Leenaert Bouwens, an important early Dutch Anabaptist elder, was born in Sommeldyk in 1515 and died at Hoorn in 1582. He probably originally followed some trade or profession which involved ocean travel. In his youth he was a member of the "Rederyker" (a political oratory club).
After he had been an active Mennonite preacher for some time and as such had participated in the conference in Lübeck in 1546, he was ordained elder at Emden by Menno Simons in 1551. He lived in the neighboring village of 't Falder. He undertook various trips, at first in East Friesland, Groningen, and Friesland, also visiting the islands of the North Sea, in order to administer baptism and communion. His wife was dissatisfied because of the danger attending his journeys. In the 1681 edition of Menno's work there is a letter Menno wrote to Leenaert's wife, trying to persuade her to consent to her husband's trips.
Bouwens's activity extended farther and farther; he made a journey to North Holland and from there into Flanders (Belgium). He kept records of his trips and of the number he baptized at each place. He baptized in five distinct periods: in 1551-1554, 869 persons; 1554-1556, 693 persons; 1557-1561, 808 persons; 1563-1565, 4,499 persons; and 1568-1582, 3,509 persons, making a total of 10,378 baptisms. There is perhaps an error in his report on Ghent in the third period; if so, the number is decreased by 126, making a total of 10,252. This baptismal list was published (there are two extant copies) in the Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van het Historisch genootschap in Utrecht 36 (1915): 39-70. The beginnings of many congregations can be found by this list.
Bouwens played an important part in various important events in early Mennonite history. He was present at the meeting in Wismar in 1554, where several church regulations were passed by the assembled elders. In 1556 he was removed from his office for a while in consequence of the violent quarrel over the ban in Waterland and Emden, where Leenaert was the leader of the stricter party in the debate. With the aid of Dirk Philips by means of a threat he managed to win Menno to his side at a meeting in Harlingen. From this dissension a division ensued which began in Waterland, caused Hendrik Naeldeman in Franeker to separate from the brotherhood, and brought about a complete division between Menno and the High Germans, whose leaders were the elders Zylis and Lemke in the lower Rhine area.
Immediately after Menno's death Leenaert Bouwens was accused by the church of (1) domineering ambition, (2) accepting 50 talers for spiritual services as elder, (3) wine drinking. On this account he was inactive for several years, even though he was not removed from office. But four years later (1565) Dirk Philips deposed him together with six fellow elders. This caused deep dissatisfaction in Friesland, where he had baptized thousands, and where the division was felt with bitterness. Then Bouwens settled in Harlingen. This event is one of the decisive factors in the great split which arose in 1566 in Franeker and Harlingen and led to the great division between the Flemish and Frisians in 1567. Right after the death of Dirk Philips in 1568 Bouwens resumed his office of preaching, now siding with the Frisians.
Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1863): 94; (1864): 76f.; (1873): 141; (1876): 22; (1878) 4, 6; (1881): 75; (1887): 116; (1889): 3 f.; (1890): 92; (1891): 1, 42; (1893): 13-16, 75, 79 f.; (1894): 30-36, 40-46, 59; (1895): 106; (1896): 37, 40; (1899): 33, 35; (1900): 98; (1903): 3f., 14, 146; (1905): 172; (1908): 61, 106; (1909): 31, 156; (1910): 123f.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 250 f.
Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: v. I, No. 383, 416; v. II, 2, Nos. 9, 9a.
Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons (1494-1561): ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Theologie der Taufgesinnten. Karlsruhe, 1936: 39, 65, 79, 85, 117, 133, 156, 159, 164.
Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: passim.
Vos, Karel. "De Dooplijst van Leenaert Bouwens." Bijdragen en mededeelingen van het Historisch Genootschap (gevestigt te Utrecht) (1915): 36, 39 ff.
Vos, Karel. Menno Simons, 1496-1561, zijn leven en werken en zijne reformatorische denkbeelden. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1914.
 Cite This Article
Vos, Karel. "Leenaert Bouwens (1515-1582)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 6 Mar 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Leenaert_Bouwens_(1515-1582)&oldid=127877.
Vos, Karel. (1957). Leenaert Bouwens (1515-1582). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 March 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Leenaert_Bouwens_(1515-1582)&oldid=127877.
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