Bundschuh. A common word that strikes fear into every noble heart. Like the word Fire! in a crowded city. Almost as terrifying as Plague.
Bundschuh. It is only a laced peasant shoe. Symbol of the common man since “Duke Bundschuh,” Count Eckhart of Scheyern, carried two red-laced boots to call the common man on a crusade to Jerusalem in the eleventh century.
But now, it stands for the common man united in revolt against his overlords, be they secular nobility or ecclesiastical “Cloister Lords.” It symbolizes havoc, anarchy, famine, for without the peasants, how should we have food?
As I travel to Basel to meet with the Jew about Hebrew lessons, the entire land is ablaze with talk of Joss Fritz and a Bundschuh he planned to launch at a Church Ale near Freiburg in this very month.
I have learned much about this Joss Fritz since I moved to Bruchsal, for his first attempt to rally the common man to revolt occurred among the peasants belonging to the Bishop of Speyer, who, as the Reader remembers, called me to his service earlier this year. It was in 1502 that revolt was attempted, under the previous Bishop, but the memory is still green among those who lived through it. This was told me by a young man whose father had taken part:
“We lived in the village of Untergrombach, which is south of Bruchsal. I was twelve years old, but I remember it well.
“The bishop kept encroaching on the rights of his tenants to graze their animals and to cut firewood. His tax collectors were known for their lack of mercy. The Bishop was constantly feuding with the Swabian League, who retaliated by ravaging his peasants. Then he put a limit on the number of beasts a man could hold.”
“But,” someone else said, “Bishop Ludwig was known for his Christian charity, which was one reason that he was always in debt.”
“Be that as it may,” the boy said, “it was little comfort to the people who had to provide boon-services and pay tithes and tolls and taxes from which all clergy are exempt.” He dropped his voice and leaned forward. “So there rose up a bondsman of the Bishop named Joss Fritz. And he called the people to a new world. A world based on Divine Justice.
“They held secret meetings in the countryside. I went with my father the night he swore allegiance to the Rebellion. He said I could be proud that he had a part in cleansing the church and freeing the common man from bondage. I wanted to join too, but he said I was too young, though there were others there no older than me.
“All who joined fell on their knees and recited the Lord’s Prayer five times and five Ave Marias. Then they recited the password which ran: God greet you, fellow. How fares the world? And then the reply: We cannot rid ourselves of this plague of priests.
“Fritz was a great orator. He had a complete plan, and he could make you see it. All the Church’s power would be abolished, and it would return to apostolic poverty. Hunting and fishing, pasture and forest, would be under the governance of the villages, not the nobles or the Church. There would be no more tithes, rents, taxes, or tolls.”
“They would take the Bishop’s castle at Obergrombach, and that would be their stronghold. Then they planned to take Bruchsal, where it was said that half the citizenry would support them. They especially hoped for an alliance and aid from the Swiss, once the Bundschuh was begun and they could demonstrate how many were in their number.
“Fritz had forty agents who worked throughout the south. He said they could raise an army of 20,000 and keep it ever ready for engagement. He believed he could take Pforzheim and from there the whole of the upper Rhine.”
“What happened,” I asked, though I thought I knew.
“They were betrayed. Someone confessed to his priest, who, though bound to secrecy, coughed it up to the authorities.”
(Although I also heard that one of the mercenaries Fritz hired informed the Bishop. I guess he thought the Bishop would pay him better than Fritz.)
The boy licked his lips. “The authorities began to seek out the conspirators and interrogate them under torture. Ten were executed, many were banished. Some were fined.
“But Joss Fritz escaped.”
And now, eleven years later, he appears again.
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