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'Thrown to the Dogs'
The War of the Poor by Eric Vuillard
2019, Other Press, NY, 79 pages
As winter turned to spring in the cold wet year of 1525, a 35-year-old man, whose father had been butchered by authorities when he was ten, in 1500, was gathering a rabble of bloody-minded poor and small land owners [peasants, who themselves held slaves] to rise up against the princess. He was a priest, one of many German apostates who had turned on the Catholic Church. Like all early Protestant Christians—he was a Catholic rebelling against the Universal Church. This is an aspect of our frozen mind, stuck in the present and unable to pierce the past, this belief among modern Christians—all of those I have spoken to on the subject—that from Saint Augustine around 500 to Luther in the 1500s there was a world without Christians, and as if by magic, in the 1500s, Christianity appeared from whole cloth, come right down off the heavenly cross, to fight the devil worship of Catholicism. Even the fact that these first Protestants like Eckhert, and 200 years later Luther, who Munster derided as “the easy-living flesh of Wittenberg,” were sometimes ordained Catholic Priests who revolted from and rebelled against The Church, cannot pierce the modern mind, enslaved as it is to the forms of its own bewildered time.
His name was Thomas Muntzer and he signed his ranting screeds “with the Sword of Gideon.” He preached death against the princes and papacy and was more fanatic than any Mullah of 1970s Iran. He was, of course, a fool but not a coward, much like a secular German fanatic who would be preaching in beer halls exactly 400 years after Muntzer preached revolution from the pulpit of a pauper's church. The vastness of the Church and the fact that it had such built in social controls and a stern class system, such as churches for the rich and poor, preordained that revolutionary Christians would break out of its stayed constraints.
Muntzer's initial crime was speaking the mass and giving sermons in the language that his flock could understand instead of in cryptic Latin. What a scandal, as if the shepherd had begun to bleat to his fold and try and convince them to feed themselves to wolves instead of giving their lambs to the butcher. Muntzer's two-year rampage did light Germany on fire and did much to get tens of thousands of his followers murdered by the government and church powers and their mercenary killers. Like the uprising of the Hussites in nearby Bohemia and many another doomed attempts to connect Christians directly with The Word of God, instead of bowing to the Priesthood, Muntzer and the fools that rallied to him in zealous fervor, were doomed to die. He would be executed and fed to the dogs.
In Vuillard's brief, beautiful, skewed and poorly organized history [a book I bought only because it had print large enough that I could read] of a brief, ugly fate suffered by the screwed of another age, there are flashes of the lash. In some passages, the author points out, for want of anything else to discuss about the life of the European masses of the early Modern Age, that many of them, if not most, were slaves. He does not mention that the importance of the peasants taking a hand in such civil disobedience in the age was that they were land owners themselves and always held slaves. During this same period, the peasantry in England and Cornwall would also fight and lose against the nobility and their slaves, which included among their number, peasants who through slave ownership and acts of enclosure [public land theft] sought and did become members of the lower nobility, and would eventually usurp the powers of lords through their savage industry and human trafficking.
Here is quote from Vuillard about the conditions of the poor—which remain mostly silent, as he equates them chiefly with the peasant class. Although the peasants, though dirt poor by our current standards, almost always owned multiple slaves, Vuillard's ability to frame the poor for the reader, has the relatively affluent slave-owning peasantry as its floor.
“It wasn't God rising up, it was taxes, tithes, land rights, ground rents, [0] tariffs, travel dues [1], hay harvests... cutting of noses, [2] gouging of eyes, pinching with burning tongues, bodies broken on the wheel.”
This is what made peasants so dangerous to the ruling class, because they, like the other portion of the vicious middle class, the merchants, were used to wielding the power of beatings, torture, rape and death upon their human chattel. Nothing makes a person fit to seize rule from those who own it like owning slaves. It is for this reason that The War of the Poor is important, in that it foreshadowed the sad fact that no revolt or rebellion would last a month without free people in its ranks and that the rich opposition would eventually hijack any legitimately lower class uprising. An understanding of Bacon's Rebellion, for instance, will be enhanced by looking into the records of rebellions against the Church and government in Europe from the 1300s, especially, such as those of renegade preacher John Ball and soldier Wat Tyler in 1380s England, where taxes collected by clergy and lay collectors alike included the rape and enslavement of the tax payer's children.
But let the doomed prophet of yore, Thomas Muntzer, have the last word in a discussion of his own mean drama:
“Have you not been able to taste in your Martin's [3] manure what Ezekiel said in the 39th chapter, that God would command all the birds of the air to feast on the flesh of the princes and commanded the unthinking beasts to lap up the blood of the big-wigs...”
-To Count von Manderscheid
Notes
-0. Ground rents still exist in Baltimore City.
-1. Travel was not legal for most people and required passports, which must be purchased from or bestowed by the authorities. General historians tell us that medieval people were dullards because they rarely developed a taste for travel, when in fact, travel was usually against the law for most people.
-2. Cutting of and the cutting off of noses as disfigurement meant to keep a person ever a slave was an ancient slave penalty going back to Biblical times, well attested to by Homer, Herodotus and others. There is an illustration by Hogarth, the artist of the early 1700s who rendered the likeness of boxer James Figg, of a negro executioner cutting off the nose of a European soldier shackled to a pillory post.
-Editor, please acquire a copy of Hogarth's Military Punishments for Ye Scum of the Country
-3. Luther, who Muntzer regarded as a church apologist.
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