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also infringed upon, and the lay princes understood how to exploit the people’s hatred also
in this direction. Thus we have seen how the Abbot of Fulda was relegated from a feudal
lord of Philipp of Hesse to the position of his vassal. Thus the city of Kempten forced the
ecclesiastical prince to sell to it for a trifle a series of precious privileges which he enjoyed
in the city.
The nobility  had  also  suffered  considerably.  Most  of  its  castles  were  destroyed,  and  a
number  of  its  most  respected  families  were  ruined  and  could  find  means  of  subsistence
only in the service of the princes. Its powerlessness in relation to the peasants was proven.
It had been beaten everywhere and forced to surrender. Only the armies of the princes had
saved  it.  The  nobility  was  bound  more  and  more  to  lose  its  significance  as  a  free  estate
under the empire and to fall under the dominion of the princes.
Nor did the cities generally gain any advantages from the Peasant War. The rule of the
honourables  was  almost  everywhere  reestablished  with  new  force,  and  the  opposition  of
the  middle-class  remained  broken  for  a  long  time.  Old  patrician  routine  thus  dragged  on,
hampering commerce and industry in every way, up to the French Revolution. Moreover,
the  cities  were  made  responsible  by  the  princes  for  the  momentary  successes  which  the
middle-class  or  plebeian  parties  had  achieved  within  their  confines  during  the  struggle.
Cities which had previously belonged to the princes were forced to pay heavy indemnities,
robbed  of  their  privileges,  and  made  subject  to  the  avaricious  willfulness  of  the  princes
(Frankenhausen,  Arnstadt,  Schmalkalden,  Wurzburg,  etc.),  cities  of  the  empire  were
incorporated  into  territories  of  the  princes  (Muehlhausen),  or  they  were  at  least  placed
under  moral  dependence  on  the  princes  of  the  adjoining  territory,  as  was  the  case  with
many imperial cities in Franconia.
The  sole  gainers  under  these  conditions  were  the  princes.  We  have  seen  at  the
beginning  of  our  exposition  that  low  development  of  industry,  commerce  and  agriculture
made the centralisation of the Germans into a nation impossible, that it allowed only local
and  provincial  centralisation,  and  that  the  princes,  representing  centralisation  within
disruption,  were  the  only  class  to  profit  from  every  change  in  the  existing  social  and
political conditions. The state of development of Germany in those days was so low and at
the  same  time  so  different  in  various  provinces,  that  along  with  lay  principalities  there
could  still  exist  ecclesiastical  sovereignties,  city  republics,  and  sovereign  counts  and
barons.  Simultaneously,  however,  this  development  was  continually,  though  slowly  and
feebly, pressing towards provincial centralisation, towards subjugating all imperial estates
under  the  princes.  It  is  due  to  this  that  only  the  princes  could  gain  by  the  ending  of  the
Peasant  War.  This  happened  in  reality.  They  gained  not  only  relatively,  through  the
weakening  of  their  opponents,  the  clergy,  the  nobility  and  the  cities,  but  also  absolutely
The Peasant War in Germany
– 87 –

through the prizes of war which they collected. The church estates were secularised in their
favour; part of the nobility, fully or partly ruined, was obliged gradually to place itself in
their vassalage; the indemnities of the cities and peasantry swelled their treasuries, which,
with  the  abolition  of  so  many  city  privileges,  had  now  obtained  a  much  more  extended
field for financial operations.
The  decentralisation  of  Germany,  the  widening  and  strengthening  of  which  was  the
chief result of the war, was at the same time the cause of its failure.
We have seen that Germany was split not only into numberless independent provinces
almost totally foreign to each other, but that in every one of these provinces the nation was
divided  into  various  strata  of  estates  and  parts  of  estates.  Besides  princes  and  priests  we
find nobility and peasants in the countryside; patricians, middle-class and plebeians in the
cities.  At  best,  these  classes  were  indifferent  to  each  other’s  interests  if  not  in  actual
conflict.  Above  all  these  complicated  interests  there  still  were  the  interests  of  the  empire
and the pope. We have seen that, with great difficulty, imperfectly, and differing in various
localities,  these  various  interests  finally  formed  three  great  groups.  We  have  seen  that  in
spite  of  this  grouping,  achieved  with  so  much  labour,  every  estate  opposed  the  line
indicated  by  circumstances  for  the  national  development,  every  estate  conducting  the
movement of its own accord, coming into conflict not only with the conservatives but also
with the rest of the opposition estates. Failure was, therefore, inevitable. This was the fate
of the nobility in Sickingen’s uprising, the fate of the peasants in the Peasant War, of the
middle-class  in  their  tame  Reformation.  This  was  the  fate  even  of  the  peasants  and
plebeians who in most localities of Germany could not unite for common action and stood
in each other’s way. We have also seen the causes of this split in the class struggle and the
resultant defeat of the middle-class movement.
How  local  and  provincial  decentralisation  and  the  resultant  local  and  provincial
narrow-mindedness  ruined  the  whole  movement,  how  neither  middle-class  nor  peasantry
nor plebeians could unite for concerted national action; how the peasants of every province
acted  only  for  themselves,  as  a  rule  refusing  aid  to  the  insurgent  peasants  of  the
neighbouring region, and therefore being annihilated in individual battles one after another
by  armies  which  in  most  cases  counted  hardly  one-tenth  of  the  total  number  of  the
insurgent  masses  –  all  this  must  be  quite  clear  to  the  reader  from  this  presentation.  The
armistices  and  the  agreements  concluded  by  individual  groups  with  their  enemies  also
constituted  acts  of  betrayal  of  the  common  cause,  and  the  grouping  of  the  various  troops
not according to the greater or smaller community of their own actions, the only possible
grouping,  but  according  to  the  community  of  the  special  adversary  to  whom  they
succumbed,  is  striking  proof  of  the  degree  of  the  mutual  alienation  of  the  peasants  in
The Peasant War in Germany
– 88 –


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