Jan van Batenburg, the leader of a group of Münsterite Anabaptists known as the "Batenburgers" or the Zwaardgeesten (sword-minded). He was born in 1495, the son of Dirk van Batenburg, who was an illegitimate son of the noble Batenburg family of Gelderland. Jan van Batenburg was the mayor of the city of Steenwijk in Overijssel before he joined the Anabaptists.
The Frisian chronicler Beningha names him as one of the instigators of the notorious attack of 1535 on the Oldeklooster, a monastery near Bolsward. That he was inclined to violence is shown by the fact that after the capture of Münster in 1535 he won many who had previously been of the same mind as the Anabaptists of Münster as his adherents and thus made himself the head of the Zwaardgeesten, who were even more radical than the Münsterites. All who were not converted according to their doctrine, i.e., who would not join their party, could not be pardoned and must be annihilated with the sword. The plundering of churches was permissible. Divorce was obligatory if one party to the marriage was not of their group. "Polygamy was common among them, and, like the early Christians, their goods were the common possession of all." They awaited the imminent return of the Lord, and Batenburg considered himself to be Elijah, who was to appear first. How far this prophet had deviated from the original Anabaptist position can be seen in the fact that he considered baptism unimportant and permitted his followers to attend Catholic services in order to avoid persecution.
Nevertheless some of the other radical Anabaptists tried to reach an understanding with Batenburg. For this purpose a meeting was held in Bocholt, Westphalia, in 1536 (not 1538 as is sometimes given). At this meeting there were followers of Batenburg, of David Joris, and former Münsterites, although Joris was the only group leader who appeared. Through Joris' influence a compromise was reached, agreeing, among other things, that baptism should no longer be performed. Batenburg's views were accepted to the extent that the use of the sword was declared justifiable in the building of the kingdom of God; but that the time for such use was not yet at hand.
The union achieved in this way was short-lived. Batenburg was able to spread his dangerous doctrine only a short time. In December 1537 he was captured at Vilvoorde in Brabant (Belgium); in prison there he made a confession in February 1538, in which he betrayed many Anabaptists, naming them and telling their places of residence, and confessed that he had lived among them for a time in the province of Groningen. These statements were very significant for the historical events of that time. He exonerated himself as well as he could, presenting himself as having always opposed plundering and the plans for attack on cities such as Amsterdam and Groningen. To no avail; he was executed in 1538.
Batenburg's followers lived scattered throughout the country, and were now severely persecuted. How great their number was can be determined by a thorough examination of the city archives. The archives of Alkmaar, of which Pastor Glass published the most important relevant material (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1909), revealed that as early as 1537 two women were sentenced for robbing churches, and therefore probably belonged to Batenburg's following; in 1538 again a woman, and in 1541 three women and a man were sentenced. Two of his adherents in Alkmaar were killed in Utrecht in 1541, and others in The Hague in 1544.
The Zwaardgeesten probably had a similar following in other places besides Alkmaar, even though it is a known fact that the leaders Zeylmaker, Appelman, and Franz Jansz Mickers stayed there often. For it is known that the leaders of the party lived for a time in and around Kampen (Overijssel), that there were Batenburgers in Deventer and Giethoorn (Overijssel) and in Joure (Friesland), and that a large part of their following lived in the province of Brabant. Also at Leiden some Batenburgers were executed in 1544, and as early as December 1538 the Stadholder Mary had urged the government to caution, because the Anabaptists, "above all the Zwaardgeesten, were plotting to surprise the city and certainly had fellow conspirators in the countryside." Peter van Orck, executed in 1544 at Münster, confessed that he had lived in the region of Münster for three or four years. Hence there must have been Batenburgers there too.
After 1544 little is heard of this party. In that year Appelman, their most important leader, was executed at Leiden, after confessing that he had done many evil deeds in the province of Utrecht, and had avenged himself on several Anabaptists by betraying them, as in the case of Jurjen Ketel. There is also a decree of 1549 of Countess Anna of East Friesland, prohibiting the giving of aid to adherents of the Mennonites, Davidites, Obbenites, and of the Batenburg sect. As late as 1552 in Leiden there was still fear of a raid, as well as in 1553 in Kortrijk in Belgium. The Batenburgers did an untold amount of harm to the cause of the peaceful Anabaptists because the government in its fear and hatred of the Zwaardgeesten frequently could or would not distinguish the nonresistant Anabaptists from them.
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Cite This Article
Loosjes, Jacob. "Batenburg, Jan van (1495-1538)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 21 Jan 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Batenburg,_Jan_van_(1495-1538)&oldid=120904.
Loosjes, Jacob. (1953). Batenburg, Jan van (1495-1538). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 January 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Batenburg,_Jan_van_(1495-1538)&oldid=120904.
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