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Title: German Culture Past and Present
Author: Bax, Ernest Belfort, 1854-1926
Language: English
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       *       *       *       *       *

                      GERMAN CULTURE
                     PAST AND PRESENT

                    ERNEST BELFORT BAX

            "THE ROOTS OF REALITY," ETC., ETC.


                _First published in 1915_
                 [_All rights reserved_]


CHAPTER                                                        PAGE


   I. THE REFORMATION MOVEMENT                                 65

  II. POPULAR LITERATURE OF THE TIME                           85


  IV. THE SIXTEENTH-CENTURY GERMAN TOWN                       114


  VI. THE REVOLT OF THE KNIGHTHOOD                            154


        ANABAPTIST MOVEMENT                                   183

  IX. POST-MEDIÆVAL GERMANY                                   229

   X. MODERN GERMAN CULTURE                                   263


The following pages aim at giving a general view of the social and
intellectual life of Germany from the end of the mediæval period to
modern times. In the earlier portion of the book, the first half of
the sixteenth century in Germany is dealt with at much greater length
and in greater detail than the later period, a sketch of which forms
the subject of the last two chapters. The reason for this is to be
found in the fact that while the roots of the later German character
and culture are to be sought for in the life of this period, it is
comparatively little known to the average educated English reader. In
the early fifteenth century, during the Reformation era, German life
and culture in its widest sense began to consolidate themselves, and
at the same time to take on an originality which differentiated them
from the general life and culture of Western Europe as it was during
the Middle Ages.

To those who would fully appreciate the later developments, therefore,
it is essential thoroughly to understand the details of the social and
intellectual history of the time in question. For the later period
there are many more works of a generally popular character available
for the student and general reader. The chief aim of the sketch given
in Chapters IX and X is to bring into sharp relief those events which,
in the Author's view, represent more or less crucial stages in the
development of modern Germany.

For the earlier portion of the present volume an older work of the
Author's, now out of print, entitled _German Society at the Close of
the Middle Ages_, has been largely drawn upon. Reference, as will be
seen, has also been made in the course of the present work to two
other writings from the same pen which are still to be had for those
desirous of fuller information on their respective subjects, viz. _The
Peasants' War_ and _The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists_ (Messrs.
George Allen & Unwin).

German Culture Past and Present


The close of the fifteenth century had left the whole structure of
mediæval Europe to all appearance intact. Statesmen and writers like
Philip de Commines had apparently as little suspicion that the state
of things they saw around them, in which they had grown up and of
which they were representatives, was ever destined to pass away, as
others in their turn have since had. Society was organized on the
feudal hierarchy of status. In the first place, a noble class,
spiritual and temporal, was opposed to a peasantry either wholly
servile or but nominally free. In addition to this opposition of noble
and peasant there was that of the township, which, in its corporate
capacity, stood in the relation of lord to the surrounding peasantry.

The township in Germany was of two kinds--first of all, there was the
township that was "free of the Empire," that is, that held nominally
from the Emperor himself (_Reichstadt_), and secondly, there was the
township that was under the domination of an intermediate lord. The
economic basis of the whole was still land; the status of a man or of
a corporation was determined by the mode in which they held their
land. "No land without a lord" was the principle of mediæval polity;
just as "money has no master" is the basis of the modern world with
its self-made men. Every distinction of rank in the feudal system was
still denoted for the most part by a special costume. It was a world
of knights in armour, of ecclesiastics in vestments and stoles, of
lawyers in robes, of princes in silk and velvet and cloth of gold, and
of peasants in laced shoe, brown cloak, and cloth hat.

But although the whole feudal organization was outwardly intact, the
thinker who was watching the signs of the times would not have been
long in arriving at the conclusion that feudalism was "played out,"
that the whole fabric of mediæval civilization was becoming dry and
withered, and had either already begun to disintegrate or was on the
eve of doing so. Causes of change had within the past half-century
been working underneath the surface of social life, and were rapidly
undermining the whole structure. The growing use of firearms in war;
the rapid multiplication of printed books; the spread of the new
learning after the taking of Constantinople in 1453, and the
subsequent diffusion of Greek teachers throughout Europe; the surely
and steadily increasing communication with the new world, and the
consequent increase of the precious metals; and, last but not least,
Vasco da Gama's discovery of the new trade route from the East by way
of the Cape--all these were indications of the fact that the
death-knell of the old order of things had struck.

Notwithstanding the apparent outward integrity of the system based on
land tenures, land was ceasing to be the only form of productive
wealth. Hence it was losing the exclusive importance attaching to it
in the earlier period of the Middle Ages. The first form of modern
capitalism had already arisen. Large aggregations of capital in the
hands of trading companies were becoming common. The Roman law was
establishing itself in the place of the old customary tribal law which
had hitherto prevailed in the manorial courts, serving in some sort as
a bulwark against the caprice of the territorial lord; and this change
facilitated the development of the bourgeois principle of private, as
opposed to communal, property. In intellectual matters, though
theology still maintained its supremacy as the chief subject of human
interest, other interests were rapidly growing up alongside of it, the
most prominent being the study of classical literature.

Besides these things, there was the dawning interest in nature, which
took on, as a matter of course, a magical form in accordance with
traditional and contemporary modes of thought. In fact, like the
flicker of a dying candle in its socket, the Middle Ages seemed at the
beginning of the sixteenth century to exhibit all their own salient
characteristics in an exaggerated and distorted form. The old feudal
relations had degenerated into a blood-sucking oppression; the old
rough brutality, into excogitated and elaborated cruelty (aptly
illustrated in the collection of ingenious instruments preserved in
the Torture-tower at Nürnberg); the old crude superstition, into a
systematized magical theory of natural causes and effects; the old
love of pageantry, into a lavish luxury and magnificence of which we
have in the "field of the cloth of gold" the stock historical example;
the old chivalry, into the mercenary bravery of the soldier, whose
trade it was to fight, and who recognized only one virtue--to wit,
animal courage. Again, all these exaggerated characteristics were
mixed with new elements, which distorted them further, and which
foreshadowed a coming change, the ultimate issue of which would be
their extinction and that of the life of which they were the signs.

The growing tendency towards centralization and the consequent
suppression or curtailment of the local autonomies of the Middle Ages
in the interests of some kind of national government, of which the
political careers of Louis XI in France, of Edward IV in England, and
of Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain were such conspicuous instances,
did not fail to affect in a lesser degree that loosely connected
political system of German States known as the Holy Roman Empire.
Maximilian's first Reichstag in 1495 caused to be issued an Imperial
edict suppressing the right of private warfare claimed and exercised
by the whole noble class from the princes of the empire down to the
meanest knight. In the same year the Imperial Chamber (_Reichskammer_)
was established, and in 1501 the Imperial Aulic Council. Maximilian
also organized a standing army of mercenary troops, called
_Landesknechte_. Shortly afterwards Germany was divided into Imperial
districts called circles (_Kreise_), ultimately ten in number, all of
which were under an imperial government (_Reichsregiment_), which had
at its disposal a military force for the punishment of disturbers of
the peace. But the public opinion of the age, conjoined with the
particular circumstances, political and economic, of Central Europe,
robbed the enactment in a great measure of its immediate effect.
Highway plundering and even private war were still going on, to a
considerable extent, far into the sixteenth century. Charles V pursued
the same line of policy as his predecessor; but it was not until after
the suppression of the lower nobility in 1523, and finally of the
peasants in 1526, that any material change took place; and then the
centralization, such as it was, was in favour of the princes, rather
than of the Imperial power, which, after Charles V's time, grew weaker
and weaker. The speciality about the history of Germany is, that it
has not known till our own day centralization on a national or racial
scale like England or France.

At the opening of the sixteenth century public opinion not merely
sanctioned open plunder by the wearer of spurs and by the possessor of
a stronghold, but regarded it as his special prerogative, the exercise
of which was honourable rather than disgraceful. The cities certainly
resented their burghers being waylaid and robbed, and hanged the
knights wherever they could; and something like a perpetual feud
always existed between the wealthier cities and the knights who
infested the trade routes leading to and from them. Still, these
belligerent relations were taken as a matter of course; and no
disgrace, in the modern sense, attached to the occupation of highway

In consequence of the impoverishment of the knights at this period,
owing to causes with which we shall deal later, the trade or
profession had recently received an accession of vigour, and at the
same time was carried on more brutally and mercilessly than ever
before. We will give some instances of the sort of occurrence which
was by no means unusual. In the immediate neighbourhood of Nürnberg,
which was _bien entendu_ one of the chief seats of the Imperial power,
a robber-knight leader, named Hans Thomas von Absberg, was a standing
menace. It was the custom of this ruffian, who had a large following,
to plunder even the poorest who came from the city, and, not content
with this, to mutilate his victims. In June 1522 he fell upon a
wretched craftsman, and with his own sword hacked off the poor
fellow's right hand, notwithstanding that the man begged him upon his
knees to take the left, and not destroy his means of earning his
livelihood. The following August he, with his band, attacked a
Nürnberg tanner, whose hand was similarly treated, one of his
associates remarking that he was glad to set to work again, as it was
"a long time since they had done any business in hands." On the same
occasion a cutler was dealt with after a similar fashion. The hands in
these cases were collected and sent to the Bürgermeister of Nürnberg,
with some such phrase as that the sender (Hans Thomas) would treat all
so who came from the city.

The princes themselves, when it suited their purpose, did not hesitate
to offer an asylum to these knightly robbers. With Absberg were
associated Georg von Giech and Hans Georg von Aufsess. Among other
notable robber-knights of the time may be mentioned the Lord of
Brandenstein and the Lord of Rosenberg. As illustrating the strictly
professional character of the pursuit, and the brutally callous nature
of the society practising it, we may narrate that Margaretha von
Brandenstein was accustomed, it is recorded, to give the advice to the
choice guests round her board that when a merchant failed to keep his
promise to them, they should never hesitate to cut off _both_ his
hands. Even Franz von Sickingen, known sometimes as the "last flower
of German chivalry," boasted of having among the intimate associates
of his enterprise for the rehabilitation of the knighthood many
gentlemen who had been accustomed to "let their horses on the high
road bite off the purses of wayfarers." So strong was the public
opinion of the noble class as to the inviolability of the privilege of
highway plunder that a monk, preaching one day in a cathedral and
happening to attack it as unjustifiable, narrowly escaped death at the
hands of some knights present amongst his congregation, who asserted
that he had insulted the prerogatives of their order. Whenever this
form of knight-errantry was criticized, there were never wanting
scholarly pens to defend it as a legitimate means of aristocratic
livelihood; since a knight must live in suitable style, and this was
often his only resource for obtaining the means thereto.

The free cities, which were subject only to Imperial jurisdiction,
were practically independent republics. Their organization was a
microcosm of that of the entire empire. At the apex of the municipal
society was the Bürgermeister and the so-called "Honorability"
(_Ehrbarkeit_), which consisted of the patrician clans or _gentes_ (in
most cases), those families which were supposed to be descended from
the original chartered freemen of the town, the old Mark-brethren.
They comprised generally the richest families, and had monopolized the
entire government of the city, together with the right to administer
its various sources of income and to consume its revenue at their
pleasure. By the time, however, of which we are writing, the
trade-guilds had also attained to a separate power of their own, and
were in some cases ousting the burgher-aristocracy, though they were
very generally susceptible of being manipulated by the members of the
patrician class, who, as a rule, could alone sit in the Council
(_Rath_). The latter body stood, in fact, as regards the town, much in
the relation of the feudal lord to his manor. Strong in their wealth
and in their aristocratic privileges, the patricians lorded it alike
over the townspeople and over the neighbouring peasantry, who were
subject to the municipality. They forestalled and regrated with
impunity. They assumed the chief rights in the municipal lands, in
many cases imposed duties at their own caprice, and turned guild
privileges and rights of citizenship into a source of profit for
themselves. Their bailiffs in the country districts forming part of
their territory were often more voracious in their treatment of the
peasants than even the nobles themselves. The accounts of income and
expenditure were kept in the loosest manner, and embezzlement clumsily
concealed was the rule rather than the exception.

The opposition of the non-privileged citizens, usually led by the
wealthier guildsmen not belonging to the aristocratic class, operated
through the guilds and through the open assembly of the citizens. It
had already frequently succeeded in establishing a representation of
the general body of the guildsmen in a so-called Great Council
(_Grosser Rath_), and in addition, as already said, in ousting the
"honorables" from some of the public functions. Altogether the
patrician party, though still powerful enough, was at the opening of
the sixteenth century already on the decline, the wealthy and
unprivileged opposition beginning in its turn to constitute itself
into a quasi-aristocratic body as against the mass of the poorer
citizens and those outside the pale of municipal rights. The latter
class was now becoming an important and turbulent factor in the life
of the larger cities. The craft-guilds, consisting of the body of
non-patrician citizens, were naturally in general dominated by their
most wealthy section.

We may here observe that the development of the mediæval township from
its earliest beginnings up to the period of its decay in the sixteenth
century was almost uniformly as follows:[1] At first the township, or
rather what later became the township, was represented entirely by
the circle of _gentes_ or group-families originally settled within the
mark or district on which the town subsequently stood. These
constituted the original aristocracy from which the tradition of the
_Ehrbarkeit_ dated. In those towns founded by the Romans, such as
Trier, Aachen, and others, the case was of course a little different.
There the origin of the _Ehrbarkeit_ may possibly be sought for in the
leading families of the Roman provincials who were in occupation of
the town at the coming of the barbarians in the fifth century. Round
the original nucleus there gradually accreted from the earliest period
of the Middle Ages the freed men of the surrounding districts,
fugitive serfs, and others who sought that protection and means of
livelihood in a community under the immediate domination of a powerful
lord, which they could not otherwise obtain when their native
village-community had perchance been raided by some marauding noble
and his retainers. Circumstances, amongst others the fact that the
community to which they attached themselves had already adopted
commerce and thus become a guild of merchants, led to the
differentiation of industrial functions amongst the new-comers, and
thus to the establishment of craft-guilds.

Another origin of the townsfolk, which must not be overlooked, is to
be found in the attendants on the palace-fortress of some great
overlord. In the early Middle Ages all such magnates kept up an
extensive establishment, the greater ecclesiastical lords no less than
the secular often having several castles. In Germany this origin of
the township was furthered by Charles the Great, who established
schools and other civil institutions, with a magistrate at their head,
round many of the palace-castles that he founded. "A new epoch," says
Von Maurer, "begins with the villa-foundations of Charles the Great
and his ordinances respecting them, for that his celebrated
capitularies in this connection were intended for his newly
established villas is self-evident. In that proceeding he obviously
had the Roman villa in his mind, and on the model of this he rather
further developed the previously existing court and villa constitution
than completely reorganized it. Hence one finds even in his new
creations the old foundation again, albeit on a far more extended
plan, the economical side of such villa-colonies being especially more
completely and effectively ordered."[2] The expression "Palatine," as
applied to certain districts, bears testimony to the fact here
referred to. As above said, the development of the township was
everywhere on the same lines. The aim of the civic community was
always to remove as far as possible the power which controlled them.
Their worst condition was when they were immediately overshadowed by a
territorial magnate. When their immediate lord was a prince, the area
of whose feudal jurisdiction was more extensive, his rule was less
oppressively felt, and their condition was therefore considerably
improved. It was only, however, when cities were "free of the empire"
(_Reichsfrei_) that they attained the ideal of mediæval civic freedom.

It follows naturally from the conditions described that there was, in
the first place, a conflict between the primitive inhabitants as
embodied in their corporate society and the territorial lord, whoever
he might be. No sooner had the township acquired a charter of freedom
or certain immunities than a new antagonism showed itself between the
ancient corporation of the city and the trade-guilds, these
representing the later accretions. The territorial lord (if any) now
sided, usually though not always, with the patrician party. But the
guilds, nevertheless, succeeded in ultimately wresting many of the
leading public offices from the exclusive possession of the patrician
families. Meanwhile the leading men of the guilds had become _hommes
arrivés_. They had acquired wealth, and influence which was in many
cases hereditary in their family, and by the beginning of the
sixteenth century they were confronted with the more or less veiled
and more or less open opposition of the smaller guildsmen and of the
newest comers into the city, the shiftless proletariat of serfs and
free peasants, whom economic pressure was fast driving within the
walls, owing to the changed conditions of the times.

The peasant of the period was of three kinds: the _leibeigener_ or
serf, who was little better than a slave, who cultivated his lord's
domain, upon whom unlimited burdens might be fixed, and who was in all
respects amenable to the will of his lord; the _höriger_ or villein,
whose services were limited alike in kind and amount; and the _freier_
or free peasant, who merely paid what was virtually a quit-rent in
kind or in money for being allowed to retain his holding or status in
the rural community under the protection of the manorial lord. The
last was practically the counterpart of the mediæval English
copyholder. The Germans had undergone essentially the same
transformations in social organization as the other populations of

The barbarian nations at the time of their great migration in the
fifth century were organized on a tribal and village basis. The head
man was simply _primus inter pares_. In the course of their wanderings
the successful military leader acquired powers and assumed a position
that was unknown to the previous times, when war, such as it was, was
merely inter-tribal and inter-clannish, and did not involve the
movements of peoples and federations of tribes, and when, in
consequence, the need of permanent military leaders or for the
semblance of a military hierarchy had not arisen. The military leader
now placed himself at the head of the older social organization, and
associated with his immediate followers on terms approaching equality.
A well-known illustration of this is the incident of the vase taken
from the Cathedral of Rheims, and of Chlodowig's efforts to rescue it
from his independent comrade-in-arms.

The process of the development of the feudal polity of the Middle Ages
is, of course, a very complicated one, owing to the various strands
that go to compose it. In addition to the German tribes themselves,
who moved _en masse_, carrying with them their tribal and village
organization, under the overlordship of the various military leaders,
were the indigenous inhabitants amongst whom they settled. The latter
in the country districts, even in many of the territories within the
Roman Empire, still largely retained the primitive communal
organization. The new-comers, therefore, found in the rural
communities a social system already in existence into which they
naturally fitted, but as an aristocratic body over against the
conquered inhabitants. The latter, though not all reduced to a servile
condition, nevertheless held their land from the conquering body under
conditions which constituted them an order of freemen inferior to the

To put the matter briefly, the military leaders developed into barons
and princes, and in some cases the nominal centralization culminated,
as in France and England, in the kingly office; while, in Germany and
Italy, it took the form of the revived Imperial office, the spiritual
overlord of the whole of Christendom being the Pope, who had his
vassals in the prince-prelates and subordinate ecclesiastical holders.
In addition to the princes sprung originally from the military leaders
of the migratory nations, there were their free followers, who
developed ultimately into the knighthood or inferior nobility; the
inhabitants of the conquered districts forming a distinct class of
inferior freemen or of serfs. But the essentially personal relation
with which the whole process started soon degenerated into one based
on property. The most primitive form of property--land--was at the
outset what was termed _allodial_, at least among the conquering
race, from every social group having the possession, under the
trusteeship of his head man, of the land on which it settled. Now,
owing to the necessities of the time, owing to the need of protection,
to violence, and to religious motives, it passed into the hands of the
overlord, temporal or spiritual, as his possession; and the
inhabitants, even in the case of populations which had not been
actually conquered, became his vassals, villeins, or serfs, as the
case might be. The process by means of which this was accomplished was
more or less gradual; indeed, the entire extinction of communal
rights, whereby the notion of private ownership is fully realized, was
not universally effected even in the West of Europe till within a
measurable distance of our own time.[3]

From the foregoing it will be understood that the oppression of the
peasant, under the feudalism of the Middle Ages, and especially of the
later Middle Ages, was viewed by him as an infringement of his rights.
During the period of time constituting mediæval history, the peasant,
though he often slumbered, yet often started up to a sudden
consciousness of his position. The memory of primitive communism was
never quite extinguished, and the continual peasant-revolts of the
Middle Ages, though immediately occasioned, probably, by some fresh
invasion, by which it was sought to tear from the "common man" yet
another shred of his surviving rights, always had in the background
the ideal, vague though it may have been, of his ancient freedom.
Such, undoubtedly, was the meaning of the Jacquerie in France, with
its wild and apparently senseless vengeance; of the Wat Tyler revolt
in England, with its systematic attempt to envisage the vague
tradition of the primitive village community in the legends of the
current ecclesiastical creed; of the numerous revolts in Flanders and
North Germany; to a large extent of the Hussite movement in Bohemia,
under Ziska; of the rebellion led by George Doza in Hungary; and, as
we shall see in the body of the present work, of the social movements
of Reformation Germany, in which, with the partial exception of Ket's
rebellion in England a few years later, we may consider them as
virtually coming to an end.

For the movements in question were distinctly the last of their kind.
The civil wars of religion in France, and the great rebellion in
England against Charles I, which also assumed a religious colouring,
open a new era in popular revolts. In the latter, particularly, we
have clearly before us the attempt of the new middle class of town and
country, the independent citizen, and the now independent yeoman, to
assert supremacy over the old feudal estates or orders. The new
conditions had swept away the special revolutionary tradition of the
mediæval period, whose golden age lay in the past with its
communal-holding and free men with equal rights on the basis of the
village organization--rights which with every century the peasant felt
more and more slipping away from him. The place of this tradition was
now taken by an ideal of individual freedom, apart from any social
bond, and on a basis merely political, the way for which had been
prepared by that very conception of individual proprietorship on the
part of the landlord, against which the older revolutionary sentiment
had protested. A most powerful instrument in accommodating men's minds
to this change of view, in other words, to the establishment of the
new individualistic principle, was the Roman or Civil law, which, at
the period dealt with in the present book, had become the basis
whereon disputed points were settled in the Imperial Courts. In this
respect also, though to a lesser extent, may be mentioned the Canon
or Ecclesiastical law--consisting of papal decretals on various points
which were founded partially on the Roman or Civil law--a juridical
system which also fully and indeed almost exclusively recognized the
individual holding of property as the basis of civil society (albeit
not without a recognition of social duties on the part of the owner).

Learning was now beginning to differentiate itself from the
ecclesiastical profession, and to become a definite vocation in its
various branches. Crowds of students flocked to the seats of learning,
and, as travelling scholars, earned a precarious living by begging or
"professing" medicine, assisting the illiterate for a small fee, or
working wonders, such as casting horoscopes, or performing
thaumaturgic tricks. The professors of law were now the most
influential members of the Imperial Council and of the various
Imperial Courts. In Central Europe, as elsewhere, notably in France,
the civil lawyers were always on the side of the centralizing power,
alike against the local jurisdictions and against the peasantry.

The effects of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and the
consequent dispersion of the accumulated Greek learning of the
Byzantine Empire, had, by the end of the fifteenth century, begun to
show themselves in a notable modification of European culture. The
circle of the seven sciences, the Quadrivium, and the Trivium, in
other words, the mediæval system of learning, began to be antiquated.
Scholastic philosophy, that is to say, the controversy of the Scotists
and the Thomists, was now growing out of date. Plato was extolled at
the expense of Aristotle. Greek, and even Hebrew, was eagerly sought
after. Latin itself was assuming another aspect; the Renaissance Latin
is classical Latin, whilst Mediæval Latin is dog-Latin. The physical
universe now began to be inquired into with a perfectly fresh
interest, but the inquiries were still conducted under the ægis of the
old habits of thought. The universe was still a system of mysterious
affinities and magical powers to the investigator of the Renaissance
period, as it had been before. There was this difference, however; it
was now attempted to _systematize_ the magical theory of the universe.
While the common man held a store of traditional magical beliefs
respecting the natural world, the learned man deduced these beliefs
from the Neo-Platonists, from the Kabbala, from Hermes Trismegistos,
and from a variety of other sources, and attempted to arrange this
somewhat heterogeneous mass of erudite lore into a system of organized

The Humanistic movement, so called, the movement, that is, of revived
classical scholarship, had already begun in Germany before what may be
termed the _sturm und drang_ of the Renaissance proper. Foremost among
the exponents of this older Humanism, which dates from the middle of
the fifteenth century, were Nicholas of Cusa and his disciples,
Rudolph Agricola, Alexander Hegius, and Jacob Wimpheling. But the new
Humanism and the new Renaissance movement generally throughout
Northern Europe centred chiefly in two personalities, Johannes
Reuchlin and Desiderius Erasmus. Reuchlin was the founder of the new
Hebrew learning, which up till then had been exclusively confined to
the synagogue. It was he who unlocked the mysteries of the Kabbala to
the Gentile world. But though it is for his introduction of Hebrew
study that Reuchlin is best known to posterity, yet his services in
the diffusion and popularization of classical culture were enormous.
The dispute of Reuchlin with the ecclesiastical authorities at Cologne
excited literary Germany from end to end. It was the first general
skirmish of the new and the old spirit in Central and Northern Europe.

But the man who was destined to become the personification of the
Humanist movement, us the new learning was called, was Erasmus. The
illegitimate son of the daughter of a Rotterdam burgher, he early
became famous on account of his erudition, in spite of the adverse
circumstances of his youth. Like all the scholars of his time, he
passed rapidly from one country to another, settling finally in Basel,
then at the height of its reputation as a literary and typographical
centre. The whole intellectual movement of the time centres round
Erasmus, as is particularly noticeable in the career of Ulrich von
Hutten, dealt with in the course of this history. As instances of the
classicism of the period, we may note the uniform change of the
patronymic into the classical equivalent, or some classicism supposed
to be the equivalent. Thus the name Erasmus itself was a classicism of
his father's name Gerhard, the German name Muth became Mutianus,
Trittheim became Trithemius, Schwarzerd became Melanchthon, and so on.

We have spoken of the other side of the intellectual movement of the
period. This other side showed itself in mystical attempts at reducing
nature to law in the light of the traditional problems which had been
set, to wit, those of alchemy and astrology: the discovery of the
philosopher's stone, of the transmutation of metals, of the elixir of
life, and of the correspondences between the planets and terrestrial
bodies. Among the most prominent exponents of these investigations may
be mentioned Philippus von Hohenheim or Paracelsus, and Cornelius
Agrippa of Nettesheim, in Germany, Nostrodamus in France, and Cardanus
in Italy. These men represent a tendency which was pursued by
thousands in the learned world. It was a tendency which had the honour
of being the last in history to embody itself in a distinct mythical
cycle. "Doctor Faustus" may probably have had an historical germ; but
in any case "Doctor Faustus," as known to legend and to literature, is
merely a personification of the practical side of the new learning.

The minds of men were waking up to interest in nature. There was one
man, Copernicus, who, at least partially, struck through the
traditionary atmosphere in which nature was enveloped, and to his
insight we owe the foundation of astronomical science; but otherwise
the whole intellectual atmosphere was charged with occult views. In
fact, the learned world of the sixteenth century would have found
itself quite at home in the pretensions and fancies of our modern
theosophist and psychical researchers, with their notions of making
erstwhile miracles non-miraculous, of reducing the marvellous to
being merely the result of penetration on the part of certain seers
and investigators of the secret powers of nature. Every wonder-worker
was received with open arms by learned and unlearned alike. The
possibility of producing that which was out of the ordinary range of
natural occurrences was not seriously doubted by any. Spells and
enchantments, conjurations, calculations of nativities, were matters
earnestly investigated at Universities and Courts.

There were, of course, persons who were eager to detect impostors: and
amongst them some of the most zealous votaries of the occult arts--for
example, Trittheim and the learned Humanist, Conrad Muth or Mutianus,
both of whom professed to have regarded Faust as a fraudulent person.
But this did not imply any disbelief in the possibility of the alleged
pretensions. In the Faust-myth is embodied, moreover, the opposition
between the new learning on its physical side and the old religious
faith. The theory that the investigation of the mysteries of nature
had in it something sinister and diabolical which had been latent
throughout the Middle Ages, was brought into especial prominence by
the new religious movements. The popular feeling that the line between
natural magic and the black art was somewhat doubtful, that the one
had a tendency to shade off into the other, now received fresh
stimulus. The notion of compacts with the devil was a familiar one,
and that they should be resorted to for the purpose of acquiring an
acquaintance with hidden lore and magical powers seemed quite natural.

It will have already been seen from what we have said that the
religious revolt was largely economical in its causes. The intense
hatred, common alike to the smaller nobility, the burghers, and the
peasants, of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, was obviously due to its
ever-increasing exactions. The chief of these were the _pallium_ or
price paid to the Pope for an ecclesiastical investiture; the
_annates_ or first year's revenues of a church fief; and the _tithes_
which were of two kinds, the great tithe paid in agricultural produce,
and the small tithe consisting in a head of cattle. The latter seems
to have been especially obnoxious to the peasant. The sudden increase
in the sale of indulgences, like the proverbial last straw, broke down
the whole system; but any other incident might have served the purpose
equally well. The prince-prelates were in some instances, at the
outset, not averse to the movement; they would not have been
indisposed to have converted their territories into secular fiefs of
the empire. It was only after this hope had been abandoned that they
definitely took sides with the Papal authority.

The opening of the sixteenth century thus presents to us mediæval
society, social, political, and religious, in Germany as elsewhere,
"run to seed." The feudal organization was outwardly intact; the
peasant, free and bond, formed the foundation; above him came the
knighthood or inferior nobility; parallel with them was the
_Ehrbarkeit_ of the less important towns, holding from mediate
lordship; above these towns came the free cities, which held
immediately from the empire, organized into three bodies, a governing
Council in which the _Ehrbarkeit_ usually predominated, where they did
not entirely compose it, a Common Council composed of the masters of
the various guilds, and the General Council of the free citizens.
Those journeymen, whose condition was fixed from their being outside
the guild-organizations, usually had guilds of their own. Above the
free cities in the social pyramid stood the Princes of the empire, lay
and ecclesiastic, with the Electoral College, or the seven Electoral
Princes, forming their head. These constituted the feudal "estates" of
the empire. Then came the "King of the Romans"; and, as the apex of
the whole, the Pope in one function and the Emperor in another,
crowned the edifice. The supremacy, not merely of the Pope but of the
complementary temporal head of the mediæval polity, the Emperor, was
acknowledged in a shadowy way, even in countries such as France and
England, which had no direct practical connection with the empire.
For, as the spiritual power was also temporal, so the temporal
political power had, like everything else in the Middle Ages, a
quasi-religious significance.

The minds of men in speculative matters, in theology, in philosophy,
and in jurisprudence, were outgrowing the old doctrines, at least in
their old forms. In theology the notion of salvation by the faith of
the individual, and not through the fact of belonging to a corporate
organization, which was the mediæval conception, was latent in the
minds of multitudes of religious persons before expression was given
to it by Luther. The aversion to scholasticism, bred by the revived
knowledge of the older Greek philosophies in the original, produced a
curious amalgam; but scholastic habits of thought were still dominant
through it all. The new theories of nature amounted to little more
than old superstitions, systematized and reduced to rule, though here
and there the later physical science, based on observation and
experiment, peeped through. In jurisprudence the epoch is marked by
the final conquest of the Roman civil law, in its spirit, where not
in its forms, over the old customs, pre-feudal and feudal.

The subject of Germany during that closing period of the Middle Ages,
characterized by what is known as the revival of learning and the
Reformation, is so important for an understanding of later German
history and the especial characteristics of the German culture of
later times, that we propose, even at the risk of wearying some
readers, to recapitulate in as short a space as possible, compatible
with clearness, the leading conditions of the times--conditions which,
directly or indirectly, have moulded the whole subsequent course of
German development.

Owing to the geographical situation of Germany and to the political
configuration of its peoples and other causes, mediæval conditions of
life as we find them in the early sixteenth century left more abiding
traces on the German mind and on German culture than was the case with
some other nations. The time was out of joint in a very literal sense
of that somewhat hackneyed phrase. At the opening of the sixteenth
century every established institution--political, social, and
religious--was shaken and showed the rents and fissures caused by time
and by the growth of a new life underneath it. The empire--the Holy
Roman--was in a parlous way as regarded its cohesion. The power of the
princes, the representatives of local centralized authority, was
proving itself too strong for the power of the Emperor, the recognized
representative of centralized authority for the whole German-speaking
world. This meant the undermining and eventual disruption of the
smaller social and political unities,[4] the knightly manors with the
privileges attached to the knightly class generally. The knighthood,
or lower nobility, had acted as a sort of buffer between the princes
of the empire and the Imperial power, to which they often looked for
protection against their immediate overlord or their powerful
neighbour--the prince. The Imperial power, in consequence, found the
lower nobility a bulwark against its princely vassals. Economic
changes, the suddenly increased demand for money owing to the rise of
the "world-market," new inventions in the art of war, new methods of
fighting, the rapidly growing importance of artillery, and the
increase of the mercenary soldier, had rendered the lower nobility,
as an institution, a factor in the political situation which was fast
becoming negligible. The abortive campaign of Franz von Sickingen in
1523 only showed its hopeless weakness. The _Reichsregiment_, or
Imperial governing council, a body instituted by Maximilian, had
lamentably failed to effect anything towards cementing together the
various parts of the unwieldy fabric. Finally, at the Reichstag held
in Nürnberg, in December 1522, at which all the estates were
represented, the _Reichsregiment_, to all intents and purposes,

The Reichstag in question was summoned ostensibly for the purpose of
raising a subsidy for the Hungarians in their struggle against the
advancing power of the Turks. The Turkish movement westward was, of
course, throughout this period, the most important question of what in
modern phraseology would be called "foreign politics." The princes
voted the proposal of the subsidy without consulting the
representatives of the cities, who knew the heaviest part of the
burden was to fall upon themselves. The urgency of the situation,
however, weighed with them, with the result that they submitted after
considerable remonstrance. The princes, in conjunction with their
rivals, the lower nobility, next proceeded to attack the commercial
monopolies, the first fruits of the rising capitalism, the appanage
mainly of the trading companies and the merchant magnates of the
towns. This was too much for civic patience. The city representatives,
who, of course, belonged to the civic aristocracy, waxed indignant.
The feudal orders went on to claim the right to set up vexatious
tariffs in their respective territories, whereby to hinder
artificially the free development of the new commercial capitalist.
This filled up the cup of endurance of the magnates of the city. The
city representatives refused their consent to the Turkish subsidy and
withdrew. The next step was the sending of a deputation to the young
Emperor Karl, who was in Spain, and whose sanction to the decrees of
the Reichstag was necessary before their promulgation. The result of
the conference held on this occasion was a decision to undermine the
_Reichsregiment_ and weaken the power of the princes, by whom and by
whose tools it was manned, as a factor in the Imperial constitution.
As for the princes, while some of their number were positively opposed
to it, others cared little one way or the other. Their chief aim was
to strengthen and consolidate their power within the limits of their
own territories, and a weak empire was perhaps better adapted for
effecting this purpose than a stronger one, even though certain of
their own order had a controlling voice in its administration. As
already hinted, the collapse of the rebellious knighthood under
Sickingen, a few weeks later, clearly showed the political drift of
the situation in the _haute politique_ of the empire.

