Committee ChairOberman, Heiko A.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAs one of the most appalling events of the sixteenth century, the Anabaptist reign of Munster (1534/35) stimulated a wave of reactions throughout the Holy Roman Empire, rendering a revealing commentary on political and religious concerns in the 1530s. In a highly charged political climate--the establishment of the Schmalkaldic League, Philip of Hesse's lightning recovery of Wurttemberg, and uprisings in northern Germany--rulers feared that "Munster" would provide the occasion to redraw the political map of Europe. Yet, notwithstanding its potential for generating a political and religious revolution, the shocking experience acted as a profound stabilizing factor. The event struck one decisive chord with the political leaders; the conviction that, like the peasant revolt ten years earlier, the rising of the Munsterites would launch the general rebellion of the common man. This terrifying prospect united Catholic and Protestant troops before the gates of Munster. In each of the areas here investigated--Cologne, the Rhineland, and Strasbourg--"Munster" led to a change in policy toward heretics, although at different times. Despite the confessional differences between Cologne and Strasbourg, their many similarities in political concerns and strategies call into question the traditional stark division made between imperial cities according to their Catholic or Protestant allegiance. "Munster's" impact was also, overall, one of reinforcement for prevailing religious convictions: for Strasbourg's ministers and Cologne's Carthusians, the event consolidated rather than shattered their established interpretive systems. The reception of "Munster" did, however, reveal some surprising stances: curiously, the Dominicans in Cologne, veterans of the Catholic campaign against Luther during the 1520s, took a back seat in combatting the Anabaptist reign. "Munster" demonstrated the sensitivity of sixteenth-century society to anything which challenged the traditional order. The widespread outrage over the introduction of polygamy, the community of goods, and the elevation of the tailor Jan van Leiden to king was directed toward the Munsterites' demolition of societal structure. With "Munster," Germany clearly rejected any communal notions that the Anabaptist reign may have introduced. Rather, the experience of "Munster" became a catalyst for absolutist government.