THE heads of the Swabian League sitting in the imperial town of Ulm were glad enough to keep up the force of negotiations with the peasants, in accordance with the principle already- laid down by the Archduke of Austria, namely, that of quieting them with promises and vague hopes until preparations for taking the field should be completed. Truchsess, the head of the military forces of the League, was meanwhile straining every nerve to get fighting men to join his standard. As a contemporary manuscript expressly has it, “they kept the peasants at bay- with words so long as they could, and armed meanwhile to attack them”. But the Landesknechte employed by Truchsess were inclined to be mutinous. Their pay was in arrears, and they were especially indisposed to take the field against the peasants, the class from which most of them sprung, and whose grievances they well appreciated. Still, by dint of threats, promises and money, Truchsess at length succeeded in getting together a force of 8,000 foot and 3,000 horse. By the end of March the peasants, on their side, began to weary of the interminable negotiations with the League at Ulm, whose object was now only too apparent, and determined to begin active operations. Truchsess, fearing lest the body encamped in the district known as the Ried, and called from its place of origin the “Baltringer contingent,” might cut off his retreat to his own castle and domains and possibly invade them, determined to attach this section first. His relations with his own tenants seem to have been can the whole fairly good, and he appears to have left his family at the Waldsee.
As we have already seen, the Baltringer or Ried contingent formed one of the three sections of the “Evangelical Peasant Brotherhood,” the other two being the Black Forest and the Lake contingents. But in the marshy district where the Baltringer division was encamped, Truchsess could not transport his heavy guns easily nor manoeuvre his cavalry with effect. All he could do, therefore, was to send a detachment of foot under Frowen Von Hutten to attack them. The peasants retired to a favourable position in the hope of inducing Truchsess to risk his whole force on the treacherous ground. He remained, however, where he was, contenting himself with sending out a foraging party which plundered a few villages, but which was eventually cut off by a body of peasants and its members either killed or driven back into their camp. The object the leader of the Swabian army had in view was to draw the main peasant force into firm open country and compel them to engage in a pitched battle, knowing that under such circumstances they would be at a hopeless disadvantage. To this end he sent sundry spies in the form of messengers into the peasant camp, but the insurgents, though they answered peaceably, proceeded to entrench themselves still more securely behind a wood. The peasants further endeavoured to induce Truchsess’s free-lances to desert to their camp by means of secret negotiations. They were, they said, their sons and brothers, and this, in fact, was the case. Most of the foot-soldiery of the time was recruited out of poor town proletarians or impoverished peasants’ sons, who, in many cases as a last resort, had taken to the trade of arms and were prepared to serve any muster for a few hellers a day and the hope of booty. But, although this was their only chance of victory — to induce experienced fighting men to enter their ranks — many of their number were averse to being led by, or even to having in their company, any free-lances. The peasant leaders were partly jealous of the latter’s superiority in war to themselves, while many of the rank and file dreaded their dissolute habits, for which they had an evil notoriety. Wendel Hipler and the far-seeing heads of the movement strove in vain to effect an understanding between the free-lances and the peasants. Their ways of life were different, and, though both belonged to the people, a certain mutual distrust could not be surmounted.
Finally, after a short and indecisive passage of arms with the main Baltringer contingent, Truchsess withdrew his forces in the direction of the little town of Leipheim, in the neighbourhood of which an important detachment of insurgents was commanded by the preacher Jakob Wehe. Wehe was an enthusiastic upholder of the peasant claims, and a prudent and energetic leader in action. He had already constituted a war-chest and a reserve fund. A train of sixty waggons containing provisions and material of war, followed his detachment, which, in spite of the admonitions of their leader, showed itself not averse to excesses. The worthy priest had as his goal to unite with two other bodies encamped not far distant, to march on Ulm, and to seize that important Imperial city, the seat of the heads of the Swabian league, whose patrician council had moreover, shown itself so unsympathetic to the popular cause. His immediate objective, however, was the town of Weissenhorn. In Weissenhorn, as in all the towns, the wealthier guildsmen all the patriciate were on the side of the Swabian League. A garrison of 340 horsemen had been hastily thrown into the town by the Count Palatine. The gates were remorselessly shut against the peasants, the utmost concession made being the passing of bread and wine over the wall. Hearing of the near approach of Truchsess, and aware of the hopelessness of attempting to withstand his cavalry charge in the open field, Wehe decided to retreat on Leipheim; where he had entrenchements.
On the following clay a detachment stormed the castle of Roggenburg, making themselves drunk on the contents of the wine-cellars. In this condition they destroyed the church, with its organ and costly plate, making hands for their hose out of the church banners and vestments. One of their number donned the chasuble and biretta of the Abbot off Roggenburg, and, seated on the altar, made his comrades do him homage. This besotted jesting went on the whole day. Another detachment, also on plunder bent, was cut off by some horsemen of the league and partly destroyed and partly taken prisoners to Ulm.
Jakob Wehe, anxious to gain time, sent by a trusty messenger the following letter to the council of the league at Ulm:-
“As warriors of understanding and experience, ye will easily see that the assembly of peasants waxeth ever greater with time, and that such a multitude may not readily be compelled. That which hath happened that is unmete doth with truth grieve us and our brethren in other places, who have been innocently moved thereto, but to the end that further mischief may be prevented, we entreat that the league shall be a true furtherer of God’s glory and of peace. We will also ourselves, so far as in us lies, zealously do our utmost with other assemblies that complaints should be heard by God-fearing and understanding men, who hate time-serving and love the common weal, and that all grievances shall he made straight in peace and by judicial decisions.”
The above letter had scarcely reached Ulm before “Herr George” with his army- was already within sight of Leipheim. Here the peasants were entrenched 3,000 strong. The town was already in their possession. The camp was some distance outside and had on its right the river, on its left the wood. Its front was covered by a marsh, and behind it was a barricade of waggons. A vanguard of horsemen was kept at bay, but, as soon as the peasants saw Thruchsess with his whole army advancing on them, they decided to retreat within the walls to await reinforcements. The retreat was only partially successful. The peasants carried indeed their dead and wounded with them and buried the former in a ditch by the roadside. About 2,000 succeeded in reaching Leipheim, whilst about 1,000 were either driven into the Danube and drowned or cut down in the field. Truchsess now made direct for Leipheim, which he decided to storm. The inhabitants, however, lost courage, sending an old man and some women to beg for mercy. The general of the league forces answered that they must surrender themselves at discretion, and first of all hand over to him their pastor and captain, Jakob Wehe, terms which were agreed to. No sooner did Wehe see the turn things had taken than, gathering together some 200 florins, he bethought himself of escape. His parsonage was built against the town wall, whence a secret subterranean passage led under the wall down to the Danube. of this he availed himself in the company of a friend and succeeded in reaching a cave known to him in a rock m the banks of the river, where he remained in hiding. The town was entered, but under conditions causing great discontent to a portion of Truchsess’s men, for the freelances were not allowed to plunder as they had been promised in the event of the town being taken by storm. On Wednesday, the 5th of April, the neighbouring town of Günzhurg which had also gone with the peasants, capitulated to the league, having to pay in all a ransom amounting to 1,000 gold gulden. Three of the leaders taken prisoners at Leipheim and four at Günzhurg were condemned to death.