The rising capitalists of the city, the monopolists, merchant princes,
and syndicates, are the theme of universal invective throughout this
period. To them the rapid and enormous rise in prices during the early
years of the sixteenth century, the scarcity of money consequent on
the increased demand for it, and the impoverishment of large sections
of the population, were attributed by noble and peasant alike. The
whole trend of public opinion, in short, outside the wealthier
burghers of the larger cities--the class immediately interested--was
adverse to the condition of things created by the new world-market,
and by the new class embodying it. At present it was a small class,
the only one that gained by it, and that gained at the expense of all
the other classes.

Some idea of the class-antagonisms of the period may be gathered from
the statement of Ulrich von Hutten about the robber-knights already
spoken of, in his dialogue entitled "Predones," to the effect that
there were four orders of robbers in Germany--the _knights_, the
_lawyers_, the _priests_, and the _merchants_ (meaning especially the
new capitalist merchant-traders or syndicates). Of these, he declares
the robber-knights to be the least harmful. This is naturally only to
be expected from so gallant a champion of his order, the friend and
abettor of Sickingen. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the
robber-knight evil, the toleration of which in principle was so deeply
ingrained in the public opinion of large sections of the population,
may be judged from the abortive attempts made to stop it, at the
instance alike of princes and of cities, who on this point, if on no
other, had a common interest. In 1502, for example, at the Reichstag
held in Gelnhausen in that year, certain of the highest princes of the
empire made a representation that, at least, the knights should permit
the gathering in of the harvest and the vintage in peace. But even
this modest demand was found to be impracticable. The knights had to
live in the style required by their status, as they declared, and
where other means were more and more failing them, their ancient right
or privilege of plunder was indispensable to their order. Still,
Hutten was right so far in declaring the knight the most harmless kind
of robber, inasmuch as, direct as were his methods, his sun was
obviously setting, while as much could not be said of the other
classes named; the merchant and the lawyer were on the rise, and the
priest, although about to receive a check, was not destined speedily
to disappear, or to change fundamentally the character of his

The feudal orders saw their own position seriously threatened by the
new development of things economic in the cities. The guilds were
becoming crystallized into close corporations of wealthy families,
constituting a kind of second _Ehrbarkeit_ or town patriciate; the
numbers of the landless and unprivileged, with at most a bare footing
in the town constitution, were increasing in an alarming proportion;
the journeyman workman was no longer a stage between apprentice and
master craftsman, but a permanent condition embodied in a large and
growing class. All these symptoms indicated an extraordinary economic
revolution, which was making itself at first directly felt only in the
larger cities, but the results of which were dislocating the social
relations of the Middle Ages throughout the whole empire.

Perhaps the most striking feature in this dislocation was the transition
from direct barter to exchange through the medium of money, and the
consequent suddenly increased importance of the rôle played by usury in
the social life of the time. The scarcity of money is a perennial theme
of complaint for which the new large capitalist-monopolists are made
responsible. But the class in question was itself only a symptom of the
general economic change. The seeming scarcity of money, though but the
consequence of the increased demand for a circulating medium, was
explained, to the disadvantage of the hated monopolists, by a crude form
of the "mercantile" theory. The new merchant, in contradistinction to
the master craftsman working _en famille_ with his apprentices and
assistants, now often stood entirely outside the processes of
production, as speculator or middleman; and he, and still more the
syndicate who fulfilled the like functions on a larger scale (especially
with reference to foreign trade), came to be regarded as particularly
obnoxious robbers, because interlopers to boot. Unlike the knights, they
were robbers with a new face.

The lawyers were detested for much the same reason (cf. _German
Society at the Close of the Middle Ages_, pp. 219-28). The
professional lawyer class, since its final differentiation from the
clerk class in general, had made the Roman or civil law its
speciality, and had done its utmost everywhere to establish the
principles of the latter in place of the old feudal law of earlier
mediæval Europe. The Roman law was especially favourable to the
pretensions of the princes, and, from an economic point of view, of
the nobility in general, inasmuch as land was on the new legal
principles treated as the private property of the lord; over which he
had full power of ownership, and not, as under feudal and canon law,
as a _trust_ involving duties as well as rights. The class of jurists
was itself of comparatively recent growth in Central Europe, and its
rapid increase in every portion of the empire dated from less than
half a century back. It may be well understood, therefore, why these
interlopers, who ignored the ancient customary law of the country, and
who by means of an alien code deprived the poor freeholder or
copyholder of his land, or justified new and unheard-of exactions on
the part of his lord on the plea that the latter might do what he
liked with his own, were regarded by the peasant and humble man as
robbers whose depredations were, if anything, even more resented than
those of their old and tried enemy--the plundering knight.

The priest, especially of the regular orders, was indeed an old foe,
but his offence had now become very rank. From the middle of the
fifteenth century onwards the stream of anti-clerical literature waxes
alike in volume and intensity. The "monk" had become the object of
hatred and scorn throughout the whole lay world. This view of the
"regular" was shared, moreover, by not a few of the secular clergy
themselves. Humanists, who were subsequently ardent champions of the
Church against Luther and the Protestant Reformation--men such as
Murner and Erasmus--had been previously the bitterest satirists of the
"friar" and the "monk." Amongst the great body of the laity, however,
though the religious orders came in perhaps for the greater share of
animosity, the secular priesthood was not much better off in popular
favour, whilst the upper members of the hierarchy were naturally
regarded as the chief blood-suckers of the German people in the
interests of Rome. The vast revenues which both directly in the shape
of _pallium_ (the price of "investiture"), _annates_ (first year's
revenues of appointments), _Peter's-pence_, and recently of
_indulgences_--the latter the by no means most onerous exaction, since
it was voluntary--all these things, taken together with what was
indirectly obtained from Germany, through the expenditure of German
ecclesiastics on their visits to Rome and by the crowd of parasitics,
nominal holders of German benefices merely, but real recipients of
German substance, who danced attendance at the Vatican--obviously
constituted an enormous drain on the resources of the country from all
the lay classes alike, of which wealth the papal chair could be
plainly seen to be the receptacle.

If we add to these causes of discontent the vastness in number of the
regular clergy, the "friars" and "monks" already referred to, who
consumed, but were only too obviously unproductive, it will be
sufficiently plain that the Protestant Reformation had something very
much more than a purely speculative basis to work upon. Religious
reformers there had been in Germany throughout the Middle Ages, but
their preachings had taken no deep root. The powerful personality of
the Monk of Wittenberg found an economic soil ready to hand in which
his teachings could fructify, and hence the world-historic result. The
peasant revolts, sporadic the Middle Ages through, had for the
half-century preceding the Reformation been growing in frequency and
importance, but it needed nevertheless the sudden impulse, the
powerful jar given by a Luther in 1517, and the series of blows with
which it was followed during the years immediately succeeding, to
crystallize the mass of fluid discontent and social unrest in its
various forms and give it definite direction. The blow which was
primarily struck in the region of speculative thought and
ecclesiastical relations did not stop there in its effects. The attack
on the dominant theological system--at first merely on certain
comparatively unessential outworks of that system--necessarily of its
own force developed into an attack on the organization representing
it, and on the economic basis of the latter. The battle against
ecclesiastical abuses, again, in its turn, focussed the
ever-smouldering discontent with abuses in general; and this time, not
in one district only, but simultaneously over the whole of Germany.
The movement inaugurated by Luther gave to the peasant groaning under
the weight of baronial oppression, and the small handicraftsman
suffering under his _Ehrbarkeit_, a rallying-point and a rallying cry.

In history there is no movement which starts up full grown from the
brain of any one man, or even from the mind of any one generation of
men, like Athene from the head of Zeus. The historical epoch which
marks the crisis of the given change is, after all, little beyond a
prominent landmark--a parting of the ways--led up to by a long
preparatory development. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than
in the Reformation and its accompanying movements. The ideas and
aspirations animating the social, political, and intellectual revolt
of the sixteenth century can each be traced back to, at least, the
beginning of the fifteenth century, and in many cases farther still.
The way the German of Luther's time looked at the burning questions of
the hour was not essentially different from the way the English
Wyclifites and Lollards, or the Bohemian Hussites and Taborites viewed
them. There was obviously a difference born of the later time, but
this difference was not, I repeat, essential. The changes which, a
century previously, were only just beginning, had, meanwhile, made
enormous progress.

The disintegration of the material conditions of mediæval social life
was now approaching its completion, forced on by the inventions and
discoveries of the previous half-century. But the ideals of the mass
of men, learned and simple, were still in the main the ideals that had
been prevalent throughout the whole of the later Middle Ages. Men
still looked at the world and at social progress through mediæval
spectacles. The chief difference was that now ideas which had
previously been confined to special localities, or had only had a
sporadic existence among the people at large, had become general
throughout large portions of the population. The invention of the art
of printing was, of course, largely instrumental in effecting this

The comparatively sudden popularization of doctrines previously
confined to special circles was the distinguishing feature of the
intellectual life of the first half of the sixteenth century. Among
the many illustrations of the foregoing which might be given, we are
specially concerned here to note the sudden popularity during this
period of two imaginary constitutions dating from early in the
previous century. From the fourteenth century we find traces, perhaps
suggested by the Prester John legend, of a deliverer in the shape of
an emperor who should come from the East, who should be the last of
his name; should right all wrongs; should establish the empire in
universal justice and peace; and, in short, should be the forerunner
of the kingdom of Christ on earth. This notion or mystical hope took
increasing root during the fifteenth century, and is to be found in
many respects embodied in the spurious constitutions mentioned, which
bore respectively the names of the Emperors Sigismund and Friedrich.
It was in this form that the Hussite theories were absorbed by the
German mind. The hopes of the Messianists of the "Holy Roman Empire"
were centred at one time in the Emperor Sigismund. Later on the rôle
of Messiah was carried over to his successor, Friedrich III, upon whom
the hopes of the German people were cast.

_The Reformation of Kaiser Sigismund_, originally written about 1438,
went through several editions before the end of the century, and was
as many times reprinted during the opening years of Luther's movement.
Like its successor, that of Friedrich, the scheme attributed to
Sigismund proposed the abolition of the recent abuses of feudalism, of
the new lawyer class, and of the symptoms already making themselves
felt of the change from barter to money payments. It proposed, in
short, a return to primitive conditions. It was a scheme of reform on
a Biblical basis, embracing many elements of a distinctly communistic
character, as communism was then understood. It was pervaded with the
idea of equality in the spirit of the Taborite literature of the age,
from which it took its origin.

The so-called _Reformation of Kaiser Sigismund_ dealt especially with
the peasantry--the serfs and villeins of the time; that attributed to
Friedrich was mainly concerned with the rising population of the
towns. All towns and communes were to undergo a constitutional
transformation. Handicraftsmen should receive just wages; all roads
should be free; taxes, dues, and levies should be abolished; trading
capital was to be limited to a maximum of 10,000 _gulden_; all
surplus capital should fall to the Imperial authorities, who should
lend it in case of need to poor handicraftsmen at 5 per cent.;
uniformity of coinage and of weights and measures was to be decreed,
together with the abolition of the Roman and Canon law. Legists,
priests, and princes were to be severely dealt with. But, curiously
enough, the middle and lower nobility, especially the knighthood, were
more tenderly handled, being treated as themselves victims of their
feudal superiors, lay and ecclesiastic, especially the latter. In this
connection the secularization of ecclesiastical fiefs was strongly
insisted on.

As men found, however, that neither the Emperor Sigismund, nor the
Emperor Friedrich III, nor the Emperor Maximilian, upon each of whom
successively their hopes had been cast as the possible realization of
the German Messiah of earlier dreams, fulfilled their expectations,
nay, as each in succession implicitly belied these hopes, showing no
disposition whatever to act up to the views promulgated in their
names, the tradition of the Imperial deliverer gradually lost its
force and popularity. By the opening of the Lutheran Reformation the
opinion had become general that a change would not come from above,
but that the initiative must rest with the people themselves--with the
classes specially oppressed by existing conditions, political,
economic, and ecclesiastical--to effect by their own exertions such a
transformation as was shadowed forth in the spurious constitutions.
These, and similar ideas, were now everywhere taken up and elaborated,
often in a still more radical sense than the original; and they
everywhere found hearers and adherents.

The "true inwardness" of the change, of which the Protestant
Reformation represented the ideological side, meant the transformation
of society from a basis mainly corporative and co-operative to one
individualistic in its essential character. The whole polity of the
Middle Ages industrial, social, political, ecclesiastical, was based
on the principle of the group or the community--ranging in
hierarchical order from the trade-guild to the town corporation; from
the town corporation through the feudal orders to the Imperial throne
itself; from the single monastery to the order as a whole; and from
the order as a whole to the complete hierarchy of the Church as
represented by the papal chair. The principle of this social
organization was now breaking down. The modern and bourgeois
conception of the autonomy of the individual in all spheres of life
was beginning to affirm itself.

The most definite expression of this new principle asserted itself in
the religious sphere. The individualism which was inherent in early
Christianity, but which was present as a speculative content merely,
had not been strong enough to counteract even the remains of corporate
tendencies on the material side of things, in the decadent Roman
Empire; and infinitely less so the vigorous group-organization and
sentiment of the northern nations, with their tribal society and
communistic traditions still mainly intact. And these were the
elements out of which mediæval society arose. Naturally enough the new
religious tendencies in revolt against the mediæval corporate
Christianity of the Catholic Church seized upon this individualistic
element in Christianity, declaring the chief end of religion to be a
personal salvation, for the attainment of which the individual himself
was sufficing, apart from Church organization and Church tradition.
This served as a valuable destructive weapon for the iconoclasts in
their attack on ecclesiastical privilege; consequently, in religion,
this doctrine of Individualism rapidly made headway. But in more
material matters the old corporative instinct was still too strong and
the conditions were as yet too imperfectly ripe for the speedy triumph
of Individualism.

The conflict of the two tendencies is curiously exhibited in the popular
movements of the Reformation-time. As enemies of the decaying and
obstructive forms of Feudalism and Church organization, the peasant and
handicraftsman were necessarily on the side of the new Individualism. So
far as negation and destruction were concerned, they were working
apparently for the new order of things--that new order of things which
_longo intervallo_ has finally landed us in the developed capitalistic
Individualism of the twentieth century. Yet when we come to consider
their constructive programmes we find the positive demands put forward
are based either on ideal conceptions derived from reminiscences of
primitive communism, or else that they distinctly postulate a return to
a state of things--the old mark-organisation--upon which the later
feudalism had in various ways encroached, and finally superseded. Hence
they were, in these respects, not merely not in the trend of
contemporary progress, but in actual opposition to it; and therefore, as
Lassalle has justly remarked, they were necessarily and in any case
doomed to failure in the long run.

This point should not be lost sight of in considering the various
popular movements of the earlier half of the sixteenth century. The
world was still essentially mediæval; men were still dominated by
mediæval ways of looking at things and still immersed in mediæval
conditions of life. It is true that out of this mediæval soil the new
individualistic society was beginning to grow, but its manifestations
were as yet not so universally apparent as to force a recognition of
their real meaning. It was still possible to regard the various
symptoms of change, numerous as they were, and far-reaching as we now
see them to have been, as sporadic phenomena, as rank but unessential
overgrowths on the old society, which it was possible by pruning and
the application of other suitable remedies to get rid of, and thereby
to restore a state of pristine health in the body political and

Biblical phrases and the notion of Divine Justice now took the place
in the popular mind formerly occupied by Church and Emperor. All the
then oppressed classes of society--the small peasant, half villein,
half free-man; the landless journeyman and town-proletarian; the
beggar by the wayside; the small master, crushed by usury or
tyrannized over by his wealthier colleague in the guild, or by the
town-patriciate; even the impoverished knight, or the soldier of
fortune defrauded of his pay; in short, all with whom times were bad,
found consolation for their wants and troubles, and at the same time
an incentive to action, in the notion of a Divine Justice which should
restore all things, and the advent of which was approaching. All had
Biblical phrases tending in the direction of their immediate
aspirations in their mouths.

As bearing on the development and propaganda of the new ideas, the
existence of a new intellectual class, rendered possible by the new
method of exchange through money (as opposed to that of barter), which
for a generation past had been in full swing in the larger towns, must
not be forgotten. Formerly land had been the essential condition of
livelihood; now it was no longer so. The "universal equivalent,"
money, conjoined with the printing press, was rendering a literary
class proper, for the first time, possible. In the same way the
teacher, physician, and the small lawyer were enabled to subsist as
followers of independent professions, apart from the special service
of the Church or as part of the court-retinue of some feudal
potentate. To these we must add a fresh and very important section of
the intellectual class which also now for the first time acquired an
independent existence--to wit, that of the public official or
functionary. This change, although only one of many, is itself
specially striking as indicating the transition from the barbaric
civilization of the Middle Ages to the beginnings of the civilization
of the modern world. We have, in short, before us, as already
remarked, a period in which the Middle Ages, whilst still dominant,
have their force visibly sapped by the growth of a new life.

To sum up the chief features of this new life: Industrially, we have
the decline of the old system of production in the countryside in
which each manor or, at least, each district, was for the most part
self-sufficing and self-supporting, where production was almost
entirely for immediate use, and only the surplus was exchanged, and
where such exchange as existed took place exclusively under the form
of barter. In place of this, we find now something more than the
beginnings of a national-market and distinct traces of that of a
world-market. In the towns the change was even still more marked. Here
we have a sudden and hothouse-like development of the influence of
money. The guild-system, originally designed for associations of
craftsmen, for which the chief object was the man and the work, and
not the mere acquirement of profit, was changing its character. The
guilds were becoming close corporations of privileged capitalists,
while a commercial capitalism, as already indicated, was raising its
head in all the larger centres. In consequence of this state of
things, the rapid development of the towns and of commerce, national
and international, and the economic backwardness of the country-side,
a landless proletariat was being formed, which meant on the one hand
an enormous increase in mendicancy of all kinds, and on the other the
creation of a permanent class of only casually-employed persons, whom
the towns absorbed indeed, but for the most part with a new form of
citizenship involving only the bare right of residence within the
walls. Similar social phenomena were, of course, manifesting
themselves contemporaneously in other parts of Europe; but in Germany
the change was more sudden than elsewhere, and was complicated by
special political circumstances.

The political and military functions of that for the mediæval polity
of Germany, so important class, the knighthood, or lower nobility, had
by this time become practically obsolete, mainly owing to the changed
conditions of warfare. But yet the class itself was numerous, and
still, nominally at least, possessed of most of its old privileges and
authority. The extent of its real power depended, however, upon the
absence or weakness of a central power, whether Imperial or
State-territorial. The attempt to reconstitute the centralized power
of the empire under Maximilian, of which the _Reichsregiment_ was the
outcome, had, as we have seen, not proved successful. Its means of
carrying into effect its own decisions were hopelessly inadequate. In
1523 it was already weakened, and became little more than a "survival"
after the Reichstag held at Nürnberg in 1524. Thus this body, which
had been called into existence at the instance of the most powerful
estates of the empire, was "shelved" with the practically unanimous
consent of those who had been instrumental in creating it.

But if the attempt at Imperial centralization had failed, the force of
circumstances tended partly for this very reason to favour
State-territorial centralization. The aim of all the territorial
magnates, the higher members of the Imperial system, was to
consolidate their own princely power within the territories owing them
allegiance. This desire played a not unimportant part in the
establishment of the Reformation in certain parts of the country--for
example, in Würtemberg, and in the northern lands of East Prussia
which were subject to the Grand Master of the Teutonic knights. The
time was at hand for the transformation of the mediæval feudal
territory, with its local jurisdictions and its ties of service, into
the modern bureaucratic state, with its centralized administration and
organized system of salaried functionaries subject to a central

The religious movement inaugurated by Luther met and was absorbed by
all these elements of change. It furnished them with a religious
_flag_, under cover of which they could work themselves out. This was
necessary in an age when the Christian theology was unquestioningly
accepted in one or another form by wellnigh all men, and hence entered
as a practical belief into their daily thoughts and lives. The
Lutheran Reformation, from its inception in 1517 down to the Peasants'
War of 1525, at once absorbed, and was absorbed by, all the
revolutionary elements of the time. Up to the last-mentioned date it
gathered revolutionary force year by year. But this was the turning

With the crushing of the peasants' revolt and the decisively
anti-popular attitude taken up by Luther, the religious movement
associated with him ceased any longer to have a revolutionary
character. It henceforth became definitely subservient to the new
interests of the wealthy and privileged classes, and as such
completely severed itself from the more extreme popular reforming

Up to this time, though by no means always approved by Luther himself
or his immediate followers, and in some cases even combated by them,
the latter were nevertheless not looked upon with disfavour by large
numbers of the rank and file of those who regarded Martin Luther as
their leader.

Nothing could exceed the violence of language with which Luther
himself attacked all who stood in his way. Not only the
ecclesiastical, but also the secular heads of Christendom came in for
the coarsest abuse; "swine" and "water-bladder" are not the strongest
epithets employed. But this was not all; in his _Treatise on Temporal
Authority and how far it should be Obeyed_ (published in 1523), whilst
professedly maintaining the thesis that the secular authority is a
Divine ordinance, Luther none the less expressly justifies resistance
to all human authority where its mandates are contrary to "the word of
God." At the same time, he denounces in his customary energetic
language the existing powers generally. "Thou shouldst know," he says,
"that since the beginning of the world a wise prince is truly a rare
bird, but a pious prince is still more rare." "They" (princes) "are
mostly the greatest fools or the greatest rogues on earth; therefore
must we at all times expect from them the worst, and little good."
Farther on, he proceeds: "The common man begetteth understanding, and
the plague of the princes worketh powerfully among the people and the
common man. He will not, he cannot, he purposeth not, longer to suffer
your tyranny and oppression. Dear princes and lords, know ye what to
do, for God will no longer endure it? The world is no more as of old
time, when ye hunted and drove the people as your quarry. But think ye
to carry on with much drawing of sword, look to it that one do not
come who shall bid ye sheath it, and that not in God's name!"

Again, in a pamphlet published the following year, 1524, relative to
the Reichstag of that year, Luther proclaims that the judgment of God
already awaits "the drunken and mad princes." He quotes the phrase:
"Deposuit potentes de sede" (Luke i. 52), and adds "that is your case,
dear lords, even now when ye see it not!" After an admonition to
subjects to refuse to go forth to war against the Turks, or to pay
taxes towards resisting them, who were ten times wiser and more godly
than German princes, the pamphlet concludes with the prayer: "May God
deliver us from ye all, and of His grace give us other rulers!"
Against such utterances as the above, the conventional exhortations to
Christian humility, non-resistance, and obedience to those in
authority, would naturally not weigh in a time of popular ferment. So,
until the momentous year 1525, it was not unnatural that,
notwithstanding his quarrel with Münzer and the Zwickau enthusiasts,
and with others whom he deemed to be going "too far," Luther should
have been regarded as in some sort the central figure of the
revolutionary movement, political and social, no less than religious.

But the great literary and agitatory forces during the period referred
to were of course either outside the Lutheran movement proper or at
most only on the fringe of it. A mass of broadsheets and pamphlets,
specimens of some of which have been given in a former volume (_German
Society at the Close of the Middle Ages_, pp. 114-28), poured from the
press during these years, all with the refrain that things had gone on
long enough, that the common man, be he peasant or townsman, could no
longer bear it. But even more than the revolutionary literature were
the wandering preachers effective in working up the agitation which
culminated in the Peasants' War of 1525. The latter comprised men of
all classes, from the impoverished knight, the poor priest, the
escaped monk, or the travelling scholar, to the peasant, the mercenary
soldier out of employment, the poor handicraftsman, of even the
beggar. Learned and simple, they wandered about from place to place,
in the market place of the town, in the common field of the village,
from one territory to another, preaching the gospel of discontent.
Their harangues were, as a rule, as much political as religious, and
the ground tone of them all was the social or economic misery of the
time, and the urgency of immediate action to bring about a change. As
in the literature, so in the discourses, Biblical phrases designed to
give force to the new teaching abounded. The more thorough-going of
these itinerant apostles openly aimed at nothing less than the
establishment of a new Christian Commonwealth, or, as they termed it,
"the Kingdom of God on Earth."


[1] We are here, of course, dealing more especially with Germany; but
substantially the same course was followed in the development of
municipalities in other parts of Europe.

[2] _Einleitung_, pp. 255, 256.

[3] Cf. Von Maurer's _Einleitung zur Geschichte der Mark-Verfassung_;
Gomme's _Village Communities_; Laveleye, _La Propriété Primitive_;
Stubbs's _Constitutional History_; also Maine's works.

[4] It should be remembered that Germany at this time was cut up into
feudal territorial divisions of all sizes, from the principality, or the
prince-bishopric, to the knightly manor. Every few miles, and sometimes
less, there was a fresh territory, a fresh lord, and a fresh



The "great man" theory of history, formerly everywhere prevalent, and
even now common among non-historical persons, has long regarded the
Reformation as the purely personal work of the Augustine monk who was
its central figure. The fallacy of this conception is particularly
striking in the case of the Reformation. Not only was it preceded by
numerous sporadic outbursts of religious revivalism which sometimes
took the shape of opposition to the dominant form of Christianity,
though it is true they generally shaded off into mere movements of
independent Catholicism within the Church; but there were in addition
at least two distinct religious movements which led up to it, while
much which, under the reformers of the sixteenth century, appears as a
distinct and separate theology, is traceable in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries in the mystical movement connected with the names
of Meister Eckhart and Tauler. Meister Eckhart, whose free treatment
of Christian doctrines, in order to bring them into consonance with
his mystical theology, had drawn him into conflict with the Papacy,
undoubtedly influenced Luther through his disciple, Tauler, and
especially through the book which proceeded from the latter's school,
the _Deutsche Theologie_. It is, however, in the much more important
movement, which originated with Wyclif and extended to Central Europe
through Huss, that we must look for the more obvious influences
determining the course of religious development in Germany.

The Wyclifite movement in England was less a doctrinal heterodoxy than
a revolt against the Papacy and the priestly hierarchy. Mere
theoretical speculations were seldom interfered with, but anything
which touched their material interests at once aroused the vigilance
of the clergy. It is noticeable that the diffusion of Lollardism, that
is of the ideas of Wyclif, if not the cause of, was at least followed
by the peasant rising under the leadership of John Ball, a connection
which is also visible in the Tziska revolt following the Hussite
movement, and the Peasants' War in Germany which came on the heels of
the Lutheran Reformation. How much Huss was directly influenced by the
teachings of Wyclif is clear. The works of the latter were widely
circulated throughout Europe; for one of the advantages of the custom
of writing in Latin, which was universal during the Middle Ages, was
that books of an important character were immediately current amongst
all scholars without having, as now, to wait upon the caprice and
ability of translators. Huss read Wyclif's works as the preparation
for his theological degree, and subsequently made them his text-books
when teaching at the University of Prague. After his treacherous
execution at Constance, and the events which followed thereupon in
Bohemia, a number of Hussite fugitives settled in Southern Germany,
carrying with them the seeds of the new doctrines. An anonymous
contemporary writer states that "to John Huss and his followers are to
be traced almost all those false principles concerning the power of
the spiritual and temporal authorities and the possession of earthly
goods and rights which before in Bohemia, and now with us, have called
forth revolt and rebellion, plunder, arson, and murder, and have
shaken to its foundations the whole commonwealth. The poison of these
false doctrines has been long flowing from Bohemia into Germany, and
will produce the same desolating consequences wherever it spreads."

The condition of the Catholic Church, against which the Reformation
movement generally was a protest, needs here to be made clear to the
reader. The beginning of clerical disintegration is distinctly visible
in the first half of the fourteenth century. The interdicts, as an
institution, had ceased to be respected, and the priesthood itself
began openly to sink itself in debauchery and to play fast and loose
with the rites of the Church. Indulgences for a hundred years were
readily granted for a consideration. The manufacture of relics became
an organized branch of industry; and festivals of fools and festivals
of asses were invented by the jovial priests themselves in travesty of
sacred mysteries, as a welcome relaxation from the monotony of
prescribed ecclesiastical ceremony. Pilgrimages increased in number
and frequency; new saints were created by the dozen; and the disbelief
of the clergy in the doctrines they professed was manifest even to the
most illiterate, whilst contempt for the ceremonies they practised was
openly displayed in the performance of their clerical functions. An
illustration of this is the joke of the priests related by Luther, who
were wont during the celebration of the Mass, when the worshippers
fondly imagined that the sacred formula of transubstantiation was
being repeated, to replace the words _Panis es et carnem fiebis_,
"Bread thou art and flesh thou shalt become," by _Panis es et panis
manebis_, "Bread thou art and bread thou shalt remain."

The scandals as regards clerical manners, growing, as they had been,
for many generations, reached their climax in the early part of the
sixteenth century. It was a common thing for priests to drive a
roaring trade as moneylenders, landlords of alehouses and gambling
dens, and even in some cases, brothel-keepers. Papal ukases had proved
ineffective to stem the current of clerical abuses. The regular clergy
evoked even more indignation than the secular. "Stinking cowls" was a
favourite epithet for the monks. Begging, cheating, shameless
ignorance, drunkenness, and debauchery, are alleged as being their
noted characteristics. One of the princes of the empire addresses a
prior of a convent largely patronized by aristocratic ladies as "Thou,
our common brother-in-law!" In some of the convents of Friesland,
promiscuous intercourse between the sexes was, it is said, quite
openly practised, the offspring being reared as monks and nuns. The
different orders competed with each other for the fame and wealth to
be obtained out of the public credulity. A fraud attempted by the
Dominicans at Bern, in 1506, _with the concurrence of the heads of the
order throughout Germany_, was one of the main causes of that city
adopting the Reformation.

In addition to the increasing burdens of investitures, annates, and
other Papal dues, the brunt of which the German people had directly or
indirectly to bear, special offence was given at the beginning of the
sixteenth century by the excessive exploitation of the practice of
indulgences by Leo X for the purpose of completing the cathedral of
St. Peter's at Rome. It was this, coming on the top of the exactions
already rendered necessary by the increasing luxury and debauchery of
the Papal Court and those of the other ecclesiastical dignitaries,
that directly led to the dramatic incidents with which the Lutheran
Reformation opened.

The remarkable personality with which the religious side of the
Reformation is pre-eminently associated was a child of his time, who
had passed through a variety of mental struggles, and had already
broken through the bonds of the old ecclesiasticism before that
turning-point in his career which is usually reckoned the opening of
the Reformation, to wit--the nailing of the theses on to the door of
the Schloss-Kirche in Wittenberg on the 31st of October, 1517. Martin
Luther, we must always bear in mind, however, was no Protestant in the
English Puritan sense of the word. It was not merely that he retained
much of what would be deemed by the old-fashioned English Protestant
"Romish error" in his doctrine, but his practical view of life showed
a reaction from the ascetic pretensions which he had seen bred nothing
but hypocrisy and the worst forms of sensual excess. It is, indeed,
doubtful if the man who sang the praises of "Wine, Women, and Song"
would have been deemed a fit representative in Parliament or elsewhere
by the British Nonconformist conscience of our day; or would be
acceptable in any capacity to the grocer-deacon of our provincial
towns, who, not content with being allowed to sand his sugar and
adulterate his tea unrebuked, would socially ostracise every one whose
conduct did not square with his conventional shibboleths. Martin
Luther was a child of his time also as a boon companion. The freedom
of his living in the years following his rupture with Rome was the
subject of severe animadversions on the part of the noble, but in this
respect narrow-minded, Thomas Münzer, who, in his open letter
addressed to the "Soft-living flesh of Wittenberg," scathingly
denounces what he deems his debauchery.

It does not enter into our province here to discuss at length the
religious aspects of the Reformation; but it is interesting to note
in passing the more than modern liberality of Luther's views with
respect to the marriage question and the celibacy of the clergy,
contrasted with the strong mediæval flavour of his belief in
witchcraft and sorcery. In his _De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiæ_
(1519) he expresses the view that if, for any cause, husband or wife
are prevented from having sexual intercourse they are justified, the
woman equally with the man, in seeking it elsewhere. He was opposed to
divorce, though he did not forbid it, and recommended that a man
should rather have a plurality of wives than that he should put away
any of them. Luther held strenuously the view that marriage was a
purely external contract for the purpose of sexual satisfaction, and
in no way entered into the spiritual life of the man. On this ground
he sees no objection in the so-called mixed marriages, which were, of
course, frowned upon by the Catholic Church. In his sermon on "Married
Life" he says: "Know therefore that marriage is an outward thing, like
any other worldly business. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk,
ride, buy, speak, and bargain with a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, or a
heretic, so may I also be and remain married to such an one, and I
care not one jot for the fool's laws which forbid it.... A heathen is
just as much man or woman, well and shapely made by God, as St. Peter,
St. Paul, or St. Lucia." Nor did he shrink from applying his views to
particular cases, as is instanced by his correspondence with Philip
von Hessen, whose constitution appears to have required more than one
wife. He here lays down explicitly the doctrine that polygamy and
concubinage are not forbidden to Christians, though, in his advice to
Philip, he adds the _caveat_ that he should keep the matter dark to
the end that offence might not be given. "For," says he, "it matters
not, provided one's conscience is right, what others say." In one of
his sermons on the Pentateuch[5] we find the words: "It is not
forbidden that a man have more than one wife. I would not forbid it
to-day, albeit I would not advise it.... Yet neither would I condemn
it." Other opinions on the nature of the sexual relation were equally
broad; for in one of his writings on monastic celibacy his words
plainly indicate his belief that chastity, no more than other fleshly
mortifications, was to be considered a divine ordinance for all men or
women. In an address to the clergy he says: "A woman not possessed of
high and rare grace can no more abstain from a man than from eating,
drinking, sleeping, or other natural function. Likewise a man cannot
abstain from a woman. The reason is that it is as deeply implanted in
our nature to breed children as it is to eat and drink."[6] The worthy
Janssen observes in a scandalized tone that Luther, as regards certain
matters relating to married life, "gave expression to principles
before unheard of in Christian Europe";[7] and the British
Nonconformist of to-day, if he reads these "immoral" opinions of the
hero of the Reformation, will be disposed to echo the sentiments of
the Ultramontane historian.

