Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Thomas Müntzer and the German Peasants' War (Germany)

Thomas Müntzer was born in Stolberg in the Harz mountains. Not much is known about his early life, but in 1506 he started his studies in Leipzig and in 1512 he moved to the university in Frankfurt an der Oder. In 1513 he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Halberstadt. In the following years he preached in various towns. In 1520 he came to Zwickau and preached at the Saint Catharine's Church before he was expelled from the town in 1521. In the following years he once again wandered around different towns including Prague, Jena, Erfurt and Weimar. In Allstedt in 1524 he gave his famous Sermon to the Princes. Afterwards he was forced to flee and settled in Mühlhausen. 

At the beginning Thomas Müntzer was a dedicated supporter and admirer of Martin Luther, but compared to Luther Müntzer was more radical and Luther later dissociated from Müntzer.

East German stamps showing parts of the Peasants' War Panorama
in Bad Frankenhausen

The Saint Mary's Church in Mühlhausen was built in the 14th century to compete with the Erfurt Cathedral. It is the second largest church in Thuringia and is said to be a masterpiece of the Gothic style. Thomas Müntzer became pastor of the church in 1525. Since 1975 it houses a museum about Thomas Müntzer.

In 1524 the peasants started to revolt against their landlords sparked by social hardship and grievances in the ruling classes and inspired by the Reformation and especially Martin Luther's On the Freedom of a Christian. Despite the strong reference to the Reformation, Luther, Melanchthon and other reformers condemned the behaviour of the peasants and supported the ruling princes. At this time Luther and Müntzer dissociated, as Müntzer supported the ideas of the peasants. In many parts of the German Empire the peasants assembled in "Bauernhaufen" and started the fight. As the peasants were poorly armed, the princes did not have big problems in defeating them. The Battle of Frankenhausen, fought in Thuringia on 15 May 1525, was the largest and final battle of the German Peasants' War. Thomas Müntzer was arrested after the battle and later executed. Until September 1525 all fightings ended. Up to 100000 peasants lost their lives and actually none of their goals was achieved.

The German Peasants' War was of great importance to the conception
of history in East Germany describing it as the greatest
revolutionary attempt in the German history. 
The Twelve Articles were worked out in Memmingen in March 1525 and included the peasants' demands of the Swabian League. They are considered to be the first draft of human rights and civil liberties in Europe.

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