E. Belfort Bax. Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists.
WHEN In February 1534 so many highly respectable ancient burghers of Münster were compelled to fly before the rising tide of Anabaptist fanaticism, they doubtless believed that in a few days, or weeks at the outside, they would be restored to their dwellings under the aegis of the Bishop’s men-at-arms. Many among the party of the “respectables” in the town, namely, the Catholics and orthodox Protestants, were indeed firmly convinced of this. Already in the last days of 1533, the feudatories of the Bishop throughout the diocese were ordered to hold themselves in readiness to obey any sudden call to arms that might be made upon them. In the course of the following February this order was renewed, but it was not until after the new Anabaptist Council was chosen and the power was in the hands of the insurrectionary party, that a definite command was given to both orders of feudatories to assemble immediately at places appointed in the neighbourhood of the city, fully armed, viz., with horse, armour and halberd. The response, however, was not satisfactory. Above all, the quality of the peasants and the smaller landholders who came left much to be desired from a military point of view. The fact is that the old mediaeval “levy of the tenants” had for a generation past fallen into desuetude. Many tenants did not reside on their fiefs, whilst some holdings had fallen into the hands of churchmen and religious houses.
In the sixteenth century it was no longer possible to carry on warlike operations in the old feudal manner, or with the old feudal material, exclusively. The hired mercenary, the freelance or landsknecht, dominated the military situation everywhere. At length recognising this fact, Bishop Franz von Waldeck began recruiting in earnest throughout all the neighbouring territories, but want of money prevented him even in this way from obtaining an adequate supply of trained solders. Such as it was, his army was in time constituted, the chief commands being distributed amongst his principal knightly vassals. But it was not only men and money that failed Franz. He had no ordnance and quite insufficient powder and ammunition. In fact, at this time, the early spring of 1534, there is no doubt that concerted action on the part of the sectaries in the numerous smaller towns and not a few important ones where the Anabaptist party, as such, was already strong, and where large sections of the population outside their ranks were in sympathy with them, would have resulted in at least a temporary victory for the cause throughout the whole of north-western Germany and possibly in Holland as well. The same reasons, of course, which would have rendered any permanent success impossible for the peasant levies in the previous decade of the century would have operated now to render any lasting result unattainable for a movement that rested economically in the main on the poorer sections of the town populations. Although the era of the craftsman was not as yet by any means over, still, with the close of the Middle Ages and the rapid decline of the Guild-industry, it had become a decadent factor, which receded in proportion to the advance made by the earlier forms of modern capitalism. The dream of the impoverished townsman of a millennial kingdom, based on mediaeval domestic communism and animated by the ideals of the small artificer of the time, was in itself as hopeless as the corresponding dream of the peasant ten years before, which also aimed at harking back to an idealised form of a condition of things that had passed away. The lines of social development were moving in quite another direction.
So great was the Bishop’s need financially that, after resorting to the most desperate expedients in the matter of credit, hypothecating taxes, rent-dues, and the like, with insufficient results, the extreme course was adopted of turning into money the gold and silver treasures of the religious houses and churches. The act was excused on the ground of the necessity of preserving them from the sacrilegious hands of the Anabaptists, but was, nevertheless, not carried out without protests on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities immediately concerned. Even if money had been forthcoming, there would have still remained the difficulty of procuring the munitions of war within a reasonable time. As late as May we hear of the besieging army being unable to acquire the means to fire more than about six ordnance shots a day. By slow degrees and with great difficulty pieces of ordnance came in, bought or loaned from neighbouring nobles. But it proved still more troublesome to hire men. The free-lances, who were prepared to offer their services to any potentate or any cause for a consideration, fought shy of the Prince-Bishop, whose semi-bankrupt condition was a matter of public notoriety. The same distrust prevented the nobles and ecclesiastics, with whom the Bishop was anxious to negotiate loans, from responding to any great extent. On the other hand, the Anabaptists were known to have the wealth of the Metropolitan City at their disposal, and no day passed but numerous free-lances entered the town, not only singly, but even in companies, to take service with the defence. They were largely recruited from the class to which the Anabaptists mostly belonged, namely, the town proletariat. Hence their intrinsic sympathies may have been on the side of the sectaries.
The Bishop’s demands for help being coolly received by the three principalities, Hesse, Cleves and Köln, he turned towards the Imperial possessions of Spain and Burgundy. The growing rapprochement between Franz and the Court of Brussels made the Evangelical Count (Landgraf) Philip of Hesse anxious, and probably led to his sending two small contingents to assist the Bishop’s army in the siege. On the 26th March there was a conference of Princes and higher nobles at a place called Orsoy. At this conference the Duke of Cleves and the Archbishop of Köln seem to have at length consented to afford substantial aid in money, men and war material. This enabled Waldeck to free himself from obnoxious obligations to the Evangelical Hesse. He sent back the two contingents already received from the Count, and also forwarded a letter of thanks by a special messenger, informing him that he no longer required his help.
The Bishop was now relieved, in fact, for the moment, from the necessity of relying on either Hesse or Burgundy, and henceforward turned his attention to his great Catholic neighbours. But the delay caused by these negotiations had given the Münsterites time to perfect their defensive works and to otherwise organise the resistance to the besiegers. It was not until the 21st May that Waldeck felt himself strong enough to begin the bombardment of the town. Five days later — it was on a Whit-Monday — he proceeded to storm the ramparts. This attack, carried out, in part at least, by drunken and imperfectly disciplined free-lances, was easily repulsed by the inhabitants, as we have seen.
A portion of the besiegers, nevertheless, seem to have fought with vigour, and succeeded in bringing the scaling-ladders up against the walls. But this was as much as they could do before the whole force was driven back in confusion with heavy loss. The defeat had a serious effect on the Bishop’s position. No-one in the camp would hear of repeating the experiment. The Bishop’s men had to confine themselves, for a long period, to sapping and mining operations.