The relation of the Reformation to the "New Learning" was in Germany
not unlike that which existed in the other northern countries of
Europe, and notably in England. Whilst the hostility of the latter to
the mediæval Church was very marked, and it was hence disposed to
regard the religious Reformation as an ally, this had not proceeded
very far before the tendency of the Renaissance spirit was to side
with Catholicism against the new theology and dogma, as merely
destructive and hostile to culture. The men of the Humanist movement
were for the most part Free-thinkers, and it was with them that
free-thought first appeared in modern Europe. They therefore had
little sympathy with the narrow bigotry of religious reformers, and
preferred to remain in touch with the Church, whose then loose and
tolerant Catholicism gave freer play to intellectual speculations,
provided they steered clear of overt theological heterodoxy, than the
newer systems, which, taking theology _au grand sérieux_, tended to
regard profane art and learning as more or less superfluous, and spent
their whole time in theological wrangles. Nevertheless, there were not
wanting men who, influenced at first by the revival of learning, ended
by throwing themselves entirely into the Reformation movement, though
in these cases they were usually actuated rather by their hatred of
the Catholic hierarchy than by any positive religious sentiment.

Of such men Ulrich von Hutten, the descendant of an ancient and
influential knightly family, was a noteworthy example. After having
already acquired fame as the author of a series of skits in the new
Latin and other works of classical scholarship, being also well known
as the ardent supporter of Reuchlin in his dispute with the Church,
and as the friend and correspondent of the central Humanist figure of
the time, Erasmus, he watched with absorbing interest the movement
which Luther had inaugurated. Six months after the nailing of the
theses at Wittenberg, he writes enthusiastically to a friend
respecting the growing ferment in ecclesiastical matters, evidently
regarding the new movement as a Kilkenny-cat fight. "The leaders," he
says, "are bold and hot, full of courage and zeal. Now they shout and
cheer, now they lament and bewail, as loud as they can. They have
lately set themselves to write; the printers are getting enough to do.
Propositions, corollaries, conclusions, and articles are being sold.
For this alone I hope they will mutually destroy each other." "A few
days ago a monk was telling me what was going on in Saxony, to which I
replied: 'Devour each other in order that ye in turn may be devoured
(_sic_).' Pray Heaven that our enemies may fight each other to the
bitter end, and by their obstinacy extinguish each other."

Thus it will be seen that Hutten regarded the Reformation in its
earlier stages as merely a monkish squabble, and failed to see the
tremendous upheaval of all the old landmarks of ecclesiastical
domination which was immanent in it. So soon, however, as he perceived
its real significance, he threw himself wholly into the movement. It
must not be forgotten, moreover, that, although Hutten's zeal for
Humanism made him welcome any attempt to overthrow the power of the
clergy and the monks, he had also an eminently political motive for
his action in what was, in some respects, the main object of his life,
viz. to rescue the "knighthood," or smaller nobility, from having
their independence crushed out by the growing powers of the princes of
the empire. Probably more than one-third of the manors were held by
ecclesiastical dignitaries, so that anything which threatened their
possessions and privileges seemed to strike a blow at the very
foundations of the Imperial system. Hutten hoped that the new
doctrines would set the princes by the ears all round; and that then,
by allying themselves with the reforming party, the knighthood might
succeed in retaining the privileges which still remained to them, but
were rapidly slipping away, and might even regain some of those which
had been already lost. It was not till later, however, that Hutten saw
matters in this light. He was, at the time the above letter was
written, in the service of the Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, the
leading favourer of the New Learning amongst the prince-prelates, and
it was mainly from the Humanist standpoint that he regarded the
beginnings of the Reformation. After leaving the service of the
archbishop he struck up a personal friendship with Luther, instigated
thereto by his political chief, Franz von Sickingen, the leader of the
knighthood, from whom he probably received the first intimation of the
importance of the new movement to their common cause.

When, in 1520, the young Emperor, Charles V, was crowned at Aachen,
Luther's party, as well as the knighthood, expected that considerable
changes would result in a sense favourable to their position from the
presumed pliability of the new head of the empire. His youth, it was
supposed, would make him more sympathetic to the newer spirit which
was rapidly developing itself; and it is true that about the time of
his election Charles had shown a transient favour to the "recalcitrant
monk." It would appear, however, that this was only for the purpose of
frightening the Pope into abandoning his declared intention of
abolishing the Inquisition in Spain, then regarded as one of the
mainstays of the royal power, and still more to exercise pressure upon
him, in order that he should facilitate Charles's designs on the
Milanese territory. Once these objects were attained, he was just as
ready to oblige the Pope by suppressing the new anti-Papal movement as
he might possibly otherwise have been to have favoured it with a view
to humbling the only serious rival to his dominion in the empire.

Immediately after his coronation he proceeded to Cologne, and convoked
by Imperial edict a Reichstag at Worms for the following 27th of
January, 1521. The proceedings of this famous Reichstag have been
unfortunately so identified with the edict against Luther that the
other important matters which were there discussed have almost fallen
into oblivion. At least two other questions were dealt with, however,
which are significant of the changes that were then taking place. The
first was the rehabilitation and strengthening of the Imperial
Governing Council (_Reichsregiment_), whose functions under Maximilian
had been little more than nominal. There was at first a feeling
amongst the States in favour of transferring all authority to it, even
during the residence of the Emperor in the empire; and in the end,
while having granted to it complete power during his absence, it
practically retained very much of this power when he was present. In
constitution it was very similar to the French "Parliaments," and,
like them, was principally composed of learned jurists, four being
elected by the Emperor and the remainder by the estates. The character
and the great powers of this council, extending even to ecclesiastical
matters during the ensuing years, undoubtedly did much to hasten on
the substitution of the civil law for the older customary or common
law, a matter which we shall consider more in detail later on. The
financial condition of the empire was also considered; and it here
first became evident that the dislocation of economic conditions,
which had begun with the century, would render an enormously increased
taxation necessary to maintain the Imperial authority, amounting to
five times as much as had previously been required.

It was only after these secular affairs of the empire had been
disposed of that the deliberations of the Reichstag on ecclesiastical
matters were opened by the indictment of Luther in a long speech by
Aleander, one of the papal nuncios, in introducing the Pope's letter.
In spite of the efforts of his friends, Luther was not permitted to be
present at the beginning of the proceedings; but subsequently he was
sent for by the Emperor, in order that he might state his case. His
journey to Worms was one long triumph, especially at Erfurt, where he
was received with enthusiasm by the Humanists as the enemy of the
Papacy. But his presence in the Reichstag was unavailing, and the
proceedings resulted in his being placed under the ban of the empire.
The safe-conduct of the Emperor was, however, in his case respected;
and in spite of the fears of his friends that a like fate might
befall him as had befallen Huss after the Council of Constance, he was
allowed to depart unmolested.

On his way to Wittenberg Luther was seized, by arrangement with his
supporter, the Kurfürst of Saxony, and conveyed in safety to the
Castle of Wartburg, in Thüringen, a report in the meantime being
industriously circulated by certain of his adherents, with a view of
arousing popular feeling, that he had been arrested by order of the
Emperor and was being tortured. In this way he was secured from all
danger for the time being, and it was during his subsequent stay that
he laid the foundations of the literary language of Germany.

Says a contemporary writer,[8] an eye-witness of what went on at Worms
during the sitting of the Reichstag: "All is disorder and confusion.
Seldom a night doth pass but that three or four persons be slain. The
Emperor hath installed a provost, who hath drowned, hanged, and
murdered over a hundred men." He proceeds: "Stabbing, whoring,
flesh-eating (it was in Lent) ... altogether there is an orgie worthy
of the Venusberg." He further states that many gentlemen and other
visitors had drunk themselves to death on the strong Rhenish wine.
Aleander was in danger of being murdered by the Lutheran populace,
instigated thereto by Hutten's inflammatory letters from the
neighbouring Castle of Ebernburg, in which Franz von Sickingen had
given him a refuge. The fiery Humanist wrote to Aleander himself,
saying that he would leave no stone unturned "till thou who earnest
hither full of wrath, madness, crime, and treachery shalt be carried
hence a lifeless corpse." Aleander naturally felt exceedingly
uncomfortable, and other supporters of the Papal party were not less
disturbed at the threats which seemed in a fair way of being carried
out. The Emperor himself was without adequate means of withstanding a
popular revolt should it occur. He had never been so low in cash or in
men as at that moment. On the other hand, Sickingen, to whom he owed
money, and who was the only man who could have saved the situation
under the circumstances, had matters come to blows, was almost overtly
on the side of the Lutherans; while the whole body of the impoverished
knighthood were only awaiting a favourable opportunity to overthrow
the power of the magnates, secular and ecclesiastic, with Sickingen as
a leader. Such was the state of affairs at the beginning of the year

The ban placed upon Luther by the Reichstag marks the date of the
complete rupture between the Reforming party and the old Church.
Henceforward, many Humanist and Humanistically influenced persons who
had supported him withdrew from the movement and swelled the ranks of
the Conservatives. Foremost amongst these were Pirckheimer, the
wealthy merchant and scholar of Nürnberg, and many others, who dreaded
lest the attack on ecclesiastical property and authority should, as
indeed was the case, issue in a general attack on all property and
authority. Thomas Murner, also, who was the type of the "moderate" of
the situation, while professing to disapprove of the abuses of the
Church, declared that Luther's manner of agitation could only lead to
the destruction of all order, civil no less than ecclesiastical. The
two parties were now clearly defined, and the points at issue were
plainly irreconcilable with one another or involved irreconcilable

The printing-press now for the first time appeared as the vehicle for
popular literature; the art of the bard gave place to the art of the
typographer, and the art of the preacher saw confronting it a
formidable rival in that of the pamphleteer. Similarly in the French
Revolution, modern journalism, till then unimportant and sporadic,
received its first great development, and began seriously to displace
alike the preacher, the pamphlet, and the broadside. The flood of
theological disquisitions, satires, dialogues, sermons, which now
poured from every press in Germany, overflowed into all classes of
society. These writings are so characteristic of the time that it is
worth while devoting a few pages to their consideration, the more
especially because it will afford us the opportunity for considering
other changes in that spirit of the age, partly diseased growths of
decaying mediævalism and partly the beginnings of the modern critical
spirit, which also find expression in the literature of the
Reformation period.


[5] _Sämmtliche Werke_, vol. xxxiii. pp. 322-4.

[6] Quoted in Janssen, _Ein Zweites Wort an meine Kritiker_ 1883, p. 94.

[7] _Geschichte des Deutschen Volkes_, vol. ii. p. 115.

[8] Quoted in Janssen, bk. ii. 162.



In accordance with the conventional view the Reichstag at Worms was a
landmark in the history of the Reformation. This is, however, only
true as regards the political side of the movement. The popular
feeling was really quite continuous, at least from 1517 to 1525. With
the latter year and the collapse of the peasant revolt a change is
noticeable. In 1525 the Reformation, as a great upstirring of the
popular mind of Central Europe, in contradistinction to its character
as an academic and purely political movement, reached high-water mark,
and may almost be said to have exhausted itself. Until the latter year
it was purely a revolutionary movement, attracting to itself all the
disruptive elements of its time. Later, the reactionary possibilities
within it declared themselves. The emancipation from the thraldom of
the Catholic hierarchy and its Papal head, it was soon found, meant
not emancipation from the arbitrary tyranny of the new political and
centralizing authorities then springing up, but, on the contrary,
rather their consecration. The ultimate outcome, in fact, of the whole
business was, as we shall see later on, the inculcation of the
non-resistance theory as regards the civil power, and the clearing of
the way for its extremest expression in the doctrine of the Divine
Right of Kings, a theory utterly alien to the belief and practice of
the Mediæval Church.

The Reichstag of Worms, by cutting off all possibility of
reconciliation, rather gave further edge to the popular revolutionary
side of the movement than otherwise. The whole progress of the change
in public feeling is plainly traceable in the mass of ephemeral
literature that has come down to us from this period, broadsides,
pamphlets, satires, folk-songs, and the rest. The anonymous literature
to which we more especially refer is distinguished by its coarse
brutality and humour, even in the writings of the Reformers, which
were themselves in no case remarkable for the suavity of their

Hutten, in some of his later vernacular poems, approaches the
character of the less-cultured broadside literature. To the critical
mind it is somewhat amusing to note the enthusiasm with which the
modern Dissenting and Puritan class contemplates the period of which
we are writing--an enthusiasm that would probably be effectively
damped if the laudators of the Reformation knew the real character of
the movement and of its principal actors.

The first attacks made by the broadside literature were naturally
directed against the simony and benefice-grabbing of the clergy, a
characteristic of the priestly office that has always powerfully
appealed to the popular mind. Thus the "Courtisan and Benefice-eater"
attacks the parasite of the Roman Court, who absorbs ecclesiastical
revenues wholesale, putting in perfunctory _locum tenens_ on the
cheap, and begins:--

    I'm fairly called a Simonist and eke a Courtisan,
    And here to every peasant and every common man
    My knavery will very well appear.
    I called and cried to all who'd give me ear,
    To nobleman and knight and all above me:
    "Behold me! And ye'll find I'll truly love ye."

In another we read:--

    The Paternoster teaches well
    How one for another his prayers should tell,
    Thro' brotherly love and not for gold,
    And good those same prayers God doth hold.
    So too saith Holy Paul right clearly,
    Each shall his brother's load bear dearly.

But now, it declares, all that is changed. Now we are being taught
just the opposite of God's teachings:--

    Such doctrine hath the priests increased,
    Whom men as masters now must feast,
    'Fore all the crowd of Simonists,
    Whose waxing number no man wists,
    The towns and thorps seem full of them,
    And in all lands they're seen with shame.
    Their violence and knavery
    Leave not a church or living free.

A prose pamphlet, apparently published about the summer of 1520,
shortly after Luther's ex-communication, was the so-called "Wolf Song"
(_Wolf-gesang_), which paints the enemies of Luther as wolves. It
begins with a screed on the creation and fall of Adam, and a
dissertation on the dogma of the Redemption; and then proceeds: "As
one might say, dear brother, instruct me, for there is now in our
times so great commotion in faith come upon us. There is one in Saxony
who is called Luther, of whom many pious and honest folk tell how that
he doth write so consolingly the good evangelical (_evangelische_)
truth. But again I hear that the Pope and the cardinals at Rome have
put him under the ban as a heretic; and certain of our own preachers,
too, scold him from their pulpits as a knave, a misleader, and a
heretic. I am utterly confounded, and know not where to turn; albeit
my reason and heart do speak to me even as Luther writeth. But yet
again it bethinks me that when the Pope, the cardinal, the bishop, the
doctor, the monk, and the priest, for the greater part are against
him, and so that all save the common men and a few gentlemen, doctors,
councillors, and knights, are his adversaries, what shall I do?" "For
answer, dear friend, get thee back and search the Scriptures, and thou
shalt find that so it hath gone with all the holy prophets even as it
now fareth with Doctor Martin Luther, who is in truth a godly
Christian and manly heart and only true Pope and Apostle, when he the
true office of the Apostles publicly fulfilleth.... If the godly man
Luther were pleasing to the world, that were indeed a true sign that
his doctrine were not from God; for the word of God is a fiery sword,
a hammer that breaketh in pieces the rocks, and not a fox's tail or a
reed that may be bent according to our pleasure." Seventeen noxious
qualities of the wolf are adduced--his ravenousness, his cunning, his
falseness, his cowardice, his thirst for robbery, amongst others. The
Popes, the cardinals, and the bishops are compared to the wolves in
all their attributes: "The greater his pomp and splendour, the more
shouldst thou beware of such an one; for he is a wolf that cometh in
the shape of a good shepherd's dog. Beware! it is against the custom
of Christ and His Apostles." It is again but the song of the wolves
when they claim to mix themselves with worldly affairs and maintain
the temporal supremacy. The greediness of the wolf is discernible in
the means adopted to get money for the building of St. Peter's. The
interlocutor is warned against giving to mendicant priests and monks.

We have given this as a specimen of the almost purely theological
pamphlet; although, as will have been evident, even this is directly
connected with the material abuses from which the people were
suffering. Another pamphlet of about the same date deals with usury,
the burden of which had been greatly increased by the growth of the
new commercial combinations already referred to in the Introduction,
which combinations Dr. Eck had been defending at Bologna on
theological grounds, in order to curry favour with the Augsburg
merchant-prince, Fuggerschwatz.[9] It is called "Concerning Dues.
Hither comes a poor peasant to a rich citizen. A priest comes also
thereby, and then a monk. Full pleasant to read." A peasant visits a
burgher when he is counting money, and asks him where he gets it all
from. "My dear peasant," says the townsman, "thou askest me who gave
me this money. I will tell thee. There cometh hither a peasant, and
beggeth me to lend him ten or twenty gulden. Thereupon I ask him an he
possesseth not a goodly meadow or corn-field. 'Yea! good sir!' saith
he, 'I have indeed a good meadow and a good corn-field. The twain are
worth a hundred gulden.' Then say I to him: 'Good, my friend, wilt
thou pledge me thy holding? and an thou givest me one gulden of thy
money every year I will lend thee twenty gulden now.' Then is the
peasant right glad, and saith he: 'Willingly will I pledge it thee.'
'I will warn thee,' say I, 'that an thou furnishest not the one gulden
of money each year, I will take thy holding for my own having.'
Therewith is the peasant well content, and writeth him down
accordingly. I lend him the money; he payeth me one year, or may be
twain, the due; thereafter can he no longer furnish it, and thereupon
I take the holding, and drive away the peasant therefrom. Thus I get
the holding and the money. The same things do I with handicraftsmen.
Hath he a good house? He pledgeth that house until I bring it behind
me. Therewith gain I much in goods and money, and thus do I pass my
days." "I thought," rejoined the peasant, "that 'twere only the Jew
who did usury, but I hear that ye also ply that trade." The burgher
answers that interest is not usury, to which the peasant replies that
interest (_Gült_) is only a "subtle name." The burgher then quotes
Scripture, as commanding men to help one another. The peasant readily
answers that in doing this they have no right to get advantage from
the assistance they proffer. "Thou art a good fellow!" says the
townsman. "If I take no money for the money that I lend, how shall I
then increase my hoard?" The peasant then reproaches him that he sees
well that his object in life is to wax fat on the substance of others;
"But I tell thee, indeed," he says, "that it is a great and heavy
sin." Whereupon his opponent waxes wroth, and will have nothing more
to do with him, threatening to kick him out in the name of a thousand
devils; but the peasant returns to the charge, and expresses his
opinion that rich men do not willingly hear the truth. A priest now
enters, and to him the townsman explains the dispute. "Dear peasant,"
says the priest, "wherefore camest thou hither, that thou shouldst
make of a due[10] usury? May not a man buy with his money what he
will?" But the peasant stands by his previous assertion, demanding
how anything can be considered as bought which is only a pledge. "We
priests," replies the ecclesiastic, "must perforce lend moneys for
dues, since thereby we get our living"; to which, after sundry
ejaculations of surprise, the peasant retorts: "Who gave to you the
power? I well hear ye have another God than we poor people. We have
our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath forbidden such money-lending for
gain." Hence it comes, he goes on, that land is no longer free; to
attempt to whitewash usury under the name of due or interest, he says,
is just the same as if one were to call a child christened Friedrich
or Hansel, Fritz or Hans, and then maintain it was no longer the same
child. They require no more Jews, he says, since the Christians have
taken their business in hand. The townsman is once more about to turn
the peasant out of his house when a monk enters. He then lays the
matter before the new-comer, who promises to talk the peasant over
with soft words; for, says he, there is nothing accomplished with
vainglory. He thereupon takes him aside and explains it to him by the
illustration of a merchant whose gain on the wares he sells is not
called usury, and argues that therefore other forms of gain in
business should not be described by this odious name. But the peasant
will have none of this comparison; for the merchant, he says, needs
to incur much risk in order to gain and traffic with his wares; while
money-lending on security is, on the other hand, without risk or
labour, and is a treacherous mode of cheating. Finding that they can
make nothing of the obstinate countryman, the others leave him; but
he, as a parting shot, exclaims: "Ah, well-a-day! I would to have
talked with thee at first, but it is now ended. Farewell, gracious
sir, and my other kind sirs. I, poor little peasant, I go my way.
Farewell, farewell, due remains usury for ever more. Yea, yea! due,

The above specimens of the popular writing of the time must suffice.
But for the reader who wishes to further study this literature we give
the titles, which sufficiently indicate their contents, of a selection
of other similar pamphlets and broadsheets: "A New Epistle from the
Evil Clergy sent to their righteous Lord, with an answer from their
Lord. Most merry to read" (1521). "A Great Prize which the Prince of
Hell, hight Lucifer, now offereth to the Clergy, to the Pope, Bishops,
Cardinals, and their like" (1521). "A Written Call, made by the Prince
of Hell to his dear devoted, of all and every condition in his
kingdom" (1521). "Dialogue or Converse of the Apostolicum, Angelica,
and other spices of the Druggist, anent Dr. Martin Luther and his
disciples" (1521). "A Very Pleasant Dialogue and Remonstrance from the
Sheriff of Gaissdorf and his pupil against the pastor of the same and
his assistant" (1521). The popularity of "Karsthans," an anonymous
tract, amongst the people is illustrated by the publication and wide
distribution of a new "Karsthans" a few months later, in which it is
sought to show that the knighthood should make common cause with the
peasants, the _dramatis personæ_ being Karsthans and Franz von
Sickingen. Referring to the same subject we find a "Dialogue which
Franciscus von Sickingen held fore heaven's gate with St. Peter and
the Knights of St. George before he was let in." This was published in
1523, almost immediately after the death of Sickingen. "A Talk between
a Nobleman, a Monk, and a Courtier" (1523). "A Talk between a Fox and
a Wolf" (1523). "A Pleasant Dialogue between Dr. Martin Luther and the
cunning Messenger from Hell" (1523). "A Conversation of the Pope with
his Cardinals of how it goeth with him, and how he may destroy the
Word of God. Let every man very well note" (1523). "A Christian and
Merry Talk, that it is more pleasing to God and more wholesome for men
to come out of the monasteries and to marry, than to tarry therein
and to burn; which talk is not with human folly and the false
teachings thereof, but is founded alone in the holy, divine, biblical,
and evangelical Scripture" (1524). "A Pleasant Dialogue of a Peasant
with a Monk that he should cast his Cowl from him. Merry and fair to
read" (1525).

The above is only a selection taken haphazard from the mass of
fugitive literature which the early years of the Reformation brought
forth. In spite of a certain rough but not unattractive directness of
diction, a prolonged reading of them is very tedious, as will have
been sufficiently seen from the extracts we have given. Their humour
is of a particularly juvenile and obvious character, and consists
almost entirely in the childish device of clothing the personages with
ridiculous but non-essential attributes, or in placing them in
grotesque but pointless situations. Of the more subtle humour, which
consists in the discovery of real but hidden incongruities, and the
perception of what is innately absurd, there is no trace. The obvious
abuses of the time are satirized in this way _ad nauseam_. The
rapacity of the clergy in general, the idleness and lasciviousness of
the monks, the pomp and luxury of the prince-prelates, the
inconsistencies of Church traditions and practices with Scripture,
with which they could now be compared, since it was everywhere
circulated in the vulgar tongue, form their never-ending theme. They
reveal to the reader a state of things that strikes one none the less
in English literature of the period--the intense interest of all
classes in theological matters. It shows us how they looked at all
things through a theological lens. Although we have left this phase of
popular thought so recently behind us, we can even now scarcely
imagine ourselves back into it. The idea of ordinary men, or of the
vast majority, holding their religion as anything else than a very
pious opinion absolutely unconnected with their daily life, public or
private, has already become almost inconceivable to us. In all the
writings of the time, the theological interest is in the forefront.
The economic and social groundwork only casually reveals itself. This
it is that makes the reading of the sixteenth-century polemics so
insufferably jejune and dreary. They bring before us the ghosts of
controversies in which most men have ceased to take any part, albeit
they have not been dead and forgotten long enough to have acquired a
revived antiquarian interest.

The great bombshell which Luther cast forth on June 24, 1520, in his
address to the German nobility,[11] indeed, contains strong appeals to
the economical and political necessities of Germany, and therein we
see the veil torn from the half-unconscious motives that lay behind
the theological mask; but, as already said, in the popular literature,
with a few exceptions, the theological controversy rules undisputed.

The noticeable feature of all this irruption of the _cacoethes
scribendi_ was the direct appeal to the Bible for the settlement not
only of strictly theological controversies but of points of social and
political ethics also. This practice, which even to the modern
Protestant seems insipid and played out after three centuries and a
half of wear, had at that time the to us inconceivable charm of
novelty; and the perusal of the literature and controversies of the
time shows that men used it with all the delight of a child with a new
toy, and seemed never tired of the game of searching out texts to
justify their position. The diffusion of the whole Bible in the
vernacular, itself a consequence of the rebellion against priestly
tradition and the authority of the Fathers, intensified the revolt by
making the pastime possible to all ranks of society.


[9] See Appendix C.

[10] We use the word "due" here for the German word _Gült_. The
corresponding English of the time does not make any distinction between
_Gült_ or interest, and _Wucher_ or usury.

[11] _An der Christlichen Adel deutscher Nation._



Now in the hands of all men, the Bible was not made the basis of
doctrinal opinions alone. It lent its support to many of the popular
superstitions of the time, and in addition it served as the
starting-point for new superstitions and for new developments of the
older ones. The Pan-dæmonism of the New Testament, with its
wonder-workings by devilish agencies, its exorcisms of evil spirits
and the like, could not fail to have a deep effect on the popular
mind. The authority that the book believed to be divinely inspired
necessarily lent to such beliefs gave a vividness to the popular
conception of the devil and his angels, which is apparent throughout
the whole movement of the Reformation, and not least in the utterances
of the great Luther himself. Indeed, with the Reformation there comes
a complete change over the popular conception of the devil and
diabolical influences.

It is true that the judicial pursuit of witches and witchcraft, in
the earlier Middle Ages only a sporadic incident, received a great
impulse from the Bull of Pope Innocent VIII (Dec. 5, 1484), entitled
_Summis Desideruntes_, to which has been given the title of _Malleus
Maleficorum_, or _The Hammer of Sorcerers_, directed against the
practice of witchcraft; but it was especially amongst the men of the
New Spirit that the belief in the prevalence of compacts with the
devil, and the necessity for suppressing them, took root, and led to
the horrible persecutions that distinguished the "Reformed" Churches
on the whole even more than the Catholic.

Luther himself had a vivid belief, tinging all his views and actions,
in the ubiquity of the devil and his myrmidons. "The devils," says he,
"are near us, and do cunningly contrive every moment without ceasing
against our life, our salvation, and our blessedness.... In woods,
waters, and wastes, and in damp, marshy places, there are many devils
that seek to harm men. In the black and thick clouds, too, there are
some that make storms, hail, lightning, and thunder, that poison the
air and the pastures. When such things happen, the philosophers and
the physicians ascribe them to the stars, and show I know not what
causes for such misfortunes and plagues." Luther relates numerous
instances of personal encounters that he himself had had with the
devil. A nobleman invited him, with other learned men from the
University of Wittenberg, to take part in a hare hunt. A large, fine
hare and a fox crossed the path. The nobleman, mounted on a strong,
healthy steed, dashed after them, when, suddenly, his horse fell dead
beneath him, and the fox and the hare flew up in the air and vanished.
"For," says Luther, "they were devilish spectres."

Again, on another occasion, he was at Eisleben on the occasion of
another hare-hunt, when the nobleman succeeded in killing eight hares,
which were, on their return home, duly hung up for the next day's
meal. On the following morning, horses' heads were found in their
place. "In mines," says Luther, "the devil oftentimes deceives men
with a false appearance of gold." All disease and all misfortune were
the direct work of the devil; God, who was all good, could not produce
either. Luther gives a long history of how he was called to a parish
priest, who complained of the devil's having created a disturbance in
his house by throwing the pots and pans about, and so forth, and of
how he advised the priest to exorcise the fiend by invoking his own
authority as a pastor of the Church.

At the Wartburg, Luther complained of having been very much troubled
by the Satanic arts. When he was at work upon his translation of the
Bible, or upon his sermons, or engaged in his devotions, the devil was
always making disturbances on the stairs or in the room. One day,
after a hard spell of study, he lay down to sleep in his bed, when the
devil began pelting him with hazel-nuts, a sack of which had been
brought to him a few hours before by an attendant. He invoked,
however, the name of Christ, and lay down again in bed. There were
other more curious and more doubtful recipes for driving away Satan
and his emissaries. Luther is never tired of urging that contemptuous
treatment and rude chaff are among the most efficacious methods.

There was, he relates, a poor soothsayer, to whom the devil came in
visible form, and offered great wealth provided that he would deny
Christ and never more do penance. The devil provided him with a
crystal, by which he could foretell events, and thus become rich. This
he did; but Nemesis awaited him, for the devil deceived him one day,
and caused him to denounce certain innocent persons as thieves. In
consequence, he was thrown into prison, where he revealed the compact
that he had made, and called for a confessor. The two chief forms in
which the devil appeared were, according to Luther, those of a snake
and a sheep. He further goes into the question of the population of
devils in different countries. On the top of the Pilatus at Luzern, he
says, is a black pond, which is one of the devil's favourite abodes.
In Luther's own country there is also a high mountain, the
Poltersberg, with a similar pond. When a stone is thrown into this
pond, a great tempest arises, which often devastates the whole
neighbourhood. He also alleges Prussia to be full of evil spirits

Devilish changelings, Luther said, were often placed by Satan in the
cradles of human children. "Some maids he often plunges into the
water, and keeps them with him until they have borne a child." These
children are placed in the beds of mortals, and the true children are
taken out and hurried away. "But," he adds, "such changelings are said
not to live more than to the eighteenth or nineteenth year." As a
practical application of this, it may be mentioned that Luther advised
the drowning of a certain child of twelve years old, on the ground of
its being a devil's changeling. Somnambulism is, with Luther, the
result of diabolical agency. "Formerly," says he, "the Papists, being
superstitious people, alleged that persons thus afflicted had not been
properly baptized, or had been baptized by a drunken priest." The
irony of the reference to superstition, considering the "great
reformer's" own position, will not be lost upon the reader.

Thus, not only is the devil the cause of pestilence, but he is also
the immediate agent of nightmare and of nightsweats. At Mölburg in
Thüringen, near Erfurt, a piper, who was accustomed to pipe at
weddings, complained to his priest that the devil had threatened to
carry him away and destroy him, on the ground of a practical joke
played upon some companions, to wit, for having mixed horse-dung with
their wine at a drinking bout. The priest consoled him with many
passages of Scripture anent the devil and his ways, with the result
that the piper expressed himself satisfied as regarded the welfare of
his soul, but apprehensive as regarded that of his body, which was, he
asserted, hopelessly the prey of the devil. In consequence of this, he
insisted on partaking of the Sacrament. The devil had indicated to him
when he was going to be fetched, and watchers were accordingly placed
in his room, who sat in their armour and with their weapons, and read
the Bible to him. Finally, one Saturday at midnight, a violent storm
arose, that blew out the lights in the room, and hurled the luckless
victim out of a narrow window into the street. The sound of fighting
and of armed men was heard, but the piper had disappeared. The next
morning he was found in a neighbouring ditch, with his arms stretched
out in the form of a cross, dead and coal-black. Luther vouches for
the truth of this story, which he alleges to have been told him by a
parish priest of Gotha, who had himself heard it from the parish
priest of Mölburg, where the event was said to have taken place.

Amongst the numerous anecdotes of a supernatural character told by
"Dr. Martin" is one of a "Poltergeist," or "Robin Goodfellow," who was
exorcised by two monks from the guest-chamber of an inn, and who
offered his services to them in the monastery. They gave him a corner
in the kitchen. The serving-boy used to torment him by throwing dirty
water over him. After unavailing protests, the spirit hung the boy up
to a beam, but let him down again before serious harm resulted. Luther
states that this "brownie" was well known by sight in the neighbouring
town (the name of which he does not give). But by far the larger
number of his stories, which, be it observed, are warranted as
ordinary occurrences, as to the possibility of which there was no
question, are coloured by that more sinister side of supernaturalism
so much emphasised by the new theology.

The mediæval devil was, for the most part, himself little more than a
prankish Rübezahl, or Robin Goodfellow; the new Satan of the
Reformers was, in very deed, an arch-fiend, the enemy of the human
race, with whom no truce or parley might be held. The old folklore
belief in _incubi_ and _succubi_ as the parents of changelings is
brought into connection with the theory of direct diabolic begettal.
Thus Luther relates how Friedrich, the Elector of Saxony, told him of
a noble family that had sprung from a _succubus_: "Just," says he, "as
the Melusina at Luxembourg was also such a _succubus_, or devil." In
the case referred to, the _succubus_ assumed the shape of the man's
dead wife, and lived with him and bore him children, until, one day,
he swore at her, when she vanished, leaving only her clothes behind.
After giving it as his opinion that all such beings and their
offspring are wiles of the devil, he proceeds: "It is truly a grievous
thing that the devil can so plague men that he begetteth children in
their likeness. It is even so with the nixies in the water, that lure
a man therein, in the shape of wife or maid, with whom he doth dally
and begetteth offspring of them." The change whereby the beings of the
old naïve folklore are transformed into the devil or his agents is
significant of that darker side of the new theology, which was
destined to issue in those horrors of the witchcraft-mania that
reached their height at the beginning of the following century.

