Venice: November 1534

Pages 8-11

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 5, 1534-1554. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1873.

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November 1534

Nov. Letter Book of Francesco Contarini in St. Mark's Library. The Anabaptists at Munster.
26. The Archbishop of Cologne, John Frederick the Elector of Saxony, and the Duke of Cleves and Juliers to the King of the Romans. (fn. 1)
Eight days after the failure of the assault on Munster, the Prophet of Munster, by name John of Leyden, a tailor, convoked all the people, telling them he was commissioned by God to be King of Israel and of justice, and to govern throughout (in tutto) like King David. Another prophet immediately appeared, a goldsmith, by name John of Warendorf, saying that God had charged him to be the prophet in the stead of the aforesaid King, who has commission from God, to be king of justice, which has to prevail over the whole world, and that he is to march (à partir) with a large army to destroy kings, princes, and all superiors, spiritual and temporal, without any mercy, and in this manner the humble and compassionate (misericordiosi) are to govern the whole world.
The King (John of Leyden) immediately commenced ruling, and appointed his Court, with all such officers as becoming a great prince, such as maggiordomo, marshal, counsellor, servants for his table, &c, and from amongst seven women he has elected a queen, a gentlewoman of Holland, very handsome, the widow of another prophet who was killed under Munster. (fn. 2) The Queen has a separate Court. The King has thirty-one horses with gold trappings, and some golden saddles, and costly habits of brocade and of other sorts, made with the ornaments of the churches, which have also served to array his gentlemen, and finally the Queen and her maids of honour.
When the King cavalcades through the town he wears a gown of cloth of silver, slashed and lined with crimson, fastened with gold thread (colligata con filo d'oro), and on his right hand is a well-clad page carrying the Bible, there being another on the other side with a naked sword. One of these pages, who was captured in the town by force, is the son of the Bishop of Munster.
The King wears a triple crown of refined gold, very richly set, and a gold chain with a costly jewelled ornament in the form of an orb, with two swords, one of gold and the other of silver, which traverse the orb, on whose summit is a gold cross surmounted by the words “King of justice for the whole world” (Re delta justitia per tutto il mondo).
The Queen also wears a similar ornament. The King [when he gives audience?] ascends a lofty, well-decorated platform on the market-place, together with his lieutenant, by name Kiupperdollinckh, (sic) whom we have known for many years; the lieutenant always places himself two steps below the King, at whose feet stand his councillors. Whosoever has any demand to make for justice or favour is obliged to kneel three times; at the fourth obeisance he prostrates himself, and then begins to plead.
The people of Munster assembled in the square fronting the cathedral, and celebrated the Lord's Supper (et hanno fatto una cena Dominiciale). There were 4,200 persons at the table, and they were served with three sorts of meat. The King and Queen, together with their servants, waited at table, and afterwards, having taken in their hands certain hard baked white loaves made of flour, they broke and distributed them to the guests (commensali), saying, “Take and eat, and announce the death of the Lord.” The guests then divided the white loaves amongst each other, saying, “Brother (or sister), take and eat; as Christ has given himself for us, so do I also give myself for you, and as the flour of the loaf is baked together (pisto insieme) of sundry grains, the wine also being mixed together from sundry grape-berries, in like manner are we all assembled together.” After this they say a prayer, and commence singing Gloria in excelsis Deo. Thereupon the King and Queen, and last of all their servants, seated themselves at table, and did the like. On rising from table the King commenced asking the people whether all were determined to do the will of the Father? All replied affirmatively. Thereupon the Prophet ( ?) commenced saying “The King has a mandate to send some of you forth from this town to proclaim to others the miraculous things done by God to this King.” Then the other prophet, John of Warendorf, continued, “The commission (commissicne) from God purports that the individuals named by the King are to go to the four cities of the Empires.” He then forthwith read from a draft (cedula) the names of the persons appointed, commanding them to go and preach, and they immediately departed thence, six for Hassembrock (Ochsemburg), six for Coesfeldt (Khoffeldt), five for Warendorf, and eight for Soest; and amongst these preachers was the said Prophet [John of Warendorf]. To each of them the King gave a golden florin of his own coinage, which is equal to nine florins.
On the eve of St. Gallo [15th October], they arrived in that (sic) city [Warendorf?], and commenced shouting through the streets in the most terrific tone, “Repent, do penance; Repent, do penance. The time during which the Father will be merciful is brief, as the axe is laid to the tree.”
