Exile (Banishment)

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Exile (Banishment), a punishment which in former times could be applied to citizens if they tried to assert their religious independence and left the state churches. Thus the third article of the fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (Roman Catholic) obligated the temporal authorities to expel all subjects who had deviated from the Catholic faith.

During the Reformation this punishment was inflicted upon the Anabaptists in nearly all the Protestant countries, whereas death was the corresponding penalty in Catholic regions. The exiles were usually bound by oath not to return to the country; if they broke their oath, their return was considered a crime and was severely punished. Questions of faith were then no longer considered, and judgment followed on the basis of disobedience of the temporal authorities. Since the Anabaptists held the oath to be incompatible with the teachings of Jesus, and since they were aware of no criminal deed, they did not grant the state the right to banish them, referring to the verse of Scripture, "The earth is the Lord's" (Bossert, 315). The authorities, however, forcibly took them over the border if they refused to go voluntarily. Corporal punishment was not infrequently added to exile. In some countries they were whipped, in others branded on the cheek.

But in the neighboring country after their expulsion they were not safe either, for the authorities always notified these countries of the expulsion and demanded that they also banish the victim (Strickler, 336, 586). Hence if some returned to their homes, it was not always due to a fault of theirs.

Exile was the first penalty visited upon the Anabaptists, having been applied at Zürich in the very week of the inception of the movement. After Zwingli's first disputation with the advocates of adult baptism on 17 January 1525, the council of the city ordered all the nonresident Anabaptists to leave the canton. On 19 January the council issued a mandate making it compulsory to have all unbaptized infants baptized; "He who will not do this shall get out of the city, jurisdiction, and canton of my lords with wife and child, goods and possessions, or await what will happen to him." On 11 March 1525 it was decided that anyone who received adult baptism should be expelled with his family. Later on both Zürich and Bern confiscated the property of the exile. In Switzerland Mennonites continued to be banished on religious grounds until within the 18th century, particularly in the cantons of Bern and Zürich.

The history of Anabaptist banishment is particularly noteworthy in Bern where this punishment was applied even more rigorously than in Zürich. After the foreign Anabaptists had been expelled at the introduction of the Reformation into Bern (1527-1528), the council issued a mandate on 22 July 1531, ordering that Anabaptists should first be submerged under water and then ejected from the canton; if they returned they should be drowned. The mandate of 31 July repeated this order. Following the great disputation at Bern of 11-17 March 1538, the foreign Anabaptists were told that they were to leave the canton immediately. Native Anabaptists were told that they would be conducted over the border by the police and in case of return they were to be executed with the sword unless they recanted. This was the procedure followed during the next decades. Innumerable persons, regardless of sex or age, were thus driven from their homes. An official opinion of the clergy (1585) recommended that especially the leaders of the Anabaptists be banished from the country and sent to the galleys. Others who were not leaders, but obstinate persons, were to be expelled. In the mandate of 3 September 1585, it was accordingly ordered that the stiff-necked Anabaptists were to be taken to the border in chains. The mandate of 1597 added the threat of death in case of return and declared the property of exiled persons confiscate to the state (see Täufergut). The mandate of 26 December 1644 decreed that returning Anabaptists should be publicly whipped. Thus the Bernese government in the course of time tried various means of force to induce the Anabaptists to return "to the right way." When all these measures proved fruitless, and they still wanted at any cost to get rid of the "damned sect," the authorities proceeded to expel all the Anabaptists held in prison in the penitentiary. The exiles had to sign the following Verbannungs-Revers:

I, the undersigned, herewith confess that after I on account of my adopted aforesaid Anabaptist doctrine had been for a time detained by our high Christian government in their penitentiary or orphanage in Bern, and had been admonished on the subject to withdraw from the doctrine, but I can and will not desist from my assumed opinion ... I have fallen more and more into the punishment and disfavor of my high government in consideration of my adopted doctrine, which is exactly contrary to the government mandate. And that I now therefore am to avoid their city and canton and depart. Therefore I herewith vow and promise to accept such banishment from now on when I am to be conducted over the border, and avoid the city and canton and the borders altogether, and henceforth to have no contact by oral or secret or public communication with its citizens in any way, on the aforesaid doctrine. With this further declaration that I shall and will not in any form let myself be seen or enter into their lands and terriories, but if contrary to expectations, I do not keep this my promise but act contrary to it, it shall be regarded as if I had broken a properly sworn oath and that therefore a high government without further ado act in accord with the law and the content of the publicly read mandate, and as it is customary to judge such persons by law, shall I the false teacher be judged, by virtue of this letter, which I herewith in this matter sign with my own hand.

On 20 January 1663 the chancellery of Bern announced that most of the banished Anabaptists were again at home. A mandate of 8 September 1670 ordered the expulsion to begin again, "to clear these intolerable people out of the land." Those who returned should be branded with a hot iron.  The ejection of the Swiss Brethren is one of the most inglorious chapters in the history of the Bernese state.

In Protestant Germany banishment was early used against the Anabaptists. In Saxony the Protestant pastors engaged in the general church inspection in 1527 were directed to warn "all those who held to an error in faith, whether on the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, baptism," or any other doctrine, to leave the country at once; if they returned they would be severely punished. If laymen refused to desist from their error they should be ordered to sell their possessions and leave the country within a certain time (Sehling, 142 ff.). Banishment was also applied in Hesse, and in the imperial cities of Strasbourg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Lindau, and others.

In Württemberg the theologians, in the opinion they drew up on the penalizing of the Anabaptists at the request of Duke Ulrich upon his return in 1535, reported that the "fine appearance of the life" of the Anabaptists caused many members of the church to join them. These poor people would not do this out of malice, but out of pure simplicity of mind and the good zeal which they have to God; on the other hand they see "with us and the great multitude of ours unfortunately very wild, bold, and wicked living." One should have patience with the Anabaptists and not inflict the death penalty on them. The dangerous leaders should not be expelled into other countries, for they would thus spread their doctrines into neighboring regions, but be kept in prison on meager fare, which "might serve to their correction and conversion by the grace of God." But other Anabaptists, who are not so skillful "in seducing," should if admonition, prison, and public humiliation do not avail, be banished (Bossert, 53 f.). The duke issued orders to confiscate the property of all unmarried Anabaptist exiles. He who is banished without oath and returns shall receive either corporal or capital punishment; he who is banished under oath, shall receive both corporal and capital punishment (Bossert, 60). But capital punishment was never inflicted. When the councilors explained that banishing the Anabaptists from one country to another merely spread their doctrine, Duke Ulrich gave the order on 15 December 1544 to have the preachers instruct the prisoners and persuade them to recant; at the next diet he would suggest a conference to decide "how to deal with such wrong and stubborn people" (Bossert, 101). His successor, Duke Christoph, also issued a mandate on 25 June 1558 ordering the proscription of dissenters (Bossert, 171). In 1614 an Anabaptist from Dettingen was refused permission to stay in the country unless he "abstained from his error" (Bossert, 854).

Under Catholic jurisdiction exile was the exception. In the Palatinate it was adopted after executions had reached their height (Beck, Geschichtsbücher, 32). In Bohemia the estates raised a protest against the execution of Anabaptists in 1529, in effect calling for other punishments such as exile.