One more story of a "changeling" before we leave the subject. Luther
gives us the following as having come to his knowledge near
Halberstadt, in Saxony. A peasant had a baby, who sucked out its
mother and five nurses, besides eating a great deal. Concluding that
it was a changeling, the peasant sought the advice of his neighbours,
who suggested that he should take it on a pilgrimage to a neighbouring
shrine of the Mother of God. While he was crossing a brook on the way
an impish voice from under the water called out to the infant, whom he
was carrying in a basket. The brat answered from within the basket,
"Ho, ho!" and the peasant was unspeakably shocked. When the voice from
the water proceeded to ask the child what it was after, and received
the answer from the hitherto inarticulate babe that it was going to be
laid on the shrine of the Mother of God, to the end that it might
prosper, the peasant could stand it no longer, and flung basket and
baby into the brook. The changeling and the little devil played for a
few moments with each other, rolling over and over, and crying, "Ho,
ho, ho!" and then they disappeared together. Luther says that these
devilish brats may be generally known by their eating and drinking too
much, and especially by their exhausting their mother's milk, but they
may not develop any certain signs of their true parentage until
eighteen or nineteen years old. The Princess of Anhalt had a child
which Luther imagined to be a changeling, and he therefore advised its
being drowned, alleging that such creatures were only lumps of flesh
animated by the devil or his angels. Some one spoke of a monster which
infested the Netherlands, and which went about smelling at people like
a dog, and whoever it smelt died. But those that were smelt did not
see it, albeit the bystanders did. The people had recourse to vigils
and masses. Luther improved the occasion to protest against the
"superstition" of masses for the dead, and to insist upon his
favourite dogma of faith as the true defence against assaults of the

Among the numerous stories of Satanic compacts, we are told of a monk
who ate up a load of hay, of a debtor who bit off the leg of his
Hebrew creditor and ran off to avoid payment, and of a woman who
bewitched her husband so that he vomited lizards. Luther observes,
with especial reference to this last case, that lawyers and judges
were far too pedantic with their witnesses and with their evidence;
that the devil hardens his clients against torture, and that the
refusal to confess under torture ought to be of itself sufficient
proof of dealings with the Prince of Darkness. "Towards such," says
he, "we would show no mercy; I would burn them myself." Black magic or
witchcraft he proceeds to characterize as the greatest sin a human
being can be guilty of, as, in fact, high treason against God
Himself--_crimen læsæ majestatis divinæ_.

The conversation closes with a story of how Maximilian's father, the
Emperor Friedrich, who seems to have obtained a reputation for magic
arts, invited a well-known magician to a banquet, and on his arrival
fixed claws on his hands and hoofs on his feet by his cunning. His
guest, being ashamed, tried to hide the claws under the table as long
as he could, but finally he had to show them, to his great
discomfiture. But he determined to have his revenge, and asked his
host whether he would permit him to give proofs of his own skill. The
Emperor assenting, there at once arose a great noise outside the
window. Friedrich sprang up from the table, and leaned out of the
casement to see what was the matter. Immediately an enormous pair of
stag's horns appeared on his head, so that he could not draw it back.
Finding the state of the case, the Emperor exclaimed: "Rid me of them
again! Thou hast won!" Luther's comment on this was that he was always
glad to see one devil getting the better of another, as it showed
that some were stronger than others.

All this belongs, roughly speaking, to the side of the matter which
regards popular theology; but there is another side which is connected
more especially with the New Learning. This other school, which sought
to bring the somewhat elastic elements of the magical theory of the
universe into the semblance of a systematic whole, is associated with
such names as those of Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, and the Abbot
von Trittenheim. The fame of the first-named was so great throughout
Germany that when he visited any town the occasion was looked upon as
an event of exceeding importance.[12] Paracelsus fully shared in the
beliefs of his age, in spite of his brilliant insights on certain
occasions. What his science was like may be imagined when we learn
that he seriously speaks of animals who conceive through the mouth of
basilisks whose glance is deadly, of petrified storks changed into
snakes, of the stillborn young of the lion which are afterwards
brought to life by the roar of their sire, of frogs falling in a
shower of rain, of ducks transformed into frogs, and of men born from
beasts; the menstruation of women he regarded as a venom whence
proceeded flies, spiders, earwigs, and all sorts of loathsome vermin;
night was caused, not by the absence of the sun, but by the presence
of the stars, which were the positive cause of the darkness. He
relates having seen a magnet capable of attracting the eyeball from
its socket as far as the tip of the nose; he knows of salves to close
the mouth so effectually that it has to be broken open again by
mechanical means, and he writes learnedly on the infallible signs of
witchcraft. By mixing horse-dung with human semen he believed he was
able to produce a medium from which, by chemical treatment in a
retort, a diminutive human being, or _homunculus_, as he called it,
could be produced. The spirits of the elements, the sylphs of the air,
the gnomes of the earth, the salamanders of the fire, and the undines
of the water, were to him real and undoubted existences in Nature.

Strange as all these beliefs seem to us now, they were a very real
factor in the intellectual conceptions of the Renaissance period, no
less than of the Middle Ages, and amidst them there is to be found at
times a foreshadowing of more modern knowledge. Many other persons
were also more or less associated with the magical school, amongst
them Franz von Sickingen. Reuchlin himself, by his Hebrew studies, and
especially by his introduction of the Kabbala to Gentile readers,
also contributed a not unimportant influence in determining the course
of the movement. The line between the so-called black magic, or
operations conducted through the direct agency of evil spirits, and
white magic, which sought to subject Nature to the human will by the
discovery of her mystical and secret laws, or the character of the
quasi-personified intelligent principles under whose form Nature
presented herself to their minds, had never throughout the Middle Ages
been very clearly defined. The one always had a tendency to shade off
into the other, so that even Roger Bacon's practices were, although
not condemned, at least looked upon somewhat doubtfully by the Church.
At the time of which we treat, however, the interest in such matters
had become universal amongst all intelligent persons. The scientific
imagination at the close of the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance
period was mainly occupied with three questions: the discovery of the
means of transmuting the baser metals into gold, or otherwise of
producing that object of universal desire; to discover the Elixir
Vitæ, by which was generally understood the invention of a drug which
would have the effect of curing all diseases, restoring man to
perennial youth, and, in short, prolonging human life indefinitely;
and, finally, the search for the Philosopher's Stone, the happy
possessor of which would not only be able to achieve the first two,
but also, since it was supposed to contain the quintessence of all the
metals, and therefore of all the planetary influences to which the
metals corresponded, would have at his command all the forces which
mould the destinies of men. In especial connection with the latter
object of research may be noted the universal interest in astrology,
whose practitioners were to be found at every Court, from that of the
Emperor himself to that of the most insignificant prince or princelet,
and whose advice was sought and carefully heeded on all important
occasions. Alchemy and astrology were thus the recognized physical
sciences of the age, under the auspices of which a Copernicus and a
Tycho Brahe were born and educated.


[12] Cf. Sebastian Franck, _Chronica_, for an account of a visit of
Paracelsus to Nürnberg.



From what has been said the reader may form for himself an idea of the
intellectual and social life of the German town of the period. The
wealthy patrician class, whose mainstay politically was the _Rath_,
gave the social tone to the whole. In spite of the sharp and sometimes
brutal fashion in which class distinctions asserted themselves then,
as throughout the Middle Ages, there was none of that aloofness
between class and class which characterizes the bourgeois society of
the present day. Each town, were it great or small, was a little world
in itself, so that every citizen knew every other citizen more or
less. The schools attached to its ecclesiastical institutions were
practically free of access to all the children whose parents could
find the means to maintain them during their studies; and consequently
the intellectual differences between the different classes were by no
means necessarily proportionate to the difference in social position.
So far as culture and material prosperity were concerned, the towns
of Bavaria and Franconia, Munich, Augsburg, Regensburg, and perhaps,
above all, Nürnberg, represented the high-water mark of mediæval
civilization as regards town life. On entering the burg, should it
have happened to be in time of peace and in daylight, the stranger
would clear the drawbridge and the portcullis without much challenge;
passing along streets lined with the houses and shops of the burghers,
in whose open frontages the master and his apprentices and _gesellen_
plied their trades, discussing eagerly over their work the politics of
the town, and at this period probably the theological questions which
were uppermost in men's minds, our visitor would make his way to some
hostelry, in whose courtyard he would dismount from his horse, and,
entering the common room, or _Stube_, with its rough but artistic
furniture of carved oak, partake of his flagon of wine or beer,
according to the district in which he was travelling, whilst the host
cracked a rough and possibly coarse jest with the other guests, or
narrated to them the latest gossip of the city. The stranger would
probably find himself before long the object of interrogatories
respecting his native place and the object of his journey (although
his dress would doubtless have given general evidence of this),
whether he were a merchant or a travelling scholar or a practiser of
medicine; for into one of those categories it might be presumed the
humble but not servile traveller would fall. Were he on a diplomatic
mission from some potentate he would be travelling at the least as a
knight or a noble, with spurs and armour, and, moreover, would be
little likely to lodge in a public house of entertainment.

In the _Stube_ he would probably see, drinking heavily,
representatives of the ubiquitous _Landsknechte_, the mercenary troops
enrolled for Imperial purposes by the Emperor Maximilian towards the
end of the previous century, who in the intervals of war were
disbanded and wandered about spending their pay, and thus constituted
an excessively disintegrative element in the life of the time. A
contemporary writer[13] describes them as the curse of Germany, and
stigmatizes them as "unchristian, God-forsaken folk, whose hand is
ever ready in striking, stabbing, robbing, burning, slaying, gaming,
who delight in wine-bibbing, whoring, blaspheming, and in the making
of widows and orphans."

Presently, perhaps, a noise without indicates the arrival of a new
guest. All hurry forth into the courtyard, and their curiosity is
more keenly whetted when they perceive by the yellow knitted scarf
round the neck of the new-comer that he is an _itinerans
scholasticus_, or travelling scholar, who brings with him not only the
possibility of news from the outer world, so important in an age when
journals were non-existent and communications irregular and deficient,
but also a chance of beholding wonder-workings, as well as of being
cured of the ailments which local skill had treated in vain. Already
surrounded by a crowd of admirers waiting for the words of wisdom to
fall from his lips, he would start on that exordium which bore no
little resemblance to the patter of the modern quack, albeit
interlarded with many a Latin quotation and great display of mediæval
learning. "Good people and worthy citizens of this town," he might
say, "behold in me the great master ... prince of necromancers,
astrologer, second mage, chiromancer, agromancer, pyromancer,
hydromancer. My learning is so profound that were all the works of
Plato and Aristotle lost to the world I could from memory restore them
with more elegance than before. The miracles of Christ were not so
great as those which I can perform wherever and as often as I will. Of
all alchemists I am the first, and my powers are such that I can
obtain all things that man desires. My shoe-buckles contain more
learning than the heads of Galen and Avicenna, and my beard has more
experience than all your high schools. I am monarch of all learning. I
can heal you of all diseases. By my secret arts I can procure you
wealth. I am the philosopher of philosophers. I can provide you with
spells to bind the most potent of the devils in hell. I can cast your
nativities and foretell all that shall befall you, since I have that
which can unlock the secrets of all things that have been, that are,
and that are to come."[14] Bringing forth strange-looking phials,
covered with cabalistic signs, a crystal globe and an astro-labe,
followed by an imposing scroll of parchment inscribed with mysterious
Hebraic-looking characters, the travelling student would probably
drive a roaring trade amongst the assembled townsmen in love-philtres,
cures for the ague and the plague, and amulets against them,
horoscopes, predictions of fate, and the rest of his stock-in-trade.

As evening approaches, our traveller strolls forth into the streets
and narrow lanes of the town, lined with overhanging gables that
almost meet overhead and shut out the light of the afternoon sun, so
that twilight seems already to have fallen. Observing that the
burghers, with their wives and children, the work of the day being
done, are all wending toward the western gate, he goes along with the
stream till, passing underneath the heavy portcullis and through the
outer rampart, he finds himself in the plain outside, across which a
rugged bridle-path leads to a large quadrangular meadow, rough and
more or less worn, where a considerable crowd has already assembled.
This is the _Allerwiese_, or public pleasure-ground of the town. Here
there are not only high festivities on Sundays and holidays, but every
fine evening in summer numbers of citizens gather together to watch
the apprentices exercising their strength in athletic feats, and
competing with one another in various sports, such as running,
wrestling, spear-throwing, sword-play, and the like, wherein the
inferior rank sought to imitate and even emulate the knighthood,
whilst the daughters of the city watched their progress with keen
interest and applauding laughter. As the shadows deepen and darkness
falls upon the plain, our visitor joins the groups which are now fast
leaving the meadow, and re-passes the great embrasure just as the
rushlights begin to twinkle in the windows and a swinging oil-lamp to
cast a dim light here and there in the streets. But as his company
passes out of a narrow lane debouching on to the chief market-place,
their progress is stopped by the sudden rush of a mingled crowd of
unruly apprentices and journeymen returning from their sports, with
hot heads well beliquored. Then from another side-street there is a
sudden flare of torches, borne aloft by guildsmen come out to quell
the tumult and to send off the apprentices to their dwellings, whilst
the watch also bears down and carries off some of the more turbulent
of the journeymen to pass the night in one of the towers which guard
the city wall. At last, however, the visitor reaches his inn by the
aid of a friendly guildsman and his torch; and retiring to his
chamber, with its straw-covered floor, rough oaken bedstead, hard
mattress, and coverings not much better than horse-cloths, he falls
asleep as the bell of the minster tolls out ten o'clock over the now
dark and silent city.

Such approximately would have been the view of a German city in the
sixteenth century as presented to a traveller in a time of peace. More
stirring times, however, were as frequent--times when the tocsin rang
out from the steeple all night long, calling the citizens to arms. By
such scenes, needless to say, the year of the Peasants' War was more
than usually characterized. In the days when every man carried arms
and knew how to use them, when the fighting instinct was imbibed with
the mother's milk, when every week saw some street brawl, often
attended by loss of life, and that by no means always among the most
worthless and dissolute of the inhabitants, every dissatisfaction
immediately turned itself into an armed revolt, whether it were of the
apprentices or the journeymen against the guild-masters, the body of
the townsmen against the patriciate, the town itself against its
feudal superior, where it had one, or of the knighthood against the
princes. The extremity to which disputes can at present be carried
without resulting in a breach of the peace, as evinced in modern
political and trade conflicts, exacerbated though some of them are,
was a thing unknown in the Middle Ages, and indeed to any considerable
extent until comparatively recent times. The sacred right of
insurrection was then a recognized fact of life, and but very little
straining of a dispute led to a resort to arms. In the subsequent
chapters we have to deal with the more important of those outbursts to
which the ferment due to the dissolution of the mediæval system of
things, then beginning throughout Central Europe, gave rise, of which
the religious side is represented by what is known as the Reformation.


[13] Sebastian Franck, _Chronica_, ccxvii.

[14] Cf. Trittheim's letter to Wirdung of Hasfurt regarding Faust. _J.
Tritthemii Epistolarum Familiarum_, 1536, bk. ii. ep. 47; also the works
of Paracelsus.



For the complete understanding of the events which follow it must be
borne in mind that the early sixteenth century represents the end of a
distinct historical period; and, as we have pointed out in the
Introduction, the expiring effort, half-conscious and half-unconscious,
of the people to revert to the conditions of an earlier age. Nor can the
significance be properly gauged unless a clear conception is obtained of
the differences between country and town life at the beginning of the
sixteenth century. From the earliest periods of the Middle Ages of which
we have any historical record, the _Markgenossenschaft_, or primitive
village community of the Germanic race, was overlaid by a territorial
domination, imposed upon it either directly by conquest or voluntarily
accepted for the sake of the protection indispensable in that rude
period. The conflict of these two elements, the mark organization and
the territorial lordship, constitutes the marrow of the social history
of the Middle Ages.

In the earliest times the pressure of the overlord, whoever he might
be, seems to have been comparatively slight, but its inevitable
tendency was for the territorial power to extend itself at the expense
of the rural community. It was thus that in the tenth and eleventh
centuries the feudal oppression had become thoroughly settled, and had
reached its greatest intensity all over Europe. It continued thus with
little intermission until the thirteenth century, when from various
causes, economic and otherwise, matters began to improve in the
interests of the common man, till in the fifteenth century the
condition of the peasant was better than it has ever been, either
before or since within historical times, in Northern and Western
Europe. But with all this, the oppressive power of the lord of the
soil was by no means dead. It was merely dormant, and was destined to
spring into renewed activity the moment the lord's necessities
supplied a sufficient incentive. From this time forward the element of
territorial power, supported in its claims by the Roman law, with its
basis of private property, continued to eat into it until it had
finally devoured the old rights and possessions of the village
community. The executive power always tended to be transferred from
its legitimate holder, the village in its corporate capacity, to the
lord; and this was alone sufficient to place the villager at his

At the time of the Reformation, owing to the new conditions which had
arisen and had brought about in a few decades the hitherto
unparalleled rise in prices, combined with the unprecedented
ostentation and extravagance more than once referred to in these
pages, the lord was supplied with the requisite incentive to the
exercise of the power which his feudal system gave him. Consequently,
the position of the peasant rapidly changed for the worse; and
although at the outbreak of the movement not absolutely _in extremis_,
according to our notions, yet it was so bad comparatively to his
previous condition and that less than half a century before, and
tended as evidently to become more intolerable, that discontent became
everywhere rife, and only awaited the torch of the new doctrines to
set it ablaze. The whole course of the movement shows a peasantry, not
downtrodden and starved but proud and robust, driven to take up arms
not so much by misery and despair as by the deliberate will to
maintain the advantages which were rapidly slipping away from them.

Serfdom was not by any means universal. Many free peasant villages
were to be found scattered amongst the manors of the territorial
lords, though it was but too evidently the settled policy of the
latter at this time to sweep everything into their net, and to compel
such peasant communes to accept a feudal overlordship. Nor were they
at all scrupulous in the means adopted for attaining their ends. The
ecclesiastical foundations, as before said, were especially expert in
forging documents for the purpose of proving that these free villages
were lapsed feudatories of their own. Old rights of pasture were being
curtailed, and others, notably those of hunting and fishing, had in
most manors been completely filched away.

It is noticeable, however, that although the immediate causes of the
peasant rising were the new burdens which had been laid upon the
common people during the last few years, once the spirit of discontent
was aroused it extended also in many cases to the traditional feudal
dues to which, until then, the peasant had submitted with little
murmuring, and an attempt was made by the country-side to reconquer
the ancient complete freedom of which a dim remembrance had been
handed down to them.

The condition of the peasant up to the beginning of the sixteenth
century--that is to say, up to the time when it began to so rapidly
change for the worse--may be gathered from what we are told by
contemporary writers, such as Wimpfeling, Sebastian Brandt,
Wittenweiler, the satires in the _Nürnberger Fastnachtspielen_, and
numberless other sources, as also from the sumptuary laws of the end
of the fifteenth century. All these indicate an ease and profuseness
of living which little accord with our notions of the word "peasant".
Wimpfeling writes: "The peasants in our district and in many parts of
Germany have become, through their riches, stiff-necked and
ease-loving. I know peasants who at the weddings of their sons or
daughters, or the baptism of their children, make so much display that
a house and field might be bought therewith, and a small vineyard to
boot. Through their riches, they are oftentimes spendthrift in food
and in vestments, and they drink wines of price."

A chronicler relates of the Austrian peasants, under the date of 1478,
that "they wore better garments and drank better wine than their
lords"; and a sumptuary law passed at the Reichstag held at Lindau, in
1497, provides that the common peasant man and the labourer in the
towns or in the field "shall neither make nor wear cloth that costs
more than half a gulden the ell, neither shall they wear gold,
pearls, velvet, silk, nor embroidered clothes, nor shall they permit
their wives or their children to wear such."

Respecting the food of the peasant, it is stated that he ate his full
in flesh of every kind, in fish, in bread, in fruit, drinking wine
often to excess. The Swabian, Heinrich Müller, writes in the year
1550, nearly two generations after the change had begun to take place:
"In the memory of my father, who was a peasant man, the peasant did
eat much better than now. Meat and food in plenty was there every day,
and at fairs and other junketings the tables did wellnigh break with
what they bore. Then drank they wine as it were water, then did a man
fill his belly and carry away withal as much as he could; then was
wealth and plenty. Otherwise is it now. A costly and a bad time hath
arisen since many a year, and the food and drink of the best peasant
is much worse than of yore that of the day labourer and the serving

We may well imagine the vivid recollections which a peasant in the
year 1525 had of the golden days of a few years before. The day
labourers and serving men were equally tantalized by the remembrance
of high wages and cheap living at the beginning of the century. A day
labourer could then earn, with his keep, nine, and without keep,
sixteen groschen[15] a week. What this would buy may be judged from
the following prices current in Saxony during the second half of the
fifteenth century. A pair of good working-shoes cost three groschen; a
whole sheep, four groschen; a good fat hen, half a groschen;
twenty-five cod-fish, four groschen; a wagon-load of firewood,
together with carriage, five groschen; an ell of the best homespun
cloth, five groschen; a scheffel (about a bushel) of rye, six or seven
groschen. The Duke of Saxony wore grey hats which cost him four
groschen. In Northern Rhineland about the same time a day labourer
could, in addition to his keep, earn in a week a quarter of rye, ten
pounds of pork, six large cans of milk, and two bundles of firewood,
and in the course of five weeks be able to buy six ells of linen, a
pair of shoes, and a bag for his tools. In Augsburg the daily wages of
an ordinary labourer represented the value of six pounds of the best
meat, or one pound of meat, seven eggs, a peck of peas, about a quart
of wine, in addition to such bread as he required, with enough over
for lodging, clothing, and minor expenses. In Bavaria he could earn
daily eighteen pfennige, or one and a half groschen, whilst a pound of
sausage cost one pfennig, and a pound of the best beef two pfennige,
and similarly throughout the whole of the States of Central Europe.

A document of the year 1483, from Ehrbach in the Swabian Odenwald,
describes for us the treatment of servants by their masters. "All
journeymen," it declares, "that are hired, and likewise bondsmen
(serfs), also the serving men and maids, shall each day be given twice
meat and what thereto longith, with half a small measure of wine, save
on fast days, when they shall have fish or other food that nourisheth.
Whoso in the week hath toiled shall also on Sundays and feast days
make merry after mass and preaching. They shall have bread and meat
enough, and half a great measure of wine. On feast days also roasted
meat enough. Moreover, they shall be given, to take home with them, a
great loaf of bread and so much of flesh as two at one meal may eat."

Again, in a bill of fare of the household of Count Joachim von
Oettingen in Bavaria, the journeymen and villeins are accorded in the
morning, soup and vegetables; at midday, soup and meat, with
vegetables, and a bowl of broth or a plate of salted or pickled meat;
at night, soup and meat, carrots, and preserved meat. Even the women
who brought fowls or eggs from the neighbouring villages to the castle
were given for their trouble--if from the immediate vicinity, a plate
of soup with two pieces of bread; if from a greater distance, a
complete meal and a cruse of wine. In Saxony, similarly, the
agricultural journeymen received two meals a day, of four courses
each, besides frequently cheese and bread at other times should they
require it. Not to have eaten meat for a week was the sign of the
direst famine in any district. Warnings are not wanting against the
evils accruing to the common man from his excessive indulgence in
eating and drinking.

Such was the condition of the proletariat in its first inception, that
is, when the mediæval system of villeinage had begun to loosen and to
allow a proportion of free labourers to insinuate themselves into its
working. How grievous, then, were the complaints when, while wages had
risen either not at all or at most from half a groschen to a groschen,
the price of rye rose from six or seven groschen a bushel to about
five-and-twenty groschen, that of a sheep from four to eighteen
groschen, and all other articles of necessary consumption in a like

In the Middle Ages, necessaries and such ordinary comforts as were to
be had at all were dirt cheap; while non-necessaries and luxuries,
that is, such articles as had to be imported from afar, were for the
most part at prohibitive prices. With the opening up of the
world-market during the first half of the sixteenth century, this
state of things rapidly changed. Most luxuries in a short time fell
heavily in price, while necessaries rose in a still greater

This latter change in the economic conditions of the world exercised
its most powerful effect, however, on the character of the mediæval
town, which had remained substantially unchanged since the first great
expansion at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the
fourteenth centuries. With the extension of commerce and the opening
up of communications, there began that evolution of the town whose
ultimate outcome was to entirely change the central idea on which the
urban organization was based.

The first requisite for a town, according to modern notions, is
facility of communication with the rest of the world by means of
railways, telegraphs, postal system, and the like. So far has this
gone now that in a new country, for instance, America, the railway,
telegraph lines, etc., are made first, and the towns are then strung
upon them, like beads upon a cord. In the mediæval town, on the
contrary, communication was quite a secondary matter, and more of a
luxury than a necessity. Each town was really a self-sufficing entity,
both materially and intellectually. The modern idea of a town is that
of a mere local aggregate of individuals, each pursuing a trade or
calling with a view to the world-market at large. Their own locality
or town is no more to them economically than any other part of the
world-market, and very little more in any other respect. The mediæval
idea of a town, on the contrary, was that of an organization of groups
into one organic whole. Just as the village community was a somewhat
extended family organization, so was, _mutatis mutandis_, the larger
unit, the township or city. Each member of the town organization owed
allegiance and distinct duties primarily to his guild, or immediate
social group, and through this to the larger social group which
constituted the civic society. Consequently, every townsman felt a
kind of _esprit de corps_ with his fellow-citizens, akin to that, say,
which is alleged of the soldiers of the old French "foreign legion"
who, being brothers-in-arms, were brothers also in all other
relations. But if every citizen owed duty and allegiance to the town
in its corporate capacity, the town no less owed protection and
assistance, in every department of life, to its individual members.

As in ancient Rome in its earlier history, and as in all other early
urban communities, agriculture necessarily played a considerable part
in the life of most mediæval towns. Like the villages, they possessed
each its own mark, with its common fields, pastures, and woods. These
were demarcated by various landmarks, crosses, holy images, etc.; and
"the bounds" were beaten every year. The wealthier citizens usually
possessed gardens and orchards within the town walls, while each
inhabitant had his share in the communal holding without. The use of
this latter was regulated by the Rath or Council. In fact, the town
life of the Middle Ages was not by any means so sharply differentiated
from rural life as is implied in our modern idea of a town. Even in
the larger commercial towns, such as Frankfurt, Nürnberg, or Augsburg,
it was common to keep cows, pigs, and sheep, and, as a matter of
course, fowls and geese, in large numbers within the precincts of the
town itself. In Frankfurt in 1481 the pigsties in the town had become
such a nuisance that the Rath had to forbid them _in the front_ of the
houses by a formal decree. In Ulm there was a regulation of the
bakers' guild to the effect that no single member should keep more
than twenty-four pigs, and that cows should be confined to their
stalls at night. In Nürnberg in 1475 again, the Rath had to interfere
with the intolerable nuisance of pigs and other farm-yard stock
running about loose in the streets. Even in a town like München we are
informed that agriculture formed one of the staple occupations of the
inhabitants, while in almost every city the gardeners' or the
wine-growers' guild appears as one of the largest and most

It is evident that such conditions of life would be impossible with
town-populations even approaching only distantly those of to-day; and,
in fact, when we come to inquire into the size and populousness of
mediæval German cities, as into those of the classical world of
antiquity, we are at first sight staggered by the smallness of their
proportions. The largest and most populous free Imperial cities in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Nürnberg and Strassburg, numbered
little more than 20,000 resident inhabitants within the walls, a
population rather less than that of (say) many an English country town
at the present time. Such an important place as Frankfurt-am-Main is
stated at the middle of the fifteenth century to have had less than
9,000 inhabitants. At the end of the fifteenth century Dresden could
only boast of about 5,000. Rothenburg on the Tauber is to-day a dead
city to all intents and purposes, affording us a magnificent example
of what a mediæval town was like, as the bulk of its architecture,
including the circuit of its walls, which remain intact, dates
approximately from the sixteenth century. At present a single line of
railway branching off from the main line with about two trains a day
is amply sufficient to convey the few antiquaries and artists who are
now its sole visitors, and who have to content themselves with
country-inn accommodation. Yet this old free city has actually a
larger population at the present day than it had at the time of which
we are writing, when it was at the height of its prosperity as an
important centre of activity. The figures of its population are now
between 8,000 and 9,000. At the beginning of the sixteenth century
they were between 6,000 and 7,000. A work written and circulated in
manuscript during the first decade of the sixteenth century, "A
Christian Exhortation" (_Ein Christliche Mahnung_), after referring to
the frightful pestilences recently raging as a punishment from God,
observes, in the spirit of true Malthusianism, and as a justification
of the ways of Providence, that "an there were not so many that died
there were too much folk in the land, and it were not good that such
should be lest there were not food enough for all."

Great population as constituting importance in a city is
comparatively a modern notion. In other ages towns became famous on
account of their superior civic organization, their more advantageous
situation, or the greater activity, intellectual, political, or
commercial, of their citizens.

What this civic organization of mediæval towns was, demands a few
words of explanation, since the conflict between the two main elements
in their composition plays an important part in the events which
follow. Something has already been said on this head in the
Introduction. We have there pointed out that the Rath or Town Council,
that is, the supreme governing body of the municipality, was in all
cases mainly, and often entirely, composed of the heads of the town
aristocracy, the patrician class or "honorability" (_Ehrbarkeit_), as
they were termed, who on the ground of their antiquity and wealth laid
claim to every post of power and privilege. On the other hand were the
body of the citizens enrolled in the various guilds, seeking, as their
position and wealth improved, to wrest the control of the town's
resources from the patricians. It must be remembered that the towns
stood in the position of feudal over-lords to the peasants who held
land on the city territory, which often extended for many square miles
outside the walls. A small town like Rothenburg, for instance, which
we have described above, had on its lands as many as 15,000 peasants.
The feudal dues and contributions of these tenants constituted the
staple revenue of the town, and the management of them was one of the
chief bones of contention.

Nowhere was the guild system brought to a greater perfection than in
the free Imperial towns of Germany. Indeed, it was carried further in
them, in one respect, than in any other part of Europe, for the guilds
of journeymen (_Cesellenverbände_), which in other places never
attained any strength or importance, were in Germany developed to the
fullest extent, and of course supported the craft-guilds in their
conflict with the patriciate. Although there were naturally numerous
frictions between the two classes of guilds respecting wages, working
days, hours, and the like, it must not be supposed that there was that
irreconcilable hostility between them which would exist at the present
time between a trade-union and a syndicate of employers. Each
recognized the right to existence of the other. In one case, that of
the strike of bakers towards the close of the fifteenth century, at
Colmar in Elsass, the craft-guilds supported the journeymen in their
protest against a certain action of the patrician Rath, which they
considered to be a derogation from their dignity.

Like the masters, the journeymen had their own guild-house, and their
own solemn functions and social gatherings. There were, indeed, two
kinds of journeymen-guilds: one whose chief purpose was a religious one,
and the other concerning itself in the first instance with the secular
concerns of the body. However, both classes of journeymen-guilds worked
into one another's hand. On coming into a strange town a travelling
member of such a guild was certain of a friendly reception, of
maintenance until he procured work, and of assistance in finding it as
soon as possible.

Interesting details concerning the wages paid to journeymen and their
contributions to the guilds are to be found in the original documents
relating exclusively to the journeymen-guilds, collected by Georg
Schanz.[17] From these and other sources it is clear that the position
of the artisan in the towns was in proportion much better than even that
of the peasants at that time, and therefore immeasurably superior to
anything he has enjoyed since. In South Germany at this period the
average price of beef was about two denarii[18] a pound, while the
daily wages of the masons and carpenters, in addition to their keep and
lodging, amounted in the summer to about twenty, and in the winter to
about sixteen of these denarii. In Saxony the same journeymen-craftsmen
earned on the average, besides their maintenance, two groschen four
pfennige a day, or about one-third the value of a bushel of corn. In
addition to this, in some cases the workmen had weekly gratuities under
the name of "bathing money"; and in this connection it may be noticed
that a holiday for the purpose of bathing once a fortnight, once a week,
or even oftener, as the case might be, was stipulated for by the guilds,
and generally recognized as a legitimate demand. The common notion of
the uniform uncleanliness of the mediæval man requires to be
considerably modified when one closely investigates the condition of
town life, and finds everywhere facilities for bathing in winter and
summer alike. Untidiness and uncleanliness, according to our notions,
there may have been in the streets and in the dwellings in many cases,
owing to inadequate provisions for the disposal of refuse and the like;
but we must not therefore extend this idea to the person, and imagine
that the mediæval craftsman or even peasant was as unwholesome as, say,
the East European peasant of to-day.

When the wages received by the journeymen artisans are compared with
the prices of commodities previously given, it will be seen how
relatively easy were their circumstances; and the extent of their
well-being may be further judged from the wealth of their guilds,
which, although varying in different places, at all times formed a
considerable proportion of the wealth of the town. The guild system
was based upon the notion that the individual master and workman was
working as much in the interest of the guild as for his own advantage.
Each member of the guild was alike under the obligation to labour, and
to labour in accordance with the rules laid down by his guild, and at
the same time had the right of equal enjoyment with his
fellow-guildsmen of all advantages pertaining to the particular branch
of industry covered by the guild. Every guildsman had to work himself
_in propriâ personâ_; no contractor was tolerated who himself "in ease
and sloth doth live on the sweat of others, and puffeth himself up in
lustful pride." Were a guild-master ill and unable to manage the
affairs of his workshop, it was the council of the guild, and not
himself or his relatives, who installed a representative for him and
generally looked after his affairs. It was the guild again which
procured the raw material, and distributed it in relatively equal
proportions amongst its members; or where this was not the case, the
time and place were indicated at which the guildsman might buy at a
fixed maximum price. Every master had equal right to the use of the
common property and institutions of the guild, which in some
industries included the essentials of production, as, for example, in
the case of the woollen manufacturers, where wool-kitchens,
carding-rooms, bleaching-houses and the like were common to the whole

Needless to say, the relations between master and apprentices and master
and journeymen were rigidly fixed down to the minutest detail. The
system was thoroughly patriarchal in its character. In the hey-day of
the guilds, every apprentice and most of the journeymen regarded their
actual condition as a period of preparation which would end in the
glories of mastership. For this dear hope they were ready on occasion to
undergo cheerfully the most arduous duties. The education in handicraft,
and, we may add, the supervision of the morals of the blossoming members
of the guild, was a department which greatly exercised its
administration. On the other hand, the guild in its corporate capacity
was bound to maintain sick or incapacitated apprentices and journeymen,
though after the journeymen had developed into a distinct class, and
the consequent rise of the journeymen-guilds, the latter function was
probably in most cases taken over by the latter. The guild laws against
adulteration, scamped work, and the like, were sometimes ferocious in
their severity. For example, in some towns the baker who misconducted
himself in the matter of the composition of his bread was condemned to
be shut up in a basket which was fixed at the end of a long pole, and
let down so many times to the bottom of a pool of dirty water. In the
year 1456 two grocers, together with a female assistant, were burnt
alive at Nürnberg for adulterating saffron and spices, and a similar
instance happened at Augsburg in 1492. From what we have said it will be
seen that guild life, like the life of the town as a whole, was
essentially a social life. It was a larger family, into which various
blood families were merged. The interest of each was felt to be the
interest of all, and the interest of all no less the interest of each.

