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  • Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness: The Overthrow of Münster, the Famous Metropolis of Westphalia
  • Walter Klaassen (bio)
Hermann von Kerssenbrock . Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness: The Overthrow of Münster, the Famous Metropolis of Westphalia. 2 vols. Translated with introduction and notes by Christopher S. Mackay Brill. 2007. 772. €202.00, US$277.00

This work is volume 132 of the Brill series Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, edited by Robert J. Bast. It is a welcome addition to the growing volume of works about the Reformation in translation. This work is important because it is the basis of much of the later interpretation of the events of Anabaptist Mü nster. It has not been used much by modern interpreters for several reasons. First, Kerssenbrock was an adolescent eye witness to only part of the events; second, his interpretation is marred by his strong anti-Reformation bias, illustrated, for example, by his defamatory characterization of Bernhard Rothmann; and, third, important omissions and errors of fact cast doubt upon the work's reliability. [End Page 267]

Nevertheless, it is the work of a contemporary to the events described. In addition to recounting the events of Anabaptist Münster, Kerssenbrock provides a lot of information on its prehistory and of the religious, military, social, and political structure of the city, as well as of Münster's history from 1535 to 1553. He informs us that disaster struck the city because of its crimes and outrageous sins. But God, he relates, revealed his intention to punish by three eclipses each of the sun and moon and three comets, as well as many other celestial prodigies. But the citizens of Münster paid no attention. The author gives much attention to the events of 1524-32, including the place of Bernhard Rothmann in those events, but then neglects to record his important role in the years 1534-35 as the theologian of the Anabaptist regime. On the other hand, at least ten of Rothmann's letters published by Stupperich in Die Schriften Bernhard Rothmanns were preserved by Kerssenbrock and are otherwise unavailable. The description of the events of 1524 to 1525 shows the prevalence of anticlericalism in Münster, as elsewhere. The list of grievances presented in May 1525 reveals the similarity to peasant grievance lists elsewhere in the empire. Kerssenbrock's introduction to the city of Münster, its people, buildings, churches, and politics occupies pages 79-184. After that, the material is organized by calendar year, beginning with 1524-25 and ending with 1538-53.

The extensive interpretive essay by the translator/editor provides an excellent critical introduction to the whole work. He rehearses the history of the events on the basis of the latest findings, gives a summary of the radical views of the Münster Anabaptists, Münster's place in empire and church, and finally a description of Kerssenbrock's composition of the work, his attempts at getting it published, and Kerssenbrock's historical method.

Several good maps, illustrations of Anabaptist coinage, contemporary woodcuts of the siege, and portraits of the principals are included. The well-known engraving of John von Leiden by Heinrich Alderfer done shortly after his execution reveals nothing of the fanatic madman and moral degenerate of subsequent literature.

The translation is economical, concise, and eminently readable. Dr Mackay deserves double gratitude for producing it, since translations, which are very time-consuming, do not rate highly in scholarly vita.

Walter Klaassen

Walter Klaassen, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan



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