THE starting point and centre of the insurrectionary movement in the Franconian districts of middle Germany was the free imperial city of Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, a town situated on a plateau of table-land in the valley watered by the little river Tauber (cf. German Society, pp. 208. 209). As we have before seen, the rival of Martin Luther, Andreas Bodenstein, better known as Dr. Karlstadt, betook himself here, after having been compelled to leave Wittenberg. Another preacher, Joahann Deuschlin, had already discoursed on the new doctrines in the town for a year or two previously. Deuschlin’s career, like his doctrines, bore a striking resemblance to that of Hubmeyer. He also had undertaken an anti-Jewish campaign and had been instrumental in the destruction of Jewish quarters and synagogues before his conversion to the new revolutionary principles, political and religions. One of his most zealous disciples and co-operators was Hans Schmidt, a blind monk. The Teutonic Order in Rothenburg, as in other towns, possessed an establishment, but in this case the preacher Deuschlin succeeded in gaining over certain of their number to the Reformation, and indeed Melchior, one of the heads of the order, had even ventured to marry publicly with the usual festivities, and as fate had it, to marry the sister of Hans Schmidt, the blind monk. The two preachers had severely, attacked the Commenthur, or supreme head of the order, and had so far carried their point as to get him deposed and another Commenthur, Christen, established in his place. These things, of course, did not go on without friction with the Episcopal authorities at Würzburg. but for the moment the revolutionary party remained victorious.
By the end of March, the peasant population in the territory belonging to Rothenburg had begun to assemble with a view to revolutionary action, whilst inside the town the ex-Bürgermeister, Ehrenfried Kumpf, the Church reformer, had inaugurated an iconoclastic campaign, in the course of which priests and choristers were driven from the cathedral, the mass-book was hurled from the altar, images and pictures were mutilated and destroyed, and the chapel of the immaculate virgin was levelled with the ground. Karlstadt followed in the same strain. A richly ornamented and endowed church, just outside the walls, was plundered by the members of the miller’s guild, and costly pictures, images and plate were thrown into the Tauber. But while Kumpf remained a mere anti-popish fanatic, Karlstadt went forward on the lines of the political movement. The party of the people within the walls had now become strong mop, as usual, sympathised with the peasants without. The latter, on the 6th of March, presented their grievances to the city council in the form of “articles,” which in this, as in so many other cases, had been drawn up by ex-priests. The part that the recalcitrant clergy played in the political and social, no less than the religious movement of the time, we have more than once had occasion to remark. These “articles” were of the usual character, alleging the weight of feudal dues — many of them of recent imposition. The appeal to the religious sentiment in them is also strong. The negotiations, however, which ensued did not result in any definite agreement.
Karlstadt, who had fled from Orlamunde to Rothenburg, was received on his arrival with acclamation by the town populace. The Markgraf Casimir set a price upon his heed, but Karlstadt, notwithstanding that, once within the walls of Rothenburg, felt himself comparatively secure and did not hesitate to preach openly even in the streets. The inner council, manned as usual by the patrician class, eventually forbade him the right of preaching and at the same time withdrew from him permission to reside in the town. The council in this matter, there is no doubt, acted partly in obedience to strong pressure from outside. In consequence, the learned agitator found it necessary to disappear for a time. It was given out by his friends that he had repaired to Strassburg. The truth was that he was in hiding within the city in the houses of the preacher Deuschlin, the new Commenthur of the Teutonic Order, Christen, the ex-Bürgermeister and iconoclast Kumpf, and especially in that of the master-tailor Phillip. During his concealment and supposed absence, tracts and brochures from the peal of Karlstadt found a mysterious circulation in the town, his friends having seen to the printing of them, whilst there were plenty of willing hands to attend to their sale or distribution.
