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In the Tyrol, the Reformation doctrines had also found adherence. Here even more than
in the other Alpine regions of Austria, Muenzer’s emissaries had been successfully active.
Archbishop Ferdinand persecuted the preachers of the new doctrines here as elsewhere, and
impinged the rights of the population by arbitrary financial regulations. In consequence, an
uprising  took  place  in  the  Spring  of  1525.  The  insurgents,  whose  commander  was  a
Muenzer  man  named  Geismaier,  the  only  noted  military  talent  among  all  the  peasant
chiefs,  took  a  great  number  of  castles,  and  proceeded  energetically  against  the  priests,
particularly  in  the  south  and  the  region  of  Etsch.  The  Vorarlberg  peasants  also  arose  and
joined the Allgaeu peasants.
The  Archbishop,  pressed  from  every  side,  now  began  to  make  concession  after
concession to the rebels whom a short time before he had wished to annihilate by means of
burning,  scourging,  pillaging  and  murdering.  He  summoned  the  Diets  of  the  hereditary
lands,  and  pending  their  assembling,  concluded  an  armistice  with  the  peasants.  In  the
meantime he was strenuously arming, in order, as soon as possible, to be able to speak to
the ungodly ones in a different language.
Naturally,  the  armistice  was  not  kept  long.  Dietrichstein,  having  run  short  of  cash,
began  to  levy  contributions  in  the  duchies;  his  Slavic  and  Magyar  troops  allowed
themselves, besides, the most shameful atrocities against the population. This brought the
Styrians  to  new  rebellion.  The  peasants  attacked  Dietrichstein  at  Schladming  during  the
night  of  July  3rd  and  slaughtered  everybody  who  did  not  speak  German.  Dietrichstein
himself was captured.
On  the  morning  of  July  4,  the  peasants  organised  a  jury  to  try  the  captives,  and  forty
Czech  and  Croatian  noble  prisoners  were  sentenced  to  death.  This  was  effective.  The
Archbishop  immediately  consented  to  all  the  demands  of  the  estates  of  the  five  duchies
(Upper and Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola).
In Tyrol, the demands of the Diet were also granted, and thereby the North was quieted.
The South, however, insisting on its original demands as against the much more moderate
decisions  of  the  Diet,  remained  under  arms.  Only  in  December  was  the  Archbishop  in  a
position to restore order by force. He did not fail to execute a great number of instigators
and leaders of the upheaval who fell into his hands.
Now  10,000  Bavarians  moved  against  Salzburg,  under  Georg  of  Frundsberg.  This
imposing military power, as well as the quarrels that had broken out among the peasants,
induced the Salzburg peasants to conclude an agreement with the Archbishop, which came
into being September 1, and was also accepted by the Archduke. In spite of this, the two
princes,  who  had  meanwhile  considerably  strengthened  their  troops,  soon  broke  the
The Peasant War in Germany
– 84 –

agreement and thereby drove the Salzburg peasants to a new uprising. The insurgents held
their own throughout the winter. In the Spring, Geismaier came to them to open a splendid
campaign  against  the  troops  which  were  approaching  from  every  side.  In  a  series  of
brilliant  battles  in  May  and  June,  1526,  he  defeated  the  Bavarian,  Austrian  and  Suabian
Union troops and the Lansquenets of the Archbishop of Salzburg, one after another, and for
a  long  time  he  prevented  the  various  corps  from  uniting.  He  also  found  time  to  besiege
Radstadt. Finally, surrounded by overwhelming forces, he was compelled to withdraw. He
battled his way through and led the remnants of his corps through the Austrian Alps into
Venetian territory. The republic of Venice and Switzerland offered the indefatigable peasant
chief  starting  points  for  new  conspiracies.  For  a  whole  year  he  was  still  attempting  to
involve  them  in  a  war  against  Austria,  which  would  have  offered  him  an  occasion  for  a
new  peasant  uprising.  The  hand  of  the  murderer,  however,  reached  him  in  the  course  of
these negotiations. Archbishop Ferdinand and the Archbishop of Salzburg could not rest as
long  as  Geismaier  was  alive.  They  therefore  paid  a  bandit  who,  in  1527,  succeeded  in
removing the dangerous rebel from among the living.
The Peasant War in Germany
– 85 –

Chapter 7

Significance of the Peasant War

After Geismaier’s withdrawal into Venetian territory, the epilogue of the Peasant War was
ended. The peasants were everywhere brought again under the sway of their ecclesiastical,
noble or patrician masters. The agreements that were concluded with them here and there
were broken, and heavy burdens were augmented by the enormous indemnities imposed by
the  victors  on  the  vanquished.  The  magnificent  attempt  of  the  German  people  ended  in
ignominious  defeat  and,  for  a  time,  in  greater  oppression.  In  the  long  run,  however,  the
situation of the peasants did not become worse. Whatever the nobility, princes and priests
could  wring  out  of  the  peasants  had  been  wrung  out  even  before  the  war.  The  German
peasant of that time had this in common with the modern proletarian, that his share in the
products of the work was limited to a subsistence minimum necessary for his maintenance
and  for  the  propagation  of  the  race.  It  is  true  that  peasants  of  some  little  wealth  were
ruined. Hosts of bondsmen were forced into serfdom; whole stretches of community lands
were  confiscated;  a  great  number  of  peasants  were  driven  into  vagabondage  or  forced  to
become  city  plebeians  by  the  destruction  of  their  domiciles  and  the  devastation  of  their
fields in addition to the general disorder. Wars and devastations, however, were every-day
phenomena at that time, and in general, the peasant class was on too low a level to have its
situation  made  worse  for  a  long  time  through  increased  taxes.  The  subsequent  religious
wars and finally the Thirty Years’ War with its constantly repeated mass devastations and
depopulations pounded the peasants much more painfully than did the Peasant War. It was
notably the Thirty Years’ War which annihilated the most important parts of the productive
forces  in  agriculture,  through  which,  as  well  as  through  the  simultaneous  destruction  of
many  cities,  it  lowered  the  living  standards  of  the  peasants,  plebeians  and  the  ruined  city
inhabitants to the level of Irish misery in its worst form.
The class that suffered most from the Peasant War was the clergy. Its monasteries and
endowments  were  burned  down;  its  valuables  plundered,  sold  into  foreign  countries,  or
melted;  its  stores  of  goods  consumed.  They  had  been,  least  of  all  capable  of  offering
resistance,  and  at  the  same  time  the  weight  of  the  people’s  old  hatred  fell  heaviest  upon
them.  The  other  estates,  princes,  nobility  and  the  middle-class,  even  experienced  a  secret
joy  at  the  sufferings  of  the  hated  prelates.  The  Peasant  War  had  made  popular  the
secularisation  of  the  church  estates  in  favour  of  the  peasants.  The  lay  princes,  and  to  a
certain  degree  the  cities,  determined  to  bring  about  secularisation  in  their  own  interests,
and soon the possessions of the prelates in Protestant countries were in the hands of either
the princes or the honourables. The power and authority of the ecclesiastical princes were
The Peasant War in Germany
– 86 –


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