>>>>>>>>The Fifteenth Century AD, part 2. (The Peasant Revolt)

The Peasant Revolt, 1437, occurred when a bishop of Transylvania sought to enforce payment by the commoners through ecclesiastical penalties and interdicts, even though the root of the problem lay in a recently debased currency. To a populace who had already been outraged by the increases of taxes and seigneurial duties, this was too much. The bishop and his brother, Roland, gathered their troops to fight the rebels. Many Transylvanian nobleman had hurried to the mountain to support them. Although the peasants had sent an envoy to give account of their grievances, they were captured and executed.

The first compromise between the rebels and the noblemen explicitly mentioned their common grievances. For instance, the rebels complained that “both the Hungarian and the Vlachs who lived near castles” had arbitrarily been compelled to pay the tithes on their swines and bees.

Historian Joseph Held states, the “conservative stance of the Transylvanian peasant movement was similar to late medieval peasant movements elsewhere in Europe.” The peasants only wanted to secure the abolition of new seigneurial duties and the restoration of the traditional level of their taxes.

The noblemen and leadership invaded the peasant’s camp, but the peasants resisted and made a successful counter-attack, in 1437, killing many noblemen during the battle. The bishop therefore, and the noblemen, began talks and a compromise was negotiated. Later, after a battle near town, the rent payable by the peasants to the landowners was increased as a result of the loss.

In 1437, shortly thereafter the peasants invaded the Kolozsmonostor Abbey, where the villagers assaulted the abbot. The serfs gathered together into small bands and attacked the noblemen’s manors.

The peasants later settled on a nearby mountain, and there they enjoyed an ideal defense by being surrounded by cliffs and a dense forest. The rebels established a camp on the flat summit of the mountain. Salt miners, some lessor noblemen, and poorer townspeople from neighboring regions joined the peasantry. Soon, around 6,000 armed men would be gathered on the plateau.

Local counts joined the bishop and the armies of the Transylvanian nobleman and landowners, and where some wanted to make a sudden attack on the peasants, the bishop thought that it was better, rather, that they try negotiating, first, and thus pacify the peasants without the need for further violence. The peasants meanwhile fortified their camp, and prepared to make good on their commitments to Rebellion.

Soon, having invaded the rebel camp, the peasants repulsed the attacking forces and encircled their army. During the ensuing battle many noblemen were killed, and the bishop reportedly barely escaped with his life. The peasants emphasized that they wanted to “regain their freedoms granted to them by the ancient kings, freedoms that had been suppressed by all sort of subterfuges.” They were convinced that their liberties had been recorded in a charter during the reign of the first king of Hungary, Saint Stephen. They were probably looked at as forcefully concocting this mythical “golden age,” where their simple-style of belief, in the idea of any possibility of a “good king,” who secures the welfare of the people he lords over (not an uncommon delusion of the people in the Middle Ages).

Sigismund of Luxembourg was asked for an authentic copy of Saint Stephen’s charter. The bishop and the noblemen regarded their agreement with the rebels as a temporary compromise. A “brotherly union” was formed, without the authorization of the monarch, pledging to provide each other with military assistance against the rebels who now had abandoned their camp on the mountain. During their march, most likely to collect provisions, they raided the nobleman’s manors and pillaged whatever they could. They established a new camp on the River, near to town. Another battle was fought, and although they were unable to overcome the rebels, the rebel leaders realized that they wouldn’t be able to resist for long…

Stephen the Great ruled in Moldavia from 1457 to 1504, and after his father and co-ruler had been murdered by his brother, and uncle, was eventually helped over to Wallachia by Vlad III Dracula, at first fleeing to Hungary and then to Wallachia. Vlad Dracula also helped him back to his own territory of Moldavia, where they forced his uncle to leave to Poland, in 1457, and later Stephen attacked Poland, preventing his uncle from seeking aid by the King there.

Stephen restored old fortresses and built new ones, which improved Moldavia’s defense system as well as strengthened central administration. In 1473, Stephen stopped paying tribute to the Ottoman sultan. Ottoman expansion threatened Moldavian ports in the region of the Black Sea. Stephen eventually defeated a large Ottoman army in the Battle of Vaslui in 1475. Stephen was referred to as ‘Athleta Christi’, or “Champion of Christ,” by Pope Sixtus IV, even though Moldavia’s hopes for military support went unfulfilled. The following year the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, routed Stephen in battle, however the lack of provisions and the outbreak of plague forced the sultan to leave Moldavia.

John Albert attacked Moldavia in 1497, but Stephen and his Hungarian (as well as Ottoman by this point in time), allies routed the Polish forces in the ‘Battle of the Cosmin Forest’. Stephen’s long rule represented a period of stability in the history of Moldavia, from the 16th Century onward both his subjects and foreigners remembered him as a great ruler. Romanians later would regard him as one of their greatest national heroes, and after the Romanian Orthodox Church canonized him in the late 20th Century, he became known as “Stephen the Great and Holy”.

