The Peasants War. Belfort Bax

Chapter VIII.
The Suppression of the Insurrection throughout Germany.

It is now time to consider the attitude of Luther Throughout the crisis. His action was mainly embodied in two documents, of which the first was issued about the middle of April, and the second a month later. The difference in tone between them is sufficiently striking. In the first, which bore the title, “An Exhortation to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Peasantry in Swabia,” Luther sits on the fence, admonishing both parties of what he deemed their shortcomings. He was naturally pleased with those articles that demanded the free preaching of the Gospel and abused the Catholic clergy, and was not indisposed to assent to many of the economic demands. In fact, the document strikes one as distinctly more favourable to the insurgents than to their opponents.

“We have,” he wrote, “no one to thank for its mischief and sedition, save ye princes and lords, in especial ye blind bishops and mad priests and monks, who up to this day remain obstinate and do not cease to rage and rave against the holy Gospel, albeit ye know that it is righteous, and that ye may not gainsay it. Moreover, in your worldly regiment, ye do naught otherwise than flay and extort tribute, that ye may satisfy your pomp and vanity, till the poor, common man cannot, and may not, bear with it longer. The sword is on your neck. Ye think ye sit so strongly in your seats, that none may cast you from them. Such presumption and obstinate pride will twist your necks, as ye will see.” And again: “God hath made it thus that they cannot, and will not longer bear with your raging. If ye do it not of your free will, so shall ye be made to do it by way of violence and undoing.” Once more: “It is not peasants, my dear lords, who have set themselves up against you. God Himself it is who setteth Himself against you to chastise your evil-doing.”

He counsels the princes and lords to make peace with their peasants, observing with reference to the Twelve Articles, that some of them are so just and righteous, that before God and the world their worthiness is manifested, making good the words of the psalm that they heap contempt upon the heads of the princes. Whilst he warns the peasants against sedition and rebellion, and criticises some of the Articles as going beyond the justification of Holy Writ, and whilst he makes side-hits at “the prophets of murder and the spirits of confusion which had found their way among them,” the general impression given by the pamphlet is, as already said, one of unmistakable friendliness to the peasants and hostility to the lords.

The manifesto may be summed up in the following terms: Both sides are, strictly speaking, in the wrong, but the princes and lords have provoked the “common man” by their unjust exactions and oppressions; the peasants, on their side, have gone too far in many of their demands, notably in the refusal to pay tithes, and most of all in the notion of abolishing villeinage, which Luther declares to be “straight-away contrary to the Gospel and thievish “. The great sin of the princes remains, however, that of having thrown stumbling-blocks in the r .way of the Gospel- bien entendu the Gospel according to Luther — and the main virtue of the peasants was their claim to have this Gospel preached. It call scarcely be doubted that the ambiguous tone of Luther’s rescript was interpreted by the rebellious peasants to their advantage and served to stimulate, rather than to check, the insurrection.

Meanwhile, the movement rose higher and higher, and reached Thuringia, the district with which Luther personally was most associated. His patron, and what is more, the only friend of toleration in high places, the noble-minded Elector Friedrich of Saxony, fell ill and died on the 5th of May, and was succeeded by his younger brother Johann, the same who afterwards assisted in the suppression of the Thuringian revolt. Almost immediately thereupon, Luther, who had been visiting his native town of Eisleben, travelled through the revolted districts on his way back to Wittenberg. He everywhere encountered black looks and jeers. When he preached, the Münzerites would drown his voice by the ringing of bells. The signs of rebellion greeted him on all sides. The “Twelve Articles” were constantly thrown at his head. As the reports of violence towards the property and persons of some of his own noble friends reached him, his rage broke all bounds. He seems, however, to have prudently waited a few days, until the cause of the peasants was obviously hopeless, before publicly taking his stand on the side of the authorities.

On his arrival in Wittenberg, he wrote a second pronouncement on the contemporary events, in which no uncertainty was left as to his attitude. It is entitled, “Against the Murderous and Thievish Bands of Peasants”.[1] Here he lets himself loose on the side of the oppressors with a bestial ferocity. “Crush them the peasants,” he writes, “strangle them and pierce them, in secret places and in sight of men, he who can, even as one would strike dead a mad dog.” All having authority who hesitated to extirpate the insurgents to the uttermost were committing a sin against God. “Findest thou thy death therein,” he writes, addressing the reader, “happy art thou; a more blessed death can never overtake thee, for thou diest in obedience to the Divine word and the command of Romans xiii. 1, and in the service of love, to save thy neighbour from the bonds of hell and the devil.” Never had there been such an infamous exhortation to the most dastardly murder on a wholesale scale since the Albigensian crusade with its “Strike them all; God will know His own” — a sentiment indeed that Luther almost literally reproduces in one passage.

Many efforts have been made by Protestant historians to palliate this crime of Luther’s, more especially to shield him against the charge of time-serving and cowardice in adopting an attitude of benevolent neutrality to the peasants’ cause at a time when it bade fair to be successful, whilst hounding on its executioners to hideous barbarities when its prospects were obviously desperate. One of the more recent of these Protestant writers, Egelhaaf (Deutsche Geschichte im sechszehnten Jahrhundert, vol. i., p.614), endeavours to establish the probability that Luther issued this pamphlet a day or two before the catastrophe at Frankenhausen, or at least before he could have known of the peasants’ overthrow in Würtemberg. Even if this were true, which is hardly probable, it would not help Luther’s character, for, from his immediate personal knowledge of the situation in Thuringia, he must have seen, at least from the beginning of the second week in May, that the forces of the combined princes, with their trained men-at-arms and adequate supply of artillery, were destined to win against bands of peasants and handicraftsmen, ill-armed, unused to fighting, and insufficiently munitioned. As for the other districts, a report could hardly have failed to reach him concerning the demoralisation of the peasant armies and the reinforcement of the Swabian League’s strength with knights and free-lances returned from the Italian campaign. Altogether, this second manifesto remains an ineffaceable stigma upon the powerful personality of the “rebellious monk” of Wittenberg.

