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History of the Germania Revolt


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The Forgotten Rebellion

Although the revolts of the Comuneros and Germania occurred simultaneously, albeit in in different regions of Spain, the latter is often simply discussed as a footnote to the former. The Germania may have affected an entire kingdom - that of Valencia - and beyond, but the region was far smaller than Castile, contributing less financially to the crown and was consequently of less importance. Politically and economically, the Comuneros posed a severe threat to the King of Spain, overshadowing the Germania in both life, and modern literature.

Origins of the Germania

In 1519 the Artisans Guilds in Valencia, represented by Juan Llorens, sought and received the king's permission to form a 'germania' ('brotherhood') of militia. Supported and controlled by the Guilds, this army would defend the region's coastline against Barbary Pirates: Muslim sailors who operated out of ports on the north of Africa. The pirates were an ever present problem for Spain's Mediterranean interests during the sixteenth century, and they were loosely allied with the Ottoman Empire; these two groups were the target of military action by the Spanish dominated Holy eague of 1571 - 3. [p In December 1519 the Guilds founded the Council of Thirteen; however, organising the militia was only part of said council's agenda. The Guilds discussed alterations to Valencia's government, which included the creation of a city-state - Venice was a favourite example - and the reduction of the nobility's privileges. The resulting tension had more to do with the long-term rivalry between towns and aristocrats than Charles' clumsy rule, but the king had created an uneasy, and discontented, atmosphere, within which rebellion could ferment. [p

The Rebellion Begins

The situation in Valencia soon escalated, thanks partly to the arrival of a new Viceroy and a serious plague; the result was armed conflicts between the guilds and nobles, and then full-scale rebellion. Between the April and July of 1520 the Germania, and its ready made militia, seized control of Valencia's eponymous capital and the other major urban areas. The Viceroy attempted to respond with a military attack, but he was solidly beaten, and the uprising spread into neighbouring Murcia and onto Mallorca, where a particularly martial Germania conquered the whole island.

Division, Failure and Legend

The crown was slow to react, attaching little importance to Valencia and being distracted by the Comuneros, but the nobles fought back. During one of these battles Llorens - the Germania's original leader - was killed. His replacement was Vincent Peris, who held radical views and advocated violent activity. Just as extreme ideas had split the Comuneros, so Peris' leadership split the Germania, and the moderate members began a drift away.

Battles between urban Guilds and the predominantly rural aristocracy continued into 1522, and in the March of that year Peris was caught and executed. However, the conflict continued, and a mythical figure emerged among the minds of the Germania. He was El Encubierto, or The Hidden One; this man became the ever present, but never seen, leader of the rebellion, couched in the language of prophecy and divine punishment. Ultimately, this figment didn't help, and the nobles slowly overcame the Guild's resistance with their superior military strength. Although Mallorca continued in rebellion until March 1523, the mainland revolt was over by the end of 1522, and hundreds of rebel leaders and participants were executed; Charles issued a general pardon in 1524.

Religious and Class War?

Some historians have called the revolt of the Germania a "clear class conflict between urban groups - bourgeois and artisans - and the aristocracy." (Kamen, Spain 1469 - 1714, Longman, 2nd ed. 1991 p. 80) This is wholly true because, although the revolt may have affected the crown and was facilitated by Charles' actions, the conflict's driving force was a power struggle between the two classes. Equally, the crown remained largely uninvoled, and the Germania's defeat was entirely due to the aristocracy.

Moreover, the Germania included a substantial element of religious conflict, and the Guild's actions were also directed against the Muslim - and newly Christianised Muslim - population. Many were attacked, while others were forced into baptism and conversion. While the act of baptism eroded noble control - freeing the Muslim participants from any seigneurial demands - the underlying motive was religious intolerance, a force largely missing from the Comuneros rebellion, and Charles' early rule. The Germania's roots, as a force to defend against Barbary Pirates, may have contributed to such activity.

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