Bernhard Knipperdolling (c. 1495–January 22, 1536 in Münster,
Germany), was a leader of the Münster Anabaptists. He was also
known as Bernd or Berndt Knipperdollinck or Knypperdollynck; his
birth name was van Stockem.
Knipperdolling was born at the beginning of the sixteenth century
to a wealthy, patrician cloth merchant in
Münster. In January 1534, wandering Dutch Anabaptist
preachers arrived in Münster proclaiming that a new prophet
was on his way. They were soon followed by the "prophet"
himself, the tailor Jan Matthys of Haarlem. Knipperdolling became
a passionate believer in the Anabaptist
On February 10 1534, Knipperdolling joined the movement to overthrow
the town council and bishop, along with Jan Matthys and Jan Bockelson
(or John of Leiden), one of Matthys' twelve disciples. He rallied
the Anabaptists against conservative forces with "frenzied
ecstasies". Accepted by the council, Knipperdolling won the
elections of February 24 1534, becoming Lord Mayor of Münster
– this was the high point of the Anabaptist movement. His
house became the centre of the Anabaptist movement; on January 15,
1534 the first believers' baptisms were performed there.
When Matthys made his demand for the execution of all "godless"
citizens of Münster, Knipperdolling convinced him to allow
people a week's time to be baptised, or leave the city. This avoided
arousing international opposition against Münster and risking
Knipperdolling organised military defenses against the Bishop's
troops. He was also made chief executioner to the Twelve Judges;
as chief executive he balanced out Bockelson, the Judges' spokesman.
He was in charge of executions, "immigration officer",
and the administrator of state property. Some of Matthys' policies
went against Knipperdolling's best interests, such as the dissolution
of the guilds and the confiscation of private property.
After Matthys' death on April 4 1534, Knipperdolling supported
the leadership of Jan Bockelson, who was crowned king, supported
by poor non-Münsterite Anabaptists. Soon, however, he was claiming
superiority to Bockelson and prophecying that "while Jan was
king according to the flesh", he, Knipperdolling, was "called
to be the spiritual king". This led to his brief imprisonment
in 1535. On his release, Knipperdolling was named Stadholder (vice-king
and governor) and executioner. His daughter Clara was married to
Jan Bockelson after the introduction of polygamy.
In 1535, Knipperdolling's position of power was however once again
lost when Heinrich Krechting became the king's right hand man.
From June 24 - 25, 1535, the Bishop, with the aid of the deserter
Henry Gresbeck, retook Münster. Knipperdolling, Bockelson and
Bernhard Krechting were imprisoned and interrogated. In On January
22, 1536, Knipperdolling, Krechting, and Bockelson were publicly
tortured and executed in Münster. Their corpses were suspended
in a cage from the Lambertuskirche (St. Lambert's Church), which
had been the initial focus of the Anabaptist revolution.