A Study by Henry A. Fischer
Source: Österreichischer in Franken und Schwaben: Georg Rusam
Austria, in terms of the research of the author refers only to the lands below the Enns River or the “old East Mark” later called Lower Austria, Upper Austria and the small territory called the the “Ländl” or “little or small land”. In addition there was also the neighbouring Steiermark and Carinthia (later called Inner Austria) by the Habsburgs. This area was settled by Slovenes to a great degree. The Tyrol does not play much of a role in this study as few of the exiles came from there. The major portion of his research deals with Upper and Lower Austria and two of the regions that produced the most exiles, Mühlviertel and Waldviertel. Inner Austria plays a very minor role because their exiles mostly fled east into Transylvania and especially Hungary and into Lower Austria itself.
The Austrians and Bavarians have a common ancestry. They share a common political background, dialect, art, attire and traditions. The political change occurred in 1156 when the Diet of Regensburg took action to separate the “East Mark” from Bavaria under Henry II and formed a baronetcy.
Like Germany, Austria was ripe for the Reformation. In fact some of the conditions in Austria were worse than in Germany. The clergy were hated by the peasants for their ineptness as priests and their greed. The laity was also open to humanist ideas that attacked some church practices. Almost one third of the landed estates in Austria were in the hands of the upper clergy and monastic orders. The clergy were notorious for exacting enormous taxes from their peasants. They sold pardon and forgiveness of sins for money and of course many of the clergy had concubines.
From the earliest of times there were advocates of the Reformation in the Austrian lands. Like in other places it was the urban populations in the cities and nobility who streamed into the Lutheran movement. The rural population followed them at a close distance. The quick introduction of the Reformation in Austria is not surprising in light of the connections of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
In 1521 we hear of a Lutheran preacher in Vienna who preached Lutheranism from the pulpit of St. Stephen’s cathedral pertaining to justification by faith, monastic vows, celibacy of the clergy, intercession of the saints and other issues. Many Evangelical writings and publications were distributed and read. Many of them were printed and published in Vienna itself. Although the theological faculty took steps to oppose the writings the citizens supported the circulation of Luther’s writings. Young Austrian nobles were sent to Wittenberg to attend the University there as early as 1521 to study under Luther.
But soon after the death of Archduke Maximilian in 1519, his successor Archduke Ferdinand took over the Austrian hereditary lands. On March 12, 1523 the banned all Evangelical writings with the result that there was a greater demand for them. He then accelerated his attack in November 1523 when a new bishop was installed in Vienna. More and more followers of the Reformation were imprisoned including a citizen of Vienna Kaspar Tauber. Because he refused to recant he was beheaded as a stubborn heretic on September 17, 1524 and his body was burned at the garbage dump. Such stringent actions were able to slow down the spread of the movement but it could not halt it. Not only did the nobles not become afraid but many priests, specially barefoot monks spread the teachings of Luther. In June 1525 the representatives of Upper Austria petitioned the Archduke the permit the preaching of the Gospel without any hindrances. In Inner Austria the spread of Lutheranism in the Steiermark and Carinthia was much slower. Early expressions of Lutheran preaching and teaching were reported as early as 1522 in the Tyrol. Although the Emperor expelled some preachers, Evangelical books and writings continued to be sold and priests continued to preach Luther’s doctrines.
On August 20, 1527 King Ferdinand issued a new decree against the “new heretics” in which severe punishments were threatened…imprisonment, exile, banishment, death by fire and the sword, the burning of all heretical books. But these measures were not carried out. These severe punishments were only carried out on the small group of Anabaptists who not only promoted religious teachings but their political ideas as well. As a result Baltasar Hubmayer was burned at the stake in Vienna in 1528 and his wife was drowned in the Danube. Three days later others would follow them in death.
A vicar by the name of Kaiser who lived in Waiszenkirchen in Upper Austria preached Evangelical doctrine for several years up until 1524. He was born in the parish of Raab, a former territory of Bavaria. He was arrested in 1527 in Raab where he had been staying convalescing from an illness. He was expelled from the priesthood by a church court in Passau and turned over to the secular authorities of Bavaria. Because he would not recant, the death sentence was passed over him and he was burned at the stake in Schärding on August 16, 1727. But his martyrdom had a long term and lasting effect in Waiszenkirchen. It was for his parish that many Evangelical Lutherans would go into exile in Franconia during the Counter Reformation.
The reason that Ferdinand did not carry out his decrees against the Lutherans was the fact that the Austrian nobility had a large measure of rights and privileges and powers. One of these was the discretion to decide the religion of their subjects. With very few exceptions the nobles leaned towards the Reformation and as a result gave the same right to their subjects. The nobility held Lutheran worship services in their castle chapels for which purpose they called pastors from Germany and allowed their subjects to regularly attend the services and with time built them churches of their own. Right behind the nobles stood the towns and free cities who asked for the same rights. The monasteries and convents were also affected by the Lutheran movement and had to accept and tolerate Lutheran preachers on their estates and land holdings. Protestants constituted a majority of the representatives at the provincial Diet (parliament) that collected taxes to defend the realm. The Emperor needed their support as the Turks were always a constant threat to Austria. In order to get that support the Emperor was faced with having to grant religious freedom to his subjects and vassals.
Ferdinand was not an advocate of using force in religious matters as other Habsburg rulers. After the Augsburg Confession of 1530 was presented, Ferdinand was more conciliatory with the Evangelicals. In the last years of his reign he sought to work out a compromise between the religious factions and re-unite the Church. Because his decrees had not be implemented the Evangelical movement spread and prevailed in more and more areas of Austria. In 1528 one of Ferdinand’s visitation commissions had to report that his decrees were basically ignored. Lutheran books were being circulated and read, especially in women’s convents. Priests serving in parishes under a noble patron said, “Austria, both below and above the Enns (river) and its nobles and knights and their administrators were more Lutheran than Roman Catholic.” The commission reported, “In Bruck (Steiermark) Lutherans form the majority among the population. Two of the priests have married.”
The nobles supporting Lutheran movement were the following: J?rger, Schaunberg, Starhemberg, Puchheim, Kufstein, Grabner, Stockhorner, Teufel, Sinzendorf, Raggendorfer, Landauer, Hager, Polheim, Losenstein, Volkersdorf. On a few remained Roman Catholic none of them had German names.
It was not only religious motives that led the upper and lower nobility to join the reformation movement. Much of it was anti-clerical, the lust after the church estates, search for freedom from the oppression of the Roman Church. But among the best of the nobles there was a commitment to faith and conscience, truth and the right and the willingness to risk life and property as the forthcoming Counter Reformation will attest. These nobles sought courageous Evangelical Lutheran pastors and preachers to serve their congregations and to establish an organized church system. These Evangelical believers among the nobles attended all of the national assemblies to attain religious freedom for themselves and their subjects. They also offered protection to the missionary preachers in areas where public Evangelical worship was prohibited and people met in farm houses and barns for worship. With such support from the nobles it was no wonder that the vast majority of the peasantry turned to the Reformation. The cities also followed suit: Linz, Graz, Stup. Vieanna created problems because it was the seat of Habsburg power and restrictions against the reformation were put in place. But the Evangelicals had access to the residences of the nobles and their chapels as well as in the surrounding countryside. The strength of the Evangelical movement in Vienna is indicated in the numbers of students attending the Catholic University that declined to under one hundred by 1526; in 1529 it was under thirty; and in 1532 there were only twelve students. It was only in the Tyrol that the reformation was rejected by the landed peasantry where the Habsburg prince held sway as in Bavaria and the lower nobility had little to say much about anything.
In a special canonical visitation in 1528 the findings indicated that Lutheranism had gained followers in the monastic orders. Many of them were empty within a few years and novices were sent to study in Wittenberg.
In 1557 the ambassador from Venice reported that only ten per cent of the population of the Austrian lands were Roman Catholic. And of these only ten per cent were Germans, the rest were Slavs. But the other ninety per cent were not convinced Lutherans either. In effect many people subscribed to a kind of compromised Catholicism that included communion in both kinds, opposed the Latin Mass, private confession, pilgrimages and fasting. They were protesters against what they did not like about the Roman Catholic Church. They were not “evangelical” in terms of their beliefs with regard to justification. Many simply no longer wanted to have to deal with the church.
The number one problem for the Roman Catholics was the ignorance and lack of faith on the part of the Roman Catholic clergy. In response to this King Ferdinand called upon the Jesuits for help in this regard because the bishops failed to upgrade their clergy. In 1553 the first twelve Jesuits arrived in Vienna. They were Dutch, Spaniards, Frenchmen and Italians. In 1554 they established a junior college in Vienna. A second Jesuit college arose in Prague in 1556 and in 1562 another in Innsbruck. By 1600 there 460 Jesuits at work in the Austrian lands as teachers, preachers and counsellors. Their strategy was to direct their attention to the youth, discussions with women, public debates, new cultic ceremonies, publications and flyers.
