Thesis: God’s will and royal oppression is what drove the peasants to rebel in the German states; with their numbers, the Holy Roman Empire’s authority was weakened, economy affected, and most of all society suffered chaos; the poor mans’ revolts proved to be effective against the weak government responses.
The leaders of government were lead to believe that the peasants acted upon the will of God. (Document 1 Leonhard von Eck) The peasants themselves claimed that their reasons were behind God. They would serve the authority of God, but obviously they did not believe the upper class was acting very “holy” to them. They would listen as long as the lords would promise them release from serfdom as God would want them to. (Document 3 Peasant Parliament of Swabia to the Memmingmen Town Council) Christianity was truly a strong influence on the peasants. A preacher would tell them that if they did not rebel against the lords, they were going against God’s will. (Document 6 Thomas Muntzer)Religion was only an excuse to rebel. The real cause of the revolts was the royal oppression the peasants suffered. They were doing more work than they were being compensated for. Lords were breaking the agreement by forcing more services upon the peasants without compensation. (Document 2 Sebastian Lotzer)
The peasants believed that the rich should share their wealth with the poor. (Document 8 Lorenz Fries) Prosperous men did not agree because they believed it would result in a troublesome outcome. Moreover, even the government admitted to the unfair treatment of the peasants. “The authorities have torn out the hair of their subjects”, instead of helping them and protecting them. (Document 9 Caspar Nutzel)The empire saw their society be disrupted, their economy dwindling, and their authority disrespected. They chose to respond in several ways, but none were effective peaceful responses. One response was to settle the matter through financial terms. If the peasants agreed to pay a reasonable amount of money to the council they would be released from serfdom. (Document 4 Reply of the Memmingen Town Council)
These terms did not settle the issue because the peasants would not pay their lords a cent to be set free. It is clear the peasants would not comply because a month later after the reply, they captured the countess and her children of Weinsburg. (Document 5 Pastor Johann Herolt) When a financial agreement did not work, the government turned to settling the matter through religion. A theoligan tried to convince people that peasants who commited violent acts and worked with Thomas Muntzer were evil and were working for the devil. Nevertheless, the peasants continued to revolt. They chose to rob the nobility’s houses and burn them down.(Document 11 Count Wilhelm von Henneberg)
Drastic measures taken by the peasants struck the economy and honor of the upper classes. Consequently, the government had to respond with equivalent drastic measures. During a gathering in Swabia, more than 100,000 rebels were killed and the revolts were suppressed. Such an event comes to show how little control the authorities had that they had to resort to intense violence. The imperial authority let the subjects be restored back to an honorable state if they agreed to surrender unconditionally and were punished. (Document 12 Decree of the Imperial Diet) With this agreement in a way the peasants got what they wanted.
In document 7, Martin Luther a preacher for the Protestants and a theologian, speaks against the peasants. He speaks without being able to empathize with the purposes the peasants have for their actions; for he has never suffered the life of a peasant or a poor class. However, his influence is great among the townspeople for he is a prominent religious leader. He can influence many against the peasants, which is an impediment to their cause. Furthermore, in Document 10, Christoffel von Lichtenstein, a nobleman, has a different take on the issue of the revolts than most upper classmen. He writes for leniency to Count Wilhelm for the peasants. The power of the revolts is shown through the experience of Lord with the peasants and how he had to swear an oath to them. His encounter with their parents allows him to empathize with them and it shows the kind of consequences noblemen faced during these harsh times.