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Peasants’ War

The Peasants’ War (also called the ‘revolution of the common man’) with its quest for independence and estimated 100.000 deaths was one of the most important revolts before the French Revolution. The movement started in the summer of 1524, reached its peak in May 1525, but was suppressed in May and June that year in four large battles.

The situation of the farmers was made intolerable by the changed economic circumstances. Now, they petitioned the Princes for, among other things, more political rights, abolition of bondage and free use of the woods. They stated their demands in twelve articles in which they referred to the Bible as the Word of God. They further maintained that they should not be taxed on livestock, because God had created animals free for everyone, and there could also be no servitude, because Christ has called all people to Christian freedom. Their most important theological representative was Thomas Müntzer.

The movement also asked for the support of Luther. However, he reacted very negatively. When the farmers did not act with restraint after Luther’s critical discussion of their twelve articles, he gave the rulers and nobility free rein to oppress the revolution with force. He blamed the farmers for misusing Christian freedom and furthermore he suggested that revolution always has innocent victims. He considered obedience to the government as absolutely necessary, because the government is established by God to resist sin.

In the twentieth century, Luther’s position in the Peasant’s War was the subject of much controversy. Marxist-oriented historians saw in Luther a ‘ruler’s assistant’ who had betrayed ordinary people. In the anti-communistic Third Reich, on the other hand, he was seen as a national hero.

  • Brief an die Fürsten zu Sachsen von dem aufrührerischen Geist [1524] (WA 15, 199-221);
  • Ermahnung zum Frieden auf die Zwölf Artikel der Bauerschaft in Schwaben [1525] (WA 18, 291-334);
  • Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der Bauern [1525] (WA 18, 334-362);
  • Ein Sendbrief von dem harten Büchlein wider die Bauern [1525] (WA 18, 376-401).