Meanwhile, search was made everywhere for Jakob Wehe in vain, until his whereabouts were disclosed to some freelances by the barking of a dog outside his retreat. The offer of the 200 florins he had with him proved of no avail to free him. His captors took him bound on a. hurdle to their master at I>ul>esheim, where he was condemned to share the fate of the seven other captives spoken of above. On the 5th of April towards evening, they were taken to a flowery meadow lying between Leipheim and Bubesheim to be executed. As Master Jakob was led forward to the block, Truchsess turned to him with the words “Sir pastor, it had been well for thee and us hadst thou preached God’s word, as it beseemeth, and not rebellion “Noble sir,” answered the preacher, “ye do me wrong. I have not preached rebellion, but God’s word.” “I am otherwise informed,” observed Truchsess, as his chaplain stepped forward to receive the confession of the condemned man. Weke turned to those around, stating that he had already confessed to his Maker and commended his soul to Him. To his fellow-sufferers he observed: “Be of good cheer, brethren, we shall yet meet each other to-day in Paradise, for when our eyes seem to close, they are really first opening”. After having prayed aloud, concluding with the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he laid himself on the block, and in another moment his head fell in the long grass.
The preacher of Münzhurg, who had also taken part in the movement, and an old soldier of fortune, who had joined the rebels, were brought forward in their turn to submit to the same fate, when the old soldier, turning to Truchsess, observed: “Doth it not seem to thee a little late in the day, noble lord, for one to lose one’s head?” This humorous observation saved the lives of himself and the preacher. The latter was carried about with the troops in a cage, until he had bought his freedom with eighty gulden. He lost, however, the right of preaching and of riding on horseback!
Meanwhile, the free-lances of “Herr George” were becoming more mutinous every day. They held not made the booty they expected, and their pay was long outstanding. The danger to the commander’s own castles — notably the Waldburg or Waldsee, where his wife and child resided — was imminent. Still the freelances would not budge. Some of his noble colleagues and neighbours took the matter in hand and occupied his territories. It was, however, too late. The Waldsee had capitulated to the Baltringer and bought itself off for 4000 gulden. The attacking party did not know that the countess and her child were located within, or it would probably have gone badly with them. In the course of a few days, the League having undertaken to pay the month’s arrears of wages, the matter with the free-lances was arranged.
The peasants, however, were by no means disheartened by the check that their cause had received at Leipheim. Truchsess, with a force of double their number, including cavalry, and well-equipped with artillery, might succeed in crushing one holy, but, with his eight or nine thousand men, he could not be everywhere at the same time. A few days after, Truchsess eagerly seized an opportunity of negotiating a truce with the so-called Lake continent and the Hegauers, which relieved him for the moment and of which we shall have occasion to speak later on. Just at this juncture the movement was rapidly reaching its height. It was computed that no fewer than 300,000 peasants, besides necessitous townsfolk, were armed and in open rebellion. On the side of the nobles, no adequate force was ready to meet the emergency. In every direction were to be seen flaming castles and monasteries. On all sides were bodies of armed country-folk, organised in military fashion, dictating their will to the countryside and the small towns, whilst disaffection was beginning to show itself in a threatening manner among the popular elements of not a few important cities. The victory of the league at Leipheim had done nothing to improve the situation from the point of view of the governing powers. In Easter week, 1525, it looked indeed as if the “Twelve Articles,” at least, would become realised, if not the Christian Commonwealth dreamed of by the religious sectaries established throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Princes, lords and ecclesiastical dignitaries were being compelled far and wide to save their lives, after their property was probably already confiscated, by swearing allegiance to the Christian League or Brotherhood of the peasants and by countersigning the Twelve Articles and other demands of their refractory villeins and serfs. So threatening was the situation that the Archduke Ferdinand began himself to yield in so far as to enter into negotiations with the insurgents. These were mostly carried on through the intermediary of a certain Walther Bach, One of the peasant leaders in the Allgau and an ex-soldier in the Austrian service. The only result, however, was that Walther Bach fell under the suspicion of his followers and was shortly afterwards deposed from his position by them.
In brilliancy of get-up, none equalled Hans Müller from Bulgenbach and his two colleagues, Hans Eitel and Johann Zügelmuller, and their followings. We read of purple mantles and scarlet birettas with ostrich plumes as the costume of the leaders, of a suite of men in scarlet dress, of a vanguard of ten heralds gorgeously attired. This combined contingent of the Black Forest and surrounding districts went from one success to another, taking castle after castle, including as before mentioned that of Lupfen, the seat of the Countess Helena of “snail-shell” notoriety, which was the alleged proximate guise of the insurrection. After leaving peasant garrisons in all the places captured, Hans Müller bethought himself attacking Radolfzell, where, as we have seen, a considerable number of nobles and clergy had taken refuge. He does not seem, however, to have immediately attempted any formal siege of the town, but simply to have cut off all communications and laid waste the surrounding country. Indeed, as is truly observed by Lamprecht (Deutsche Geschichte, vol. v., p. 343), “the peasant revolts were, in general, less of the nature of campaigns, or even of an uninterrupted series of minor military operations, than of a slow process of mobilisation, interrupted and accompanied by continual negotiations with the lords and princes — a mobilisation which was rendered possible by the standing right of assembly and of carrying arms possessed by the peasants”.