But in many towns, outside the town population properly speaking,
outside the patrician families who generally governed the Rath,
outside the guilds, outside the city organization altogether, there
were other bodies dwelling within the walls and forming _imperia in
imperiis_. These were the religious corporations, whose possessions
were often extensive, and who, dwelling within their own walls, shut
out from the rest of the town, were subject only to their own
ordinances. The quasi-religious, quasi-military Order of the Teutonic
Knights (_Deutscher Orden_), founded at the time of the Crusades, was
the wealthiest and largest of these corporations. In addition to the
extensive territories which it held in various parts of the empire, it
had establishments in a large number of cities. Besides this there
were, of course, the Orders of the Augustinians and Carthusians, and a
number of less important foundations, who had their cloisters in
various towns. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the pomp,
pride, and licentiousness of the Teutonic Order drew upon it the
especial hatred of the townsfolk; and amid the general wreck of
religious houses none were more ferociously despoiled than those
belonging to this Order. There were, moreover, in some towns, the
establishments of princely families, which were regarded by the
citizens with little less hostility than that accorded to the
religious Orders.

Such were the explosive elements of town life when changing conditions
were tending to dislocate the whole structure of mediæval existence.
The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 had struck a heavy
blow at the commerce of the Bavarian cities which had come by way of
Constantinople and Venice. This latter city lost one by one its
trading centres in the East, and all Oriental traffic by way of the
Black Sea was practically stopped. It was the Dutch cities which
inherited the wealth and influence of the German towns when Vasco da
Gama's discovery of the Cape route to the East began to have its
influence on the trade of the world. This diversion of Oriental
traffic from the old overland route was the starting-point of the
modern merchant navy, and it must be placed amongst the most potent
causes of the break-up of mediæval civilization. The above change,
although immediately felt by the German towns, was not realized by
them in its full importance either as to its causes or its
consequences for more than a century; but the decline of their
prosperity was nevertheless sensible, even now, and contributed
directly to the coming upheaval.

The impatience of the prince, the prelate, the noble, and the wealthy
burgher at the restraints which the system of the Middle Ages placed
upon his activity as an individual in the acquisition for his own
behoof, and the disposal at his own pleasure, of wealth, regardless of
the consequences to his neighbour, found expression, and a powerful
lever, in the introduction from Italy of the Roman law in place of the
old canon and customary law of Europe. The latter never regarded the
individual as an independent and autonomous entity, but invariably
treated him with reference to a group or social body, of which he
might be the head or merely a subordinate member; but in any case the
filaments of custom and religious duty attached him to a certain
humanity outside himself, whether it were a village community, a
guild, a township, a province, or the empire. The idea of a right to
individual autonomy in his dealings with men never entered into the
mediæval man's conception. Hence the mere possession of property was
not recognized by mediæval law as conferring any absolute rights in
its holder to its unregulated use, and the basis of the mediæval
notions of property was the association of responsibility and duty
with ownership. In other words, the notion of _trust_ was never
completely divorced from that of _possession_.

The Roman law rested on a totally different basis. It represented the
legal ethics of a society on most of its sides brutally and crassly
individualistic. That that society had come to an end instead of
evolving to its natural conclusion--a developed capitalistic
individualism such as exists to-day--was due to the weakness of its
economic basis, owing to the limitation at that time of man's power
over Nature, which deprived it of recuperative and defensive force,
thereby leaving it a prey not only to internal influences of decay but
also to violent destructive forces from without. Nevertheless, it left
a legacy of a ready-made legal system to serve as an implement for the
first occasion when economic conditions should be once more ready for
progress to resume the course of individualistic development, abruptly
brought to an end by the fall of ancient civilization as crystallized
in the Roman Empire.

The popular courts of the village, of the mark, and of the town, which
had existed up to the beginning of the sixteenth century with all
their ancient functions, were extremely democratic in character. Cases
were decided on their merits, in accordance with local custom, by a
body of jurymen chosen from among the freemen of the district, to whom
the presiding functionaries, most of whom were also of popular
selection, were little more than assessors. The technicalities of a
cut-and-dried system were unknown. The Catholic-Germanic theory of the
Middle Ages proper, as regards the civil power in all its functions,
from the highest downward, was that of the mere administrator of
justice as such; whereas the Roman law regarded the magistrate as the
vicegerent of the _princeps_ or _imperator_, in whose person was
absolutely vested as its supreme embodiment the whole power of the
State. The Divinity of the Emperors was a recognition of this fact;
and the influence of the Roman law revived the theory as far as
possible under the changed conditions, in the form of the doctrine of
the Divine Right of Kings--a doctrine which was totally alien to the
Catholic feudal conception of the Middle Ages. This doctrine,
moreover, received added force from the Oriental conception of the
position of the ruler found in the Old Testament, from which
Protestantism drew so much of its inspiration.

But apart from this aspect of the question, the new juridical
conception involved that of a system of rules as the crystallized
embodiment of the abstract "State," given through its representatives,
which could under no circumstances be departed from, and which could
only be modified in their operation by legal quibbles that left to
them their nominal integrity. The new law could therefore only be
administered by a class of men trained specially for the purpose, of
which the plastic customary law borne down the stream of history from
primitive times, and insensibly adapting itself to new conditions but
understood in its broader aspects by all those who might be called to
administer it, had little need. The Roman law, the study of which was
started at Bologna in the twelfth century, as might naturally be
expected, early attracted the attention of the German Emperors as a
suitable instrument for use on emergencies. But it made little real
headway in Germany itself as against the early institutions until the
fifteenth century, when the provincial power of the princes of the
empire was beginning to overshadow the central authority of the
titular chief of the Holy Roman Empire. The former, while strenuously
resisting the results of its application from above, found in it a
powerful auxiliary in their Courts in riveting their power over the
estates subject to them. As opposed to the delicately adjusted
hierarchical notions of Feudalism, which did not recognize any
absoluteness of dominion either over persons or things, in short for
which neither the head of the State had any inviolate authority as
such, nor private property any inviolable rights or sanctity as such,
the new jurisprudence made corner-stones of both these conceptions.

Even the canon law, consisting in a mass of Papal decretals dating
from the early Middle Ages, and which, while undoubtedly containing
considerable traces of the influence of Roman law, was nevertheless
largely customary in its character, with an infusion of Christian
ethics, had to yield to the new jurisprudence, and that too in
countries where the Reformation had been unable to replace the old
ecclesiastical dogma and organization. The principles and practice of
the Roman law were sedulously inculcated by the tribe of civilian
lawyers who by the beginning of the sixteenth century infested every
Court throughout Europe. Every potentate, great and small, little as
he might like its application by his feudal overlord to himself, was
yet only too ready and willing to invoke its aid for the oppression of
his own vassals or peasants. Thus the civil law everywhere triumphed.
It became the juridical expression of the political, economical, and
religious change which marks the close of the Middle Ages and the
beginnings of the modern commercial world.

It must not be supposed, however, that no resistance was made to it.
Everywhere in contemporary literature, side by side with denunciations
of the new mercenary troops, the _Landsknechte_, we find
uncomplimentary allusions to the race of advocates, notaries, and
procurators who, as one writer has it, "are increasing like
grasshoppers in town and in country year by year." Whenever they
appeared, we are told, countless litigious disputes sprang up. He who
had but the money in hand might readily defraud his poorer neighbour
in the name of law and right. "Woe is me!" exclaims one author, "in
my home there is but one procurator, and yet is the whole country
round about brought into confusion by his wiles. What a misery will
this horde bring upon us!" Everywhere was complaint and in many places

As early as 1460 we find the Bavarian estates vigorously complaining
that all the courts were in the hands of doctors. They demanded that
the rights of the land and the ancient custom should not be cast
aside; but that the courts as of old should be served by reasonable
and honest judges, who should be men of the same feudal livery and of
the same country as those whom they tried. Again in 1514, when the
evil had become still more crying, we find the estates of Würtemberg
petitioning Duke Ulrich that the Supreme Court "shall be composed of
honourable, worthy, and understanding men of the nobles and of the
towns, who shall not be doctors, to the intent that the ancient usages
and customs should abide, and that it should be judged according to
them in such wise that the poor man might no longer be brought to
confusion." In many covenants of the end of the fifteenth century,
express stipulation is made that they should not be interpreted by a
doctor or licentiate, and also in some cases that no such doctor or
licentiate should be permitted to reside or to exercise his
profession within certain districts. Great as was the economical
influence of the new jurists in the tribunals, their political
influence in the various courts of the empire, from the
_Reichskammergericht_ downwards, was, if anything, greater. Says
Wimpfeling, the first writer on the art of education in the modern
world: "According to the loathsome doctrines of the new jurisconsults,
the prince shall be everything in the land and the people naught. The
people shall only obey, pay tax, and do service. Moreover, they shall
not alone obey the prince but also them that he has placed in
authority, who begin to puff themselves up as the proper lords of the
land, and to order matters so that the princes themselves do as little
as may be reign." From this passage it will be seen that the modern
bureaucratic State, in which government is as nearly as possible
reduced to mechanism and the personal relation abolished, was ushered
in under the auspices of the civil law. How easy it was for the
civilian to effect the abolition of feudal institutions may be readily
imagined by those cognizant of the principles of Roman law. For
example, the Roman law, of course, making no mention of the right of
the mediæval "estates" to be consulted in the levying of taxes or in
other questions, the jurist would explain this right to his too
willing master, the prince, as an abuse which had no legal
justification, and which, the sooner it were abolished in the interest
of good government the better it would be. All feudal rights as
against the power of an overlord were explained away by the civil
jurist, either as pernicious abuses, or, at best, as favours granted
in the past by the predecessors of the reigning monarch, which it was
within his right to truncate or to abrogate at his will.

From the preceding survey will be clearly perceived the important rôle
which the new jurisprudence played on the Continent of Europe in the
gestation of the new phase which history was entering upon in the
sixteenth century. Even the short sketch given will be sufficient to
show that it was not in one department only that it operated; but
that, in addition to its own domain of law proper, its influence was
felt in modifying economical, political, and indirectly even ethical
and religious conditions. From this time forth Feudalism slowly but
surely gave place to the newer order, all that remained being certain
of its features, which, crystallized into bureaucratic forms, were
doubly veneered with a last trace of mediæval ideas and a denser
coating of civilian conceptions. This transitional Europe, and not
mediæval Europe, was the Europe which lasted on until the eighteenth
century, and which practically came to an end with the French


[15] One silver groschen = 1-1/5d.

[16] The authorities for the above data may be found in Janssen, i.,
vol. i., bk. iii., especially pp. 330-46.

[17] _Zur Geschichte der deutschen Gesellenverbände._ Leipzig, 1876.

[18] C. 1/5d. The denarius was the South German equivalent of the North
German pfennig, of which twelve went to the groschen.



We have already pointed out in more than one place the position to
which the smaller nobility, or the knighthood, had been reduced by the
concatenation of causes which was bringing about the dissolution of the
old mediæval order of things, and, as a consequence, ruining the
knights both economically and politically--economically by the rise of
capitalism as represented by the commercial syndicates of the cities;
by the unprecedented power and wealth of the city confederations,
especially of the Hanseatic League; by the rising importance of the
newly developed world-market; by the growing luxury and the enormous
rise in the prices of commodities concurrently with the reduction in
value of the feudal land-tenures; and by the limitation of the
possibilities of acquiring wealth by highway robbery, owing to Imperial
constitutions, on the one hand, and increased powers of defence on the
part of the trading community, on the other--politically, by the new
modes of warfare in which artillery and infantry, composed of
comparatively well-drilled mercenaries (_Landsknechte_), were rapidly
making inroads into the omnipotence of the ancient feudal chivalry, and
reducing the importance of individual skill or prowess in the handling
of weapons, and by the development of the power of the princes or
higher nobility, partly due to the influence which the Roman civil law
now began to exercise over the older customary Constitution of the
empire, and partly to the budding centralism of authority--which in
France and England became a national centralization, but in Germany, in
spite of the temporary ascendancy of Charles V, finally issued in a
provincial centralization in which the princes were _de facto_
independent monarchs. The Imperial Constitution of 1495, forbidding
private war, applied, it must be remembered, only to the lesser
nobility and not to the higher, thereby placing the former in a
decidedly ignominious position as regards their feudal superiors. And
though this particular enactment had little immediate result, yet it
was none the less resented as a blow struck at the old knightly

The mental attitude of the knighthood in the face of this progressing
change in their position was naturally an ambiguous one, composed
partly of a desire to hark back to the haughty independence of
feudalism, and partly of sympathy with the growing discontent among
other classes and with the new spirit generally. In order that the
knights might succeed in recovering their old or even in maintaining
their actual position against the higher nobility, the princes, backed
as these now largely were by the Imperial power, the co-operation of
the cities was absolutely essential to them, but the obstacles in the
way of such a co-operation proved insurmountable. The towns hated the
knights for their lawless practices, which rendered trade unsafe and
not infrequently cost the lives of the citizens. The knights for the
most part, with true feudal hauteur, scorned and despised the artisans
and traders who had no territorial family name and were unexercised in
the higher chivalric arts. The grievances of the two parties were,
moreover, not identical, although they had their origin in the same

The cities were in the main solely concerned to maintain their old
independent position, and especially to curb the growing disposition
at this time of the other estates to use them as milch cows from
which to draw the taxation necessary to the maintenance of the
empire. For example, at the Reichstag opened at Nürnberg on November
17, 1522--to discuss the questions of the establishment of perpetual
peace within the empire, of organizing an energetic resistance to the
inroads of the Turks, and of placing on a firm foundation the
Imperial Privy Council (_Kammergericht_) and the Supreme Council
(_Reichsregiment_)--at which were represented twenty-six Imperial
towns, thirty-eight high prelates, eighteen princes, and twenty-nine
counts and barons--the representatives of the cities complained
grievously that their attendance was reduced to a farce, since they
were always out-voted, and hence obliged to accept the decisions of
the other estates. They stated that their position was no longer
bearable, and for the first time drew up an Act of Protest, which
further complained of the delay in the decisions of the Imperial
courts; of their sufferings from the right of private war, which was
still allowed to subsist in defiance of the Constitution; of the
increase of customs-stations on the part of the princes and
prince-prelates; and, finally, of the debasement of the coinage due
to the unscrupulous practices of these notables and of the Jews. The
only sympathy the other estates vouchsafed to the plaints of the
cities was with regard to the right of private war, which the higher
nobles were also anxious to suppress amongst the lower, though
without prejudice, of course, to their own privileges in this line.
All the other articles of the Act of Protest were coolly waived
aside. From all this it will be seen that not much co-operation was
to be expected between such heterogeneous bodies as the knighthood
and the free towns, in spite of their common interest in checking the
threateningly advancing power of the princes and the central Imperial
authority in so far as it was manned and manipulated by the princes.

Amid the decaying knighthood there was, as we have already intimated,
one figure which stood out head and shoulders above every other noble
of the time, whether prince or knight, and that was Franz von
Sickingen. He has been termed, not without truth, "the last flower of
German chivalry," since in him the old knightly qualities flashed up
in conjunction with the old knightly power and splendour with a
brightness hardly known even in the palmiest days of mediæval life. It
was, however, the last flicker of the light of German chivalry. With
the death of Sickingen and the collapse of his revolt the knighthood
of Central Europe ceased any longer to play an independent part in

Sickingen, although technically only one of the lower nobility, was
deemed about the time of Luther's appearance to hold the immediate
destinies of the empire in his hand. Wealthy, inspiring confidence and
enthusiasm as a leader, possessed of more than one powerful and
strategically situated stronghold, he held court at his favourite
residence, the Castle of the Landstuhl, in the Rhenish Palatinate, in
a style which many a prince of the empire might have envied. As
honoured guests were to be found attending on him humanists, poets,
minstrels, partisans of the new theology, astrologers, alchemists, and
men of letters generally--in short, the whole intelligence and culture
of the period. Foremost amongst these, and chief confidant of
Sickingen, was the knight, courtier, poet, essayist, and pamphleteer,
Ulrich von Hutten, whose pen was ever ready to champion with unstinted
enthusiasm the cause of the progressive ideas of his age. He first
took up the cudgels against the obscurantists on behalf of Humanism as
represented by Erasmus and Reuchlin, the latter of whom he bravely
defended in his dispute with the Inquisition and the monks of Cologne,
and in his contributions to the _Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum_ we see
the youthful ardour of the Renaissance in full blast in its onslaught
on the forces of mediæval obstruction. Unlike most of those with whom
he was first associated, Hutten passed from being the upholder of the
New Learning to the rôle of champion of the Reformation; and it was
largely through his influence that Sickingen took up the cause of
Luther and his movement.

Sickingen had been induced by Charles V to assist him in an abortive
attempt to invade France in 1521, from which campaign he had returned
without much benefit either material or moral, save that Charles was
left heavily in his debt. The accumulated hatred of generations for
the priesthood had made Sickingen a willing instrument in the hands of
the reforming party, and believing that Charles now lay to some extent
in his power, he considered the moment opportune for putting his
long-cherished scheme into operation for reforming the Constitution of
the empire. This reformation consisted, as was to be expected, in
placing his own order on a firm footing, and of effectually curbing
the power of the other estates, especially that of the prelates.
Sickingen wished to make the Emperor and the lower nobility the
decisive factors in his new scheme of things political. The Emperor,
it so happened, was for the moment away in Spain, and Sickingen's
colleagues of the knightly order were becoming clamorous at the
unworthy position into which they found themselves rapidly being
driven. The feudal exactions of their princely lieges had reached a
point which passed all endurance, and since they were practically
powerless in the Reichstags, no outlet was left for their discontent
save by open revolt. Impelled not less by his own inclinations than by
the pressure of his companions, foremost among whom was Hutten,
Sickingen decided at once to open the campaign.

Hutten, it would appear, attempted to enter into negotiations for the
co-operation of the towns and of the peasants. So far as can be seen,
Strassburg and one or two other Imperial cities returned favourable
answers; but the precise measure of Hutten's success cannot be
ascertained, owing to the fact that all the documents relating to the
matter perished in the destruction of Sickingen's Castle of Ebernburg.

It should be premised that on August 13th, previous to this
declaration of war, a "Brotherly Convention" had been signed by a
number of the knights, by which Sickingen was appointed their captain,
and they bound themselves to submit to no jurisdiction save their own,
and pledged themselves to mutual aid in war in case of hostilities
against any one of their number. Through this "Treaty of Landau,"
Sickingen had it in his power to assemble a considerable force at a
moment's notice. Consequently, a few days after the issue of the above
manifesto, on August 27, 1522, Sickingen was able to start from the
Castle of Ebernburg with an army of 5,000 foot and 1,500 knights,
besides artillery, in the full confidence that he was about to destroy
the position of the Palatine prince-prelate and raise himself without
delay to the chief power on the Rhine.

By an effective piece of audacity, that of sporting the Imperial flag
and the Burgundian cross, Franz spread abroad the idea that he was
acting on behalf of the Emperor, then absent in Spain; and this
largely contributed to the result that his army speedily rose to 5,000
knights and 10,000 footmen. The Imperial Diet at Nürnberg now
intervened, and ordered Sickingen to cease the operations he had
already begun, threatening him with the ban of the empire and a fine
of 2,000 marks if he did not obey. To this summons Franz sent a
characteristically impudent reply, and light-heartedly continued the
campaign, regardless of the warning which an astrologer had given him
some time previously, that the year 1522 or 1523 would probably be
fatal to him. It is evident that this campaign, begun so late in the
year, was regarded by Sickingen and the other leaders as merely a
preliminary canter to a larger and more widespread movement the
following spring, since on this occasion the Swabian and Franconian
knighthood do not appear to have been even invited to take part in it.

After an easy progress, during which several trifling places, the most
important being St. Wendel, were taken, Franz with his army arrived on
September 8th before the gates of Trier. He had hoped to capture the
town by surprise, and was indeed not without some expectation of
co-operation and help from the citizens themselves. On his arrival he
shot letters within the walls summoning the inhabitants to take his
part against their tyrant; but either through the unwillingness of the
burghers to act with knights, or through the vigilance of the
Archbishop, they were without effect. The gates remained closed; and
in answer to Sickingen's summons to surrender, Richard replied that he
would find him in the city if he could get inside. In the meantime
Sickingen's friends had signally failed in their attempts to obtain
supplies and reinforcements for him, in the main owing to the
energetic action of some of the higher nobles. The Archbishop of Trier
showed himself as much a soldier as a Churchman; and after a week's
siege, during which Sickingen made five assaults on the city, his
powder ran out, and he was forced to retire. He at once made his way
back to Ebernburg, where he intended to pass the winter, since he saw
that it was useless to continue the campaign, with his own army
diminishing and the hoped-for supplies not appearing, whilst the
forces of his antagonists augmented daily. In his stronghold of
Ebernburg he could rely on being secure from all attack until he was
able to again take the field on the offensive, as he anticipated doing
in the spring.

In spite of the obvious failure of the autumnal campaign, the cause of
the knighthood did not by any means look irretrievably desperate,
since there was always the possibility of successful recruitments the
following spring. Ulrich von Hutten was doing his utmost in Würtemberg
and Switzerland to scrape together men and money, though up to this
time without much success, while other emissaries of Sickingen were
working with the same object in Breisgau and other parts of Southern
Germany. Relying on these expected reinforcements, Franz was confident
of victory when he should again take the field, and in the meantime he
felt himself quite secure in one or other of his strong places, which
had recently undergone extensive repairs and seemed to be impregnable.
In this anticipation he was deceived, for he had not reckoned with the
new and more potent weapons of attack which were replacing the
battering-ram and other mediæval besieging appliances. Franz retired
to his strong castle of the Landstuhl to await the onslaught of the
princes which followed in the spring. After heavy bombardment
Sickingen was mortally wounded on May 6th, and the place was
immediately surrendered. The next day the princes entered the castle,
where, in an underground chamber, their enemy lay dying.

He was so near his end that he could scarcely distinguish his three
arch-enemies one from the other. "My dear lord," he said to the Count
Palatine, his feudal superior, "I had not thought that I should end
thus," taking off his cap and giving him his hand. "What has impelled
thee, Franz," asked the Archbishop of Trier, "that thou hast so laid
waste and harmed me and my poor people?" "Of that it were too long to
speak," answered Sickingen, "but I have done nought without cause. I
go now to stand before a greater Lord." Here it is worthy of remark
that the princes treated Franz with all the knightliness and courtesy
which were customary between social equals in the days of chivalry,
addressing him at most rather as a rebellious child than as an
insurgent subject. The Prince of Hesse was about to give utterance to
a reproach, but he was interrupted by the Count Palatine, who told
him that he must not quarrel with a dying man. The Count's chamberlain
said some sympathetic words to Franz, who replied to him: "My dear
chamberlain, it matters little about me. It is not I who am the cock
round which they are dancing." When the princes had withdrawn, his
chaplain asked him if he would confess; but Franz replied: "I have
confessed to God in my heart," whereupon the chaplain gave him
absolution; and as he went to fetch the host "the last of the knights"
passed quietly away, alone and abandoned. It is related by Spalatin
that after his death some peasants and domestics placed his body in an
old armour-chest, in which they had to double the head on to the
knees. The chest was then let down by a rope from the rocky eminence
on which stands the now ruined castle, and was buried beneath a small
chapel in the village below.

The scene we have just described in the castle vault meant not merely
the tragedy of a hero's death, nor merely the destruction of a faction
or party, it meant the end of an epoch. With Sickingen's death one of
the most salient and picturesque elements in the mediæval life of
Central Europe received its death-blow. The knighthood as a distinct
factor in the polity of Europe henceforth existed no more.

Spalatin relates that on the death of Sickingen the princely party
anticipated as easy a victory over the religious revolt as they had
achieved over the knighthood. "The mock Emperor is dead," so the
phrase went, "and the mock Pope will soon be dead also." Hutten,
already an exile in Switzerland, did not many months survive his
patron and leader, Sickingen. The rôle which Erasmus played in this
miserable tragedy was only what was to be expected from the moral
cowardice which seemed ingrained in the character of the great
Humanist leader. Erasmus had already begun to fight shy of the
Reformation movement, from which he was about to separate himself
definitely. He seized the present opportunity to quarrel with Hutten;
and to Hutten's somewhat bitter attacks on him in consequence he
replied with ferocity in his _Spongia Erasmi adversus aspergines

Hutten had had to fly from Basel to Mülhausen and thence to Zürich, in
the last stages of syphilitic disease. He was kindly received by the
reformer, Zwingli of Zürich, who advised him to try the waters of
Pfeffers, and gave him letters of recommendation to the abbot of that
place. He returned, in no wise benefited, to Zürich, when Zwingli
again befriended the sick knight, and sent him to a friend of his, the
"reformed" pastor of the little island of "Ufenau," at the other end
of the lake, where after a few weeks' suffering he died in abject
destitution, leaving, it is said, nothing behind him but his pen. The
disease from which Hutten suffered the greater part of his life, at
that time a comparatively new importation and much more formidable
even than nowadays, may well have contributed to an irascibility of
temper and to a certain recklessness which the typical free-lance of
the Reformation in its early period exhibited. Hutten was never a
theologian, and the Reformation seems to have attracted him mainly
from its political side as implying the assertion of the dawning
feeling of German nationality as against the hated enemies of freedom
of thought and the new light, the clerical satellites of the Roman
see. He was a true son of his time, in his vices no less than in his
virtues; and no one will deny his partiality for "wine, women, and
play." There is reason, indeed, to believe that the latter at times
during his later career provided his sole means of subsistence.

The hero of the Reformation, Luther, with whom Melanchthon may be
associated in this matter, could be no less pusillanimous on occasion
than the hero of the New Learning, Erasmus. Luther undoubtedly saw in
Sickingen's revolt a means of weakening the Catholic powers against
which he had to fight, and at its inception he avowedly favoured the
enterprise. In some of the reforming writings Luther is represented as
the incarnation of Christian resignation and mildness, and as talking
of twelve legions of angels and deprecating any appeal to force as
unbefitting the character of an evangelical apostle. That such,
however, was not his habitual attitude is evident to all who are in
the least degree acquainted with his real conduct and utterances. On
one occasion he wrote: "If they (the priests) continue their mad
ravings it seems to me that there would be no better method and
medicine to stay them than that kings and princes did so with force,
armed themselves and attacked these pernicious people who do poison
all the world, and once for all did make an end of their doings with
weapons, not with words. For even as we punish thieves with the sword,
murderers with the rope, and heretics with fire, wherefore do we not
lay hands on these pernicious teachers of damnation, on popes, on
cardinals, bishops, and the swarm of the Roman Sodom--yea, with every
weapon which lieth within our reach, _and wherefore do we not wash our
hands in their blood?_"[19]

It is, however, in a manifesto published in July 1522, just before
Sickingen's attack on the Archbishop of Trier, for which enterprise it
was doubtless intended as a justification, that Luther expresses
himself in unmeasured terms against the "biggest wolves," the bishops,
and calls upon "all dear children of God and all true Christians" to
drive them out by force from the "sheep-stalls." In this pamphlet,
entitled _Against the falsely called spiritual order of the Pope and
the Bishops_, he says: "It were better that every bishop were
murdered, every foundation or cloister rooted out, than that one soul
should be destroyed, let alone that all souls should be lost for the
sake of their worthless trumpery and idolatry. Of what use are they
who thus live in lust, nourished by the sweat and labour of others,
and are a stumbling-block to the word of God? They fear bodily uproar
and despise spiritual destruction. Are they wise and honest people? If
they accepted God's word and sought the life of the soul, God would be
with them, for He is a God of peace, and they need fear no uprising;
but if they will not hear God's word, but rage and rave with bannings,
burnings, killings, and every evil, what do they better deserve than a
strong uprising which shall sweep them from the earth? _And we would
smile did it happen._[20] As the heavenly wisdom saith: 'Ye have
hated my chastisement and despised my doctrine; behold, I will also
laugh at ye in your distress, and will mock ye when misfortune shall
fall upon your heads.'" In the same document he denounces the bishops
as an accursed race, as "thieves, robbers, and usurers." Swine,
horses, stones, and wood were not so destitute of understanding as the
German people under the sway of them and their Pope. The religious
houses are similarly described as "brothels, low taverns, and murder
dens," He winds up this document, which he calls his "bull," by
proclaiming that "all who contribute body, goods, and honour that the
rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true
Christians, obeying God's command and fighting against the devil's
order"; and, on the other hand, that "all who give the bishops a
willing obedience are the devil's own servants, and fight against
God's order and law."[21]

No sooner, however, did things begin to look bad with Sickingen than
Luther promptly sought to disengage himself from all complicity or
even sympathy with him and his losing cause. So early as December 19,
1522, he writes to his friend Wenzel Link: "Franz von Sickingen has
begun war against the Palatine. It will be a very bad business."
(_Franciscus Sickingen Palatino bellum indixit, res pessima futura
est._) His colleague, Melanchthon, a few days later, hastened to
deprecate the insinuation that Luther had had any part or lot in
initiating the revolt. "Franz von Sickingen," he wrote, "by his great
ill-will injures the cause of Luther; and notwithstanding that he be
entirely dissevered from him, nevertheless whenever he undertaketh war
he wisheth to seem to act for the public benefit, and not for his own.
He doth even now pursue a most infamous course of plunder on the
Rhine." In another letter he says: "I know how this tumult grieveth
him (Luther),"[22] and this respecting the man who had shortly before
written of the princes that their tyranny and haughtiness were no
longer to be borne, alleging that God would not longer endure it, and
that the common man even was becoming intelligent enough to deal with
them by force if they did not mend their manners. A more telling
example of the "don't-put-him-in-the-horse-pond" attitude could
scarcely be desired. That it was characteristic of the "great
reformer" will be seen later on when we find him pursuing a similar
policy anent the revolt of the peasants.

After the fall of the Landstuhl all Sickingen's castles and most of
those of his immediate allies and friends were of course taken, and
the greater part of them destroyed. The knighthood was now to all
intents and purposes politically helpless and economically at the door
of bankruptcy, owing to the suddenly changed conditions of which we
have spoken in the Introduction and elsewhere as supervening since the
beginning of the century: the unparalleled rise in prices,
concurrently with the growing extravagance, the decline of agriculture
in many places, and the increasing burdens put upon the knights by
their feudal superiors, and last, but not least, the increasing
obstacles in the way of the successful pursuit of the profession of
highway robbery. The majority of them, therefore, clung with
relentless severity to the feudal dues of the peasants, which now
constituted their main, and in many cases their only, source of
revenue; and hence, abandoning the hope of independence, they threw in
their lot with the authorities, the princes, lay and ecclesiastic, in
the common object of both, that of reducing the insurgent peasants to
complete subjection.


[19] Italics the present author's.

[20] Italics the present author's.

[21] _Sämmtliche Werke_ vol. xxviii. pp. 142-201.

[22] _Corpus Reformatorum_, vol. i. pp. 598-9.



Peasant revolts of a sporadic character are to be met with throughout
the Middle Ages even in their halcyon days. Some of these, like the
Jacquerie in France and the revolt associated with the name of Wat
Tyler in England, were of a serious and more or less extended
character. But most of them were purely local and of no significance,
apart from temporary and passing circumstances. By the last quarter of
the fifteenth century, however, peasant risings had become
increasingly numerous and their avowed aims much more definite and
far-reaching than, as a rule, were those of an earlier date. In saying
this we are referring to those revolts which were directly initiated
by the peasantry, the serfs, and the villeins of the time, and which
had as their main object the direct amelioration of the peasant's lot.
Movements of a primarily religious character were, of course, of a
somewhat different nature, but the tendency was increasingly, as we
approach the period of the Reformation, for the two currents to merge
one in the other. The echoes of the Hussite movement in Bavaria at the
beginning of the century spread far and wide throughout Central
Europe, and had by no means spent their force as the century drew
towards its close.

From this time forward recurrent indications of social revolt with a
strong religious colouring, or a religious revolt with a strong social
colouring, became chronic in the Germanic lands and those adjacent
thereto. As an example may be taken the movement of Hans Boheim, of
Niklashausen, in the diocese of Würzburg, in Franconia, in 1476, and
which is regarded by some historians as the first of the movements
leading directly up to those of the Lutheran Reformation. Hans claimed
a divine mission for preaching the gospel to the common man. Hans
preached asceticism and claimed Niklashausen as a place of pilgrimage
for a new worship of the Virgin. There was little in this to alarm the
authorities till Hans announced that the Queen of Heaven had revealed
to him that there was to be no lay or spiritual authority, but that
all men should be brothers, earning their bread by the sweat of their
brows, paying no more imposts or dues, holding land in common, and
sharing alike in all things. The movement went on for some months,
spreading rapidly in the neighbouring territories. At last Hans was
seized by armed men while asleep and hurried to Würzburg. The affair
caused immense commotion, and by the Sunday following, it is stated,
34,000 armed peasants assembled at Niklashausen. Led by a decayed
knight and his son, 16,000 of them marched to Würzburg, demanding
their prophet at the gate of the bishop's castle. By promises and
cajolery, they were induced to disperse by the prince-bishop, who, as
soon as he saw they were returning home in straggling parties,
treacherously sent a body of his knights after them, killing some and
taking others prisoners. Two of the ringleaders were beheaded outside
the castle, and at the same time the prophet Hans Boheim was burnt to
ashes. Thus ended a typical religio-social peasant revolt of the
half-century preceding the great Reformation movement.

In 1491 the oppressed and plundered villeins of Kempten revolted, but
the movement was quelled by the Emperor himself after a compromise. A
great rising took place in Elsass (Alsace) in 1493 among the
feudatories of the Bishop of Strassburg, with the usual object of
freedom for the "common man," abolition of feudal exactions, Church
reformation, etc. This movement is interesting, as having first
received the name of the _Bundschuh_. It was decided that as the
knight was distinguished by his spurs, so the peasant should have as
his device the common shoe of his class, laced from the ankle through
to the knee by leathern thongs, and the banner whereon this emblem was
depicted was accordingly made. The movement was, however, betrayed and
mercilessly crushed by the neighbouring knighthood. A few years later
a similar movement, also having the _Bundschuh_ for its device, took
place in the regions of the Upper and Middle Rhine. This movement
created a panic among all the privileged classes, from the Emperor
down to the knight. The situation was discussed in no less than three
separate assemblies of the States. It was, however, eventually
suppressed for the time being. A few years later, in 1512, it again
burst forth under the leadership of an active adherent of the former
movement, one Joss Fritz, in Baden, at the village of Lehen, near the
town of Freiburg. The organization in this case, besides being
widespread, was exceedingly good, and the movement was nearly
successful when at the last moment it was betrayed. Even in
Switzerland there were peasant risings in the early years of the
sixteenth century. About the same time the duchy of Würtemberg was
convulsed by a movement which took the name of the "Poor Conrad." Its
object was the freeing of the "common man" from feudal services and
dues and the abolition of seignorial rights over the land, etc. But
here again the movement was suppressed by Duke Ulrich and his knights.
Another rising took place in Baden in 1517. Three years previously, in
1514, occurred the great Hungarian peasant rebellion under George
Daze. Under the able leadership of the latter the peasants had some
not inconsiderable initial successes, but this movement also, after
some weeks, was cruelly suppressed. About the same time, too, occurred
various insurrectionary peasant movements in the Styrian and
Carinthian alpine districts. Similar movements to those referred to
were also going on during those early years of the fifteenth century
in other parts of Europe, but these, of course, do not concern us.

