From my post on The Freemen, I introduced the larger-than-life Harm, and the person who soon became his charge, Erin. Erin has grown quite curious of Harm, his background, and the history of those Harm often refers to as “my people.” Another of Harm’s “people,” Bern, explains...you have to go back to Charlemagne – or, as Bern calls him, “Carl the Butcher.”
From The Last of the Freemen, by Carl Trotz:
“So Carl the Butcher,” Bern continued, “he was in the business of killing, conquering people, taking their land, demanding tribute from the survivors in perpetuity. Common enough, the Romans did it, they do it today, invading in the name of peace or democracy or human rights, then cramming hopeless debt down their throats. But unlike the Romans, and really, clearing a path for the puppet masters we have now, the Butcher understood that if he destroyed a culture, then the people would be easier to control. You wouldn't need an occupying army. Those are expensive, you know. And because he controlled the Church, forced conversion became the way to do it.”
Charlemagne apparently understood the value of destroying the culture. So did those known as the Frankfurt School. So did the communist Antonio Gramsci. So does today’s Pope, it seems. It is too bad that many supposedly freedom-loving people do not understand this.
Eventually, the Saxon nobility accepted Charles and conversion; the freemen lost their way of life – no more allodial ownership of the land, no more freedom.
Returning to Bern:
“Of course armed resistance was futile at that point. Some tried to revolt, a generation later, long after the Butcher was dead. They called it the Stellinga, but not surprisingly, they were mostly all killed. There’s a saying, you know, that lightning strikes more trees than grass. It’s always better to keep a low profile.
“So,” he said, patting the table with his hand for emphasis, “we've kept hidden since then, following the old ways and the old law, but blending in to survive, finding our freedom in places other than war or politics.”
I have read a good amount of history regarding the Middle Ages and I do not recall coming across the term Stellinga. It does not appear in the index of the most definitive work I have, RHC Davis’s A History of Medieval Europe. I did, however, find a hint of this history in that book:
The Saxons were heathen and still worshipped their primitive Germanic gods…. The Saxons were the traditional enemies of the Franks, and had never formed part of the Frankish Kingdom. They had little political organization of their own. What unity they possessed, was founded on their heathen religion, the central object of worship being the Irminsul or sacred tree-trunk, which was supposed to support the heavens.
I only now know this was a hint because of what I read in Trotz’s work. Trotz does make use of this tree trunk in his novel.
The forced conversion included the cutting down of these sacred tree trunks, first the Jupiter Oak or Donar’s Oak in 724:
Jove's Oak (interpretatio romana for Donar's Oak and therefore sometimes referred to as Thor's Oak) was a sacred tree of the Germanic pagans located in an unclear location around what is now the region of Hesse, Germany. According to the 8th century Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, the Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface and his retinue cut down the tree earlier the same century. Wood from the oak was then reportedly used to build a church at the site dedicated to Saint Peter.
And an Irminsul in 772:
An Irminsul (Old Saxon, probably "great/mighty pillar" or "arising pillar") was a kind of pillar which is attested as playing an important role in the Germanic paganism of the Saxon people. The oldest chronicle describing an Irminsul refers to it as a tree trunk erected in the open air.
According to the Royal Frankish Annals (772AD), during the Saxon wars, Charlemagne is repeatedly described as ordering the destruction of the chief seat of their religion, an Irminsul.
So, what of this Stellinga?
The Stellinga ("companions, comrades") or Stellingabund (German for "Stellinga league") was a movement of frilingi (freemen) and lazzi (freedmen), the lower two of the three Saxon non-slave castes, between 841 and 845. Its aim was to recover those rights the two castes had possessed before their conversion from Germanic paganism in the 770s. At that time they had still possessed political privileges, but Charlemagne, having won over to his cause the Saxon nobility, had reduced them to mere peasants. The Stellinga thus despised the Lex Saxonum (law of the Saxons), which had been codified by Charlemagne, preferring to live in accordance with ancient and unwritten tribal custom. The movement was violently resisted by the uppermost caste, the nobiles (nobility), not always with the support of the Frankish kings.
The Saxon elite apparently preferred protecting their privilege as opposed to supporting their tribe.
Lothair, grandson of Charlemagne, promised these previously freemen and freedmen a return to their freedom – a return to their pre-Charlemagne ways – in exchange for support against his brothers Louis the German and Charles the Bald.
Lothair, the eldest of the three, was pitted against the younger brothers who did not want to be subservient. Charles, to the west (more or less France), and Louis to the east (more or less Germany) made a pact against Lothair (for which today’s Lorraine in today’s France is known). Lothair’s kingdom has been a source of conflict for over 1000 years, it seems, last changing hands even during the Second World War.
In any case, it did not end well for this uprising:
At Speyer late in 841, Lothair and his young son Lothair II met the leaders of the Stellinga uprising, among other Saxon notables who were loyal to him. Louis the German, however, marched against the Saxon "freedmen seeking to oppress their lawful lords" and "crushed [them] ruthlessly by sentencing the ringleaders to death". The Saxon nobilies themselves disarmed the movement with a brutal action in 843.
Other than Wikipedia, there is almost nothing available online regarding the Stellinga. What few mentions I found were mostly behind paid academic articles and journals. One such piece offers a preview – and it is worth a quick read.
For as much as I have written about decentralized Middle Ages – and how this history is mostly kept from us or otherwise distorted – there is an even deeper and darker corner of even more decentralization and freedom that goes virtually unmentioned.
Thanks to Trotz’s novel, I have been made aware of this hidden world.