The duchy of Würtemberg, the home of the “poor Conrad,” was, as we have seen, ripe for insurrection at the time of Duke Ulrich’s abortive attempt to regain possession of his coronet. While Truchsess was operating about Leipheim and holding the Baltringer contingent at bay, the Würtemberg authorities, spiritual and temporal, found themselves face to face with a threatening peasant population, everywhere gathering under arms. The assembly of the estates of the duchy had been called together at Stuttgart to deliberate on the matter. The result was the immediate despatch of an embassy to Ulm to represent their case to the council of the Swabian League. The latter replied sympathetically, but observed that the regency of the archduke and the estates themselves were largely to blame for the position of affairs, pointing out that, while every member of the league was by the terms of its oath obliged to keep its most important castles and towns in a state of thorough defensive repair, in Würtemberg there was not a single castle which was capable of holding out, and that the frontiers especially were entirely exposed. All that they could promise was that, as soon as Truchsess had settled affairs in Upper Swabia, he should come to their assistance. The allegations were quite true; the duchy was absolutely denuded of fighting men through the Italian war, the archduke having taken no care or having been unable to replace those; he had sent to his brother with any other sufficient force. The finances of the country, bad as they had been before, were now almost entirely exhausted by the resistance to Duke Ulrich’s invasion. Turning from the league to the archduke, the estates were similarly met by promises, but no assistance way forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the small towns were everywhere opening their gates without resistance to the peasants, between whom and the poorer inhabitants an understanding usually existed. Here as elsewhere, defenceless castles were falling into the hands of the insurgents, who waxed fat with plunder, and in many cases drink themselves senseless with the contents of rich monastic wine-cellars. In the valley of the Neckar an innkeeper, named Matern Feuerbacher, was chosen as captain of the popular forces. Feuerbacher was compelled to accept the leadership of the insurgents against his will. The nobles in the vicinity of the small town of Bottwar, where Feuerbacher had his inn, knew him well as an honest good-natured person, with whom they even at times conversed, as they sat in his wine-room, and they were by no means averse to the choice the insurgents had made. The innkeeper at first hid himself on the approach of the peasant delegates, who threatened his wife that if her husband did not, on their next demand, consent to place himself at their head, they would plant the ominous stake, denoting his outlawry before his door.
Just at this time an event occurred at the little town of Weinsberg, of “faithful wife” fame, near the free imperial city of Heilbronn to the north of the duchy, which constituted a landmark in the history of the peasant rising. The town proletariat of Heilbronn had been stirring from February onwards, and by the end of March a good understanding had been arrived at between them and the peasantry of the surrounding country. The leader of the movement here was one Jakob Rohrbach, commonly called by the nick-name of “Jäcklein Rohrbach,” or sometimes simply “Jäcklein”. He kept an inn in a village called Bockingen, a short distance from Heilbronn. He is described as young, well-built, and strong, of burgher descent, and intelligent withal. His reputation as a boon companion was immense, and as he was of a generous nature and treated freely, his popularity, especially with the young people of the district, was enormous. Always of a rebellious disposition, he had had many a tussle with constituted authority. The most serious appears to have been in 1519, when he was accused of stabbing the head man of his village, against whom he had a grievance. For this he was to be arrested and tried, but threatened the constable and the judges that, if they dared to lay hands upon him, the whole place should be burnt to the ground. Knowing that all the countrymen of the neighbourhood were on his side and would very probably put this threat into execution, or, at best, avenge themselves in some other unpleasant way, the local authorities found it prudent to let the matter drop. Jäcklein Rohrbach, in short, was the terror of all respectable persons.
His chief companions were the sons of the peasantry, whom he saw oppressed on all sides. A village girl, with whom he was in love, was seized by the forest ranger of a neighbouring lord for gathering wild strawberries, maltreated and subsequently ravished. This may have given a deeper colour to his hatred of the aristocrat. In any case, by the end of 1324, Jäcklein found his money spent and himself in an apparently hopeless condition economically. At the wine time, his hatred of the existing order of society knew no bounds. An ecclesiastic had sought to obtain payment of a debt from Jäcklein. The latter had assembled his peasants at Bockingen, and had, in addition, called out some of the town proletarians from Heilbronn in order to prevent the hearing of the case. On the demand of the priest, the council of Heilbronn sent one of their number to Bockingen, who speedily returned with the news that the village was full of armed men at the service of Rohrbach. The council, thereupon, advised the clergyman to let his plaint fall for the time being, as his pursuing it would only lead to a disturbance, which for the moment there was no means of quelling. This was at the end of March. On the 2nd of April, Rohrbach, who had the previous day repaired with his following to the village of Flein, also in the Heilbronn territory, raised the standard of revolt, and soon had 300 more supporters from the neighbouring villages around him. He had been long in communication with Wendel Hipler and George Metzler, a leader of the Odenwald insurgents, of whom we shall speak presently. Jäcklein was now strong enough to compel by threats, or otherwise, the neighbouring places to supply him with men to serve under his standard. As soon as he had gathered together 1,500 partisans, he proceeded to join the main body of insurgents in the Schonthal, under the leadership of Metzler. The body was known as the “Heller Haufen,” which may be translated as the “United Contingent” In the meantime, the bold Jäcklein had seized the head-man of Bockingen, thrown him into prison, and set up a new one of his own choosing. As a taste of the good things in store for them, he had also allowed his men to fish out a small lake belonging to a patrician councillor of Heilbronn.
George Metzler, the commander of the “United Contingent” had been from the beginning of the movement a zealous agitator and organiser. He was an innkeeper in the town of Balenberg, and his wine-room was the resort of all the discontented and insurrectionary elements of the neighbouring districts. As soon as the Swabians had begun to move, Metzler bound a peasant’s shoe (the Bundschuh) to a pole and carried it about the country, preceded by a man beating a drum. In a short time he had 2000 men around his “shoe'’. This body, which steadily increased, was given a form of military organisation by Wendel Hipler (the peasants Chancellor), who now appeared upon the scene, and Metzler was definitely appointed its commander. Thus, while some of the other contingents were little better than hordes, the Heller Haufen assumed more the character of an army. It had its grades and its judiciary power, and in front of it was carried the “Twelve Articles,” which all were required to swear to and to sign. Princes, bishops and nobles had the alternative offered them of loss of property or life, or of entrance into the Evangelical Brotherhood. The two Counts of Hohenlohe, the most considerable feudal potentates of the neighbourhood, received the challenge in question in the name of the “United Contingent”. On their scornfully replying that they were ignorant to what order of animal the “United Contingent” might belong, Hipler is reported to have given the following rejoinder: “It is an animal that usually feedeth on roots and wild herbs, but which when driven by hunger sometimes consumeth priests, bishops and fat citizens. It is very old, but very strange it is that the older it becometh, by so much doth it wax in strength, even as with wine. The beast doth all at times, but it never dieth. At times, too, it forsaketh the land of its birth for foreign parts, but early or late it returneth home again”. “Tell my lords, the counts,” added Hipler, it is said, to the envoys who brought him the message, “that it is even now come again into Germany, and that at this hour it pastureth in the Schupfer valley.” On the foregoing message being returned to them, the counts seem to have given way. The two brothers, Albrecht and George, met the delegates of the “United Contingent,” now 8,000 strong, in the open air, and after some negotiations, during which they endeavoured to persuade the peasants to submit their grievances to a judicial tribunal, they were compelled to swear to the “Twelve Articles”. This they were required to do with uplifted hands and to remove their gloves, whilst the peasants, on the contrary, retained theirs (probably assumed for the occasion). By this oath, the Counts were admitted into the Evangelical Brotherhood.
