Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen

Richard M. Wunderli, Author Indiana University Press $12.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-253-20751-7
Wunderli ( London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of Reformation ) has lucidly reconstructed a controversial conflict in 15th-century south-central Germany. Aimed at the general reader, this engaging narrative takes off from Hans Behem--the peasant who claimed to see the Virgin and gained followers until crushed by the established church--to explore larger forces at work in Germany on the eve of the Reformation. For peasants, the world of spirits and saints was more powerful than nature; only there could they imagine a different social order. The hardships of nature in 1476 provided impetus for the peasants, temporarily emboldened by pre-Lenten Carnival, to be ripe for a visionary shepherd like Hans. But Hans's call for the leveling of society prompted the wrath of Bishop Rudolph, who, according to Wunderli, was a reformer in his own right. Building on sketchy records and elements from other contemporary sermons, the author invents a sermon for Hans, showing how he might have appealed to peasant fantasies of egalitarianism. Wunderli also attempts to sort out the violent conflict that ensued and Hans's subsequent trial. His scrupulousness and sensitivity make for a small but valuable book. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 10/01/1992
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