His use of Christian devices for legitimization overlapped with a troubled context for Moldavian Orthodoxy: the attempted Catholic-Orthodox union had divided the Byzantine Rite churches into supporters and dissidents; likewise, the Fall of Constantinople had encouraged local bishops to consider themselves independent of the Patriarchy. Because Stephen teared the Patriarch by sometimes using imperial titles, such as ‘tsar’ in 1473; he was never threatened with excommunication.

Stephen decided to recapture an important point on the Danube, which brought him into conflict with Hungary and Wallachia. He besieged the town during the Ottoman invasion of Wallachia in 1462, but was seriously wounded during the siege. Two years later he captured the town. He promised support to the leaders of Transylvania against the King of Hungary, in 1467, and Stephen defeated them when the king of Hungary invaded Moldavia.

During these years dozens of stone churches and monasteries were built in Moldavia, which contributed to the development of a particular type of architecture. Written sources say that relationships between Stephen and Vlad III Dracula became tense in early 1462. Poland was informed that Stephen had attacked Wallachia while Vlad Dracula was waging war on the Ottomans. The Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, later in 1462 invaded Wallachia, where his secretary recorded that Vlad Dracula had stationed 7,000 soldiers near the Wallachian-Moldavian frontier during the sultan’s invasion. Stephen’s troops themselves were loyal to Mehemed II, and taking advantage of the presence of the Ottoman fleet at the Danube Delta laid siege to the fortress. The Venetian envoy in Instanbul, formerly Constantinople, commented how the Ottomans and Stephen besieged the fortress for eight days but could not capture it, as the Hungarian garrison and Vlad Dracula’s 7,000 men defeated them, killing many Turks. Stephen was seriously injured…

In 1470 the Tartars invaded Moldavia, but Stephen routed them in the Battle of Lipnic. In order to strengthen the defense system along the River, Stephen decided to erect a new fortress at Old Orhei and Soroca at the same time. In 1472 he had friendly contacts who were plotting an anti-Ottoman coordination. Taking advantage of Mehmed II’s war in Anatolia, Stephen invaded Wallachia in order to replace Radu the Fair, an Ottoman-installed Muslim convert and vassal. He routed the Wallachian army, under Radu, in a battle that lasted three days at the end of 1473. Four days later, the Moldavian army captured Bucharest and Stephen placed Basarab on the throne—however, Radu the Fair would regain the throne of Wallachia with Ottoman support before the end of the year. Basarab again expelled Radu from Wallachia in 1475, but the Ottomans once more assisted him to return. The Wallachians took revenge by plundering some parts of Moldavia. To restore Basarab, Stephen launched a new campaign to Wallachia in October, forcing Radu the Fair to flee from the principality.

Mehmed II ordered an invasion of Moldavia, an Ottoman army of about 120,000 strong broke into Moldavia in late 1475. Wallachian troops also joined the Ottomans, while Stephen enjoyed support from the Hungarians and the Polish. Outnumbered three to one by the invaders, Stephen was forced to retreat. He joined battle at The High Bridge at the start of 1475, but before the fight he sent his buglers to hide behind the enemy front. Suddenly sounding their horns, they caused such a panic among the invaders that they fled from the battlefield. Over the next three days, hundreds of Ottoman soldiers were massacred and the survivors retreated from Moldavia.

Stephen’s victory in the Battle of Vaslui was “arguably one of the biggest European victories over the Ottomans. Even Mehmed II’s step-mother has been known to have said “the Ottomans had never suffered greater defeat.” Stephen sent letters to the other European rulers to seek their support against the Ottomans, reminding them that Moldavia is “the gateway of Christianity and the bastion of Hungary and Poland and the guardian of these kingdoms.”

In 1309-1377 the Avignon papacy transfers the seat of the popes from Italy to France.

The Great Famine of 1315-1317 kills millions of people in Europe. In 1356 The Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire headed by Charles IV issues the Golden Bull of 1356, establishing various aspects of the Empire, the most significant being the electoral college to elect future emperors. In 1357 Scotland retains its Independence with the signing of the Treaty with Berwick, thus ending the Wars of Scottish Independence.



>>>>>>>>The Fourteenth Century AD, part 3. (The Ciompi Rebellion)

The Ciompi rebellion occurred in the Century before the Peasant Revolt (1437), and was an uprising by unrepresented laborers which occurred in Florence, Italy, from 1378-1382 AD. These laborers had grown increasingly resentful over the established patrician oligarchy. The resulting insurrection caused by heavy taxes which the Florentine’s could not afford, forcing some to abandon their homes, was mainly composed of wool manufacturers and other disenfranchised laborers, artisans and craftsman. In 1378 the city’s fourteen minor guilds demanded greater representation in civic office from elites—the ‘Signoria.’

