Most of the women executed for religious reasons in early modern Europe were Anabaptists, religious radicals who were hated and hunted by Catholics and Protestants alike. Most Anabaptist groups were very small, and they had widely divergent ideas, so it is difficult to make generalizations that apply to all. Some groups emphasized divine revelation and spiritual experiences, and took the visions of women prophets very seriously. Others allowed believers to leave their unbelieving spouses, but women who did so were expected to remarry quickly and thus come under control of a male believer. In 1534, Anabaptists took over the northern German town ofM├╝nster, and attempted to create their vision of a perfect community. Part of this vision was polygamy and enforced marriage for all women, for the male Anabaptist leaders took literally the statement in the Book of Revelation that the Last Judgement would come once 144,000 'saints' (true believers) were in the world. These most radical of Anabaptists looked to the Old Testament, rather than the Gospels, for their models of gender relations.

The interrogations of Anabaptists are one of the few sources available for the religious ideas of people who were illiterate; from these records, it is clear that many women could argue complicated theological concepts and had memorized large parts of the Bible by heart. As Claesken Gaeledochter, who was drowned at Leeuwarden in 1559, put it, Although I am a simple person before men, I am not unwise in the knowledge of the Lord'.5 Anabaptist women actively chose the path of martyrdom, often against the pressure of family members, and the records of their trials, which often appeared in print shortly after their executions, reveal a strong sense of determination. Their actions were praised after their deaths in special hymns that were later sung by fellow believers, full of the details about their martyrdoms and testimonies to women who were 'in their faith strong, as men might be'.6

Along with providing new roles for women - religious polemicist, pastor's wife, domestic missionary, martyr - the Protestant Reformation also rejected many activities that had given women's lives religious meaning. Religious processions that had included both men and women, such as that of Corpus Christi, were prohibited, and sumptuary laws restricted the celebrations of baptism, weddings, and funerals, all ceremonies in which women had played a major role. Lay female confraternities, which had provided emotional and economic assistance for their members and charity for the needy, were also

5 Translated and quoted in Hermoine Joldersma and Louis Grijp (eds. and trans.), 'Elisabeth's manly courage': testimonials and songs by and about martyred Anabaptist women (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), p. 42.

6 Translated and quoted ibid., p. 63.

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