Zerotin family

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Zerotin (Zierotin; in Hutterite spelling, Scherotin), a noble Czech family that flourished in the 16th and early 17th centuries, owning large estates in Moravia and Bohemia. Some of its members admitted the Hutterites to their domains and protected them in times of adversity against royal and imperial oppression.

The ancestral home of the Zerotins lies in northern Moravia, from where they expanded to other parts of the country. They adhered strictly to the teachings of John Hus (d.1415); during the 16th century most of them were members of the Bohemian Brethren, called Unitas Fratrum, and were among the most ardent supporters of the Brethren, respected by them for their learning, devotion, and generosity.

In the 16th century the family was divided into three main branches: (a) Frederick of Zerotin (d. 1598), of the branch residing in Napajedl, Moravia, rose to prominence about the middle of the century, and became the most important personality of the Moravian nobility. He served in various capacities under three Hapsburg rulers: Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolphus II. He distinguished himself in the wars against the Turks, and in 1594-1598 held the highest office in the provincial government of Moravia, that of governor (Landeshauptmann), representing the crown in that province. By his first marriage in 1569 he acquired the manorial estate of Seelowitz (Czech, Zidlochovice) in southern Moravia, and in 1574 purchased also the smaller estate of Pausram (Pouzdrany) to round up his possessions. Toward the Anabaptists he was most kindly disposed, and at one time (1589) not less than eight Bruderhofs existed on his possessions. He died childless in 1598, and his property was divided among his relatives.

(b) Bartholomew of Zerotin (d.1569), of another branch of the family, owned land along the Moravian-Hungarian boundary. He purchased the boroughs of Lundenburg (Breclav) with several villages, including Billowitz, ca 1530. After his death the estate passed on to his son John the Younger, and in 1582 to John's son, Ladislav Velen, then still an infant but destined to a leading role in the political life of Moravia. Ladislav Velen received a careful education, studied abroad, and traveled extensively, becoming broad-minded and tolerant. He supported the Hutterites, who always praised him as their great friend. In 1589 there were on his lands not less than ten Bruderhofs. He participated actively in the rebellion of the Protestant nobles against the Hapsburgs and ardently supported the candidacy of the Count Palatine Friedrich V to the crown of Bohemia. Under this new king (1619-20) Ladislav Velen headed the provincial administration of Moravia (1619-21). After the collapse of this rebellion he left his homeland to organize campaigns for its reconquest from the Hapsburg rulers. His activities were supported by other Protestant exiles but ended eventually in complete failure. He died somewhere in Poland in 1638.

(c) John the Elder, of another branch of the family in southwestern Moravia, attended one of the schools of the Unitas Fratrum, and for some time had the learned bishop of that church, John Blahoslav, as his mentor. John the Elder's loyalty and munificence to the Unitas could hardly be surpassed. Among other things he sponsored the translation of the Old Testament into Czech by a group of scholars. Together with Blahoslav's translation of the New Testament the complete Czech Bible was printed (in 6 volumes) at John's estate of Kralice in 1579-1593, and is therefore commonly called the Kralice Bible. In 1562 John purchased the estate of Rossitz (Rosice), well known also as one of the earliest Anabaptist settlements.

After John's death his oldest son, Charles (Karl) the Elder (1564-1636), took over a large portion of the family domain, leaving the rest to his younger brother John Divis (sometimes called John Dionysius). Charles resided first at Rossitz and later at Prerau (Prerov). He was considered one of the wealthiest nobles of Moravia. He spent his formative years abroad, partly in Calvinist schools and partly in royal courts, including that of Elizabeth of England, but remained loyal to the Unitas Fratrum. Well known is his correspondence with leading Reformed theologians in Geneva and Basel. He was respected by friends and foes alike for his learning, personal integrity, and tolerant spirit. For many years he held a seat in the highest provincial tribunal, and served as governor of Moravia 1608-1615. Unlike his cousin Ladislav Velen, Charles hesitated to join the ranks of the anti-Hapsburg faction, anticipating a collapse of the Protestant revolt of 1618-1620. After the defeat of the Protestant troops at the White Mountain (1620) he was exempt from trials, confiscations, and fines. Although living in an awkward position, he nevertheless made several interventions on behalf of the Anabaptists who in 1622 were banned from Moravia and hard pressed by the victorious Catholic party (see Counter Reformation). In 1627 Charles left his homeland and settled in Silesia, but as his health declined he was granted permission by Ferdinand II to return to his castle in Prerau in 1633. Three years later, in October 1636, he died there.

Charles' brother John Divis had inherited the manorial estate of Seelowitz from his uncle Frederick and held it until his death in 1615. His attitude to the Anabaptists was just as friendly as that of Frederick, so that under his administration their prosperous communities suffered no serious damage in spite of the rising political tensions and the growth of the Catholic Church (see Moravia).

  • * * The Hutterite Chronicle mentions the different members of the Zerotin family not less than 16 times, testifying always to their kindliness and protection in the face of the encroaching power of the Hapsburgs and the Counter Reformation in Moravia. They are mentioned for the first time in 1545, when a Bruderhof was established at Bartholomew's Lundenburg estate and another at Napajedl. The last record (1624) applies to Karl von Zerotin, who tried unsuccessfully to retain the Brethren in his service in spite of the expulsion order of 1622. During the devastating Turkish Wars Frederick of Zerotin tried in vain to convince the imperial treasury (Hofkammer) in Vienna (1596) that the Brethren were not able to pay (or to "loan") the government all the money asked for. No wonder the Anabaptists deeply mourned the death of Frederick in 1598, who they called "our Fritz."

The Bruderhofs located on the estates of the different branches of the Zerotin family (in 1589 a total of 18 colonies) were as follows: Altenmarkt near Lundenburg 1545, Bisentz 1545, Durdenitz 1559, Gostal (from 1559 a Zerotin possession), Eibis or Meubes (Czech, Eivany or Ivany), Lundenburg 1545, Napajedl 1545, Neudorf near Lundenburg 1570, Nikolschitz 1570, Nusslau, Pausram 1574, Pillowitz 1545, Pohrlitz 1581, Pribitz, one of the largest Bruderhofs of the Hutterites, 1565, Rampersdorf 1545, Rossitz (from 1562 a Zerotin possession), Wacenowice 1571, Welka-Hulka (or Holka) 1560. (See Hutterian Brethren.)


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in OesterreichUngarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 322.

Chlumecky, Peter von. Carl von Zierotin und seine Zeit, 1564-1615, 2 vv. Brno, 1862.

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

Hruby, Frantisek. Ladislav Velen ze Zerotina. Prague, 1930.

Odlozilik, Otakar. Karel starsi ze Zerotina. Prague, 1936.

Author(s) Otakar Odlozilik
Robert Friedman
Date Published 1959

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Odlozilik, Otakar and Robert Friedman. "Zerotin family." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 26 Sep 2023.

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Odlozilik, Otakar and Robert Friedman. (1959). Zerotin family. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1024-1025. All rights reserved.

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