When Ferdinand became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1556 he sought to united the two confessions and called for discussions in Worms in 1557 to correct the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church to bridge the differences with the Evangelicals. Above all he sought to restore the chalice to the laity! He had already introduced this practice in 1556 in the Austrian hereditary lands. Pope Pius IV had allowed this in previously in 1554 but limited it to Bavaria and Austria. He later limited it and then cut it off entirely. Earlier Ferdinand had sought to end the celibacy of the priesthood but the Council of Trent refused to accept it (1562). In spite of that for a long time afterwards most of the Roman Catholic priests were married. This was in order to put a stop to the practice of having concubines.
Although Ferdinand was mild in his opposition to the Evangelicals he remained a true and loyal son of the Roman Church and his successor Maximilian (1564-1576) leaned in the direction of the Reformation. His tutor had been trained in Wittenberg and he associated with the Lutheran nobles of his lands. He had the writings of both Luther and Melanchthon sent to him and was in correspondence with two leading Lutheran princes, Augustus of Saxony and Christoph of Württemberg. Many were waiting for him to declare for the Reformation. But other stronger influences held him back from doing so. Respect for his father, the efforts of the Pope and the Roman Catholic princes to keep him in the fold as well as Bavaria and its close connection with the Spanish Court. There were also the arguments among the Evangelical theologians that led to the break out of sectarianism in Austria. He remained in the tradition of his father but with a greater attachment to Lutheranism. He like his father considered a reunion of the Church but with changes, restoration of the chalice, marriage of priests and Luther’s understanding of justification by faith.
Soon after he came to the throne representatives of the lands of Upper and Lower Austria sought his protection in matters of religious freedom and that there would be no secular or ecclesiastical pressure applied against the Evangleical confessions in the courts. The Emperor would have like to shelve the issue. But the pressure of the Evangelical “estates” (nobles and free cities) and his need fortheir support on other matters forced him to give in. He needed them to fight the Turks. As a result he promulgated the “Religious Concessions” on August 18, 1568. But the concessions were meant only for the nobles and knights of the land under the Enns, in other words Lower Austria and only the two estates (nobles and knights) were named but did not include their subjects of the towns. The teachings and practices of the Augsburg Confession could be carried out without any hindrances the castles, houses and the churches on the estates of the nobles and knights of which they were the patrons. But those who were Reformed or sectarian were excluded from this toleration. The publication of a worship book and agenda to be used by all of the Evangelicals was also curtailed by the King but it was still carried out. It was published in 1573. The Evangelicals now sought to form a church structure and organization to consolidate and coordinate church life. Their request to form a consistory was turned down the King chiefly because of pressures from the Pope. It would prove in possible to put the worship book in place in Lower Austria. Pastors were too stubborn or opinionated to stay within a structured form of worship. Exiled and refugee pastors were often of sectarian persuasion. Anabaptists, Flaccians and Zwinglians had found shelter with some of the nobles. But despite the setbacks the Evangelical movement continued to spread. The so-called compromise Catholicism lost more and more steam and it its place a good and authentic Protestantism took its place and after Maximilian’s death it would take on the Counter Reformation which followed. In 1580 during a visitation of the city of Horn a centre of the Lutheran movement, Dr. Lucas Backmeiser a Lutheran professor of theology from Rostock reported that 60 Lutheran pastors were active in the Waldviertel. He also noted the difficulties involved in terms of housing them and providing financial support and the level of competence of some of the men.
The estates of Upper Austria had requested some concessions of Maximilian II. He did not make the concessions but none of this prevented the strengthening of Protestantism in Upper Austria. In 1578 the three Estates, nobles, knights and towns presented a petition to the national assembly at Linz on the Church Constitution of the Evangelical estates in the land above the Enns (Upper Austria). It was signed by the nobles: Volkdersdorf, Starmberg, J?rger, Polheim, Losensein; the knights: Neuhausser, Hohenfelder, Flusshardt and H?ber; the towns: Steyr, Wels, Freistadt, LInz, Enns and Gmunden.
Their request was unacceptable to the Emperor and the Roman Catholic princes.
The brother of Maximilian, Archduke Charles (Karl) ruled Inner Austria (Steiermark, Carinthia and Krain) from 1564-1590. He brought a Jesuit preacher to Graz in 1570. Soon there were other Jesuits in Leaben, Marburg, Laibach, Klagenfurt and Millstatt. But the Emperor who was in need of money and support against the Turks allowed the nobles and knights unhindered rights to practice their faith in 1572 and in 1578 he regularized the matter to pacify the Evangelical estates. This guaranteed religious freedom to the nobles and knights and the cities of Graz, Judenberg, Klagenfurt and Laibach.
The estates in Inner Austria planned to have a church structure put in place. They introduced their own liturgy and kept the sectarians at bay. They established a ministerium to examine and approve candidates for ordination. As a result an organized Lutheranism was established and prospered. Protestantism planted deep roots. As early as the time of King Ferdinand the majority of the nobles, courtiers and townspeople and not an un-considerable number of peasants had gone over to the Reformation. They hoped to achieve complete freedom of religion under Charles. He was a strict Roman Catholic but his financial needs because of the debts of his father and the need to protect his borders from the Turks led him to reluctantly give in to their demands.
The decline in monastic life was reported in the canonical visitation of 1575. There were 21 monastic houses in the Steiermark in which there were 92 monks, 10 wives, 38 concubines and 77 children. Reported murders took place among the monks. Archduke Charles complained about the clergy, their lifestyle and greed. Meanwhile the Protestants established a seminary to train pastors.
From 1564 to 1595 Archduke Ferdinand the brother of Maximilian and his wife Philippine Welser ruled in the Tyrol. His successor was the fourth son of Maximilian also named Maximilian. There was an Evangelical movement among the miners in the Inntals region where the Roman Catholic church was in a real mess but a punitive policy enforced by the local officials held them in check. In the Tyrol the nobles did not have the same rights as in other parts of Austria and as a result the religious developments in the Tyrol paralleled those of Bavaria. It was not difficult for the government to put down the Evangelical movement with the help of the Jesuits and Capuchin orders with not too much effort or force to retain the area for the Roman Catholic Church.
Despite being denied religious freedom the royal towns still pursued the course in secret and in effect were tolerated. The citizens of the towns not only participated in the services in the residences of the Evangelical nobles who lived in their towns but also called their own pastors, built their own churches and cared for the other things that were associated with church life. They were able to do so because there was no competent Roman Catholic priests available. Churches were erected in Horn (1596), Breitenbach, Messwern, Aigen and Lapottenstein.
From the very beginning in all of Austria attempts were made to establish Lutheran schools to raise young people as Evangelicals. This included higher education as well. Schools were opened in Kalgenfurt, Loosdorf, Horn and Krems.
When Emperor Maximilian died Protestantism in Austria had reached its high point. Both the upper and lower nobility and the townspeople had become Evangelical. In 1560 there were five nobles who were Roman Catholic and in Carinthia there were four. Under Maximilian II there were three Roman Catholic nobles in Upper Austria but in Lower Austria one quarter of he nobles remained Roman Catholic. In Upper Austria the nobles and knights who were Evangelicals possessed 217 castles and there were five cities and 81 market towns that were Evangelical. Of the 600 Evangelical pastors some were former Roman Catholic priests and others came from Germany. In 1603 as the Counter Reformation began in Inner Austria, 237 nobles and knights met in Graz in celebration of Protestant Day.
There are always attempts made to associate the Peasants’ Wars with the Reformation. The Peasants’ Wars had their origin in the situation in which the peasants had to suffer prior to the Reformation. As the Reformation identified the religious abuses of the time it had to struggle against the social injustices the peasants experienced. The Lutheran emphasis on freedom was translated into political goals and ideas.
There were uprisings in Austria prior to the Reformation as was also the case in Germany. In 1472 they rebelled in Salzburg, 1478 in Carinthia and the Steiermark; 1515 war broke out in Inner Austria as well as the Steiermark and Carinthia. The cause was always the same, the increase in giving money and resources to their masters and an increase in the robot (unpaid manual labour) and providing hunting services. It led to attacking and plundering castles and other acts of force against the nobles and led to the armed putting down of the rebellion by the nobles.
As the great Peasant Wars raged in Germany in 1525 it remained relatively peaceful in Austria. But a great unrest swept through the landed peasantry but it only led to minor uprisings in Tyrol, Salzburg, Upper Austria and the Steiermark that were quickly and ruthlessly put down. Eleven peasants were hanged on one tree in Schäffling, Upper Austria and others were executed in Freistadt (Mühlviertel). The Evangelical movement had no contacts or connections with these peasant revolts. It was only at the end of the century as the Counter Reformation went into effect that new uprisings broke out in 1593, 1595 and 1597. The Counter Reformation was seen as the twin arms of the state to take away the religious and social freedom of the people. The Peasants War of 1616 was closely related to the Thirty Years War and what followed.