We turn now again to the fortunes of Truchsess and the overthrow of the movement in south Germany. The force of the Swabian League, under Truchsess, by the armistice or treaty at Weingarten, made with the three combined contingents of the Swabian insurgents, known respectively as the Ried, the Lake, and the Algau contingents, was saved, as Zimmermann has pointed out, from imminent disaster — since the insurgents not only considerably, outnumbered the troops of imperial order, but were well supplied with ordnance captured from sundry castles, and occupied a strong position. The utter fecklessness of the counsels of the insurrection was never more exemplified than in the feeble surrender of all these advantages to the blandishments of Truchsess. At this time, Truchsess was practically hemmed in, but, on the dispersal of the greater part of the country-folk arrayed against him, he was at once extricated from a difficult situation, and had his hands left free to move southwards, destroying or scattering bodies of peasants on the way.

He took this direction with a view of attacking the Black Forest contingent. which was now making itself very active, especially in the siege of Radolfzell with its refugee nobles. On the 25th of April, he was met by a deputation of the Hegau and Black Forest insurgents for the purpose of negotiations. A similar arrangement to the one mentioned was attempted but failed. On the emissaries returning to their respective contingents, Truchsess continued his march to Stockach, and finally pitched his camp a short distance from the important fortress of Duke Ulrich, the Hohentwiel. His further movements in this neighbourhood were stopped by the peremptory order from the Council of the Swabian League at Ulm that he was to proceed straight to the relief of Würtemberg. Unwillingly giving up his plans in the south, he returned by forced marches to his old camp on the Neckar.

Meanwhile, on the 7th of May, some cavalry of the Markgraf Kasimir von Ansbach, strengthened by a force sent by the Count Palatine from the Upper Palatinate, attacked a large body of peasants, who had just captured the small town of Wettingen. They had come from plundering a neighbouring monastery, and were marching in great disorder, intent in the main apparently upon carrying off their heavily-laden waggons of booty. The onslaught was sudden and unexpected, and resulted in the slaughter, almost without resistance, of over a thousand peasants. This was the first serious check inflicted by the princely power upon the movement in south Germany since the Leipheim affair; but the decisive battle was fought on May 12th, when the united forces under Truchsess, consisting of 6000 free-lances and 1,200 horse, met the main body of the peasant army of Würtemberg, 12,000 strong, between the towns of Böblingen and Sindelfingen. Ritter Bernhardt von Winterstetten was the commander of this section, Matern Feuerbacher, owing to his moderate tendencies and general indecision, having been deposed.

Truchsess succeeded, by the aid of treachery on the part of some of the leading citizens of Böblingen, who opened their gates to his men, in throwing a detachment into the castle above the town. From this point of vantage he opened fire upon the insurgents, who were entrenched in a strong position behind some marshy ground, compelling them ultimately to gain the open. No sooner was this the case than the horse of the Palatinate and of the Austrians attacked them in front, whilst four companies of foot opened fire on their flank. The battle, which began at ten in the morning, lasted four hours. By two o'clock the flight general. The fugitives were hotly pursued, and for seven or eight miles the way was strewed with the corpses of peasants cut down the horsemen of the princes’ army. The counts of the numbers slain vary between two thousand and six thousand. The whole of the peasants’ ordnance, thirty-three pieces, fell into the hands of the League.

Amongst the prisoners captured after the battle was Melchior Nonnenmacher, Helfenstein’s former piper, who, it will be remembered, had taken so prominent a part in the execution of his master and the other knights outside the walls of Weinsberg. With savage ferocity, Truchsess, the same evening, had him bound by chains to an apple-tree, his tether allowing m a run of two paces, and then, faggots having been heaped up in a circle round, they were set alight and the wretched piper was slowly roasted to death.

The victorious League and its allies swept trough the villages and small towns of Würtemberg, plundering, burning and slaying. At every halt made executions took place, hangings or beheadings. Neckarsulm and Oehringen were bombarded and surrendered. Weinsberg was reserved for a heavy vengeance; its few remaining inhabitants were driven out, with the exception of one or two who refused to go, and who therefore perished, and the town itself with all it contained was burned to the ground. By order of Truchsess, in the name of the League, it was forbidden to be rebuilt, and it remained for some years a witness of princely vindictiveness. Poor Jäcklein Rohrbach, endeavouring in vain to rally a few defenders of the people’s cause, was recognised as he was passing through a village, and delivered over to Truchsess. He met a similar fate to that of Nonnenmacher, being, it is stated, chained to an elm-tree and roasted alive, whilst the assembled princes and nobles gloated over his agony.

Meanwhile the Count Palatine had taken the town of Bruchsal and hewn off nine heads there. Truchsess proceeded against Wimpfen, sending a messenger to demand the surrender of the leaders of the movement in that town. The council, with some unwillingness, consented to the arrest of certain persons. The Counts of Hohenlohe, who, it will be remembered, had had to make a pact with the peasants, were visited by Truchsess, and compelled to swear never again to have aught to do with the malcontents. One of the Weinsberg rebels was caught in the town of Oehringen and hanged on a tree.

Würtemberg was thus effectively subdued. The property of Hans Flux in Heilbronn was made over by Truchsess to the executioner who accompanied him throughout his campaign, and whose truculence was even a little much for the not too sensitive councillors of the Swabian League at Ulm. This ruffian, however, was safe in the sunshine of the favour and protection of his master, who called him his “dear Berthold”.