The deep-reaching importance and effective spread of such movements
was infinitely greater in the Middle Ages than in modern times. The
same phenomenon presents itself to-day in backward and semi-barbaric
communities. At first sight one is inclined to think that there has
been no period in the world's history when it was so easy to stir up
a population as the present, with our newspapers, our telegraphs, our
aeroplane, our postal arrangements, and our railways. But this is just
one of those superficial notions that are not confirmed by history. We
are similarly apt to think that there was no age in which travel was
so widespread and formed so great a part of the education of mankind
as at present. There could be no greater mistake. The true age of
travelling was the close of the Middle Ages, or what is known as the
Renaissance period. The man of learning, then just differentiated from
the ecclesiastic, spent the greater part of his life in earning his
intellectual wares from Court to Court and from University to
University, just as the merchant personally carried his goods from
city to city in an age in which commercial correspondence,
bill-brokers, and the varied forms of modern business were but in
embryo. It was then that travel really meant education, the
acquirement of thorough and intimate knowledge of diverse manners and
customs. Travel was then not a pastime, but a serious element in life.

In the same way the spread of a political or social movement was at
least as rapid then as now, and far more penetrating. The methods
were, of course, vastly different from the present; but the human
material to be dealt with was far easier to mould, and kept its shape
much more readily when moulded, than is the case nowadays. The
appearance of a religious or political teacher in a village or small
town of the Middle Ages was an event which keenly excited the interest
of the inhabitants. It struck across the path of their daily life,
leaving behind it a track hardly conceivable to-day. For one of the
salient symptoms of the change which has taken place since that time
is the disappearance of local centres of activity and the transference
of the intensity of life to a few large towns. In the Middle Ages
every town, small no less than large, was a more or less
self-sufficing organism, intellectually and industrially, and was not
essentially dependent on the outside world for its social sustenance.
This was especially the case in Central Europe, where communication
was much more imperfect and dangerous than in Italy, France, or
England. In a society without newspapers, without easy communication
with the rest of the world, where the vast majority could neither read
nor write, where books were rare and costly, and accessible only to
the privileged few, a new idea bursting upon one of these communities
was eagerly welcomed, discussed in the council chamber of the town, in
the hall of the castle, in the refectory of the monastery, at the
social board of the burgess, in the workroom, and, did it but touch
his interests, in the hut of the peasant. It was canvassed, too, at
church festivals (_Kirchweihe_), the only regular occasion on which
the inhabitants of various localities came together. In the absence of
all other distraction, men thought it out in all the bearings which
their limited intellectual horizon permitted. If calculated in any way
to appeal to them it soon struck root, and became a part of their very
nature, a matter for which, if occasion were, they were prepared to
sacrifice goods, liberty, and even life itself. In the present day a
new idea is comparatively slow in taking root. Amid the myriad
distractions of modern life, perpetually chasing one another, there is
no time for any one thought, however wide-reaching in its bearings, to
take a firm hold. In order that it should do so in the _modern mind_,
it must be again and again borne in upon this not always too receptive
intellectual substance. People require to read of it day after day in
their newspapers, or to hear it preached from countless platforms,
before any serious effect is created. In the simple life of former
ages it was not so.

The mode of transmitting intelligence, especially such as was
connected with the stirring up of political and religious movements,
was in those days of a nature of which we have now little conception.
The sort of thing in vogue then may be compared to the methods
adopted in India to prepare the Mutiny of 1857, when the mysterious
cake was passed from village to village, signifying that the moment
had come for the outbreak. The sense of _esprit de corps_ and of that
kind of honour most intimately associated with it, it must also be
remembered, was infinitely keener in ruder states of society than
under a high civilization. The growth of civilization, as implying the
disruption of the groups in which the individual is merged under more
primitive conditions, and his isolation as an autonomous unit having
vague and very elastic moral duties to his "country" or to mankind at
large, but none towards any definite and proximate social whole,
necessarily destroys that communal spirit which prevails in the former
case. This is one of the striking truths which the history of these
peasant risings illustrates in various ways and brings vividly home to



The year following the collapse of Franz Sickingen's rebellion saw the
first mutterings of the great movement known as the Peasants' War, the
most extensive and important of all the popular insurrections of the
Middle Ages, which, as we have seen in a previous chapter, had been
led up to during the previous half-century by numerous sporadic
movements throughout Central Europe having like aims.

The first actual outbreak of the Peasants' War took place in August
1524, in the Black Forest, in the village of Stühlingen, from an
apparently trivial cause. It spread rapidly throughout the surrounding
districts, having found a leader in a former soldier of fortune, Hans
Müller by name. The so-called Evangelical Brotherhood sprang into
existence. On the new movement becoming threatening it was opposed by
the Swabian League, a body in the interests of the Germanic
Federation, its princes, and cities, whose function it was to preserve
public tranquillity and enforce the Imperial decrees. The peasant army
was armed with the rudest weapons, including pitchforks, scythes, and
axes; but nothing decisive of a military character took place this
year. Meanwhile the work of agitation was carried on far and wide
throughout the South German territories. Preachers of discontent among
the peasantry and the former towns were everywhere agitating and
organizing with a view to a general rising in the ensuing spring.
Negotiations were carried on throughout the winter with nobles and the
authorities without important results. A diversion in favour of the
peasants was caused by Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg favouring the
peasants' cause, which he hoped to use as a shoeing-horn to his own
plans for recovering his ancestral domains, from which he had been
driven on the grounds of a family quarrel under the ban of the empire
in 1519. He now established himself in his stronghold of Hohentwiel,
in Würtemberg, on the Swiss frontier. By February or the beginning of
March peasant bands were organizing throughout Southern Germany.
Early in March a so-called Peasants' Parliament was held at Memmingen,
a small Swabian town, at which the principal charter of the movement,
the so-called "Twelve Articles," was adopted. This important document
has a strong religious colouring, the political and economic demands
of the peasants being led up to and justified by Biblical quotations.
They all turn on the customary grievances of the time. The "Twelve
Articles" remain throughout the chief Bill of Rights of the South
German peasantry, though there were other versions of the latter
current in certain districts. What was said before concerning the
local sporadic movements which had been going en for a generation
previously applies equally to the great uprising of 1525. The rapidity
with which the ideas represented by the movement, and in consequence
the movement itself, spread, is marvellous. By the middle of April it
was computed that no less 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 countryfolk, organized 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. A slight
success gained by the Swabian League at the Upper Swabian village of
Leipheim in the second week of April did not improve matters. In
Easter week, 1525, it looked indeed as if the "Twelve Articles" at
least would become realized, 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. In many cases the leaders and
chief men of the bands were got up in brilliant costume. 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. As Lamprecht justly observes
(_Deutsche Geschichte_, vol. v. p. 343): "The peasant revolts were,
in general, less in the nature of campaigns, or even of an
uninterrupted series of minor military operations, than of a slow
process of mobilization, interrupted and accompanied by continual
negotiations with lords and princes--a mobilization which was rendered
possible by the standing right of assembly and of carrying arms
possessed by the peasants." The smaller towns everywhere opened their
gates without resistance to the peasants, between whom and the poorer
inhabitants an understanding commonly existed. The bands waxed fat
with plunder of castles and religious houses, and did full justice to
the contents of the rich monastic wine-cellars.

Early in April occurred one of the most notable incidents. It was at
the little town of Weinsberg, near the free town of Heilbronn, in
Würtemberg. The town, which was occupied by a body of knights and
men-at-arms, was attacked on Easter Sunday by the peasant bands,
foremost among them being the "black troop" of that knightly champion
of the peasant cause, Florian Geyer. It was followed by a peasant
contingent, led by one Jäcklein Rohrbach, whose consuming passion was
hatred of the ruling classes. The knights within the town were under
the leadership of Count von Helfenstein. The entry of Rohrbach's
company into Weinsberg was the signal for a massacre of the knightly
host. Some were taken prisoners for the moment, including Helfenstein
himself, but these were massacred next morning in the meadow outside
the town by "Jäcklein," as he was called. The events at Weinsberg
produced in the first instance a horror and consternation which was
speedily followed by a lust for vengeance on the part of the
privileged orders.

In Franconia and Middle Germany the peasant movement went on apace. In
Franconia one of its chief seats was the considerable town of
Rothenburg, on the Tauber. The episcopal city of Würzburg was also
entered and occupied by the peasant bands in coalition with the
discontented elements of the town. The sacking of churches and
throwing open of religious houses characterized proceedings here as
elsewhere. The locking up of a large peasant host in Würzburg was
undoubtedly a source of great weakness to the movement. In the east,
in the Tyrol and Salzburg, there were similar risings to those farther
west. In the latter case the prince-bishop was the obnoxious

The most interesting of the local movements was, however, in many
respects that of Thomas Münzer in the town of Mülhausen, in Thuringia.
Thomas Münzer is, perhaps, the best known of all the names in the
peasants' revolt. In addition to the ultra-Protestantism of his
theological views, Münzer had as his object the establishment of a
communistic Christian Commonwealth. He started a practical
exemplification of this among his own followers in the town itself.

Up to the beginning of May the insurrection had carried everything
before it. Truchsess and his men of the Swabian League had proved
themselves unable to cope with it. Matters now changed. Knights,
men-at-arms, and free-lances were returning from the Italian campaign
of Charles V after the battle of Pavia. Everywhere the revolt met with
disaster. The Mülhausen insurgents were destroyed at Frankenhausen by
forces of the Count of Hesse, of the Duke of Brunswick, and of the
Duke of Saxony. This was on May 15th. Three days before the defeat at
Frankenhausen, on May 12th, a decisive defeat was inflicted on the
peasants by the forces of the Swabian League, under Truchsess, at
Böblingen, in Würtemberg. Savage ferocity signalized the treatment of
the defeated peasants by the soldiery of the nobles. Jäcklein Rohrbach
was roasted alive. Truchsess with his soldiery then hurried north and
inflicted a heavy defeat on the Franconian peasant contingents at
Königshaven, on the Tauber. These three defeats, following one
another in little more than a fortnight, broke the back of the whole
movement in Germany proper. In Elsass and Lorraine the insurrection
was crushed by the hired troops and the Duke of Lorraine; eastward, on
the little river Luibas. In the Austrian territories, under the able
leadership of Michael Gaismayr, one of the lesser nobility, it
continued for some months longer, and the fear of Gaismayr, who, it
should be said, was the only man of really constructive genius the
movement had produced, maintained itself with the privileged classes
till his murder in the autumn of 1528, at the instance of the Bishop
of Brixen.

The great peasant insurrection in Germany failed through want of a
well-thought-out plan and tactics, and, above all, through a want of
cohesion among the various peasant forces operating in different
sections of the country, between which no regular communications were
kept up. The attitude of Martin Luther towards the peasants and their
cause was base in the extreme. His action was mainly embodied in two
documents, of which the first was issued about the middle of April,
and the second a month later. The difference in tone between them is
sufficiently striking. In the first, which bore the title, "An
Exhortation to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Peasantry in
Swabia," Luther sits on the fence, admonishing both parties of what he
deemed their shortcomings. He was naturally pleased with those
articles that demanded the free preaching of the Gospel and abused the
Catholic clergy, and was not indisposed to assent to many of the
economic demands. In fact, the document strikes one as distinctly more
favourable to the insurgents than to their opponents.

"We have," he wrote, "no one to thank for this mischief and sedition,
save ye princes and lords, in especial ye blind bishops and mad
priests and monks, who up to this day remain obstinate and do not
cease to rage and rave against the holy Gospel, albeit ye know that it
is righteous, and that ye may not gainsay it. Moreover, in your
worldly regiment, ye do naught otherwise than flay and extort tribute,
that ye may satisfy your pomp and vanity, till the poor, common man
cannot, and may not, bear with it longer. The sword is on your neck.
Ye think ye sit so strongly in your seats, that none may cast you from
them. Such presumption and obstinate pride will twist your necks, as
ye will see." And again: "God hath made it thus that they cannot, and
will not, longer bear with your raging. If ye do it not of your free
will, so shall ye be made to do it by way of violence and undoing."
Once more: "It is not peasants, my dear lords, who have set themselves
up against you. God Himself it is who setteth Himself against you to
chastise your evil-doing."

He counsels the princes and lords to make peace with their peasants,
observing with reference to the "Twelve Articles" that some of them
are so just and righteous that before God and the world their
worthiness is manifested, making good the words of the psalm that they
heap contempt upon the heads of the princes. Whilst he warns the
peasants against sedition and rebellion, and criticizes some of the
Articles as going beyond the justification of Holy Writ, and whilst he
makes side-hits at "the prophets of murder and the spirits of
confusion which had found their way among them," the general
impression given by the pamphlet is, as already said, one of
unmistakable friendliness to the peasants and hostility to the lords.

The manifesto may be summed up in the following terms: Both sides are,
strictly speaking, in the wrong, but the princes and lords have
provoked the "common man" by their unjust exactions and oppressions;
the peasants, on their side, have gone too far in many of their
demands, notably in the refusal to pay tithes, and most of all in the
notion of abolishing villeinage, which Luther declares to be
"straightway contrary to the Gospel and thievish." The great sin of
the princes remains, however, that of having thrown stumbling-blocks
in the way of the Gospel--_bien entendu_ the Gospel according to
Luther--and the main virtue of the peasants was their claim to have
this Gospel preached. It can scarcely be doubted that the ambiguous
tone of Luther's rescript was interpreted by the rebellious peasants
to their advantage and served to stimulate, rather than to check, the

Meanwhile, the movement rose higher and higher, and reached Thuringia,
the district with which Luther personally was most associated. His
patron, and what is more, the only friend of toleration in high
places, the noble-minded Elector Friedrich of Saxony, fell ill and
died on May 5th, and was succeeded by his younger brother Johann, the
same who afterwards assisted in the suppression of the Thuringian
revolt. Almost immediately thereupon Luther, who had been visiting his
native town of Eisleben, travelled through the revolted districts on
his way back to Wittenberg. He everywhere encountered black looks and
jeers. When he preached, the Münzerites would drown his voice by the
ringing of bells. The signs of rebellion greeted him on all sides.
The "Twelve Articles" were constantly thrown at his head. As the
reports of violence towards the property and persons of some of his
own noble friends reached him his rage broke all bounds. He seems,
however, to have prudently waited a few days, until the cause of the
peasants was obviously hopeless, before publicly taking his stand on
the side of the authorities.

On his arrival in Wittenberg, he wrote a second pronouncement on the
contemporary events, in which no uncertainty was left as to his
attitude. It is entitled, "Against the Murderous and Thievish Bands of
Peasants."[24] Here he lets himself loose on the side of the
oppressors with a bestial ferocity. "Crush them" (the peasants), he
writes, "strangle them and pierce them, in secret places and in sight
of men, he who can, even as one would strike dead a mad dog!" All
having authority who hesitated to extirpate the insurgents to the
uttermost were committing a sin against God. "Findest thou thy death
therein," he writes, addressing the reader, "happy art thou: a more
blessed death can never overtake thee, for thou diest in obedience to
the Divine word and the command of Romans xiii. 1, and in the service
of love, to save thy neighbour from the bonds of hell and the devil."
Never had there been such an infamous exhortation to the most
dastardly murder on a wholesale scale since the Albigensian crusade
with its "Strike them all: God will know His own"--a sentiment indeed
that Luther almost literally reproduces in one passage.

The attitude of the official Lutheran party towards the poor
countryfolk continued as infamous after the war as it had been on the
first sign that fortune was forsaking their cause. Like master, like
man. Luther's jackal, the "gentle" Melanchthon, specially signalized
himself by urging on the feudal barons with Scriptural arguments to
the blood-sucking and oppression of their villeins. A humane and
honourable nobleman, Heinrich von Einsiedel, was touched in conscience
at the _corvées_ and heavy dues to which he found himself entitled. He
sent to Luther for advice upon the subject. Luther replied that the
existing exactions which had been handed down to him from his parents
need not trouble his conscience, adding that it would not be good for
_corvées_ to be given up, since the "common man" ought to have
burdens imposed upon him, as otherwise he would become overbearing. He
further remarked that a severe treatment in material things was
pleasing to God, even though it might seem to be too harsh. Spalatin
writes in a like strain that the burdens in Germany were, if anything,
too light. Subjects, according to Melanchthon, ought to know that they
are serving God in the burdens they bear for their superiors, whether
it were journeying, paying tribute, or otherwise, and as pleasing to
God as though they raised the dead at God's own behest. Subjects
should look up to their lords as wise and just men, and hence be
thankful to them. However unjust, tyrannical, and cruel the lord might
be, there was never any justification for rebellion.

A friend and follower of Luther and Melanchthon--Martin Butzer by
name--went still farther. According to this "reforming" worthy a
subject was to obey his lord in everything. This was all that
concerned him. It was not for him to consider whether what was
enjoined was, or was not, contrary to the will of God. That was a
matter for his feudal superior and God to settle between them.
Referring to the doctrines of the revolutionary sects, Butzer urges
the authorities to extirpate all those professing a false religion.
Such men, he says, deserve a heavier punishment than thieves,
robbers, and murderers. Even their wives and innocent children and
cattle should be destroyed (_ap. Janssen_, vol. i. p. 595).

Luther himself quotes, in a sermon on "Genesis," the instances of
Abraham and Abimelech and other Old Testament worthies, as justifying
slavery and the treatment of a slave as a beast of burden. "Sheep,
cattle, men-servants and maid-servants, they were all possessions,"
says Luther, "to be sold as it pleased them like other beasts. It were
even a good thing were it still so. For else no man may compel nor
tame the servile folk" (_Sämmtliche Werke_, vol. xv. p. 276). In other
discourses he enforces the same doctrine, observing that if the world
is to last for any time, and is to be kept going, it will be necessary
to restore the patriarchal condition. Capito, the Strassburg preacher,
in a letter to a colleague, writes lamenting that the pamphlets and
discourses of Luther had contributed not a little to give edge to the
bloodthirsty vengeance of the princes and nobles after the

The total number of the peasants and their allies who fell either in
fighting or at the hands of the executioners is estimated by Anselm in
his _Berner Chronik_ at 130,000. It was certainly not less than
100,000. For months after the executioner was active in many of the
affected districts. Spalatin says: "Of hanging and beheading there is
no end." Another writer has it: "It was all so that even a stone had
been moved to pity, for the chastisement and vengeance of the
conquering lords was great." The executions within the jurisdiction of
the Swabian League alone are stated at 10,000. Truchsess's provost
boasted of having hanged or beheaded 1,200 with his own hand. More
than 50,000 fugitives were recorded. These, according to a Swabian
League order, were all outlawed in such wise that any one who found
them might slay them without fear of consequences.

The sentences and executions were conducted with true mediæval levity.
It is narrated in a contemporary chronicle that in one village in the
Henneberg territory all the inhabitants had fled on the approach of
the Count and his men-at-arms save two tilers. The two were being led
to execution when one appeared to weep bitterly, and his reply to
interrogatories was that he bewailed the dwellings of the aristocracy
thereabouts, for henceforth there would be no one to supply them with
durable tiles. Thereupon his companion burst out laughing, because,
said he, it had just occurred to him that he would not know where to
place his hat after his head had been taken off. These mildly humorous
remarks obtained for both of them a free pardon.

The aspect of those parts of the country where the war had most
heavily raged was deplorable in the extreme. In addition to the many
hundreds of castles and monasteries destroyed, almost as many villages
and small towns had been levelled with the ground by one side or the
other, especially by the Swabian League and the various princely
forces. Many places were annihilated for having taken part with the
peasants, even when they had been compelled by force to do so. Fields
in these districts were everywhere laid waste or left uncultivated.
Enormous sums were exacted as indemnity. In many of the villages
peasants previously well-to-do were ruined. There seemed no limit to
the bleeding of the "common man," under the pretence of compensation
for damage done by the insurrection.

The condition of the families of the dead and of the fugitives was
appalling. Numbers perished from starvation. The wives and children of
the insurgents were in some cases forcibly driven from their
homesteads and even from their native territory. In one of the
pamphlets published in 1525 anent the events of that year we read:
"Houses are burned; fields and vineyards lie fallow; clothes and
household goods are robbed or burned; cattle and sheep are taken away;
the same as to horses and trappings. The prince, the gentleman, or the
nobleman will have his rent and due. Eternal God, whither shall the
widows and poor children go forth to seek it?" Referring to the
Lutheran campaign against friars and poor scholars, beggars, and
pilgrims, the writer observes: "Think ye now that because of God's
anger for the sake of one beggar, ye must even for a season bear with
twenty, thirty, nay, still more?"

The courts of arbitration, which were established in various districts
to adjudicate on the relations between lords and villeins, were
naturally not given to favour the latter, whilst the fact that large
numbers of deeds and charters had been burnt or otherwise destroyed in
the course of the insurrection left open an extensive field for the
imposition of fresh burdens. The record of the proceedings of one of
the most important of these courts--that of the Swabian League's
jurisdiction, which sat at Memmingen--in the dispute between the
prince-abbot of Kempten and his villeins is given in full in Baumann's
_Akten_, pp. 329-46. Here, however, the peasants did not come off so
badly as in some other places. Meanwhile, all the other evils of the
time, the monopolies of the merchant-princes of the cities and of the
trading-syndicates, the dearness of living, the scarcity of money,
etc., did not abate, but rather increased from year to year. The
Catholic Church maintained itself especially in the South of Germany,
and the official Reformation took on a definitely aristocratic

According to Baumann (_Akten, Vorwort_, v, vi), the true soul of the
movement of 1525 consisted in the notion of "Divine justice," the
principle "that all relations, whether of political, social, or
religious nature, have got to be ordered according to the directions
of the 'Gospel' as the sole and exclusive source and standard of all
justice." The same writer maintains that there are three phases in the
development of this idea, according to which he would have the scheme
of historical investigation subdivided. In Upper Swabia, says he,
"Divine justice" found expression in the well-known "Twelve Articles,"
but here the notion of a political reformation was as good as absent.

In the second phase, the "Divine justice" idea began to be applied to
political conditions. In Tyrol and the Austrian dominions, he
observes, this political side manifested itself in local or, at best,
territorial patriotism. It was only in Franconia that all territorial
patriotism or "particularism" was shaken off and the idea of the unity
of the German peoples received as a political goal. The Franconian
influence gained over the Würtembergers to a large extent, and the
plan of reform elaborated by Weigand and Hipler for the Heilbronn
Parliament was the most complete expression of this second phase of
the movement.

The third phase is represented by the rising in Thuringia, and
especially in its intellectual head, Thomas Münzer. Here we have the
doctrine of "Divine justice" taking precedence of all else and
assuming the form of a thoroughgoing theocratic scheme, to be realized
by the German people.

This division Baumann is led to make with a view to the formulation of
a convenient scheme for a "codex" of documents relating to the
Peasants' War. It may be taken as, in the main, the best general
division that can be put forward, although, as we have seen, there are
places where, and times when, the practical demands of the movement
seem to have asserted themselves directly and spontaneously apart from
any theory whatever.

Of the fate of many of the most active leaders of the revolt we know
nothing. Several heads of the movement, according to a contemporary
writer, wandered about for a long time in misery, some of them indeed
seeking refuge with the Turks, who were still a standing menace to
Imperial Christendom. The popular preachers vanished also on the
suppression of the movement. The disastrous result of the Peasants'
War was prejudicial even to Luther's cause in South Germany. The
Catholic party reaped the advantage everywhere, evangelical preachers,
even, where not insurrectionists, being persecuted. Little
distinction, in fact, was made in most districts between an opponent
of the Catholic Church from Luther's standpoint and one from
Karlstadt's or Hubmayer's. Amongst seventy-one heretics arraigned
before the Austrian court at Ensisheim, only one was acquitted. The
others were broken on the wheel, burnt, or drowned.

There were some who were arrested ten or fifteen years later on
charges connected with the 1525 revolt. Treachery, of course, played a
large part, as it has done in all defeated movements, in ensuring the
fate of many of those who had been at all prominent. In fairness to
Luther, who otherwise played such a villainous rôle in connection with
the peasants' movement, the fact should be recorded that he sheltered
his old colleague, Karlstadt, for a short time in the Augustine
monastery at Wittenberg, after the latter's escape from Rothenburg.

Wendel Hipler continued for some time at liberty, and might probably
have escaped altogether had he not entered a protest against the
Counts of Hohenlohe for having seized a portion of his private fortune
that lay within their power. The result of his action might have been
foreseen. The Counts, on hearing of it, revenged themselves by
accusing him of having been a chief pillar of the rebellion. He had to
flee immediately, and, after wandering about for some time in a
disguise, one of the features of which is stated to have been a false
nose, he was seized on his way to the Reichstag which was being held
at Speier in 1526. Tenacious of his property to the last, he had hoped
to obtain restitution of his rights from the assembled estates of the
empire. Some months later he died in prison at Neustadt.

Of the victors, Truchsess and Frundsberg considered themselves badly
treated by the authorities whom they had served so well, and
Frundsberg even composed a lament on his neglect. This he loved to
hear sung to the accompaniment of the harp as he swilled down his red
wine. The cruel Markgraf Kasimir met a miserable death not long after
from dysentery, whilst Cardinal Matthaus Lang, the Archbishop of
Salzburg, ended his days insane.

Of the fate of other prominent men connected with the events
described, we have spoken in the course of the narrative.

The castles and religious houses, which were destroyed, as already
said, to the number of many hundreds, were in most cases not built up
again. The ruins of not a few of them are visible to this day. Their
owners often spent the sums relentlessly wrung out of the "common man"
as indemnity in the extravagances of a gay life in the free towns or
in dancing attendance at the Courts of the princes and the higher
nobles. The collapse of the revolt was indeed an important link in the
particular chain of events that was so rapidly destroying the
independent existence of the lower nobility as a separate status with
a definite political position, and transforming the face of society
generally. Life in the smaller castle, the knight's _burg_ or tower,
was already tending to become an anachronism. The Court of the prince,
lay or ecclesiastic, was attracting to itself all the elements of
nobility below it in the social hierarchy. The revolt of 1525 gave a
further edge to this development, the first act of which closed with
the collapse of the knights' rebellion and death of Sickingen in 1523.
The knight was becoming superfluous in the economy of the body

The rise of capitalism, the sudden development of the world-market,
the substitution of a money medium of exchange for direct barter--all
these new factors were doing their work. Obviously the great gainers
by the events of the momentous year were the representatives of the
centralizing principle. But the effective centralizing principle was
not represented by the Emperor, for he stood for what was after all
largely a sham centralism, because it was a centralism on a scale for
which the Germanic world was not ripe. Princes and margraves were
destined to be bearers of the _territorial_ centralization, the only
real one to which the German peoples were to attain for a long time to
come. Accordingly, just as the provincial _grand seigneur_ of France
became the courtier of the King at Paris or Versailles, so the
previously quasi-independent German knight or baron became the
courtier or hanger-on of the prince within or near whose territory his
hereditary manor was situate.

The eventful year 1525 was truly a landmark in German history in many
ways--the year of one of the most accredited exploits of Doctor
Faustus, the last mythical hero the progressive races have created;
the year in which Martin Luther, the ex-monk, capped his repudiation
of Catholicism and all its ways by marrying an ex-nun; the year of the
definite victory of Charles V. the German Emperor, over Francis I. the
French King, which meant the final assertion of the "Holy Roman
Empire" as being a national German institution; and last, but not
least, the year of the greatest and the most widespread popular
movement Central Europe had yet seen, and the last of the mediæval
peasant risings on a large scale. The movement of the eventful year
did not, however, as many hoped and many feared, within any short time
rise up again from its ashes, after discomfiture had overtaken it. In
1526, it is true, the genius of Gaismayr succeeded in resuscitating
it, not without prospect of ultimate success, in the Tyrol and other
of the Austrian territories. In this year, moreover, in other outlying
districts, even outside German-speaking populations, the movement
flickered. Thus the traveller between the town of Bellinzona, in the
Swiss Canton of Ticino, and the Bernardino Pass, in Canton Graubünden,
may see to-day an imposing ruin, situated on an eminence in the narrow
valley just above the small Italian-speaking town of Misox. This was
one of the ancestral strongholds of the family, well known in Italian
history, of the Trefuzios or Trevulzir, and was sacked by the
inhabitants of Misox and the neighbouring peasants in the summer of
1526, contemporaneously with Gaismayr's rising in the Tyrol. A
connection between the two events would be difficult to trace, but the
destruction of the castle of Misox, if not a purely spontaneous local
effervescence, looks like an afterglow of the great movement, such as
may well have happened in other secluded mountain valleys.

The Peasants' War in Germany we have been considering is the last
great mediæval uprising of the agrarian classes in Europe. Its result
was, with some few exceptions, a riveting of the peasant's chains and
an increase of his burdens. More than 1,000 castles and religious
houses were destroyed in Germany alone during 1525. Many priceless
works of mediæval art of all kinds perished. But we must not allow our
regret at such vandalism to blind us in any way to the intrinsic
righteousness of the popular demands.

The elements of revolution now became absorbed by the Anabaptist
movement, a continuation primarily in the religious sphere of the
doctrines of the Zwickau enthusiasts and also in many respects of
Thomas Münzer. At first Northern Switzerland, especially the towns of
Basel and Zürich, were the headquarters of the new sect, which,
however, spread rapidly on all sides. Persecution of the direst
description did not destroy it. On the contrary, it seemed only to
have the effect of evoking those social and revolutionary elements
latent within it which were at first overshadowed by more purely
theological interests. As it was, the hopes and aspirations of the
"common man" revived this time in a form indissolubly associated with
the theocratic commonwealth, the most prominent representative of
which during the earlier movement had been Thomas Münzer.

But, notwithstanding resemblances, it is utterly incorrect, as has
sometimes been done, to describe any of the leaders of the great
peasant rebellion of 1525 as Anabaptists. The Anabaptist sect, it is
true, originated in Switzerland during the rising, but it was then
confined to a small coterie of unknown enthusiasts, holding
semi-private meetings in Zürich. It was from these small beginnings
that the great Anabaptist movement of ten years later arose. It is
directly from them that the Anabaptist movement of history dates its
origin. Movements of a similar character, possessing a strong family
likeness, belong to the mental atmosphere of the time in Germany. The
so-called Zwickau prophets, for example, Nicholas Storch and his
colleagues, seem in their general attitude to have approached very
closely to the principles of the Anabaptist sectaries. But even here
it is incorrect to regard them, as has often been done, as directly
connected with the latter; still more as themselves the germ of the
Anabaptist party of the following years. Thomas Münzer, the only
leader of the movement of 1525 who seems to have been acquainted with
the Zürich enthusiasts, was by no means at one with them on many
points, notably refusing to attach any importance to their special
sign, rebaptism. Chief among the Zürich coterie may be mentioned
Konrad Grebel, at whose house the sect first of all assembled. At
first the Anabaptist movement at Zürich was regarded as an extreme
wing of the party of the Church reformer, Zwingli, in that city, but
it was not long before it broke off entirely from the latter, and
hostilities, ensuing in persecution for the new party, broke out.

To understand the true inwardness of the Anabaptist and similar
movements, it is necessary to endeavour to think oneself back into the
intellectual conditions of the period. The Biblical text itself, now
everywhere read and re-read in the German language, was pondered and
discussed in the house of the handicraftsman and in the hut of the
peasant, with as much confidence of interpretation as in the study of
the professional theologian. But there were also not a few of the
latter order, as we have seen, who were becoming disgusted with the
trend of the official Reformation and its leading representatives. The
Bible thus afforded a _point d'appui_ for the mystical tendencies now
becoming universally prominent--a _point d'appui_ lacking to the
earlier movements of the same kind that were so constantly arising
during the Middle Ages proper. Seen in the dim religious light of a
continuous reading of the Bible and of very little else, the world
began to appear in a new aspect to the simple soul who practised it.
All things seemed filled with the immediate presence of Deity. He who
felt a call pictured himself as playing the part of the Hebrew
prophet. He gathered together a small congregation of followers, who
felt themselves as the children of God in the midst of a heathen
world. Did not the fall of the old Church mean that the day was at
hand when the elect should govern the world? It was not so much
positive doctrines as an attitude of mind that was the ruling spirit
in Anabaptism and like movements. Similarly, it was undoubtedly such a
sensitive impressionism rather than any positive dogma that dominated
the first generation of the Christian Church itself. How this acted
in the case of the earlier Anabaptists we shall presently see.

The new Zürich sect, by one of those seemingly inscrutable chances in
similar cases of which history is full, not only prospered greatly but
went forth conquering and to conquer. It spread rapidly northward,
eastward, and westward. In the course of its victorious career it
absorbed into itself all similar tendencies and local groups and
movements having like aims to itself. As was natural under such
circumstances, we find many different strains in the developed
Anabaptist movement. The theologian Bullinger wrote a book on the
subject, in which he enumerates thirteen distinct sects, as he terms
them, in the Anabaptist body. The general tenets of the organization,
as given by Bullinger, may be summarized as follows: They regard
themselves as the true Church of Christ well pleasing to God; they
believe that by rebaptism a man is received into the Church; they
refuse to hold intercourse with other Churches or to recognize their
ministers; they say that the preachings of these are different from
their works, that no man is the better for their preaching, that their
ministers follow not the teaching of Paul, that they take payment from
their benefices, but do not work by their hands; that the Sacraments
are improperly served, and that every man, who feels the call, has
the right to preach; they maintain that the literal text of the
Scriptures shall be accepted without comment or the additions of
theologians; they protest against the Lutheran doctrine of
justification by faith alone; they maintain that true Christian love
makes it inconsistent for any Christian to be rich, but that among the
Brethren all things should be in common, or, at least, all available
for the assistance of needy Brethren and for the common cause; that
the attitude of the Christian towards authority should be that of
submission and endurance only; that no Christian ought to take office
of any kind, or to take part in any form of military service; that
secular authority has no concern with religious belief; that the
Christian resists no evil and therefore needs no law courts nor should
ever make use of their tribunals; that Christians do not kill or
punish with imprisonment or the sword, but only with exclusion from
the body of believers; that no man should be compelled by force to
believe, nor should any be slain on account of his faith; that infant
baptism is sinful and that adult baptism is the only Christian
baptism--baptism being a sacrament which should be reserved for the
elect alone.

