Chopping heads to spite one’s face

There’s something funny about the Martyrs Mirror. It has yet to mention the either the Peasants War (1524-1525) or the sequel, the Munster Rebellion. Between 1534 and 1535, radical Anabaptists took control of the city of Munster by force and established what was, by all accounts, a disastrous theocracy. The rebellion was violently suppressed by both church and state authorities within a year. The experience influenced many Anabaptist leaders, including Menno Simmons, to embrace non-violence.

[Update: The Munster Rebellion finally appears in an account of the questioning of Jacques Dosie of Leeuwaerden when the “Lady of Friesland” mentions it. The Mirror does not have a precise date for the exchange, but the story appears in between events that occurred in 1550.]

But turning the other cheek was a hard row to hoe for the embattled Anabaptists. Stories in the Mirror from the early 16th Century often contain real or imagined revenge components featuring God striking down a leader or city that persecuted the Brethren. Two of them were particularly creative.

The first occurs in 1528 when a bloodthirsty judge in Znaym in Morovia named Sir Louis gets permission from the local council to personally burn five Anabaptists using his own carts of wood. Having acquired a taste for roasting Brethren, Sir Louis set out to acquire more of them at a nearby house. On the way to arresting the Brethren, Sir Louis falls into a wine cellar, sprains his ankle and then falls ill. (The Brethren escape when they hear the noise.) Sir Louis apparently got a little delirious and called out “Oh, Baptists!” as he lay in bed. Finally, he “roared like an ox … and bit his own tongue and foam and blood ran out of his mouth, so that his wife and children could not stay with him.” Eventually, he was “strangled in his own blood.”

The second murderous slob to get a unique cumuppance was the unnamed executioner of Philip of Langenlonsheim in 1529. While severing poor Philip’s noggin with a sword, the executioner suddenly grabbed his own face.

Then the saying went abroad that something like a black hen had fluttered before his face, so that he defended himself with his hands. Some said that blood had squirted from his face. …It was nevertheless seen afterward what it must have been, for the executioners nose dropped off close to his face. Thus God punished and visited him, because of the innocent blood with which he had stained his hands to such a large extent.

Or he managed to hit himself in the face with the sword while hacking Philip’s spinal column. Severing a head isn’t easy with a heavy axe, much less a sword.


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