The peasant council in Heilbronn, of which Wendel Hipler was the presiding genius, hastily dispersed and fled before the approach Truchsess. Hipler himself hurried back to the camp at Würzburg. At the end of May Truchsess combined his forces with those of Count Palatine Ludwig, by which step the League’s strength was increased by two thousand foot, twelve hundred horse and fourteen large pieces of ordnance. The Archbishop of Trier and the Bishop of Würzburg, with other territorial magnates, subsequently joined hands with Truchsess, with the ultimate object of relieving the Frauenberg and the town of Würzburg, where, as we have already seen, the main army of the insurrection in central Germany was massed.

Although the backbone of the movement in Würtemberg was broken by the recent victories of the League and its allies, the insurrection elsewhere, as, for instance, in the Black Forest and in Breisgau, not to speak of the hereditary Austrian dominions, was still maintaining itself with unabated vigour. Hans Müller von Bulgenbach was threatening all who did not join his Christian Brotherhood with the worldly ban, in modern phraseology a universal “boycott,” which forbade men to eat or drink with them, to work in their company, to offer them food, drink, salt, or wood, and to buy or sell with them. Freiburg, Breisach and Waldkirch were with difficulty holding out against the bodies of peasants by which they were being pressed. The town of Villingen was especially in a bad way. But the destruction of the great Franconian peasant army at Würzburg, and above all the relief of the Frauenberg, which it was feared would have to surrender in a few days, were undoubtedly of first importance at the moment to the League and its allies. The capture of the strong fortress that commanded the episcopal city would have given the insurrection a point d'appui in the very heart of Germany, and although, as already remarked, the possible gain was certainly not worth the locking up of such an enormous mass of the peasant forces in one place, its significance for the popular movement cannot be denied.

The successes of the princely power in Würtemberg had the effect of strengthening the Würzburg camp, which had. thus become a rallying point , whither fragments of dispersed contingents and companies of peasants hurriedly took their way. It will be remembered that on 5th of May, the same day, that is, as that on which the defeat at Frankenhausen took place and only three days after the overthrow at Böblingen, the besiegers had unsuccessfully stormed the aforesaid Würzburg castle of the Marienburg. This failure, as we know, led to recriminations between the army and its leaders, Götz being specially singled out for suspicion of treachery. In the end, however, a council of war was held, and Götz was sent with a detachment of eight thousand men to endeavour to prevent the union of the Palatinate force with that of the League under Truchsess, of which project news had already arrived. All along, according to his own account, Götz had been acting from compulsion, and under present circumstances we may well believe that he wished nothing better than to shake off his responsibilities at the earliest opportunity. Thus it happened that one dark night he disappeared, afterwards salving his conscience for this seeming treachery with the excuse that the four weeks for which he had pledged himself to act as peasant commander had expired.

On his escape becoming known, about a fourth part of his men deserted to their homes. The remainder moved onwards in a body to Königshofen on the Tauber. Here, some six thousand in number, they solemnly swore to be avenged upon Truchsess, the League, and the Princes. On the 2nd of June the combined forces of the nobles reached Königshofen, passing over the Tauber at a place feebly defended by the peasants. The camp was attacked, and soon the whole contingent was confused flight, leaving its stockade of waggons and its ordnance a prey to the enemy, who soon held complete possession of the elevation on which the camp had stood. Only about one thousand succeeded in rallying and entrenching themselves in a neighbouring wood where, quickly improvising a stockade of trees and bushes, they succeeded in holding out for a short time. Their stockade, however, was ultimately broken through, and five hundred were speared on the spot, shot from trees, or trampled down by the horsemen. More than two thousand had already fallen in the original encounter. Most of the leaders are stated to have escaped on the backs of the horses taken from the ammunition waggons. Truchsess was wounded in the hip by a lance.

The defeat at Königshofen was for the peasants little less serious than those at Böblingen and Frankenhausen. The main force, is true, was still at Würzburg. Other divisions, however, had detached themselves with the view of checking the League’s advance. At this moment some of Truchsess’s mercenaries demanded their battle-pay, notwithstanding that they had not been among those actively engaged in the encounter. A serious mutiny seemed inevitable, and thus a gleam of hope showed itself for the peasants. Enough men, however, including the military leaders, remained to save the situation for the League.

Florian Geyer, with his “Black Troop,” to which were joined several other peasant companies, now broke from the camp at Würzburg with the intention of intercepting the princely forces on the road to that city. He and his men, furious at the reports that reached them of burning villages and of peasants strung up on every tree, the traces left of the victorious march of Truchsess and his allies, avowed that they would hang every knight and cut the throat of every free-lance. Meanwhile, the bulk of Truchsess’s mutinous mercenaries had caught him up and returned to their allegiance. Truchsess, who would gladly have punished them, was nevertheless compelled by the exigencies of the situation to pardon and reinstate them.

Florian Geyer, with his troop, appears to have had no certain information respecting the battle of Königshofen and still believed that the camp of his friends lay between himself and the allied princes. Accompanied by a few horsemen, Florian was riding in front, below the castle of Ingolstatt, when the advancing body of peasants found themselves suddenly surrounded and attacked by the whole force of the enemy. Taken unawares, they had scarcely time to get their ordnance into position or to bring their train of waggons properly into a stockade. With the presence of mind of a trained fighting man, however, Florian at once rallied all his companies into some sort of battle array, improvising a rough stockade and immediately beginning a fire from such artillery as he had. But in a few minutes it was only too evident that his force was outmatched. The attack of the free-lances was supported by the entire body of horsemen, but the signal for flight seems to have been given by the sudden and simultaneous thunder of all the enemy’s heavy ordnance, which had just been brought to the other side of the stockade. The panic was immediate and general. Dispersed in their mad flight, the insurgents were ridden down, run down, or clubbed to death. For miles around the slaughter extended. Sixty who were taken alive, from whom some of the free-lances wished to extract ransom-money, were ordered by Truchsess to be butchered in a heap.

