The Reformation in Münster (Westphalia)

A.) The Setting

The city of Münster was the seat of a princebishopric. Around 1500, the city was largely master of her own affairs, but lacked the status of a free Imperial city. The cathedral chapter resided within the city walls. Münster was the economic center of the Münsterland, i.e. the Upper Stift Münster.

B.) Rothmann and the Early Reformation

A 1521 report states Münster as free of the Lutheran heresy. In 1525 the city experienced unrest, the demands of the dissatisfied included the right to the parish to choose her own preacher. The city council for the moment made concessions which later were rescinded. In 1524, BERND ROTHMANN had begun to preach, in favour of the reformation, outside the city walls. In 1531 he travelled to Wittenberg and STRASSBURG. When he resumed his post as preacher at St. Maurice outside Münster, he had become an adherent of Zwingli's interpretation of the communion. The same year, the Bishop of Münster forbade him to preach. He now moved into town, where the Münsteran protestants installed him as preacher at St. Lamberti. In 1532 the University of Cologne condemned Rothmann's sermons as heretic. The Münster city council had lost control of the situation; protestant preachers were appointed at all the parish churches in the city; iconoclastic riots took place; the cathedral chapter left town. Bishop FRANZ VON WALDECK, residing outside of the city, began to exert pressure by confiscating the property of Münster burghers. The day after christmas 1532 the latter failed in an attempt to take the bishop prisoner. Negotiations were held; the bishop raised his blockade; on February 14th 1533 he recognized the city adhering to the AUGSBURG CONFESSION. The Catholic church only held the cathedral and the monastery churches.

C.) The Anabaptist Experiment, 1533-1535

In the fall of 1532 the Wassenberg preachers arrived, among them a group of Anabaptists. Rothmann and his supporters in Münster's guilds turned more and more toward Anabaptism. In 1533 a disputation was held in Münster where Rothmann defended Anabaptist thought. The city council outlawed the teaching of Anabaptist doctrine.
In January 1534 the first of several groups of Dutch Anabaptists, headed by JAN VAN LEIDEN arrived in the city; the Anabaptists took control, their opponents left the city. Anabaptists from the surrounding area moved in. An iconoclastic rage destroyed a lot of artwork. A newly elected city council was dominated by Anabaptism sympathizers. The bishop, supported by noblemen from far and wide, laid siege to the city. The Anabaptist regiment, headed by JAN MATTHIJS, declared both Catholics and Lutherans as godless people; all who did not receive adult baptism were expelled from the city. Matthijs introduced the principle of communal property - the parishioners were called upon to give up their possessions, to share them with their neighbours (the Anabaptists were convinced that the apocalypse was imminent). At the occasion of a sortie, Jan Matthijs was killed. Now Jan van Leiden was chosen as King of New Zion, as the city was now called; the city was prepared for defense. Polygamy was practised (Jan van Leiden had 16 women); resistance within the city was punished by execution.
On May 25th 1535 a traitor opened a gate and the city was taken; the Anabaptist leaders were executed.
For the military aspects of the siege, see MÜNSTER FEUD 1534-1535.

D.) Münster 1535-1558

The majority of the churches were returned to the Catholic community; until 1558 the Lutherans were permitted to share in the use of St. Lambert. The PEACE OF AUGSBURG established the principle that the subjects had to follow their lord in the question of religion. In 1535 the bishop had reasserted his sovereignty over the city. While Anabaptism in the city was broken once and for all, Lutheran practices continued in the city and princebishopric; even the cathedral chapter was split in factions one of which sympathized with Lutheranism. Bishop JOHANN OF HOYA (1566-1574) implemented the reforms of the COUNCIL OF TRENT. Bishop ERNST OF BAVARIA (1585-1612) began ended the toleration the Lutheran communities had enjoyed since 1531/1535.

REFERENCE Heinrich Börsting, Geschichte des Bistums Münster (History of the Diocesis of Münster), Bielefeld : Deutsche Heimat 1951; in German
Rudolfine Freiin von Oer, Münster, in : Die Territorien des Reichs im Zeitalter der Reformation und Konfessionalisierung, 1500-1650, 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. The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster, New York : St. Martin's, 1999, KMLA Lib.Sign. 943 A788t
Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.06 GB 121

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First on January 18th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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