At the same time the two principal allies of the Episcopal see, Cleves and Köln, were entreated for more help. A new conference of neighbouring potentates was called together in June at Neuss, and on the 20th of the month further support was promised, and an advance of sixty thousand gulden in money was guaranteed. On his side, the Bishop had to undertake to accept as his counsellors Count Wilhelm of Nassau and two other noblemen indicated by his allies. They were to be present in the camp, and all military measures proposed were to be submitted to them. But it was not until more than two months later, on the 24th August, that it was decided in a council of war to employ the full force )f the besieging army in a new assault on the city. A formal summons to surrender was to precede it. This was made on the following day, accompanied by promises of amnesty. Jan of Leyden replied to the Bishop’s envoys that he had no need for his Lordship’s mercy, that the Heavenly Father would show him mercy and would punish the godless who were his enemies.
The Bishop, thinking that his offers had not reached the population, reiterated them in letters which he had secretly conveyed into the town. Time was given until the 27th August to deliver up the city. But the beleaguerers waited in vain. Night fell on the 27th August without a sign of submission. On the 28th, the bombardment began. Three days’ cannonade effected some breaches in the walls. At five o'clock in the morning of the 31st, the attack was opened along the whole line. The Bishop’s forces at first succeeded in making some headway. They pressed beyond the outer line of fortifications at several points, but it was soon found that a well-organised resistance had been prepared. Some treachery by certain persons from the Bishop’s camp had revealed the plan of attack, it is said. As soon as the bulk of the mercenaries had advanced within range, a well-directed fire suddenly opened upon them from the battlements. Columns advancing simultaneously were hurled back in confusion. Repeated attacks on the gates were made by detachments of free-lances, but in every case without result. The assault had proved a huge disaster for the partisans of “order,” and the discomfiture of the Bishop’s forces was complete. Forty-eight commanders had fallen, besides many hundreds of the rank and file. The Anabaptists, as already recorded, were jubilant, and the signal victory had, as we have seen, important results for the internal politics of Münster. Unfortunately, as has always been the case throughout history, the intrinsically weaker party, the party of revolution, did not understand the necessity of immediately following up its success. Had a powerful sortie at once been made, the entire camp of Münster’s feudal over lord might have been captured and the city freed, at least for the time being. As it was, the Bishop removed himself out of harm’s way, followed at no long interval by his leading nobles. This was the signal for wholesale desertion on the part of the mercenaries. It was, in fact, only by extravagant promises of future good pay that a remnant was persuaded to remain behind to continue the contest with the “Kingdom of God.”
But money was now again lacking. Writing to the Duke of Cleves on the 6th September, Waldeck complains that the attack and the preparations for it have exhausted all that was left of the money he received in June, and begs him to come to his assistance without delay. At the same time he expresses his conviction that the Duke’s help alone will not suffice, and that it will b necessary to call out the whole Imperial district of the Lower Rhine. On the 11th September the return-messenger arrived with a letter in which Duke Johann promised to raise, not merely the Lower Rhine district, but also those of the Upper Rhine and Lower Saxony. The reply rejoiced the Bishop’s heart and relieved him of apprehensions as to his ultimate success.
Meantime he had to keep the siege going until the arrival of the reinforcements. The first step was the calling of a Landtag at Telgte, for more money was urgent, even for the interim operations. At Telgte, the Bishop laid before the Westphalian “estates” the desperate straits to which the diocese was reduced and the imminent danger of delay in furnishing credits. In consequence of his representations, it was resolved to raise the necessary money by an extraordinary tax of three gold gulden for every field under the plough, and two gold gulden for every field on sandy or otherwise non-agricultural soil. From every peasant possessing a horse half a gulden was levied, and from all working for money-wages ten per cent of their earnings. These taxes, which were collected with difficulty, would not have proved sufficient to carry on the siege had they not been supplemented by an immediate advance of money from the Duke himself. The situation continued for some little time favourable for the insurgents, but they failed to take advantage of it. The Anabaptists inside Münster were too much occupied with organising their miniature Kingdom of God, just at this moment, to spare the requisite energy for coping with the primary necessities of ultimate military success.
The effect of the Anabaptist victory of the 31st August was to increase the excitement in the small Westphalian towns, including Warendorf, and the attempt was eagerly made by them to bring about an understanding between Münster and its Prince-Bishop. But it was of no avail. As we know, on the arrival of the Anabaptist emissaries on the 12th October, Warendorf openly declared for Münster and Anabaptism. It was only the suddenness of the Bishop’s action in crushing the insurrectionary party in the town that prevented a serious diversion in favour of the Münsterites from establishing itself.
The Protestant estates, which were now again called upon to lend aid, showed themselves recalcitrant. The treacherous judicial murder of the syndic of Münster, Von der Wieck, by the Bishop, coupled with the report that it was Waldeck’s intention to violently upset the Charter of religious freedom and reintroduce Catholicism, had tended to alienate them. Waldeck had to look elsewhere. His emissaries were sent to all the Catholic Powers, great and small, throughout the north-west. They represented, as was in fact the truth, that the object of the Münster Anabaptists was to raise insurrection far and wide in every town and village, and hence that their own interests urgently demanded that they should make common cause with him in crushing out the centre of the most dangerous and widespread disaffection the country had known. Meanwhile the Duke of Cleves had called together the Lower Rhenish and Westphalian “estates.” The Bishop represented to them the urgency of the situation, that he was acting in the interest of the whole north-west country, that up to the present time the siege had cost him seven hundred thousand gulden, and that for their own safety they should immediately afford substantial help. The “estates,” however, thought that the matter was Imperial rather than local, and concerned the whole German peoples rather than any one portion of Germany. They would only disburse some unexhausted monies that had been raised against the threatened Turkish invasion.
