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John of Leiden
|Anabaptist King of Münster|
8 September 1534 - 24 June 1535
2 February 1509
, Habsburg Netherlands
|Died||22 January 1536 (aged 26)|
|Occupation||Tailor, merchant, innkeeper|
|Known for||Role in the Münster rebellion|
|Influenced by||Jan Matthijsz of Haarlem|
John of Leiden (born Johan Beukelszoon; 2 February 1509 - 22 January 1536) was a Dutch Anabaptist leader who moved to Münster in 1533, capital of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, where he became an influential prophet, turned the city into a millenarian Anabaptist theocracy, and proclaimed himself King of New Jerusalem in September 1534. The insurrection was suppressed in June 1535 after Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck besieged the city and captured John. John was tortured to death in the city's central marketplace on 22 January 1536, along with Bernhard Knipperdolling and Bernhard Krechting.
John was the illegitimate son of a Dutch mayor, and a tailor's apprentice by trade. He was born in the village of Zevenhoven in the municipality of Nieuwkoop, located in the Dutch province of South Holland. Raised in poverty, young John became a charismatic leader who was widely revered by his followers. John was an Anabaptist, secretly at first but later he became a recognized prophet of a sect which would eventually take over the German town of Münster. According to his own testimony, he moved to Münster in 1533, because he had heard there were inspired preachers there. He sent for Jan Matthys, who had baptized him, to come. After his arrival Matthys - recognized as a prophet - became the principal leader of the city. Matthys expelled all of the Catholics from the city shortly after his arrival and set up a communal structure based on the Gospels. He outlawed money and forbade owning property. A Catholic supported army, led by Franz von Waldeck, Prince-Bishop of Münster, Osnabrück and Minden, laid siege to the town of Münster after the Anabaptist takeover. Matthys led an assault on the siege on Easter Sunday 1534, but died quickly. John of Leiden became self-proclaimed "king of the New Jerusalem" until its fall in June 1535.
John of Leiden would lead the Anabaptists during the siege. When he was the leader, he assumed Matthys' position as the prophet and eventually established a Royal Order complete with a Royal Court and a kingly costume, which was made from the property taken from the citizens of Münster. John of Leiden would make many promises to his starving subjects about salvation from the siege and upcoming rewards for their enduring loyalty. This, along with his charisma, kept his position in the city secure until the eventual defeat by the hands of the prince bishop. His motto was: "Gottes macht is myn cracht"[This quote needs a citation] (God's might is my strength).
The army of Münster was defeated in 1535 by the prince-bishop Franz von Waldeck, and John of Leiden was captured. He was found in the cellar of a house, from where he was taken to a dungeon in Dülmen, then brought back to Münster. On January 22, 1536, along with Bernhard Krechting and Bernhard Knipperdolling, he was tortured and then executed. Each of the three was attached to a pole by an iron spiked collar and his body ripped with red-hot tongs for the space of an hour. After Knipperdolling saw the process of torturing John of Leiden, he attempted to kill himself with the collar, using it to choke himself. After that the executioner tied him to the stake to make it impossible for him to kill himself. After the burning, their tongues were pulled out with tongs before each was killed with a burning dagger thrust through the heart. The bodies were placed in three iron baskets and hung from the steeple of St. Lambert's Church and the remains left to rot. About fifty years later the bones were removed, but the baskets remain.
The conventional view is that John of Leiden set up in Münster a polygamous theocracy, best known for a law John passed stating that any unmarried woman must accept the first proposal of marriage made to her, with the result that men competed to acquire the most wives. Some sources report that John himself took sixteen wives aside from his "Queen" Divara van Haarlem, and that he publicly beheaded one of his wives, Elisabeth Wandscherer, after she rebelled against his authority. Karl Kautsky in his Communism in Central Europe at the Time of the Reformation, notes that this picture of Anabaptist Münster is based almost entirely on accounts written by the Anabaptists' enemies, who sought to justify their bloody reconquest of the city. Kautsky's reading of the sources emphasizes the Anabaptists' emphasis on social equality, political democracy, and communal living during the time of John's nominal rule.