But these things did not create that profound impression which constituted the landmark in the Peasants War before spoken of. It was the celebrated “blood-vengeance” of the peasants in the township of Weinsberg, near Heilbronn, that did so. Weinsberg, with its castle, had been occupied, by the orders of the Archduke, by Count Ludwig von Helfenstein, whose wife was the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Maximilian and therefore half-sister to the Emperor Charles and to his brother Ferdinand. This Helfenstein, who was a young man of twenty-seven, had seen fifteen years’ service in war and had recently shown himself very active in killing peasants, wherever he found them isolated or in small bands. His recent journey to Weinsberg had been signalised by several acts of this description. A number of the citizens of the little town were inclined to open the gates to “the enemy”. As a body of peasants appeared before the town demanding admission, Helfenstein without any parley made a sortie with his knights and men-at-arms and massacred them in cold blood. As he heard this, Jäcklein Rohrbach is said to have exclaimed: “Death and hell! We shall know how to avenge ourselves on Count Helfenstein for his mode of warfare!” It must be admitted, indeed, that for this act alone Helfenstein richly deserved the fate which afterwards befel him.
On the same day, news arrived in the camp of the “United Contingent” that the brothers, the Courts of Hohenlohe, had refused to supply the force with the pieces of artillery for which it had applied to them and which it so urgently needed. This, coming immediately after the report of Jahob Wehe’s execution at Leipheim, excited the indignation of the insurgents against the nobles to fever pitch. The counts had solemnly sworn to maintain and further the peasant cause, and this refusal of theirs to supply the ordnance required was seen in the light of an act of treachery. Jäcklein Rohrbach moved that a sufficient force he sent to storm and enter “that nest of nobles,” Weinsberg. The proposition was carried, as against that of going back to punish the Counts Hohenlohe, as some would have wished. Accordingly, a large body proceeded in the direction of Weinsberg by way of Neckarsal, which surrendered to them. After having pitched its camp, the “United Contingent” sent an ultimatum to the former town demanding unconditional surrender. Helfenstein returned a contemptuous answer, shortly after, the wife of a citizen came out to the peasants, urging them to the attack, and stating that half the inhabitants were with them and would open the gates. Another citizen offered to show them the weak points in the town-walls and in the castle.
On the 16th of April, the count and all the nobles at that time in Weinsberg were placed by the peasants under a ban. Helfenstein does not seem to have believed in a serious attack. He could not think that mere peasants would be so daring. He was awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Stuttgart and from the Palatinate. Meanwhile, he employed his men in strengthening the weak parts of the fortifications. At break of day, the peasants moved forward from their encampment and established themselves on an eminence overlooking the town. For the last time, heralds were sent. They carried a hat upon a pole. “Open the gates,” they cried, “open the town to the United Christian Band! If not, remove wife and child, for all that remains in the town must be put to the sword!” The only answer received was a shot from the walls, which wounded one of the heralds. He had just sufficient strength to crawl back into camp, and, fainting from loss of blood, to cry for vengeance. Within the walls of the township, the knights saddled their horses, and the free-lances made themselves ready. Only five men could be afforded for the defence of the castle, which contained Helfenstein’s wife, child and valuables. The rest, not more than seventy or eighty all told, were necessary to defend the walls and gates. The count, with his knights and men-at-arms, appeared in the market-place and exhorted the assembled citizens to remain loyal to him, assuring them that help would come in the course of the day. Knights, citizens and men-at-arms thereupon repaired to the church — it being Easter Sunday — to hear mass and take the sacrament.
At nine o'clock, before the service was ended, the cry arose that the peasants were advancing on the town. The first to attack was the great Franconian hero of the Peasants War, the knight Florian Geyer — of whom we shall hear more presently his “black troop,” who had come down from the north and effected a juncture with Metzler and the “United Contingent”. The point of attack was the castle. Before the defenders had time to set themselves in readiness, a shout was heard front above, and two of Florian Geyer’s banners waved from the battlements of the castle, which had been taken by storm. At the same moment, two of the town gates fell before the attach of Jächlein Rohrbach and his comrades. Many of the inhabitants assisted the storming party from within. In a moment, seeing the situation hopeless, Helfenstein sent a monk on to the wall who cried: “Peace, peace!” The only answer returned was: “Death and vengeance!” On hearing these cries, the count bethought himself of flight, but was surrounded by a body of citizens, cursing and threatening him for attempting to leave them in the lurch.
At this moment Jäcklein’s storming party, mad with fury, dashed up the main street toward the market-place, shouting to the citizens to keep to their houses for that all nobles and men-at-arms were about to be put to death. The knights and men-at-arms had by this time fled into the church for protection, the count with eighteen nobles of his following escaping by a secret staircase into the church-tower. Jäcklein’s comrades now burst into the churchyard, striking down lords and fighting men right and left. In a few minutes as many as forty had fallen. Finally, they discovered the secret staircase.
“Here we have them altogether,” cried Jäcklein; “strike them all dead!” The knight Dietrich von Weller stepped forward on the gallery of the church tower, as the peasants burst in upon the fugitives, offering 30,000 gulden as ransom.
“An ye would offer us a tun-full of gold, yet should ye all die!” shouted the peasants with one consent. “Vengeance for the blood of our fallen brethren!”
At the next instant a musket shot laid him on the ground. A peasant them beat his brains out with a club. Others were compelled to spring from the top of the church tower, whence they were received on the spears of the peasants below. At last the main body of the “United Contingent” appeared upon the scene, under the command of George Metzler himself, who forthwith gave strict orders that the killing should discontinue, and that only prisoners should be taken. Helfenstein, with his wife and son, were seized, the child received a wound from a peasant as he was crossing the churchyard with his captors.