At his wits’ end for resources, the Bishop wrote on October 31st to the Austro-Spanish authorities at Brussels, urgently appealing for aid, and he followed this up a fortnight later by the despatch of envoys to press home his arguments. His negotiations do not appear to have met with any noteworthy results. At last, on December 14th, a joint meeting of the “estates” of the Lower Rhenish district (Kreis), including Westphalia, and of the Upper Rhenish district was with some difficulty brought about at Coblenz. Some fifty representatives were present, embracing delegates from all the important cities of the territories concerned. The Bishop’s own envoys were not slack in employing suitable terms to describe the desperate nature of the situation, even going so far as to declare that if adequate help were not immediately forthcoming the Bishop would have to let the matter take its own course. These warnings had their effect. After some discussion, the following steps were decided upon, and the document embodying them countersigned by those present on December 26th. It was resolved by the “estates” to construct and garrison seven “block-houses” round the town of Münster. These were to be connected with well-defended moats and would constitute the first line of defence. The outer line was to be occupied by three hundred fully equipped horsemen, whose function it would be to prevent the desertion of the free-lances and to effectually cut off Münster from the outer world by stopping any fugitives from the city who might succeed in getting through the line of block-houses. The Count of Dhaun and Falkenstein was made Commander-in-Chief of the forces. New military advisers were appointed. The “estates” pledged themselves to furnish fifteen thousand Rhenish gold gulden every month for six months. On the other hand, the Prince-Bishop had to agree, on the part of himself and his chapter, that no fresh changes in the internal constitution of the town should be undertaken without the consent of the “estates,” who were parties to the present protocol.
It was clear that even these new arrangements did not give any prospect of a speedy conquest of the town. They simply meant its gradual reduction by starvation. Waldeck was far from satisfied. Moreover, he thought that his share of the financial burden was too heavy, whilst his authority was largely curtailed, being transferred to the Commander-in-Chief and the other nominees of the “estates.” As it was, he had to call another session of his own “estates” for the purpose of raising fresh taxes to meet the situation.
The besieged met these measures of the enemy by a renewed and desperate effort to rouse the surrounding provinces. It was at this time that Bernhardt Rothmann published his pamphlet entitled “Concerning Vengeance,” already referred to, which was secretly conveyed out of the town in thousands of copies by messengers of the Anabaptist leaders, special care being taken that it should be widely distributed in the northern Netherlands. The messengers started out on Christmas Eve, 1534. On the following New Year’s Day, once more four burghers of Münster, having expressed their willingness, were sent as apostles to the Brethren without. They succeeded in getting through the outposts and reached the town of Hamm. Thence they went to Dortmund, Essen, and other cities of the northern Rhine. Subsequently they separated with the object of getting together a relief force, appointing to meet again after a certain time. One of their number, Zillis by name, meanwhile fell into the hands of the authorities, and from his confession, obtained as usual under torture, (our only source for the facts connected with this incident,) the mission would seem to have been not altogether fruitless, although the ultimate result hoped for was not gained.
As we have seen, encouraged by knowledge of the Bishop’s embarrassment, and especially by the Anabaptist victory of August 31st, the flame of insurrection flared up at various points and continued to the end of the year to flicker on throughout a widespread area. But it was in all cases eventually suppressed. Even at the end of January, 1535, in the diocese of Utrecht, especially in the towns of Deventer and Zwolle, matters looked extremely serious for the powers that were. The Münsterites, as the newly recruited free-lances came into the Bishop’s camp, found means of approaching them with offers of higher pay, and doubtless again succeeded in enticing some of them to their own side. Meanwhile Waldeck was still in bodily fear of an invasion on the part of the Netherland “brethren” and kept spies of his own in Holland and Friesland busy reporting to him whatever took place. At this time the confidence in their ultimate success on the part of Jan and his colleagues seems to have been at its height.
One of the apostles taken prisoner by the Bishop’s agent at Osnabrück the previous October was a former schoolmaster named Johann Graess. He stood in high odour of Anabaptist sanctity and was one of the intimates of King Jan himself. Condemned to death like the rest, he entreated to be allowed a special audience of Bishop Franz. This being granted, he declared his willingness to turn traitor, on condition of his life being spared. His proposal was that he should be permitted to escape and return to Münster, there to learn the intentions of the leaders and the plans of the Brethren in the north-west. He was then to find a pretext for again leaving the city, and, returning to the Bishop, was to divulge his information to him. The suggestion was accepted, and Graess was enabled to go. Accordingly, one morning, he presented himself with chains on his hands to the watchmen at the gates of Münster. Speedily recognised, he was received with open arms as the last survivor of the unhappy missionaries sent out in the autumn. He was brought before Jan and told him the story of the luckless fate of his comrades and of his own adventures. His reputation, high before, was greater still now, and he became more than ever the confidant of the King of Zion. At the beginning of January, he left the town on a pretended mission to gather together the Brethren on the Lower Rhine who were prepared for action, to convene them at Deventer, and there to set up the standard of the New Jerusalem, receiving a special white flag from King Jan for this purpose. Deventer once in the hands of the Brethren, the march to the relief of Münster was to be undertaken. As soon as the watchmen espied from the walls of Münster the white flag indicating the approach of him and his host, the signal within the town was to be given, a sortie made in full force, and the camp of the besiegers thus attacked from both sides at once. Graess left Münster amid the blessings of its saints and prophets. He was, however, no sooner outside the defensive outworks, than he made straight for the Prince-Bishop’s quarters. Here he betrayed all the plans of the Münsterites and their Dutch supporters. Notwithstanding the treachery owing to which the Bishop was enabled to circumvent their main plan, the Anabaptists succeeded, as we know, in gaining some headway in the north-west during the next few months. The leading events connected with this movement have been given in the last chapter.
