Nikolsburg (Nicolsburg, now Mikulov in the Czech Republic), a city and domain in the former Brno area of the margravure of Moravia, belonged since the middle of the 13th century to the Lower Austrian branch of the old noble family of Liechtenstein. In 1566 the domain fell to Emperor Maximilian II, who in 1575 ceded a part of it to the Baron Adam von Dietrichstein.
In the third decade of the 16th century Nikolsburg became noted as the center of Moravian Anabaptism. Indeed, throughout the entire 16th century Moravia was considered the promised land of religious tolerance. Here lived, besides the Catholics and the Utraquists, Bohemian Brethren who had fled from persecution in Bohemia to Moravia, and in general all those of any creed who were persecuted in any other country.
Already in 1524 the Protestants had established a congregation at Nikolsburg under the protection of Leonhard of Liechtenstein. Their preacher was Hans Spittelmaier, assisted by Oswald Glait. At the beginning of July 1526 Balthasar Hubmaier arrived from Augsburg. Contemporary reports indicate that he had an extraordinary following throughout Nikolsburg; something like 12,000 Anabaptists are reported to have gradually found their way into the city and the vicinity. To them this Moravian spot became a sort of "Emmaus."
Anabaptists streamed together here from South Germany and from Austria. All the records of their trials at courts to which the Anabaptists at Schwaz in Tyrol, in Augsburg, and in other places, were subjected in 1528-1529, give the information that most of them either had been baptized in Nikolsburg or perhaps lived there for some time. Some of them were Hubmaier's friends. Some of the noted names were Hans Hut who found 10 leaders (Vorsteher) already serving the Anabaptists in Nikolsburg; also Hans Nadler, Georg Nespitzer, and the better known Leonhard Schiemer, who was the first Anabaptist bishop in Upper Austria. Another was Hans Schlaffer, "who had previously been a Roman priest." In his statement Schlaffer said that in Nikolsburg baptisms were performed in the following manner: "First there was a sermon for the congregation. Then they baptized whoever came and desired it. Not everyone was questioned apart, nor an account demanded of him. Therefore our dear Hans Hut differed with Dr. Balthasar and the great division arose between him and the Brethren." In Nikolsburg there was probably also the Anabaptist preacher Thomas Waldhauser. This was stated by Jacob Wiedemann and Philipp Jager.
In Nikolsburg Hubmaier did a great deal of writing supported by the publisher Simprecht Sorg, called Froschauer. Here he wrote his well-known tracts, most of which he dedicated to the heads of the Moravian people, e.g., the Lords Leonhard and Hans von Liechtenstein, the magistrate Johann von Pernstein, the chief chamberlain Arkleb von Boskowitz, and Johann Dubcansky von Zedenin and Habrowan, in order to win their favor for Anabaptism. Here in Nikolsburg, however, Hubmaier found opponents among the Anabaptists themselves, such as Hans Hut, with whom he debated twice, once in Bergen and once in Nikolsburg. At the first of these debates the question considered was "whether one should use the sword or whether one should pay taxes for war or not." According to the position one took on these questions he belonged to the Schwertler or to the Stabler. In the second disputation, as Hans Nadler of Erlangen stated in 1529, seven subjects were debated: baptism, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, God's judgment, God's verdict, the end of the world, the new kingdom, and the coming of Christ. This disputation at Nikolsburg created considerable excitement beyond Moravia, as can be seen from the wide distribution of the so-called Nikolsburg Articles, the refutation of which became a serious matter for the opponents of the Anabaptists, and which were placed on the Index in Rome.
While Hubmaier was developing his extensive work in Nikolsburg the Austrian government was eagerly trying to arrest him. But his death as a martyr in May 1528 did not stop the progress of Anabaptism; not only did the government fail to get it under control, but it even spread to a much wider extent. It was injured by divisions more than by persecutions; these divisions finally led to the separation of the followers of Wiedemann and Jäger, the Stabler, from their brethren, the Schwertler; the Stabler moved to Austerlitz, which now became a chief center of Anabaptism in Moravia.