Jäcklein begged his leader to allow him and his troop the custody of his prisoners. This was accorded him. The order was now given that all who concealed a nobleman or a free-lance should be but to death. The result was that all were surrendered, with the exception of three, one of whom escaped in woman’s clothes, whilst another concealed himself in a stove, and the third, a handsome young fellow, was hidden in a hayloft by a girl. Curiously enough, Jäcklein and some of his friends passed the night in this very hayloft, discussing the way in which they would bring about the slaughter of the prisoners taken.
The rank and file now demanded the right to plunder the town, but this was not conceded by Metzler and Hipler, who insisted upon only permitting the plunder of churches and monasteries and castles. In most cases, even where plundering was the order of the day, it was easy to hoodwink these naive children of the soil. Having, for instance, found a trunk full of gold in the Bürgermeister’s house, the innocent countrymen were induced not to lay hands on it by a story that it was a chest the contents of which were destined for almsgiving purposes.
But to booty, drink and women the former boon companion, roisterer and spendthrift, Jäcklein Rohrbach, for the moment appeared indifferent. His whole soul seemed possessed by one idea — hatred and vengeance — vengeance on the privileged classes of the existing society. With this object always in view, he imprisoned his captives in a mill near the town wall, resolved to evade Metzler’s orders and slay them, if possible, at break of day. Having ascertained that Metzler and the main body of the “United Contingent” were still sleeping after their heavy drinking bout of the previous evening, Jäcklein led his prisoners from the mill to a meadow outside the walls, hard by. They were eighteen in all, mostly knights, with a few free-lances and pages, foremost among them being of course the Count and Countess von Helfenstein and their two-year-old son. The men were all placed shoulder to shoulder in a semi-circle, and sentence of death was passed upon them by Jäcklein. It was decided that they should be compelled to “run the gauntlet”. This was regarded as a degrading punishment, which was only applied to common soldiers of fortune guilty of some grave criminal offence against military honour. Accordingly, on a signal given by Jäcklein, a double row of spears was formed. Jäcklein then cried out: “Count Helfenstein, it is your turn to open the dance!” “Mercy exclaimed the countess, as with child in her arms she threw herself at Jäcklein’s feet. “Thou pray’st for mercy for thy husband,” cried he “it may not be!” Thereupon, he seized the countess by the arm, and throwing her back on the ground, knelt on her bosom, exclaiming “Behold, brethren, Jäcklein Rohrbach kneels on the emperor’s daughter!” “Vengeance!” shouted the assembled peasants.
"Countess Helfenstein,” cried one of their number, “ thy horsemen, thy dogs and thy huntsmen have trodden down my fields. My boys opposed you. They were gagged and carried forth, as though they had been dogs themselves,” and, uttering a cry of “Vengeance,” he flung a knife at the countess. It struck the child in the arm, the blood spurting into its mother’s face. “Mercy, mercy!” the woman continued to cry, as she rolled on the ground.
“Count Helfenstein,” shouted another peasant, “thou hast thrust my brother into thy dungeon because, forsooth, he did not bare his head as thou passedst by! Thou shalt perish!” “Thou hast harnessed us like oxen to theyoke. Thou hast caused the hands of my father to be smitten off, for that he killed a hare on his own field,” shouted another. “ Thou hast wrung the last heller out of us,” exclaimed several.
These and other accusations of a like kind, even if they may not all have been deserved strictly by Helfenstein himself, certainly were so by the feudal lords in general whose representative he on this occasion was. At last, the count himself was driven to beg for mercy at the hands of the peasant leader. He offered him his whole fortune and 60,000 gulden in addition, for which he was prepared to pledge the emperor’s credit. He swore it on the head of his wife and son. It was now about half an hour before sunrise. “Not for 60,000 tuns of pearls,” replied Jäcklein. “Kneel down and confess, for thou shalt never again behold the sun!”
“Only wait,” cried Melchior Nonenmacher, a discharged piper of the count’s, whose function it had been to play for him at his ancestral castle in Swabia during meals, but who now formed one of Jaclclein’s bodyguard. “Long enough have I made table music for thee. I know thy favourite tune and have kept it for this thy last dance!” The piper thereupon proceeded to tune his instrument, whilst his former master confessed to a priest. As soon as he held finished the piper seized the count’s hilt and domled it himself, and, dancing before him, whilst playing his favourite air, led the way to the double file of spears, through which he was condemned to pass. The countess was held upright by two men that she might see her husband fall.
Standing by and taking an active part in the scene was a woman known as the “black Hoffmann,” a reputed witch, and one of the most striking dramatic figures of the Peasants War. She was, in respect of deep-seated, savage hatred of prince, noble and prelate, the female counterpart of Jäcklein, though her lust of vengeance was, if anything, of a deeper hue, and she seems to have lacked Jäcklein’s original light-hearted generosity of disposition. Her dark shiny and jet-black hair probably gave her her name. She was the cast-off child of a wandering gipsy woman. Her mother had deserted her in Bockingen, in the native village, that is, of Jäcklein himself. Here she gained her living by tending cattle, a calling she: subsequently abandoned for fortune-telling and kindred arts. She is described as the Egeria of Jäcklein, whose purpose she was continuously sharpening. She was usually clad in a black cloak and hood, with a red girdle or sash, the ends of which fluttered in the wind. As soon as Jäcklein had formed his band, she joined them as a kind of prophetess who presaged them victory, blessed their weapons, and urged them on to the fight. During the storming of Weinsberg, she had stood upon a neighbouring hill and with outstretched arms had ceaselessly shouted: “Down with the dogs; strike them all dead! Fear nothing! I bless your weapons I, the black Hoffmann! Only strike! God wills it!”
The hour of vengeance had now come. As the Count von Helfenstein fell beneath the peasants’ spears, seizing a knife from her girdle this strange unsexed fury plunged it into his body, and proceeded to smear the shoes and lances of the peasants with the “fat “. In half an hour the last of the knights and men-at-arms had fallen. As the sun rose, the countess and her young son alone remained.
After Jäcklein and his partisans had distributed the clothes of the dead nobles amongst themselves, Jäcklein, who had himself assumed the garments of the count, addressed the countess and said: “ In a golden chariot camest thou hither; in a dungcart shalt thou depart hence! Tell thine emperor this, and greet him from me!” To this she replied: “I have sinned much and deserved my lot. Christ, our Saviour, also entered Jerusalem amid the shouts of the people, yet soon He went forth bearing His cross, mocked and derided by that very people. That is my consolation. I am a poor sinner and forgive you gladly.” She was then stripped and dressed in the rags of a beggar woman, and in this condition, clutching her wounded child to her breast, was thrown on to a dungcart and conveyed to Heilbronn. We may here mention that her son was brought up to the Church, and she herself ended her days in a Convent.
