Hapsburg (Habsburg) was an old ruling family or dynasty in Austria, Germany, and Spain, and most ardent champions of the Catholic cause, at least after the family inherited the Spanish throne in 1516. Since the middle of the 15th century all rulers of the Holy Roman Empire were Hapsburgs. During the age of Reformation, Emperor Charles V tried in vain to fight Lutheranism; in 1555 he had to admit the right of the German princes to decide the religion of their land for themselves. Yet in a number of momentous mandates he laid the legal groundwork for the persecution of the "heretical" Anabaptists. More immediate were the activities of his brother Ferdinand I, first Archduke of Austria, after 1526 also King of Bohemia and Hungary (where he had little influence), and then after 1556 Emperor. His fight against the Anabaptists, along with the counter-reformatory activities of the Roman hierarchy and the Jesuits, was violent and relentless, and, to a certain degree, also successful. The Hutterite chronicle lists no fewer than 2,169 martyrs during the reign of Charles V and Ferdinand I. Only in Moravia could the Anabaptists persist, protected there by the nobles who, though Catholic, were loath to lose the profits accruing from these industrious settlers. During the time of Emperor Maximilian II a milder period set in at first (called in the Hutterite chronicles the "Golden Age"). But by the turn of the century under the reign of the somewhat enigmatic Rudolphus II, persecution set in again with doubled effort, though only in those countries in which the emperor had full jurisdiction (i.e., the Erblande or Hapsburg domain, Austria, Tyrol, Styria, etc.). Once a Hutterite physician cured the emperor, but it did not help the brotherhood as a whole very much. With the initial success of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648 the Hapsburgs gained also great power in the kingdom of Bohemia, particularly in Moravia. Under the regime of Ferdinand II (1619-1637) the Anabaptists were now definitely expelled from Moravia (1622). Fortunately, the power of the Hapsburgs in Hungary was very limited. This kingdom had fallen to the Hapsburgs in 1526, but the Turks soon took over the greater part of the country (including the suzerainty of Transylvania), and the nobility in the remaining part (today Slovakia) was ready to accept the Anabaptists on their estates, as they were excellent workers. Most of these nobles were Calvinists. Thus the Hutterian Brethren could enjoy a comparatively quiet period in these eastern parts of the Hapsburg Empire, where the power of the Counter Reformation was effective only to a small extent. Soon after Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) came to power, he even issued a special privilege of protection for the Brethren in three counties in Slovakia in 1659, most likely upon the urging of the manorial lords of that area (Beck, 496).
Around 1700 the Turks were completely expelled from Hungary and Hapsburg's power became effective also here. In general, the 18th century is called the century of enlightenment and toleration, yet little of either was felt in the huge Hapsburg realm. The great Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780) did much to strengthen her realm, but neither Lutherans nor Anabaptists were tolerated. It was under her reign that Lutherans of Carinthia had to transmigrate (in 1755) to far-off Transylvania , a country which, though belonging to the Hapsburg realm, yet was judged too distant to have any "detrimental" influence on the realm in general. These trans-migrants came into contact with the last remnants of the Hutterites, and revived their brotherhood to new life. But the Jesuits (though in other countries hard pressed themselves; the Jesuit order was officially suppressed by the pope in 1773) were determined to eradicate the "sect" altogether. Mainly one Father Delphini became of evil repute among the Brethren for his activities. Emigration (to Russia) was the only way out. The same enforced conversion to Catholicism happened also in Slovakia (then Hungary) during the time of Maria Theresa. In the 1750's and 1760's children were taken away, men were imprisoned, books were confiscated, until finally the backbone of these brethren was broken. Those who turned Catholic are now known as "Habaner". Even the last Hapsburg ruler to be considered in this rapid survey, Emperor Joseph II, 1780-90, famous in history as an "enlightened despot," and rather indifferent to religion, was in no way better than his forerunners with respect to things Anabaptist. The Klein-Geschichtsbuch reports an interview of the Emperor with a Hutterite brother (of Carinthian descent) in which the question of the property of the trans-migrants was discussed. Joseph refused to yield, and the brethren lost everything that had once been theirs.
However, there is at least one positive note in this theme of Hapsburg's attitude toward radical Christians. In 1775, at the first partition of Poland, Maria Theresa received a large area of territory, partly Polish, partly Ukrainian, called Klein Polen or Galicia. Since it was then but sparsely populated, Joseph II issued a special patent or decree to stimulate colonization of this country. This enabled Mennonites from the Palatinate to migrate to this eastern country and to settle in the vicinity of Lemberg (1784). Their thriving colonies existed there up to World War II.
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.
Hege, Christian and Neff, Christian. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 217 f.
Wiswedel, W. "Kurze Charakteristik etlicher Herrscher Oesterreichs hinsichtlich ihrer Stellung zum Taufertum." Der Sendbote (Cleveland 1937): 191.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.
Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Hapsburg, House of." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 9 Mar 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hapsburg,_House_of&oldid=100459.
Friedmann, Robert. (1956). Hapsburg, House of. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 March 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hapsburg,_House_of&oldid=100459.
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