz said to the bystanders when the messengers of the Council appeared: “ook at these old fiddles of the Regiment; only the dancers lack. There is no dearth of commands, but only of those who heed them;” and turning to the nuncios themselves, he bade them tell the Imperial Stadthalter and the other gentlemen of the Council that “they might make themselves easy, for he was as good a servant of the Emperor as themselves. He would, if he had enough followers, so work it that the Emperor would be able to get far more land and gold in Germany than he could ever get abroad. He only meant to give Richard of Trier a slight drubbing, and to soak his crowns for him which he had gotten from France.”

2. Sämmatliche Werke, vol. xxviii., 142-201.

3. Corpus Reformatorum, i., 598-599