Life for Women in Munster under Jan Mathjis and Jan Leiden

This post is part of series I’m doing on Women in the Reformation. Be sure to check out the other installments, purchase including:

Gender in Anabaptist Circles in the Reformation
Education for Women in the Reformation: My Brain Wears Man Pants!
It’s Not a Throwback to the 50’s; It’s a Throwback to the 1500’s


In the 1530’s a group of Anabaptist extremists took over the town of Munster. I know that given how we understand Anabaptism today it seems like Anabaptist extremists is an oxymoron, order but it is true.
It started with a man named Melchior Hoffman who, buy cialis though he had no theological training, proclaimed himself a preacher and a prophet with an apocalyptic message that Christ would return to Strasbourg in 1533. He was arrested, and died in prison, but others took his apocalyptic message and adapted it. Jan Leiden and Jan Mathjis pick up Hoffman’s mantle and proclaim that the Kingdom of God, the ‘New Jerusalem’ was in the city of Munster. Hundreds of Anabaptists moved to Munster to be a part of the “The Kingdom” and basically took over the entire city, with non-Anabaptists forced out. Jan Mathjis began enacting city ordinances that would usher in the Golden Age. These reforms included:

* All land was to be communal, there would be no private land owned in the city.
* All godless heathens would be put to death; and in this case, godless heathens were the ones who wouldn’t sign his Anabaptist statement of faith.

Catholics and Lutherans attacked the city, trying to wrest control away from the extremists, and Mathjis was killed in battle. His mantle was picked up by Leiden. His reforms were even more extreme, including:

* If you sinned after baptism you were to be put to death.
* The establishment of a theocracy.
* Mandatory polygamy as it was the practice of the Old Testament and thus sanctioned by God (also on a practical level the woman/man ration was something like 3 or 4 to 1 so there was an over abundance of women in the city). Leiden would take 16 wives for himself, including the widow of Mathjis!
* Leiden had himself declared King of Munster in 1534.

Bernard Rothmann, one of the leaders of the Munster Anabaptists explains their position on polygamy in this way:

God has restored the true practice of holy matrimony amongst us. Marriage is the union of man and wife — ‘one’ has now been removed…Freedom in marriage for the man consists in the possibility for him to have more than one wife…[because] polygamy has not been forbidden by God. (A Reformation Reader, Janz, pg 223)

In calling men to polygamy, Rothmann also called them to be the strong leaders of their home, because the women in Munster needed to be put in their proper (biblical) place:

Too often wives are the lords, leading their husbands like bears, and all the world is in adultery, impurity, and whoredom. Nowadays, too many women seem to wear the trousers. The husband is the head of the wife, and as the husband is obedient to Christ, so also should the wife be obedient to her husband, without murmuring or contradiction. (Janz, 223)

In 1535 the city was retaken by the Catholics and Lutherans and all the leadership and the majority of the residents who hadn’t fled during the siege were slaughtered. The deaths of Leiden and the other leaders is described as:

After the deserved punishment had been administered to these criminal men, they were put into three iron cages so that they could be seen and recognized from afar. These cages were placed high on the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church as a perpetual memorial and to warn and terrify the restless spirits lest they attempt something similar in the future. Such was the evil ending of this tragedy. (The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, 1964, pg. 266)

2 thoughts on “Life for Women in Munster under Jan Mathjis and Jan Leiden

  1. Yeesh, and those cages are still up. I think I’d have mixed feelings worshiping at a church with a trio of crow’s cages hanging from the steeple!

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