One of the most active leaders in the revolt was Stephan Menzingen, a Swabian knight of an old family and a partisan of Duke Ulrich, who had married the daughter of one of the city councillors and had been admitted to the citizenship. From this, in consequence of a quarrel with the council on a question of taxation, he had subsequently withdrawn, and had taken up his abode in northern Switzerland, whence he suddenly returned to Rothenburg early in the year 1525, in time to take part in the new religious and political movement. He was instrumental in procuring the formation of it citizen’s committee, to which all prominent members of the people’s party belonged and which served as a sort of counterpoise to the aristocratic council. It was this committee that brought the peasants’ demands before the council. By the end of March, Menzingen had carried the matter so far that the great council of the town dissolved itself, many of its members joining the new citizens committee, which now formally constituted itself the governing power of the town, while the small or executive council was allowed to continue on its good behaviour, after having sworn to carry out the will of the citizens or to abdicate. The victory was now practically won for the new gospel of “evangelical brotherly love,” according to which all things should be in common, and the authority of status should cease. As reported by a contemporary writer, “the common people did will that one should have as much as another and no more, that it should be the duty of one to lend to another, but that none should require of another that he should give back and repay” (Thomas Zweifel ap. Baumann, Quellen aus Rothenburg). The alliance with the peasants, the tenants of the city lands without the gates, was now concluded.
Karlstadt now came out of his hiding-place, Kumpf openly admitting that he had given him shelter. On being remonstrated with by his old colleagues of the council, Kumpf replied that he had acted in the service of God and for the food of the town, always believing Karlstadt to be the man to negotiate between the town and the peasants. No little wonder, as may be imagined, was excited by the sudden reappearance of a man believed to be at the time in another part of Germany. The Rothenberg peasants now began to adopt the some tactic, as those of other parts. Whoever refused to join their “brotherhood” had his house sacked, if not also burnt down. A “high time” moreover was had with clerical winecellars, whilst in the town itself the clergy were compelled to supply gratuitously the poorer citizens, who quartered themselves upon them. The peasant army already numbered from four to five thousand men, and the leaders, amongst whom were some impoverished knights, better understood the art of war and military organisation than those of some of the other contingents.
A part of their force remained encamped near the town, while the rest swept along the valley of the Tauber. Chief among the military heads of the Franconian peasant forces was the knight Florian Geyer, to whom we had occasion to refer in the last chapters Little is known of his antecedents, save that he was the lord of the old castle of Giebelstadt, near Würzburg. He suddenly appeared on the scene in the Tauber valley at the end of March, 1525, with a small company of free-lances that he had engaged, and shortly after he took over the command of the Rothenberg Landwehr, a body whose members were enrolled for the defence of the Rothenberg territory, on the initiation of the revolution. But of these two elements he formed his famous “Black Troop,” a company distinguished among the peasant force; for its bravery, cohesion and organisation. Florian Geyer, though himself a noble, threw himself heart and soul into the peasant cause, championing the most radical demands of the popular party, notably advising the destruction of all castles, and the reduction of their lords to the status of simple citizens or tillers of the soil. The fame of his “Black Troop” soon spread far and wide, and its co-operation was eagerly sought by other bands.
The Franconian insurrection had now spread to the immediate territory of the Bishop of Würzburg. Early in April, the whole diocese was in motion, in the towns no less than in the countryside. On the 5th of the month, Fritz Lobel, another Franconian knight, led a body of peasants to the sack of the wealthy Carthusian monastery of Zächelhausen. The chapter at Würzburg became alarmed, and sent three canons to secure the allegiance, amid the general collapse of authority, of the town of Ochsenfurt, but they were received with closed gates and had to remain outside all night. Eventually, the town consented to a pact with the Episcopal authorities on the basis of certain substantial concessions, which the latter were compelled with a heavy heart to grant by charter.
In the Würzburg territories the insurrection was carried on largely through an association founded here again by two preachers, and bearing the name of the “infinites” or “eternals” (“Die Unendlichen”). One township after another was won. Everywhere the alarm-bell clanged forth, calling to arms all within the walls. In the north of the diocese, the drum of insurrection first made itself heard on the 9th of April. The matter followed its usual course. In a few days the original small band had increased to formidable dimensions and had been joined by other bands. Monasteries of various orders were entered and plundered. Within the walls of the townships, as usual, the Teutonic Order fared worst of all.
