He was only a Dutch tailor's apprentice, but from 1534 to 1535, Jan van Leyden led a radical sect of persecuted Anabaptists to repeated triumphs over the combined powers of church and state. Revered by his followers as the new David, the charismatic young leader pronounced the northern German city of Muenster a new Zion and crowned himself king. He expropriated all private property, took sixteen wives (supposedly emulating the biblical patriarchs), and in a deadly reign of terror, executed all who opposed him. As the long siege of Muenster resulted in starvation, thousands fled Jan's deadly kingdom while others waited behind the double walls and moats for the apocalyptic final attack by the Prince-Bishop's hired armies, supported by all the rulers of Europe.
With the sudden rise to power of a compelling personality and the resulting violent threat to ordered society, Jan van Leyden's distant story strangely echoes the many tragedies of the twentieth century. More than just a fascinating human drama from the past, The Tailor-King also offers insight into our own troubled times.
Carnage abounds in this shocking account of the 16th-century Anabaptist revolt of M nster, during which some 9000 residents barricaded themselves in the north German town for more than a year, proclaiming a militant, anti-Catholic theocracy. Led by the 24-year-old Jan van Leyden, a charismatic tailor's apprentice from Holland, the revolt quickly jettisoned its promise of a community united by voluntary faith, becoming instead a textbook study in extremism. The Anabaptist message, contends Arthur, was predicated on the appeal of the irrational--signally, a zealous belief that the Second Coming would unfold in 1534 in M nster, where the loyal Anabaptists would wage the ultimate battle between good and evil. A master propagandist, the young, self-anointed King Jan swiftly ordered all books save the Bible consigned to a bonfire and even declared a new order of marriage: mandatory polygamy. Amply serviced by his 16-wife harem, Jan then loosed what Arthur (Bushmasters, etc.) alternately describes as a reign of terror and a carnival of madness upon the town, in which pikestaffs whirled and halberds raged against unrepentant adherents of the Roman Catholic Church. Both Catholics and Protestants opposed the Anabaptists, and the sect's contempt for temporal authority of any kind made it the object of persecution by Germany's powerful princes. Students of millenarian movements will enjoy notable parallels to today's apocalyptic sects like the Branch Davidians. Vividly written and credibly researched, this book is entertaining history with implicit contemporary relevance.