MÜNSTER. The prince-bishopric of Münster was the largest and most populous Catholic ecclesiastical territory in the Holy Roman Empire. Founded in 805 c.e., it covered 4,571 square miles (12,100 square kilometers) in the Westphalian region (Kreis ) of northwestern Germany and had 311,341 inhabitants in 1800. It was predominantly rural apart from Münster itself, which, with 14,000 inhabitants, was the largest Westphalian town. Grain and cattle were the main products, and most peasants remained bound by varying degrees of feudal servitude until the early 1800s. As in other German prince-bishoprics, the cathedral canons elected each bishop and dominated the administration together with the local nobility, who controlled the territorial Estates, or assembly. The spread of Lutheranism in the city of Münster heightened longstanding tension between its inhabitants and the bishop, particularly after the election of Franz von Waldeck (1491–1553) in 1532. Defense of civic autonomy became enmeshed with the expression of new religious ideas, notably Anabaptism, which attracted a large following around the Dutch immigrant Jan van Leyden. Leyden's followers seized control in 1534, initiating a radical social experiment that included polygamy. The bishop blockaded the city with the assistance of other princes who regarded the Anabaptists as godless subversives. Many Lutheran citizens shared their opinion, and Leyden's regime collapsed amidst growing internal discontent and external military pressure in June 1535. Leyden was executed in 1536, but the city retained some autonomy, and Lutheranism spread to the surrounding countryside by the 1580s, while most of the nobles became Calvinists under Dutch influence.
The election of Ernst of Bavaria (1559–1612) as bishop in 1584 signaled an important change of direction. Ernst had secured control of the archbishopric-electorate of Cologne in a disputed election the previous year and was a representative of militant Catholicism. Münster remained linked to Cologne until 1650, as his successor, Ferdinand of Bavaria (1577–1650), was also elected there. The association with Cologne was continued by other dual elections in 1683–1688 and 1719–1802 and considerably increased Münster's political importance within the empire. It also complicated the territory's own politics, since the Estates generally resented initiatives from Cologne, where their ruler preferred to reside. Ferdinand joined the Catholic League and coordinated its policy in northwest Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). The canons tried to curb external influence by choosing a local noble, Christoph Bernhard von Galen (1606–1678), as Ferdinand's successor. Galen proved to be Münster's most ruthless and significant bishop. Known as Bommen Berend, 'Bomber Bernhard', and the Kanonenbischof, 'Cannon Bishop', for his enthusiasm for the military, he was determined to reimpose Catholicism and secure his territory against the Protestant Dutch and Swedes. Skillfully exploiting the divisions between the canons, the Estates, and the city, he raised taxes for an army that sometimes numbered twenty thousand men. This was loaned to other powers, particularly the emperor, in return for subsidies and political support. The latter proved crucial in Galen's long struggle with the city, which endured four sieges before finally capitulating in 1661. Episcopal authority was firmly established, and Münster became solidly Catholic by the eighteenth century. Further involvement in later European wars drained territorial resources, and Münster declined to only regional importance, despite the continued association with Cologne. Prussia gained influence in Münster after 1795 and annexed it in 1802.
See also Anabaptism ; Cologne ; Leyden, Jan van .
Arthur, Anthony. The Tailor King. The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster. New York, 1999.
Benecke, Gerhard. Society and Politics in Germany 1500–1750. London and Toronto, 1974.
Bönninghausen, Clemens Maria Franz von. Die kriegerische Tätigkeit der Münsterischen Truppen 1651–1800. Coesfeld, 1978.
Jakobi, Franz-Josef, ed. Geschichte der Stadt Münster. Münster, 1993.
Kohl, Wilhelm, and Christoph Bernhard von Galen. Politische Geschichte des Fürstbistums Münster 1650–1678. Münster, 1964.
Kohl, Wilhelm, ed. Westfälische Geschichte. Vol. I, Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des alten Reiches. Düsseldorf, 1982–.
Po Chia-Hsia, Ronnie. Society and Religion in Münster 1535–1618. New Haven, 1984.
Peter H. Wilson