Rheydt, a city (population of 45,124 in the late 1950s; 66,283 in 2000) formerly in the Rhine Province of Prussia, Germany (since 1929 part of Gladbach-Rheydt), formerly under the dominion of the duchy of Jülich; now located in the province of North Rhine-Westphalia. Here, depending on the greater or smaller dependence of the governor upon the duke, the Anabaptists for longer or shorter periods found refuge from oppression in the adjoining Jülich and Cologne territories. The sources on the Mennonites in Rheydt are rather meager until the expulsion of the Anabaptists; for this occurrence there is full information. It would be most peculiar if the populace of the district had been untouched by the preaching of the Anabaptists and if there had been no Anabaptists in Rheydt in the 16th century, when numerous Anabaptists were living in the region all around. Not until the end of the 16th century does the veil lift somewhat.
Otto von Bylandt, the Baron of Rheydt, confidential adviser and chancellor of Duke William the Rich of Jülich, was eager to make Rheydt an imperial city, and thus became involved in a legal battle with the duke. He also oppressed his subjects with additional taxes and services. This course led to lawsuits in the imperial court, in the course of which the Mennonites of Rheydt are mentioned. In 1584 Peter auf den Heuren is called an Anabaptist. The defense statement by Bylandt's lawyer in 1594-1595 states that "among the plaintiffs [the subjects] there are some who are suspect of Anabaptism, who have resisted their proper and inherited government" (since the Anabaptists did not wish to be subject to any temporal authority). Otto von Bylandt's son, Arnold Adrian, who remained Catholic, summoned five witnesses to report on 26 September 1594, about the Anabaptists in the area. These witnesses named more than 25 persons who had for a year or two been "running to the corner preachers" and avoiding the parish church in Rheydt. In Alitgen Cüper's house the people of the Gladbach area and other neighboring places were meeting in broad daylight. Their singing could be heard daily, especially in the evening. One witness testified that he had often seen these persons passing through the courtyard at night toward Hockstein, to the Gladbach windmill, to "Hanssen Newissen" sons, who were acknowledged Anabaptists (Hans Neues, of Gladbach-Lürrip, was the ancestor of the Mennonite te Neues family in Krefeld), or to Wettschewell (Wolter of Wetschewell signed the Concept of Cologne on 1 May 1591, for the Odenkirchen congregation). The persons named were, however, suspected only of Anabaptism.
Thus it happened that at the Hochgeding of 29 January 1595, the village neighbors pointed out only one, namely, "Thomas Velbereiter as unbaptized." These were all statements in a lawsuit in which the opponents were trying to blame one another. In 1599, when the Anabaptists in Gladbach were once more subject to severe oppression, several fled into the domain of Rheydt. The baron was suspected of having received them in his domain and giving them shelter in the castle. The bailiff of Jülich with his police fell upon Rheydt to take back what the Gladbach Mennonites had brought with them. The report names particularly Clasz Wolters (see Claes Wolters Kops), the "chief preacher and leader of the Gladbach congregation," who was in Sittard (that is, Sittard Street in München-Gladbach). He is the same "Clasz Wolters, the preacher," who according to the register of Mennonites in Gladbach in 1622, lived outside the parish of Gladbach. He was apparently the son of "Herr Wolter," who was pastor of Odenkirchen in 1540, and later preached in Hüls, Kempen, and Krefeld, the forest ranger (Waldläufer) "with the long white beard."
With the beginning of the Reformed church records in Rheydt it is noted that Mennonites were transferring their membership to the Reformed Church, but the minutes of the consistory also show transfers to the Mennonites. This proves that in the first half of the 17th century there were Mennonites in Rheydt, some of whom belonged to native families, others of whom had married into Rheydt, or had immigrated. The deacons (Armenpfleger) mentioned in the court records of Rheydt in 1646-48 were members of the Rheydt and Gladbach Mennonite congregations. The Mennonites of Rheydt were at that time probably united in a single congregation with those of Gladbach. Theunes Comes, who signed the Concept of Cologne in 1591 as the delegate of the Mennonites of Gladbach and who was named in 1611 as a preacher of the Mennonite congregation in Gladbach, also owned property in Rheydt.