The bishop of Wiirzberg and Duke of Franconia, Konrad von Thungen became now seriously alarmed, especially on hearing that the peasants of the Rothenberg Landwehr led by Florian Geyer, meditated making a descent upon Würzburg. In vain he sought help from the surrounding districts. In vain he applied to the Bishop of Romberg, whose hands were full with his own rebellious subjects: in vain to the Swabian League, which offered to pay for three hundred horsemen for a month, if they could be obtained, but sent neither man nor horse. The duke-bishop assembled his vassals, his “noble counsellors,” to consult what measures should be adopted. Opinions were divided. Some thought that active steps should be taken against the recalcitrant country people, and that the wives and children of those who had banded themselves together should he driven from their homesteads and villages, and the latter set on lire. Others feared to take immediate repressive measures, more especially as the neighbouring princes had hitherto held their hands, arguing the meagreness of the bishop’s resources and contending for a policy of delay until an arrangement could be come to with the adjacent potentates. This view was finally adopted. The peasants, as a result, pursued their course unopposed. “Where they came, or where they lay,” writes Lorenz Fries, the Prince-Bishop’s Private Secretary, “they fell upon the monasteries, the priests’ houses, the chests and the cellars of the authority, consuming in gluttony and in drunkenness that which they found. And it did exceedingly please this new brotherhood that they might consume by devouring and drinking their fill, and had not had to pay withal. More drunken, more full-bellied, more helpless folk, one had hardly seen together than during the time of this rebellion. So that I know not whether the peasants’ device and conduct, had they but abstained from fire and bloodshed, should rather be called a carnival’s jest or a war .. . and whether a peasants war, and not rather a wine-war”
So much from a hostile source. It must, however, be admitted by the best friends of the peasants and their cause that gluttony and wine-bibbing contributed as potently as any other influence to the politically unproductive character of the peasant successes and to that lack of cohesion and discipline which led the way to the final catastrophe and soaked the German soil with the blood of its tillers.
All authority throughout the bishopric of Würzburg was now paralysed. Even the Count Hennenberg, whose, territory lay on its northern frontier, the most powerful feudatory of the bishop, showed no sign of furnishing his overlord with men or money, but, on the contrary as it soon appeared, was entering into negotiations with a view to adoption into the “Christian Brotherhood” — an event which shortly after happened. The count was required, at the same time, to furnish his tenants with a charter of emancipation and to swear to act in accordance with the Word of God and with the precepts of the Gospel.
Würzburg itself, the seat of government and residence of the bishop and his chapter, soon showed signs of disaffection. The town had been captured a century before by the then duke-bishop by force of arms, and deprived of its ancient municipal rights. This had never been forgotten. So, one fine day, a body of the poorer citizens were to be seen gathered together in an earnest discussion near the gate of St. Stephen. A prebendary of the cathedral, who was passing by at the time, and who fancied he heard himself unfavourably criticised by some of the crowd, began to call them names, and to threaten to have their heads struck off on the market-place. The news of the abuse and the threat flew through the poorer townsfolk like lightning. An uproar was the result, the populace marching with arms and in extemporised battle array to the sound of pipe and drum before the residences of the cathedral authorities. The disturbance was only partially and for the moment quelled by the gift of a tun of wine to the people by one of the canons. In a day or two, affairs had come to such a pass that the bishop betook himself to the overhanging fortress on the Frauenberghill, the Marienburg, as it was called, after having provided the stronghold with victuals to sustain a siege, and having given orders that all available men-at-arms and loyal subjects capable of such service, from the town and country round, should he brought in to garrison the place.
Those among the patrician councillors of the city, who had fled to the stronghold of authority, escaped with their bishop, and, after having conferred with the latter, sent Sebastian von Rotenham and two others of their number down into the town to discuss with the citizens, and to seek by threats or cajolery to bring them to obedience. They were to secure the punishment of the ringleaders and if possible the expulsion of unruly and dangerous elements from within the walls, and further to see that the town was placed in a proper state of defence against peasant lands from outside.
