chapter  11
16 Pages

Popular movements and elite leadership: exploring a late medieval conundrum in cities of the Low Countries and Germany

ByJustine Smithuis

A historiographically controversial aspect of late medieval popular movements is the involvement of elites as leaders of, or coalition partners with, groups of common citizens and workers. For example in Utrecht, a relatively important episcopal city in the Northern Low Countries, craft guilds and other groups of artisans often worked together with factions within the ministerial (knightly) or bourgeois elite, a collaboration that became something of a tradition from the later fourteenth century. The rival parties in Utrecht, although of changing character and composition, became known by the names of the city’s most important families: the Gunterlingen and the Lichtenbergers. In 1379-80, conflict arose over a range of issues of common interest, such as the election procedures for the city council, the role of the assembly of guild members (mor­ gensprake) in local government, a contested milling excise, and other issues concerning public finances. During this civic crisis, the Gunterlingen were led by a certain Gerrit de Bole van Heemskerk, a knightly figure belonging to the Gunter family who had a castle in nearby Holland. He was later exiled with 27 men. In this struggle, Gerrit and other members of the faction of the Gunterlingen apparently stood on the side of those who, in vain, challenged the rule of the city council. While Gerrit’s non-elite associates were not poor or marginal men – all of the banished participants were citizens and guild members – they were of much lower status than he and probably had very different interests at stake.2