The Anabaptists who remained in Nikolsburg were later usually called collectively Swiss Brethren. They occupied several villages in the vicinity of Nikolsburg and shared on the whole the changing fate of their other brethren in Moravia, who, to be sure, after Jakob Hutter became their leader, soon surpassed their former brethren in numbers and in ability. The Nikolsburg Anabaptists furthermore, upon the death of Leonhard of Liechtenstein, lost the protection which he had given them. Besides in Nikolsburg, they were found in Pollau, Bergen, Wisternitz, Voitelsbrunn, Tasswitz, Urban, some in Znaim, and Eibenschitz, and in the mountain city Jamnitz, where Oswald Glait was their leader for a considerable period of time until his martyrdom in 1545. -- Loserth.
How many believers reached Nikolsburg at Hubmaier's time is seen from the confession of Hans Nadler of 1529, when he said that when he was staying in Nikolsburg for about 14 days in 1527 he himself watched how "they publicly baptized in the churches about 72 persons on one day." The parting of Leonhard von Liechtenstein from the Stabler, who were driven out in 1528, was not unfriendly. He accompanied them to Unterwisternitz, gave them drinks, and freed them from the tax; from there they went on to Austerlitz.
Between the Schwertler who had remained in the Nikolsburger domain or settled in the villages of Bergen, Klentnitz, Pollau, Tracht, Voitelsbrunn, and Wisternitz, and the Hutterian Brethren there was no fellowship. To the government at Vienna, however, all Anabaptists were equally thorns in the flesh. The government gave instructions to the representatives traveling to the Landtag of Moravia on 2 January 1540 that they should persuade the estates nowhere to tolerate the Anabaptists, who were reputedly spreading widely in the Nikolsburg domain and other places. The estates rejected this idea on January 4 to the extent that they declared that they did not openly tolerate the Anabaptist brotherhood but could not forbid the individual lords to keep their Anabaptist subjects, because otherwise whole strips of land would have become desolate and the lords would then furthermore no longer be in a position to furnish the money for important public undertakings, such as aid against the Turks, etc.
From 1543 on gradually the influx of the Swiss Brethren, in this case the former followers of Hubmaier, into the Hutterian brotherhood began; Hans Klopfer of Pollau and his group were the first of these. In the persecution of 1550 Mayden Mountain near Pollau offered them a refuge where they "had in many places pits and holes, in which they maintained themselves for a time, also in the clefts of the rocks and in the hollows and in the high mountains." Especially severe was the persecution of those who had fled to Pulgram; they were relentlessly driven out and plundered.
In 1556, when the Hutterian Brethren began to live in Nikolsburg, numerous Anabaptists from the neighboring area in Lower Austria, especially from Laa and Falkenstein, found their way to this place. The establishment of the Bruderhof (which was still standing in the 1950s) was followed in the next years by Bruderhofs in Bergen and Voitelsbrunn, which the Anabaptists developed, by making use of a healing spring there, into a noted and widely patronized bathing resort. In 1569 they suffered severely in the entire country, when during the famine in Nikolsburg a loaf of bread cost 45 Kreuzer.
A new section of Hutterite history in the Nikolsburg domain is introduced by the ceding of the domain to Adam von Dietrichstein. He had called in the Jesuit Cardaneus for the conversion of the Lutherans in his domain in 1579. Adam experienced a certain embarrassment from the zealous Jesuit in that he had wanted the Anabaptists to be an exception in the work of conversion on account of their usefulness. Adam stated this in a letter he wrote from Prague on 24 May 1579 to Cardaneus in which he excused his (in the eyes of a zealous missionary) serious negligence in respect to the Anabaptists with the explanation: "Not everything can be done at the moment as one would like to see it." That in spite of this request Cardaneus (according to the Geschicht-Buch) did not avoid conflicts with the Anabaptists, resulted first from the fact that they refused to give him the required greeting. In January 1580 Cardaneus even announced the conversion of several Anabaptists, and in 1582 again the conversion of several Anabaptist women in Unterwisternitz; but on the whole there were only some individual conversions.