Such seem to represent the doctrines forming the common ground of the
Anabaptist groups as they existed at the end of the second decade of
the fifteenth century. There were, however, as Heinrich Bullinger and
his contemporary, Sebastian Franck, point out, numerous divergencies
between the various sections of the party. Many of these recalled
other mediæval heretic sects, e.g. the Cathari, the Brothers and
Sisters of the Spirit, the Bohemian Brethren, etc.

For the first few years of its existence Anabaptism remained true to
its original theologico-ethical principles. The doctrine of
non-resistance was strictly adhered to. The Brethren believed in
themselves as the elect, and that they had only to wait in prayer and
humility for the "advent of Christ and His saints," the "restitution
of all things," the "establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth,"
or by whatever other phrase the dominant idea of the coming change was
expressed. During the earlier years of the movement the Anabaptists
were peaceable and harmless fanatics and visionaries. In some cases,
as in Moravia, they formed separate communities of their own, some of
which survived as religious sects long after the extinction of the
main movement.

In the earlier years of the fourth decade of the century, however, a
change came over a considerable section of the movement. In Central
and South-eastern Germany, notably in the Moravian territories,
barring isolated individuals here and there, the Anabaptist party
continued to maintain its attitude of non-resistance and the
voluntariness of association which characterized it at first. The
fearful waves of persecution, however, which successively swept over
it were successful at last in partially checking its progress. At
length the only places in this part of the empire where it succeeded
in retaining any effective organization was in the Moravian
territories, where persecution was less strong and the communities
more closely knit together than elsewhere. Otherwise persecution had
played sad havoc with the original Anabaptist groups throughout
Central Europe.

Meanwhile a movement had sprung up in Western and Northern Germany,
following the course of the Rhine Valley, that effectually threw the
older movement of Southern and Eastern Germany into the background.
These earlier movements remained essentially religious and
theological, owing, as Cornelius points out (_Münsterische Aufruhr_,
vol. ii. p. 74), to the fact that they came immediately after the
overthrow of the great political movement of 1552. But although the
older Anabaptism did not itself take political shape, it succeeded in
keeping alive the tendencies and the enthusiasm out of which, under
favourable circumstances, a political movement inevitably grows. The
result was, as Cornelius further observes, an agitation of such a
sweeping character that the fourth decade of the sixteenth century
seemed destined to realize the ideals which the third decade had
striven for in vain.

The new direction in Anabaptism began in the rich and powerful
Imperial city of Strassburg, where peculiar circumstances afforded the
Brethren a considerable amount of toleration. It was in the year 1526
that Anabaptism first made its appearance in Strassburg. It was
Anabaptism of the original type and conducted on the old
theologico-ethical lines. But early in the year 1529 there arrived in
Strassburg a much-travelled man, a skinner by trade, by name Melchior
Hoffmann. He had been an enthusiastic adherent of the Reformation, and
it was not long before he joined the Strassburg Anabaptists and made
his mark in their community. Owing to his personal magnetism and
oratorical gifts, Melchior soon came to be regarded as a specially
ordained prophet and to have acquired corresponding influence. After a
few months Hoffmann seems to have left Strassburg for a propagandist
tour along the Rhine. The tour, apparently, had great success, the
Baptist communities being founded in all important towns as far as
Holland, in which latter country the doctrines spread rapidly. The
Anabaptism, however, taught by Melchior and his disciples did not
include the precept of patient submission to wrong which was such a
prominent characteristic of its earlier phase.

Some time after his reception into the Anabaptist body at Strassburg,
Hoffmann, while in most other points accepting the prevalent doctrines
of the Brethren, broke entirely loose from the doctrine of
non-resistance, maintaining, in theory at least, the right of the
elect to employ the sword against the worldly authorities, "the
godless," "the enemies of the saints." It was predicted, he
maintained, that a two-edged sword should be given into the hands of
the saints to destroy the "mystery of iniquity," the existing
principalities and powers, and the time was now at hand when this
prophecy should be fulfilled. The new movement in the North-west, in
the lower Rhenish districts, and the adjacent Westphalia sprang up and
extended itself, therefore, under the domination of this idea of the
reign of the saints in the approaching millennium and of the notion
that passive non-resistance, whilst for the time being a duty, only
remained so until the coming of the Lord should give the signal for
the saints to rise and join in the destruction of the kingdoms of
this world and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Hoffmann's whole learning seems to have been limited to the Bible, but
this he knew from cover to cover. A diffusion of Luther's translation
of the Bible had produced a revolution. The poorer classes, who were
able to read at all, pored over the Bible, together with such popular
tracts or pamphlets commenting thereon, or treating current social
questions in the light of Biblical story and teaching, as came into
their hands. The followers of the new movement in question acquired
the name of Melchiorites. Hoffmann now published a book explanatory of
his ideas, called _The Ordinance of God_, which had an enormous
popularity. It was followed up by other writings, amplifying and
defending the main thesis it contained.

Outwardly the Melchiorite communities of the North-west had the same
peaceful character as those of South Germany and Moravia, holding as
they did in the main the same doctrines. It was ominous, however, that
Melchior Hoffmann was proclaimed as the prophet Elijah returned
according to promise. Up to 1533 Strassburg continued to be regarded
as the chief seat of Anabaptism, especially by Melchior and his
disciples. It was, they declared, to be the New Jerusalem, from which
the saints should march out to conquer the world. Melchior, on his
return journey to Strassburg from his journey northwards, proclaimed
the end of 1533 as the date of the second advent and the inauguration
of the reign of the saints. Owing to the excitement among the poorer
population of the town consequent upon Hoffmann's preaching, the
prophet was arrested and imprisoned in one of the towers of the city
wall. But 1533 came and went without the Lord or His saints appearing,
while poor Hoffmann remained confined in the tower of the city wall.

Meanwhile the new Anabaptism spread and fermented along the Rhine, and
especially in Holland. In the latter country its chief exponent was a
master baker at Harleem, by name Jan Matthys, who seems to have been a
born leader of men. While preaching essentially the same doctrines as
Hoffmann, with Matthys a Holy War, in a literal sense, was placed in
the forefront of his teaching. With him there was to be no delay. It
was the duty of all the Brethren to show their zeal by at once seizing
the sword of sharpness and mowing down the godless therewith. In this
sense Matthys completed the transformation begun by Hoffmann. Melchior
had indeed rejected the non-resistance doctrine in its absolute form,
but he does not appear in his teaching to have uniformly emphasized
the point, and certainly did not urge the destruction of the godless
as an immediate duty to be fulfilled without delay. With him was
always the suggestion, expressed or implied, of waiting for the signal
from heaven, the coming of the Lord, before proceeding to action. With
Matthys there was no need for waiting, even for a day; the time was
not merely at hand, it had already come. His influence among the
Brethren was immense. If Melchior Hoffmann had been Elijah, Jan
Matthys was Elisha, who should bring his work to a conclusion.

Among Matthys' most intimate followers was Jan Bockelson, from Leyden.
Bockelson was a handsome and striking figure. He was the illegitimate
son of one Bockel, a merchant and Bürgermeister of Saevenhagen, by a
peasant woman from the neighbourhood of Münster, who was in his
service. After Jan's birth Bockel married the woman and bought her her
freedom from the villein status that was hers by heredity. Jan was
taught the tailoring handicraft at Leyden, but seems to have received
little schooling. His natural abilities, however, were considerable,
and he eagerly devoured the religious and propagandist literature of
the time. Amongst other writings the pamphlets of Thomas Münzer
especially fascinated him. He travelled a good deal, visiting Mechlin
and working at his trade for four years in London. Returning home, he
threw himself into the Anabaptist agitation, and, scarcely twenty-five
years old, he was won over to the doctrines of Jan Matthys. The latter
with his younger colleague welded the Anabaptist communities in
Holland and the adjacent German territories into a well-organized
federation. They were more homogeneous in theory than those of
Southern and Eastern Germany, being practically all united on the
basis of the Hoffmann-Matthys propaganda.

The episcopal town of Münster, in Westphalia, like other places in the
third decade of the sixteenth century, became strongly affected by the
Reformation. But that the ferment of the time was by no means wholly
the outcome of religious zeal, as subsequent historians have persisted
in representing it, was recognized by the contemporary heads of the
official Reformation. Thus, writing to Luther under date August 29,
1530, his satellite, Melanchthon, has the candour to admit that the
Imperial cities "care not for religion, for their endeavour is only
toward domination and freedom." As the principal town of Westphalia at
this time may be reckoned the chief city of the bishopric of Münster,
this important ecclesiastical principality was held "immediately of
the empire." It had as its neighbours Ost-Friesland, Oldenburg, the
bishopric of Osnabrück, the county of Marck, and the duchies of Berg
and Cleves. Its territory was half the size of the present province of
Westphalia, and was divided into the upper and lower diocese, which
were separated by the territory of Fecklenburg. The bishop was a
prince of the empire and one of the most important magnates of
North-western Germany, but in ecclesiastical matters he was under the
Archbishop of Köln. The diocese had been founded by Charles the Great.

Owing to a succession of events, beginning in 1529, which for those
interested we may mention may be found discussed in full detail in
_The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists_ (124-71), by the present
writer, the extreme wing of the Reformation party had early gained the
upper hand in the city, and subsequently became fused with the native
Anabaptists, who were soon reinforced by their co-religionists from
the country round, as well as from the not far distant Holland; for it
should be said that the Dutch followers of Hoffmann and Matthys had
been energetic in carrying their faith into the towns of Westphalia as
elsewhere. Without entering in detail into the events leading up to
it, it is sufficient for our purpose to state that by a perfectly
lawful election, held on February 23, 1534, the Government of Münster
was reconstituted and the Anabaptists obtained supreme political
power. Hearing of the way things were going in Münster, Matthys and
his followers had already taken up their abode in the city a little
time before. The cathedral and other churches were stormed and sacked
during the following days, while all official documents and charters
dealing with the feudal relations of the town were given to the flames
during the ensuing month. Both the moderate Protestant (Lutheran) and
the Catholic burghers who had remained were indignant at the acts of
destruction committed, and openly expressed their opposition. The
result was their expulsion from the city; the condition of being
allowed to remain became now the consent to rebaptism and the formal
adoption of Anabaptist principles.

Münster now took the place Strassburg had previously held as the
rallying point of the Anabaptist faithful, whence a crusade against
the Powers of the world was to issue forth. The Government of Münster,
though it officially consisted of the two Bürgermeisters and the new
Council, to a man all zealous Anabaptists, left the real power and
initiative in all measures in the hands of Jan Matthys and of his
disciple, Jan Bockelson, of Leyden. The reign of the saints was now
fairly begun. Various attempts at an organized communism were made,
but these appear to have been only partially successful. One day Jan
Matthys with twenty companions, in an access of fanatical devotion,
made a sortie from the town towards the bishop's camp. Needless to
say, the party were all killed. The great leader dead, Jan Bockelson
became naturally the chief of the city and head of the movement.

Bockelson proved in every way a capable successor to Matthys. A new
Constitution was now given by Bockelson and the Dutchmen, acting as
his prophets and preachers. It was embodied in thirty-nine articles,
and one of its chief features was the transference of power to twelve
elders, the number being suggested by the twelve tribes of Israel. The
idea of reliving the life of the "chosen people," as depicted in the
Old Testament, showed itself in various ways, amongst others by the
notorious edict establishing polygamy. This measure, however, as Karl
Kautsky has shown, there is good reason for thinking was probably
induced by the economic necessity of the time, and especially by the
enormous excess of the female over the male population of the city.
Otherwise the Münsterites, like the Anabaptists generally, gave
evidence of favouring asceticism in sexual matters.

Considerations of space prevent us from going into further detail of
the inner life of Münster under the Anabaptist regime during the siege
at the hands of its overlord, the prince-bishop. This will be found
given at length in the work already mentioned. As time went on famine
began to attack the city.

It is sufficient for our purpose to state that on the night of June 24,
1535, the city was betrayed and that in a few hours the free-lances of
the bishop were streaming in through all the gates. The street fighting
was desperate; the Anabaptists showed a desperate courage, even women
joining in the struggle, hurling missiles from the windows upon their
foes beneath. By midday on the 25th the city of Münster, the New Zion,
passed over once more into the power of its feudal lord, Franz von
Waldeck, and the reign of the saints had come to an end. The vengeance
of the conquerors was terrible; all alike, irrespective of age or sex,
were involved in an indiscriminate butchery. The three leaders,
Bockelson, Krechting, and Knipperdollinck, after being carried round
captives as an exhibition through the surrounding country, were, some
months afterwards, on January 22, 1536, executed, after being most
horribly tortured. Their bodies were subsequently suspended in three
cages from the top of the tower of the Lamberti church. The three cages
were left undisturbed until a few years ago, when the old tower, having
become structurally unsafe, was pulled down and replaced, with
questionable taste, by an ordinary modern steeple, on which, however,
the original cages may still be seen. A papal legate, sent on a mission
to Münster shortly after the events in question, relates that as he and
his retinue neared the latter town "more and more gibbets and wheels
did we see on the highways and in the villages, where the false
prophets and Anabaptists had suffered for their sins."

The Münster incident was the culmination of the Anabaptist movement.
After the catastrophe the militant section rapidly declined. It did
not die out, however, until towards the end of the century. The last
we hear of it was in 1574, when a formidable insurrection took place
again in Westphalia, under the leadership of one Wilhelmson, the son
of one of the escaped Anabaptist preachers of Münster. The movement
lasted for five years. It was finally suppressed and Wilhelmson burned
alive at Cleves on March 5, 1580. Meanwhile, soon after the fall of
Münster, the party split asunder, a moderate section forming, which
shortly after came under the leadership of Menno Simon. This section,
which soon became the majority of the party, under the name of
Mennonites, settled down into a mere religious sect. In fact, towards
the end of the sixteenth century the Anabaptist communities on the
continent of Europe, from Moravia on the one hand to the extreme
North-west of Germany on the other, showed a tendency to develop into
law-abiding and prosperous religious organizations, in many cases
being officially recognized by the authorities.

The Anabaptist revolt of the fourth decade of the sixteenth century,
though it may be regarded partly as a continuation or recrudescence,
showed some differences from the peasant revolt of some years
previously. The peasant rebellion, which reached its zenith in 1525,
was predominantly an agrarian movement, notwithstanding that it had
had its echo among the poorer classes of the towns. The Anabaptist
movement proper, which culminated in the Münster "reign of the saints"
in 1534-5, was predominantly a townsman's movement, notwithstanding
that it had a considerable support from among the peasantry. The
Anabaptists' leaders were not, as in the case of the Peasants' War,
in the main drawn from the class of the "man that wields the hoe" (to
paraphrase the phraseology of the time); they were tailors, smiths,
bakers, shoemakers, or carpenters. They belonged, in short, to the
class of the organized handicraftsmen and journeymen who worked within
city walls. A prominent figure in both movements was, however, the
ex-priest or teacher. The ideal, or, if you will, the Utopian, element
in the movement of Melchior Hoffmann, Jan Matthys, and Jan
Bockelson--the element which expressed the social discontent of the
time in the guise of its prevalent theological conceptions--now
occupied the first place, while in the earlier movement it was merely

After the close of the sixteenth century Anabaptism lost all political
importance on the continent of Europe. It had, however, a certain
afterglow in this country during the following century, which lasted
over the times of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, and may be
traced in the movements of the "Levellers," the "Fifth Monarchy men,"
and even among the earlier Quakers.


[23] Those interested will find the events briefly sketched in the
present chapter exhaustively treated, with full elaboration of detail,
in the two previous volumes of mine, _The Peasant's War in Germany_ and
_The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists_ (Messrs. George Allen & Unwin).

[24] Amongst the curiosities of literature may be included the
translation of the title of this manifesto by Prof. T.M. Lindsay, D.D.,
in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, 9th edition (Article, "Luther"). The
German title is "Wider die morderischen und rauberischen Rotten der
Bauern." Prof. Lindsay's translation is "_Against the murdering, robbing
Rats [sic] of Peasants_"!



We have in the preceding chapters sought to give a general view of the
social life, together with the inner political and economic movements,
of Germany during that closing period of the Middle Ages which is
generally known as the era of the Reformation. With the definite
establishment of the Reformation and of the new political and economic
conditions that came with it in many of the rising States of Germany,
the Middle Ages may be considered as definitely coming to an end,
notwithstanding that, of course, a considerable body of mediæval
conditions of social, political, and economic life continued to
survive all over Europe, and certainly not least in Germany.

We have now to take a general and, so to say, panoramic view embracing
three centuries and a half, dating from approximately the middle of
the sixteenth century to the present time. Our presentation, owing to
exigencies of space, will necessarily take the form of a mere sketch
of events and general tendencies, but a sketch that will, we hope, be
sufficient to connect periods and to enable the reader to understand
better than before the forces that have built up modern Germany and
have moulded the national character. In this long period of more than
three centuries there are two world-historic events, or rather series
of events, which stand out in bold relief as the causes which have
moulded Germany directly, and the whole of Europe indirectly, up to
the present day. These two epoch-making historical factors are (1) the
Thirty Years' War and (2) the Rise of the Prussian Monarchy.

Owing to the success of Protestantism, with its two forms of
Lutheranism and Calvinism in various German territories, the friction
became chronic between Catholic and Protestant interests throughout
the length and breadth of Central Europe. The Emperor himself was
chosen, as we know, by three ecclesiastical electors, the Archbishops
of Köln, Trier, and Mainz, and by four princes, the Pfalzgraf, called
in English the Elector Palatine, the Markgraves of Saxony and
Brandenburg, and the King of Bohemia. The princes and other
potentates, owing immediate allegiance to the empire alone, were
practically independent sovereigns. The Reichstag, instituted in the
fifteenth century, attendance at which was strictly limited to these
immediate vassals of the empire, had proved of little effect. This was
shown when in the middle of the sixteenth century Protestantism had
established itself in the favour of the mass of the German peoples. It
was vetoed by the Reichstag, with its powerful contingent of
ecclesiastical members. Of course here the economic side of the
question played a great part. The ecclesiastical potentates and those
favourable to them dreaded the spread of Protestantism in view of the
secularization of religious domains and fiefs. This, notwithstanding
that there were not wanting bishops and abbots themselves who were not
indisposed, as princes of the empire, to appropriate the Church lands,
of which they were the trustees, for their own personal possessions.
After a short civil war an arrangement was come to at the Treaty of
Passau in 1552, which was in the main ratified by the Reichstag held
at Augsburg in 1555 (the so-called Peace of Augsburg); but the
arrangement was artificial and proved itself untenable as a permanent
instrument of peace.

During the latter part of the sixteenth century two magnates of the
empire, the Duke of Bavaria on the Catholic side and the Calvinist,
Christian of Anhalt, on the Protestant, played the chief rôle, the
Lutheran Markgrave of Saxony taking up a moderate position as
mediator. Of the Reichstag of Augsburg it should be said that it had
ignored the Calvinist section of the Protestant party altogether, only
recognizing the Lutheran. In 1608 the Protestant Union, which embraced
Lutherans and Calvinists alike, was founded under the leadership of
Christian of Anhalt. It was most powerful in Southern Germany. This
was countered immediately by the foundation under Maximilian, Duke of
Bavaria, of a Catholic League. The friction, which was now becoming
acute, went on increasing till the actual outbreak of the Thirty
Years' War in 1618. The signal for the latter was given by the
Bohemian revolution in the spring of that year.

The Thirty Years' War, as it is termed, which was really a series of
wars, naturally falls into five distinct periods, each representing in
many respects a separate war in itself. The first two years of the war
(1618-20) is occupied with the Bohemian revolt against the attempt of
the Emperor to force Catholicism upon the Bohemian people and with its
immediate consequences. It was accentuated by the attempt of the
Emperor Matthias to compel them to accept the Archduke Ferdinand as
King. This attempt was countered through the election by the Bohemians
of the Pfalzgraf, Friedrich V (the son-in-law of James I of England),
who was called the Winter King from the fact that his reign lasted
only during the winter months; for though the Protestant Union, led by
Count Thurn, had won several victories in 1618 and even threatened
Vienna, the Austrian power was saved by Tilly and the Catholic League
which came to its rescue. Many of the Protestant States, moreover,
were averse to the Palatine Friedrich's acceptance of the Bohemian
crown. The Bohemian movement was ultimately crushed by a force sent
from Spain, under the Spanish general Spinola. The final defeat took
place at the battle of the White Hill, near Prague, November 8, 1620.

The second period of the war was concerned with the attempt of the
Catholic Powers to deprive Friedrich of his Palatine dominions. Here
Count Mansfeld, with his mercenary army of free-lances, aided by
Christian of Brunswick and others on the side of Friedrich and the
Protestants, defeated Tilly in 1622. But later on Tilly and the
Imperialists by a series of victories conquered the Palatinate, which
was bestowed upon Maximilian of Bavaria. Mansfeld, notwithstanding
that he had some successes later in the year 1622, could not
effectually redeem the situation, Brunswick's army being entirely
routed by Tilly in the following year at the battle of Stadtlohn,
which virtually ended this particular campaign.

The third period of the war, from 1624 to 1629, is characterized by
the intervention of the Powers outside the immediate sphere of German
or Imperial interests. France, under Richelieu, became concerned at
the growing power of the Hapsburgs, while James I of England began to
show anxiety at his son-in-law's adverse fortunes, though without
achieving any successful intervention. The chief feature of this
campaign was the entry into the field of Christian IV of Denmark with
a powerful army to join Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick in
invading the Imperial and Austrian territories. But the savageries and
excesses of Mansfeld's troops had disgusted and alienated all sides.
It was at this time that Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, was appointed
general of the Imperial troops, and soon after succeeded in completely
routing Mansfeld at the battle of Dessau Bridge in 1626. Four months
later Tilly completely defeated Christian IV and his Danes at Lutter.
Wallenstein, on his side, followed up his success, driving Mansfeld
into Hungary. Mansfeld, in spite of some fugitive successes in the
Austrian dominions in the course of his retreat, was compelled by
Wallenstein to evacuate Hungary, shortly after which he died. The
campaign ended with the Peace of Lubeck in 1629.

The action of the Emperor Ferdinand in attempting to enforce the
restitution of Church lands in North Germany was the proximate cause
of the next great campaign, which constitutes the fourth period of the
Thirty Years' War (1630-36). The immediate occasion was, however,
Wallenstein's seizure of certain towns in Mecklenburg, over which he
claimed rights by Imperial grant two years before. This, which may be
regarded as the greatest period of the Thirty Years' War, was
characterized by the appearance on the scene of Gustavus Adolphus, the
Swedish King. He was not in time, however, to prevent the sacking of
Magdeburg by the troops of Tilly and Poppenheim. The former,
nevertheless, was defeated by the Swedes at the important battle of
Breitenfeld in 1631. The following year the Imperial army was again
defeated on the Lach. Thereupon Gustavus occupied München, though he
was subsequently compelled by Wallenstein to evacuate the city. The
last great victory of Gustavus was at Lützen in 1632, at which battle
the great leader met his death. Wallenstein, who was now in favour of
a policy of peace and political reconstruction, was assassinated in
1634 with the connivance of the Emperor. On September 6th of the same
year the Protestant army, under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, sustained an
overwhelming defeat at Nördlingen, and the Peace of Prague the
following year ended the campaign.

The fifth period, from 1636 to 1648, has, as its central interest, the
active intervention of France in the Central European struggle. The
Swedes, notwithstanding the death of their King, continued to have
some notable successes, and even approached to within striking
distance of Vienna. But Richelieu now became the chief arbiter of
events. The French generals Condé and Turenne invaded Germany and the
Netherlands. Victories were won by the new armies at Rocroi,
Thionville, and at Nördlingen, but Vienna was not captured. The
Imperial troops were, however, again defeated at Zumarshauen by Condé,
who also repelled an attempted diversion in the shape of a Spanish
invasion of France at the battle of Lens in the spring of 1648. The
Thirty Years' War was finally ended in October of the same year at
Münster, by the celebrated Treaty of Westphalia.

The above is a skeleton sketch in a few words of the chief features of
that long and complicated series of diplomatic and military events
known to history as the Thirty Years' War.[25]

The Thirty Years' War had far-reaching and untold consequences on
Germany itself and indirectly on the course of modern civilization
generally. For close upon a generation Central Europe had been ravaged
from end to end by hostile and plundering armies. Rapine and
destruction were, for near upon a third of the century, the common lot
of the Germanic peoples from north to south and from east to west.
Populations were as helpless as sheep before the brutal, criminal
soldiery, recruited in many cases from the worst elements of every
European country. The excesses of Mansfeld's mercenary army in the
earlier stages of the war created widespread horror. But the defeat
and death of Mansfeld brought no alleviation. The troops of
Wallenstein proved no better in this respect than those of Mansfeld.
On the contrary, with every year the war went on its horrors
increased, while every trace of principle in the struggle fell more
and more into the background. Everywhere was ruin.

The population became by the time the war had ended a mere fraction of
what it was at the opening of the seventeenth century. Some idea of
the state of things may be gathered from the instance of Augsburg,
which during its siege by the Imperialists was reduced from 70,000 to
10,000 inhabitants. What happened to the great commercial city of the
Fuggers was taking place on a scale greater or less, according to the
district, all over German territory. We read of towns and villages
that were pillaged more than a dozen times in a year. This terrific
depopulation of the country, the reader may well understand, had vast
results on its civilization. The whole great structure of Mediæval and
Renaissance Germany--its literature, art, and social life--was in
ruins. At the close of the seventeenth century the old German culture
had gone and the new had not yet arisen. But of this we shall have
more to say in the next chapter. For the present we are chiefly
concerned to give a brief sketch of the second great epoch-making
event, or rather train of events, which conditioned the foundation and
development of modern Germany. We refer, of course, to the rise of the
Prussian monarchy.

We should premise that the Prussians are the least German of all the
populations of what constitutes modern Germany. They are more than
half Slavs. In the early Middle Ages the Mark of Brandenburg, the
centre and chief province of the modern Prussian State, was an
outlying offshoot of the mediæval Holy Roman Empire of the German
nation, surrounded by barbaric tribes, Slav and Teuton. The chief Slav
people were the Borussians, from which the name "Prussian" was a
corruption. The first outstanding historic fact concerning these
Baltic lands is that a certain Adalbert, Bishop of Prague, at the end
of the tenth century went north on a mission of enterprise for
converting the Prussian heathen. The neighbouring Christian prince,
the Duke of Poland, who had presumably suffered much from incursions
of these pagan Slavs, offered him every encouragement. The adventure
ended, however, before long in the death of Adalbert at the hands of
these same pagan Slavs.

The first indication of the existence of a Mark of Brandenburg with
its Markgraves is in the eleventh century. There is, however, little
definite historical information concerning them. The first of these
Markgraves to attract attention was Albrecht the Bear, one of the
so-called Ascanian line, the family hailing from the Harz Mountains.
Albrecht was a remarkable man for his time in every way. Under him the
Markgravate of Brandenburg was raised to be an electorate of the
empire. The Markgrave thus became a prince of the empire. It was
Albrecht the Bear who first introduced a limited measure of peace and
order into the hitherto anarchic condition of the Mark and its
adjacent territories. The Ascanian line continued till 1319, and was
followed by a period of political anarchy and disturbance, until
finally Friedrich, Count of Hohenzollern, acquired the electorate, and
became known as the Elector Friedrich I. Meanwhile the Order of the
Teutonic Knights, who earlier began their famous crusade against the
Borussian heathens, had established themselves on the territories now
known as East and West Prussia. In spite of this fact and of the for
long time dominant power of their Polish neighbours, the Hohenzollern
rulers continued to acquire increased power and fresh territories.

At the Reformation Albrecht, a scion of the Hohenzollern family, who
had been elected Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, adopted
Protestantism and assumed the title of Duke of Prussia. Finally, in
1609, the then Elector of Brandenburg, John Sigismund, through his
marriage with Ann, daughter and heiress of Albrecht Friedrich, Duke of
Prussia, came into possession of the whole of Prussia proper, together
with other adjacent territories. The Prussian lands suffered much
through the Thirty Years' War during the reign of John Sigismund's
successor, George Wilhelm. But the latter's son, Friedrich Wilhelm,
the so-called Great Elector, succeeded by his ability in repairing the
ravages the war had made and raising the electorate immensely in
political importance. He left at his death, in 1688, the financial
condition of the country in a sound state, with an effective army of
38,000 men. Friedrich I, who followed him, held matters together and
got Prussia promoted to the rank of a kingdom in 1701. His son,
Friedrich Wilhelm I, by rigid economies succeeded in raising the
financial condition of the kingdom to a still higher level. The
military power of the monarchy he also developed considerably, and is
famous in history for his mania for tall soldiers.

We now come to the real founder of the Prussian monarchy as a great
European Power, Friedrich Wilhelm I's son, who succeeded his father in
1740 as Friedrich II, and who is known to history as Friedrich the

Friedrich no sooner came to the throne than he started on an
aggressive expansionist policy for Prussia. The opportunity presented
itself a few months after his accession by the dispute as to the
Pragmatic Sanction and Maria Theresa's right to the throne of Austria.
In the two wars which immediately followed, the Prussian army overran
the whole of Silesia, and the peace of 1745 left the Prussian King in
possession of the entire country. East Friesland had already been
absorbed the year before on the death of the last Duke without issue.
In spite of the exhaustion of men and money in the two Silesian wars,
Friedrich found himself ready with both men and money eleven years
later, in 1756, to embark upon what is known as the Seven Years' War.
Though without acquiring fresh territory by this war, the gain in
prestige was so great that the Prussian monarchy virtually assumed the
hegemony of North Germany, becoming the rival of Austria for the
domination of Central Europe, the position in which it remained for
more than a century afterwards. Nevertheless, after this succession of
wars the condition of the country was deplorable. It was obvious that
the first thing to do was the work of internal resuscitation. The
extraordinary ability and energy of the King saved the internal
situation. Agriculture, industry, and commerce were re-established and
reorganized. It was now that the cast-iron system of bureaucratic
administration, where not actually created, was placed on a firm
foundation. But in external affairs Prussia continued to earn its
character as the robber State of Europe _par excellence_.

In 1772 Friedrich joined with Austria in the first partition of
Poland, acquiring the whole of West Prussia as his share. A few years
later Friedrich formed an anti-Austrian league of German princes,
under Prussian leadership, which was the first overt sign of the
conflict for supremacy in Germany between Prussia and Austria, which
lasted for wellnigh a century. By the time of his death--August 7,
1786--Friedrich had increased Prussian territory to nearly 75,000
square miles and between five and six millions of population.

Under Friedrich's nephew, Friedrich Wilhelm II, while the rigour of
bureaucratic administration, controlled by a monarchical absolutism,
continued and was even accentuated, the absence of the able hand of
Friedrich the Great soon made itself apparent. As regards external
policy, however, Prussia, while allowing territories on the left bank
of the Rhine to go to France, eagerly saw to the increase of her own
dominions in the east to the extent of nearly doubling her superficial
area by her participation in the second and third partitions of
Poland, which took place in 1783 and 1795 respectively. These external
successes, or rather acts of spoliation, were, notwithstanding,
counter-balanced at home by a degeneracy alike of the civil
bureaucracy and of the army. The country internally, both as regards
morale and effectiveness, had sunk far below its level under Friedrich
the Great. This showed itself during the great Napoleonic wars, when
Prussia had to undergo more than one humiliation at the hands of
Buonaparte, culminating in October 1806 with the collapse of the
Prussian armies at Jena and Auerstädt. The entry of Napoleon in
triumph into Berlin followed. At the Peace of Tilsit, in 1807,
Friedrich-Wilhelm had to sign away half his kingdom and to consent to
the payment of a heavy war indemnity, pending which the French troops
occupied the most important fortresses in the country.

Following upon this moment of deepest national humiliation comes the
period of the Ministers Stein and Hardenberg, of the enthusiastic
adjurations to patriotism of Fischer and others, and of the activity
of the "League of Virtue" (_Tugendbund_). It is difficult to
understand the enthusiasm that could be aroused for the rehabilitation
of an absolutist, bureaucratic, and militarist State, such as Prussia
was--a State in which civil and political liberty was conspicuous by
its absence. But the fact undoubtedly remains that the men in question
did succeed in pumping up a strong patriotic feeling and desire to
free the country from the yoke of the foreigner, even if that only
meant increased domestic tyranny. It must be admitted, however, that
as a matter of fact not inconsiderable internal reforms were owing to
the leading men of this time. Stein abolished serfdom, and in some
respects did away with the legal distinction of classes, thereby
paving the way for the rise of the middle class, which at that time
meant a progressive step. He also conferred rights of self-government
upon municipalities. Hardenberg inaugurated measures intended to
ameliorate the condition of the peasants, while Wilhelm von Humboldt
established the thorough if somewhat mechanical education system which
was subsequently extended throughout Germany. He also helped to found
the University of Berlin in 1809.

But at the same time the curse of Prussia--militarism--was riveted on
the people through the reorganization of the Prussian army by those
two able military bureaucrats, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In 1813
Prussia concluded at Kalicsh an alliance with Russia, which Austria
joined. In the war which followed Prussia was severely strained by
losses in men and money. But at the Congress of Vienna the Prussian
kingdom received back nearly, but not quite, all it lost in 1807. The
acquirement, however, of new and valuable territories in Westphalia
and along the Rhine, besides Thuringia and the province of Saxony,
more than compensated for the loss of certain Slav districts in the
east, as thereby the way was prepared for the ultimate despotism of
the Prussian King over all Germany. The success of Prussian diplomacy
in enslaving these erstwhile independent German lands in 1815 was
crucial for the subsequent direction of Prussian policy.

It is time now to return once more to the internal conditions in the
Prussian State now dominant over a large part of Northern Germany. A
Constitution had been more than once talked of, but the despotism with
its bureaucratic machinery had remained. Now, after the conclusion of
the Napoleonic wars and the re-drawing of the Prussian frontier lines
by the peace of 1815, the matter assumed an urgency it had not had
before. Following upon proclamations and promises, a patent was
addressed to the new Saxon provinces granting a national _Landtag_, or
Diet, for the whole country. The drawing up of the Constitution thus
proclaimed in principle gave rise to heated conflicts. There was, as
yet, no proletariat proper in Prussia, and for that matter hardly any
in the rest of Germany. The handicraft system of production, and even
the mediæval guild system, slightly modified, prevailed throughout the
country. The middle class proper was small and unimportant, and hence
Liberalism, the theoretical expression of that class, only found
articulate utterance through men of the professions.

