A radical Anabaptist sect known for their violent tactics and apocalyptic beliefs during the Reformation.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Anabaptism
Leader: Jan van Batenburg
Founded: around 1535
Ended: Late 16th century
Location: Netherlands, primarily in the region of Gelderland

The Batenburgers were a radical Anabaptist sect that emerged in the Netherlands in the early 16th century, notably after the Münster Rebellion’s fallout. Founded by Jan van Batenburg in the 1530s, this group became notorious for its extreme practices and beliefs, diverging significantly from the nonviolent mainstream Anabaptist movements.

Jan van Batenburg, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, turned against the Habsburg-Burgundian authorities after being exiled and losing his property. His transformation into an Anabaptist leader marked the beginning of a new, more militant sect, differentiating itself from others with its extreme beliefs and actions. Van Batenburg’s theology, although not fully documented, suggested that everything on Earth was owned by God, making it permissible for his followers to rob and kill those they considered “infidels” or non-believers.

The Batenburgers held that they were God’s chosen children, entitled to Earth’s riches and justified in taking lives to please their deity. Their practices included polygamy and communal living, with all goods and women shared among the sect. Marriages within the sect were flexible, with Van Batenburg having the authority to assign and reassign women among his followers.

Leadership passed to Cornelis Appelman after Van Batenburg’s execution in 1538. Appelman, known as “The Judge,” led the group into further extremes, engaging in marauding, arson, and more severe internal discipline, including executing members who did not participate actively in criminal activities. Under his leadership, the Batenburgers became akin to a band of robbers and terrorists, hiding their beliefs while inflicting terror on those outside their group. The sect eventually fragmented into smaller groups after Appelman’s capture and execution in 1545, with remnants persisting into the late 16th century.

The impact of the Batenburgers on the larger Anabaptist movement was significant, albeit negative in many respects. Their violent actions and radical theology brought disrepute to the Anabaptist movement as a whole, contributing to the severe persecution that Anabaptists faced across Europe. Mainstream Anabaptist groups, such as the Amish and Hutterites, actively distanced themselves from the Batenburgers, emphasizing their commitment to nonviolence and community building.

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