The new priest of Nikolsburg, Christoph Erhard, wrote to the Jesuit Possevinus on 17 June 1584 that the oppression of Lutheranism had been successful, but for the complete and enduring conversion of the domain of Nikolsburg also the Hutterites would have to be made Catholic without an exception. A hindrance to the complete conversion was of course was the undisciplined conduct of many a Catholic priest, newly established in the parishes of tile domain, concerning which also Erhard, who had been made dean, soon complained. Also an evil and calumnious pamphlet was circulated in Nikolsburg in 1587, which appeared anonymously against the Hutterites, but failed to accomplish its purpose. Nor can it be said that the pamphlets of two renegade Hutterites, namely, that of Hans Jedelshauser and the one of Johann Eysvogel in Cologne had any more effect. The former charged the Hutterites with envy, quarrelsomeness, and ill will, and charged the Vorsteher of the entire brotherhood, Klaus Braidl, as well as the noted physician Jörg Zobel with moral misdemeanors. The latter, when he left the Austerlitz brotherhood, had his song of calumniation printed in 1586. Zobel, the great physician of the brotherhood, who mostly lived in Nikolsburg, had even been called to the imperial court at Prague and been able to heal Rudolf II. Even the abbot of the nearby monastery Klosterbruck, who requested the help of the emperor in his quarrel with the Hutterites (in a private audience), did not allow this to move him to cease addressing Jörg Zobel as "dear friend" and to invite him to a visit, and even to have him called for in a carriage. In 1599 Zobel was called to Emperor Rudolf in Prague a second time, "because of the infection which reigned at that time violently in Bohemia, in the good hope and confidence that he would be able to give counsel for the illness in the emperor's fortress."
The influx to Moravia, especially into the Nikolsburg domain, continued especially in these years. On 28 May 1587 Rudolf Stumpf reported from Zürich to Theodor Beza that now especially many Anabaptists were moving from the canton of Zurich to Moravia, and Erhard estimated the influx out of the "German and Oberland" regions in this year alone at 1,600 persons.
In 1589 there was complaint about a heavy tax imposed by the estates. Adam von Dietrichstein had died on 5 February 1590 and had passed on the inheritance to his three sons, Maximilian, Sigismund (who in spite of his extreme youth became the underchamberlain in 1597), and Franz, who at the age of 29 was made cardinal by Pope Clemens VIII and afterwards, under pressure, became bishop of Olmütz.
Although in consideration of his clerical office he should not have admitted the heretics, Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein was much more tolerant when he, coming from Rome, assumed the rulership of Nikolsburg in 1599. To be sure, economic reasons determined his position, for he recognized the great advantage accruing to him from this Anabaptist settlement and he knew how to enrich himself, as he demonstrated later as governor of Moravia.
A really hostile attitude of the cardinal did not appear until the Moravian "rebellion" in 1619, in the course of which he, having been sent to Vienna for negotiations, decided with the emperor against the estates who had commissioned him, whereas the Anabaptists, who were most barbarously treated by the imperial troops in southern Moravia, naturally sided with the estates protecting them. In the Nikolsburg domain, however, a difficulty for the Brethren arose from the fact that their baron was opposed to the protectors of the Hutterian Brethren in the country. And since he furthermore was the highest dignitary of the Roman Church, which was considered as idolatry by the Hutterites, their attitude in Nikolsburg was self-evident.
The cardinal, having heard that the Brethren of his domain sided with the rebels, ordered his magistrate to consider their expulsion. The magistrate Johann von Denee, in a letter of 7 August, reported the situation to his master, especially of the conduct of the imperial troops against the Brethren in the domain. He reported that the miller Christoph had been killed, and the wounded Duke of Saxony, to whom Denée had offered a room in the castle, had preferred to commit himself to the care of the Hutterite physicians. On 17 August the cardinal wrote to his officer Brus that in case the Hutterites of Nikolsburg, who were guilty of treason, refused to send to him as their lord secret messages, Brus would be permitted to punish them physically himself. On 5 September the official was compelled to report to the bishop that his famous Hutterite doctor Kolert had been killed without any reason by one of the gentlemen quartered in the castle. Dietrichstein, who from Vienna had a view over the whole situation, which was changing day by day, on 14 September again permitted his official Brus to deal with the Brethren as he thought best. Two days later the Czech secretary in Nikolsburg announced the mandates sent from Vienna and complained about the defiant attitude of the Hutterite householder. On 25 September followed the announcement from Nikolsburg to Vienna that several Anabaptist subjects were yielding service to the enemy.