Austria would have become an Evangelical land if it had not been for the Emperor Rudolph II, the son of irenic Maximilian. HIs mother was Maria from Spain a fanatic Roman Catholic and his Jesuit upbringing in Spain from 12 to 19 years of age. When he became King in 1576 it was natural for the Evangelicals in Austria to feel threatened. His objective was to return all of his subjects into the arms of the Roman Church but he did not possess the resources to do so. As a result he became melancholy and retreated from the world and studied the stars instead. He did little for the Roman Catholics in Bohemia but gave a free hand to the endeavours of the bishops and Jesuits. As a result there were strong proscriptions against the Protestants of Austria. He governed through is brother Archduke Ernest and later his brother Matthias who ruled in Lower Austria from 1595 to 1612 until he was elected Emperor. In 1577 the Viennese were strongly forbidden to take part in Evangelical services of the Lutheran estates attending the national assembly. In the next year the Archduke decreed the discontinuation of all Lutheran worship for the Evangelical nobles and knights and townspeople and the banishment of Evangelical preachers and the return of all to the Roman fold. All those who were not Roman Catholics no longer had the rights of citizenship. All of the petitions of the nobles and towns against the decree were denied. More than one hundred petitions appealed to the Archduke Ernst at the Court in Vienna and resulted in three of the ringleaders being condemned to death who were later pardoned and exiled.
The carrying out of the Edict was not done hastily. Wherever it was possible to eradicate Lutheran worship i.e. Vienna, Krems, Steyr, large groups of citizens left the towns on Sundays and worshipped in the Protestant chapels of the nearby nobles despite the threats of punishment for doing so.
Now the first steps of the Counter Reformation were taken up to 1590 and were not very extreme or severe. In the 1580s some results were achieved through the support of the Emperor. The Protestant nobles of Lower Austria lost one church after another as a result of court cases and were returned for use by the Roman Catholics, and a few of the towns were “led back” to the “old faith”. The establishment of town councils that had only Roman Catholic members also strengthened the Roman Catholic minority at the national assemblies ~ in Lower Austria the Protestant estates did not join in concerted action but in Upper Austria the Protestant estates formed a united opposition against all of the actions directed against them until 1597. (The Peasants Wars 1595-1597).
The Emperor’s regulations were directed especially against the cities and towns which unlike the nobles were not protected by the concessions of Maximilian. On September 10, 1578 at the conclusion of the national assembly the towns presented a petition to the upper estates, the clergy and nobles, appealing to them not to abandon them. “Vainly have we sought to be guaranteed the freedom of our religion, although we are as faithful and loyal to Lutheran teaching as are you nobles. We cannot deny our faith and yet that is what is being attempted to force us to follow the papal dictates of Vienna.” The nobles gave them their vocal support but did not want to use force against force. The towns and cities were left on their own. The townspeople of the Seven Towns of Upper Austria bound themselves to one another to perform passive resistance against the officials and declared that they were prepared to leave their homeland and all of their property in order to be free to practice their Lutheran faith. Here and there the towns resisted the order to dismiss their pastors and replace them with Roman Catholic priests as was the case in Enns. The peasantry soon expressed their dissatisfaction when Roman Catholic priests were to replace their Lutheran pastors who had been serving them for a long time. This unrest was seen the breaking point leading to an uprising by the higher clergy and the Roman Catholic priests sent to serve them. In 1589 one hundred and twenty armed peasants from the parish of Sierning appeared before the nobles in the area with the plea for protection against the religious persecution to which they were being subjected.
The leading figure behind the Counter Reformation was Melchior Klesl (1552-1630). He grew up in an artisan’s family in Vienna that was Protestant. He was won for the Roman Catholic faith by the Jesuit, Scherer and attended the Jesuit junior college in Ingolstadt to be trained for hierarchical leadership. By 1602 he was the bishop of Vienna. Emperor Maximilian appointed him to be his first minister in his court and the church awarded him the cardinal’s hat. As the head of the Counter Reformation in Lower Austria he organized the departure of the Lutheran pastors and teachers, the confiscation of books, closure of churches, the removal of Protestant mayors and town councillors and the arrest and exile of any pastors or teachers who returned within three months. The majority of the population allowed themselves to be converted through these tactics. In 1584 he carried out the installation of a Roman Catholic priest in Krems. In 1586 the Jesuits were introduced into Lower Austria. When the townspeople rebelled against the action taken in 1588 military force was used to bring it about and severe punishments were inflicted upon the town. At that time many of the Evangelicals began to leave and emigrate elsewhere…they were the first in a long stream of exiles to follow.
One of Klesl’s cronies was Ulrich Hackl in Waldviertel in Lower Austria also a son of Protestant parents in Vienna who fell away from the Lutheran faith. In 1581 he came as the priest to the town of Zwettl and afterwards became the abbot of the Cistercian monastery from 1586-1607 and became one of them most successful campaigners for the Counter Reformation.
The powerful opposition of the whole population against the religious regulations of the Emperor led him to take a milder position. The peasants and towns planned how to carry out their own opposition. In the Mühlviertel the peasants banded together to take action if a Roman Catholic priest was sent to them. In 1594 the same occurred in St. Peter, Altendfelden and Rohrbach. The situation became more and more threatening. On July 12, 1595 the assembled estates ordered that wherever there were Protestants to be found they should be allowed to have a pastor but the Roman Catholic prelates opposed this action. But the zeal for the Counter Reformation was stuck in the throats of the higher clergy, especially the abbots in the monasteries.
The estates approached the Emperor to allow their pastors to remain in office and continue to preach. In response the pastors were accused of using their pulpit to arouse the people against the authorities and were to be banished. The door was open for new regulations against the Evangelicals. The social injustices the peasants suffered became even harsher and led to anger directed against the nobles and prelates. Over one thousand peasants from Upper Austria joined together and occupied the region of Peuerbach. Another three thousand took Riedau, Aschach, Eferding and other districts south of the Danube. Knights and nobles took up arms and the Emperor sent infantry, knights and horses. Gotthardt Starmberg fell on the peasants at Zell and defeated them but at Grieskirchen he suffered a setback. There were negotiations with the peasants of Upper Austria and the Emperor allowed them to return home, December 6, 1595. Most of the peasants became reconciled. Only now the unrest spread to Lower Austria where five thousand peasants moved towards Steyr but of course were unable to take the town. Bloody battles took place in Lower Austria at St. P?lten where they stormed the town and monastery and in Upper Austria the unrest flamed again and was put down ruthlessly by Starmberg involving countless atrocities. Twenty-seven peasants were hanged and many homes were put to the torch. The peasants presented a petition to the Emperor on April 10, 1597. His response included, “…you must restore Roman Catholic priests in your parishes and your own so-called preachers are to be driven off.”
Counter Reformation commissions, accompanied by one hundred foot soldiers and fifty mounted troops went from village to village and established Roman Catholic worship again and the peasants had to affirm their Roman Catholic faith. These Commissions worked very highhandedly and were only responsible to themselves.
But now the nobles would soon have complaints of their own. Conversion to Lutheranism was punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 Ducats. As a result of efforts of the Counter Reformation in Vienna many of then nobles returned to Roman Catholicism since 1585. For instance, Hans Wilhelm von Sch?nkirchen of Lower Austria. Right after his conversion he brought the Jesuit Scherer to his estates to convert his subjects from their Lutheranism. In 1587 he sold his estate to Hans Friedrich Zinzendorf who brought a Lutheran pastor to serve the people again. In 1596 the Emperor promulgated a decree that forbade the estates (nobles and knights) to intercede for their subjects in matters of religion. Strong prohibitions were issued against towns and market places to prevent them from keeping pastor/preachers of their own, or in their homes in the vicinity. This edict of 1596 was strictly carried out. The following nobles were fined for not expelling their Lutheran pastors: Polheim and Starmberg were fined 5,000 Ducats and J?rger paid 2,000 Ducats.
The estates of Protestant nobles in the vicinity of Vienna were a special thorn in the flesh for Klesl. But these villages were not re-catholicized until the rule of Ferdinanad II.
In the cities and market towns all forms of non-Roman Catholic education and the installation of non-Roman Catholic preachers was strictly forbidden. Nor were any Evangelical books permitted. And the rights of citizenship in the town were denied to all non-Roman Catholics.
Upon action by Klesl in 1602 the Edict of 1578 was restored and made more repressive. A commentator records, “No sooner had 15 towns in Lower Austria been “reconciled” to Roman Catholicism. Seventy-five churches here and sixty in Upper Austria were taken away from the Protestants and converted to Roman Catholic use. There were also many indications that the officials were planning to attack the religious rights of the nobles at any time…”
The estates prepared themselves. They formed close relationships with the Protestant princes of Germany and asked for the judgement of Protestant universities on their legal case on the issue of religious freedom. In 1604 they asked for the candid declaration of the Emperor since they not honour or obey the Emperor’s resolution and could lose their lands because of it. Matthias in turn revoked the Religious Concessions Edict in order to convert the nobility back to Roman Catholicism. But the uncertainties of the time, like the uprising in Hungary and a resulting crisis in the house of Habsburg led to leaving the religious issues in the land up in the air.
