Münster Rebellion
The Münster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

s to establish a communal sectarian government in the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 city of Münster
Münster is an independent city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located in the northern part of the state and is considered to be the cultural centre of the Westphalia region. It is also capital of the local government region Münsterland...

. The city became an Anabaptist center from 1534 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 18 months — from February 1534, when the city hall was seized and Bernhard Knipperdolling
Bernhard Knipperdolling
Bernhard Knipperdolling was a German leader of the Münster Anabaptists. He was also known as Bernd or Berndt Knipperdollinck or Knypperdollynck; his birth name was van Stockem.-Early life:...

 installed as mayor, until its fall in June 1535. It was Melchior Hoffman
Melchior Hoffman
Melchior Hoffman was an Anabaptist prophet and a visionary leader in northern Germany and the Netherlands.-Life:Hoffman was born at Schwäbisch Hall in Franconia before 1500...

, who initiated adult baptism in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

 in 1530, and his line of eschatological
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

 Anabaptism, that helped lay the foundations for the events of 1534–1535 in Münster.


After the Peasants' War
Peasants' War
The Peasants' War was a popular revolt that took place in Europe during 1524–1525...

 (1524/25), a second and more forceful attempt to establish a theocracy
Theocracy is a form of organization in which the official policy is to be governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or simply pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religious sect or religion....

 was made at Münster, in Westphalia
Westphalia is a region in Germany, centred on the cities of Arnsberg, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Minden and Münster.Westphalia is roughly the region between the rivers Rhine and Weser, located north and south of the Ruhr River. No exact definition of borders can be given, because the name "Westphalia"...

 (1532–1535). Here the group had gained considerable influence, through the adhesion of Bernhard Rothmann
Bernhard Rothmann
Bernhard Rothmann was a 16th century Reformer and an Anabaptist leader in the city of Münster . He was born in Stadtlohn around 1495.-Overview:...

, the Lutheran pastor, and several prominent citizens; and the leaders, Jan Matthys
Jan Matthys
Jan Matthys was a charismatic Anabaptist leader, regarded by his followers as a prophet....

 (also spelled Matthijs, Mathijsz, Matthyssen, Mathyszoon), a baker of Haarlem
Haarlem is a municipality and a city in the Netherlands. It is the capital of the province of North Holland, the northern half of Holland, which at one time was the most powerful of the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic...

, and Jan Bockelson
John of Leiden
John of Leiden , was an Anabaptist leader from the Dutch city of Leiden. He was the illegitimate son of a Dutch mayor, and a tailor's apprentice by trade.-Life:...

 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 Strasbourg, obtained a considerable following in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

, 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
New Jerusalem
In the book of Ezekiel, the Prophecy of New Jerusalem is Ezekiel's prophetic vision of a city to be established to the south of the Temple Mount that will be inhabited by the twelve tribes of Israel in the...

", 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 baptised. Vigorous preparations were made, not only to hold what had been gained, but to proceed from Münster toward the conquest of the world. The city was being besieged by Franz von Waldeck
Franz von Waldeck
Count Franz von Waldeck , was Prince-Bishop of Münster, Osnabrück, and Minden and a leading figure in putting down the Münster Rebellion....

, its expelled bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

. 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
Gideon (Judges)
Gideon or Gedeon , which means "Destroyer," "Mighty warrior," or "Feller " was judge of the Hebrews. His story is recorded in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible....

, 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, and his genitals nailed to the city gate. Bockelson, better known in history as John of Leiden
John of Leiden
John of Leiden , was an Anabaptist leader from the Dutch city of Leiden. He was the illegitimate son of a Dutch mayor, and a tailor's apprentice by trade.-Life:...

, was subsequently installed as "king
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...


Claiming to be the successor of David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

, he claimed royal honours and absolute power in the new "Zion
Zion is a place name often used as a synonym for Jerusalem. The word is first found in Samuel II, 5:7 dating to c.630-540 BCE...

". He justified his actions by the authority of visions from heaven, as others have done in similar circumstances. He legalized polygamy
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...

, and himself took sixteen wives. (John is said to have beheaded one wife himself in the marketplace; this act might have been falsely attributed to him after his death.) Community of goods was also established. After obstinate resistance, the city 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; the 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
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 importance, the civil powers adopting stringent measures to suppress such agitation. It is difficult to trace the subsequent history of the group as a religious body, through changes in the names used and beliefs held.

The Batenburgers
The Batenburgers were members of a radical Anabaptist sect led by Jan van Batenburg, that flourished briefly in the 1530s in the aftermath of the Münster Rebellion.-Jan van Batenburg:...

 under Jan van Batenburg preserved the violent millennialist
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

 stream of Anabaptism seen at Münster. They were polygamous and believed force was justified against anyone not in their sect. Their movement went underground after the suppression of the Münster Rebellion, with members posing as Catholics or Lutherans as necessary. Some nonresistant
Nonresistance is generally defined as "the practice or principle of not resisting authority, even when it is unjustly exercised". At its core is discouragement of, even opposition to, physical resistance to an enemy...

