Freyberg, Helene von (16th century)

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Helene von Freyberg, a baroness, was one of the few members of the Tyrolean lesser nobility of the 16th century who turned Anabaptist. She was born at the castle of Münichau near Kitzbühel, Tyrol, Austria, and was married to Onufrius von Freyberg, Lord of Hohenaschau in Bavaria. She had three sons. About 1528 she came into contact with Anabaptists; the town of Kitzbühel was well known as a strong center of that movement. Apparently Helene was then also baptized into the new faith. As she had inherited the castle of Münichau, she gave asylum there to numberless Anabaptists who fled the harsh measures of the provincial government in Innsbruck (see Tyrol). Both King Ferdinand and Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria soon learned of the activities of this noble lady, and Ferdinand ordered expressly that "if she does not recant she has to be brought before the judges." About 1530, when the situation became very critical, she decided to flee, bequeathing her castle to her sons. Apparently she went to Constance on Lake Constance, another well-known place in Anabaptist history. Early in 1532, Ambrosius Blaurer warned his brother Thomas that Helene was in town and was known as a great admirer of Pilgram Marpeck. In November of the same year she was finally expelled from this city and her possessions were confiscated. Thomas Blaurer in a letter to his brother expressed great satisfaction about this fact. It is claimed that in 1534 she agreed to recant, but the details are uncertain. In any case the contact with the Brethren continued and her life did not become much easier.

Next we hear of Helene in Augsburg, again a big rallying point of the Brethren. (It is said that at that time the brotherhood in that city numbered about 1,100 members.) But Helene did not find rest in this city either. In April 1535 she was arrested, laid in chains overnight, cross-examined and finally banished. It appears that she then returned to Tyrol. Of her married life nothing further is recorded; the husband died in 1538, and the sons supported the mother. In 1539 her sons petitioned the city council of Augsburg to permit her to reside in that city, and to it she now returned.

A letter Caspar Schwenckfeld wrote to Helene on 27 May 1543 gives the information that through her brother-in-law Jörg Ludwig von Freyberg she had given Schwenckfeld a copy of Pilgram Marpeck's printed Vermahnung, for which Schwenckfeld thanked her now. He said that he had made a short summary of the book for casual readers, and he sent her a copy that she might forward it to Pilgram. He regretted that Pilgram could not come himself to his present place (home of Jörg von Freyberg) that they could have a full and free discussion of their problem. This letter is the last record. Her end is not known. -- RF

Members of the Tyrolean nobility now and then turned Anabaptist. Among them was Helene von Freyberg, mistress of Münichau castle near Kitzbühel, who gave asylum to many an Anabaptist (she was one of the few followers of Pilgram Marpeck).

Additional light on this noblewoman is found in the Kunstbuch, No. 28, folios 243-46, where her (undated) confession before the brotherhood in Strasbourg is given. It shows not only the remarkable level of her Christian experience but also the manner in which church discipline was exercised in the second generation Anabaptist congregation at Augsburg under the leadership of Valentine Werner and Pilgram Marpeck. Her transgression is never clearly defined, but apparently involved a business venture. She confessed that at the heart of her sin lay a rebellious attitude that had hitherto refused to accept the admonition and discipline of the brotherhood. She pleaded for the forgiveness of the church and in particular the leaders. A letter discovered by Loserth, written 6 January 1534, by King Ferdinand of Austria at Prague, advises the authorities to compel her to make an open recantation, or at least a private one before the authorities, as an example to the public (the letter indicates that the nobility were not as a rule forced to recant openly). If she performed penance and took the sacrament, he would not oppose the return of her property. The above confession may be the one she wrote after her temporary recantation. The few available facts concerning her indicate that her influence was far-reaching. -- WK


Fast, Heinhold. "Pilgram Marbeck und das oberdeutsche Täufertum, em neuer Handschriftenfund." Archiv für Refermationsgeschichte XLVII (1956): 212-242.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967, II, 502-504.

Krebs, Manfred. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, IV. Band: Baden and Pfalz. Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XXII. Band. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1951 with further reference to the Blaurer correspondence.

Loserth, Johann. Der Anabaptismus in Tirol. Vienna, 1892: 586.

Roth, Friedrich. Augsburgs Reformationsgeschichte. 2. vollständig umgearbeitete Aufl. München: T. Ackermann, 1901-1911: II (1904) 410, 426-428.

Schwenckfeld, Caspar.  Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum.  Leipzig: Breitkopf & Haertel, 1907-1961: VIII, 616-618 (with brief biography; erroneously the "book" is here named Verantwortung, Marpeck's polemical work against Schwenckfeld, to which Schwenckfeld would not have answered so mildly; only the Vermahnung was printed).

Wiswedel, W. "Freifrau Helene von Freyberg, eine adelige Täuferin." Zeitschrift für Bayrische Kirchengeschichte (1941): 46 ff.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
William Klassen
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Friedmann, Robert and William Klassen. "Freyberg, Helene von (16th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 18 Jun 2021.,_Helene_von_(16th_century)&oldid=146434.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert and William Klassen. (1959). Freyberg, Helene von (16th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 June 2021, from,_Helene_von_(16th_century)&oldid=146434.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 397; v. 4, pp. 1085-1086. All rights reserved.

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