Münster Commune

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Münster Commune

 

a revolutionary popular regime of Anabaptists in Münster, Westphalia, in 1534–35.

The commune was established as a consequence of the armed struggle of Münister’s citizens and of Anabaptists from neighboring Westphalian cities and northern Holland against the bishop of the city, Prince Franz von Waldeck. On Feb. 23, 1534, the Anabaptists, supported by the common people of Münster, gained a majority on the city council; all those who refused to join the Anabaptists and adopt their faith were expelled from the city. Power was actually held by the “chief prophet” of the Anabaptists, Jan Mathijs (Jan Matthys). After he was killed on Apr. 5, 1534, power passed to John of Leiden (Jan van Leyden), who during April and May 1534 dissolved the city council and established the Council of 12 Elders. As a result of a siege by the bishop’s troops and of internal conflicts, John of Leiden instituted a personal dictatorship, proclaiming himself king of the “New Zion” (Münster) and future sovereign of the world.

The Anabaptist regime introduced several measures. The property of churches, monasteries, and citizens who had fled or had been exiled was confiscated for common use, as were precious metals; money was abolished; trade and barter for profit were initially restricted and then forbidden; all inhabitants were compelled to work and participate in the defense of the city; and food and all consumer and household articles were collectivized and distributed according to strictly established norms (tools, workshops, and plots of land remained, apparently, in the personal possession of their owners). Monogamy was replaced by polygamy, based on a dogmatic interpretation of biblical texts. Violations of public order, drunkenness, immoral acts, and cowardice in battle were harshly punished, even by death. Iron discipline reigned in the besieged city, and the brilliant organization of its defense even evoked the amazement of its enemies. Münster was declared the sole commune of “true Christians,” a city chosen by god to become the bastion of the coming universal “millennial kingdom of Christ” and a mystical utopia of social equality. The measures and program adopted by the commune did not go beyond the revolutionary overthrow of feudalism and the introduction of a radical program of bourgeois reforms; however, vague strivings for egalitarian communism were evident.

In late 1534 the situation of the besieged city worsened: food reserves were depleted, and attempted rebellions in support of Münster by other cities of Westphalia and northern Holland were suppressed. On June 25, 1535, Münster was taken by the bishop’s forces. The leaders of the Münster Commune, including John of Leiden, were subjected to cruel torture and executed.

REFERENCES

Chistozvonov, A. N. Reformatsionnoe dvizhenie i klassovaia bor’ba v Niderlandakh ν pervoi polovine XVI v. Moscow, 1964.
Brendler, G. Der Täuferreich zu Münster 1534–35. Berlin, 1966.

A. N. CHISTOZVONOV