The Peasants' War commenced after the unrest stretching from Basle to Lake Constance in the summer of 1524 and the revolts in Upper Swabia in January 1525. Tens of thousands of peasants formed three large bands. When the lords induced the writing of letters of complaint so as to begin negotiations, the peasants, who had had enough of the meddlesome courts, demanded to be judged according to 'the divine right which dictates the appropriate course of action to each estate.'22 In effect, this meant employing the gospel to judge the secular order and thereby making judges of the theologians. The most famous peasant letter of complaint and very symptomatic of the times was the 'Twelve Articles of the Upper Swabian peasants' (die Zwölf Artikel der oberschwäbischen Bauern),23 passed by a kind ofpeasants' parliament in Memmingen in March 1525. It demanded a reduction in taxes, the priest's appointment by the community, freedom (abolishment of villeinage), liberalization of hunting and fishing regulations, and the enhancement of communal rights. To settle the question whether the demands corresponded to the spirit of the gospel, Luther, Zwingli, and the majority of the other well-known reformers were called upon as 'judges'. Simultaneously, the Upper Swabians formulated a 'Federal Ordinance' (Bundesordnung) for the 'Christian Union', the name they gave their organization.24 Twelve councillors and three captains were designated to represent a government for all the communities in the region between Lake Constance and Ulm. It would have been a small step indeed to the proclamation of a republic along the lines of a Free State (Freistaat). Wolfgang Hardtwig has detected the incipience of civil society in this chain of events and in similar
22 Franz (ed.), Quellen Bauernkrieg, pp. 146-7; Scott and Scribner (eds.), Peasants' War, p. 124.
23 Franz (ed.), Quellen Bauernkrieg, pp. 174-9; Scott and Scribner (eds.), Peasants' War, pp. 252-7.
24 Seebass, Artikelbrief, pp. 77-88; Scott and Scribner (eds.), Peasants' War, pp. 130-2.
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