View Full Version : German Peasant War 1524-1525

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005, 12:42 PM
The Peasants' War 1524-1525

In late medieval Germany, the law regarding inheritance varied from region to region. While in Northern Germany and Bavaria, a farm was transferred from generation to generation undivided (i.e. only one son, often the eldest, could inherit it), in the Palatinate, in Wsabia, Franconia and Thuringia the deceased father's land and property was equally divided among his sons. The result after generations of partitioning was that many farms in Germany's southwest were too small to feed a family.
Most farmers were unfree, born on someone else's property, the owner being a nobleman or a monastery (THE DEAD HAND). The farmers had to work the fields of their lords before they were free to work on their own plots. This was critical, when, in the time of harvest, bad weather was approaching; the farmer's own crop might face destruction while he was harvesting his lord's crop.
Similarly, in many cities the GUILDS, lead by the master craftsmen, protested against the CITY COUNCIL, claiming that it would mismanage the city's tax revenue, to which the craftsmen contributed considerably. The guild's demand was that they were granted representation in the council which hitherto was monopolized by the PATRICIANS.
Early in the 16th century, the situation in many regions and cities had become explosive. In 1509 the BURGHERS of the city of Erfurt rebelled, in 1511-1513 many cities all over Germany experienced civil unrest, and in some cities the guilds were given representation in the council, with limited powers. In 1510, an anonymous treatise, attibuted to the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine was published, containing a list of numerous contemporary complaints. In 1513 the Swiss peasants rebelled against the rule of the cities; in Breisgau the farmers formed an organization called BUNDSCHUH and rebelled against the lower nobility; in 1514 a new organization, the "ARMER KONRAD" (poor Conrad) is formed with the same objectives.
When the peasants took up their arms in 1524/25, things were different. For the first time, this was not just a local rebellion. Although the peasants were poorly armed, missed a stringent organization and experienced leadership, they posed a serious challenge.
At first the peasants wanted to bring their grievances out in the open and negotiate; their plan was not a revolt. Only when the Swabian nobility, after having negotiated to distract the peasants, betrayed their trust by attacking them, did the movement become radical.

The beginning REFORMATION compared the political reality of the early 16th century with what was written in the bible. So did he peasants, asking : When Adam wove and Eve spun, where was then the nobleman ?. Martin Luther, asked for his opinion in the case, clearly spoke against the peasants, condemning their rebellion. (He himself had depended on the protection provided to him by the Duke of Saxony).
The peasants were badly armed and totally inexperienced. They assembled in HORDES (Ger.: Haufen) and forced local knights, such as GOETZ VON BERLICHINGEN, to lead them. Initially they were able to inflict damage by burning down a few castles, but they were no match for disciplined armies of noble cavallery. The hordes were dispersed, the ringleaders, such as FLORIAN GEYER and radical priest THOMAS MUENTZER, publicly executed. The peasants' war was over in 1525.
The idea of a systematical political reform lived on, having MICHAEL GAISMAYER contemplate with the idea of a PEASANT'S REPUBLIC in TYROL (1526). In 1534, radical ANABAPTISTS, many of them Dutch immigrants, took control of the city of MUENSTER in Westphalia. They declared doomsday to be near, introduced a 'biblical order' according to which all property was common property (that included the women). The bishop of Muenster had fled, as well as many burghers who had not converted to Anabaptism. The bishop collected an army, laid siege to the city and took it after a year.

The legacy of the years of unrest were that aristocracy, both catholic and protestant clergy as well as city councilmen, protestant and catholic, were confirmed in their belief that it was unpractical to let the peasants/guilds have a share in government or in determining their religious creed. In most cities, the guilds were excluded again from representation in the council, and, with a few exceptions, peasants were not represented in territorial estates. When protestant and catholic princes in 1555 at Augsburg agreed on the principle cuius regio, eius religio (whose territory it is, his denomination (the people) shall have), their idea was to forestall another Anabaptist Muenster.
Nobility treated the peasants' war as a warning. From then on, peasants were treated with more caution; nobody was interested in a repetition.


