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5
Anabaptists and the Reformation

great social change, the accumulation of large fortunes by the more enterprising among the burgher class. The multi-millionaires of our day have their counterpart, on a smaller scale, among the merchants, manufacturers, and printers of the free cities of the sixteenth century. Many of these so prospered that they were able to live in a splendour that vied with that of kings and far outshone the state of ordinary nobles. While the castles of the knights still lacked what we should now reckon the ordinary necessaries and decencies of life, the town house of the wealthy merchant or tradesman was the abode not only of comfort but of luxury. The attempts of the nobles to equal this splendour of apparel, this sumptuousness of living — attempts all the more determined because the high-born noble despised his burgher rival — only resulted in their more rapid impoverishment and more speedy extinction.

As the drowning man clutches at the proverbial straw, the knights in their distress tried to wring more money out of the class dependent upon them, the peasants. For a time, therefore, the lot of these long-suffering people, whose emancipation was in the end to come out of this very turmoil, grew