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.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Seume, who?

Johann Gottfried Seume
Johann Gottfried Seume (1763 - 1810) was a German writer, soldier, editor, frequent traveler and a late enlightener. He was born in Saxony and is presently rediscovered - in part due to his 250th birthday on January 29 - as an extraordinary man of his time. Already last year Bruno Preisendörfer had published Seume's biography titled: Der waghalsige Reisende (The audacious traveler).

Audacious indeed for in his most famous book Spaziergang nach Syrakus (Hike to Syracuse) Seume reports how he fell among the bandits on two occasions. He started the long hike in Leipzig on December 6, 1802, that brought him to Prague, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Syracuse. He returned to Leipzig in August 1803 via Florence, Basel, Paris, Strasbourg, Frankfort still wearing his original boots. Whereas I was impressed by the quality of his boots and more so by his fresh and unorthodox style Caroline Herder, wife of Gottfried Herder, was disgusted: Seume's hike is unbearable stuff full of arrogance, vulgarity, and gloating with faineance. Today people tend to compare Seume's travel account to Goethe's Italien Journey although Johann Wolfgang had visited Italy and Sicily already as early as from 1786 to 1788 but wrote his account as late as in the years 1813 to 1817.

Seume's hike to Syracuse was not his only travel. Born as son of a farmer in Saxony the local pastor recognized young Gottfried's talent and provided good schooling so that in 1780 Seume started studying theology in Leipzig. But already one year later he fled the university for he had read books of the Earl of Shaftsbury (Inquiry concerning Virtue), the Viscount of Bolingbroke (Letters or Essays Addressed to Alexander Pope), and Pierre Bayle (Philosophical Commentaries) that had made him uneasy in his belief. Later he wrote in his Apokryphen: The reason for leaving Leipzig had been that I did not want to become one of those spitzköpfigen (pointed headed) clergymen supporting the nobility to preserve their privileges and keeping those Flachköpfe (flat headed country people) in slavery

For Seume: Humbleness is the first step to perfidy. In spite of all the Enlightenment that had officially abolished slavery in German territories farmers with the help of the Churches were still kept in dependence and fear of their masters like Luther had written more than two centuries ago: Farmers must suffer injustice and bear evil for even bad leaders come from God.

Leaving the university Seume had intended to travel to Paris but on his way crossing Hessian territory a press-gang apprehended him while he was staying over night in Vach. From then on in spite of all protest the Landgrave of Kassel, the great white slaver of that time, looked after my future night's lodgings in Fort Ziegenhain, Kassel, and further on in the New World.

In 1776 Landgrave Friedrich of Hessen-Kassel had signed in a subsidy treaty with England where he had to deliver 17,000 soldiers against 21 million talers. Friedrich however had problems to fill the quota he had promised to King George III. All means were good recruiting men being Hessians or foreigners. Bad luck for the Saxon Seume. He was in the wrong place at a wrong time. The press-gang simply tore to shreds his university papers and enlisted him.

While navigating down the Weser river to Bremen Seume had nightmares about the Roman General Quinctilius Varus who had lost his legions in the dark German forests and Saint Bonifacius who had exorcized in his holy simplemindedness the heroic virtue and had spun the fine religious slavery that made the Germans the puppet of others.

The transport ship left Bremerhaven in June 1782. Because the Channel was infested with French and Spanish enemy ships the convoy of transport, merchant, and battle ships took the north route sailing by the Orkney Islands. Eventually the forced soldiers only arrived in Halifax in September 1782. Seume had been helpful on the ship during the passage so the captain approached him (English in Seume's original text): It is a pity, my boy you do not stay with us; you would soon become a very good sailor. Heartily I would, Seume answered, but you see, it is impossible. The captain shouted: So it is. God speed you well!

Life in the Halifax camp was one third of German usualness, one third of Huron savageness and one third of English refinement. According to the individuals present one of those thirds was predominant. In my case it was mostly German.

Already the following year the War of Independence was over so Seume never saw any action. All Germans - a rifleman had not perforated their lungs, a Huron had not taken their scalps and who did not manage to escape joining the Republicans in Boston -eventually were shipped back to Europe for Landgrave Friedrich intended to sell his capture to Frederick the Great. Seume remembers: The convoy taking us to Europe comprised 200 ships in particular two American frigates showing the new flag of the free States. For an old Englishman a heartbreaking sight since Britannia ruled the waves.

To make a long story short. Shipped back Seume served in Emden in the Prussian army. He escaped, went to Russia and became adjutant of General Igelström who had been charged to suppress the Polish uprising of 1794 against the Russians in Warsaw.

Before his final journey Seume visited the Nordic countries in 1805. His journal titled Mein Sommer im Jahr 1805 (My Summer in the year of 1805) was so politically charged that no publisher dared to print it.

Seume was a remarkable person: I don't drink any wine, no coffee, no liquor, don't smoke or snort. I eat the simplest food and was never ill neither at sea nor at any point of the compass. On the other hand he stated: I lived much and wrote little. That is better than the other way around. Because of his virtues and his small needs old Wieland called him the noble cynic, a man of great value.