Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bundschuh in Lehen

The Bundschuh (peasants' boot) in the village Lehen near Freiburg in 1513 was a peasants' uprising for freedom and justice.
Admire the peasants' boot with strings attached
Festivities are scheduled for the 500th anniversary throughout the year. So far the highlight was a lecture by professor Horst Buszello titled: Joß Fritz und der Bundschuh zu Lehen 1513, a staging by the authorities and the reconstruction by historical scholarship. In his talk Buszello tried to crystallize the hidden truth behind the biased documentation the Freiburg city council had issued in 1513 in the aftermath of the Lehen Bundschuh.

As far as the known details of the uprising are concerned you may want to read the paragraphs of the following web site (in German): Bauernaufstand 1513 unter Joß Fritz, dem Bannwart in Lehen

In short: Towards the close of the Middle Ages most peasants were still held like slaves by their masters e.g. local nobility and rich monasteries. Increasing workload and financial burden led to great discontent. All it took was leaders to articulate the peasants' worries. Following some earlier uprisings in Alsace 1493 the man the peasants listened to in Lehen in 1513 was experienced: Joß Fritz who in the bishopric of Speyer twelve years earlier had already headed a peasants' revolt that had aborted and who was now working as a ranger in Lehen.

The peasants in Lehen were no revolutionaries but like all people deeply rooted in their views in the Middle Ages. They respected the then valid God-given order in formulating their demands: We do not recognize any other head than emperor, pope and God. We are willing to pay what is due to our masters but their demands should be reasonable. We ask that the interest rate on our loans be reduced to 5%. In addition our legal affairs should be treated in local courts instead of being dealt with either at the Clerical Court in Strasbourg or the Imperial Court at Rottweil. We would like to see the plurality of clergymen benefices reduced to one, i.e., many clergymen happily lived with the benefices of several parishes while leaving the pastoral care to low paid priests.

The minutes of the city council meetings the Freiburg historian Heinrich Schreiber had relied on to write his 19th century history books read quite differently. In his text Schreiber actually focuses on bad Joß who had abused the confidence of the Lehen peasants, had told them about the bad times, about excessive drinking, blasphemy, and adultery and eventually had sneakily moved addressing the pressure the peasants were exposed to. He succeeded in bewitching the weakling, outsmarting the impartial and alluring the discontented. Only later did he tell them his intention to start (werfen, d.h. aufwerfen) a Bundschuh. At that moment many of those poor peasants were too deeply involved to go back so they swore an oath of secrecy and loyalty to Joß.
Already for the 490th anniversary an open air spectacle:
Nothing else than God's justice

From a report of November 1513 we read how the Freiburg city councilors described the intentions of Joß Fritz and his men: We will break any yoke or slavery with the force of our arms for we want to be free like the Swiss (who had founded their Confederation in 1291). Never again we shall support a master and pay neither interest rate, tithe, tax, duty nor any other dues but get rid of all those hardships eternally. We will break princes and all nobility with force and banish or smite them including all clergymen and monks. Their goods we shall distribute.

Comparing the texts you will note big differences. Drawn from confessions under torture the City Council deliberately labeled the Lehen peasants as terrorists. This is one of many examples in history where historians use available sources uncritically, be it deliberately or unintentionally, painting a fresco of events that eventually fostered deeply rooted views that were copied again and again. One of the best known historical blunders concerns the Vandals, a German tribe accused of vandalism on the Iberian peninsula during the Völkerwanderung.

Coming back the to Lehen peasants: All in all 13 of them were executed, others had cut off their fingers they had used to swear the Bundschuh. Joß Fritz however escaped and fled to Switzerland. In those times the Confederacy was no safe heaven, for two of his colleagues were captured there and executed in Basel. Joß's fate however is lost in history.

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