The Ciompi took up arms and then took over the city’s government and forced the Signoria to create three new guilds and grant them political office. The wool trade at this time sold fabrics throughout Italy as well as overseas, and employed up to a third of Florence’s population. Guilds enforced industrial, fiscal, and monetary policy which benefitted their trades and the lives of their workers, regulating their industries through representatives. Few of those in the textile industry, including the Ciompi wool-workers themselves were eligible for guild membership, the remainder named the ‘Sotto posti’; the major guilds were called the ‘Arti maggiori.’

Salvestro de Medici was one of those blamed, by the lower classes, for letting the situation with the Ciompi get out of hand. In 1378 the first outbreak of violence occurred, as the un-guilded wool-workers took up arms and attacked government buildings, monasteries and a number of Palazzi whilst also releasing inmates from city prisons.

Nevertheless, it was yet to become a full blown revolt. The Signoria leadership tried to appease the lower classes through talks and petitions. The procrastination of the Signoria and half-measures adopted is perhaps what contributed to the second phase of the revolt.

The lower classes forcibly took over the government, installing their own gonfaloniere of justice, and showed their banner—the blacksmith’s flag, at the Bargello. Thousands of armed Ciompi wool-workers besieged the Signoria and pointedly hanged the public executioner, by his feet, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

After the incorporation of these new guilds, almost every man in Florence was able to participate in city government. The Ciompi in fact did not demand ownership of cloth production, or the cloth factories, and their ideals were still based around the tradition guild’s ideas, wishing merely to protect their economic interests and the situation of their workers. At the end of 1378 factionalism among the Ciompi, and the radical persecution of ‘enemies of the revolution,’ lead to the arrest of two of the Ciompi leaders who had demanded constitutional reform. The guilds were demanding the resignation of their leadership, and the worker’s militia returned where a battle for the Piazzi della Signoria broke out between Ciompi and the forces of the major and minor guild, led by the guild of butchers.

The Hussite Wars

Also called the ‘Bohemian Wars,’ the Hussite Wars were a series of battles fought between the Christian Hussites and the Christian Catholics under the Emperor Sigismund, the papacy, and various European monarchs loyal to the Church, lasting from approx. 1419 to 1434 AD.

An execution for heresy in 1415 by the Catholic Church, …

and in Prague as well as various parts of Bohemia the Catholic Germans were forced out, and Sigismund became so outraged by the spread of Hussitism that once he got the throne he urged the papacy, and got permission from the Pope to launch a crusade against the Hussites. Prague was attacked and then abandoned. The Crusade became a complete failure.

The Hussite community included mostly the Czech population of the Kingdom of Bohemia and formed a major spontaneous military power. They defeated five consecutive Crusades proclaimed against them by the Pope, from 1420-1431, and intervened in the wars of neighboring countries. The Hussite Wars were notable for the extensive use of early hand-held firearms such as ‘hand canons.’ The knights and nobles of Bohemia and Moldavia, who were in favor of church reform…

This angered The King of the Romans,’ Sigismund, who sent threatening letters to Bohemia, over an execution they had contested the validity of.

Disorder broke out in various parts of Bohemia, and drove many Catholic priests from their parishes. Almost from the beginning the Hussites divided into two main groups…

And Sophia of Bavaria (?), acting as regent in Bohemia, hurriedly collected forces of mercenaries and tried to gain control of Prague, which lead to severe fighting. The Nobles, sympathetic to the Hussite cause, but supporting the regent, promised to act as mediators with Sigismund, while the citizens of Prague consented to restore to the Royal Forces a castle. The Catholics were defeated in the first pitched battle of the Hussite Wars, in 1420.

Depending on the terrain, Hussites prepared carts for the battle in either squares or circles. The carts were joined wheel to wheel by chains and positioned aslant, with their corners attached to each other, so that horses could be attached to them quickly, if necessary. In front of this wall of carts a ditch was dug by camp followers. The crew of each cart consisted of 22 soldiers: 4-8 crossbowmen, 2 hand-gunners, 6-8 soldiers equipped with pikes or flails, 2 shield carriers, and 2 drivers. The Hussites’ battle consisted of two stages: the first is defensive, the second is an offensive counterattack. In the defensive stage the carts are placed near the enemy army and by means of artillery-fire provoked the enemy into battle.

The artillery would usually inflict heavy casualties at close range. In order to avoid more losses, the enemy knights finally attacked. Then, the infantry hidden behind the carts used firearms and crossbows to ward off the attack—the shooters aimed first at the horses—depriving the cavalry of its main advantage. The Offensive stage then began, and cavalry and infantry burst out from behind the carts, mostly from the flanks. While fighting on the flanks, and being shot at from the carts, the enemy was not able to put up much resistance. They were forced to withdraw, leaving behind dismounted knights in heavy armor who were unable to escape the battlefield. The enemy armies suffered heavy losses and the Hussites soon gained a reputation of not taking captives.

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