The new Prussian territories in the west were largely tinctured with
progressive ideas originating in the French Revolution, while the east
was dominated by reactionary feudal landowners, the notorious Junker
class--a class special to East Prussian territories, including the
eastern portion of the Mark of Brandenburg--whom the moderate
Conservative Minister Stein himself characterized as "heartless,
wooden, half-educated people, only good to turn into corporals or
calculating-machines." This class then, as ever since, opposed an
increase of popular control and the progress of free institutions with
might and main. Friction arose between the Government and Liberal
gymnastic societies and students' clubs. This culminated in the
festival on the Wartburg in October 1818, when a bonfire was made of a
book of police laws and Uhlan stays and a corporal's stick. It was
followed the next year by the assassination of the dramatist and
political spy Kotzebue by the student Sand.

Panic seized the reactionists, and the Austrian Minister Metternich,
one of the chief pillars of absolutist principles in Europe, induced
the King to commit himself to the Austrian system of repression. In
1821 the Reactionary party succeeded in getting the projected
Constitution abandoned and the bureaucratic system of provincial
estates established by royal warrant two years later (1823). The
Prussian police with their spies then became omnipotent, and a
remorseless persecution of all holding Liberal or democratic views
ensued, the best-known writers on the popular side no less than the
rank and file being arbitrarily arrested and kept in prison on any or
no pretext. The amalgamation of the new districts into the Prussian
bureaucratic system was not accomplished without resistance. The Rhine
provinces especially, accustomed to easy-going government and light
taxation under the old ecclesiastical princes, kicked vigorously
against the Prussian jack-boot. The discontent was so widespread
indeed that some concessions had to be made, such as the retention of
the Code Napoléon. What created most resentment, however, was the
enactment of 1814, which enforced compulsory universal military
service throughout the monarchy. Friedrich Wilhelm also undertook to
dragoon his subjects in the matter of religion, amalgamating the
Lutherans with other reformed bodies, under the name of the
"Evangelical Church."

In foreign politics, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century,
during the Napoleonic wars, Prussia, as yet hardly recovered from her
defeats under Buonaparte, almost entirely followed the lead of
Austria. But perhaps the most important measure of the Prussian
Government at this time was the foundation of the famous Zollverein or
Customs Union of various North German States in 1834. The far-reaching
character of this measure was only shown later, being, in fact, the
means and basis by and on which the political and military ascendancy
of Prussia over all Germany was assured. Friedrich Wilhelm III, who
died on June 7, 1840, was succeeded by his son, Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
The new reign began with an appearance of Liberalism by a general
amnesty for political offences. Reaction, however, soon raised its
head again, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV, in spite of his varnish of
philosophical and literary tastes, was soon seen to be _au fond_ as
reactionary as his predecessors. The conflict between the reaction of
the Government and the now widely spread Liberal and democratic
aspirations of the people resulted in Prussia (as it did under similar
circumstances in other countries) in the outbreak of the revolution of

It is necessary at this stage to take a brief survey of the political
history of the Germanic States of Europe generally from the time of
the Peace of Vienna, in 1815, onwards, in order to understand fully
the rôle played by the Prussian monarchy in German history since 1848;
for from this time the history of Prussia becomes more and more bound
up with that of the German peoples as a whole. During the Napoleonic
wars Germany, as every one knows, was, generally speaking, in the grip
of the French Imperial power. To follow the vicissitudes and
fluctuations of fortune throughout Central Europe during these years
lies outside our present purpose. We are here chiefly concerned with
the political development from the Treaty of Vienna, as signed on June
9, 1815, onward. The Treaty of Vienna completed the work begun by
Napoleon--represented by the extinction of the mediæval "Holy Roman
Empire of the German nation" in 1806--in making an end of the
political configuration of the German peoples which had grown up
during the Middle Ages and survived, in a more or less decayed
condition, since the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty
Years' War. The three hundred separate States of which Germany had
originally consisted were now reduced to thirty-nine, a number which,
by the extinction of sundry minor governing lines, was before long
further reduced to thirty-five. These States constituted themselves
into a new German Confederation, with a Federal Assembly, meeting at
Frankfurt-on-the-Main. The new Federal Council, or Assembly, however,
soon revealed itself as but the tool of the princes and a bulwark of

The revolution of 1848 was throughout Germany an expression of popular
discontent and of democratic and even, to a large extent, of
republican aspirations. The princely authorities endeavoured to stem
the wave of popular indignation and revolutionary enthusiasm by
recognizing a provisional self-constituted body, and sanctioning the
election of a national representative Parliament at Frankfurt in place
of the effete Federal Council. The Archduke of Austria, who was
elected head of the new, hastily organized National Government, was
not slow to use his newly acquired power in the interests of reaction,
thereby exciting the hostility of all the progressive elements in the
Parliament of Frankfurt. When after some months it became obvious that
the anti-Progressive parties had gained the upper hand alike in
Austria and Prussia, the friction between the Democratic and
Constitutional parties became increasingly bitter.

The Prussian Government meanwhile took advantage of the state of
affairs to stir up the Schleswig-Holstein question, so-called, driving
the Danes out of Schleswig, an insurrectionary movement in Holstein
having been already suppressed by the Danish King. Prussia, alarmed
by the attitude of the Powers, agreed to withdraw her troops from the
occupied territories without consulting the Frankfurt Parliament, an
act which involved Friedrich Wilhelm in conflict with the latter. The
issues arising out of this dispute made it plain to every one that the
Parliament of all Germany was impotent to enforce its decrees against
one of the German Powers possessed of a preponderating military
strength. By the end of 1848 the revolution in Vienna was completely
crushed and a strongly reactionary Government appointed by the new
Emperor. Meanwhile in Berlin the Junkers and the reactionaries
generally had already again come into power, a crisis having been
caused by the attempt of the democratic section of the Prussian
National Assembly, convened by the King in March, to reorganize the
army on a popular democratic basis. We need scarcely say the Prussian
army has been the tool of Junkerdom and reaction ever since.

The last despairing attempt of the Frankfurt Parliament to give effect
to the national Germanic unity, which all patriotic Germans professed
to be eager for, was the offer of the Imperial crown to the King of
Prussia. Against this act, however, nearly half the members--i.e. all
the advanced parties in the Assembly--protested by refusing to take
any part in it They had also declined to be associated with a previous
motion for the exclusion of German Austria from the new national
unity, in the interest of Prussian ascendancy. Both these reactionary
proposals, as we all know, at a later date became the corner-stones of
the new Prusso-German unity of Bismark's creation. On this occasion,
however, the Prussian King refused to accept the office at the hands
of the impotent Frankfurt Assembly, which latter soon afterwards broke
up and eventually "petered out." Meanwhile Prussian troops, led by the
reactionary military caste, were employed in the congenial task of
suppressing popular movements with the sword in Baden, Saxony, and
Prussia itself.

The two rival bulwarks of reaction, Prussia and Austria, were now so
alarmed at the revolutionary dangers they had passed through that, for
the nonce forgetting their rivalry, they cordially joined together in
reviving, in the interests of the counter-revolution, the old
reactionary Federal Assembly, which had never been formally dissolved,
as it ought to have been on the election of the Frankfurt Parliament.
Reaction now went on apace. Liberties were curtailed and rights gained
in 1848 were abolished in most of the smaller States. Henceforth the
Federal Assembly became the theatre of the two great rival powers of
the Germanic Confederation. Both alike strove desperately for the
hegemony of Germany. The strength of Prussia, of course, lay generally
in the north, that of Austria in the south. Austria had the advantage
of Prussia in the matter of prestige. Prussia, on the other hand, had
the pull of Austria in the possession of the machinery of the Customs
Union. In general, however, the dual control of the Germanic
Confederation was grudgingly recognized by either party, and on
occasion they acted together. This was notably the case in the
Schleswig-Holstein question, which had been smouldering ever since
1848, and which came to a crisis in the Danish war of 1864, in which
Austria and Prussia jointly took part.

Among the most reactionary of the Junker party in the Prussian
Parliament of 1848 was one Count Otto Bismarck von Schönhausen,
subsequently known to history as Prince Bismarck (1815-98). This man
strenuously opposed the acceptance of the Imperial dignity by the King
of Prussia at the hands of the Frankfurt Parliament in 1849, on the
ground that it was unworthy of the King of Prussia to accept any
office at the hands of the people rather than at those of his peers,
the princes of Germany. In 1851 Count von Bismarck was appointed a
Prussian representative in the revived princely and aristocratic
Federal Assembly. Here he energetically fought the hegemony hitherto
exercised by Austria. He continued some years in this capacity, and
subsequently served as Prussian Minister in St. Petersburg and again
in Paris. In the autumn of 1862 the new King of Prussia, Wilhelm I,
who had succeeded to the throne the previous year, called him back to
take over the portfolio of Foreign Affairs and the leadership of the
Cabinet. Shortly after his accession to power he arbitrarily closed
the Chambers for refusing to sanction his Army Bill. His army scheme
was then forced through by the royal fiat alone. On the reopening of
the Schleswig-Holstein question, owing to the death of the King of
Denmark, German nationalist sentiment was aroused, which Bismarck knew
how to use for the aggrandisement of Prussia. The Danish war, in which
the two leading German States collaborated and which ended in their
favour, had as its result a disagreement of a serious nature between
these rival, though mutually victorious, Powers.

In all these events the hand of Bismarck was to be seen. He it was who
dominated completely Prussian policy from 1862 onwards. Full of his
schemes for the aggrandisement of Prussia at the expense of Austria,
he stirred up and worked this quarrel for all it was worth, the
upshot being the Prusso-Austrian War (the so-called Seven Weeks' War)
of the summer of 1866. The war was brought about by the arbitrary
dissolution of the German Confederation--i.e. the Federal Assembly--in
which, owing to the alarm created by Prussian insolence and
aggression, Austria had the backing of the majority of the States.
This step was followed by Bismarck's dispatching an ultimatum to
Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse Cassel respectively, all of which had voted
against Prussia in the Federal Assembly, followed, on its
non-acceptance, by the dispatch of Prussian troops to occupy the
States in question. Hard on this act of brutal violence came the
declaration of war with Austria.

At Königgratz the Prussian army was victorious over the Austrians, and
henceforth the hegemony of Central Europe was decided in favour of
Prussia. Austria, under the Treaty of Prague (August 20, 1866), was
completely excluded from the new organization of German States, in
which Prussia--i.e. Bismarck--was to have a free hand. The result was
the foundation of the North German Confederation, under the leadership
of Prussia. It was to have a common Parliament, elected by universal
suffrage and meeting in Berlin. The army, the diplomatic
representation, the control of the postal and telegraphic services,
were to be under the sole control of the Prussian Government. The
North German Confederation comprised the northern and central States
of Germany. The southern States--Bavaria, Baden, Würtemberg,
etc.--although not included, had been forced into a practical alliance
with Prussia by treaties. The Customs Union was extended until it
embraced nearly the whole of Germany. Prussian aggression in Luxemburg
produced a crisis with France in 1867, though the growing tension
between Prussia and France was tided over on this occasion. But
Bismarck only bided his time.

The occasion was furnished him by the question of the succession to
the Spanish throne, in July 1870. By means of a falsified telegram
Bismarck precipitated war, in which Prussia was joined by all the
States of Germany. The subsequent course of events is matter of recent
history. The establishment of the new Prusso-German empire by the
crowning of Wilhelm I at Versailles, with the empire made hereditary
in the Hohenzollern family, completed the work of Bismarck and the
setting of the Prussian jack-boot on the necks of the German peoples.
The Prussian military and bureaucratic systems were now extended to
all Germany--in other words, the rest of the German peoples were made
virtually the vassals and slaves of the Prussian monarch. This time
the King of Prussia received the Imperial crown at the hands of the
kings, princes, and other hereditary rulers of the various German
States. Bismarck was graciously pleased to bestow unity and internal
peace--a Prussian peace--upon Germany on condition of its abasement
before the Prussian corporal's stick and police-truncheon. Such was
the united Germany of Bismarck. Germany meant for Bismarck and his
followers Prussia, and Prussia meant their own Junker and military
caste, under the titular headship of the Hohenzollern.

Yet, strange to say, the peoples of Germany willingly consented, under
the influence of the intoxication of a successful war, to have their
independence bartered away to Prussia by their rulers. In this united
Germany of Bismarck--a Germany united under Prussian despotism--they
naïvely saw the realization of the dream of their thinkers and poets
since the time of the Napoleonic wars--which had become more than ever
an inspiration from 1848 onwards--of an ideal unity of all
German-speaking peoples as a national whole. It is unquestionable that
many of these thinkers and poets would have been horrified at the
Prusso-Bismarckian "unity" of "blood and iron," It was not for this,
they would have said, that they had laboured and suffered.

As a conclusion to the present chapter I venture to give a short
summary of the internal, and especially of the economic, development
of Prussia since the Franco-German War from an article which appeared
in the _English Review_ for December 1914, by Mr. H.M. Hyndman and the
present writer:--

"From 1871 onwards Prussianized Germany, by far the best-educated, and
industrially and commercially the most progressive, country in Europe,
with the enormous advantage of her central position, was, consciously
and unconsciously, making ready for her next advance. The policy of a
good understanding with Russia, maintained for many years, to such an
extent that, in foreign affairs, Berlin and St. Petersburg were almost
one city, enabled Germany to feel secure against France, while she was
devoting herself to the extension of her rural and urban powers of
production. Never at any time did she neglect to keep her army in a
posture of offence. All can now see the meaning of this.

"Militarism is in no sense necessarily economic. But the strength of
Germany for war was rapidly increased by her success in peace. From
the date of the great financial crisis of 1874, and the consequent
reorganization of her entire banking system, Germany entered upon that
determined and well-thought-out attempt to attain pre-eminence in the
trade and commerce of the world of which we have not yet seen the end.
From 1878, when the German High Commissioner, von Rouleaux,
stigmatized the exhibits of his countrymen as 'cheap and nasty,'
special efforts were made to use the excellent education and admirable
powers of organization of Germany in this field. The Government
rendered official and financial help in both agriculture and
manufacture. Scientific training, good and cheap before, was made
cheaper and better each year. Railways were used not to foster foreign
competition, as in Great Britain, by excessive rates of home freight,
but to give the greatest possible advantage to German industry in
every department. In more than one rural district the railways were
worked at an apparent loss in order to foster home production, from
which the nation derived far greater advantage than such apparent
sacrifice entailed. The same system of State help was extended to
shipping until the great German liners, one of which, indeed, was
actually subsidized by England, were more than holding their own with
the oldest and most celebrated British companies.

"Protection, alike in agriculture and in manufacture, bound the whole
empire together in essentially Imperial bonds. Right or wrong in
theory--which it is not here necessary to discuss--there can be no
doubt whatever that this policy entirely changed the face of Germany,
and rendered her our most formidable competitor in every market.
Emigration, which had been proceeding on a vast scale, almost entirely
ceased. The savings banks were overflowing with deposits. The position
of the workers was greatly improved. Not only were German Colonies
secured in Africa and Asia, which were more trouble than they were
worth, but very profitable commerce with our own Colonies and
Dependencies was growing by leaps and bounds, at the expense of the
out-of-date but self-satisfied commercialists of Old England. Hence
arose a trade rivalry, against which we could not hope to contend
successfully in the long run, except by a complete revolution in our
methods of education and business, to which neither the Government nor
the dominant class would consent.

"This remarkable advance in Germany, also, was accompanied by the
establishment of a system of banking, specially directed to the
expansion of national industry and commerce, a system which was clever
enough to use French accumulations, borrowed at a low rate of
interest, through the German Jews who so largely controlled French
financial institutions, in order still further to extend their own
trade. It was an admirably organized attempt to conquer the
world-market for commodities, in which the Government, the banks, the
manufacturers and the shipowners all worked for the common cause.
Meanwhile, both French and English financiers carefully played the
game of their business opponents, and the great English banks devoted
their attention chiefly to fostering speculation on the Stock
Exchange--a policy of which the Germans took advantage, just before
the outbreak of war, to an extent not by any means as yet fully

"Thus, at the beginning of the present year, in spite of the
withdrawal, since the Agadir affair, of very large amounts of French
capital from the German market, Germany had attained to such a
position that only the United States stood on a higher plane in regard
to its future in the world of competitive commerce. And this great and
increasing economic strength was, for war purposes, at the disposal of
the Prussian militarists, if they succeeded in getting the upper hand
in politics and foreign affairs."


[25] Works on the Thirty Years' War are numerous. Many scholarly and
exhaustive treatises on various aspects of the subject are, as might be
expected, to be found in German. For general popular reading Schiller's
excellent piece of literary hack work (translated in Bonn's Library) may
still be consulted, but perhaps the best short general history of the
war with its entanglement of events is that by the late Professor S.R.
Gardiner, of Oxford, which forms one of the volumes of Messrs. Longman,
Green & Co.'s series entitled "Epochs of Modern History."



It is important to distinguish between the meaning of the German term
"Kultur" and that commonly expressed in English by the word "culture."
The word "Kultur" in modern German is simply equivalent to our word
"civilization," whereas the word "culture" in English has a special
meaning, to wit, that of intellectual attainments. In this chapter we
are chiefly concerned with the latter sense of the word.

Germany had a rich popular literature during the Middle Ages from the
redaction of the _Nibelungenlied_ under Charles the Great onwards.
Prominent among this popular literature were the love-songs of the
Minnesingers, the epics drawn from mediæval traditionary versions of
the legend of Troy, of the career of _Alexander the Great_, and, to
come to more recent times, to legends of _Charles the Great and his
Court_, of _Arthur and the Holy Grail_, the _Nibelungenlied_ in its
present form, and _Gudrun_. The "beast-epic," as it was called, was
also a favourite theme, especially in the form of _Reynard the Fox_.
In another branch of literature we have collections of laws dating
from the thirteenth century and known respectively from the country of
their origin as the _Sachsenspiegel_ and the _Schwabenspiegel_. Again,
at a later date, followed the productions of the Meistersingers, and
especially of Hans Sachs, of Nürnberg. Then, again, we have the prose
literature of the mystics, Eckhart, Tauler, and their followers.

Towards the close of the mediæval period we find an immense number of
national ballads, of chap-books, not to mention the Passion Plays or
the polemical theological writings of the time leading up to the
Reformation. Luther's works, more especially his translation of the
Bible, powerfully helped to fix German as a literary language. The
Reformation period, as we have seen in an earlier chapter, was rich in
prose literature of every description--in fact, the output of serious
German writing continued unabated until well into the seventeenth
century. But the Thirty Years' War, which devastated Germany from end
to end, completely swept away the earlier literary culture of the
nation. In fact, the event in question forms a dividing line between
the earlier and the modern culture of Germany. In prose literature,
the latter half of the seventeenth century, Germany has only one work
to show, though that is indeed a remarkable one--namely,
Grimmelshausen's _Simplicissimus_, a romantic fiction under the guise
of an autobiography of wild and weird adventure for the most part
concerned with the Thirty Years' War.

The rebirth of German literature in its modern form began early in the
eighteenth century. Leibnitz wrote in Latin and French, and his
culture was mainly French. His follower, Christian Wolf, however,
first used the German language for philosophical writing. But in
poetry, Klopstock and Wieland, and, in serious prose, Lessing and
Herder, led the way to the great period of German literature. In this
period the name of Goethe holds the field, alike in prose and poetry.
Goethe was born in 1749, and hence it was the last quarter of the
century which saw him reach his zenith. Next to Goethe comes his
younger contemporary, Schiller. It is impossible here to go even
briefly into the achievements of the bearers of these great names.
They may be truly regarded in many important respects as the founders
of modern German culture. Around them sprang up a whole galaxy of
smaller men, and the close of the eighteenth century showed a
literary activity in Germany exceeding any that had gone before.

Turning to philosophy, it is enough to mention the immortal name of
Immanuel Kant as the founder of modern German philosophic thought and
the first of a line of eminent thinkers extending to wellnigh the
middle of the nineteenth century. The names of Fichte, Schelling,
Hegel, Schopenhauer and others will at once occur to the reader.

Contemporaneously with the great rise of modern German literature
there was a unique development in music, beginning with Sebastian Bach
and continuing through the great classical school, the leading names
in which are Glück, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert,
etc. The middle period of the nineteenth century showed a further
development in prose literature, producing some of the greatest
historians and critics the world has seen. At this time, too, Germany
began to take the lead in science. The names of Virchow, Helmholtz,
Häckel, out of a score of others, all of the first rank, are familiar
to every person of education in the present and past generation. The
same period has been signalized by the great post-classical
development in music, as illustrated by the works of Schumann, Brahms,
and, above all, by the towering fame of Richard Wagner.

From the last quarter of the eighteenth century onwards it may truly
be said of Germany that education is not only more generally diffused
than in any other country of Europe, but (as a recent writer has
expressed it) "is cultivated with an earnest and systematic devotion
not met with to an equal extent among other nations." The present
writer can well remember some years ago, when at the railway station
at Breisach (Baden) waiting one evening for the last train to take him
to Colmar, he seated himself at the table of the small station
restaurant at which three tradesmen, "the butcher, the baker, and the
candlestick-maker" of the place were drinking their beer. Broaching to
them the subject of the history of the town, he found the butcher
quite prepared to discuss with the baker and the candlestick-maker the
policy of Charles the Bold and Louis XI as regards the possession of
the district, as though it might have been a matter of last night's
debate in the House or of the latest horse-race. Where would you find
this popular culture in any other country?

Germany possesses 20 universities, 16 polytechnic educational
institutes, about 800 higher schools (gymnasia), and nearly 60,000
elementary schools. Every town of any importance throughout the German
States is liberally provided in the matter of libraries, museums, and
art collections, while its special institutions, music schools, etc.,
are famous throughout the world. The German theatre is well known for
its thoroughness. Every, even moderately sized, German town has its
theatre, which includes also opera, in which a high scale of all-round
artistic excellence is attained, hardly equalled in any other country.
In fact, it is not too much to say that for long Germany was foremost
in the vanguard of educational, intellectual, and artistic progress.

That the above is an over-coloured statement as regards the importance
of Germany for wellnigh a century and a half past in the history of
human culture, in the sense of intellectual progress in its widest
meaning, I venture to think that no one competent to judge will
allege. Is then, it may be asked, the railing of public opinion and
the Press of Great Britain and other countries outside Germany and
Austria, against the Germany of the present day, and the jeers at the
term "German culture" wholly unjustified and the result of national or
anti-German prejudice? That there has been much foolish vituperative
abuse of the whole German nation and of everything German
indiscriminately in the Press of this and some other countries is
undoubtedly true. But, however, our acknowledgment of this fact will
not justify us in refusing to recognize the truth which finds
expression in what very often looks like mere foolish vilification.

The truth in question will be apparent on a consideration of the
change that has come over the German people and German culture since
the war of 1870 and the foundation of the modern German Empire. The
material and economic side of this change has been already indicated
in a short summary in the quotation which closes the last chapter. But
these changes, or advances if you will, on the material side, have
been accompanied by a moral and material degeneration which has been
only very partially counteracted at present by a movement which,
though initiated before the period named, has only attained its great
development, and hence influenced the national character, since the
date in question.

It is a striking fact that in the last forty-four years--the period of
the new German Empire--there has been a dearth of originality in all
directions. In the earlier part of the period in question the
survivors from the pre-Imperial time continued their work in their
several departments, but no new men of the same rank as themselves
have arisen, either alongside of them or later to take their places.
The one or two that might be adduced as partial exceptions to what has
been above said only prove the rule. We have had, it is true, a
multitude of men, more or less clever _epigoni_, but little else.
Again, it is, I think, impossible to deny that a mechanical hardness
and brutality have come over the national character which entirely
belie its former traits. It is a matter of common observation that in
the last generation the German middle class has become noticeably
coarsened, vulgarized, and blatant.

Again, although I am very far from wishing to attribute the crimes and
horrors committed by the German army during the present war to the
whole German nation, or even to the _rank and file_ of those composing
the army, yet there is no doubt that some blame must be apportioned at
least to the latter. The contrast is striking between the conduct of
the German troops during the present war and that of 1870, when they
could declare that they were out "to fight French soldiers and not
French citizens." Such were the military ethics of bygone generations
of German soldiers. They certainly do not apply to the German army of
to-day. The popularity of such writers as Von Treitschke and
Bernhardi, respecting which so much has been written, is indeed
significant of a vast change in German moral conceptions. The
practical influence of Nietzsche, who--with his corybantic whirl of
criticism on all things in heaven above and on the earth beneath, a
criticism not always coherent with itself--can hardly be termed a
German Chauvinist in any intelligible sense, has, I think, been much
exaggerated. The importance of his theories, considered as an
ingredient in modern German Chauvinism, is not so considerable, I
should imagine, as is sometimes thought.

We come now to the movement already alluded to as a set-off and,
within certain boundaries at least, a counteractive of the degeneracy
exhibited in the German character since the foundation of the present
Imperial system. The rise and rapid growth of the Social Democratic
movement is perhaps the most striking fact in the recent history of
Germany. The same may be said, of course, of the growth of Socialism
everywhere during the same period. But in Germany it has for a
generation past, or even more, occupied an exceptional position, alike
as regards the rapidity of its increase, its direct influence on the
masses, and its party organization. Modern Socialism, as a party
doctrine, is, moreover, a product of the best period of
nineteenth-century German thought and literature. Its three great
theoretical protagonists, Marx, Engels, and their younger
contemporary, Lassalle, all issued from the great Hegelian movement of
the first half of the nineteenth century. Their propagandist
activity, literary and otherwise, was in the German language. The
analysis of the present capitalist system, forming the foundation of
the demand for the communization of the means of production,
distribution, and exchange, as resulting in a _human_ society as
opposed to a _class_ society, and ultimately in the extinction of
national barriers in a world-federation of socialized humanity--these
principles were first appreciated, as a world-ideal, by the
proletariat of Germany, and they have unquestionably raised that
proletariat to an intellectual rank as yet equalled by no other
working-class in the world.

It must be admitted, however, that with the colossal growth of the
Social Democratic party in Germany in numbers and the introduction
into it of elements from various quarters, a certain deterioration,
one may hope and believe only temporary, has become apparent in its
quality. This applies, at least, to certain sections of the party. A
sordid practicalism has made itself felt, due to a feverish desire to
play an important rôle in the detail of current politics. Personal
ambition and the mechanical working of the party system have also had
their evil influence in the movement in recent years. Nevertheless, we
have reason to believe that the core of the party is as sound and as
true to principle as ever it was, and that on the restoration of
international peace this will be seen to be the case. What interests
us, however, specially, at the moment of writing, is the lamentable,
yet undeniable, fact that German Social Democracy has, on this
occasion, disastrously failed to prevent the outbreak of war,
notwithstanding the vigour of its efforts to do so during the last
week of July; and still more that it has failed up to date to stem the
rising flood of militarism and jingoism in the German people. That
before many months are over the scales will fall from the eyes of the
masses of Germany I am convinced, and not less that a revolutionary
movement in Germany will be one of the signs that will herald the dawn
of a better day for Germany and for Europe. But meanwhile we must hold
our countenances in patience.

If we inquire the cause of the degeneracy we have been considering in
the German character since the war of 1870 and the creation of the new
empire--apart from those economic causes of change common to all
countries in modern civilization--the answer of those who have
followed the history of the period can hardly fail to be--Bismarck and
Prussia. We have already seen in the short historical sketch given in
the last chapter how the robber hand of Prussia, in violation of all
national treaty rights, had gradually succeeded in annexing wellnigh
all the neighbouring German territories. But, notwithstanding this,
the greater part of Germany still remained outside the Prussian
monarchy. The policy of Bismarck was first of all to cripple the rival
claimant for the hegemony of Central Europe, Austria. Her complete
subjugation being unfeasible, she had to be shut up rigorously to her
immediate dominions on the eastern side of Central Europe, in order to
leave the path clear for Bismarck, by war or subterfuge, to absorb,
under a system of nominally vassal States, the whole of the rest of
Germany into the system of the Prussian monarchy.

Now, as we know, from its very foundation the Hohenzollern-Prussian
monarchy has always been a more or less veiled despotism, based on
working through a military and bureaucratic oligarchy. The army has
been the dominant factor of the Prussian State from the beginning of
the eighteenth century onwards. Prussia has been from the beginning of
its monarchy the land of the drill-sergeant and the barracks. It is
this system which the Junker Bismarck has riveted on the whole German
people, with what results we now see. Badenese, Würtembergers,
Franconians, Hanoverians, the citizens of the former free cities no
less than the already absorbed Westphalians, Thuringians, Silesians,
Mecklenburgers, were speedily all reduced to being the slaves of the
Prussian military system and of the Prussian military caste. The naïve
German peoples, as already pointed out, accepted this Prussian
domination as the realization of their time-honoured patriotic ideal
of German unity.

The fact of their subservience was emphasized in every way. The law of
_lèse-majesté_ (_majestätsbeleidigung_), by which all criticism of the
despotic head of the State or his actions is made a heinous criminal
offence, to which severe penalties are attached, it is not too much to
say is a law which brands the ruler who accepts it as a coward and a
cur, and the Legislature which passes it as a house, not of
representative citizens, or even subjects for that matter, but of
representative _slaves_. It must not be forgotten that the law in
question strikes not only at public expressions of opinion in the
press or on the platform, but at the most private criticism made in
the presence of a friend in one's own room. The depths of undignified
and craven meanness to which a monarch is reduced by being thus
protected from criticism by the police-truncheon and the gaoler struck
me especially as illustrated by the following incident which happened
some years ago: Shortly after the accession of the present Kaiser, a
conjurer was giving his entertainment in a Swiss town. For one of the
tricks he was going to exhibit he had occasion to ask the audience to
send him up the names of a few public men on folded pieces of paper.
His reception of the names written down was accompanied by the
"patter" proper to his profession. On coming to the name of Kaiser
Wilhelm II he ventured the remark, "Ah! I'd rather it had been the
poor man just dead" (meaning the Emperor Frederick), "for I'm afraid
this one's not much good." Will it be believed that the whole
diplomatic machinery was set on foot to induce the Swiss Government to
prosecute the unfortunate entertainer, abortively of course, since it
could not have been legally done? Surely the head of a State who could
allow his Government to descend to such contemptible pettiness must be
devoid of all sense of common self-respect, not to say personal
dignity. And this is the fellow who claims to be hardly second in
importance to his "dear old God"! In this connection it is only fair
to recall the very different behaviour of King Edward VII when an
Irish paper published not a mere criticism but an unquestionably
libellous article reflecting on his private character. The police
seized the copies of the paper and were prepared to take steps to
prosecute, when the late King interfered and stopped even the
confiscation of the paper. The least monarchical of us must, I think,
admit that here we have a good illustration of the distinction between
a man sure of his reputation and a cur nervously alarmed for his.

This severe law of _lèse-majesté_ in Bismarck's Prusso-German Empire
is only an illustration of the way in which the German people have
been made to grovel before the Prussian jack-boot. The Prussification
of Germany in matters military and in matters bureaucratic has gone on
apace since 1870. Prussia, it is not too much to say, has hitherto
consisted in a nation of slaves and tyrants and nothing else. It is
the Prussian governing class which has everywhere and in all
departments "set the pace" since the empire was established. No man
known to hold opinions divergent from those agreeable to the interests
of the Prussian governing class can hope for employment, be it the
most humble, in any department of the public service. This is
particularly noticeable in its effects in the matter of education. The
inculcation of the brutal and blatant jingoism of Von Treitschke at
the universities by professors eager for approval in high places has
already been sufficiently animadverted upon in more than one work on
modern Germany. The defeat of Prusso-German militarism will be an
even greater gain to all that is best in Germany herself than it will
be to Europe as a whole.

_Delenda est Prussia_, understanding thereby not, of course, the
inhabitants of Prussian territory as such, but Prussia as a
State-system and as an independent Power in Europe, must be the
watchword in the present crisis of every well-wisher of Humanity,
Germany included. A united Germany, if that be insisted upon, by all
means let there be--a federation of all the German peoples with its
capital, for that matter, as of old, at Frankfurt-on-the-Main, but
with no dominant State and, if possible, excluding Prussia altogether,
but certainly as constituted at present. Who knows but that a united
States of Germany may then prove the first step towards a united
States of Europe?

But it is not alone to the political reconstruction of Germany or of
Europe that those who take an optimistic view of the issue of the
present European war look hopefully. The whole economic system of
modern capitalism will have received a shock from which the beginnings
of vast changes may date. Apart from this, however, the avowed aim of
the war, the destruction of Prussian militarism and, indirectly, the
weakening of military power throughout the world, should have
immediate and important consequences. The brutalities and crimes
committed in Belgium and the North of France at the instigation of the
military heads of this Prusso-German army do but indicate
exaggerations of the military spirit and attitude generally. Von
Hindenburg is not the first who has given utterance to the devilish
excuse for military crime and brutality that it is "more humane in the
end, since it shortens war." To refute this transparent fallacy is
scarcely necessary, since every historical student knows that military
excesses and inhumanity do not shorten but prolong war by raising
indignation and inflaming passions. The longest connected war known to
history--the Thirty Years' War--is generally acknowledged to have been
signalized by the greatest and most continuous inhumanity of any on
record. But whether military crime has the effect claimed for it or
not, we may fain hope that public opinion in Europe will insist upon
giving the "humane" commanders who "mercifully" endeavour to "shorten"
war by drastic methods of this sort a severe lesson. A few such
treated to the utmost penalties the ordinary criminal law prescribes
to the crimes of arson, murder, and robbery would teach them and their
like that war, if waged at all nowadays, must be waged decently and
not "shortened" by such devices as those in question.

If the present war with all its horrible carnage issues, even if only
in the beginning of those changes which some of us believe must
necessarily result from it--changes economical, political, and
moral--then indeed it will not have been waged in vain. With the great
intellectual powers of the Germanic people devoted, not to the
organization of military power and of national domination, but to
furthering the realization of a higher human society; with the
determination on the part of the best elements among every European
people to work together internationally with each other, and not least
with the new Germany, to this end, and the great European war of 1914
will be looked back upon by future generations as the greatest
world-historic example of the proverbial evil out of which good, and a
lasting and inestimable good, has come for Europe and the world.


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