The Peasant War in Germany - səhifə 9
constitution. With the cities, the knighthood was continually on the war path; it owed them
money, it fed on plundering their territory, on robbing their merchants, on the ransom paid
for prisoners captured in conflicts. The struggle of the knighthood against all these estates
became more vehement as the estates themselves began to realise that the money question
was a life problem for them.
The clergy, representatives of the ideology of mediaeval feudalism, felt the influence of
the historic transformation no less acutely. The invention of the art of printing, and the
requirements of extended commerce, robbed the clergy not only of its monopoly of reading
and writing, but also of that of higher education. Division of labour was being introduced
also into the realm of intellectual work. The newly arising class of jurists drove the clergy
out of a series of very influential positions. The clergy was also beginning to become
largely superfluous, and it acknowledged this fact by growing lazier and more ignorant.
The more superfluous it became, the more it grew in numbers, thanks to the enormous
riches which it still kept on augmenting by fair means or foul.
The clergy was divided into two distinct groups. The feudal hierarchy of the clergy
formed the aristocratic group – bishops and archbishops, abbots, priors and other prelates.
These high church dignitaries were either imperial princes themselves, or they reigned as
vassals of other princes over large areas with numerous serfs and bondsmen. They not only
exploited their subjects as recklessly as the knighthood and the princes, but they practised
this in an even more shameful manner. They used not only brutal force, but all the intrigues
of religion as well; not only the horrors of the rack, but also the horror of
excommunication, or refusal of absolution; they used all the intricacies of the confessional
in order to extract from their subjects the last penny, or to increase the estates of the church.
Forging of documents was a widespread and beloved means of extortion in the hands of
those worthy men, who, receiving from their subjects feudal payments, taxes and tithes,
were still in constant need of money. The manufacture of miracle-producing saints’ effigies
and relics, the organisation of praying-centres endowed with the power of salvation, the
trade in indulgences was resorted to in order to squeeze more payments out of the people.
All this was practised long and with not little success.
The prelates and their numerous gendarmerie of monks which grew with the spread of
political and religious baiting, were the objects of hatred not only of the people but also of
the nobility. Being directly under the empire, the prelates were in the way of the princes.
The fast living of the corpulent bishops and abbots with their army of monks, roused the
envy of the nobility and the indignation of the people who bore the burden. Hatred was
intensified by the fact that the behaviour of the clergy was a slap in the face of their own
The Peasant War in Germany
– 20 –
The plebeian faction of the clergy consisted of preachers, rural and urban. The
preachers were outside the feudal hierarchy of the church and participated in none of its
riches. Their activities were less rigorously controlled and, important as they were for the
church, they were for the moment far less indispensable than the police services of the
barracked monks. Consequently, they were paid much less than the monks, and their
prebends were far from lucrative. Being of a middle-class or plebeian origin, they were
nearer to the life of the masses, thus being able to retain middle-class and plebeian
sympathies, in spite of their status as clergy. While the participation of the monks in the
movements of their time was the exception, that of the plebeian clergy was the rule. They
gave the movement its theorists and ideologists, and many of them, representatives of the
plebeians and peasants, died on the scaffold. The hatred of the masses for the clergy
seldom touched this group.
What the emperor was to the princes and nobility, the pope was to the higher and lower
clergy. As the emperor received the “common penny,” the imperial taxes, so the pope was
paid the general church taxes, out of which he defrayed the expenses of the luxurious
Roman court. In no country were his taxes collected with such conscientiousness and
rigour as in Germany, due to the power and the number of the clergy. The annates were
collected with particular severity when a bishopric was to become vacant. With the growth
of the court’s demands, new means for raising revenues were invented, such as the traffic
in relics and indulgences, jubilee collections, etc. Large sums of money were thus yearly
transported from Germany to Rome, and the increased pressure fanned not only the hatred
towards the clergy, but it also aroused national feelings, particularly among the nobility, the
then most national class.
In the cities, the growth of commerce and handicraft produced three distinct groups out
of the original citizenry of medieval times.
The city population was headed by the patrician families, the so-called “honourables.”
Those were the richest families. They alone sat in the council, and held all the city offices.
They not only administered all the revenues of the city, but they also consumed them.
Strong in their riches and their ancient aristocratic status, recognised by emperor and
empire, they exploited in every possible way the city community as well as the peasants
belonging to the city. They practised usury in grain and money; they secured for
themselves monopolies of various kinds; they gradually deprived the community of every
right to use the city forests and meadows, and used them directly for their own private
benefit. They imposed road, bridge and gate payments and other duties; they sold trade and
guild privileges, master and citizen rights; and they traded with justice. The peasants of the
city area were treated by them with no more consideration than by the nobility and the
The Peasant War in Germany
– 21 –
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