A novella written by Heinrich von Kleist in 1811.

Michael Kohlhaas is a horse-dealer in [[HolyRomanEmpire mid-sixteenth century Germany]], the time of Martin Luther. His neighbor the Junker[[note]]Squire[[/note]] von Tronka shamelessly "impounds" two of his horses and works them half to death. Kohlhaas files a complaint in court; the Junker has friends in high places and gets the case dismissed. Kohlhaas thinks he'll have to take drastic measures to get a hearing. His wife Lisbeth, hoping to avert this, takes a petition to the Elector of Saxony. She is shoved around by the Elector's servants and dies. She, dying, points to a verse in the Bible: "Forgive thine enemies; do good to them that hate thee." -- Kohlhaas: "May God never forgive me as I forgive the Junker."

Kohlhaas declares war (literally) on the state of Saxony. He maintains that since the states won't give him justice in their courts, they've excluded him from citizenship and therefore he can declare war on them. He gathers a band of followers and begins burning villages and towns, saying that he'll stop just as soon as he gets a day in court. What he wants is justice, he doesn't think of it as revenge. His wife's death fuels his rage and removes his last hesitation, but only to carry out the plan he'd already made; he doesn't even increase his demands. What he asks for, in the end as at the beginning, is exactly what's due to him: his horses, in their original health, no more, no less (with the additional poetic justice that the Junker must care for the horses with his own hands until they're recovered).

But this is just the first half of the story. The political ramifications expand to the rest of Germany, and a mysterious Gypsy woman offers Kohlhaas something that might save his life: a paper on which a prophecy about the Elector of Saxony is written.

The book received several adaptations:
* ''Man on Horseback'' (1969).
* ''Michael Kohlhaas'' provided the inspiration for [[InspirationNod Coalhouse]] Walker's story in ''Literature/{{Ragtime}}'' (1975).
* ''The Jack Bull'' (1999), a made for TV {{Western}} starring Creator/JohnCusack.
* ''Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas'' (2013), which keeps the 16th century context but moves the action from Germany to south-central France.
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!!''Michael Kohlhaas'' provides examples of:

* BlackAndGrayMorality: The Junker von Tronka and the Elector of Saxony are despicable, and most other people don't come off too well either; however, no one, least of all the author, fully endorses Kohlhaas' actions against them. The story ends without redemption, with a BrokenAesop.
* CorruptBureaucrat. Many of them, enabling powerful people to do what they want. Two of them are actually called "Hinz and Kunz", proverbial German "John Doe" names.
* [[FortuneTeller Gypsy Fortune Teller]]: She acts as something of a ''deus ex machina'' intervening at several convenient points in the plot.
** Also, she might actually be Kohlhaas' dead wife in some way (she has the same [[DistinguishingMark birthmark]] on her neck, the family dog - who usually barks at strangers - instantly likes her, and a letter Kohlhaas gets from her via the castellan is actually signed "Elisabeth"...)
* HistoricalDomainCharacter: Most of the characters, this being loosely based on history. Martin Luther, for one, has a small role as an unsuccessful mediator.
** The 2013 movie has [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marguerite_de_Navarre Marguerite de Navarre]] as an antagonist.
* JustifiedCriminal
* PayEvilUntoEvil Kohlhaas manages to put it out of his mind that though the people who wronged him were nobles and corrupt government officials, by pillaging Saxony he's destroying the property of farmers and yeomen like himself.
* SelfFulfillingProphecy: Whatever may be written on that mysterious piece of paper, the Elector of Saxony believes it's important to his future and is desperate to read it. His very anxiety over the prophecy is his undoing.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Michael Kohlhaas existed and did lay waste to the countryside in the 16th century. The letter that Martin Luther writes to Kohlhaas in this story is similar to one Luther actually wrote.
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