Emperor Rudolph campaigned even harder against the Evangelicals after the peasant’s uprisings especially against the cities and towns not covered and protected by the Religious Concessions of his father and all Evangelical preachers and teachers were to be removed. But he was unable to put an end to the Evangelical movement. The population remained steadfastly Evangelical. Especially in the capital of Upper Austria , in Linz, even though the Jesuits had been resident in the city since 1600. The Roman Catholic church and the priests had little attraction for the people.
The Salzkammergut in Upper Austria in the mountain Alpine region became an Evangelical stronghold. In the summer of 1600 the commander of the region attempted to carry out the Counter Reformation in the area. The populace afraid of forced conversation to Roman Catholicism wrote to the Emperor in an attempt to prevent it. The Emperor who was in Prague at the time had their representatives who had brought their letter imprisoned and gave the order that whoever would not acknowledge the Roman Catholic religion had three months to sell their goods and property and emigrate elsewhere. As a result of being informed by the Emperor’s official of his response to their letter the salt workers, miners and peasants banded together in Hallstatt on July 30, 1601 and took the official prisoner and led him to Ischl while the Roman Catholics fled from the region and proceeded to call a Lutheran pastor to come to serve them. But in February 1602 the Archbishop of Salzburg (Wolf Dietrich) sent 1,200 soldiers into the area and drove out and dispersed the local population. The leaders of the “rabble” were executed and the houses of all of those who had fled were burned to the ground. IN this way the “revolt” was put down but the fire was not extinguished and it remained hidden from all of the onslaughts of the Counter Reformation right up to the present day.
The monastery at Schlägl held the villages of Haslach and St. Oswald in Mühlviertel in its holdings. The abbot set out to quickly convert the population but the inhabitants of Haslach did not want to commune, only 71 persons responded. In St. Oswald there were only 40 peasants of whom six complied. In 1600 the Bishop of Passau was told of these stiff necked people. He sent two learned commissions to Hallstatt who were unable to do much. The Passau delegates complained about the self seeking businesses, alcoholism, adultery and witchcraft of the population the perpetuators of which should be taken to the dungeons of the Marsbach fortress. The bibles that were confiscated from the Lutheran population filled a large wine barrel and were sent to Passau. They eventually had to withdraw and peace returned.
Emperor Rudolph’s condition and mindset deteriorated right up to his death and his replacement was his next oldest brother Matthias as the head of the House of Habsburg in 1606. On January 13, 1612 he was elected Holy Roman Emperor. He was not interested in the affairs of government and was a lover of music and the theatre. He left most things to his right hand man Bishop Klesl. There was a great gulf between the royal court and the Protestant estates of Austria and Bohemia.
But in 1606 while Rudolph and Matthias were at odds, Hungary and the hereditary Austrian lands achieved the right of religious freedom and Moravia also received guarantees to that effect. “Capitulation Resolutio” in 1609 guaranteed the perpetuity of religious freedom Maximilian had granted to the estates including the nobles, knights and towns. Rudolph made all kinds of wide reaching concessions to the Protestants of Bohemia. As a result the Evangelicals enjoyed a decade of relative peace as the two brothers feuded over territory and control which finally ended in 1612 with the death of Rudolph who was mourned by few.
During this period congregations often change allegiances with the coming of a new pastor priest. But because Matthias did not have the strength or power he was unable to carry out the Counter Reformation by force. He only won small local struggles against the Evangelicals and thereby also created a great deal of bitterness toward himself.
In Vienna where the estates were meeting those from Lower Austria sent a letter to Matthias asking for written guarantees of their old rights. He would not do so. In response they left Vienna but the 80 Roman Catholic nobles remained. This was seen as an open break. On September 11, 1608 the 180 Evangelical nobles and knights from Upper and Lower Austria refused to do homage and left as a united force to Horn. Here they gathered their troops. On October 4th of that same year, 166 nobles joined in a n union against Matthias who had set as his first objective the relinquishing of the connections between them and the towns with the Lutheran princes in Germany. In opposition to this group the Prelates and Roman Catholic estates formed a union on February 1, 1610 on their own. On March 19, 1609 the Emperor had issued a decree. The nobles and knights subscribing to the Augsburg Confession were guaranteed the right to practice their religion in their castles, houses and estates as well as for their own subjects and other Protestant nobles and knights.
The estates in Upper Austria were also able to get the same basic terms and agreements after forming the same kind of league and union that became law of August 30, 1609. Lutheran church life was re-established in Linz, Gmunden and Steyr.
In the Tyrol where Archduke Ferdinand, a brother of Maximilian II ruled there were no difficulties in implementing the Counter Reformation. With only a very few exceptions the nobles remained Roman Catholic and the vast majority of the townspeople and peasants did the same. There was no opposition among the estates. Of course there were Evangelicals, especially in the town of Lienz, Meran, Hall, Kitzbuhl. Among the peasants there were many followers of the Anabaptists. The population was unable to fathom the issues the Evangelicals were raising. Many did not seven know the Lord’s Prayer or the ten commandments. With such a small number of Evangelicals it was easy to deal with them, especially after the Jesuits came and established schools. Whoever would not surrender his Evangelical books and subscribe to Roman Catholicism had to go into exile and sell his property before he left.
Despite of the efforts of both Emperor Rudolph and Matthias and the Archduke Charles of Steiermark, Carinthia and Krain their attempts to recatholicize their lands only met with limited success. The political situation especially the threat of the Turks forced them to lie low on the religious scene in order to get the help of the estates and towns for their support. But that was not the only reason that the attacks on the Evangelicals became milder. They shied away from a covert forced conversion of the population although here and there such brutal acts were perpetrated. The reason was the economic ruin and social devastation that would occur. Which was a price they were not prepared to pay. The did not want to lose their population to emigration nor did they wish to have victims or martyrs in a bloody conflict. So they concentrated on minor actions against Evangelicals created a lot of aggravation with very few results. Bishop Klesl was the advisor of this approach. A drastic Counter Reformation could not be put into effect. If the successors of these Emperors followed the same path and policy in the march of history Austria would have become half Roman Catholic and half Protestant. But that was not to be because of one man, Ferdinand II the son of Archduke Charles. But he needed the Jesuits to carry it out.
Ferdinand was born on July 9, 1578 in Graz, the son of Archduke Charles and his wife Maria of Bavaria. His mother was an ardent Roman Catholic and his father was fiercely anti-Protestant and the son was raised in this environment. At the age of eleven years he was sent to school in Ingolstadt to be taught by the Jesuits. When Charles died in 1590, the estates demanded the heir return home, a demand seconded by the Emperor and his brothers because they feared the influence of Bavaria on the young bodied in 1590, the estates demanded the heir return home, a demand seconded by the Emperor and his brothers because they feared the influence of Bavaria on the young boy. The mother on her own set out to carry other own agenda. The boy remained in Ingolstadt at the Jesuit junior college and in 11592 studied at the University…physics, mathematics, history, politics and law. He returned to Graz in 1595 a model of Jesuit formation. At the end of 1596 the regency ended as he attained his majority. Before the undertook his life’s work the suppression of Protestantism, he went on a pilgrimage to Loreto and trip to Rome and made a vow to the Virgin Mary. “It would be better to rule over a wilderness rather than have no bread and water and go begging with your wife and child and let one’s body be hacked to pieces that to endure heretics in the land.” To make sure he kept his vow he chose a Jesuit, Lamarain as his confessor who kept him on track to do God’s will which would save his soul. If Ferdinand did not entirely follow the counsel of the Jesuits it was because he also had other advisors. His secular officials were also ardent Roman Catholics but they had not unlearned the political concepts and approaches that differed radically from the Jesuits. When the papal ambassador advised Ferdinand to establish the Inquisition in his territories the bishops talked him out of it because it was not a tradition acceptable in German lands. Yet, Ferdinand was the right man to carry out a radical Counter Reformation. Without hesitation he sought to destroy the rights and freedoms of the estates and thereby destroy the Evangelical movement. He would not hold back from force or bloody war and any other brutal actions it would take. He accomplished his goals by the banishment of countless thousands of the best and most skilful people in the land and drove them off and left a wilderness behind and it was these Evangelicals who would be without bread and water, who went begging with their families and others had their bodies hacked to death.
The Counter Reformation began in Inner Austria under Archduke Charles. In 1578 because of the Turkish threat he had had to make concessions for the nobles allowing them religious rights but he was not really prepared to abide by them. He was an easily influenced kind of man. The Pope and bishops as well as his wife Maria of Bavaria an ardent Roman Catholic egged him on. He called Jesuits to Graz in 1572 and supported them so that they could expand their education system to the university level in theology and philosophy. In 1583 he exiled the Lutheran pastors from St. Veit and V?lkermarkt. In 1587 he forbade the erection of any new prayer houses in the Steiermark, as well as pastors in the towns and market places and the citizens were ordered to the send their children to the “old” (Roman Catholic) school and the university in Graz. Protestants were excluded from holding office on town councils and any government position. The Protestants were not allowed to have cemeteries and non-Roman Catholics could not be buried in Roman Catholic cemeteries. Nobles who owned estates did not have the right to call or install pastors. As a result there was a great deal of passive resistance and some open unrest. Charles’ results in fact were rather meagre. When he died in 1590 his testament to his son was to root out the heretics and sects.
