How Does One Start a Rebellion?

I know not very many happened, but with as little supernatural assistance as possible (with the best amount being "none" though it's available if necessary) how would one go about starting a large-scale rebellion in the usual Ars Magica timeframe? You know, late 1100s to mid 1200s, that stretch of time. What would be good methodology if somebody wanted to kick one of those off?

One thing might be to look for an opportunity presented by another force coming through, especially one that doesn't stay. For example, Constantinople be sacked. Or, longer term and a little later, picking up the pieces after the Mongols.

Re ME with target boundary... maybe MuMe
unless of course you are talking the kind of rebellion which is period, which means convincing this minor lord over here to rise up against his superiors... then you only need to control one puppet...
definitely falls under messing with the mundanes though...

There's also a peasants' revolt, though without converting a few lords to their side, that's unlikely to succeed. For those to happen, you need a problem which affects everyone, and where the blame can easily be put on a single actor. That kind of thing is rather hard to engineer, though; as a single person, you can't really deplete a duke's coffers and force him to levy punitive taxes on his subjects, though you could engineer a drought to make sure that the peasants were sufficiently impoverished beforehand.

Remember during this period that the difference between "Rebellion" and "Civil War" was often very tenuous. Generally, someone would argue that a major fuedal leader (Duke/Prince/King) had a weak claim on the throne and that they had someone with a better claim. This could use Pretenders (the long lost son of the previous king vs the king's 2nd cousin twice removed), or just find an uncle or some family member with a "better" claim to the land.

As far as I know, no popular rebellion ever took hold for long in the entire Middle Ages. Some were more destructive that others - The Jacquerie, for example, was still a specter after the aristocracy had been overthrown.

Answers probably depend on timeframe. Are you willing to work at it for years? Decades? Is this a short-order rebellion? If you have some years to brew resentment, you can push the nobles into being harsher and the peasants into being resentful. If you don't have time, you need a pivot point.

What physical area? A rebellion against a single great lord is one thing; the King is quite another. Overthrowing the Count is still pretty large scale.

Pre-existing dispositions? If the (say) Count is hated already, so much easier. Is he relatively friendless? Without allies? Is he thought illegitimate? A usurper? Does the local bishop dislike him?

For this recipe, you will need: A Hated Nobleman with few good allies, An Angry Population, An Indifferent (at best) Church and preferably Hostile Church, A Hero, A Band of Followers, a Pinch of Luck.

Generally speaking, take a population overborn by the hated noble, heat to simmer, wrap noble in tales of villainy, season hero with plausible stories of success (best to have actual success), isolate noble from allies, make a rude mass of the population, drop in successful hero, and ignite - preferably from a safe distance. Igniting the rebellion usually requires the noble to commit an unpopular and unforgivable act. How subtle you are in all of this will vary according to skill.

Do not forget to spread tales of the nobleman's dastardliness, and later the hero's successes! This is vital. Usually requires considerable aid and comfort to the minstrels and other mercenary tale-tellers.

Also, in general you should outnumber the noble's guard (who are often distressingly capable - do not be fooled by tales of bumbling) by at least four to one, and preferably more.

Caution: May Attract Demons. Rebelling against your lord is rebelling against The Lord.

Problem: If nobleman is correctly overthrown, who inherits the title? Unless the hero is a True Heir (rare to find), the title devolves to someone, possibly someone inconvenient.

Unless, of course, you got the church on bad terms with your noble. Then they can get deliciously excommunicated and who cares what happens to him then? Certainly not the Lord...

Big question: rebellion by whom against whom?

If you're looking to start a peasant revolt, that's going to require a LOT of hard work.

If you're looking to get a landed knight to rebel against his overlord, that's going to depend on the individuals. Certainly the concept of a lord rebelling against his feudal overlord is hardly anything new. Between 1220 and 1320 there's a significant amount of rebellions and uprisings and agitations by various nobles against their vassal overlords or kings along the way. England itself is in a state of armed conflict within its borders thanks to the likes of de Montfort and others.

The Hundred Years War could have been called a rebellion, depending on whom you asked.

Of course, it can go much more smoothly if you can enlist faeries to enact your story. A nearly cartoonish mustachio twirling villain of a faerie version of the lord to be overthrown is good business for the faerie (lots of vitality in starting a rebellion) and very useful for your plans...

I have about six years to work with here, though I can probably only choose about three seasons (give or take one) spread over the whole six years that a magus will be able to provide direct help.

I'm trying for a peasant revolt, possibly with some other lords coming to their aide, though I'd prefer to avoid the land stabilizing under anyone's rule too quickly. I'd like to make it as large-scale as I can, preferably encompassing the territory of multiple nobles.

A story with "great" heroes and/or Faeries... Interesting thoughts, enlisting those might be a good way to spend one of the magus assistance seasons.

Thanks for the input and help, you guys!

My suggestions: if you pick certain historical conflicts, the potential rebellion suggests itself. My suggestions are more "regional" than you might be thinking, but big enough that armies will be marching back and forth.


  • Peasants pro/anti Catharism (rebelling against a lord to prevent the Albigensian Crusade from coming their way would be an easy sell)
  • Welsh peasants against English rule
  • Peasants against the rule of Ezzelino da Romano
  • Peasants for King Conrad IV/Anti-King Heinrich Raspe
  • Prussian/Baltic pagan peasants vs. Christian crusader colonizers
    You could also have one of a German Archbishopric's cities rebel to try to gain Free Imperial Status; this happened several times in the 13th Century as well.

