The Peasant War of Upper Swabia
By Isamu Shimada
Paper given at The Second Japano-Korean Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (1991)
Introduction: The German Peasant War of 1525 has been considered a revolution in various ways. For instance, Marxist historians argue the Early Bourgeois Revolution, Gunther Franz insists that it was a political revolution, and Peter Blickle composes the thesis on the Revolution of the Common Man (Common Man includes rural population without nobles and clergy, inhabitants of towns within the jurisdiction of territorial states, people living in imperial cities who did not have the right to be co-opted as town councillors, and the miners.) These revolution-theories are molded on the March Revolution of 1848. These theories combine a religious ideology, divine law, with the purposes of the German Revolution in the nineteenth century, that is, “Unity and Freedom”. Here the German Peasant War which was caused by divine law and covered the South and Central Germany is interpreted as a struggle by the peasants against feudalism or territorial state which were contrary to the preceding purposes. Above all, Franz and Blickle, who pose the revolts in the late Middle Ages and the German Peasant War of 1525 in the process of the territorialization of Germany, emphasize the contrast of two ideologies, that is, conservative and defensive “old law” and revolutionary “divine law”.
Recently an English scholar Tom Scott has criticized these revolutionism, particularly Blickle’s study, as the ideological approach. Scott insists on structural analysis which predicates the character of the revolt upon circumstances in which it occurred and the development and radicalization of its aims upon the organization and internal dynamic of the movement itself. He criticizes that Blickle has overly emphasized the distinction of the function of old law and divine law, for old law at times showed revolutionary character and there were the revolts without ideology. Within German scholars Horst Buszello, who has minimized the role of divine law, has taken the structural approach.
Here we deal with the situation of Upper Swabia (Oberschwaben, South Germany) of 1525, where in the revolts of the late Middle Ages old law appeared and in the Peasant War both old law and divine law appeared.