His Majesty's Rebels: Communities, Factions and Rural Revolt in the Black Fores, 1725-1745.
In the early eighteenth century the Benedictine abbey of St. Blasien tried to consolidate its jurisdictional and seigneurial authority in the small county of Hauenstein on the southern edge of the Black Forest. The peasants vigorously resisted the abbey's efforts, thereby sparking the Salpeter Wars, a series of protests and rebellions from 1725 to 1745 that required the repeated military intervention of the Austrian state, Hauenstein's overlord. During the conflict, freedom from serfdom emerged as the peasantry's principal goal. Of Hauenstein's sixteen thousand inhabitants, roughly two-thirds were serfs of the abbey, and although they rendered virtually inconsequential fees and services, they found their servile condition repugnant, an intolerable abomination. Negotiations during the Salpeter Wars led in 1738 to ratification of a manumission treaty, whereby the Hauenstein serfs could purchase their freedom. By this point, however, issues of strategy and tactics in resisting the abbey had deeply divided the peasantry into two antagonistic factions. Arguing that Hauensteiners had originally been free and, thus, should not have to purchase their freedom, the salpeterisch faction rejected the treaty and became increasingly truculent. The mullerisch faction, in contrast, accepted the treaty and remained obedient. Tensions mounted, especially after the start of the War of the Austrian Succession, and in 1745 armed hostilities between the two factions erupted. Peasant resistance to lordly domination had now degenerated into civil war. In a probing, meticulously researched, and finely crafted study of the rebellions in Hauenstein, David Luebke offers many significant insights into the nature of peasant protest in the Holy Roman Empire.
Luebke's principal concern is to explain the origins of peasant factionalism and to integrate his findings into a broader interpretation of communal politics in early modern Germany. He carefully analyzes regional patterns of factional loyalties within Hauenstein, showing that they reflected in part the fragmented distribution of Austrian and abbatial lower justice within the county. He also constructs a social profile of the factional leaders. Many of them belonged to the elite of peasant society and had served as elected village headmen, cantonal magistrates, and abbatial functionaries. Because Luebke finds no sharp socioeconomic differences between the leaderships of the two factions, he argues that kinship networks influenced and cemented factional loyalties. Although these conclusions seem plausible, especially in light of other recent studies of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century peasant disturbances in the Holy Roman Empire,(1) one wishes that Luebke had marshaled more evidence on these matters. His examination of factional leadership pertains primarily to the salpeterisch rebels; the slighting of the obedient mullerisch faction is puzzling but may reflect the paucity of sources for peasants whose resistance of abbatial domination remained confined to legal means. Moreover, the discussion of kinship focuses on a single village, Noggenschwiel, whose typicality never receives critical consideration.
What did the peasants of Hauenstein, particularly the salpeterisch faction, hope to achieve? This question lies at the heart of Luebke's study, and his answer suggests that German peasant political culture embraced revolutionary goals more easily than is commonly assumed. Much of the rebels' political rhetoric and many of their tactics, including diplomatic missions to Vienna to plead the salpeterisch cause directly before the emperor, reflected a"naive monarchism," the belief that the emperor supported the rebels' cause but was misled by his wicked officials. But "naive monarchism" did not necessarily lead to conservative political goals, Luebke contends, for the sentiments expressed by at least some salpeterisch peasants implied "a fundamental repudiation of all existing authority, including the imperial" (p. 150). These sentiments never received programmatic formulation, however, and never became the basis for political action. Thus one is left to wonder whether Luebke has identified a truly popular salpeterisch conviction or the isolated fulminations of a few hotheads. It is indisputable, however, that the notion of freedom, applied collectively to all Hauensteiners and guaranteed by the county's "ancient rights," figured prominently in the rebel political ideology. Appeal to this notion legitimated the repudiation of serfdom. Here Luebke speculates that the peasants may have drawn upon allied concepts in Roman law to develop their understanding of freedom and its application to their particular circumstances. This striking suggestion points out the need for historians to explore more fully the ways in which the burgeoning judicial apparatus of the early modern state provoked ordinary men and women to reinterpret the political and social order. Although Luebke makes only a few hesitant steps in this direction, emphasizing instead the extent to which the salpeterisch peasants rejected litigation as a means of pressing their demands, his thoughtful assessment of the rebels' use of Marian pilgrimages to mobilize political support illustrates marvelously how peasants could subvert and reconfigure the official meanings attached to religious and cultural practices endorsed by the state.
The Salpeter Wars were not unique, for, as Luebke makes clear, factionalism characterized other eighteenth-century peasant protests and rebellions. Across central Europe, increasing social stratification in rural society and state and seigneurial intrusion on local autonomies weakened communal solidarities, providing kindling for the emergence of factional politics during peasant-lord conflicts. Luebke's admirable study not only delineates these broader structural forces but also imaginatively combines elements of Robert Muchembled's argument about the transformative effects of early modern elite culture on popular culture and Winfried Schulze's argument about the peasantry's turn to litigation to resist seigneurial rapacity. The result is a richly provocative conceptualization of the potentially divisive nature of German rural politics after the Peace of Westphalia.
Terence McIntosh The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
1. Helmut Gabel, Widerstand und Kooperation: Studien zur politischen Kultur rheinischer und maaslandischeer Kleinterriitorien (1684-1794) (Tubingen, 1995).
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1998|
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