The decree of the Duke of Jülich of 1652, on the basis of which the Mennonites were expelled from Gladbach, was ineffectual in Rheydt. A list of "Mennonites staying in the domain of Rheydt" in 1664 named only four persons who owned a home. On 6 November 1669, the Duke wrote to the Baron of Rheydt "on account of the abomination of Anabaptism," which had "again slipped secretly into the district of Rheydt," complaining that the Baron did not seriously take steps against "the damned sect," even when the Count Palatine renewed his demand in 1658. Indeed (said the letter), he admitted the Mennonite refugees from the vicinity and gave shelter to some in the castle grounds. The Mennonites from Dahlen (the present München-Gladbach-Rheindahlen) had in 1652 escaped to the imperial domain of Wickrath. In the 1670's they were compelled to leave this place of refuge and settled in Rheydt and in Dohr, in Zoppenbroich, a domain of the Elector of Cologne. Now the Mennonites in Rheydt were so numerous that they could organize a congregation of their own. In the church records of the Mennonites of the Lower Rhine (especially Goch) there are certificates signed by the preachers of the congregations from which they came. Thus on 11 March 1690, Maryken Arents, daughter of Arent Claessen (van Aken) from Rheydt, brought a certificate to Goch which was signed by Jans Peter Camp and Derck Kouters (or Koeters), "preachers of our Mennonite congregation in Reid." Thus it is known that Rheydt had a firmly established Mennonite congregation in 1690, with a significant membership, some of whose members stemmed from Rheydt, others from their former home towns, frequently persons expelled from other places finally coming to rest in Rheydt. Here they acquired a home, paid a protection fee to the baron, and were quietly and industriously engaged as weavers and merchants.
This way of making their living became their doom. Their Reformed neighbors felt the competition and were angered by the fact that they had to perform so much the more guard duty at the castle and turnpikes, whereas the Mennonites were excused from this service upon payment of a fee. Then on 16 May 1694, about fifty houses of the town of Rheydt, including the monastery building, were destroyed by fire. The Mennonites were accused of arson. In Düsseldorf lived the splendor-loving Elector Palatine John William, whose conscience had been alerted by his confessor Splinter to consider the extirpation of the Mennonites as a work pleasing to God. His councilors made it clear to him that in this matter "100,000 Oberland guilders with interest would be won by His Highness." The time was well chosen. In 1692 a quarrel had broken out between the branches of the Bylandt family concerning the succession in Rheydt. A factitious letter from the Rheydt community arrived, making charges against the Mennonites, and the elector took vigorous action. He struck a final blow, which he hoped would finally clear his land of the "damned sect." A sad picture of religious and social intolerance unrolled in a rapid flow.
In the night of 16 July 1694, the officials of the elector suddenly arrived in Rheydt with 200 peasant marksmen, led by Baron Hermann von Bongart of Paffendorf an der Erft, Palatine privy councilor and bailiff at Raster. The Mennonites were driven together in the village, struck and kicked until blood flowed. The next evening they were taken in chains to Jüchen together with the women and children of the seven families living in the castle, whose men had fled to Krefeld. In Jüchen they were cross-examined and threatened with death if they refused to become Catholic. But their lives would be saved if they would make a contribution of 12,000 talers to the elector. They finally agreed upon 8,000 talers. But since they were unable to find security for the money in such a short time, the prisoners were chained on 1 August 1694, and taken to Paffendorf on the Erft and there given unworthy lodging and tortured in many ways.
In Rheydt their possessions were sold—houses, land, cattle, furniture, and looms. Their property was estimated by their account books and confiscated. The duke received his share in bolts of linen, etc. Meanwhile William (III) of Orange, Stadholder of the Netherlands and King of England, who as Duke of Mörs was also sovereign of Krefeld, came to the aid of the prisoners (see Mörs). But before his aid became effective, the prisoners managed to collect in Krefeld the 8,000 Talers required "for expenses." The money was delivered by Govert Remkes and Wilhelm von der Leyen, both citizens of Krefeld. In their presence the seventeen prisoners were interrogated for the last time, to make certain that they were subjects of the Duke of Jülich and that the conduct of the duke was therefore legal. They were given a receipt and released on 29 August 1694. Most of them went to Krefeld and with the aid of William of Orange received back the property that had been sold (decree of 17 August 1697). (The fate of these Mennonites is given in detail in the article Instrumentum publicum.) A number of Mennonites from Rheydt went to the Netherlands, where they were aided by the Dutch Mennonite Committee for Foreign Needs and the Conference (Sociëteit) of Friesland in settling in the province of Groningen. In the 1720's some Mennonites living in Krefeld sold the last of their possessions in Rheydt.
Since 1694 no Mennonites have lived in Rheydt. For one hundred years the town sank into economic insignificance, while Krefeld moved toward its great prosperity brought about by the Mennonites.
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Cite This Article
Niepoth, Wilhelm. "Rheydt (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rheydt_(Nordrhein-Westfalen,_Germany)&oldid=96228.
Niepoth, Wilhelm. (1959). Rheydt (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rheydt_(Nordrhein-Westfalen,_Germany)&oldid=96228.
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