With the ultimate extinction of the movement in question in May, the last hope of relief from without, for the beleaguered sectaries in Münster, vanished.
Already in April the condition of things in the town was very desperate. We gain some idea of what it was, not alone from Gresbeck, but from a letter sent out during that month by the Anabaptist authorities and intercepted by the Bishop’s men. Therein we read of women and children in a state of most abject destitution, crying lamentably in the streets, of many who had for five days eaten no bread and lived on weeds and grass. The necessity to which the inhabitants were reduced, of slaughtering the horses for food, also heavily handicapped the defence, since in a sortie they were indispensable for drawing the heavy ordnance. On the other hand, the Bishop had at length succeeded in rousing the Imperial estates to come to his assistance, notwithstanding the opposition of the free towns, many of which urged negotiations with Münster, offering themselves as intermediaries, as well of the Protestant princes who were unwilling to see Münster irrevocably given back into the hands of the papal party. A fruitless attempt at bringing about a cessation of hostilities was in fact made during April by the bürgermeisters of Frankfurt and Nürnberg.
Within the town, as the weeks went on, famine rose higher and higher. As the cats, rats, mice began to give out, the people took to stewing down old shoes, skins, the leatherbinding of books and the bark of trees. It now became necessary to dismiss all non-combatants from within the walls. Some of these falling into the hands of the enemy were put to death, while others were interned in different towns of the surrounding country. But the faith and enthusiasm of the combatants was inexhaustible. In a demand made by the commander of Waldeck’s army to surrender, the leaders only replied that they were resolved to fight for the truth to their last breath; that food would not be lacking for them so long as they had two arms left, since they would, if necessary, devour the one while they retained the other to fight the enemies of God; that the Saints of God were ordained to destroy the fourth blast of the Revelations, which signified the Holy Roman Empire. In spite of everything, indeed, the town continued to hold out against the forces representing the whole of the mediaeval order of society, political social and religious. Force alone seemed incapable of breaking down the resistance.
At length treachery came to the aid of the powers of this world fighting against the New Zion. On the night of the 24th of May, four free-lances, among them an officer of Jan’s bodyguard, Johann Eck von der Langen Straten, accompanied by he citizen and guildsman Heinrich Gresbeck — the subsequent bitterly hostile chronicler of the Anabaptist regime in Münster, and our chief original authority for the events of the siege, — together made an attempt to escape from the city.
They had succeeded in climbing the earthworks of the besiegers when, in the darkness of the night, Gresbeck lost sight of his companions. Gresbeck himself was soon espied by the watchmen alike of the defenders and the besiegers, and summoned to surrender. He gave himself up to the Bishop’s free-lances, from whom he begged his life, and who brought him at his entreaty to their captain, who was in a block-house hard by. Here, where one of his companions was shortly after brought in, he was given to eat and to drink, and questioned as to the condition of the town and the defective places in the defence. He betrayed everything he knew as to the weakest gates and least defensible points in the walls. Meanwhile Johann or Hans von der Langen Straten had succeeded in the darkness in getting through the lines, and hearing that a captain of free-lances, Meynart von Hamm, under whom he had formerly served, was in the camp of the besiegers, made straight for his tent and revealed to him the desperate internal condition of Münster and, as Gresbeck had done in the other case, the weak places in the defensive works, besides suggesting a skilfully devised plan for taking advantage of them.
He undertook to introduce the besiegers into the town for a stipulated sum of money. The Bishop was apprised of the offer made, which he agreed to eventually, after considerable hesitation. Hans and Gresbeck were brought together, and directed to do all that was necessary for surprising the town according to the method proposed by Hans.
It was resolved to effect the entrance on the night of the 24th of June, a body of four hundred trained soldiers being set apart for the purpose. An abortive summons to surrender having been made in the course of the day, a chosen body of men set out on their march to Münster in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm at eleven o'clock at night. The traitor Hans, who of course knew every nook and corner of the defence, conducted his men to near one of the gates which was weakly garrisoned, where the moat was narrowest arid contained least water. A temporary bridge was rigged up with materials bought for the purpose by Gresbeck, across which several men passed, when it broke down and the rest had to swim. Scaling-ladders were placed against the outer wall, and the besiegers were soon in the watch-houses, which they found filled with sleeping Anabaptists, who were all immediately massacred, with the exception of one, from whom the password (which happened to be “earth”) was extorted.
The main body of the besieging army now began to move towards Münster. The advance guard, consisting of Hans Eck’s men, marched through the deserted streets to the Cathedral, which they occupied, at the same time seizing the reserve ordnance of the Anabaptists together with a large quantity of ammunition which was kept there. They had, however, omitted the precaution of guarding both the outer and the inner gates, which were closed behind them by a few of the defenders who had now been aroused. Gresbeck with a few companions, in fact, had actually been caught between the outer and inner walls and thus had been prevented from following the main contingent. On perceiving by the beat of the drums that the enemy was within the walls, about eight hundred Anabaptist combatants gathered together on the Prinzipalmarkt, and occupied the streets leading to the Cathedral. The enemy were then attacked and driven back to the Jakobi Church. Meanwhile more of the defenders rolled up and a further onslaught was made. The enemy being considerably reduced in numbers, were forced back into a narrow street which would have been a cul-de-sac but for a small door in the wall, which the captain of the free-lances espying, immediately availed himself of to free as many of his men as had time to force a passage through. Those who thus escaped made their way by by-lanes again to the Cathedral close, where they reorganised and fell upon the Anabaptists in the rear. The latter who, in the mêlée, had not noticed the turn things had taken, finding themselves thus suddenly attacked from behind, thought the main body of the besieging army had effected an entrance. They in their turn were now thrown into some confusion and forced to retreat, but, quickly rallying, again inflicted such losses on the enemy that by three o'clock in the morning the free-lances were glad to open negotiations with the King, Jan of Leyden, during the course of which an armistice was maintained. The time was utilised by Steding, their leader, to send one of his men to the unguarded portions of the wall to make signs that succour was urgently needed. For meanwhile Waldeck’s army, on its arrival before Münster, had found the gates and walls again well-manned. Treachery to his new master being suspected on the part of Hans Eck, orders were given by the Commander-in-Chief for a retreat, which was effected amid the jeers of the defenders on the wall.
