Tuesday, September 05, 2006

John of Leyden


Raised a "bastard" and dogged by poverty, young John became a charismatic leader who was widely revered by his followers. According to his own testimony, he went to the German city of Münster, arriving 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 in the city. Following a failed military attempt on Easter Sunday 1534, in which Matthys died, John of Leiden became King of Münster until its fall in June of 1535. He set up a theocracy in Münster and led a communalistic and polygamous state. Some sources report that John of Leiden took sixteen wives. He publicly beheaded one of his wives after she rebelled against his authority.

The army of Münster was defeated in 1535 by the prince bishop Franz von Waldeck, and John of Leiden was captured. He was first 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 attached to a pole by an iron spiked collar, their bodies were ripped with red-hot tongs for the space of an hour, then each was killed with a dagger thrust through the heart. Their bodies were raised in three cages above St. Lambert's Church, the remains left to rot. Their bones were removed about 50 years later, but the cages have remained into the 21st century.


Blogger pinkismyfavoritecolor said...

After reading this article I began thinking about the lesson everyone has been taught since they were kids, "What goes around comes around." I guess this story shows an example of this in a quite severe way. Since there is no one hundred percent guarantee of safety or "job security" in feudalism, it is not surprsing that John of Leyden eventually met his defeat, since this seems to be what keeps happening in history. However, I found the bit on his torture quite disturbing. Could this man really ahve deserved this? Yes, he was obviously power hungry and lead a communist society (which by the way, isn't always such a bad thing). So he had a lot of wives...most men would commend him for this. But did his abuse of power really require such a nasty punishment. I guess to some, a quick death is just the easy way out. I mean, what more of a release can one have besides the bliss of a quick death. No problems, no worries (unless you count the afterlife). I would definitely like to find out more about this guy because something just doesn't seem right about this story.

9:19 PM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

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4:08 PM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

And this is why you do not make powerful people angry.

More importantly, I find it intriguing that this man was a religious leader, yet managed to get an army behind him- something unheard of today.

In our secular society, the Church (and in this case, more importantly, faith itself) are somewhat removed from the rest of society. It's a Sunday thing.

In this man's time, John of Leyden wasn't just a preacher, he was a societal leader- like a president or Prime Minister would be today. He did not just preach to his flock; he commanded them.

This may be the most significant difference twixt us and the Age of Enlightenment; not technology, or even specific values, but the role of faith in day-to-day life.

It's also a lesson in how cruelty was everywhere in the Middle Ages. What a punishment- I'd have just killed the man and left it at that!

4:11 PM  
Blogger elle_ecrit87 said...

I cringed when I read this article. Definately shows the cruel and very thought out punishments of the era. I don't understand how people did that to each other and usually there were tons of people watching. I think I would have thrown up. That had to have been nasty too to just have their remains rotting for 50 years. I suppose they were left there to be an "example" which was common of the era. We see that also in Locke where he says people should be punished publically so deter people from doing the same thing. Well, that would deter me, that's for sure. However, I know this article isn't too long and doesn't include EVERYTHING John of Leyden did, but did he deserve THAT? I suppose when someone was overtaken the conquerers tortured the leaders to scare the people they were conquering into submitting to them? Also, It is odd that a religous leader had 16 wives, so maybe that had to do with the punishments. Also, beheading one his wives would have been frowned upon by his religous peers. Overall, I would like to read more about this guy and his downfall, and I thought the whole spikes and hot tongs was a little horrible and extreme.

9:02 AM  
Blogger FriendofAll said...

He got off easy. At least according to my understanding of the situation and the practices of the time. He raised an army against the religious and secular authorities and was the prophet of his people. I would've expected their to be an excommunication from the papacy, followed by torture in prison covering a span of up to two years. And followed by the public torturing with drawing and quartering as the form of execution. The church didn't have any qualms about making an example out of a heretic, and the worse they could make his last day, the better things turned out for them. It was interesting that the people of Munster transferred their loyalties to him so easily after the death of their original prophet Matthys. Also, how did he get a gathering of Christian worshippers to go along with the polygamy thing? The communist thing I can see, there were many attempts by Christians to develope communities like this, but a city-state with an army seems a little much. I guess it goes back to gf's comment about the difference between religion's place in society today and the role it played in life back then.

10:46 AM  
Blogger thisismyname said...

