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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

He vowed to restore the Bundschuh League


One

of these was Joss Fritz, who had been a soldier (_landsknecht_)--a man with many qualities of leadership. He had tenacity of purpose, great powers of organisation, and gifts of persuasion. He vowed to restore the _Bundschuh_ League. He remained years in hiding in Switzerland, maturing his plans. Then he returned secretly to his own people. He seems to have secured an appointment as forester to a nobleman whose lands lay near the town of Freiburg in the Breisgau; and there, in the small village of Lehen, he began to weave together again the broken threads of the _Bundschuh_ League. He mingled with the poorer people in the taverns, at church ales, on the village greens on festival days. He spoke of the justice of God and the wickedness of the world. He expounded the old principles of the _Bundschuh_ with some few variations. Indiscriminate hatred of priests seems to have been abandoned. Most of the village priests were peasants, and suffered, like them, from overbearing superiors. The parish priest of Lehen became a strong supporter of the _Bundschuh_, and told his parishioners that all its ideas could be proved from the word of God. Joss Fritz won over to his side the "gilds" of beggars, strolling musicians, all kinds of vagrants who could be useful. They carried his messages, summoned the people to his meetings in quiet spaces in the woods, and were active assistants. At these meetings Joss Fritz and his lieutenant Jerome, a journeyman baker, expounded the Scriptures "under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit simply," and proved all the demands of the _Bundschuh_ from the word of God.

When the country seemed almost ripe for the rising, Joss Fritz resolved to prepare the banner as secretly as possible. It was easy to get the blue silk and sew the white cross on its ground; the difficulty was to find an artist sympathetic enough to paint the emblems, and courageous enough to keep the secret. The banner was at last painted. The crucified Christ in the centre, a peasant kneeling in prayer on the one side and the _Bundschuh_ on the other, the figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John, and the pictures of the Pope and the Emperor. The motto, "O Lord, help the righteous," was added, and the banner with its striking symbolism was complete. The League had the old programme with some alterations:--no masters but God, the Pope, and the Emperor, no usury, all debts to be cancelled, and the clauses mentioned above. The leaders boasted that their league extended as far as the city of Koeln (Cologne), and that the Swiss would march at their head. But the secret leaked out before the date planned for the general rising; and the revolt was mercilessly stamped out (1512-1513). Its leader escaped with the _Bundschuh_ banner wound round his body under his clothes. In four years he was back again at his work (1517). In a very short time his agents, the "gild" of beggars, wandering minstrels, poor priests, pilgrims to local shrines, pardon-sellers, begging friars, and even lepers, had leagued the peasantry and the poorer artisans in the towns in one vast conspiracy which permeated the entire district between the Vosges and the Black Forest, including the whole of Baden and Elsass. The plot was again betrayed before the plans of the leaders were matured, and the partial risings were easily put down; but when the authorities set themselves to make careful investigations, they were aghast at the extent of the movement. The peasants of the country districts and the populace of the towns had been bound together to avenge common wrongs. The means of secret communication had been furnished by country innkeepers, old _landsknechts_, pedlars, parish priests, as well as by the vagrants above mentioned; and the names of some of the subordinate leaders--"long" John, "crooked" Peter, "old" Kuntz--show the classes from which they were drawn. It was discovered that the populace of Weisenburg had come to an agreement with the people of Hagenau (both towns were in Elsass) to slay the civic councillors and judges and all the inhabitants of noble descent, to refuse payment of all imperial and ecclesiastical dues, and that the Swiss had promised to come to their assistance.


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