The sun having now risen, the peasants’ camp within the walls of Weinsberg suddenly awoke to a knowledge of what had happened. A general outcry arose against the execution. A council of war was held, but of what actually passed therein little is known. It would seem, however, that at this time a division arose between the leaders. A “moderate” party, to which Metzler and Hipler belonged, definitely formed itself and appears to have got the upper hand. This party wished to give the knight Götz von Berlichingen “with the iron hand” the command of all the insurgent bands. Florian Geyer, on the other hand, seems to have been strongly opposed to this step, though whether he was prepared to pursue the policy of Jäcklein Rohrbach or approved of his recent action it is not easy to say. Certain is it that, from this moment, he and his “black troop” severed themselves from Metzler, Hipler and the “United Contingent,” and returned into the Franconian country. The action of Rohrbach may well have had more behind it than the mere thirst for vengeance, however great the part this motive may have played therein. Rohrbach was an extremist who wished to carry the revolution through to its uttermost end. Respecting this end, his ideas may have been somewhat vague, but there is no doubt that he conceived it as involving the total destruction of the feudal orders, as against any mere partial concessions on their part. He may well, therefore, have wished to force the hand of the peasant council by making them feel that they had “burnt their boats”. And, certainly, nothing was more calculated to incense the nobles and cut off the possibility of any compromise being arrived at than his “blood-vengeance” on their order at Weinsberg. As a matter of fact, the immediate effect on the authorities was that of a demoralising terror. The Counts Hohenlohe did not hesitate any longer, but immediately sent the two pieces of ordnance and the ammunition which the “United Contingent” had demanded.
Leaving a detachment in Weinsberg, the latter proceeded to Heilbronn, which city they regarded as already as good as won. They were accompanied by two prisoners, the Counts of Löwenstein, clad in peasant’s costume, and bearing white staves in their hands, looking, a contemporary notice states, “as frightened as if they were dead”. The events at Weisberg had naturally not heel without their affect at Heilbronn. The power of the aristocratic burgher party was completely broken, and the peasants’ army entered the gates, after a short parley, almost without resistance. The city council took the oath of allegiance to the “Evangelical Brotherhood,” or the “Christian Peasants League” as it was variously termed, and expressed their willingness to negotiate measures with the insurgents and to act as intermediaries towards an understanding with the feudal powers.
Hans Flux, a wealthy baker, a brother-in-law of George Metzler, was the chief go-between in the negotiations. He belonged distinctly to the moderate party, and he found it not difficult to persuade the “United Contingent” to adopt a conciliatory attitude, if only to show their innocence of the Weinsberg affair. It was thus that the understanding was arrived at, the city council promising to pay a subsidy and to furnish 500 men to the peasant army. The “Twelve Articles” were, as a matter of course, to be sworn to. Furthermore, it was agreed that the town should be given into the hands of the peasants on the condition that no house should plundered, save that of the Teutonic knights. The patricians of the town council, who had no intention of keeping their oath where it was possible to break it, no sooner concluded the bargain than they refused to furnish the force promised. Hans Flux, however, who had been the medium of the negotiations, armed the men at his own expense. The situation generally displeased a number of the peasant army. Cries of treachery against Flux began to be heard, especially when it leaked out that he was negotiating with Hipler and Metzler for a modification of the “Twelve Articles”. The “black Hoffmann” made an attempt one night to assassinate Flux, as he rode from the peasant camp back into the city, but his horse saved him.
An uncertain tradition relates that the last deed of this extraordinary female was the murder of the crier who proclaimed the annulling of the “Twelve Articles “ at Bockingen, a month later, after the reaction had gained the day there. Respecting her death nothing definite is known.
According to the terms of the agreement entered into, the Carmelite monastery was to pay a ransom of 3,000 gulden and the Clara convent 5,000 gulden. Other smaller religious houses were to furnish sums in proportion. The great establishment of the “knights of the Teutonic Order” was reserved for plunder. The heads of the order and most of the inmates made good their escape. In Heilbronn, as in other towns, the wealthy Teutonic heights were a special object of the hatred of the “common man”. The ferment among the poor citizens, town proletarians and impoverished guildsmen, was immense, as may be imagined. They had long held secret converse with the peasants and now openly fraternised with them.
The sacking of the wealthy establishment of the knights took place under the aegis of the city council, who sent to see that the place was not set on fire and that the plundering did not extend beyond its precincts. A motley crew of peasants, consisting largely of tenants of the lands belonging to the order, entered the house, armed with weapons of destruction. All documents were torn up and thrown into the moat. Wine, silver and furniture of all sorts were dragged out into the courtyard and sold at an extemporised auction, over which Jäcklein Rohrbach presided. Women carried away acolytes’ garments and priests’ vestments, and cut them up for clothes for themselves and their children. As soon as the business of plunder and the sale of the booty was duly ended, a feast was spread in the refectory of the house, at which those few of the knights of the order who had remained were compelled to stand and serve with their hats in their hands.
One peasant, who was sitting at table, remarked to a knight standing behind him, “How now, noble sir? To-day, we are the masters of the Teutonic Order,” at the same time giving him a hack-handed blow on the paunch, which caused him to stagger back against the wall with a cry. In addition to the furniture, a considerable sum of money was found in the house, of which the tenants of the order claimed the larger share, as having contributed most to the foods. As a matter of fact, a rich booty, sufficient for all, was obtained.
One citizen alone who had been active in the undertaking carried off v chest containing 1,400 gulden to his house.