A remnant of the “Black Troop” alone held together, and with Florian at their head, some six hundred in number, succeeded in reaching the village of Ingolstatt. Having entrenched themselves behind a hedge stockade, they awaited the onslaught of the Count Palatine Ludwig, who advanced against them at the head of twelve hundred knights. Two hundred of the troopers occupied the churchyard and the church, whilst more than three hundred seized upon the castle above the village. Here a continuous fire was kept up, to which was added the hurling down of tiles and pieces of the wall. The attacking party flung fire brands into the church, which after some time blazed up, all the defenders being destroyed.

The last defence was the castle, already partly in ruins from an attack of the peasants some weeks previously. Florian himself commanded the brave band within. They barricaded the gates and breaches so effectively that the stormers were held in check for a long while, besides being repeatedly driven back by the hail of bullets that rained from every opening. Soon the whole army of the enemy, which had meanwhile come up, was engaged exclusively in the attack on this stronghold, but the thick wall of the old feudal fortress did not yield until all the strength of Truchsess’s cannon had been brought to bear upon it. Dismounting, knights and barons struggled together with the free-lances for an entrance at the breach made. More than a hundred of the storming contingent lay killed and wounded in the fosse below, and still the attack seemed no nearer success. Finally, a last effort was about to be made, when suddenly the firing from within ceased; the defenders had exhausted their ammunition. Resistance was still kept up with tiles and stones. Even on an entrance being effected, a hand-to-hand fight ensued. The besieged neither asked nor obtained quarter. At last, fifty of them withdrew fighting into the deep cellars, whilst from amid the mass of dead surrounding them, about two hundred of the “Black Troop,” led by Florian, succeeded in escaping under cover of the approaching darkness, just as the allied forces poured into the heap of ruins, which was now all that was left above ground of the ancient castle of Ingolstatt.

The two hundred entrenched themselves in a wood hard by, whence at intervals they made sorties. With daylight, the men of Truchsess burst into the wood, slaughtering all who remained there. But even now the valiant knight was not amongst the dead. With a few who were prepared to follow him to the death, he had towards morning struck out into the open country. All the neighbouring villages were set on fire by Truchsess’s men, and all the inhabitants who were not consumed were, put to the sword. Amongst these villages was Giebelstatt, the castle above which was Florian’s hereditary home. His ultimate aim was, probably, to reach Würzburg. In the neighbouring territories far and wide all the companies, including the great Gailsdorf contingent, seven thousand strong, which had as yet suffered no great losses, were dispersed. Alarmed by the accounts of the disasters of Königshofen and Ingolstatt, their members had fled into the woods or had returned to their homes and again done homage to their feudal lords.

It is doubtful whether Florian Geyer ever again saw Würzburg. After a few days’ wandering in company with a handful of followers, during which days he had reached, as the old account alleges, the Hall territory far to the south, he and his men are said to have been surprised by a detachment of horsemen led by the brother of his betrothed, Wilhelm von Grumbach. A fierce, desperate struggle ensued, in the course of which the chivalrous hero of the people’s cause fell fighting.[2] Recent researches have pointed to the probability that family disputes, or jealousies, played their part in the death of Geyer. His name has ever since been cherished in Germany by the lovers of freedom, and his personality has always been surrounded by the nimbus of popular fancy, as that of the ideal hero of revolt against oppression. For centuries after, legend related how the figure of his bride was to be seen flitting through the moonlit glades in the neighbourhood of her ancestral castle.

After these bloody conflicts, Truchsess had to make a roll-call of the forces of the Swabian League under his command. His losses had been considerable, a fourth of the then having perished in several companies. The losses of his allies can hardly have been less. The march on Würzburg could now be undertaken without danger of serious resistance. On the evening of Whit Monday, the 5th of June, the outlying township of Heidingsfeld was reached, and here the princely army pitched its camp, the ordnance being pointed against the city. There were still, however, from five to six thousand peasants and burghers under arms, determined on defence, within the walls.

Meanwhile the bürgermeister and the members of the old city council placed themselves in negotiation with Truchsess with a view of betraying the city together with the insurgent leaders. They came to a secret understanding with Truchsess and the Count Palatine, by which the town was to pay a heavy ransom to the latter and to the bishop. The citizens were to be disarmed. Allegiance to the bishop was to be resworn under the old conditions, and last, but not least, the chiefs of the peasant army still within the town were to be surrendered. At the same time the bürgermeister and council pretended to the defenders that all they had done had been to negotiate favourable terms with the conquering host now before the walls, further resistance being represented by them as hopeless. The deception did its work, and on the morning of the 8th of June, Truchsess and the princes entered Würzburg in triumph, followed by fifteen hundred men-at-arms. The citizens were ordered to present themselves on the market-place. Those from the smaller country towns in the neighbourhood and the peasants were to appear at two other points respectively. All three places were afterwards surrounded by armed men. Truchsess then appeared on horseback, accompanied by four executioners with drawn swords. After admonishing the crowd on their crime of disobedience and declaring their lives all forfeit, while the assembled citizens with bared heads knelt before him, he retired with the princes into the Rathhaus and deliberated for more than an hour. On returning, sentences were delivered and the executions began. The heads of the principal leaders of the town-democracy fell.

Truchsess and his executioners then betook themselves to the open space where the companies furnished by the neighbouring small towns were assembled. Their leaders, to the number of twenty-four, were beheaded. The conquerors then went to the ditch whither the peasants had been summoned. Thirty-seven of the latter were singled out for death, to gratify the blood-lust of their baronial enemies.

Altogether, eighty-one executions took place within the town on this day. Amongst them was that of a peasant who had not been called, but who had pushed his way to the front to see how it fared with his comrades. He was seized by the executioner and beheaded with the others. As for the rank and file, their arms and armour had been already surrendered. Staves were now placed in their hands and they were driven from the town. Of these, many were slain on their way home by the brutal free-lances, who were prowling about. The town had to pay 8,000 gulden to the Swabian League, whilst the bishop with his clergy, together with the nobles who had held fiefs of him, subsequently received more than 200,000 gulden.