Steding’s emissaries being successful in making their signals understood to the nearest posts of the Bishop’s army, an order was given for a renewed advance. The vanguard succeeded in forcing one of the gates, and morning light, which was now breaking upon the streets of Münster, saw the free-lances of the besieging army streaming into the city. As soon as Steding heard the well-known signals, and his messengers returned with the news that the Bishop’s army was entering, he forthwith broke off negotiations initiated with Jan of Leyden and the battle began anew. A general storm of the town was now made by the besiegers from six different points at once. Ever fresh bodies of the Bishop’s freelances poured in from different sides, and, before long, virtually the whole town was in the possession of the besiegers, with the exception of the Prinzipalmarkt, where the Anabaptists for a long time manfully stood their ground. While the battle was proceeding, one of the Bishop’s men-at-arms, Johann Roichel by name, forced his way into Jan of Leyden’s palace hard by the Cathedral, dashing into the private audience-chamber with a view of seizing the King himself, and was just in time to see the latter escape by a secret door in the wainscoting. On his attempting to follow him, Jan threw his helmet in the way and succeeded in getting clear of the building and making for the Aegidi gate, Roichel, forcing his way into the boudoir of Jan’s principal wife, the Queen (so called), he compelled her to surrender to him the regalia and the keys of all the gates that were in the King’s custody. After leaving the Palace, Roichel was felled to the ground by an Anabaptist, but, recovering himself, succeeded in reaching one of the commanders of the besieging army already in the city and handing the keys over to him. In a short time the whole of the besieging forces were streaming in at all the gates. The Anabaptists fought with a desperate courage, even the women joining in the struggle, hurling missiles from the windows upon their foes. Bernhardt Krechting and Knipperdollinck were to the fore in the fray on the Prinzipalmarkt and round the Lamberti Church, where they erected a stockade of wagons as their last defence, aided by two or three pieces of ordnance, with which they dealt deadly execution for a long time on the enemy. The numbers of their followers reduced to three hundred and Krechting captured, the rest threw down their arms in despair. They, in fact, accepted an offer made at this moment, to surrender their position on a promise of a safe conduct to leave the city, a fact which shewed that the conquerors still considered them not unformidable. Knipperdollinck had already succeeded in reaching a place of safety, for the time being, in a house near the town wall. Many of the saints had sought refuge in the Rathhaus, which was immediately stormed and the inmates massacred.
At last the fighting Anabaptists were reduced to four men who had entrenched themselves in the tower of the Lamberti Church. Here they for some time bid defiance to their foes, killing several of the enemy who attempted to reach them. The tower was held until three of their number had fallen. The free-lances at last bursting in, seized the survivor and hurled him down on to the street below.
By mid-day on this 25th of June, 1535, the city of Münster, the New Zion, passed once more into the hands of its feudal overlord, Franz von Waldeck. The Prince-Bishop received the news of the capture of Münster by special messenger at six o'clock the same evening. An atrocious massacre throughout every quarter of the town now ensued. We read of many thrown from windows to be caught on the spears of the free-lances in the street below. The promise of safe conduct to the three hundred who had surrendered on the Prinz2palmaykt was only partially effective. Little distinction was made by the murderous, plundering bands of free-lances between these and others. All alike, irrespective of sex or age, were involved in an indiscriminate butchery. The greater number of fighting Anabaptists lay dead in the market-place and surrounding streets. Of the leaders, Hermann Tylbeck, who was seized in the Aegidi monastery, was immediately murdered and his body thrown into the neighbouring sewer. No attempt was made by the commanders of the Bishop’s army to stay the blood-lust of their men. When at last it was necessary to step in, it was only to give murder a legal form. To the indiscriminate massacre wholesale executions succeeded. Every street and every public building were filled with the bodies of the slain.
Jan of Leyden on his escape from the Palace had taken refuge in the tower over the Aegidi gate. His disappearance was the cause of great annoyance to the conquerors. At length his whereabouts were betrayed by a boy, and the free-lances at once proceeded to seize him. As they appeared he adjured them not to lay hands on the Lord’s anointed. They immediately fell upon him with the words, “If thou canst do ought, straw King, free thyself from our hands!” Tearing the heavy gold chain from his neck, they carried him back, bound, to the Palace. Bernhardt Krechting, the chief counsellor of the King, (who had been captured in the fight on the market-place) was also kept in confinement. His brother Heinrich Krechting succeeded in breaking-out of the doomed city with the remains of the little band who surrendered on the promise of safe conduct. The “minister of justice” of the New Zion, Knipperdollinck, had disappeared and could nowhere be found, and since, owing to the close watch which was kept on all the city gates, it was considered impossible that he could have escaped, it was concluded that he must be still in the town. Having been reported as last seen in the neighbourhood of the so-called “New” Gate, the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Ulrich von Dhaun, gave orders for all the surrounding houses to be searched. Knipperdollinck had, in fact, first concealed himself in a small house in the city-wall, whence he had attempted to gain the open during the night. He had succeeded in getting over the wall, but finding the moat too deep, returned again to the town. All the women dwelling in the neighbourhood of the “New” Gate were now ordered to appear on the marketplace and given the alternative of either betraying Knipperdollinck or leaving the city. Knipperdollinck’s landlady, who was among them, chose the former course. A detachment of fifty men was at once told off to arrest the great Anabaptist leader. As a reward for her treachery the woman was given the freedom of the town and her house spared plundering, but her husband was beheaded in the Lamberti churchyard.