Rotenham and his companions rode pompously through the streets, and, calling together the heads of the different wards, handed over to them his instructions. Thinking to frighten the Würzhurgers, he at the same time announced that a body of horsemen was on its way and had orders to quarter itself in the town. This threat, which Rotenham had no instructions to make, had as its only result to precipitate matters. The leaders of the movement were at once aroused, urging the citizens to close the gates against any force the bishop might send. The citizens, they said, or at least the “common man” of the town — in the language familiar now everywhere to the dwellers within walls, when the man from the open country knocked at their gates — had no cause of quarrel with the peasant, who was his brother. So, far from fighting against him or refusing him admittance, they should both join hands in a common brotherhood against the oppressor, be he prince or prelate, noble or city-magnate. The peasants were only fighting for the Gospel, said they. A dissolute priesthood had already seduced enough burghers’ wives and daughters. Would they march out to fight the peasants leaving their women a prey to such? Already it was alleged that ordnance was being placed in position by the bishop’s orders to attack the town, should it refuse him obedience.
Excitement manifested itself on all hands. In response to the exhortations of the agitators, towers and gates were soon garrisoned by sturdy burghers. The warden of the fishers’ guild saw that the approaches to the river- the Main — were duly secured by heavy chains; he also took in charge defensive operations as regards the paths leading up the Frauenberg. Up these paths Rotenhan and his two colleagues now wended their sorrowful way back to the castle with the tidings that their mission had proved a failure. Further intercourse between the castle and town was now rendered well-nigh impossible by the defensive obstructions alone, apart from the fact that the vintners’ guild had organised itself into a company of sharp-shooters, to “pot,” from behind the vines which covered the slopes of the Frauenberg, any knight, patrician or prelate, who might be seeking his way to the town from the heights above. The cooks’ and the carpenters’ guilds alike refused to obey the mandate calling upon them to furnish certain of their number for service in the Marienburg. It fared now badly with the ecclesiastical foundations and residences within the town. Wine-cellars and larders, as may be imagined, were not spared more in Würzburg than elsewhere.
But negotiations were not yet entirely broken off between the bishop and the city. On the 13th of April, a delegation went up to the castle to negotiate, with the result that the bishop was compelled to call a Landtag for the 30th of the month, consisting of representatives of the knighthood and the towns, at which all grievances were to be discussed and considered.
At the same time that these things were passing in Würzburg, the five different bodies of insurgents, which had formed in the northern part of the Duchy of Franconia, united themselves into a single contingent with a commander and military organisation. On the 15th of April, amidst the flames of castles and monasteries fallen an easy prey to the peasant bands, a great council of war was held at which it was decided to at once advance on Würzburg. The negotiations with Count Henneberg, however, which were not concluded till some days later, delayed matters for a time.
On the 2nd of May the bishop with certain of his councillors descended, under a promise of safe conduct, into the town to open the Landtag agreed on. This was against the advice of many of his following, who thought the proceeding dangerous and would have liked the Landtag to have been called on the Frauenberg, or, indeed, anywhere else rather than in the now openly-rebellious town of Würzburg. However, as a large number of representatives had already assembled, no other course seemed possible. Before the proceedings had fairly begun, loud complaints reached the bishop’s ears of the oppression of the “common man” by his prelates, contrary to the Word of God, and of how the Word of God, which had only a few years ago been again brought to light, was being smothered and its preachers persecuted. Many of the town representatives demanded that the peasants should be called upon to send their own delegates to confer in the deliberations. With this demand the bishop was, much against his will, compelled to comply. The response, however, was not satisfactory. The peasantry of the Tauber valley answered the bishop’s messengers that at the moment it was not the time for deliberating at diets, but that they would reserve anything they had to say till they arrived in force at Würzburg, which would be before long. The same with other districts. All saw now that things had gone too far to be settled in the way proposed. The result was the collapse of the Landtag, which was hastily closed, every man riding away to his own town or castle.
There was now a formal understanding between the town of Würzburg and the insurgents in the open country. The bishop on his side took his measures, collecting the garrisons, such as they were, from neighbouring castles to reinforce the Frauenberg. The united insurgent contingent from the north was now encamped before the gates, where it was joined in a day or two by Florian Geyer and his black troop from the Tauber valley, and almost immediately after, as before related, by the famous “United Contingent” of George Metzler and Wendel Hipler. In this extremity, the bishop was advised as a last resort, to apply personally to the Elector Palatine for assistance. On the 5th of May, accordingly, with a heavy heart, he rode down, accompanied by a few followers, from the Frauenberg, his last remaining stronghold, into the plain, and struck out westward towards Heidelberg, where he arrived two days later.
