Münster rebellion  

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"I flew me over to Munster in Germany, which an Anabaptistical brother named John Leyden kept at that instant against the Emperor and the Duke of Saxony. Here I was in good hope to set up my staff for some reasonable time, deeming that no city would drive it to a siege except they were able to hold out, and prettily well had these Munsterians held out, for they kept the Emperor and the Duke of Saxony play for the space of a year, and longer would have done but that Dame Famine came amongst them, whereupon they were forced by messengers to agree upon a day of fight when, according to their Anabaptistical error they might all be new christened in their own blood." --The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe, describing the events of the Münster Rebellion.

This page Münster rebellion is a part of the protestantism series.  Illustration: The image breakers, c.1566 –1568 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder
This page Münster rebellion is a part of the protestantism series.
Illustration: The image breakers, c.15661568 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder

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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 1534 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 18 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 Strasbourg in 1530, and his line of eschatological Anabaptism, that helped lay the foundations for the events of 1534–1535 in Münster.


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 overthrow 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. However, the Batenburgers under Jan van Batenburg preserved the violent millennialist stream of Anabaptism seen at Münster. They were polygamous and believed force was justified against anyone not in their sect. Not surprisingly, their movement went deep underground after the suppression of Münster with members posing as Catholics or Lutherans as necessary.

For those who opposed the use of force, differentiating themselves from the Münster rebels became of utmost importance. Many nonresistant Anabaptists found leaders in Menno Simons and the brothers Obbe and Dirk Philips, 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 and never aimed at any social or political revolution.

In August 1536 the leaders of the various Anabaptist groups influenced by Melchior Hoffman met in Bocholt in a final attempt to maintain their unity. The meeting included followers of Batenburg, survivors of Münster, David Joris 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. 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, lest the Anabaptists themselves be seen as common thieves and killers. The gathered Anabaptists agreed to the compromise (Williams, p. 583) but the meeting seems to have done little to slow the fragmentation of Anabaptism into various groupings.

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 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 if the continuity of a sect is traced in its principles, and not in its adherents, then the Mennonites had little do with their violent, polygamous predecessors.

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