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Galleys were long, narrow, two-masted medieval war vessels with 26 benches for oarsmen, on each of which five galley slaves sat in chains to perform their arduous task. As a rule they were criminals condemned for life to this unbearably hard work. Punishment on the galleys was one of the severest penalties imposed by the seafaring peoples like France and Italy. It was also used in punishing heresy. France was the first to do this in condemning the Huguenots to lifelong galley service. Anabaptists also shared this sad fate.

In 1540, 90 Anabaptists were taken from prison in Falkenstein in Austria to Trieste by King Ferdinand, to be delivered as galley slaves to the Doge of Venice, Andrea Doria. They managed to escape. Twenty were recaptured and ended their lives at the galleys  (Beck;  see  also Aschelberger). On 12 May 1562 at Utrecht Willem Willemsz was condemned to six years of galley service (Vos).

Nearly 75 years later in the canton of Zürich (Switzerland) three Anabaptists, Hans Landis, Galli Fuchs, and Stephan Zehender, were sentenced to the galleys and were taken bound to the French ambassador in Solothurn, where they were freed with the aid of their brethren in Bern (Müller, 216). In the canton of Bern punishment at the galleys for Anabaptists was expressly rejected; but in 1648 it was applied against two Anabaptists, and in 1671 it was actually carried out against six. In two years they returned home. In 1714 five others were sent to the galleys. Two of them died at sea, but the other three were released in January 1716 at the intervention of the Dutch Mennonites. When in the following year four were again sentenced in Bern to service as galley slaves, the States General in Holland intervened and had them freed.

The sentence of galley service remains a blot of religious intolerance and violent persecution on the record of the Protestant states.


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 147.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1906): 6.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 26.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: I, Nos. 1250, 1254a, 1371, 1375-1385, 1780-1782.

Huizinga, Jakob. Stamboek van Samuel Peter en Barbara Fry. Groningen: Hoitsema, 1890: 119.

Mennonitische Blätter (1913): 15.

Müller, Ernst. Geschichte der Bernischen Täufer. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1895. Reprinted Nieuwkoop : B. de Graaf, 1972: 215-232.

Vos, Karel. Menno Simons, 1496-1561, zijn leven en werken en zijne reformatorische denkbeelden. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1914: 240.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Galleys." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 6 Dec 2022.

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Neff, Christian. (1956). Galleys. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 December 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 437. All rights reserved.

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