Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)

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Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), that terrible war that was so significant to the political and economic position of Germany, was of far-reaching effect on the Mennonites as well, although they took no part at all in this war between Catholicism and Protestantism. To the Mennonites the Thirty Years' War brought one advantage, namely, that the death penalty in religious matters was no longer inflicted on them. The last death sentence passed on an Anabaptist occurred on 24 May 1618, when Jost Wilhelm, "a pious man," was executed for his faith in a village near Bregenz in Voralberg in Austria. Both Catholic and Protestant powers were occupied with other cares than the extermination of the peaceful Anabaptists.

Nevertheless the Mennonites also suffered terribly in the course of events. In Moravia, the only country in which they had been granted toleration and religious freedom at the time, the Catholic leaders, after their victory at the White Mountain near Prague (8 November 1620), were intent on either converting or expelling them. On 17 September 1622, Emperor Ferdinand II and on 28 September Cardinal Dietrichstein issued mandates banishing the Hutterites out of Moravia. More than 20,000 persons were robbed of their possessions and in spite of the cold were driven into misery with their children and their sick. They sought refuge chiefly in Hungary and Transylvania. The few who remained in Moravia were exiled by further decrees on 2 March 1624, and 17 December 1628.

In the principalities of North Germany the Mennonites were in general spared the confusion of war, though some deep wounds were inflicted here too. The village of Wüstenfelde between Lübeck and Hamburg, where Menno Simons spent the last years of his life and where he was buried, was completely destroyed. In several parts of North Germany the Mennonites were tolerated in the course of the war and were given freedom of religion, for instance in Holstein and East Friesland, as well as in Polish West Prussia, whereas they were still persecuted in Cleves, Jülich, and Berg.

The Peace of Westphalia (24 October 1648), which concluded the Thirty Years' War, secured religious equality to the great churches in Germany, but no legal status or recognition was granted to the Mennonites. After the suffering of the war years and the moral deterioration in the depopulated country, every government head was glad to have some people with moral standards who would work diligently in rebuilding the devastated country. Thus Karl Ludwig, the Palatine elector, willingly granted refuge and limited religious liberty in 1664 to Mennonites expelled from Switzerland. They settled on both sides of the Rhine; on the right bank they settled on the devastated land between Wiesloch and Wimpfen, where in the spring of 1622 the two main battles of the Palatinate were fought. Also Mennonite refugees from Flanders were accepted in Krefeld and here laid the foundation of a new industry, the manufacture of silk and velvet; Krefeld is still the German center of this industry.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 447 ff.

Author(s) Christian Hege
Date Published 1959

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Hege, Christian. "Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 2 Mar 2024.

APA style

Hege, Christian. (1959). Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 713-714. All rights reserved.

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