Module Number Eu06
Date: 7 February 2004
Title: Peasant Revolts and Urban unrest, 1290-1800
Section Title: 1290-1424
Introductory Text The first rebellions in Europe that managed to rise
above local problems and involve whole regions in social protest occurred
from the late thirteenth through the fourteenth centuries. One of the earliest
of these produced the Swiss confederation in 1291, thereby laying the foundation
of an independent European state. The well-organized Flemish Rising of 1323-1327
united towns and villages in defense of custom and against a new tax and was
defeated only with the help of
The most violent but also the shortest revolt was the “Jacquerie” around
Paris in 1358. Other movements showed greater staying power, such as the “Tuchinat,”
a guerrilla war in the mountains of south-central
wk. in which artisans attempted to gain
a seat and voice in civic government.
The period culminated with a religiously inspired uprising, the Hussite revolution in Bohemia (1420-1434), which united town and country behind the reform of religion and social order. As their strength grew, Hussite armies invaded territories to the north and west; eventually a peace settlement ended the fighting. Because it was directed in part against cultural and political domination from outside Bohemia, something wrong here finally, the Hussite revolution also represents an early instance of ethnic or proto-nationalist resistance.
Section Title: 1425-1549
Beginning around 1400, distinct regional patterns of rebellion develop. A buildup of local revolts in the Alps and the border zone between France, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Swiss Confederation, for example, reflected the increasing assertiveness of village communes and their efforts to defend customary rights against encroachments on them by nobles and princes; to lower rents and improve legal rights to land; and to oppose the restrictions of serfdom on the right to marry and take up residence freely. This trend continued right through the fifteenth century.
One prominent manifestation of its was the “Bundschuh” conspiracies, named for the peasant shoe that festooned the rebels’ banners. The movement was organized over a large geographical area and tried to mobilize city folk as well as rural people in far-reaching social and apostolic reforms. The “Poor Conrad” movement in the Duchy Württemberg, by contrast, reacted to new taxes, though it too included people from both sides of the town-country divide. In the East, the Hungarian Crusade (1514) transformed into a peasants’ revolt against the erosion of their property rights.
The German Peasants’ War of 1525 overshadows all other rebellions, urban
or rural, of the sixteenth century. Indeed, no other rebellion came close
to it in terms of sheer geographical extent and the numbers of people involved—perhaps
as many as 100,000 rebels in April and May. Beginning in the heartland of
late medieval communal rebellions, the Peasants’ War quickly spread across
southern and central
The period between 1550 and 1699 was so turbulent that many historians often
speak of a “General Crisis” in European society and politics. From the standpoint
of peasants and artisans, it was the great age of the tax revolt. War was
the primary reason for heavier taxation, though not the only one. Nor
did conflicts over taxes play out the same way in every region. In
central and eastern Europe, the Turkish Empire’s expansion fueled increases
in taxation and military recruitment. The many revolts of this period in the
Austrian lands, as well as the Croatian revolt of 1572-1573, were of this
A series of tax revolts by so-called “Croquants” shook the region until 1707.
Anti-tax revolts in other peripheral regions
as well, such as Normandy (1649) and Brittany (1675).
This was also a period of uprisings against foreign rule, many of which carried
strong social and religious overtones. The most prominent of these was the
Dutch revolt against Spanish rule. Resentment against taxation erupted in
Naples in 1647, a revolution that nearly toppled Spanish rule in southern
Not every region fit these patterns, however. Events in
In comparison with the explosive seventeenth century, the early eighteenth was one of relative quiet in Western Europe. This is attributable to several factors. One is simply that the machinery of state power was more efficient and the collection of taxes better regulated. Another factor was the waning of religious hostilities, although as the “Camisard” revolt (1703-1705) showed, these could still inspire extremes of violence. Finally, urban and rural social protest movements were more and more involved with international and dynastic politics: Rákóczi’s Revolt of 1703-1709, for example, was led by Hungarian nobles but owed much of its strength to peasant grievances against serfdom. Similarly in 1705, normally peaceful Bavarian peasants rebelled against foreign occupation and the unaccustomed burdens it entailed.
This began to change in the mid-eighteenth century. Beginning in the 1770s,
many governments in central and
Europe attempted to abolish labor services and restrictions on the ability
of peasants to marry and take up residence freely. Pressure from below played
an important role. Ongoing resistance to labor services in Bohemia, for example,
further discredited the institution of serfdom. Then in 1775, another rebellion
prompted the formal abolition of labor services there. But dissolving the
economic power of lords over peasants proved to be far more difficult. Estate-management
had become both more efficient and more resented. But top-down reforms also
disrupted local customs, which inspired resistance to the centralization of
These tensions erupted in the late 1780s. In 1789, Flemish “patriots” rebelled
against a reforming but heavy-handed Austrian regime. That same year in