Money in large quatities liberally distributed.


Rebellions that successfully challenge or overturn aspects of society that we post-Marxists tend to refer to in terms of class structure rarely succeed in any era.

One could even go so far as to say that the fault lines between epochs are defined by the prevalence of such rebellion, even when not successful, even when the prevailing social order is rattled rather than routed.

(I have just played all of my 'R' Sc_abble tiles.)

In an AM saga, overturning the social order is probably a climactic event; it certainly ends the Mythic High Middle Ages and ushers in something different.

A historian (especially modern or post**N-modern) might also suggest that small rebelllions and acts of defiance occur all the time, often with great success and rarely with utter defeat, even if their scope and durability are limited, even if they do not flare up into outright uprising, even if the man or woman who decides not to submit just this once does not see himself as a rebel.

The seeds are rebellion are everywhere, in every peasant who cheats on his taxes, in every bravo who sees a chance to ambush his betters, in every woman who defies her husband and father, in every knight or noble who reaches for more than he has, in every priest or philosopher who expounds a new idea or wishes to rejuvenate an old idea. The potential for a seed to germinate exists whenever someone might possibly decide not to do what is considered 'right.'

How, then, to fan resentment into rebellion into uprising?

Make people think they have a chance. Make people think they deserve more or that others deserve less. Cultivate incompetent oppression. Provide opportunities for seeds to land on fertile ground. If you're a magus, you can simply Rego acts of rebellion into being.

Just don't expect a real uprising to have the planned outcome, unless you plan for it to be put down hard, because a big rebellion will have more stakeholders, and those stakeholders will themselves be bigger players.

The simplest kind of rebellion is among social equals or near-equals. It is natural for a son to rebel against a father, a knight against his lord (and his lord against his), a Tytalus apprentice against his master, just as a wolf might rebel against his leader in order to become a leader himself. It is far more difficult for a sheep to fight his way to be chief among wolves! The destiny of a man is less fixed than that of a beast, so what is impossible for a lion, wolf or sheep is merely extremely difficult for a man. The peasant who became a conqueror will perforce act the part, else how would he conquer? Being a lord involves being lordly, and kingly is as kingly does; a rebellion that elevates and demotes people is far more feasible than a rebellion that changes the nature of people by creating and eliminating roles.

If what I'm saying with a modern tone makes sense, and still makes a kind of sense even if I sound more medieval, then this perspective is probably workable in a game.



Frankly, beings with substantial magical power, be they Hermetic Magi, high-Might creatures, or Gifted practitioners of other capable traditions, will be able to find much more efficient and successful ways of manipulating and, with time, changing the social structure than getting everybody to pick up a pitchfork and stab it into the first more privileged folk they see. I wouldn't generally waste my time with this if that were the end goal.

The rebellion is part of a bigger political scheme; we'd do it by manipulating nobles to go to war (which is SO much easier), but that doesn't work for a number of reasons, mainly 1) it doesn't catch much attention even if it's a particularly big war, 2) the system naturally forces nobles to use resources strategically and avoid total decimation on either side, a finesse that a largely peasant-based revolt would lack, and 3) a peasant revolt is pretty much nothing but negative for everyone involved, especially in terms of resources, whereas a war between nobles will often yield something to the "victor" (i.e. whoever is in the more favorable position by the inevitable standstill) that makes it worth the resources lost in the war itself.

EDIT: Oh yeah, and rebellions are fun, too. That's part of the reason for me, though I don't know if such feelings are shared by the rest of the troupe.

Vincent, you're being too cagey as to why the rebellion needs to happen. Because you're so vague, the advice you're getting is either A) this won't work in Ars Magica's setting, or B) information that's not relevant to you.

In the early to mid 13th Century, there are wars "between noblemen" that are hugely destructive with regards to peasants and landholdings that "catch the attention" of major powers.

There's the Albigensian Crusade, where the phrase "kill them all and let god sort 'em out" got its origins. Whole chunks of the south of France were excommunicated by association and crusaders were reported to kill noble and peasant alike in a hope to extirpate the disease of heresy. This was a crusade sanctioned by the Pope and led by a Papal Legate; the political consequences of the crusade resonated in Rome and elsewhere.

There are the battles of Ezzelino (III) da Romano in northern Italy in the middle of the 13th Century, where, in trying to preserve control over Padua and Verona for himself (and by extension, his superior Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II), Ezzelino reportedly massacred and mutilated thousands of Italians in the cities that opposed him. There are reports in the literature (probably not historically "true," but Ars Magica is about myth) about Ezzelino setting buildings full of thousands of people on fire for all of them to burn, gelding and/or blinding all the inhabitants of a captured city, etc.

And who's Ezzelino fighting against? Why, a force led by a Papal Legate because these battles over chunks of Northern Italy are a front in a larger armed conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope, and frankly, given the proximity of this particular conflict to the Papal States and the fact that the Pope had to flee Rome during this period due to his forces' inability to control the city, you could reasonably argue that the conflict between Papal forces and Ezzelino had a direct impact on the authority of the Pope over European Christendom itself.

So why are you investing all of this time trying to force a purely peasant revolt into the 13th Century when you could just have the magi be part of one of the historical conflagrations that actually did happen? What are these gears behind the scenes that need to turn that can't be dealt with through these examples?