Meanwhile, the negotiations of the moderate party, which centred in the handing over of the command of the “United Contingent” to Fritz von Berlichingen, went on apace. Götz, the hero of Goethe’s well-known drama, who was noted for his artificial iron hand (he having lost his own hand in battle), had been a zealous partisan of the knights’ revolt under Sickingen. His deeds as a warrior generally were famous, and he was animated by a special hostility to the clerical order. But, unlike Florian Geyer, he had no real sympathy with the peasants, for whom at heart he entertained much the same feelings as any other noble. Götz had recently appealed to the Franconian knighthood to form a league against the priesthood, and he may have seen in the peasant revolt a possible shoeing-horn to his plans. His immediate reasons, however, for connecting himself with the movement were undoubtedly partly compulsion and partly fear. Nearly all his knightly colleagues had, from dread of the “common man,” entered the service of the Swabian League. Götz also offered his services to the league before suffering himself to be nominated to the commandership on the other side. According to his own account, which he gives in his autobiography, it was only through a misunderstanding that this came to pass at all. It is true that his statements require to be taken with some reserve, since the desire, for obvious reasons, to dissociate himself from any sympathy with the peasants and their lost cause is only too apparent throughout the aforesaid work, which, so far as this episode is concerned, is couched in an apologetic tone. It is probable notwithstanding, from all we know of the man, that the account he gives is substantially true. On finding his appeal to the Franconian knighthood unsuccessful, he had, it appears, offered his services to the Count Palatine, his feudal superior. Immediately after the capture of Weinsberg, Götz alleges that he took steps to save his property and family archives, by having them deposited in a town for safety. As, however, no town would accept the responsibility in the event of its being sacked, he abandoned his plan. At the same time he sent a messenger to the “United Contingent” to know what he was to expect. The chief men, us we have seen, were already discussing among themselves the question of offering him the leadership. Finding his messenger’s return delayed, he communicated with the marshal of the Count Palatine, Wilhelm von Habern, asking him to protect his castle. Götz’s wife, however, and her sister seem to have mistrusted the strength of the authorities to cope with the insurrection. Everywhere around them they saw castles and monasteries falling into the hands of the peasants, so when a letter arrived from the Count Palatine himself, gladly accepting Götz’s offer of service and promising the desired protection, the two women concealed the letter and carefully kept the fact of its arrival from the knight’s knowledge. In fact, according to Götz’s own account, his wife categorically denied having received any reply from the count. “Thereupon” he writes, “I feared me much in that I know not how I should hold myself, the more so in that the story went that the count would make a compact with the peasants.”
The upshot was, according to Götz, that, thinking the proposals he had made to the marshal were rejected by the count and fearing for the safety of himself and his castle, he had, like so many other nobles, consented to join the “Evangelical Brotherhood,” and was subsequently compelled to take over its command. This was effected almost entirely by the leaders Hipler, Metzler, Berlin (a member by the Heilbronn Council, Flux, and one or two others, amid strong protests from the bulk of the rank and file. With Götz himself, it was a case of Aut Caesar, aut nullus. Non-acceptance, he felt, meant his ruin. The pact between Götz and the peasant leaders was signed and sealed in an inn in the village of Gundelsheim, whither the contingent had retired after leaving Heilbronn. Götz narrates in his autobiography how he rode from one company of the peasant army to another, offering to negotiate peace with the authorities, until he came to that consisting of the tenants of the Counts Hohenlohe. “Here I beheld myself,” he says, “suddenly encompassed with muskets, spears, and halberds, pointed at me. They cried that I should be their captain, in whether I would or no. They compelled me to be their fool and leader, and to the end that I might save my body and my life, I must forsooth do as they willed.”
Had Götz been sincere in taking up the cause of the rebellion, there is no doubt that, experienced warrior as he was, he would have been a valuable acquisition. Even as it was, some of his suggestions respecting the maintenance of discipline were in the right direction, but the fact remained that he was acting under compulsion in a cause with which he had no sympathy, and that his one concern was to get rid of his responsibility at the first possible moment, if not actually to betray his trust.
The appointment of Götz von Berlichingen was a victory for the moderate party, which had suddenly acquired prominence owing to the action of Rohrbach and his followers at Weinsberg. In addition to this, George Metzler, the trusted leader of the “United Contingent,” had been influenced in the direction of moderation by the machinations of his wife, as it would seem, and by the persuasions of her brother, the wealthy master-baker of Heilbronn. There is, however, no reason to think that Metzler was actually a traitor or consciously moved to the course he took by unworthy motives.
The result soon showed itself in a modification of the “Twelve Articles”. On this Gotz insisted. With Hans Berlin and Wendel Hipler, and possibly others, the matter was discussed in a sort of committee. Certain of the “Articles” were declared suspended until the imperial reform which Weigand, Hipler and the Heilbronn permanent committee were sketching out for the consideration of a general congress should be decided upon. Most of the old feudal rights and dues were to be provisionally upheld. There was to be no more plundering. Obedience was provisionally to be paid to constituted authorities, and no new insurrectionary hands were to be formed, in short, with few exceptions, everything was to remain in statu quo until the adoption or introduction of the aforesaid imperial reform.
These modifications were carried by a narrow majority in the council of the “United Contingent.” but naturally not without fresh murmuring among the rank and file. Jäcklein Rohrbach and his company had separated at once from the main body on the first symptoms of the new turn that things were taking. Other sections followed later, and the “United Contingent” of the Evangelical Peasant Brotherhood began to acquire an unenviable reputation throughout the movement for “trimming”. Certain practical proposals respecting military reorganisation which Hipler at this time put forward, notably the very sensible one to enrol free-lances in the service of the contingent, were incontinently rejected by the peasants, partly from mistrust and partly from an unwillingness to divide the spoil with these experienced booty-hunters. For it must not be supposed that the “United Contingent” observed the rules laid down by Götz and his moderate colleagues anent plunder1ng. They burnt and plundered as much as ever. In fact, in one case only Götz remonstrating with his supposed followers (over whom his actual authority was the very smallest) for destroying a castle which he had given express orders should be spared, he narrowly escaped with his life. He was only saved, indeed, by the prompt appearance of his henchmen, Berlin and Hipler.
On the other hand, however anxious he might be to protect the property of his own immediate order, when the possessions of the Church, which he hated perhaps more than the peasants themselves, were in question, he was perfectly willing to let the contingent have its way to the full. Thus, on the 30th of April, the various bodies comprising the contingent, with Götz and Metzler at their head, appeared before the Benedictine Abbey of Amorbach, in order, as they declared, “as Christian brethren to make a reformation”. The inmates were summoned to surrender all their money and treasures on pain of death. But while the negotiations were going on, a body of peasants burst into the house, and the same scene took place as had been enacted in scores of other ecclesiastical buildings for more than a month past. Vestments, chalices, books richly bound, with silver, gold and precious stones, furniture, the contents of the cellars and the granaries, the cattle, in short, all things that were of any value were dragged out and divided amongst the assailants, or destroyed. Götz himself took his share, including the costly vestments of the abbot, who had to go away in a smock which one of the peasants had given him out of compassion. The immediate plan of operations was to proceed to the assistance of the insurgents in the Archbishopric of Mainz and the Bishopric of Würzburg, and then by way of Frankfurt to invade the Archbishoprics of Trier and of Cologne. It was a favourite scheme of Götz to divide up ecclesiastical property amongst the knightly order. Hipler and Metzler may well have been persuaded that leniency towards the lower nobilty and its possessions, combined with the prospect of obtaining a share of those of the Church, would induce the former, if not to actively support the peasants cause, at least to waver in their fidelity to the imperial authorities.