The castle of the Marienburg on the Frauenberg was now garrisoned by 244 men-at-arms, besides ecclesiastics, nobles and servants. The Markgraf Friedrich of Brandenburg was left as commander, while Rotenhan undertook the victualling. Florian Geyer and his black troop were soon followed by the whole of the Tauber-valley contingent, which recruited itself, during a victorious march, with hundreds of new followers. The course of the “Franconian Army,” as the Tauber-valley contingent now called itself, was characterised, needless to say, by the usual plunder and destruction, an especially rich booty being furnished by the wealthy Cistercian foundation at Ebrich. Flocks and herds were slaughtered or driven away, larders and cellars emptied of their contents, precious stones and gold torn out of the settings; vestments, chalices and ornaments appropriated, and the building finally given over to the flames.
With the advent of the Tauber-valley peasantry on Würzburg there was united, in and around the town, the greatest force of the peasant army at that moment to be found at any one point throughout Germany. Most of the ablest leaders from a military point of view were also present — Metzler, Hipler, not to mention Götz von Berlichingen, and, above all, Florian Geyer. But, as the event turned out, this almost solitary instance of co-operation on a great scale between different sections of the insurgents proved not only a failure in itself, but a source of weakness to the whole movement. The peasants of middle Germany placed too heavy stakes on this one event, the capture of the Frauenberg. Now the Frauenberg itself was a strong natural strategic position, and the Marienburg, the object of attack, was an exceptionally well-built and well-appointed mediaeval fortress. It had been thoroughly victualled, so that it would take some time to reduce by famine, and it was well-garrisoned with experienced fighting-men, with no lack of weapons, ordnance and ammunition. The result was as might have been expected; valuable as the acquisition of the Frauenberg would have been to the peasant cause, yet the chance of capturing it was not worth the price paid. For what was the price? Nothing less than the locking up at one point of a force constituting the main strength of the insurrection — a force comprising the only reliable military nucleus in the whole movement. Had a plan of campaign been worked out, according to which by means of rapid marches this force or portions of it should have undertaken the task of supporting the movement generally at places where it needed support in conjunction with the local insurgent bands, the contest would undoubtedly have been prolonged, and though complete success may not have been possible, owing to the political and economical trend of the time, the completeness of the catastrophe, which nearly everywhere overtook the movement, would almost certainly have been averted.
The peasants, in accordance with the pact made with the town, had free ingress and egress. The sympathetic citizens, of course, fraternised with them, though possibly they may have winced somewhat at the free and easy behaviour of their guests at times and at the outspokenness of the communistic sentiments expressed.
According to a contemporary, the peasants “were always full (drunken); showed much ill-behaviour in word and deed, and neither in the afternoon nor the morning would they be ruled by any”. The language was openly heard that, since they were brethren, it was only fair that all things should be equal, and that the rich should divide with the poor, especially they who had acquired their wealth through trade or otherwise gained it from the poor man. The improved discipline sought to be introduced by the leaders of the “United Contingent” proved as impossible to carry out in the camp and in the city as it had been on the march. The orders issued in this sense remained for the most part unobeyed. Even the gallows erected on the market-place proved no adequate deterrent. In fact, in most of the companies, a tendency to insubordination was, as might be expected, increased by the life of idleness and dissipation, which the camp and Würzburg afforded them. In vain the leaders endeavoured to drive home to their following the fable of the “head and the members”. In vain they descanted on the impossibility of a “civil brotherly constitution” without the maintenance of an organised administration. The reply was that they were brothers, and would be equal.
