I thought Melvyn was pushing a bit hard during In Our Time’s program on The Siege of Münster, but by the end I could see how much he had to cover. This 16th century nightmare is a cross between the “Killing Fields” and Jim Jones Kool-Aid in Guyana with the “Tailor King”, Jan (Bockelson) van Leyden, in the starring role as a brutal theocratic polygamist*.
In the early 20th century van Leyden was considered a precursor to Hitler, and although IOT’s academic rejected the comparison I find it more persuasive. There are even some similarities in the reaction. The Munster horror made the Anabaptists radical pacifists and made some common cause between European Catholics and Protestants. The Holocaust made post-war Germany a peaceful state, and led to the creation of the European Union.
van Leyden introduced polygamy into his besieged cult. I wonder if memories of Munster played a role in the early 19th century response to Joseph Smith, then mayor of Nauvoo, and his polygamous theocracy.
It’s horrifically fascinating, and overdue for a cinematic interpretation.
* There are curious attempts to sanitize van Leyden, including, at this time, the wikipedia article I link to. I’d go with the trio of IOT’s academic historians over the Wikipedia article on this one; he was a Monster in a monstrous time.
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