With the capture of the town of Würzburg was involved the relief of its citadel, the Marienburg, on the Frauenberg. When the conquerors entered it, the extent of the damage done to this powerful fortress by the peasant attack seems to have created surprise. Hans Lutz, the herald of Truchsess, observes in his diary: “Afterwards beheld I the castle at Würzburg, which was altogether shot through, together with the outer wall, which had a breach in it six klafters wide, and the peasants had made two ditches on the hill such as no man might believe. Moreover, had they brought up on the hill more than an hundred ladders and had made a ditch above the church called that of Saint Burckhardt, the which I have measured and did number an hundred and eighteen steps from the beginning of the ditch.” He further adds the detail that “the peasants in this same church had smote off the heads of all the saints and of our Lord also”.

The idea of the peasants seems to have been to blow up the castle, and to this end trains were apparently laid from the fosse in question. The besieged, whose provisions and ammunition were running low, had been apprised by Truchsess by certain signs, probably by beacon fires, of his approach. In consequence they did not spare powder and shot, but at once opened a heavy fire upon the town. It is probable that this, combined with the intelligence of the victories in the proximity, of the army of the allied princes, had its psychological effect in cowing the inhabitants of the town, including the peasant contingents, and in inducing them to consent to surrender rather than to insist on holding out to the last.

For eight days the “terror” in the surrounding districts lasted. Amongst the plundering and murdering princes and barons, the Markgraf Kasimir specially signalised himself. Promises of mercy were treacherously and wantonly broken. Executions took place everywhere, whilst those who did not suffer by the headsman, or the hangman, had their hands or their fingers hacked off, or their eyes pierced out. To the latter victims the Markgraf observed: “Ye swore ye would not see me again, and I will look to it that ye shall not break your oath”. It was forbidden under severe penalties to shelter, to lead, or to heal them. Many died, and others were seen long afterwards wandering as beggars on the highway. For miles around the free-lances continued to plunder and burn the villages. Heavy ransoms were laid upon all districts. In the country they were usually reckoned at so much per hearth, whilst the towns paid as a rule en bloc. In Nordlingen, and other places which had not collectively taken an active part in the rebellion, only suspect citizens had to pay ransom money. The Markgraf Kasimir alone extracted 200,000 gulden within the next two years from his own subjects.

The free imperial town of Rothenburg was taken by Kasimir on the 28th of June. The populace had quite lost head and heart. A few of the leaders in this case, however, succeeded in escaping. Karlstadt was let down one night by a rope from a window in a house on the town wall, and ended his days as a respectable professor of theology in the Basel University. The Commenthur Christen also managed to flee to a safe place, as did Ehrenfried Kumpf, the old iconoclastic bürgermeister. On the other hand, Menzinger, Deuschlin, and the blind monk Schmidt, with other preachers of the new doctrine and popular leaders, met their deaths at the hands of Kasimir and the vengeful patricians now again in office. The latter indeed continued, after Kasimir and his men had left, to wreak vengeance upon their victims, slaying, branding and scourging without mercy, levelling houses to the ground and confiscating goods.

In the northern part of the Duchy of Franconia, the prince-bishop of Würzburg, the prince-coadjutor of Fulda and the old Count Henneberg, who, it will be remembered, had been forced some weeks previously to join the peasant brotherhood, raged from end to end of the district, revoking charters, taking ransoms, beheading for the pleasure of it, and enjoying the spectacle with their boon companions over their cups. The bishopric of Bamberg had been subdued without any difficulty by Truchsess after he left Wiirzburg. The usual executions followed. Here also houses were destroyed, and the ransom of 170,000 gulden was exacted for the bishop and his noble feudatories.

In the towns of the Rhenish district the revolt collapsed almost of itself. Mainz again did homage. Speyer made up its account with its bishop. Worms returned to its allegiance. Frankfurt-am-Main, however, whither many fugitives of the people’s cause had come for refuge, was not visited by the soldiery of the princes, the council having succeeded by bribes in getting the town spared. Meanwhile the guilds and the popular party here, alarmed by the events occurring outside, had made terms with the council, or, rather, had dropped their original demands. Truchsess had turned his steps in the direction of Upper Swabia, where the insurrection had, as yet, not been crushed. Here also the peasants were destined to undergo a similar fate to that of their brethren in other parts of Germany.

Memmingen, the town where the peasants’ parliament had been held in the early days of the revolt, and where the “Twelve Articles” were first adopted and probably drawn up, fell, as others had done, through treachery. The party of the Ehrbarkeit and certain councillors held secret communications with the Swabian League. On the Friday of Whitsun week the watchman announced to the council that a vast force of soldiery was bearing down upon the town. The citizens were instantly aroused, and the market-place glittered with armour and halberds. But on the leaders of the approaching force reaching the town; they merely asked with fair words for quarters for one hundred horsemen, the rest of their following to remain outside. This was eventually agreed to, and the citizens, imagining all danger over, laid down their arms and went home. No sooner were they out of the way than the League’s men suddenly forced open the gates, and admitted their fellows from outside the walls to the number of two hundred horse and two thousand foot. Several citizens compromised in the recent rising immediately fled, among them the supposed author of the “Twelve Articles,” the preacher Schappeler, who succeeded in reaching his native town of St. Gallon in safety. Five who remained were beheaded on the marketplace.

The Archduke Friedrich, who was anxious to get the territory of Upper Swabia as a fief of the House of Austria, and who had been negotiating to this end with the Algau insurgents, wished to prevent Truchsess, at all events for the moment, from carrying hostilities into this region, and wrote to Truchsess to this effect. The latter communicated with Ulm on the matter, but was told by the council of the League that he was acting in their service and not in that of the Archduke Friedrich, and that he was to proceed without delay. He obeyed, but seems to have been rather nettled by the peremptory language, since a short time afterwards, on the council’s remonstrating with him for his wholesale burning of villages and homesteads, he sent back a reply that if they were going to teach him how to carry on war they had better come out and take the command themselves, and he would sit quiet at Kempten.

