Frey, Claus (d. 1534)

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Claus Frey, a fanatical Anabaptist of Rottenburg, Württemberg, Germany, a furrier by trade, in 1525 fled to Windsheim, a town of Bavaria, to avoid the persecution which had set in at Rottenburg. His wife and eight children, who refused to follow him, he deserted in utter poverty, and with pious words persuaded Elsbeth Pfersfelder to accompany him. The Anabaptist congregation excommunicated him for his conduct. Upon arrival at Strasbourg, Alsace, the pair were also refused admittance into Melchior Hoffman's congregation (Gerbert, 154). The Strasbourg council condemned him to death by drowning on the charge of adultery. But Thudichum (Reformation, 620) has shown that this execution was a legal error, for his wife's refusal to follow was in Protestant lands a ground for divorce. Furthermore, death was by no means the general penalty for adultery. The Strasbourg council inflicted it because Frey was inconvenient to them, and because he was reported to be an Anabaptist, though both he and the Anabaptists denied this claim. Capito (Ein wunderbar Geschieht und ernste Warnung Gottes . . . , 1534) relates the affair, trying to show the consequence of depreciating the clergy (appointed by the council), and adds the remarkable sentence, "That the Anabaptists are so willing to die for their faith is simply the work of the devil"—the exact opposite of his words of 1528.

It is possible that the reason for the council's rejection of Elsbeth Pfersfelder's request to be likewise punished by death was a vague disquiet as to the justice of Claus Frey's execution. Thudichum, as a professor of jurisprudence, was in a position to judge impartially on the evidence. The council used this case against the Anabaptists.


Gerbert, Camill. Geschichte der Strassburger Sectenbewegung zur Zeit der Reformation, 1524-1534. Strassburg: Heitz, 1889.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 702; III, 359.

Linden, Friederich Otto zur. Melchior Hofmann: ein Prophet der Wiedertäufer. Haarlem: Ed Erven F. Bohn, 1885: 315 ff.

Medicus, Emil Friedrich Heinrich. Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche im Königreiche Bayern diesseits d. Rh.: nach gedruckten und theilweise auch ungedruckten Quellen zunächst für praktische Geistliche und sonstige gebildete Leser bearbeitet. Erlangen: A. Deichert, 1863: 52.

Thudichum, Friedrich von. Die Deutsche Reformation, 1517-1537. Leipzig: Max Sängerwald, 1907: 620.

Zeitschrift für historische Theologie (1860): 66 ff.

Author(s) Eberhard Teufel
Christian Neff
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Teufel, Eberhard and Christian Neff. "Frey, Claus (d. 1534)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 5 Dec 2023.,_Claus_(d._1534)&oldid=81016.

APA style

Teufel, Eberhard and Christian Neff. (1956). Frey, Claus (d. 1534). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 December 2023, from,_Claus_(d._1534)&oldid=81016.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 396. All rights reserved.

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