Geez! I felt sick after reading this article. Although it’s very short, its imagery and detail leave a lasting impression on the reader. The description of Münster definitely paints this city as a unique place for people to live during its short time in existence. I’m assuming John of Leyden believed in Christianity, because the article says “inspired preachers” lived there. It threw me off when I first read it, because he promoted the idea of polygamy, and may have had sixteen wives himself. What I can’t believe is how sadistic and brutal people can be when punishing others. They even waited for six months before torturing, then killing him and two others. I guess this could somewhat relate to how death row works for prisoners in the justice system today. Some criminals live on for years before their execution. I also think it’s odd how the cages stayed up until just recently.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

Isn't this a great example of on of the comandments...Thou shall have no other God before the Lord your God (including yourself). John of Leyden was not just a preacher and religious man...he thought of himself as godlike, and look where it got him. DEAD!!! This often happens to people when they find Christianity...but not to this extint of course. People become "hollier than thou" and that is a sin in itself. Like the bible says...How can you see a limb in your neighbors eye when you have a log in your own. John could not see the log. He tried to be bigger than God and he ended up Tortured and killed and put up as an example for centuries to come.

10:37 PM  
Blogger daltonRussell said...

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10:42 PM  
Blogger daltonRussell said...

think this is just reiterrating the argument that feudalism will lead to a rotten end. Sure there were probably many people involved with feudalism that led happy lives, but we don't hear about them in this class because that is not what we are talking about :). It sounds like John was a very well liked man. I guess that just shows that murdering one's wife back then wasn't all that bad. I mean today, someone who was really well liked would be really well liked because they were a good person...and a good person wouldn't publicly behead their wife. Maybe he WAS a good person, but got spoiled by the curse of feudalism, and to me, this is most likely what happened. We aren't told much about why there was a war, but we do know it happened, and that in the end, through feudalism, allowed John to find himself falling to pieces. hahahaha, get it?.....sorry.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Krangor said...

So when is the movie coming out?

Seriously though, this goes to show the amount power a charismatic speaker can weild when he manipulates someones faith. The torture in the end, is pretty disturbing by our standards, was pretty much the standard fare as far as the punishment of heretics and political outcasts went of the day.

9:18 AM  
Blogger bob_barker_is_my_hero said...

I think its cool how someone who started out so low in life could become such an influential person. It just goes to show you that a good character can get you a long way. I mean, he became a king! It’s amazing how one so poor came to be a religious leader. It shows that he must have had great faith as a child growing up in such a setting and then becoming more. He must have seen his Kingship as a gift from God for being his servant. I am just imagining how this man must have portrayed himself as a sort of David. David gone bad.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Esrever said...

I’ve never understood rulers who rule by “God’s will” because, if there is such a thing, it is completely out of grasp from every being on this earth. Anyway, I read this article at the beginning of the semester, but nothing really stood out to me then. However, now that we’ve been discussing revolutions and how the party being overthrown should be dealt with, I have some thoughts on John of Leiden. Upon my original reading, I saw the treatment of John of Leiden as being slightly barbaric and unnecessary. Since discussing the overthrow of Louis XVI and the brutal treatment of his supporters, I would have to change my original opinion and state that I agree with John of Leiden’s treatment. In order to establish a sense of renewal, I think it’s necessary to rid the land of anything and everything that reminds others of how life used to be. I’ve thought long and hard about such an extreme decision, but have come up with no other way of addressing the situation. If you kill only those at the top, the ideas are still present within their followers. If you kill only the followers, the rulers still possess complete and utter control. Similarly, imprisonment doesn’t do anything to prevent the creation or flow of revolutionary ideas. Therefore, the party being overthrown must be made an example of, which is exactly what Bishop Waldeck did with John of Leiden; he was made an example of through his absolutely brutal torture. Yet, such an example can also fuel an uprising, which is why each and every person with opposing views must also be dealt with. After all, just look at how figures such as Hitler and Mussolini sparked uprisings that tainted the modern world.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Morsmordre said...

I think this article really shows why people should "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I mean come on. Here this guy was, raised in a hard life and hated by society. That obviously made him angry. So what does he do when he gets into power? The same bloody thing that was done to him. How stupid can he possibly be. Throughout history, tyrants have always been brought down by those whom they subjugated. Did he actually think that he could away with it? Think before you act people.

8:10 AM  

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