Even after the departure of the bishop, negotiations ‘with the Marienburg were not finally broken off. On the 9th of May, the dean of the cathedral with some canons and knights descended into the town, and met the leaders, Götz, Metzler, Geyer, and others, in the inn, whose sign was, the “Green Tree”. They pleaded their willingness and that of the bishop to make concessions as regarded the “Twelve Articles”. Götz and Metzler seem to have been anxious to accept the terms offered, which included a truce until some of their number could go to and from Heidelberg to obtain the bishop’s consent; but Florian Geyer was strongly opposed to any compromise, believing in the possibility of compelling the castle to an unconditional surrender within a few days. When the matter was brought before a general council of the peasants, Florian, with his accustomed fire, observed: “The time is come; the axe is laid to the root of the tree; the dance has now begun, and before the door of every prince shall it be piped. Will we hold back the axe? Will we, of ourselves, turn aside?” Others followed in the same strain, with the result that the terms proposed by the dean and his colleagues were rejected and the siege continued.
A few days later, another attempt at negotiation was made. Götz and Metzler were now more emphatic than ever in their advice to come to terms. Götz reasonably urged the Imprudence of lying idle with their immense force for weeks, awaiting the surrender of the impregnable Frauenberg, and pointed out very justly that there was more important work to do, even going so far as to propose as an alternative an attempt to capture the imperial city of Nürnberg. In this advice, Götz undoubtedly bore himself and his order more in mind than the peasants. In his capacity of knight, he despised and hated the burgher as much as he did the priest. But it was all of no avail. Either from a false view of the situation or, as is more probable, from an unwillingness to exchange the ease and good living afforded them by the bishop’s capital for the dangers and hardships of a serious campaign, none of the contingents would consent to abandon the Frauenberg.
On May 14-15, the castle was stormed. With much shouting and beating of drums, several companies, foremost among them the “Black Troop,” swarmed up the Frauenberg. The light stockade was swept away, the moat was crossed, the assailants reached to the very walls. But it was only to be received by a rain of bullets, missiles of burning pitch, huge stones from windows and battlements, followed by the thunder of all the ordnance with which the castle was provided. Twice the attacking:, party was driven back with enormous loss. Hundreds of peasants lay dead and dying in, the moats. Seen from the town, the whole castle appeared brilliantly illuminated. It was clear that so long as provisions and powder and shot remained in the castle, the Frauenberg was not to be captured. The idea of taking the fortress by storm before a breach had been made in the walls was in itself chimerical. As ill-luck would have it, moreover, the peasantry’s greatest military genius, Florian Geyer, was absent when the storming was decided upon, having gone to Rothenburg to demand ordnance of a larger calibre than any in the peasant camp, and to negotiate for the formal adoption of that town into the “Evangelical Brotherhood”. Even Wendel Hipler was not there, having left for Heilbronn to attend the permanent official committee there sitting, to elaborate, in conjunction with Friedrich Weigand and the rest, the scheme of imperial reform already spoken of. Discouraged at the result of their unsuccessful attempts at taking the fortress by storm, the peasants continued the siege in the hope of starving it into surrender. But this took longer than they imagined.
Meanwhile, the popular cause scored another success by the formal entry of the city of Rothenburg into the “Evangelical Brotherhood”. On the appeal of the peasant-contingents being handed in to the council by Florian Geyer and his colleagues, the whole body of the poorer citizens threatened to march out with all the ordnance and join the peasants against the town if a favourable response were not given. Even the free-lances in the service of the city threatened to desert to the enemy as soon as it should appear before the gates. The fortunes of Rothenburg were now completely in the hands of the populace. A resolution had been carried for the communisation of ecclesiastical goods. The stores of corn and wine were also to be divided in equal shares between the citizens. Jewels and chalices were to be sold, and with the proceeds of the sale the citizens were to be armed and maintained. A fine frolic went on within the walls. According to contemporary accounts, “old and young did drink and became drunken. Many lay in the streets who could go no further, especially young children who had made them selves overfull with wine.”