 Anabaptists found leaders in Menno Simons
Menno Simons
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist religious leader from the Friesland region of the Low Countries. Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and his followers became known as Mennonites...

 and the brothers Obbe
Obbe Philips
Obbe Philips was one of the early founders of Dutch Anabaptism. He was the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest from Leeuwarden. Philips studied medicine, and became a barber and a surgeon...

 and Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips was an early Anabaptist writer and theologian. He was one of the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman and later joined Menno Simons in laying out practical doctrines for what would become the Mennonite church.- Biography :...

, Dutch Anabaptist leaders who repudiated the distinctive doctrines of the Münster Anabaptists. This group eventually became known as the Mennonites after Simons. They rejected any use of violence, preached a faith based on love of enemy and compassion.

In August 1536 the leaders of Anabaptist groups influenced by Melchior Hoffman met in Bocholt
There are two towns called Bocholt:* Bocholt, Germany* Bocholt, Belgium...

 in an attempt to maintain unity. The meeting included followers of Batenburg, survivors of Münster, David Joris
David Joris
David Joris was an important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands before 1540.-Life:Joris was probably born in Flanders, the son of Marytje and Georgius Joris de Koman, an amateur actor and shopkeeper...

 and his sympathisers and the nonresistant Anabaptists (Williams, p. 582). At this meeting the major areas of dispute between the sects were polygamous marriage and the use of force against non-believers. Though Polygamy is accepted to this day many Anabaptist still do not live it. Though there are some scattered who still follow this faith though in small groups. Joris proposed compromise by declaring the time had not yet come to fight against the authorities, and that it would be unwise to kill any non-Anabaptists. The gathered Anabaptists agreed to the compromise of no more force,(Williams, p. 583) but the meeting did not prevent the fragmentation of Anabaptism.

Works of fiction

  • Le prophète
    Le prophète
    Le prophète is an opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French-language libretto was by Eugène Scribe.-Performance history:...

    , an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer
    Giacomo Meyerbeer
    Giacomo Meyerbeer was a noted German opera composer, and the first great exponent of "grand opera." At his peak in the 1830s and 1840s, he was the most famous and successful composer of opera in Europe, yet he is rarely performed today.-Early years:He was born to a Jewish family in Tasdorf , near...

     that highly fictionalizes the rebellion
  • Q
    Q (novel)
    Q is a novel by Luther Blissett first published in Italian in 1999. The novel is set in Europe during the 16th century, and deals with Protestant reformation movements....

    , by Luther Blissett
    Luther Blissett (nom de plume)
    Luther Blissett is a multiple-use name, an "open reputation" informally adopted and shared by hundreds of artists and activists all over Europe and the Americas since 1994...

     ISBN 0-15-101063-3.
  • Speak to Her Kindly: A Novel of the Anabaptists, by Jonathan Rainbow, ISBN 1-57921-590-4 - German historical mini-series that portrays the events of the Münster Rebellion.
  • The Unfortunate Traveller
    The Unfortunate Traveller
    The Unfortunate Traveller: or, the Life of Jack Wilton by Thomas Nashe is a picaresque novel set during the reign of Henry VIII of England....

    by Thomas Nashe
    Thomas Nashe
    Thomas Nashe was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret .-Early life:...

     describes the events of the rebellion
  • The Abyss "L'Œuvre au noir", by Marguerite Yourcenar
  • The Friends of God, by Peter Vansittart
  • Perfection, by Anita Mason
    Anita Mason
    Anita Mason is an English novelist.An only child, her mother was a housewife, and her father worked at a factory that manufactured aircraft engines....

  • Rules for a Film about Anabaptists, film by Georg Brintrup, Germany 1975/76
  • Die Wiedertäufer, a play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
    Friedrich Dürrenmatt
    Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a Swiss author and dramatist. He was a proponent of epic theatre whose plays reflected the recent experiences of World War II. The politically active author's work included avant-garde dramas, philosophically deep crime novels, and often macabre satire...

Further reading

  • Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation, by Karl Kautsky

"The Friends of God" (in USA "The Siege") by Peter Vansittart
  • The Tailor King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster, by Anthony Arthur ISBN 0-312-20515-5
  • Bockelson, by Fritz Reck-Malleczewen
    Fritz Reck-Malleczewen
    Friedrich Percival Reck-Malleczewen was a German author.Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen was born on the estate of Malleczewen, Masuria ,the son of the Prussian Politician and landowner Hermann Reck. He originally wanted to be a musician, and at one point studied medicine in Innsbruck...

  • The Radical Reformation, by George Hunston Williams ISBN 0-940474-15-8
  • The Pursuit of the Millennium, by Norman Cohn (Paladin 1970)
  • Kerssenbrock, Hermann von
    Hermann von Kerssenbroch
    Hermann von Kerssenbrock was a German teacher and historian, b. Mönchshof, Barntrup , about 1520; d. Osnabrück, 5 July 1585. He attended school first in Paderborn, and after 1533 in Münster until his parents were banished from that city by the Anabaptists...

    . Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness: The Overthrow of Münster, the Famous Metropolis of Westphalia (Studies in the History of Christian Traditions; 132), translated with introduction and notes by Christopher S. Mackay. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2007 (hardcover, ISBN 978-90-04-15721-7).

External links

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