Jan van Leiden

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Conrat Meit (attributed to): Jan van Leiden, marble medallion, around 1535
Heinrich Aldegrever : Jan van Leiden
Jan van Leiden personally beheads his wife Elisabeth Wandscherer after she had publicly criticized Leiden's luxurious lifestyle.

Jan van Leiden (actually Jan Beuckelszoon or Beukelszoon ; * February 2, 1509 near Leiden ; † January 22, 1536 in Münster , Westphalia ) was a leading figure of the Anabaptists and later "king" of the Anabaptist empire of Münster . His name was Germanized in Johann Bockelson (or Bokelson ) or Johann von Leiden (or Leyden ).



Jan Beuckelszoon was born near Leiden as the son of the village mayor Beukel Gerritsz and a maid Aleke or Alit , whom the father married after the death of his wife. Jan learned the tailoring trade and worked in Flanders and England . He moved to Leiden and married a ship's widow. As a merchant, he traveled to Lübeck and Lisbon . Finally, he ran a restaurant in Leiden, was Meistersinger , rhyme poets and actors in the urban Festival.

Encounter with Anabaptism

In 1533 he met the Baptist Jan Matthys and was baptized by him. His interest in the new Christian movement had already been awakened when he heard some sermons from Bernd Rothmann on a visit to Munster .

The Anabaptist Empire of Munster

Main article: Anabaptist Empire of Münster

Jan Matthys sent Jan van Leiden as an apostle to Münster to support the Anabaptists there. He soon became their guide in the city alongside Matthys. The Anabaptists gained a majority in the council and made Münster one of their strongholds. The bishop Franz von Waldeck, who had been driven out of the city, besieged the city from February 28, 1534 with the help of his knighthood , the hereditary men and troops of mercenaries , among others. of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse .

When Matthys died on April 4, 1534 in a failure from the besieged city, van Leiden rose to become the sole leader of the Anabaptists in Munster and lost all measure. As John I, he assumed the title of king, established the "Kingdom of Zion" and surrounded himself with a glittering court. With the help of "12 Apostles" as his advice and together with his governor and executioner Bernd Knipperdolling and his "Reich Chancellor" Heinrich Krechting , he exercised a regime of terror and smothered any resistance in blood. In preparation for the supposedly imminent end times he brought all the books except the Bible burn, money abolished and led one to the community property of the Jerusalem church ajar community property a. Violations of the Ten Commandments were punishable by death .

He also led - against the resistance of his companions - the polygamy one. Jan van Leiden had 17 wives. One of them was Elisabeth Wandscherer, who opposed her husband and is therefore said to have been executed by him personally. The account that she criticized the Anabaptist king because he lived in pomp with his court while the people in the besieged cathedral suffered hunger and even gave him her jewelry in a symbolic gesture is not well known. Jan van Leiden himself describes her alleged offense in the later interrogation simply as "disobedience".

The End

Original baskets on the tower of the church

Jan van Leidens Anabaptist Empire ended when the troops of the bishop and the landgrave of Hesse took Münster on the night of June 24th to 25th, 1535 as a result of treason. Only after bitter street fighting were the Anabaptists defeated. The Counter-Reformation took its course and forced all Anabaptists and Lutherans to return to the "right faith" under threat of punishment. Since Jan van Leiden, Bernd Knipperdolling and Bernd Krechting did not want to be converted, they were tortured with red-hot tongs on January 22, 1536 and then stabbed to death. Their burned corpses were hung in iron baskets on the tower of St. Lamberti as a deterrent. The last remains of bones are said to have been visible in 1585. The original baskets, which were restored in 1927 and 1945, are still hanging on the tower today .


Johann Karl Ulrich Bähr : Jan van Leiden at the baptism of a girl. 1840
  • Guy Bechtel, Jean-Claude Carrière: Le Livre des Bizarres . Editions Robert Laffont, Paris 1981, ISBN 2-221-00617-8 , pp. 204-205.
  • Carl Adolph Cornelius:  Bokelson: Johann . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 3, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1876, pp. 91-93.
  • Norman Cohn : The Pursuit of the Millennium - German: The struggle for the millennial kingdom. Bern 1961.
  • Heinrich Detmer: Images from the religious and social unrest in Münster during the 16th century. Part 1. John of Leiden. His personality and his position in the Münster empire . Coppenrath, Münster 1903. ( digitized, PDF )
  • Joachim Fest : In Münster and elsewhere. On Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen's "Bockelson". In: Past canceled. Portraits and reflections. Munich 1983, pp. 96-114.
  • Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen : Bockelson. Story of a mass madness. The story of the Anabaptists of Munster . Schützen-Verlag, Berlin 1937
  • Robert Stupperich:  Bockelson, Johann. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 2, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1955, ISBN 3-428-00183-4 , p. 344 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Hermann von Kerssenbrock: The Anabaptist frenzy, which Münster, the famous capital in Westphalia, destroyed. 1568.

Fiction depictions:



  • King of the last days . The story of the Anabaptists in Munster. Two-part television film, ZDF 1993 (directors: Tom Toelle, Jan Bockelson: Christoph Waltz).

radio play

  • Norbert Johannimloh : radio play Künink un Duahlen un Weind (WDR 1964; RB, NDR, NECV Hilversum under the title Koning in een kooi ) describes how Jan van Leiden and his comrades hang in their cages on the tower; with broken limbs but still alive and making plans while the jackdaws lurk for their meal.

Web links

Commons : Jan van Leiden  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. L. Panhuysen: Jantje van Leiden. (= Lost Verleden. Volume 20). Lost, Hilversum 2003, ISBN 90-6550-461-3 , p. 8.
  2. Rita Kauder-Steiniger: Anabaptists - Victims or Heroines? Searching for traces of the women in Münster during the Reformation and the Anabaptist rule. In: Barbara Rommé (Ed.): The Kingdom of the Anabaptists in Münster - New Perspectives. Berlin et al. 2003. Quoted in: Anabaptist Jan van Leiden with entourage in Münster . Evangelical Church District Steinfurt – Coesfeld – Borken. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  3. Easily understandable and critical . In: Westfälische Nachrichten November 22, 2017.
  4. Radio play Küenink un Duohlen un Wind in the Low German Bibliography and Biography (PBuB)
  5. Record Künink un Duahlen un Weind see Norbert Johannimloh in the Lexicon of Westphalian Authors