An ideological superstructure of the German Peasant's War - The Twelve Articles of Memmingen

"The peasants have taken upon themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man; by this they have merited death in body and soul... they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers... now deliberately and violently breaking this oath... they are starting a rebellion, and are violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs... they have doubly deserved death in body and soul as highwaymen and murderers... they cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the gospel... thus they become the worst blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy name” (Martin Luther, "Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants")

An allegorical woodcut from 1525, showing a peasant, dressed like a Landsknecht, wearing a short
Katzbalger sword and waving a banner labelled with "Freiheit", freedom 


16 February 1525: Today, 488 years ago in the Swabian town of Memmingen during the German Peasant's War, Sebastian Lotzer and Christoph Schappeler decided to give the base of the revolt in Southern Germany an ideological superstructure.

Delegates from 25 villages met in Memmingen to decide upon their final demands towards the nobility - 4 weeks later they presented the "The Twelve Articles: The Just and Fundamental Articles of All the Peasantry and Tenants of Spiritual and Temporal Powers by Whom They Think Themselves Oppressed". The most important was probably Article 3, the emancipation from serfdom.

Hans Baldung Grien's (1484 - 1545) idea of armed conflict during the Peasant War (1535)


The "Twelve Articles" were one of many lists of peasant's demands of the early 16th century, but it was the only one that had been printed - the relatively new technique of distributing information fast for everyone who could read (and many could in the early modern age) gave the demands from Memmingen an additional edge.

They were never realised though and the German peasants's revolt was put down with great violence. Abolishment of feudal privileges and emancipation from serfdom were effectuated in the German speaking countries in the wake of the French Revolution sometimes as late as 1850.

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