The fate of Bernhardt Rothmann is unknown. It is generally supposed that he was killed in the street-fighting, and Dr. Ludwig Keller seems to be of this opinion, but his body was never found, although every search was made for it. Fabrizius Roland, in his account of the Münster rising, informs us that a doctor of the town, Gerhardt Marcellus by name, had informed him that Rothmann had escaped into Friesland, where he had taken refuge in the house of a friendly nobleman. Another report at the time indicated the town of Lübeck as his place of concealment. The authorities at Lübeck, on being communicated with, denied that he was there. They alleged, however, that he had been seen in Rothstock, but at the time of replying had disappeared from thence, leaving no trace behind him. It has been suggested that he may possibly have taken ship from the last mentioned town to Sweden, and found an asylum with certain friends to the cause that Knipperdollinck had made there during his sojourn in the year 1524. In any case, so far as certainty is concerned, the fate of Rothmann is likely to remain an historical mystery.
Four days after the conquest of the town, the Prince-Bishop, Franz von Waldeck, made his official entry into Münster. Steding, the leader of the Free-lances, marched out to meet his master at the head of eight hundred of his men. He then formerly handed over to him the gold chain, the sword, and the spurs of the King of Zion, together with the keys of the city. Münster presented a terrible aspect after four days of pillage and massacre, with its ruined houses, its heaps of corpses, and its hunger-stricken population. Waldeck, however, only remained in the city two days, since Nemesis in the shape of the plague followed close on the inhumanity of the conquerors. The traitor Hans Eck von der Langen Straten, on claiming his share of the booty, was repudiated with contempt for the role he had played by the very free-lances whom he had led into the city. He went off with his booty, but died shortly after from the effects of a wound he had received in an altercation with one of his own men. The mercenary troops, with the exception of a small garrison left in the town, were before long disbanded.
A court was now established for the trial of those who held Anabaptist views. The women were for the most part given the alternative of formally recanting their faith or being banished the town. As a matter of fact, many of those who were steadfast were executed, among them being Divara, Jan of Leyden’s “Queen,” who heroically confessed herself to remain a rebaptized daughter of Zion. She was beheaded in the Cathedral close. All the male inhabitants of Münster who had been in any way prominent during the late regime, fared similarly. Bockelson himself, Knipperdollinck, and Bernhardt Krechting, as the leaders of the whole movement, were reserved for a more cruel fate. The Prince-Bishop had Jan brought to him to Yburg, where his quarters were. On Bockelson being led before him, Waldeck mockingly asked him, “Art thou a King?” To which Jan replied, “Art thou a Bishop?” On being further interrogated with what right he had usurped power over the inhabitants of Münster, he again replied by demanding of his conqueror, “Who hath given thee right and power over the city of Münster?” On the Bishop’s replying that he had been elected by the Cathedral Chapter and had been confirmed in his position by the Pope and Emperor, Jan rejoined, “And I have been called to the leadership by God and his Prophets.” Waldeck then reproached Bockelson with the sufferings he had brought upon his people and the heavy losses he had occasioned the diocese. The prisoner once more replied that, so far as he was concerned, he would have held out till, together with his people, he had perished of hunger, rather than have surrendered the New Zion to the godless. For the rest, Waldeck could get back his costs if he would imprison him in a cage and let him be shewn to the curious; the tribute of a golden from every one anxious to see the King of Zion would bring in money not merely sufficient to cover the expenses of the campaign, but to pay all Waldeck’s private debts as well. “Good,” replied the Bishop, “I will shut thee up in a cage indeed, but otherwise than as thou hopest!” Jan Bockelson of Leyden, Prophet and King of the New Jerusalem, was accordingly enclosed in an iron cage and transported from town to town, and from village to village, in the charge of a guard of free-lances, to be exposed in the market-places. In the course of his journeyings, it is related by Conrad Heresbach in his “Geschichte der Münsterischen Wiedertäufer-rotte,” that he was brought to Duke John of Cleves, who is stated to have asked him what had originally led him to go to Münster, to which Bockelson answered that the spirit had revealed to him that Münster was destined to be the Heavenly Jerusalem, and that he himself should accomplish great things there. In order to as sure himself of the truth of this revelation, he had visited Krechting on his way, and had cured a sick serving-maid in his house. In Münster itself a vision appeared to him in his bed-chamber, that a silversmith from Holland should be killed in the fighting outside Münster, and that he himself received the command of God to marry his widow. Finally, Bockelson was cast in chains into one of Waldeck’s castles, Krechting and Knipperdollinck being imprisoned elsewhere While in prison an attempt was made to induce the stalwart Anabaptist leaders to recant. Sundry theologians were sent for this purpose to discourse with them, but without result. It is alleged, indeed, on the part of the authorities that Jan made certain concessions, apparently in the hope of saving his life. Whether this report be true or not, coming as it does from prejudiced sources, we have no means of judging. But even these witnesses admit that, in principal, he remained unshakable.