A portion of the Algau peasant army, on the approach of Truchsess, withdrew after a short skirmish to the other side of the river Luibas, and took up their position on a steep elevation, first destroying the ford. Here messengers were sent to call up the whole of the Algau forces. They had good and sufficient ordnance. The Algau peasants enjoyed the reputation, which seems to have been well founded, of being the best and most practised fighting men amongst the country population. Many of them had already served as freelances, and a considerable body of men-at-arms, recently back from the Italian war, had joined them. Walter Bach, before spoken of, who had once been in the Austrian service, and Kaspar Schneider, who had served in Italy under the well-known Georg von Frundsberg, were amongst their leaders. In a few days their number had risen to 23,000, one of the largest masses the peasants ever succeeded in bringing together to any one place.

The insurgents never had a more favourable opportunity. Had they succeeded in crushing Truchsess, as they could easily have done, Ethe cause of the rebellion might still, even now, have been saved. But where mischance or superior fighting strength did not destroy the peasants, treachery came in to do the work. Walter Bach opened negotiations with the head of the League’s forces, under whom at an earlier period he had served. Truchsess was awaiting the advent of Georg von Frundsberg, who was on his way to reinforce him with three thousand free-lances. These had all fought under him at the battle of Pavia.

It was on the evening of the 21st of July that Frundsberg arrived with his following. On his side, Frundsberg knew Schneider and other of the peasant leaders, and he and Truchsess agreed to effect their purpose, if possible, through the treachery of these men. The subordinate leaders were won over by Walter Bach, and a secret meeting was arranged at which a large sum of money was handed to the traitors. A signal having been agreed upon, they returned to the insurgent camp and persuaded the peasants to leave their strong position on the pretext that it was impossible to attack the combined forces from it! Truchsess immediately opened a heavy cannonade against the peasant position, which gave Bach the opportunity of setting fire, without being suspected, to the kegs containing the store of powder.

There were now three contingents massed on the Luibas, on the opposite side to Truchsess’s camp. Two of these were commanded respectively by Schneider and Bach, and the third was under Knopf von Luibas, who was not in the conspiracy. The two traitors had bribed the keepers of the ordnance to leave it behind, whilst they marched out with their following. This occurred at midnight. No sooner had they reached open ground than the whole forces of the League were heard approaching. The unexpected move caused a sudden panic. Companies got into confusion and began to disperse in all directions, the peasants seeking cover in the neighbouring valleys, and woods. Meanwhile, the guilty leaders had fled, and gained Swiss territory within a few days. The whole ordnance fell into the hands of the League’s forces.

But the victory was not quite complete, since the contingent led by Knopf von Luibas, unaware of what was taking place, held together. When, at daybreak, it was perceived treachery had been at work and that the two contingents had melted away, Knopf and his men hurriedly withdrew and managed to safely reach a good position on a hill above the town of Kempten. Truchsess, who could not attack them there, adopted the tactics of surrounding the hill with a sea of fire, caused by the conflagration of more than two hundred villages and homesteads. Numbers of women and children and old people perished in these fires. At the same time, the horsemen of the League occupied all outlets. As the result, the peasants were on the point of being starved out.

Finally they were compelled to surrender, and descended into the hostile camp with the usual white staves in their hands. The conditions exacted were a fresh oath of allegiance, a tribute of six gulden from every hearth, and a further indemnity to their lords, the amount to be decided by the Swabian League, which should also be the arbiter in all disputes between them and their lords. Truchsess immediately had eighteen leaders executed, besides others later on-in all some thirty persons. Knopf himself, with some other leaders, escaped. He was seized later on, however, in Bregenz, and, with a comrade named Kunzwirth, hanged after a long imprisonment.

Truchsess now threw strong garrisons into the towns of Kempten and Kaufbeuren, to overawe the country-folk. Thus ended the peasant revolt in the districts of Upper Swabia.

In the meantime, Duke Antoine of Lorraine had arrived with a large force of local men-at-arms, together with German and Italian mercenaries and others, intent on suppressing the peasant insurrection in Elsass. With these troops he pressed through the Vosges and appeared before Zabern, where Erasmus Gerber had fixed his camp. On the 17th of May, a body of peasants that had come to the relief of the main force in Zabern was defeated and driven back into the village of Lipstein, which was surrounded and burnt. This was not effected without some hard fighting. There was a desperate struggle for the position. Several times the attack was renewed, until the ducal army was finally successful in penetrating through the peasant stockade into the village. The church now became the citadel of the defenders. Flames then burst out on all sides, eventually reaching the defenders them selves. The latter, seeing their case to be hopeless, begged for grace, but it was too late. They rushed from the flames only to be mercilessly run through in the streets and lanes of the village. The accounts of the numbers slain vary between 2,000 and 6,000.

Amongst the mercenaries employed by the duke were Albanians, Stratiots, and possibly others from eastern Europe. These contributed an element of cold-blooded butchery which was not to be found amongst the Germans even of that age. Children of eight, ten and twelve were ruthlessly killed. Women and girls were dragged through the corn, ravished, and butchered. News of these things caused a panic throughout all the surrounding territory, and thirty waggons containing women and children from the neighbouring villages presented themselves the same evening at the gates of Kochersberg, a town belonging to Strasburg.

