Luther and the Peasants

Sources A and B are useful when analysing Luther’s attitude towards the Peasant’s War, yet there are certain ways in which they do not entirely reflect his own views. As events unfolded during 1525, Luther’s attitudes to the peasants transformed, and this is demonstrated in the two sources. From the sources, it is clear that between March and May of 1525 Luther’s feelings about who was to blame for the actions of the peasants changed, showing that he initially believed they should not be blamed for the chaos that unfolded, but eventually came to the conclusion that their later actions were unnecessary and therefore condemns the peasants instead.

As this issue directly targets the views that Luther held in reference to the Peasant’s War, it is appropriate that all of the views expressed in the sources are those of Luther himself. As they are both the direct opinions of the man himself, and as Luther was never one to refrain from expressing his controversial feelings, it is fair to conclude that they give an accurate representation of Luther’s attitude at the time. The sources also reflect Luther’s view that unnecessary violence should be avoided, as although in Source A he gives the peasants the benefit of the doubt by stating that the princes and lords “deserve this judgement of God against them”, Source B shows that he felt the way in which the peasants chose to “rob and pillage and act like mad dogs”, which broke the promises they made, were uncalled for and so compares them with “disobedient wretches and scoundrels”. This evidence reinforces the view of many historians that Luther believed the peasants were simply using his words as justification for causing as much chaos as possible. Both sources are written to the same broad audience and use similarly strong language throughout, which would suggest that Luther was not holding back any of his strongest feelings, again acting as evidence to suggest that Luther was fully expressing his attitude towards the Peasant’s War. Ultimately, the sources coincide with Luther’s opinions at the time and so it would appear that they are a good reflection, yet as it is about to be made clear there are also ways in which the sources potentially do not give an entirely accurate overview.

One possible way in which the sources are ambiguous is through the possibility that the sources do not accurately reflect Luther’s true feelings, as he may well have just been using them to gain support. In Source A, Luther does not want to fully alienate the Peasants, and so therefore gives the impression that the actions were justifiable just so that he does not loose their support. Instead he uses the opportunity to attack the “blind bishops and mad priests and monks” that instead of working to bring an end to the “mischievous rebellion”, chose to “flay and rob [their] subjects”. This justification of their actions is what possibly led to the events that followed, but by May 1525, when Source B was written, it would appear that Luther’s views on the Peasant’s War had quickly shifted towards an extremely negative view.

However, as the Peasants’ conquest progressed, it was necessary for Luther to distance himself from the increasingly violent actions of the peasants. By using their continued and possibly unnecessary actions as backing for his arguments, Luther attempted to ensure that those in senior positions with the capability of implementing the religious changes which he desired did not come to the conclusion that Luther was encouraging the prolonged actions of the peasants. Also, it is important to be aware of the amount of time between the writing of the two sources. Although they were both written at the time of the events, and so therefore are able to truly capture Luther’s feelings at the time, they were written only two months apart. This means that they can not give an entirely thorough analysis of Luther’s overall feelings towards the Peasant’s War, as they do not take in to account the proceedings that took place throughout and after the period of the Peasant’s War.

On balance, it would appear that both Sources A and B generally reflect the opinions of Luther towards the Peasant’s War, but there is also a possibility that the reason behind their issuing may have been to gain support from the different groups which he needed to gain the support of, and it is also necessary to be aware that there are several other factors that could mean that sources are not entirely reliable. For these reasons, it is possible to conclude that although they provide a good degree of evidence when analysing Luther’s views towards the Peasant’s War, it is always important to consider that they have also been influenced by the requirement for Luther to gain the support of the Peasants and yet not to be seen as responsible for the increasingly violent methods which were being employed by the peasants.


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