The Evangelicals lived in peace during the regency while Ferdinand II had reached his majority and the Emperor Rudolph II charged the regent, Archduke Ernst not to raise any religious issues.
All of this changed when Ferdinand II reached his majority. His vow would be hard to implement. Protestants were numerous and were socially prominent and as a result had some power. The nobles with few exceptions were Evangelicals. Only in the Steiermark did the Roman Catholic nobility have significant strength. It was the same in the towns, some of which were totally Evangelical like Klagenfurt and Villach as well as Laibach and in most places a large portion of the population if not the majority were Evangelical. The greater portion of the peasants in Carinthia and German-speaking Steiermark were Lutherans while the majority of the Slovenes remained Roman Catholics except for a significant minority.
In September 1598 Ferdinand ordered the expulsion of the Lutheran pastors and teachers in Graz. These fourteen men included the renowned astronomer, Kepler, all had to leave within fourteen days and left for Hungary. The same occurred to the pastors and teachers in Judenburg and Laibach. Further it was decreed that all pastorates were to be occupied by Roman Catholic priests and also all patronage churches and chapels. Finally there was an attack on the rights of the nobles but any protests against the decree went unheard. In the fall of 1599 Ferdinand moved to a radical imposition of the Counter Reformation in the Steiermark.
A “reformation” commission including Count Andreas von Herbertstein and the abbot of Admont moved into the royal towns and market towns as well as the remotest valley to destroy the Lutheran prayer houses or handed them over to the Roman Catholics, installed Roman Catholic priests, burned all Lutheran tracts and books and convert all of the population to Roman Catholicism. This is how the “true” Reformation of the Church was to be carried out. This was to be carried out without any unnecessary cruelty or harshness. But to play it safe the commission called in 500 to 800 troops to accompany them to make any opposition impossible. They began at Eisenerz where the numerous miners had embraced the Evangelical faith zealously. Then followed Aussic, Grobring, Rottinmann, Schladning and others. Gallows were erected everywhere. Books were burned, individual Protestants were lashed at whipping posts and many were taken to the prison in Graz. Fines were also imposed. In some of the communities the soldiers remained and were quartered in homes at the community’s expense. In the Enns valley three Lutheran churches were set on fire and the scorched walls were pulled down after.
The commission then moved on to the lower Steiermark and finally to Celle and Windeschgrätz. Here more churches were damaged and destroyed. The walls around Protestant cemeteries were torn down. All of the inhabitants had to appear before the commission where a deadline was set for them to “return” to the Roman Church. If they did not comply within that period they had to sell their property and pay a ten per cent tax to emigrate. In some communities there were large numbers who sought to be emigrants i.s. Schlading. One hundred and ten miners and peasants and their families as well as twenty-three townspeople left their homeland in order to remain loyal to their faith. They numbered about six hundred persons. While on the other hand in a few towns the population was inconstant. Only eighteen families from Eisinerz left, while in Judenburg only nine families did so and in Aussic no one left.
Following the spring and summer actions of the Counter Reformation in 1600 in the remaining parts of the Steiermark the capital city became the final target. On July 31st all of the citizens and officials in Graz were to gather at the parish church. Following a sermon by Bishop Brenner each man had to appear before the commissioners seated at a table. Half of them claimed that they were already Roman Catholics and others asked for time to think it over. One hundred and fifteen others including many officials and servants of nobles were to leave the land within a designated period of time. The Lutheran books that were turned over to the commission filled eight wagons, there were about 8,000 copies and were burned in the public square. By Easter 1601 there were 4, 170 persons who had made their confession.
In the summer of 1600 the order was decreed to end all Protestant church life in Carinthia and all Lutheran pastors and teachers had ten days to emigrate. In September the commission under the leadership of Bishop Brenner, the “hammer of the heretics” and the commander of the military, Johann von Ortenburg accompanied by 300 musketeers appeared. Here and there peasants armed themselves. In Villach the entire population was under arms but at the last moment they had backed away from battle. In Klagenfurt there were great difficulties encountered by the commission because the citizens and town council resisted giving up their faith. When the deadline was reached for them to choose to become Roman Catholics or emigrate that the vast majority complied at least outwardly while fifty citizens of the town and their families joined the emigration.
In Krain the work of the commission get underway at the end of 1600. In the small towns there was little opposition but small numbers of Lutherans chose to leave. The populace of Laibach was more stubborn, almost all of them were Lutherans. People were still paying fines in 1604 for refusing to go to confession. Protestantism continued there as an underground movement for several decades after.
The nobles and knights were excluded from the expulsion order but they had to contend with other regulations of Archduke Ferdinand. They had to expel their Lutheran pastors and were forbidden from leaving the land to attend Lutheran worship elsewhere or have a child baptized or married and could not correspond with Lutheran clergy. They were relieved of all government and official positions. They had to send their children to schools operated by the Jesuits if they wanted them to have a higher education. Up until 1615 they could retain Lutheran officials on their estates, servants and household tutors. This was rescinded and only Roman Catholics could be employed. On August 1, 1628 the personal religious freedom of the nobles was brought to an end. They were ordered to Roman Catholicism or to leave the land within a year. The last order was made even more stringent in that all children who were minors would be left behind and given Roman Catholic foster parents to raise them. As a result the vast majority of the nobles chose to emigrate. A report from 1652 accounted for over 800 noble personages (from 51 noble families and 83 knights and their families) left Inner Austria for Germany in order to keep their faith.
As a result of the vast numbers of emigrants who fled to Germany, the former close relations between Germany and Austria became strained and distant and would never be the same again. Political division was the way of the future. Inner Austria went into decline in every aspect of life that is still noticeable to this day.
Since the early 17th century the Protestant majority of the nobles and knights in Upper and Lower Austria formed a league to support one another against infractions against their religious rights (1608). The Roman Catholic minority did the same to promote the Roman Church. This heightened the unrest between them.
By and large the noble estates of the Austrian lands sought to use the laws, regulations, etc. to advance their cause as well as positions. Passive resistance was second nature to them. When Ferdinand II came to the throne he received the homage of the Roman Catholic estates and most of the Lutheran nobles below the Waldviertel. The other Protestants did not comply. Most of them met again in Horn and allied themselves with the Protestant rebels in Bohemia and Moravia who had raided Austria as far as the Waldviertel. They even offered the chosen king of the Bohemians, Prince Frederick of the Palatinate the lordship of Lower Austria. The Lutheran nobles in Upper Austria were also part of he league later. Their motives were to achieve religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
Ferdinand II called for an assembly of the estates at Vienna on April 10, 1620 and the Protestant estates below the Waldwiertel attended to do homage to him and the other Protestants remained in Horn. Ferdinand promised the Evangelicals that if they withdrew from the alliance with the Bohemians he would allow them to continue in their Lutheranism and the other privileges they had always had. The Protestants in attendance joined the Roman Catholic nobles in doing homage. But the other Protestants were not satisfied with the promises of the Emperor and continued in the alliance with Bohemia. As the Thirty Years War was now in its first stages the Bavarians came to Ferdinand’s aid and invaded Upper Austria burning and destroying countless villages and the Evangelical nobles were not match for General Tilley and his troops and therefore went into retreat. At the end of July 1620 the Roman Catholic armies occupied Linz and the estates had to do homage to Ferdinand without any assurance of their rights and privileges. They had to turn over 3,000 troops to their forces attacking Bohemia. Those nobles who still refused to do homage to Ferdinand were addressed in an Imperial Patent and thirty-one of them were charged with rebellion and their lives and property were declared lost. Horn was now occupied by Imperial troops and burned it just like the Bohemians had vandalized the town before. The Imperial troops then moved north into Bohemia and on November 8, 1620 they engaged in the Battle of White Mountain.
Their leaving the area had implications and importance for the destiny of the Lutheran estates in Austria. They still did not realize what kind of threat they faced and refused to pay fines to help with finances for the war with Bohemia. Only after the Emperor arrested many of the nobles and set up a punishment commission did they finally submit to him. They had to beg on their knees for pardon and pay a fine of 1,000,000 Gulden (later reduced to 600,000) and leave their privileges in the hands of the Emperor and good will who alone had the power to resolve all religious affairs. On February 27, 1625 the last regulation give the Emperor the right to install priests in the parishes on the estates of the nobles.
Those nobles who had not done homage by 1620 were outside of the Emperor’s pardon. Their estates were confiscated and many were indebted and were shared with newly created nobles and knights. Some of the families who were now landless and fled to foreign lands including the following: Puchheim, Kuefsteiner, Starmberg, Grabner, Landau, Hofkirchen, Thurn, Thonradl, Wurmbrand, R?mer, Nütz, Hilleprandt, Friedensheim, Teufel, Gregoritsky, Stadl and Wolzagen.