On 19 October the Nikolsburg Bruderhof was "severely plundered, also the sick robbed." Denée on 13 November announced to the cardinal that he had confiscated and taken away from the Bruderhof all the flour and the drugs and that he had expelled the Brethren completely out of the estate and he had let them take along only the simplest kind of equipment. The cardinal's answer from Vienna on 17 November was reproachful; the Anabaptists should not have been allowed to take along any possessions at all.
Meanwhile Puchheim had begun the siege of Nikolsburg, which, after the arrival of reinforcements from Olmütz (Olomouc) including field pieces from Olmütz, was to lead finally to the conquest of the city and even of the castle in the middle of January 1620. Of course both had to be yielded soon again to the imperial troops and so came back into the cardinal's possession. In Nikolsburg the Vorsteher of the entire brotherhood, Rudolf Hirzl, and two brethren lay imprisoned from 2 June 1621, until the cardinal had by treachery gained from him the betrayal of the treasure of the brotherhood in Neumühl. The cardinal had been made governor and now fulfilled his threat, that when he returned to Moravia he would not tolerate the Brethren in the country. He sent his officials with soldiers to the Bruderhofs in Nikolsburg, Tracht, and the newly won Niemtschitz, "had all the rooms, chambers, attics, and grain and flour storage places, also the attics and rooms where the people lived, sealed shut so that no one could go to his place any more, and soldiers guarded the houses." After this the imperial orders were read to the assembled Hutterites, denying them protection even in Hungary and Transylvania, and offering them conversion to Catholicism as the only way to save their lives and possessions. Two hundred and thirty persons declared themselves willing to do this, "mostly careless and indifferent people, who had previously been a burden and difficulty to the brotherhood." Most of the Brethren, however, were steadfast. Jakob Braitensteiner, the manager of the Tracht Bruderhof, answered the cardinal "to his face in the presence of many people of the world," that he would not trust his salvation to a faith whose followers "had burned down their houses, cut down their men, and raped their women and daughters." With the cardinal and his followers people of that kind were "good Christians, even if they acted worse than the Turks. But the good, God-fearing people who nourish themselves with the faithful works of their hands and do no man an injury must leave the country."
Most of the Brethren were expelled; they were not allowed to take much with them, especially no tools." The elders appealed to the cardinal, pointed out the great economic services of the Brethren to the country and the injustice that was being done to them if they took away from them their cattle, their possessions, their tools, their property, without compensation. It was all in vain." Wherever they looked for help in their oppression, they were referred to their enemy, the cardinal, as the only one who had any power.
When the elders once more presented a humble written supplication and asked for pity for their poor brotherhood, the prince of the church replied to them with laughter and mocking words: "You have brought to me only a written supplication from your elders. But I will give you a printed reply," and sent to them the mandate of expulsion which was issued at Brno on 28 September 1622, which was applied so harshly that even the petition they presented to the emperor asking for shelter for the winter or a refuge for their aged sick and weak was rejected.
From almost all the 24 Bruderhofs of the country the Brethren had to leave in October "with empty hands" (see Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 715). Nikolsburg had been destroyed before that date; the Brethren from Nikolsburg were then lodging in Schachnitz in Hungary. The patents of 13 April 1623, and of March 1624, in the latter of which the cardinal ordered that the few scattered Brethren who had again been received by a few of the barons, be cut down after two weeks without a trial or hung to the nearest tree, drove most of this scattered people out of the country. The very last Hutterites who had been anxiously and secretly employed by their patrons were finally expelled from Moravia by the mandates of 1628 and 1650, where, however, for a long time not only the buildings but also the beautiful majolica ware of the Brethren served to remind the inhabitants of them. -- Paul Dedic
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Cite This Article
Loserth, Johann and Paul Dedic. "Nikolsburg (Jihomoravský kraj, Czech Republic)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 30 Mar 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nikolsburg_(Jihomoravsk%C3%BD_kraj,_Czech_Republic)&oldid=119056.
Loserth, Johann and Paul Dedic. (1957). Nikolsburg (Jihomoravský kraj, Czech Republic). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 March 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nikolsburg_(Jihomoravsk%C3%BD_kraj,_Czech_Republic)&oldid=119056.
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