In Mainz, the cardinal-archbishop was seriously considering the question of secularising his territories, and had been, in fact, in correspondence with Luther on the subject, a plan which he abandoned, owing, it is said, to the influence of his mistress. On the approach of the peasants, the envoys, not of the archbishop, who had fled, but of the Bishop of Strasburg, whom he had left in charge of his affairs, hastened to sign the modified “Twelve Articles,” and to pay a ransom of 15,000 golden. In the whole territory of the archbishopric, including the towns of Mainz and Aschaffenburg, the insurrection was now in full swing.
It had even reached the neighbouring free imperial city of Frankfurt-on-the-Main, where the leaders of the city-proletariat had extorted from the council a charter of rights and privileges containing forty-five “articles “. An insurrectionary committee, mainly composed of small craftsmen, under the leadership of a shoemaker, had been formed in the town and was in perpetual session, having relations with the peasants of the surrounding territories and with the small towns of the neighbourhood.
The “United Contingent,” under Götz and Metzler, after reducing Aschaffenburg to submission, now decided to make straight for Würzburg, where the main body of the Franconian insurgents was encamped, their efforts being directed towards the capture of the important fortress on the Frauenberg which commanded the city.
Amongst the free imperial towns now threatened by the insurrection, none were more hardly pressed than Schwabisch Hall, lying on the borderland between Swabia and Franconia. Like other imperial cities, Hall had an extensive territory outside its walls, cultivated by a numerous peasantry, to which it and its council stood in the feudal relation of overlord. The peasants of this countryside and of those adjoining it had risen in the usual way. They formed themselves into companies with leaders, and arranged a plan of campaign for capturing the city, but it seems that these particular peasants were exceptionally well-to-do and accustomed to good living, and their fighting capacity seems to have been in inverse proportion to their boon companionship. They possessed, indeed, muskets and ordnance, but as a general rule they contented themselves with the ordinary dagger as their weapon. Instead of making straight for their objective, this contingent, which was over 3,000 strong “turned in” at every village on the way, making free with the wine-cellars of the priests, the Bürgermeisters and the monks, whom they compelled to carouse with them. When, finally, they came within striking distance of the city, all they could do was to encamp and fall asleep. The town of Hall was, of course, in trepidation, having, like the rest, within its walls its own discontented population, which was well disposed to the cause of the peasants, and the authorities were not in a position to withstand the force of the movement from within and from without. Some of the country people had made so sure of getting into possession of the town that they had actually fixed upon the houses they were going to appropriate. The well-beliquored peasants were, however, awakened at break of day by a shot from the neighbouring height. This was followed by a second and a third. The peasant camp was in confusion. Many in their still bibulous condition believed themselves struck and fell down accordingly, The rest scattered precipitately. The fact was that a small party had started from the town to reconnoitre, bringing with them a few hand-guns, but, as it happened, without shot. Seeing the state of affairs in the camp below them, they had fired more in jest than for any other reason. The upshot was that the peasants of the imperial city of Hall were glad to be allowed to return to their homesteads on renewing their oath of fidelity to the city, and thus the rebellion of the Hall peasants ignominiously collapsed.
The movement in Würtemberg, meanwhile, went on apace; but it was moderated by the influence of Matern Feuerbatcher, the well-to-do innkeeper of Bottwar, who was anxious to remain on good terms with all sides, and, as we have seen, only placed himself at the head of the peasant force under compulsion and to a certain extent with the consent of some of his noble patrons. On their advice, he made it a special stipulation that he would have nothing to do with the “Weinsbergers,” understanding thereby the party of Jäcklein Rohrbach, who had been the agents in the slaughter of the knights. In Stuttgart the excitement was so great that the members of the regency, representing the Austrian Government, had fled, together with some of the patrician members of the city council. The chief pastor of the city, Dr. Johannes Mantel, was a zealous patron of the new doctrines, for which he had suffered imprisonment, being liberated by the peasants. After some negotiations, the peasants were admitted into the town, but they only remained within the walls for two days. The ransom money- exacted for religious establishments and from the town itself was comparatively moderate. After two days, the contingent left the city for the Valley of the Rems, in order to drive back an extraneous body of peasants, who were now accused of plundering; for Matern Feuerbacher and the other leaders of the Würtemberg movement had pledged themselves not to allow foreign elements to intrude into the duchy. Here, as elsewhere, the Weinsberg affairs had strongly influenced the trend of sentiment, both within and without the movement, within by strengthening moderate counsels, and without by first of all terrorising and afterwards exacerbating the princes and nobles against the peasants and their demands. It is only one instance of the policy pursued by all governing classes in exploiting the conscience of mankind. Of the causes of the insurrection itself, of the infamous oppression of the feudal orders, no notice, of course, is taken. Of the slaughter by knights, well-armed and equipped, and experienced in the fighting art, of unarmed or badly-armed peasants, sometimes even of country-folk who were not in rebellion, of the atrocities of this nature committed by that very Helfenstein, whose death was only the just penalty of his crimes, similarly nothing is said. Hundreds of peasants foully massacred count for nothing; the important event, the “great crime.” calculated to produce in all men a “thrill of horror,” is that eighteen knights, the authors and abettors of these things, are slain by an act of justice, or, if you will, vengeance.
It was the same in the contest between the workmen of Paris and the reactionaries of Versailles, in the spring of 1871. The governing classes and all those who took their cue from them (either through interested motives, want of knowledge of the facts, or indifference), were, or pretended to be, dissolved in horror at the execution of seventy-two persons belonging to these: classes. They had not one word to say in condemnation of the systematic butchery one or two months previously in cold blood of insurgent prisoners of war, culminating perhaps in the vastest massacre on record, by the authorities representing those governing classes. Yet it was this that led up to the act of vengeance against which they pretend such an overflowing indignation.
Once more, the torturing and doing to death of nine working men, after a mock trial, by order of the late Spanish Minister, Canovas, is a trifle; but no sooner is their death avenged on Canovas himself by a self-sacrificing fanatic than the governing classes and their organs talk with duly impressive fervour of the “sanctity of human life” and of the exceeding infamy of violating it. The power of position and wealth to create a public conscience agreeable to its interests, and to suit its purposes, is indeed convenient and wonderful.
The German peasants of 1525, as did the Commune of Paris, and as is the wont of successful insurgents generally, signalised their success as a rule by their studied moderation and good-nature, as contrasted with the ferocious cruelty of their enemies, the constituted authorities.