In late 1524, the Holy Roman Empire was shocked when peasants, craftsmen, and poor soldiers suddenly revolted against them, pilfering and killing innocent people. This was in part due to the religious upheaval known as the Reformation when many critics of the Catholic faith challenged the political order and religious authority of the church. Reformation was due in part thanks to Martin Luther, who founded Lutheranism, sparking the revolution among the peasants.
It was also due in fact to the social classes in the sixteenth century Holy Roman Empire where autocratic rulers, in order to keep their life of luxury, upped the cost of living for the peasants. Some of the causes contributing to the Peasant Revolution were the dissatisfaction among peasants and oppression of the lords and princes while some of the responses were either favorable or unfavorable “We will not allow ourselves to be oppressed by our lords but will let them demand only what is just and proper according to the agreement between lords and peasants. Sebastian Lotzer proclaimed this on March 1, 1525, echoing many of the sentiments of the peasants who believed that they were being unjustly treated by the nobles. The peasants of the time believed that they should have compensation for their work and that the peasants should help lords when it was necessary. These demands were also echoed in the Peasant Parliament of Swabia to the Memmingen Town Council and they also came from peasants.
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Because of this, it is reasonable to assume that these were widely accepted beliefs by the peasants of the area. Peasants were dissatisfied with their way of life, claiming that the rich should share what they had with the poor as they both social classes because Christ had redeemed both the peasants and the Emperor with His blood. This shows a deep resentment that the peasants held against the rich and how deeply religious the peasants were at the time. Before the revolts started, life for the peasants had been quite hard.
They were being taxed unfairly and their masters tried to control them in every aspect of their life. When they grew crops, they had to give most of it to their lord. Serfs were also bound to the land that their lord had and weren’t allowed to leave it. However, the peasants soon grew tired of the oppression and started to fight back. Lorenz Fries noted in his secret report to the Archbishop of Wurzburg that the peasants were unhappy with their predicament and wanted to be treated equally by the rich. However, it must be noted that Lorenz Fries’ account was written for only the Archbishop’s eyes so he may be exaggerating details). The Peasant Parliament of Swabia, however, was quick to say that although they were upset with their lives and how they were being treated, they would be obey to the authority of God. However, taking into account that this was only a peasant parliament in Swabia and not for all the peasants, it most likely was not what all the other peasants were truly thinking at the time.
Surprisingly enough, there were people who were in favor for the peasants’ revolution. Thomas Muntzer was one of the main people to instigate the peasants to revolt. In an open letter to the people of Allestdt he proclaimed to ‘hammer away on the anvils of the princes and lords, cast down their towers to the ground! ‘ By the passionate tone of Muntzer’s, it is clearly indicated that Muntzer was a supporter of the revolution and wanted to ignite the peasants to rebel. However, not all the supporters of the revolution were as zealous as Muntzer.
Caspar Nutzel showed his support of the peasants by reasoning that although what the peasants were doing was wrong; it was also the nobles’ faults because they had been so callous and cruel to the peasants. Taking into consideration that Nutzel was a town councilor, this showed that even high-ranking nobles even agreed with the revolution. Yet although there were numerous people that supported the revolution there were many that did not. Many blamed the newly formed Lutheran faith, like Leonhard von Eck.
He claimed that the only reason why the rebellion was taking place was because that peasants were following the Lutheran teaching and that the peasants were people not to be trusted because in his eyes ‘…they would give their lords no further trouble, they could change their minds within an hour’. However, since Leonard von Eck was the chancellor of Bavaria he would hold this view because he would want to keep the peace within the country. Even Martin Luther disagreed with the revolution. He particularly blamed Thomas Muntzer too for starting the revolution.
Luther’s primary goal by creating the Lutheran faith was to get rid of the evils within the Catholic Church, he never expected there to be a revolution. Another reason why Luther may have been so against the revolution was because of the fact that Luther was being blamed for starting the revolution and he wanted to distance himself as much as possible. Many of the noblemen (like von Lichtenstien and von Henneberg) were disgusted by the revolution, proclaiming that the peasants were savage barbarians.
However, the two may not be painting an accurate description of the peasants as both were noblemen who did not like the peasants. The Peasant Revolution was a horrible ordeal which affected many people in the German states of the Holy Roman Empire. Some of the causes of the revolution were the dissatisfaction among peasants and oppression of the lords and princes. Some people responded to the revolution positively while others were very hostile and negative to it. All in all though, the revolution came with its consequences. Over one hundred thousand rebels and people died in it and Christendom was forever divided.