The occurrence naturally had its effect upon Zabern itself which surrendered. Next morning the peasants opened the gates, and under the solemn promise of mercy from the duke they streamed out without their arms but with the necessary tokens of submission — the white staves in their hands. The account of what followed is here quoted from Hardtfelder (Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Siidwest-Deutschland, p.130 sqq). “The free-lances of the duke accompanied the exodus of the peasants. Suddenly there arose a quarrel between a free-lance and a peasant, the latter defending himself because, as the report says, he feared to be robbed of his money. Volleyr also relates that the peasants had irritated the soldiers by the cry of ‘Long live Luther!’ Suddenly the shout was heard ‘Strike! It is allowed us!’ Thereupon began a frightful massacre. The freelances struck down the defenceless peasants, who sought to reach the town by precipitate flight. The majority, however, were despatched before they got there; the free-lances simultaneously with the fugitives pressed into the town, although Count Salm with his horsemen tried to prevent this. The slaughter was here continued, not only the peasants who were in the town being murdered, but the greater portion of the citizens sharing their fate. Those peasants who had sought to flee from the town in other directions fell into the hands of the Lorrainers and were killed. Still worse would have happened, if the princes had not at this time hurried up and stopped further mischief. The Geldrian mercenaries, who had plundered Zabern, would have set fire to the whole town had they not been prevented. Even the wounded had now to be spared, and the inhabitants also escaped if they fastened on themselves the cross of Lorraine.”

So great was the number of the slain that the roads leading to the town were strewn with corpses, and it was hardly possible to enter the gates for the heaps of dead that lay there. From sixteen to twenty thousand peasants were slain on this occasion.

The brutal Bavarian chancellor, Leonhard von Eck, reports on the 27th of May, that the duke had destroyed 20,000 peasants, and adds that so many peasants lay unburied that “to write with modesty, the self-same dead have so stunk that many women who fled from the country did leave their children untended; the which, therefore, did perish of hunger”. He continues: “The said duke hath on Saturday slain a band of four thousand peasants, and now turneth against other bands who in the same place are rebellious, so that it bethinketh me that he will make a wilderness of the length of the whole Rhine”.

The Duke Antoine treated the campaign as a kind of religious crusade against the new Lutheran doctrines. There is some doubt as to his guilt as regards the treacherous massacre of Zabern. Whether it was carried out by his positive orders or not, it is sufficiently clear that no adequate measures were taken to prevent the heterogeneous elements of his army from getting beyond control.

The ducal forces raged, slaughtering and plundering, throughout Elsass. Heavy ransoms and tributes were everywhere exacted from the towns and villages that had taken part in the insurrection. Everywhere feudal homage had to be made anew. The peasants were again forced under the old yokes, the original dues and corvées being exacted from then. In many places they were forbidden the right of assembly and of bearing any arms except the short dagger. Indemnity was insisted upon for the religious houses plundered. Oftentimes they had to hand over any charters or written concessions they might have previously obtained from their feudal superiors.

In Baden, the Austrian Government at Ensisheim showed itself merciless in the punishment of all who had taken any prominent share in the rebellion. So numerous were the executions that, playing on the name of the town, people were wont to say that it was indeed “the home of the sword” — Ensis-heim. Curiously enough the peasants, when the insurrection was at its height, do not seem to have made any serious attempt to capture this small township, the seat of the Hapsburg power in the country, although they without doubt threatened it on more than one occasion. This is the more remarkable seeing that Ensisheim is situated on a plain, and hence is easy of access, and that the walls, the ruins of which I have carefully examined, were exceptionally thin and could hardly have sustained themselves long, even against the rough and imperfect ordnance at the disposal of the peasant forces.

It is interesting to note that on the manor of Stühlingen, the territory of Count Georg von Lupfen, where the movement, according to tradition, first began, in the autumn of 1524, the peasants succumbed and were brought again under the yoke early in July. The only concession they seem to have obtained was the curious one of freedom of the chase of bears and wolves, which would seem to indicate that these animals were common at that time in the district. All other objects of the chase were prohibited to the peasants. The new religious doctrines were forbidden to be preached. A ransom of six gulden per hearth was enforced. The tocsins or alarm-bells on the church towers, which in so many places had given the signal for the rising, were ordered to be removed. Every form of combination was suppressed.

At the same tune the movements along the lake of Constance collapsed. The peasants of the Hegau, as it was called, after Truchsess’s retreat into Würtemberg, before the battle of Böblingen, had carried on a bitter conflict with the garrisons of the towns Stockach and Zell. The latter set several villages on fire, and committed such atrocities as the burning of women and children.

Count Felix von Werdenberg, who had repturned from Italy at the same time as Frundsberg with a force of mercenaries and others, attacked the peasants on the 16th of July at Hilzingen, the place where the great “church-ale” was held in October, 1524, at which the movement of the district was consolidated. Here, too, the peasants were totally defeated, and the revolt perished in slaughter and flight. Radolfzell was relieved, and the besieging force was scattered. The greatest of the peasant leaders in south-western Germany, Hans Müller von Bulgenbach, was seized and beheaded.

Later on, one of his colleagues, Conrad Jehle, was captured and hanged upon the nearest oak tree without form of trial. This took place on the lands of the Abbey of St. Blasien in the Black Forest, which he had spared when it was in the power of his followers. One morning the right hand of his corpse was found nailed to the great gate of the abbey, with the words “This hand will avenge itself” scrawled underneath, evidently the writing of one of Jehle’s faithful adherents. A short time afterwards the buildings of the wealthy foundation burst into flame one night, and in a few hours the massive pile was a heap of ruins. The cause of the fire was never ascertained.

The Archduke Ferdinand would like to have punished with the usual brutality those bands of the Breisgau district which had forced the town of Freiburg into their brotherhood. But the peasants of the Sundgau and the Klettgau, who had also assisted in the matter, had appealed to the Swiss to take them into their hands. The Baselers did not seem unwilling to listen to their proposal, and offered them at all events their friendly offices as mediators. They appear to have threatened both sides that they would interfere with the recalcitrant party if a compromise were rejected. The military repute of the Swiss, which, in spite of the defeat of Marignano ten years before, was still sufficiently great to make even the archduke pause before driving matters to extremities.