The inhabitants of the said city not believing in them, they departed immediately. The municipal governors of the city [Warendorf?] having summoned these preachers to appear before them they threw their mantles (mantetti, query tabards) on the ground, and over the mantles cast one of their florins, saying they had come, sent by the Father, to announce to the people the peace of God, which peace, if they choose to have it, they must give all their goods to the community (che debbian dar tutto lor bene net commune); if, on the contrary, they will not accept the peace, they must then protest by the said piece of gold (pace d' oro) before God that they have refused the peace of God, and treated them [the preachers] with contempt.
They moreover say that now is the time about which all the prophets have written, when God demands nothing in this world but justice, and for this God has sent their King, not only for Germany (per quel paese di la), but also to do justice for the whole world, whereupon Christ will restore his kingdom to the Father.
The preachers having been seized and sent to prison, gave account —some by fair means and others by being racked—of their doctrine and life, and of the fortifications of Munster, ut infra, &c. They say that on examining the scriptures and all the prophets, it will be found that those are just who hunger and thirst after justice as they do, they being ready to die without [accepting?] mercy. They say that since the death of the apostles the Gospel of God has not been preached to the people, nor has justice been done. That there are four prophets—two just, David and John of Leyden, their King in Munster; two unjust (injusti), the Pope and Luther, and that Luther is worse than the Pope. If they are asked by what documents (scritture) they would show their justice, having expelled so many honest men from Munster, contrary to the promise given, and seizing their property, their wives, and children, they reply, “Ye understand indeed to judge the face of heaven, &c, but now the time is come when the meek shall possess the earth, in like manner as the goods of the Egyptians were given by God to the people of Israel.”
It is said that in Munster there is still gold and silver to the amount of 300,000 florins stowed away in barrels, besides other valuable effects. The men in Munster have each 6 or 8 wives or women at their will and option; but the man is compelled to cohabit with one until she becomes with child, and thus from first to last, maidens are compelled to marry on the completion of their twelfth year. The husbands are strongly bound (molto forzati) to treat their wives well, so unless they live pleasantly with them they are beheaded immediately. The old women select a man who is compelled to take care of them and provide for their wants.
They destroy all the churches and monasteries, and say they are the market-places of King Baalam.
The people of Munster are expecting great assistance from Groningen, Frizeland, Holland, &c, and immediately on its arrival, the King will depart from Munster to take possession of his kingdom. They declare that without a prophet it is impossible to understand Holy Writ. They would fain put all lords and superiors to death, because none of them administer justice. They will not appeal either to the Emperor or anybody else, but solely to God. When unable to reply to the purpose, or defend their opinion by any argument, they reply that they had been informed by their prophet from the word of God, and by his commission.
The Prophet John, now King, occasionally beheads culprits himself when he has a mind to do so.
It is said that they have still provisions and liquor in Munster to last them for two years, and they have merely a scarcity of salt and butter; but they have pigs.
The garrison of Munster consist of some 2,200 able-bodied men, and for each man there are always six women.
Five hundred men mount guard every night; the King with his attendants also mounts guard.
There are still 70 tons of powder in Munster. (fn. 3)
The form of this King's safe-conduct is as follows:—
“By the King and his secretary.
“We, John, by the Grace of God, and by virtue of King Anubo (sic) of the new temple of God, conservator of justice, make manifest and declare by this our letter that we have given and give by these presents, N. faculty and safe-conduct to come and go to our city of Munster, and return at his pleasure, until he arrive in a place of security, and we promise in our name and for all those who are under our rule, principally for all our brothers and inhabitants at Munster, to abide by this our safe-conduct in virtue of the Christian faith, in testimony of the truth. Signed under our royal privy seal. Dated, etc.”


  • 1. The despatch containing this account of the Anabaptists is dated Vienna, 22nd December 1534.
  • 2. John Matthew, a baker of Harlem.
  • 3. The letter is dated Assen—“in oppido Assendia,” in which place, in the month of November 1534, the Archbishop of Cologne, the Elector of Saxony, and the Duke of Cleves and Juliers held a conference for the purpose of devising a remedy against the Anabaptists and wrote as above to Ferdinand King of the Romans. The letter was published in England translated from the German of Frederick von Raumer in 1835, but without any date, or mention of the Princes who wrote it or of the Sovereign to whom it was addressed, and several paragraphs are omitted in the printed version.