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After the war against the Armagnac and their atrocities, the peasantry who lived in a difficult economic position, started to develop a sense of rebellion against the lords and the catholic church who were imposing more taxes. They were reading the Gospel which was compared to church practice. Social justice and freedom were the objectives. Small reformist groups developed all over the Rhine region and Alsace. The  stereotyped instructions were mainly of  religious order: Freedom for the peasants, equality between the lords and the peasants, new religious structures and practice conforming to the Gospel. The Luther thesis, the evangelical movements stigmatizing the abuses of the Roman church hierarchy, the brutal price fluctuations of cereals, wine, increase of taxes, harassments from the lords, lead to this uprising.

On 17 April 1525 a large uprising of more than 40.000 men  mobilized and  organized in seven gangs. They elected a leader, Erasme Gerber and formalized a program in twelve articles.

At the outbreak of this uprising, on april 16,1525, a group of peasants from Eschentzwiller, lead by the Schultheiss  Mathis Nithart, aged 70, decided to join the protest. In fact they were not really hostile to the rural clergy as they went to a nearby village named Helfrankirch to meet the parish priest named Berner who was in favour of the requested reforms. It was reported that they spent the night eating, drinking and preparing for the revolt. This resulted in the formation of bands which joined from all over the Sundgau.

This group of peasants, on April 23, 1525 at Bartenheim, recruited six groups of  500 Swiss mercenaries and their leaders, totalling 3000 people. The negotiated monthly pay per man was set at 4 florins, representing à sum of 12000 florins per month which was quite a considerable amount of money at this time. It seems that Mathis Nithart was coordinating the actions from Eschentzwiller.

On May 28, a part of the rebel troups started to put fire to monasteries and plunder them, marching to Ensisheim which was the capital city of the Habsgourg in Alsace.

The rebel armies were defeated, in fact slaughtered, at Saverne and Scherwiller. The Duke of Lorraine imposed an armistice which was signed in Basel in June 1525. This gave enough time to Archiduke Ferdinand to mobilize a professional army. At the end of the truce , end of August, Ensisheim started repression in the Sundgau by hanging or placing in jail a large number of ecclesiastics. Mathis Nithart did not seem to suffer from this repression by fleeing with other leaders to Basel where he may have been placed in jail, he was expelled from Basel with a few other persons from different villages, with the promise not to come back, as specified in the folloging document dated April 5, 1526. It seems that he returned safely to Eschentzwiller probably stil as Schultheiss until his death reported to have taken place in 1528. Some sources seem to indicate that Nithart was well respected by the d'Andlau family, explaining why he was preserved and reintegrated in his function after paying a large fine.

The main source in information is the Guebwiller chronicle for year 1525. Other sources have been used by the Société d'histoire du Sundgau and several contemporary writers on the  peasants war.

It is obvious that there has been a confusion of date between Mathis Nithard, the painter who was at that time in or near Colmar and Mathis Nithart the Schultheiss. In the Guebweiller chronicle, it seems that the name was spelled Nidhardt. On the official Basel document (the only one known at this time), the spelling is Nithart, but the village of Eschentzwiller named a street "Matthias Nithard", a good example of phonetic variations.

Document from Basel dated April 5, 1526 - click on it to enlarge.

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Eschentzwiller and the Matthias Nithard street


Rixheim: wall painting about the 1525 peasant's war.


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