Negotiations were entered into with the insurgents, which were concluded on the 18th of September by the treaty of Offenburg, by which the peasants agreed to accept provisions reinstating their lords in their old rights as to dues and services, and fixing a sum as indemnity for damage done and a fine of six gulden for every hearth. But, although compelled by the force of circumstances to accept these terms, the Breisgau and Sundgau peasants were by no means cowed. “Erzwungener Eid ist Gott leid,” or, as we may translate it, “Forced oaths God loathes,” said they. They made no secret of their intention to rebel again as soon as the archduke’s men-at-arms should have left the land. So threatening did they become that the town of Freiburg had to demand of the Austrian authorities a standing force of three hundred men to overawe the countryside throughout the ensuing winter.

The most favourable conditions of all were obtained by the peasants on the lands of the humane Markgraf Philip of Baden, who granted some notable ameliorations in their condition. He had done his best to obtain favourable conditions for those on his brother’s and others’ territories.

The town of Waldshut, one of the earliest centres of the rebellion, held out against its Austrian masters long after the surrounding country had been completely subdued. But on the 12th of December it, too, was taken and suffered the usual pains and penalties. A short time before, Balthaser Hubmayer, the revolutionary preacher, whom the citizens had welcomed with such transports in the spring of the year, succeeded in escaping, but it was only to meet a death at the stake, in Vienna, four years later, as an Anabaptist.

Let us now cast a retrospective glance at the course of the Civil War. We have seen that the rebellion, which had carried all before it with a few noteworthy exceptions, from its beginning up to the second week in May, thenceforward underwent defeat after defeat. The first of these irreparable disasters, the battle of Böblingen, took place on the 12th of May. This meant practically the end of the movement in Würtemberg. Three days afterwards occurred the overthrow of the revolt in Thuringia and the neighbouring countries, effected by the fatal blow dealt the peasant forces at Frankenhausen. The capture and massacre of Zabern, which followed two days later, was the decisive event in Duke Antoine’s campaign against the peasants of the far-off lands of the extreme south-west. Then came the battle of Königshofen on the 2nd of June, a disaster which delivered the Franconian movement into the hands of the Swabian League and its allies. It was not before the end of July that treachery dissolved the powerful contingents massed on the Luibas in Upper Swabia. But by this time the movement throughout those countries which in the present day constitute the new German Empire was to all intents and purposes crushed. “Military operations,” as the modern phrase goes, were continued in special districts throughout August, and it was not indeed before the middle of September that the last sparks of the active revolt were trodden out.

The fact is, that as long as the German territories were denuded of fighting men, and as long as the only resistance the peasant bands met with was the small force under Truchsess, which was all the Swabian League could then muster, and which could obviously only be in one place at one time, the insurrection naturally had things all its own way. The case was very different when large bodies of knights, mercenaries, and men-at-arms of all descriptions began to troop back from Italy on the termination of the Italian campaign after the imperial victory at Pavia. The inability of raw peasant levies to successfully encounter trained fighting men — their superiors alike in experience, organisation and equipment, was immediately apparent. The demoralising influence of drink, gluttony and general laxness, which was so much in evidence amongst the peasant hands, was, of course, a contributory cause of the rapid extinction of the movement, but even apart from this, as we have elsewhere pointed out, the case was hopeless.

Hangings, beheadings and slaughter were at last too much even for the palate of the governing classes, and at the Reichstag, held at the end of August, a rescript was issued urging mercy and forbearance upon the lords of the soil, deprecating fresh impositions or undue exactions, and even going so far as to threaten that those lords who acted in a contrary sense might find themselves refused imperial assistance when in need. For in spite of the discomfiture he had suffered, the “common man” had by no means even yet lost all hope. A belief in the possibility of speedily renewing the rising was active amongst the peasantry throughout the winter of 1525 and the spring of 1526, and this hope did not at the time seem altogether groundless. There was, indeed, amidst the general wilderness of disaster, one oasis in which the peasant was still holding his own, and was even scoring some relatively lasting successes. In the archbishopric of Salzburg the insurgents were still practically the masters of the situation. In Tyrol, under the chief leadership of the most able, and many-sided genius of the whole insurrection, Michael Gaismayr, the peasants had extorted noteworthy concessions from their feudal lord, the arch-duke, at the Landtag opened by him at Innsbruck on the 15th of June. In the neighbouring territories, moreover, the rebels were still active. With events in these Austrian lands we shall deal in the following chapter.

1. Amongst the curiosities of literature may be included the translation of the title of this manifesto by Prof. T. M. Lindsay, D.D., in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th Edition (Article, “Luther”). The German title is “Wider die morderischen und rauberischen Rotten der Bauern”. Prof. Lindsay’s translation is “Against the murdering, robbing Rats [sic] of Peasants"!

2. The above is the traditional account accepted by Zimmermann and other authorities. Wilhelm Blos and some recent investigators have, however, unearthed statements in contemporary documents which place the matter in a different light. An old chronicle of the time states: “On the 9th of June, Florian Geyer was stabbed on the field near Rimpar”. It is suggested that the theory that he fell near Schwabisch-Hall was caused by a badly-written manuscript. Florian, it is said, fled to the castle near Rimpar of the knight Grumbach, to whose sister, Barbara, he was betrothed. This Grumbach is alleged to have caused Florian to be treacherously murdered by one of his servants in a wood as he rode away from the castle. The story is expressly confirmed in a pamphlet issued by the Bishop of Würzhurg against Grumbach, when some years later he was at feud with him: “It is the certain truth that Grumbach, a man of evil fame, did cause in the Peasants War a nobleman named Florian Geyer, who had lodged with him in his house, to be pierced through by one of his servants by his command in a wood, called the Gramschatz Wood. And, albeit that this murder be now somewhat forgotten of the younger people, yet are there many old and worthy persons to whom it is not hidden, but who are much mindful thereof.”