Ferdinand achieved his goal in breaking the power of the estates. The Evangelical movement no longer had the support of the nobles. The major hindrance to the Counter Reformation had now been removed.
A further result of the Bohemian rebellion was the occupation of Upper Ausrtia by Bavarian troops. Ferdinand had to pay his brother-in-law Maximilian of Bavaria for his support against the Bohemians and used Upper Austria for that purpose. When Bavarian troops moved into Lower Austria and took control with an occupation force they left 5,000 men behind. These troops like those who moved on to Bohemia burned and pillaged the land to their heart’s content. Killed from village to village. Bavaria now played a leading role in the bring about the Counter Reformation in the area. Hatred for Bavaria became the sign of patriotism and anti-Roman Catholicism.
After he put down the Bohemian uprising Ferdinand could devote himself to his favourite mission the carrying out of the Counter Reformation in Austria. It was now the time for the land above the Enns (Upper Austria) which was occupied by Bavarian troops. His brother-in-law did not want to proceed and wanted to wait until his forces left the area. But Ferdinand demanded he proceed and attack the Evangelicals. On October 4, 1624 Ferdinand issued an Imperial Mandate that was announced throughout the land with trumpet fanfare: Protestant preachers and teachers had eight days to resign and leave the land immediately. That was always the first step in every attempt to re-catholicize the land, to rob congregations of their shepherds and the orphan flock would be easier to influence. The nobles were still allowed to practice the evangelical faith with the strong prohibition that the peasants on their estates could not participate. They too had to send away their pastors and teachers. Not less than 115 Lutheran pastors were expelled from Upper Austria and had to earn their bread in a foreign land. Most went westwards to Germany where they often had to move around a lot and suffered a lot of need and misery until they found a new home and ministry. Ferdinand again set a “Reformation” commission into operation again. Adam, Count von Herbertsdorff, Dr. Georg Falbe, Abbot Dr. Johann Baptiste Spindler and Konstantine Gruckmann.
In the oldest church records in Reichenau we can read, “1624 the preachers were expelled from here”. The regulations of Ferdinand were strictly implemented. It was not difficult to expel the pastors, a contingent of Bavarian soldiers was enough to put down any opposition put up by a pastor or a congregation. More difficult than that was installing a Roman Catholic priest in his place. They had to go to other countries to find priests, primarily Italy. Most of them could hardly speak German. Hardly the best or well prepared priests came to Austria and the worst complaints against them were the same old complaints about concubines, greed and gluttony.
The resistance offered by the population was passive. The Evangelically minded among the people did not attend the worship conducted by the priests and assembled instead in private homes or simple services where they read from the German bible and books of sermons and same Evangelical hymns from their hymnbooks. From time to time they went to Ortenburg in Lower Bavaria, a small Evangelical enclave ruled by an Evangelical noble or to the old Evangelical city of Regensburg or to Lower Austria where the Counter Reformation was not yet in effect. For baptism and married Evangelicals left the land. In January and February commissions were sent out to “reform” the population i.e. make them Roman Catholics. Everywhere the commission went it handed over churches, schools and hospitals to Roman Catholic priests and filled all official positions with Roman Catholics and ordered the attendance at Roman Catholic services by all of the local population and forbade visiting Evangelical churches outside of the land as well as the reading of possession of Evangelical books. As a result Ferdinand issued his Reformation Patent on October 10, 1625 much more severe than all that had preceded it.
Point One: Evangelical preachers and non-Roman Catholic teachers remain outlawed. The holding of services and meetings, the reading of books of sermons, the participating in preaching services in foreign lands were strictly forbidden. Point Two: Every one had to attend Roman Catholic services from beginning to end or pay fines. Point Three: No one was allowed to cook meat on fast days or during Lent. Point Four: All of the artisans had to participate in religious processions. Point Five: No one was allowed to have their children receive an education in non-Roman Catholic schools in other territories or lands. Point Six: Those who had Evangelical books in their possession had to surrender them within a month. Point Seven: Everyone had until Easter 1626 to convert to Roman Catholicism or until then they were free to emigrate. Whoever remains and is stubborn and resists conversion will be forced to leave the land and pay a tax equal to ten per cent of the worth of their property. Whoever converted had to present their absolution certificate to the commission. Those who did not make their confession would receive punishment. Only the “old” nobles were able to continue as Evangelical Lutherans and remain in the land.
It is obvious that these measures were in the Jesuit “spirit”. A new commission was appointed to carry out the regulations of the Patent under governor Herbertsdorff. At the request of the estates those choosing to emigrate had an extension of two years to enable them to sell their homes but the punishments were more severe. Now there were additions to the regulations that included the payment of taxes for the next year, the payment for all documentation necessary to leave, citizens of towns and market towns were assessed for a rebellion fee to go towards the debts of the community, as well as a contribution to the establishment of an endowment for the Roman Catholic clergy. The emigration was to be made as difficult as possible.
The seven cities of Upper Austria that were royal towns were excluded from the guarantees of religious freedom even though they sought the same right that the nobles had. Linz, Wels, Gmunden, Enns, Freistadt, V?cklbruck and Eferding. They installed their own Evangelical pastors and provided Evangelical worship and were the mainstay of Protestantism. But they had no promises or assurances that these rights would not be removed. In February 1626 the commission began its task. The leading citizens of the towns were interrogated and their responses were recorded whether they wanted to become Roman Catholics or wanted to emigrate. For this purpose Capuchin and Franciscan monks preached and took over the teaching in the schools and began to work on the whole population. In the meanwhile severe fines and punishments were handed out to all who did not observe the days of fasting or failed to attend mass. At the beginning of March there were some who wanted to emigrate and the powers that be raised the “emigration tax”. For example in Enns it was up to one half of the family’s estate and goods. As a result the value of their houses fell as a flood on the market occurred and all they got were rock bottom prices. It is understandable that many hesitated and held back from emigration. But after Easter the commission tried a new form of coercion. The troops brought by the commission were quartered in their houses and they had to provide for all their needs and had to contend with their loose living and disorderly behaviour with no way to restrain them. In the town of Steyr the rich townspeople had to provide for one hundred or more soldiers, others had ten to twenty. In order to escape the measures it is understandable that many outwardly conformed to Roman Catholicism. But at that time a very large portion of the population, about half of the populations of the towns mainly the best and skilled and of good character prepared to emigrate to preserve their faith and conscience. An example of this is Enns. In the year 1629 only 312 houses owned by citizens of the 600 houses in the town were occupied. In Linz of 286 houses only 166 were still standing. In Wels 121 houses were put to the torch, in V?cklbruck all of the houses were empty except for 16 that were occupied by residents.
Because of the difficulties and restrictions in selling their houses and property some simply walked away from them and left everything behind and left Upper Austria secretly. A correspondent in 1626 reports, “There have been several thousand who have left everything, houses, land, property and taken only their wives and children with them.” These properties were confiscated by the government. From the outset one of the chief targets of the commission were Evangelical books. Houses were searched for them since January 1626. In Ennsdorf a wagon full were assembled. In Steyr in four days twenty wagons full of books were confiscated. All of course were burned.
The results of such a religious persecution in the towns left unavoidable consequences. The booming industry and commerce of the towns of Upper Austria above all the iron industry were fully crippled. The workers among the population found it easier to emigrate because they could find comparable work in Germany and be welcomed with open arms and build up the industrial base of their new homeland. But also the property owners who joined the emigration were able to re-establish themselves economically. This was especially true in Regensburg, Ulm, Augsburg, Nürnberg and Lindau. Many of the towns in Upper Austria went into decline and many of them never recovered. It would take until the19th century for industry to reassert itself in Upper Austria. The price of the Counter Reformation along with the misery and the pain that went with it in the lives of he subjected population.
Up until now the open countryside and the peasantry had escaped the unwanted attention of the commission even though the Patent of Ferdinand was also directed at the peasant farmers. But the commission was clever enough not to take on the whole population at the same time and perhaps form into an alliance. Divide and conquer was their approach. First the urban population. Then the peasants and finally the nobles. The peasants were spared from some of the fines and punishments at first. Just a few individual Roman Catholic nobles and churchmen took severe actions against their Evangelical subjects. Erasmus of R?dern who had converted also sought to lead his peasants to down the same path back to Rome. He imprisoned fourteen of them for so long until they agreed to convert. The same was the case with Count Losenstein, also a convert, who took the same action against his peasants. The Abbot of the monastery at Schlägel tossed the most obstinate Evangelicals in his dungeon. But there were exceptions. In these cases only the pastors and teachers of the Evangelicals were expelled and Roman Catholic priests were brought in to take their place despite the passive resistance of the population.