In Moravia the Landtag at Znaim consented to the banishment of Anabaptists in 1535. A large number of fugitives were captured in neighboring lands, especially in the bishopric of Passau. The repeated demands of Ferdinand that the Moravian estates expel them (in 1540, 1546, and 1550) indicate that numerous Anabaptists were still being protected by the more benevolent barons or hiding in subterranean passages (see Lochy). Martial developments occupied the king's attention, pushing the persecution of Anabaptists into the background. Later it revived. In 1563, when Ferdinand sent his son Maximilian to Moravia, the estates requested Maximilian to influence his father to permit the Anabaptists to stay, in view of the labor shortage, since there were among them "neat and artistic craftsmen in all fields," who had done not a little work in Moravia. Maximilian answered evasively, but did nothing against the Anabaptists. But when he assumed the government, and Pope Pius V threatened to depose him if he permitted Protestantism free exercise of religion, he ordered the expulsion of the Hutterites by the end of the year at the Landtag in Brno in 1567; if they returned they faced death. The estates protested that exile was impossible, for the Anabaptists "would not want to leave. And they would not know whither to go; they would rather be killed than expelled." In reply to the request of the estates that the king inform them what steps to take if the Hutterites refused to go, the king said he would consider the problem. But there was no further word, nor did the problem come up for discussion at any future Landtag (Hruby, 21 ff.).

When in a humaner era the death penalty for deviation of religious ideas was no longer possible, it was gradually replaced by exile, which was in its turn gradually abandoned too. In France a mandate of Louis XIV, 13 August 1712, decreed that Mennonites must leave the country, but it was only partially enforced. The last major exile of Anabaptists on religious grounds was the expulsion of the Hutterian Brethren from Transylvania when police conducted them to the Polish border and left them to their fate in the mountains, under penalty of death if they returned, because they had refused to become Catholic (see Kuhr, Joseph). However, as late as 1780, Bishop Johannes Nafziger of Essingen in the Palatinate was sentenced to be exiled from the Palatinate because he had baptized two former Amish Mennonite orphan girls who had been reared in a Catholic orphanage.

In the Netherlands there were during the rise of Anabaptism (about 1532) a few cases where Anabaptists were banned from a city. In 1535-1550, those were usually banished who attended Anabaptist meetings, but confessed that they had not been re-baptized, and did not agree with the Anabaptist principles. After persecution was over and the Reformed Church established, there were only a few individual cases of exile; for example, Hans de Ries, who was banished from Middelburg in 1578; Uco Walles, who had to leave the province of Groningen in 1637, and Foecke Floris, who in 1683 was banished from the province of Friesland.


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.

Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, I. Band: Herzogtum Württemberg. Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XIII. Band. Leipzig: M. Heinsius, 1930.

Correll, Ernst. "The Value of Family History for Mennonite History Illustrated from Nafziger Family Material of the Eighteenth Century." Mennonite Quarterly Review 2 (1928): 66-79. This article gives the Johannes Nafziger story.

Egli, Emil. Die Züricher Wiedertäufer zur Reformationszeit: nach den Quellen des Staatsarchivs. Zürich: Friedrich Schulthess, 1878.

Füsslin, J. C. Beiträge zur Kirchen- und Reformations-geschichte des Schweizerlandes. Zürich, 1741: I.

Geiser, Samuel. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden: eine Kurzgefasste Darstellung der wichtigsten Ereignisse des Täufertums. Karlsruhe: H. Schneider, 1931.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 610-612.

Hruby, Fr. "Die Wiedertäufer in Mähren." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 30 (1933).

Müller, Ernst. Geschichte der Bernischen Täufer. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1895. Reprinted Nieuwkoop : B. de Graaf, 1972.

Sehling, Emil. Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhun­derts. Leipzig, 1902: I.

Strickler, Johannes. Actensammlung zur schweizerischen Reformationsgeschichte in den Jahren 1521-1532: im Anschluss an die gleichzeitigen eidgenössischen Abschiede, 5 vols. Zürich: Meyer & Zeller, 1878-1884: I.

Author(s) Christian Hege
Samuel Geiser
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Hege, Christian and Samuel Geiser. "Exile (Banishment)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 25 Oct 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Exile_(Banishment)&oldid=146417.

APA style

Hege, Christian and Samuel Geiser. (1956). Exile (Banishment). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 October 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Exile_(Banishment)&oldid=146417.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 279-281. All rights reserved.

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