Between the World Wars: Articles from the Syracuse Union, available through the New York State Newspaper Project

August 27, 1926 page 6 col. 1-2

Caption under top illustration reads: A train of captured rebel peasants being driven by the knights to a mass execution. (A woodblock carving of the era.)

The Great Peasants' War of Four Hundred Years Ago

"Of wonderous deeds
I will sing
Of suffering peasants
And their capture
They only wanted to be free
To sit and drink their wine
To be masters of their own fate."

Caption under illustration reads: Peasant in conversation with a knight.
Title woodcut of an old pamphlet

Thus begins an old song, which comes to us through an unusual pamphlet from the unfortunate year 1525. In years gone by that's the 400th anniversary of the great German Peasant Rebellion. — In the old German Empire the peasant was a free man. He only owed obedience to the king and he paid tribute to the king's representative, who was called the "gray man" or "the horror." (A judge from which the word "grafen' (Count) derived.) Moreover the peasant was duty-bound to serve in battle. The peasant preferred to pay tribute, accept a plot of land from the count and become a tenant farmer in order to be spared the draft.

After the introduction of Christianity a ten percent increase was added to the tribute for the clergy. However the peasant still lived for the most part entirely off the land. The favorable prospect changed dramatically in the 15th century. The original farming economy was abandonned and the money-based economy was introduced.

Caption under illustration reads: The Outstanding Peasant
Woodcut from a pamphlet of the year 1525.

The peasant was now a disadvantage to the land owners, who lived off the tributes and could no longer sustain themselves. New burdens were constantly being place on the peasant, who tried to defend himself in vain.

Thus it was no wonder that in 1431 in the region of Worms peasant uprisings took place. These rebellions showed signs of influence by the teachings of Huss and his followers. At this first uprising the peasants chose the tied shoe with upward straps as their symbol, which we recognize from the Germanic tombs of the 7th and 8th centuries. To the end of the century there were another six rebellions.

At the beginning of the 16th century the uprest grew. There was enormous commotion among the peasants in Württemberg where a new, large federation called "Armer Konrad" (Poor Conrad) formed. Individual bands were subsequently scattered. At the end of 1524 the peasants rebelled in upper Germany. Like a sweeping blaze the uprising escalated. By the beginning of 1525 all of upper Swabia, Allgäu, and the Lake Constance region were involved. Later in the eastern empire of the Danube, the enslaved peasants of Hungary and Bohemia were in rebellion. At the end of March Franconia followed. And here the bloody drama came to an end.

The masses of peasants, invincible when united, operated independently. They stormed Weinsberg and hunted down the Count von Helfenstein, who continually broke his word to them, and his knights with their spears.

The only significant rebellion leader, the Knight Florian Geyer von Giebelstadt, made the cocky peasants uneasy with his criticism. They sent him off to deal with the cities and towns. His "Black Host" was the only true battle-ready crack troop of the peasant army. Meanwhile the cities, princes and land owners who comprised the "Swabian League" had rallied from their terror. They assembled troops and appointed as their leader Count Jörg von Truchsess of Waldburg, called "Peasant George" and "Alba of the Peasant Wars".

Through subterfuge, delaying tactics, and seemly favorable treaties he divided the groups of peasants, in whose midst he seemed to have already lost. Then he fell upon the individual groups and pommeled them one after the other. In the meantime the Frankish groups had moved to Würzburg and besieged Marienberg. Another large group encamped in Taubertal and moved to the proximity of the League's army in the highlands above Königshofen.

Caption under illustration reads: Peasant, be on your guard.
My horse will trample you.

Title woodcut of an entirely unusual pamphlet
with a song from the Peasant War in Franconia (1525)

Once the battle began it was lost. The masters at arms, bribed by the nobility and unable to hold onto their gold, had disappeared. The peasants began to flee. The rest ran to the ruins of a castle and died a man's death. The peasants, who had left Würzburg too late, suffered the same fate.

Thus the Peasant War ended. 100,00 had died; countless others had been mutilated and became beggars throughout the country. The land-owning, all-powerful nobility took its revenge and the peasants were more oppressed than ever before. Their duties, the suspension of serfdom, the repeal of the nineth and tenth tributes, freedom of movement, ownership of farmland, etc. only happened centuries later and only after more blood had flowed.

Caption under illustration reads: Siege weaponry

Woodcut attributed to Hans Weiditz from
an 1519 edition of Petrarch's De Remediis


— Nastiness. "The girl is pretty and she has money. I only wish she were really smart!"

    "I think you'd like to make her your wife?"

— At the marriage broker's. "It's wonderful that the lady has a half a million dollars;

    but she squints so dreadfully!"

    "Well you squint too. Everybody knows that!"

    "What?! I squint. How can you say that?"

    "Of course you squint — after her half million dollars!"

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Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks
Completed July 11, 2022