The Siege of Münster, 1534-1535

A.) Causes for the War

In 1531 the city of Münster implemented the reformation. Bishop of Münster Friedrich von Wied resigned on March 24th 1532. His successor FRANZ VON WALDECK, formally the sovereign of the Princebishopric of Münster as well as of the city, found it outside of his control; in May 1532 even the Münster city council confessed that the situation had slipped out of their control. The man in charge was reformist preacher BERND ROTHMANN, who began as a Lutheran, then turned toward Zwinglianism and ended up an Anabaptist.
On Sept. 9th 1532 the University of Cologne condemned Rothmann's theses; the city's parish churches were entrusted to protestant preachers, the Cathedral Chapter left town. In August 1532, Bishop Franz von Waldeck began taking action against the city, by confiscating goods owned by Münster merchants. The city hired mercenaries and had works done on her fortifications. On Dec. 26th 1532 a group of Münsterans attempted to take the bishop himself prisoner; the undertaking failed. On February 14th 1533 both sides came to an agreement; hostilities were seized, the bishop recognized Münster having adopted the Augsburg Confession.

In the early 1530es, Anabaptism has spread in the UPPER STIFT, most notably in her cities. The influx of Anabaptist immigrants from WASSENBERG in the Duchy of Jülich and, most notably, from the Netherlands, had been of great influence. In the city of Münster the Dutch Anabaptists under JAN MATTHIJS and JAN VAN LEIDEN managed to get control of the city. For details on their rule, see chapter REFORMATION IN MÜNSTER.

B.) The Siege of Münster, 1534-1535

With the Anabaptists establishing control of Münster in February 1534, Bishop Franz von Waldeck again imposed a blockade of the city and invited the nobility from near and far, as well as mercenaries, to join him in the struggle. In other cities within the Princebishopric, measures were undertaken to prevent a possible takeover by Anabaptists there (Anabaptism had spread). Many Anabaptists from the other cities tried to join their fellows in the city of Münster.
A force of Dutch Anabaptists, several thousand strong, en route to come to the aid of the city of Münster, was defeated by the Imperial stadholder of Friesland and Overijssel on March 18th 1534. At Münster, fighting was limited to occasional sorties by the besieged; on such an occasion, Münster Anabaptist leader Jan Matthijs fell (Easter 1534). The city expelled all non-Anabaptists.
In September 1534 the self-appointed King of the New Jerusalem (Münster), Jan van Leiden, sent out messengers to other cities, calling on the population to follow their example; the messengers were arrested and executed. Hopes for relief from the Netherlands were again disappointed; Anabaptist relief forces were crished in Groningen and Friesland, and an Anabaptist rising in Amsterdam in 1535 was suppressed. On June 25th 1535, guided by a traitor, troops of the bishop took the city by surprise; the Anabaptist leaders were arrested and executed.

C.) The Legacy

As Bishop Franz von Waldeck had a concubine, and, with her 8 children, as he leant toward Lutheranism, the struggle was not between traditional and reformist forces. It was rather a conflict between traditional authorities and radical elements defying these authorities.
The Anabaptist side was defeated, Anabaptists from them on faced severe suppression, as the authorities all over the nothwestern regions of the Holy Roman Empire wanted to make sure that the Münster events would not be repeated.
Because of the events in Münster, the rulers of territories in and near Westphalia were reluctant to formally implement the reformation, although they leaned toward Lutheranism - so Bishop Franz von Waldeck himself in the Princebishoprics of MÜNSTER, OSNABRÜCK and MINDEN; Dukes/Counts Johann and Wilhelm in JÜLICH, BERG, KLEVE, MARK and RAVENSBERG. After the Imperial victory in the SCHMALKALDIC WAR (1546-1547) a reformation and secularization of Franz von Waldeck's three bishoprics was no longer opportune; during the THIRTY YEARS WAR the Counterreformation then was implemented, with significant success in Münster, with some success in Osnabrück, with little success in Minden.
Another consequence of the Münster events of 1534-1535 was the Bishop's restored sovereignty over the city; her drive toward political autonomy, perhaps the status of a free imperial city, was stopped, the achievements accomplished over the last decades in this direction undone.

Anabaptist Radicals Declare Muenster the "New Jerusalem" (February 27, 1534), from News of the Odd
Article Münster, from Catholic Encyclopedia 1911 edition
DOCUMENTS Vol.3 : Der Nordwesten (The Empire's Territories in the Era of Refornation and Confessionalization, 1500-1650 - the North West); Münster : Aschendorff 1991, pp.108-129; in German
Anthony Arthur, The Tailor King, NY : St. Martin's Press, 1999
Leopold von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (German History in the Era of Reformation), (1839-1847), Emil Vollmer Verlag, reprint, n.d., Pt.2, pp.97-125, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 1st 2003, last revised on November 17th 2004

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