After an imprisonment of six months, the three Anabaptist leaders were, on the 19th of January, 1536, brought back to Münster, there to go through the farce of a final trial and to suffer execution. The latter event we relate in the words of the courtly chronicler of the Anabaptist history of Münster, Kerssenbroick (II. page 212). The scene took place on the 22nd of January, 1536, on the Prinzipalmarkt, in the presence of the Prince-Bishop and a number of clerical and temporal dignitaries. “The executioners first of all enclosed the King in a collar of iron,” writes Kerssenbroick and bound him to a stake. Thereupon they seized glowing pincers and fettled him on all fleshy and other parts of his body, in such wise that the flame shot out and such a stench arose that those on the market could not bear it. A like punishment did the others suffer, albeit they bore this torment with less patience than the King, and made known their pain with much lamentation and crying.” The official chronicler goes on to describe how Knipperdollinck sought to strangle himself with the collar that bound him to the stake, and how the executioners, seeing this, tied his head fast to the stake with a cord passed through his teeth, and how, after these unhappy martyrs to the doctrine of Anabaptism had been tortured as above long enough to satiate the blood-thirst of their persecutors, their tongues were torn out and they were pierced to the heart with a dagger. The bodies of Jan of Leyden and his companions were, as is well known, placed in cages (probably the same in which they had been borne living as a public spectacle) and these were hung to the tower of the Lamberti Church, where they remained undisturbed until a few years ago. The old tower having then become structurally unsafe, had to be pulled down and was, with questionable taste, replaced by an ordinary modern steeple, on which, however, the original cages may still be seen.
The conventional historian, in his conventional hatred of the old militant Anabaptism with its communistic tendencies, and writing as he does in the interest of the possessing classes of his own day, has been found not ashamed to condone, or even to justify, this fiendish and atrocious crime perpetrated by the dominant classes of a bygone age. And this, be it remembered, is the same conventional historian who, when writing of the French Revolution, can gasp in horror over the September massacres or the Reign of Terror, or, when treating of more recent events in French history, can similarly maunder, shuddering at the execution of the Archbishop of Paris by the communards of 1871. Verily the ethical judgments of the conventional historian are wonderful and past finding out on any theory of ethical logic hitherto accepted. The doctrine of the “class-struggle” as the basis of ethical as of other judgments alone makes their real meaning clear.
The extinction of the Kingdom of God in Münster meant practically the end of militant Anabaptism. The slaughter of Anabaptists under the form of public execution was fearful in the territory owning allegiance to the inhuman monster Franz von Waldeck.
A papal legate sent on a mission to Münster shortly after the events in question, relates that as he and his retinue neared the latter town more and more gibbets and wheels did we see on the highways and in the villages where the false prophets and Anabaptists had suffered for their sins.” He remarks that the Prince-Bishop of Münster seemed more like a captain of war than a spiritual Prince. He received them, he says, in his castle near Münster, in the costume of a military commander, and the next day he escorted them with warlike array into the city itself. But, notwithstanding wholesale slaughters and executions, numbers of fugitives from the fallen city of the Saints succeeded in reaching distant lands. Many are said to have come over to England and as we shall see in the next chapter, Anabaptists, and Anabaptism, first came into prominent notice in England shortly after this time. — The disciples of the militant Anabaptism which had made Münster their stronghold never again attained to more than local prominence. There were, nevertheless, a few attempts during the succeeding half century at insurrection in the interest of Anabaptism. Thus, in the summer of 1548, an effervescence manifested itself again in the Münster territories, and in this, and the following year, there were disturbances and many attempts at arson. Numerous executions, amongst them that of the Münster Prophet Dusentschur’s sister Margaret, did not mend matters. The agitation continued, and became so threatening that in October 1556 the Prince-Bishop engaged bodies of free lances to clear the districts of its Anabaptist elements. Each man was paid a wage of four thalers a month, with twenty thalers premium for every Anabaptist prisoner brought in. This seems to have had the effect of suppressing the movement for the time being. Little more was heard of militant Anabaptism in Westphalia till the year 1574, when a certain Johann Wilmsen, the son of a preacher who after the capture of Münster had escaped into the territories of the Duke of Cleves, proclaimed himself a new King of Zion. He followed closely the doctrine and practice of Jan of Leyden, including communism and polygamy. He gathered together some three thousand fighting men around him, and for some time successfully devastated Westphalia and its surrounding districts, attacking, not without success, castles and other strongholds of the nobility. For five years he set the constituted authorities at defiance. Wilmsen was at last seized in the territory of Jülich. After a period of imprisonment he was burnt alive on the market at Cleves on the 12th of March, 1580. In the absence of fuller and more impartial information concerning Wilmsen, it is difficult to say with certainty whether he was a genuine fanatic of the type of the Münster prophets, or whether we have to do with a charlatan who used the name and doctrine of Anabaptism as a cloak for mere plunder and brigandage. It should not be forgotten in this connection, that he stedfastly denied to the last the excesses alleged against him, and that our information concerning him comes exclusively from hostile sources.
We have seen that from the time Anabaptism began to spread to any extent, there were two currents in the party; the one taking the original anti-physical force and mainly theological direction; the other, more definitely political, which implicitly or explicitly recognised the justifiability and even the duty of a resort to carnal weapons in the battle against the godless powers of this world. For a long time the original pacific current maintained the ascendency, until a persistent and merciless persecution gradually, in the opening years of the fourth decade of the century, gave to that tending in the opposite direction a vast increase in power, while with Matthys, Bockelson, and the success of the movement identified with them throughout the North-Western territories of the empire, it became for the time being dominant throughout the Anabaptist world.
The effect of the fall of Münster and the extinction of the reign of the Saints was to give the pacific and non-resistant elements within the party an impetus which caused them finally to regain their original ascendency. In spite of the flickerings of the militant Anabaptism above referred to as having taken place in Westphalia and the neighbouring districts on different occasions during the next half century, Anabaptism never again achieved anything as an independent political force. What is more, the social side of the movement, which had previously been recognised by both sections alike, tended more and more to fall into the background in favour of purely theological interests.
The old family-communism among the faithful, founded on what was believed to have been the practice of Apostolic times, ceased to be insisted upon. Already, in a Congress held in August 1536 at Bockholt, the advocates of pacific tendencies gained a decided victory over the militant section. An extreme moderate party called the “Obbenites,” after its founder, one Obbe-Philipps, attained increasing influence. It taught, as one of its leading tenets, that no other social and political conditions than those already established were to be looked for here below, and that it was the duty of the Saints to accept them in all humility as the dispensation of God.
