False Prophets and Preachers: Henry Gresbeck’s Account of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster

Translated and edited by Christopher S. Mackay

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This is Henry Gresbeck’s eyewitness account of the Anabaptist kingdom of Münster and his role in the bizarre events that occurred in February 1534. (EMS 18)

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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,
1580-1720

Contents

Introduction: The Radical Reformation in Münster
Origin and Narrative of the Rebaptism at Münster in Westphalia That Took Place in the Year 1535
Appendix
Bibliography
Index
Index of Scripture References.
About the Author

Authors

Christopher S. Mackay has a doctorate in classical philology from Harvard University (1994). Full professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, he has published books on a wide range of topics: Ancient Rome: A Military And Political History (2005, 2007), Malleus Maleficarum: Latin Text and English Translation (2006, 2012), Narrative of the Anabaptist Madness (2007), Breakdown of the Roman Republic (2009, 2012), and Hammer of Witches (2009). He also translated and adapted Michel Launey, An Introduction to Classical Nahuatl (2011).

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