The Radical Reformers

Russel Tarr asks key questions about the religious radicals of the 16th century.

If coroners' reports had existed in the sixteenth century, those on the Radical Reformers would have made interesting reading. 'King' Jan Beukels, the insane leader of Munster, had his tongue ripped out with red hot tongs and was then suspended in an iron cage from the church tower until his corpse fell apart. Jakob Hutter was dipped in freezing water, his skin was sliced open, brandy was rubbed into the open wounds and then he was ignited.

These sorts of sentences - brutal even by sixteenth-century standards - were not meted out by the Papal Inquisition or other Catholic zealots. Rather, they were imposed by fellow Protestants - or, even worse, by fellow Protestants acting in cahoots with the Papal Inquisition. Bewilderingly, at a time when mainstream Catholics and Protestants would rather see the Ottoman Empire swamp Europe than contemplate uniting in its defence, they considered it imperative to work together to ensure the complete annihilation of the Radicals, who generated suspicion and bloodthirsty ferocity out of all proportion to their numbers.

Why was the radical movement persecuted to mercilessly?

The degree to which the Radicals were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike is, at face value, hard to fathom. The 'Radical Movement' was actually not particularly Radical, and certainly never constituted anything vaguely approaching an organised movement. And yet those facts in themselves ironically provide us with an explanation for the level of persecution that the Radicals faced.

Weak organisation

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