Friedrich Engels' work, Peasant War in Germany, is available online here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/index.htm

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005, 12:45 PM
1.) Wir sind des Geyers Schwarze Haufen, heia oho!
Wir wollen mit Tyrannen raufen, heia oho!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

2. Jetzt gilt es Schloß, Abtei und Stift, heia oho!
Uns gilt nichts als die Heil'ge Schrift, heia oho!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

3.) Wir woll'n's dem Herrn im Himmel klagen, kyrieleis!
Daß wir die Pfaffen mög'n erschlagen, kyrieleis!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

4. Als Adam grub und Eva spann, kyrieleis,
Wo war denn da der Edelmann, kyrieleis?
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

5. Des Edelmannes Töchterlein, heia oho!
Wir schickten's in die Höll' hinein, heia oho!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

6.) Uns führt der Florian Geyer an, trotz Ach und Bann;
Den Bundschuh führt er in der Fahn',
Hat Helm und Harnisch an.
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

7. Bei Weinsberg gab es Brand und Stank, heia oho!
Gar Mancher über die Klinge sprang, heia oho!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!

8. Mit blut'gen Kopfen ging's nach Haus', heia oho!
Uns're Enkel fechten's besser aus, heia oho!
Spieß voran! Drauf und dran!
Setzt aufs Klosterdach den Roten Hahn!


(there is also an English translation at that site)


(with notes)

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005, 12:53 PM
The most famous son of the Geyer family was Knight Florian Geyer, a hero of the peasant war. Of noble birth, Florian Geyer was educated in England, and upon returning to his Homeland, took issue against the feudal system and strongly opposed the confinement and situation of the peasants who were considered as serfs by their masters. Influenced by the teaching of Martin Luther, Geyer became imbued with the idea that there should be, in his own words: "One nation, one Reich and all its inhabitants being brethren, one god, one law for everybody, rich or poor – such is my longing".

In spring of 1525 the peasant’s war broke out and the Giebelstadt Knight Florian Geyer voluntarily left his castle and became one of the leaders of the revolt, being soon joined by other nobles, who considered themselves oppressed by nobles of higher estate and the clergy. The Geyer Castle became the meeting place of this group and became known far and wide as the "Black Bands" which fought with the peasants and destroyed castles and monasteries. Florian Geyer was ex-communicated by the church for his anti-clerical attitude. While the peasant’s army was very successful in the beginning, they failed during the besieging of the bishops’ castle, the fortress "Marienberg" at Wuerzburg. Florian Geyer rode to the Imperial City of Rothenburg ob der Tauber to ask for heavy guns.
The leaderless troops did not exercise watchfulness and became indolent. Without warning the army of the Count Truchsess von Waldenburg, supporting the Bishop suddenly appeared. The farmers camping out around Giebelstadt were caught by surprise and attacked on their open flanks. They fought a fierce but hopeless struggle and were completely overcome. The battle turned into slaughter and about ten thousand peasants were slain or stubbed to death. Florian Geyer attempted to support his troops, but the battle had been lost and the remnants of his army tried to escape. The remaining peasants retreated towards the castle walls of Ingolstadt, fighting and dying in the fields to the last man. When night had fallen, Florian Geyer already wounded was stabbed to death by two soldiers he did not suspect, as they had been sent by his opponent brother –in-law.

Geyer was buried immediately by his slayers in a wood and the secret of his burial place remains a mystery to this day.

The Prince Bishop of Wuerzburg, who had fled during the revolt, returned to Wuerzburg and held cruel tribunals – thousands of peasants were executed or blinded. It took until the revolution in 1848 to drastically change the poor living conditions of the peasants.


Geyer was remembered as a hero by the NSDAP for his true Nationalism, and they named a military unit after him: 8.SS-Kavallerie-Division "Florian Geyer"