Publication Date

Spring 2020

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Tamara Van Dyken (Director), Jennifer Hanley, Alexander Olson

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This essay studies the causes of the rise of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster, with special emphasis on the actions and agency of the common people. The analysis begins with the two main primary sources, Hermann von Kerssenbrock and Henry Gresbeck, whose accounts provide firsthand knowledge of how events in Munster led to the Anabaptist takeover. Care is taken to read beyond some of the biases and assumptions made by those authors to gain the clearest insight for what really happened.

The essay looks at Anabaptism itself, including what it meant to be Anabaptist from the perspectives of participants and their opponents. This includes relatively modern writers and how historians’ take on the topic has changed over time. Important to this study is the way that 16th century Anabaptism was not “normalized” until centuries later, effectively pushing out and ignoring some of the early trends in the faith.

The discussion then turns to the city of Munster itself in the decade before the establishment of the Anabaptist Kingdom, relying on Kerssenbrock to provide details that provide some powerful insight on what role the common people of Munster played in city government and major events.

Finally, I attempt to place Munster and its revolt in the proper context of the larger German empire at the time. I make comparisons to other, well-known peasant and common citizen uprisings around Germany, especially the Peasants’ War of 1525. These other events provide context for how common people used their ability to influence change in their local society. The examples also show that none of these events happened without the influence of others, including Munster and their list of demands made in 1525.

The paper concludes that there is evidence to support the idea that the Anabaptists rose to power in Munster through the intentional actions of the common citizens, despite the traditional narrative that puts all the blame on the shoulders of a select few. While a few individuals drove policy once the Anabaptist Kingdom was in power, evidence suggests that those individuals didn’t gain power through coercion or tricks, but rather they were representatives of the changes the common people hoped to see in their city.


European History | History of Religion | Social History