The new direction was strengthened by the ability and influence of a new recruit, Menno Simon. Simon, who was born in Friesland in 1492, had been a Catholic priest. Some authorities state that he did not definitely join the party till 1536, though he seems to have had relations of some kind with the movement for three or four years previously, having supported the teaching of the moderate and non-political section in 1533 against Jan Matthys, whose star was then in the ascendant. Menno Simon’s brother, it should be mentioned, had died bravely fighting for his co- religionists, as one of the crusaders who set out in the spring of 1535 in the forlorn hope of relieving Münster. Whether he had already joined the movement before or not, Menno in any case first became recognised as a leader of the party from the time of the Bockholt Congress of 1536. The moderate section thenceforward began to take the name of Mennonites. They were opposed by the Batenburgers, the followers of Johannes Batenburg, the bürgermeister of a small Dutch town, who had recently joined the party, and after the fall of Münster became the leader of the revolutionary political section. Batenburg was executed in 1537 in the Netherlands, and, as already remarked, the tendency in the party represented by him and his followers rapidly and steadily declined in influence and numbers. In addition to Menno Simon, David Georg, or Joris, as he is sometimes called, one of the apostles sent out from Münster by Jan of Leyden in the autumn of 1534 now came prominently to the fore as a leader. He seems at first to have endeavoured to unite the two sections, but later on his influence was thrown entirely on the side of the prevalent non-political tendencies. We shall have occasion to refer to the subsequent career of David Georg in the next chapter, in connection with the Anabaptist movement in England, for it was in the form of his teaching as modified by Henry Nicholas that Anabaptism for the most part took root in this country. As regards the socio-political question, Georg or Joris, unlike the Mennonites who repudiated all notion of socio-political change in this world, made a concession to the extreme party (so-called) in professing to believe in the ultimate acceptance of Anabaptist teaching by the great ones of the earth, who would then voluntarily lay down their wealth and privileges, and thus the ideal of the reign of the Saints on earth would be pacifically inaugurated. Both Joris and Simon succeeded in dying in the odour of peaceful and well-to-do middle-class respectability. Joris certainly had to adopt an assumed name in order to live unmolested in prosperous circumstances as an esteemed burgher of the town of Basel. (See next chapter.) Menno, on the other hand, had no occasion for such subterfuges. The harmlessness — nay, utility for the governing classes — of teaching which insisted on submission to the powers that be as a Christian duty, became at length recognised by the temporal authorities within whose jurisdiction he worked, and Menno Simon was allowed not only to live and die in peace, but also found time and opportunity to amass a not inconsiderable fortune. David Georg or Joris died in 1556 in Basel, and Menno Simon in 1559 at Aldesloe in Holstein, on the estate of a nobleman in that territory, who, in the course of a military career in the Netherlands, having come into contact with the Anabaptists of Menno’s school, had formed a high opinion of their thrift, sobriety, industry, and the virtues generally associated with a thriving community of handicraftsmen, and in consequence had offered the lands within his jurisdiction as a home for their leader and as many of the rank and file as liked to settle there. Towards the end of the 16th century the Anabaptist communities on the continent of Europe, from Moravia on the one hand, to the extreme of north-west Germany on the other, began to settle down, as a rule, into law-abiding and generally prosperous, religious organisations. The old persecution, although now and again feebly flickering up under the pressure of local circumstances, never more became general or sufficient to seriously threaten the existentence of the communities. Even the Netherlands. where in earlier times religious persecution had raged with such intense fury, became, after their liberation from the house of Habsburg, a safe asylum for all Protestant sects, the Anabaptist included. By this time almost the whole of the Anabaptist sectaries of these regions had accepted the teaching of Menno Simon, and hence the two appellations Anabaptist and Mennonite had become practically synonymous, the older one, in fact, tending to fall into disuse. Towards the end of the century the Mennonites began to be openly tolerated, and their meetings unmolested, in the low countries.
In 1626 they were officially recognised as a religious body with the right to freedom of worship, and as such they exist to this day. A similar fate has befallen the Moravians and other fractions of the once powerful and widespread Anabaptist party so dreaded by those in authority.
The Anabaptist revolt of the fourth decade of the 16th century is commonly regarded as a kind of continuation or recrudescence of the great peasant revolt of the previous decade. There is, of course, much of truth in this view. Both movements sprang from like economic causes, and both movements represented substantially the same order of thought as regards their ideal expressions. There was, however, a difference between the two movements in respect of the classes engaged in them. The revolt of 1524-25 was predominantly an agrarian and a peasant movement, although it was powerfully assisted by the poorer handicraftsmen and disinherited classes generally dwelling within the walled towns. It was the peasantry in this case which took the lead and initiated the movement in almost every instance. The Anabaptist movement of ten years later was, on the contrary, predominantly a townsman’s movement, although, coinciding as its objects did with the aspirations of the peasantry, it had a considerable support from among them. The Anabaptists leaders were not, as in the case of the Peasants War, in the main drawn from the class of the “man that wields the hoe” (to paraphrase the phraseology of the time): they were tailors, smiths, bakers, shoemakers or carpenters. They belonged, in short to the class of the organised handicraftsmen and journeymen who worked within city walls. One figure, however, is prominent in both movements alike, if, perhaps, not so much in the latter as in the earlier, and that is the ex-priest or preacher, the man who formulated the social discontent of the time in the guise of its prevalent theological conceptions.
After the close of the 6th century, Anabaptism lost all politico-social importance on the continent of Europe. It had, however, a certain afterglow in this country, during the following century, notably up to the time of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth. With this subject, with the influence, that is, of Anabaptism and allied doctrines in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, we shall proceed to deal in the following chapter.