From Academic Kids

The Münster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptists to establish a theocracy in the German city of Münster. The city became an Anabaptist center from 1532 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 16 months - from February 1534, when the city hall was seized and Bernhard Knipperdolling installed as mayor, until its fall in June 1535. It was Melchior Hoffman, who initiated adult baptism in Strassburg in 1530, and his "brand" of eschatological Anabaptism, that helped lay the foundations for the events of 1534-1535 in Münster.

After the Peasants' War, a second and more determined attempt to establish a theocracy was made at Münster, in Westphalia (1532-1535). Here the group had gained considerable influence, through the adhesion of Bernhard Rothmann, the Lutheran pastor, and several prominent citizens; and the leaders, Jan Matthys (or Matthijs, Mathijz, Matthyssen, Mathyszoon), a baker of Haarlem, and Jan Bockelson or Beukelszoon, a tailor of Leiden, had little difficulty in obtaining possession of the town and deposing the magistrates. Matthys was a follower of Melchior Hoffman, who, after Hoffman's imprisonment at Strassburg, obtained a considerable following in the Low Countries, including Bockelson. Bockelson and Gerard Boekbinder had visited Münster, and returned with a report that Bernhard Rothmann was there teaching doctrines similar to their own. Matthys identified Münster as the "New Jerusalem", and on January 5 1534, a number of his disciples entered the city and introduced adult baptism. Rothmann apparently accepted "rebaptism" that day, and well over 1000 adults were soon baptized. Vigorous preparations were made, not only to hold what had been gained, but to proceed from Münster toward the conquest of the world. The town was being besieged by Franz von Waldeck, its expelled bishop. In April 1534 on Easter Sunday, Matthys, who had prophesied God's judgment to come on the wicked on that day, made a sally with only thirty followers, believing that he was a second Gideon, and was cut off with his entire band. He was killed, his head severed and placed on a pole for all in the city to see. Bockelson, better known in history as John of Leiden, was subsequently installed as king.

Claiming to be the successor of David, he claimed royal honours and absolute power in the new "Zion". He justified his actions by the authority of visions from heaven, as others have done in similar circumstances. He legalized polygamy, and himself took sixteen wives, one of whom he beheaded himself in the marketplace. Community of goods was also established. After obstinate resistance the town was taken by the besiegers on June 24 1535, and in January 1536 Bockelson and some of his more prominent followers, after being tortured, were executed in the marketplace. Their dead bodies were exhibited in cages, which hung from the steeple of St. Lambert's Church (These cages still hang there, though the bones were removed later).

The Münster Rebellion was a turning point for the Anabaptist movement. It never again had the opportunity of assuming political importance, the civil powers naturally adopting the most stringent measures to suppress an agitation whose avowed object was to suppress them. It is difficult to trace the subsequent history of the group as a religious body. The fact that, after the Münster insurrection the very name Anabaptist was proscribed in Europe, is a source of twofold confusion. The enforced adoption of new names makes it easy to lose the historical identity of many who really belonged to the Münster Anabaptists, and, on the other hand, has led to the classification of many with the Münster sect who had no real connection with it. The latter mistake, it is to be noted, has been much more common than the former. The Mennonites, for example, have been identified with the earlier Anabaptists, on the ground that they included among their number many former Münster Anabaptists. But the continuity of a sect is to be traced in its principles, and not in its adherents, and it must be remembered that Menno Simons and his followers expressly repudiated the distinctive doctrines of the Münster Anabaptists. They have never aimed at any social or political revolution.


  • The Tailor King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster, by Anthony Arthur ISBN 0312205155

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