The Great (and not so great) Escapes

get_out_of_jail_freeIt can be mind-numbing reading the Martyrs Mirror – page after page of horrible, senseless bloodletting without many breaks. But, occasionally, the “good guys” get a win. I’ve seen a few escape stories so far.

The first story stunned me so much that I wrote in my notebook: “P. 446 – George Vaser actually gets loose.” Vaser was nabbed in Neudorf in 1536 and thrown in the stocks. Vaser and his companion were then imprisoned and examined in Metling, outside Vienna, for a whole year. They had prepared themselves to die, but were then mysteriously let go and traveled on to Trasenhofen. The details of the escape are not included in the Mirror tale. Oh, but the Mirror is sure to recount that Vaser was caught again the next year, tortured and beheaded. *sigh*

Another escape story happens in 1539 in Steinborn, Austria. The government arrested more than 150 church members and imprisoned then in the Castle Falkenstein to, according to the Mirror, discover the church’s leaders and deprive them of the church’s treasury. Not finding any church leaders or treasure, the authorities decided to march the men to the sea and impress them into the Spanish navy. However, during the arduous trek from Falkenstein to the sea, most of the Brethren escaped their captors (again, the Mirror provides little detail), and made their way back to the church at Morovia. A dozen were recaptured and sent to sea along with three who didn’t manage to escape.

Menno Simmons is first mentioned in the Mirror by way of an escape tale, which didn’t end so well for his host, Tjaert Reynerts. Reynerts had is limbs smashed on the wheel once the authorities discovered that he had secretly harbored Simmons. However, the Mirror goes on to point out that Simmons was the era’s great escape artist, always managing to evade capture and dying of natural causes, despite the large bounties placed on his head. It pays to have loyal friends…

…or dumb luck. Michael Matschilder and his wife, Elizabeth, escaped death row in Vienna when the city caught fire in 1546. According to the Mirror, it was customary for authorities to close the city gates during a fire and release the prisoners with the intention of rounding up the prisoners later before re-opening the gates. But the Matschilders escaped during the crisis, even though their friend was re-apprehended and executed.

But the best escape tale in the Mirror so far is that of a man who was imprisoned with about 20 other Anabaptists in Amsterdam in 1549. The man’s two brothers, were less Anabaptists than alcoholics. While getting piss drunk at a local tavern, they hatched a plot to spring their bother from the jail. The next day, sober again, they thought better of their plan, but vowed to go through with it anyway. Using a boat hook and a rope, they scaled the jail wall, broke open the windows with crowbars and freed their brother and several other prisoners.


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