Early Modern Studies, Vol. 18
In February 1534, a radical group of Anabaptists, gripped with apocalyptic fervor, seized the city of Münster and established an idealistic communal government that quickly deteriorated into extreme inequality and theocratic totalitarianism. In response, troops hired by the city’s prince-bishop laid siege to the city. Fifteen months later, the besieged inhabitants were starving, and in the dead of the night, five men slipped out. Separated from his fellow escapees, Henry Gresbeck gambled with his life by approaching enemy troops. Taken prisoner, he collaborated with the enemy to devise a plan to recapture Münster and later recorded the only eyewitness account of the Anabaptist kingdom of Münster. Gresbeck’s account, which attempts to explain his role in the bizarre events, disappeared into the archives and was largely ignored for centuries.
Before now, Gresbeck’s account was only available in a heavily edited German copy adapted from inferior manuscripts. Christopher S. Mackay, who previously produced the only modern translation of the main Latin account of these events, has adhered closely to Gresbeck’s own words to produce the first complete and accurate English translation of this important primary source.
Gresbeck’s eyewitness account is a fascinating depiction of developments within Münster, with a striking view of the Anabaptist leaders and the gradual radicalization of the city under siege that brings to mind Orwell’s Animal Farm. This accessible translation should be welcomed by anyone interested in popular responses to the Reformation.
—Amy Nelson Burnett, author of Karlstadt and the Origins of the Eucharistic Controversy
Gresbeck’s eyewitness account of what happened inside the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster is a rare and valuable find. Gresbeck is a keen-eyed observer of a city seemingly gone mad with religious folly at a pivotal point in the Reformation.
—John Theibault, author of German Villages in Crisis: Rural Life and the Thirty Years War in Hesse-Kassel,