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Popular Politics and Protest


For a long time, premodern politics was considered an elite prerogative. Kings and nobles ruled, commoners obeyed. Yet historians have increasingly become aware of formal and informal popular influence, be it in local government, representative assemblies or through acts of resistance. In this class, we will look at one of the most famous early modern rebel manifestos, drawn up during the German Peasants' War of 1524-26. The set reading, in turn, takes a more general look at socio-political structures in the Holy Roman Empire during our period, particularly the emergence and powers of rural and urban communes.



  • What role, if any, could the people play in early modern politics?
  • Did the emergence of print and public sphere increase or decrease popular political involvement?
  • Were early modern rebellions essentially conservative?



The Twelve Articles of the [Upper Swabian] Peasants (1525)

Questions about the source:

  • How revolutionary are the peasants' demands?
  • Is this document primarily about political, socio-economic or religious issues?



Blickle, Peter, ‘Communalism as an organizational principle between medieval and modern times’, in: idem, From the Communal Reformation to the Revolution of the Common Man (Leiden, 1998), 1-19 (available on Talis ASPIRE)



Bernard Capp, ‘Riot and Rebellion’, in Beat Kümin (ed.), The European World 1500-1800: An Introduction to Early Modern History (3rd ed, 2018), 377-86 (e-book version; selected contributions)

Head, Randolph, Early Modern Democracy in the Grisons: Social Order and Political Language in a Swiss Mountain Canton, c. 1470-1620 (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 1., ‘Communalism and other political models in Europe and in Graubünden’

Scott, J.C., Domination and the Art of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990), ch. 5: ‘Making Social Space for a Dissident Subculture’

Te Brake, Wayne, Shaping History: Ordinary People in European Politics 1500-1700 (Berkeley, 1998), Ch. 5: ‘Popular Politics and the Geography of State Formation’

Thompson, E. P., ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, in: Past & Present 50 (1971), 76-136



Black, A., ‘ Communal democracy and its history’, Political Studies 45 (1997)

Blickle, P., The Revolution of 1525: The German Peasants' War from a New Perspective (Baltimore, 1981)

Blockmans, Wim, André Holenstein and Jon Mathieu (eds), Empowering Interactions: Political Cultures and the Emergence of the State in Europe 1300-1900 (Aldershot, 2009)

Bercé, Yves-Marie, Revolt and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: An Essay on the History of Political Violence, trans. J. Bergin (Manchester, 1987)

Cohn, Samuel, (ed.), Popular Protest in Late Medieval Europe: Italy, France and Flanders (e-edn, 2013) [Primary Sources]

Elton, G. R., ‘Presidential Address: Tudor Government. The Points of Contact: I. Parliament / II. The Council / III. The Court’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th Series 24 (1974), 183–200; 25 (1975), 195–212; 26 (1976), 211–28

Fletcher, A., and D. MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions (2005) [with primary sources]

Friedrichs, Christopher R., The Early Modern City 1450-1750 (London, 1995)

Geggus, D. P. (ed.), The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History (Indianapolis, 2014)

Graves, Michael, The Parliaments of Early Modern Europe (London, 2001)

Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge MA, 1991)

Kümin, Beat, The Communal Age: Towns, Villages and Parishes in Premodern Society (Basingstoke, 2013)

" , Imperial Villages: Cultures of Political Freedom in the German Lands, c.1300-1800 (Leiden, 2019)

Mackay, Ruth, The Limits of Royal Authority: Resistance and Obedience in Seventeenth-Century Castile (Cambridge, 1999)

Magagna, Victor, Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective (1991)

Tom Scott (ed.), The Peasantries of Europe: From the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries (London, 1998), introduction

Scribner, R. W., ‘Communalism: universal category or ideological construct?Link opens in a new window’, in: Historical Journal 37 (1994)

Sharpe, James, Crime in Early Modern England (any edn; 2nd edn, 2013)

Walter, John, Crowds and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2006)

Wood, Andy, Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2002)

Würgler, Andreas, ‘Voices from among the "Silent Masses": Humble Petitions and Social Conflicts in Early Modern Central Europe’, International Review of Social History, 46 (2001), Supplement, 11-34

Standard Bearer Gersau 1605 Cropped

Standard bearer of Gersau, Europe's tiniest and most autonomous rural republic on Lake Lucerne which had its own militia. Illustration from the 'small law book' (1605): Gersau District Archive, reproduced with kind permission.




The Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1673-1913 (reports and resources on criminal cases)

Civil War Petitions

English Petitions 1573-1797 (transcriptions on British History Online) & 'Power of Petitioning' research project (17thC)

Holy Roman Empire

A rural commune organizes its own affairs: Ingenried (Bavaria) 1549

Facts and figures relating to the victory of the peasant republic of Dithmarschen at the Battle of Hemmingstedt (1500) - a somewhat clunky but basically accurate WikiVidi documentary (probably best viewed without sound)

Summary and visualization of the anti-Jewish elements in the Fettmilch rising at Frankfurt a.M. (1612-16)


Domenico Gargiulo, ‘Piazza del Mercato [at Naples] during the Revolt of Masaniello [in 1647]


Example of a Slave Revolt in Jamaica 1760-1761