But passive resistance was not the way others chose. In Frankenburg a market town in south western Upper Austria. A Roman Catholic priest was to be installed on May 11, 1625 in the parish church at the order of Grünbacher a recent Roman Catholic convert. All of the citizens and officials were ordered to attend this celebration. But none of them entered the church, but stood outside gathering in the cemetery and more and more people, both citizens from the town and peasants for the vicinity assembled with them. There was a great deal of unrest among them and they began to scream and shout and rang the church bells and launched an attack. Grünbacher fled back to his castle but the priest was surrounded by the people, beaten and then run off. Around evening, 1500 people lay siege to the castle. They sent messages to the neighbouring communities and by next day their numbers had increased to 5,000.
The governor, Herbertsdorff heard about the uprising and gathered together all of the troops that he could find and assembled them in nearby V?cklbruck and send word to the besiegers telling them they would not be punished if they would hand over the “rabble rousers” who led them and he would attempt to do something about their grievances. The besiegers departed on May 13th. On May 14th the governor appeared with 600 foot soldiers, 50 cavalrymen, three canons and the hangman executioner from Linz. He then announced that the entire adult male population of Frankenburg and its vicinity to assemble the next day, Thursday, the 15th of May by the large linden tree in the Haushamer field. Those who come showed that they sought grace and would receive grace and those who did not show up, his life, his family and property were to be handed over to his soldiers would put a price on their heads.
Approximately 6,000 men stood by the linden tree the next day. The governor had his soldiers march in the field and asked those assembled to form a committee to meet with him. All of the representatives of the town council, the local magistrate, merchants and men from each of the parishes in the area. This group gathered together and were quickly surrounded by the soldiers and cut off from the other men. The governor then announced that the people would be pardoned if they became Roman Catholics again otherwise they would be forced to emigrate. The committee members, however, were the rabble rousers and he had to maker an example of them. He spoke to the members of the committee. “All of you deserve to be put on the rack and roasted alive but because I promised to be gracious you will only be hanged. But I will spare the lives of half of you. They were to cast dice in groups of two and the one who rolled the highest number would escape death.
Horror enveloped the whole assembly. But all of the pleading and complaints were of no avail the governor held to his devilish scheme. A black cloak was spread under the linden tree and pair after pair of the 36 unfortunate victims were forced to cast dice for their lives under the duress of the soldiers. Whoever lost was immediately bound by the hangman. Two of the victims were freed through the entreaties of others but the other sixteen, to which a seventeenth was later added were hung without mercy. Four of them from the linden tree. Six from the church tower in Frankenburg. Three from the church tower in V?cklbruck and three from the church tower in Neukirchen. On Saturday, May 17th the corpses were taken down by the hangman and they were spitted on stakes along the road from M?senberg to act as an example to all the people and any travellers. The names of the victims:
From Frankenburg: Christoph Strattner, David Müller and Hans Fr?dl
From V?cklbruck: Sebastian Nader, Sebastian Tüchler, Wolf Fürst
From Hausham: Georg Preiner
Georg Wilhelm from Gampeen
George Perner from Bergham
Hans Streicher from Peunt
Michael Pauer from Egnern
Abraham Mammer from Dorf
Wilhelm Hager from Kien
Johann Leutner from Windpichl
Tobias Strohmaier from Au (the tavernkeeper)
Aferwards Sigmund Farburgesell was captured and hung from the church tower in Frankenburg on May 17th. These men were seen as martyrs of the Evangelical faith.
The quiet that followed the “blood trial” at Frankenberg was only the quiet before the storm. A massive bitterness filled the land and a terrible anger filled the hearts of the Evangelicals and anger that was directed against the “bloodhound” Herbertsdorff and his Bavarian soldiers.
Herbertsdorff was born in the Steiermark in a devout Lutheran family who emigrated from Inner Austria as a result of the Counter Reformation. Because of his loyalty to the Lutheran faith he fell into the hands of the Jesuits in Neuburg on the Danube where he was trapped into converting. He was later to purchase three confiscated estates of Lutheran nobles: Pernstein, Orth and Puchheim and at “special prices”. He simply carried out the orders of his superiors, Ferdinand II and Maximilian of Bavaria. He carried out his orders harshly and gruesomely as if he had no conscience.
The people put all of the blame on him, including the blame justly earned by his two overlords. He wanted the populace to believe that the Bavarians were behind it all and have their anger directed against them. A rebel movement was in the process of development in response to the martyrs of Frankeburg led by Stephen Fadinger from Parz by St. Agatha. They went out to gain the trust of the people, organized the movement, gathered weapons and maintained communication with various groups across the countryside. All of this took place secretly and the Bavarian occupation forces were totally unaware of it. In the market at Lembach north of the Danube fighting broke out on May 17, 1626 between the peasants and twenty-five Bavarian troops who were quartered in the villagers’ homes, six of the soldiers were beaten and the others were driven out of the community. Immediately afterwards they attacked the rectory and beat up three Roman Catholic priests. During the night the peasants in the vicinity were called to arms to occupy Sarleinsbach, Rohrbach, Neufelden in the western Mühlviertel. At the same time the same message and call to arms was sent to St. Agatha and then on to Waldland and Ebene. This resulted in the movement towards the castles at Neuhaus, Schaunberg and Aschach where they get weapons. Another detachment headed for Waiszenkirchen, Grieskirchen and Peuerbach. In Peuerbach there were 250 Bavarian troops stationed there who were overpowered and some were persuaded to join the rebels.
On May 20th, Count Herbertsdoff left Linz with one thousand foot soldiers, one hundred Croats and three light artillery pieces to attack Peuerbach. He planned to use the same strategy he had used at Frankeburg, promising pardon if they surrendered and also brought along his hangman again. Only the peasants under the command of Zeller refused to comply. They had taken up good positions and proceeded to do battle. It was a horrible slaughter in which six to seven hundred Bavarian soldiers were put to death by the enraged peasants and overwhelmed the rest. Herbertsdorff was forced to flee for his life and with great effort reached Linz after riding three horses to exhaustion. This is where the peasants made their first mistake in not following him to Linz and occupying the city because the city in effect was rather defenceless. They held back and elected Fadinger as their commander in chief in Hausruck and Traunviertel and Zeller for the Mühl and Machlandviertel. They also dissipated their strength in establishing a large number of camps, Peuerbach, Weibernau, Freistadt, Ottenshein, Linz, Steyr, Enns. Small groups and detachments were also fanning out across the countryside.
Herbertsdorff challenged the estates to carry out the decrees. These men happened to be in Linz and he would not let them leave the city. He thought he needed 12,000 to 15,000 troops to put down the uprising but the Emperor and the Bavarians had their hands full in northern Germany against the Danish king. So he hatched the plan to occupy the peasants in negotiations until enough troops could be assembled. As a result all kinds of promises and concessions were made to the peasants. He assured the peasants he would take their cause for religious freedom and conscience to the Emperor and the Elector of Bavaria. The peasants allowed themselves to be taken in again. No such issues were brought to the attention of the Emperor and Bavarians.
Eventually the peasants realized that they had been taken in. Finally, Fadinger and his forces moved on Linz on June 24th. By waiting the peasants had given the governor time to fortify himself at Linz. About 8,000 peasant lay siege to the city. Unfortunately on July 3rd Fadinger was severely wounded and he died two days later. His successor as commander was Wullinger, a nobleman without fear but also too compromising. He stood pat because of the promises of the Imperial commissioners that no troops would enter the land if the peasants maintained an armistice. At the time the Imperial troops were already on their way and reached Linz on July 18th coming on the Danube by ship. There were 340 musketeers with artillery pieces, munitions and food supplies. On July 21st a great attack was launched on the city that cost 2,000 lives but without any real result. New army contingents arrived from Lower Austria and occupied the area around Linz, Enns and Eberlsberg on July 23rd. Troops came out of Bohemia under Brenner who defeated peasant bands and burned others to death who sought shelter in a farmstead. There were at least fifty peasants who were put to death plus teenaged boys. This happened on August 6th. In between, Zeller had also been mortally wounded. The peasants gave up the nine week siege of Linz on August 29th and returned home in time for the harvest.
On September 7th a truce between the two contending parties was concluded for the period from September 10th to the18th with the understanding that no troops would be brought into the land. The peasants were prepared to be obedient to the Emperor and accepted the terms of the truce ~ because a pardon was promised to all of them except the ringleaders. In fact, Ferdinand wrote to the Elector of Bavaria about the cruel occupation of the land and the severity of the Bavarian troops towards the populace. But the Elector simply saw this as an attempt to get him to leave the land. He ordered his troops in Passau and along the border with Austria to enter and further occupy Upper Austria regardless of Ferdinand’s wishes in the matter or the ceasefire. On September18th before the end of the ceasefire the Count von Holstein sailed down the Danube from Passau with 4,000 men, 100 knights in 84 boats to Upper Austria and landed at Wesebeufer. The peasants felt themselves betrayed as the newly arrived troops plundered, burned, raped and murdered. No wonder their anger was once more inflamed. Messengers went out quickly to the villages with a call to arms. With wild charges, the peasants overwhelmed the Bavarian troops and defeated them or sent them packing and captured a lot of their war booty. This was on the morning of September 19th. The same fate awaited the other Bavarian reinforcements in the south the next day consisting of 3,000 troops and 700 cavalrymen at Korneredt. The victorious peasants were no longer prepared to be subjugated. They defeated their enemies at Traunfall, Wels and Lembach. They even took Mühlviertel where Brenner’s soldiers were massacred. On October 8th the baker, David Spat, led the battle and took Marsbach, Hofkirchen, Sarleinbach, Pechstein, Schlägl and Argen.
