Dietrichstein family

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Dietrichstein was an old Austrian noble family, originally from Carinthia, which became quite influential during the 16th and 17th centuries, and played a decisive part in the oppression and final expulsion of the Austrian Anabaptists, mainly the Hutterites. Three generations of this family require attention: (1) Siegmund von Dietrichstein (1480-1533), governor of Styria, (2) his son Adam von Dietrichstein (1527-1590), the first lord of Nikolsburg, Moravia, and as such overlord over the Hutterites on this estate. He had twelve children, of whom (3) Franz von Dietrichstein (1570-1636), cardinal and prince-bishop of Olmütz (Olomuce), Moravia, was the most outstanding. He was directly responsible for the total expulsion of the Hutterites from Moravia in 1622. His brother Siegmund von Dietrichstein was likewise instrumental in this painful process, a triumph of the Catholic Counter Reformation, while Maximilian von Dietrichstein and Karl and Georg were less active. Some of these brothers even sided with the Protestant opposition against the Habsburgs in 1619-1620.

1. Siegmund von Dietrichstein, a favorite of Emperor Maximilian I, became governor of Styria, 1515-1533, in which capacity he quenched the peasant revolt of 1524, and ruthlessly carried out all the mandates of Ferdinand I against the Anabaptists in Styria, thus retarding a forceful and popular Christian movement so that it never reached complete fruition. His Jesuit biographer Georg Dingenauer said: "He persecuted them not only in the cities but ferreted them out even in the forests where they had sought a hiding like wild animals." The hopeful small brotherhoods in places like Graz, Brück, Leoben, etc., could not very long resist this pressure and soon died out, perhaps also due to a lack of strong leadership. In the chronicles of the Hutterites the name of Siegmund Dietrichstein does not appear at all.

2. Adam von Dietrichstein, the favorite of Emperor Maximilian II. While some of his brothers turned Protestant, Adam remained a faithful Catholic, though leaning toward reforms and a broader interpretation of doctrines, like his sovereign Maximilian II. He filled high positions in the Habsburg realm (tutor of the later Emperor Rudolph II, ambassador to Spain, etc.), and in 1575 was enabled to purchase the Nikolsburg estate in Moravia, formerly a possession of the Liechtensteins. As early as 1579 he called the Jesuits to Moravia to promote the Counter Reformation in this strongly Protestant country. The chronicles of the Hutterites, mentioning this fateful event (Zieglschmid, 505), call the Jesuits das Bös Nattern gezückt (generation of vipers). The emperor and the pope, however, praised Adam for his zeal. Nevertheless, he knew the economic value of the Hutterites only too well, and in spite of several starts toward expulsion, he yet allowed them to continue as tenant farmers on his estate. He could not resolve this typical 16th through 17th-century conflict between religious zeal and personal interests as a manorial lord. He began also the collection of the rich library at Nikolsburg which was later looted by the Swedes (during the Thirty Years' War), and today can be found as the Queen Christiana collection of the Vatican Library at Rome.

Between 1590 and 1599 Nikolsburg was run by his son Maximilian von Dietrichstein, who is described by the Chronicle as amenable to negotiations with the Brethren, allowing them to stay on the estate.

3. Franz von Dietrichstein (1570-1636), the eighth child of Adam, was destined to rise to a position second only to the emperor himself. He was the most aggressive champion of the growing Counter Reformation of the Catholic Church, and he was also the staunch supporter of the cause of the Habsburgs during the first phases of the great Thirty Years' War. At 27 he became priest, and at 29 he was made cardinal and at the same time bishop of Olmütz (Olomuce), then one of the richest and most influential dioceses of the Habsburg realm. His position was near to Emperor Rudolph II and his successors Matthias and Ferdinand II, yet he found much opposition among the feudal nobility of Moravia which was predominantly both Czech and Protestant. (It was this nobility which protected the Hutterites through all the 90 or more years of their flowering in Moravia.) He arrived in Nikolsburg in 1599, and it may be said that from about then on very hard times set in for the Brethren: oppression by the Catholic powers, cardinal and emperor, which led to looting and final expulsion, and hardship by two wars, a Turkish invasion in 1605, and the beginnings of the Thirty Years’ War, about 1619-1622. The "Golden Age" of the brotherhood was over; the government, in need of money, tried to extort as much as it could from the Brethren, by means anything but just or decent. The Hutterite Vorsteher Hirzel was under false pretenses cheated into handing out to the cardinal all the money of the brotherhood. The number of Hutterite Bruderhofs gradually dwindled to about 24; many Brethren had died during these turbulent events, and many more had been forced to emigrate to nearby Slovakia. In 1620 the Catholic cause won a decisive victory at the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague over the new Protestant ruler of Bohemia. From now on the Catholic Counter Reformation threw off all restraint. Noble estates were confiscated both in Bohemia and Moravia (it was then that the Dietrichsteins acquired a fabulous wealth in estates and other riches), and Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein was no longer willing "to tolerate the heretical sects" in his Moravian domain. Since Catholicism was to become the only religion of the realm, the persecution of the Brethren became "total." From 1622 to his death in 1636 the cardinal was governor of Moravia, and with the emperor's support became almost omnipotent over the array of opposing nobles. In September 1622, he ordered the complete expulsion of the Hutterites "within four weeks." All petitions, even to the emperor himself, were in vain. In spite of an early winter, and many sick and old people, no postponement was permitted. They had to go, leaving behind them houses and fields and goods worth more than 364,000 Talers, according to their own estimates (Zieglschmid, 756. The entire dramatic story of the expulsion and the cardinal's role in it is told in Zieglschmide, 746-56). The nobles, however, seem to have felt that they could not go on without these highly efficient workers, and some Brethren, called by their former lords, actually came back from Slovakia the next year. The cardinal now intensified his endeavor, and sharper "patents" (mandates, orders) were issued in 1623, again in 1624, and even as late as 1628, making any returning Hutterite an outlaw. Though he knew only too well the economic harm to Moravia by these measures, Franz insisted on the religious uniformity of the country. For these activities the then victorious emperor made him a prince. To the Brethren, however, he was only a tool of the powers of this evil world. In the well-known Pribitzer hymn (Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 1914, 821-27) three stanzas (24-26) are devoted to the cardinal and his work.

All dringlich Bitten was unsonst,

Fanden auch weder Geld noch Gonst,

Der Cardinal der erste war (wor),

Ging anderen in solcher Tyranei zuvor.

But the final lines of the hymn sound hopeful again: God does not abandon his people, and he prepares a new place for them. It was not unknown to the cardinal either, that the lords in Slovakia, to his deep regret, showed more independence than those of Moravia. For another 130 years the Brethren found a refuge in this Hungarian land, until also the government and the Roman Church gained enough power to end this period of toleration.


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Author(s) Robert Freidmann
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Freidmann, Robert. "Dietrichstein family." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 10 Dec 2023.

APA style

Freidmann, Robert. (1956). Dietrichstein family. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 December 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 59-60. All rights reserved.

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