It is a remarkable fact that studies of medieval popular rebellions have largely shunned any comparison between the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the German Peasants’ War of 1525.1 Not only were they the largest uprisings in their respective countries’ histories; each is supposed to have derived much of its organizational and ideological thrust from the precepts of religious egalitarianism. In England, the preaching of John Ball and the clandestine activities of the Lollards, in Germany, the impact of evangelical radicals and lay preachers in the agitation of the early Reformation are each held to have created a public audience for demands to recast economy and society root-and-branch which overrode and transcended the specific local circumstances and interests of the various groups of rebels in such a way as to unite town and country in a general revolutionary endeavour. Indeed, it is precisely this ideological embrace which casts doubt on the nomenclature of a peasants’ revolt. The leading modern authority on the German Peasants’ War styles it as the ‘revolution of the common man’,2 while the foremost Marxist scholar of medieval English society regards the events of 1381 as an uprising of the ‘commons’ which went beyond mere peasants to embrace the plebeian
* Revised and expanded version of a lecture delivered in October 2004 in Steinhaus im Ahrntal/Südtirol.