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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    THE ANABAPTISTS OF MUNSTER. EXCESSES.


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    1535

    IT was not long before the new king gave the rein to his passions. Munster became the scene of the grossest debaucheries and the most revolting cruelties. Fanaticism is usually accompanied by immorality, and with faith morality is thrown overboard. Bockhold, not contented with Matthisson’s office, wanted also to have his wife, the beautiful Divara. He was already married, but that was of no consequence. He began to preach polygamy, adducing the examples of the Old Testament, but passing by what the New says, that God in the beginning ordained the union of one man with one woman, an institution confirmed and sanctioned by the Savior. This scandalous proceeding was at first opposed by several members of the community, and there even an evangelical reaction. At the head of gainsayers was a blacksmith. Some of the prophets were arrested, and there was talk of recalling the exiles. The evangelical party seemed to be on the point of revival; but the enthusiasts were the stronger party, and their opponents were shot or beheaded.

    The prophets became more numerous. A working goldsmith, named Tausendschur, pretended to great revelations. Urged on, no doubt, by Bockhold, he called together the whole body of the saints, and said, — ‘The will and the commandment of the Father who is in heaven is that John of Leyden should have the empire of the whole world, that he should go forth from the town with a powerful army, that he should put to death indiscriminately all princes and kings, and that destroying all the wicked he should take possession of the throne of David his father.’ Bockhold, who was present, at first kept silent, and appeared to know nothing of this revelation. But when Tausendschur had finished, the Leyden tailor fell on his knees, and said that ten days before the same things had been revealed to him, but that he had refrained from announcing them, lest he should seem desirous of the sovereignty. At length, he said, he submitted to the will of God, applying to himself this saying of Ezekiel, — David my servant shall be their king, and he shall make an everlasting covenant with them. He therefore declared himself ready to undertake the conquest of the world. This scheme was, doubtless, on his part, a mere piece of trickery, but it abundantly served his ambition. The madmen and fools who believed in it, voluntarily submitted to the man who was to be king of the universe; and the hope of occupying the chief places in this universal kingdom filled them with zeal for the support of Bockhold. Even if there were any doubters, they knew that the impostor would not hesitate to cut off their heads, if that should be necessary for the establishment of his empire. Bockhold, whose mother was a serf of Westphalia, assumed in the capital of this province the pomp and attire of a king. He surrounded himself with a court composed of a large number of officers and magistrates. The churches were pillaged; and the king and his ministers decked themselves with the silk vestments enriched with gold and silver which they took out of the churches, from the officiating ministers and from the most wealthy citizens. He had a seal made, representing the world with two swords which pierced it through and through. This he hung about his neck on a gold chain adorned with precious stones, as a symbol of his power. He bore a golden sword with a silver hilt; and on his head he had a triple crown made of the finest gold. To all this ostentation the ex-journeyman, now a king, added debauchery. Besides Divara, who was his queen, he took fifteen wives, all under twenty years of age, and he declared that he would have three hundred. His queen and these young girls he attired magnificently. Each of his apostles and other adherents also had several wives. He considered it necessary to keep his followers in a state of drunkenness, to prevent them from foreseeing the catastrophe which was impending over them. He assumed the title of king of the new temple, and rode about the town invested with the insignia of his office, and escorted by his guards. All who met him were obliged to fall on their knees. Three times a week he made his appearance in the public square, and sat upon a lofty throne, a scepter in his hand and a crown upon his head, and surrounded by a body of his satellites. In this position he delivered his judgments. Knipperdolling, one step below him, with a drawn sword in his hand, held himself in readiness to execute them.

    Whosoever wished to bring any matter before him was compelled to fall on his knees twice in approaching the throne, and then to prostrate himself with his face to the ground.

    In October there was a great religious festival, which Bockhold called the Lord’s Supper. A table of 4,200 covers was prepared for men and women.

    The king, the queen, and their principal officers, served on the occasion.

    Bockhold perceiving a stranger in the crowd ordered him to be arrested and brought before him. ‘Wherefore,’ said he, ‘hast thou not on a wedding garment?’ He pretended to believe that the man was a Judas, and ordered him to be expelled; then going out himself, he beheaded him with his own hands. He then re-entered, exulting and smiling at this exploit. f511 When the repast was over, he asked if they were all ready to do the will of God. ‘All,’ they replied. ‘Well, then,’ said the king, ‘this will is that some of you should go forth to make known the wonderful things which God has done for us.’ He forthwith nominated six of them to go to Osnabruck, and the same number to go to various other towns in the neighborhood. He gave to each of them a piece of gold of the value of nine florins and a viaticum. On the same evening these apostles quitted Munster; and on their arrival at the towns which had been assigned to them, they made their entrance, filling the air with horrible outcries. ‘Be converted,’ they said, as they went along the streets; ‘repent! The time which God in his mercy leaves you is short. The axe is laid at the root of the tree. If you do not receive peace, your town will soon be destroyed.’ Next, presenting themselves to the assembled senate, they spread their cloaks upon the ground, threw down their pieces of gold, and said, — ‘We proclaim peace to you; if you receive it bring hither what you possess and place it with this gold. Our king will ere long have conquered the whole world and subdued it to righteousness.’ Those envoys who had been dispatched to the towns belonging to the bishop of Munster were at first favorably received; but presently they were all arrested, and several were put to the torture. Not one of them, however, would acknowledge himself in error. ‘We wait for new troops from Friesland and from Holland, and then,’ repeated they, ‘the king will go forth and will subdue the whole earth.’

    They suffered the extreme penalty of the law, as men guilty of sedition.

    The king encountered difficulties not only in the neighboring towns, but likewise in his own capital, and even in his harem. There was at Munster a woman of great courage and determination, who boasted that no man should ever marry her. John of Leyden commanded that she should be carried off and placed in the number of his wives; but the woman, with her independence of character, finding the morals and the manners of this harem intolerable, made her escape. This was in the king’s eyes a very great crime, he therefore had her arrested, conducted her himself to the great square, cut off her head with his own hand, and then, filled with wrath and vengeance, trampled her body in the dust. Bockhold had ordered that all his other wives should be present at this hateful scene, and had directed them to sing a hymn of praise after the execution. These unhappy creatures did, accordingly, strike up their song in the presence of the mutilated and desecrated body of their companion. f513

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