Rothenburg formally entered the “Evangelical Brotherhood” on the 14th of May, under the following pledges: Firstly, shall the general assembly of burghers set up the Evangelical doctrine, the Holy Word of God, and shall see that the same be preached in pure simplicity without superaddition of human teaching. And what the Holy Gospel doth set up, shall be set up; what it layeth low, shall be laid low, and shall so remain. And, in the meanwhile, no interest due or aught such thing shall be given to any lord until by those most learned in the Holy, Divine, and true Scripture shall a Reformation have been appointed. Injurious castles, water-houses and fortresses, whence hitherto a dreadful oppression have been practised upon the “common man,” shall be broken up or consumed by fire. Yet what is therein of goods that can be borne shall go to them who would be brethren, and who have committed naught against the general assembly. Such ordnance as may be found in these houses shall belong to the general assembly. Clergy and lay-men, nobles and commons, shall henceforth hold to the right of the plain citizen and the peasant, and shall be no more than the “common man “. The nobles shall surrender to the assembly all goods of clergy or others, especially of them of their own class, who have done aught against the brotherhood, on pain of loss of life and goods. And, in fine, every man, be he church-man or lay-man, shall henceforth hold in all obedience that which is ordained in the reformation and order concluded by them who are learned in the Holy Scripture.
The city thus entered the “Evangelical Brotherhood” for the formal term of 101 years. The best and heaviest pieces of ordnance in its possession were, with the requisite powder and balls, handed over to the peasants. The late Bürgermeister, Ehrenfried Kumpf, the zealous church-reformer and iconoclast, clad in full armour, rode back with the peasant delegates to the camp of Würzburg. Six hundred Rothenburg peasants, fully armed and equipped, followed with the two guns and the powder-waggon. By the aid of the new artillery, the assailants succeeded in making some impression on the walls of the Marienburg, but, even now, no serious damage appears to have been done. News now came of the successful advance of Truchsess and the army of the Swabian League in the south. The leaders all saw the urgent necessity of making an end of this Würzburg business at the earliest possible date. On the 20th of May, they, through a public crier, offered the entire booty to be found in the castle, including gold, silver, jewels and furniture, together with the assurance of a high rate of continuous pay to any company that should first carry the castle by storm. They, indeed, endeavoured to form a special company for the purpose, keeping a list of volunteers before them in the “Green Tree,” where they sat as an executive council; but it all came to nothing.
In the neighbouring Bishopric of Bamberg, the insurrection had also broken out about the same time as in the Würzburg territories. The chief preacher of the new doctrines here was one Johann Schwanhäuser. Like his colleagues elsewhere, he attacked in the first instance the clergy and then proceeded to descant on general social inequalities. The clergy were hypocrites and godless men, “they do thrust Christ out of the vineyard,” said Schwanhäuser, “and do set up themselves in His stead. They call themselves the vicegerents of Christ, and the true ambassadors are persecuted by them. They let the poor sit without houses, perish with cold and starve, yet to dead saints do they build great stone houses and bear to them gold, silver and precious stones. Were we true Christians,” he added, “we should sell monstrances, chalices, church and mass vestments, and live as the twelve apostles, giving all our surplusage to the poor.”
The sermons of Schwanhäuser worked in Bamberg, as similar discourses had worked elsewhere, like a spark, firing the inflammable material furnished in such quantity both within and without walls at this epoch. On the 11th of April, the tocsin rang out from the belfry of the town, and Bamberg proclaimed itself in insurrection. The town populace formed itself into companies, chose leaders, closed the gates, and compelled members of the town patriciate and the clergy to assist. They sent messengers throughout all the country round, urging the villages to join them. On the bishop’s refusal to surrender the church property, his castle above the town, which was practically undefended, was taken by assault, pillaged and burnt. For three days the usual scenes of plunder took place in and around Bamberg.
On the 15th of April, however, a compromise was arrived at with the bishop, by which he was recognised as the sole responsible authority in the land, the chapter losing all its separate rights. The bishop on his side promised to call a Landtag for the discussion and removal of all grievances. This treaty, although publicly proclaimed in the streets, does not seem to have been of much effect. The destruction of castles and monasteries throughout the episcopal territories went on apace. As many as seventy castles, besides religious houses, fell a prey to rapine and flames. Crowds from the country-side flocked into the capital. An old chronicle informs us that “no one was certain of his life and goods, after the multitude had bedrunk themselves in the wine-cellars of the churchmen, as continually came to pass. So evil and so unruly did it become in Bamberg, that not alone the old pious burghers were grieved thereat, but also the others, even they who had, at first, had right good pleasure in the tumult.”
By the middle of April the movement was everywhere reaching its height, and was not to be quelled by promises or even by written concessions any more than by threats. The insurrection was going from one success to another.