The peasants in Hausreckviertel remained under arms. The Bavarians got a new commander von Pappenheim, a stepson of Herbertsdorff. He moved down the Danube from Passau across the Mühlviertel to Linz where he gathered all the troops including the Emperor’s. On Novembrer 8th he had forces numbering 8,000 men that he led to the city of Eferding to the west of Linz. At Embinger Holz he was confronted by the peasants who sang psalm hymns before the battle. The troops attacked four times and each time they were driven back. After ongoing onslaughts against the poorly armed peasants von Pappenheim was able to force them to retreat into the forest where a savage battle ensued. About 3,000 peasants offered up their lives. Promises of pardon were made. Pappenheim reported, “It was the most fantastic fight that happened in years. Not a singe peasant threw away his weapon. Even fewer deserted. Even though they had to yield it was only step by step.” What kind of heroism these peasants showed. It was the heroism that expressed their deep faith.
A portion of the peasants managed to move southward towards Gmunden and occupied the area around the city, then retreated back to Pinsdorf as the united army of Bavarians and Imperial forces appeared at Gmunden on November 14th. The next day was Sunday. The peasants joined together to worship. Firing broke out but they continued singing: Es wolle Goot uns gnädig sein; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott; Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort. A young student preached and concluded, “The Lord has died for us and so we also desire to die for Him.” In response the peasants chanted three times: “Jesus stand beside us. Help us, do not forsake us.” Then they charged into the oncoming Imperial troops with such force that the soldiers began to flee before them and were chased all the way back to the walls of Gmunden. In the meanwhile, Pappenheim had taken his troops to the other side of the mount. It was here where the grimmest battle took place. He drove the peasants back seven times. The battle raged for four hours until finally the peasants decamped. Of the 6,000 peasants about 2,000 had fallen.
The sword that Pappenheim used at the battles of Emlinger Holz and Gmunden he left in the parish church in Gmunden to honour St. George. The destiny of the peasants of Upper Austria was decided at the battle of Pinsdorf. There were only running battles now. At V?cklbruck 2,000 peasants died and 2,000 more at Wolfsegg where they were routed. The larger groups disbanded and became fugitives in the forests.
The troops took up winter quarters. After all of the death, destruction and plundering the population now how to provide for 12,000 men over winter. All the peasant leaders who had not been able to escape from Upper Austria had to suffer terrible reprisals by law. Their property was confiscated. Fadinger and Zell’s wives and children were banished from Upper Austria forever.
The result of the peasant uprising in Upper Austria and the carrying out of the Counter Reformation created such deep wounds that it took a long time to recover and heal. Hundreds and hundreds of houses were burned or the owners were robbed. Thousands of people were killed or left or fled the country. The land was brutally wasted by the soldiery, plundered the people, took away their crops and cattle. For every ten persons living in the seven royal towns only two or three and sometimes four still remained by September 1627. Castles and churches suffered great destruction and plundering. Gmunden was plundered and burned.
The peasants were accused of being a “murder lusting band”. That is untrue. They had simply dared to fight back. That was their crime. The other question is, was the uprising of the peasants due to religious reasons. There were overpowering political issues for the peasants. They believed they were being patriotic in opposing the oppression of the Bavarians and thought they were fighting for the Emperor in Vienna. The Bavarian soldier who threatened his home and family was the enemy. When faith was an issue they opposed force with force.
The trials and executions of the peasant leaders followed in the town square of Linz on March 26, 1627 about thirty of them, including Hans Fischer from Eck, the only one who remained Evangelical to the end while the others hoped to be pardoned by converting. They were hanged, drawn and quartered.
On the same day that the executions took place in Linz, March 26, 1627 Ferdinand II informed his subjects in Upper Austria that the Counter Reformation would now be carried out to full completion. The Commission in Linz ordered all of the non-Roman Catholics in the towns and market towns who had declared that they would leave the land but had remained, either had to leave Upper Austria in one month or convert to Roman Catholicism. At the same time the peasants were warned against seeking the services of non-Roman Catholic clergy elsewhere, to worship in the parish church, have their children baptized there, be married there, to send their children to Roman Catholic schools, to observe all of the fast days and festivals of the Roman Catholicism.
At the same time action was also taken against the Lutheran nobles who up until then had the right to choose their religion. On April 22, 1627 this right was rescinded. They had three months to decide whether to become Roman Catholics or leave the country. Many of the nobles and knights planned to leave and sought a new home in the old Empire. This included the following families: J?rger, R?dern, Polheim, V?lchadolff, Zelling, Geera, Herbertsein, Hohenfelder, Grünthal, Kirchhamer and many others. Later others would follow them. They had to sell their property within the deadline. Of course there were others willing to buy the estates and become Roman Catholics and be welcomed with open arms by Ferdinand who would reward them. Some of the families split over the issue and some converted to Roman Catholicism while the others emigrated. This was true of the Starhembergs, as well as others. Ferdinand revised and made the Patent more severe in 1629 against the nobles and the urban population and called for a general visitation in 1630 to carry out a strict fulfillment of the laws. The attempts of those who had emigrated and the Lutherans who remained behind to get better conditions failed. In fact, now matters were worse.
Some of the nobles who converted to Roman Catholicism attempted to erase their Lutheran background by their zeal for Catholicism like Count Losenstein who became a convert shortly before the peasant uprising. He threatened his Lutheran subjects with fines and punishments if they would not leave the country immediately, threw them in prisons, confiscated their property. His servants had to instruct the population to report for instruction in Roman Catholicism at the Roman Catholic priest’s rectory on a certain date. Records of communion and other duties were now kept. The Roman Catholic priest had the right to visit in any home at any time to search for Evangelical books and charge the necessary fines for their possession. All non-Roman Catholic servants, officials and assistants had to leave the land.
It is understandable that those who among the nobles converted to Roman Catholicism were either zealous or low key about leading their subjects into the Roman Catholic fold. Much more zealous were the ecclesiastical and monastic estates and the bishoprics of Passau, Regensburg and Bamberg and others. This was certainly true of the Jesuits in Traunkirchen, Pulgarn and the Emperor’s gift of the estates of Ottensheim. The Counter Reformation was now in high gear. The towns and rural areas were targeted with great zeal and all the force necessary to impose it. The Venetian ambassador in 1630 reported, “The people are driven by the soldiers to the churches to attend mass and take communion.” This no longer involved the Bavarians who were forced to leave in 1628 because Emperor Ferdinand had made a pact with Maximilian of Bavaria on February 22nd of that year to pay his war debts of 13,000,000 Gulden by giving the Bavarians the Lower Palatinate along the Rhine. Upper Austria was then evacuated by the Bavarian forces and were replaced by Imperial troops who passed through parts of the land and were quartered in others and treated the population miserably and oppressed them.
The nobles and urban emigrants found refuge in the Evangelical cities like Regensburg, Nürnberg, Ulm, Lindau and farther west and also in northern and central Germany. Skilled workers and artisans were in demand everywhere. That is why it was different for peasants who emigrated for at that time (1632) it was not easy to find land a homestead except in areas where land was being cleared in Transylvania and north eastern Germany. That is why it was difficult for the peasants to take hold of the idea of leaving their homes and homeland. Most of them bowed down to the powers over them and outwardly conformed to Roman Catholicism in the hope that the situation would improve for Evangelicals as it always had in the past. The conversion to Roman Catholicism occurred only to persuade officialdom, in order to be free of quartering troops, to avoid arrest and fines, and expulsion from the country. In effect they remained Lutherans inwardly. For others their conversion was personally profitable allowing them to buy confiscated land and homesteads at a very cheap price. In terms of the emigration of the peasant farmers a report from 1626 points out, “There are several thousand peasants with wife and child who have abandoned their land, homes and goods and have gone into exile.” But some of them attempted to escape the wrath of the Emperor because of their involvement in the peasant uprising. The possibility of large numbers of peasants to emigrate was after 1635 when the depopulated German lands reached its apex after the horror of the Thirty Years War. Then a steady stream of peasants from Upper Austria set out for Germany for the next two or three decades.
The conversion of the Evangelicals took place like this. The arrival of missionaries, Capuchins and Jesuits led to the ordering of all of the noble’s subjects to gather at a designated villages on designated days. They were exposed to a short summary of religious instruction and compelled them to convert, make confession and take communion. Even for the Emperor this was handled too summarily. He declined to use coercion with is own peasants. He asked for an eight day period to think things over and after that period to threaten them with arrest and withdrew the freedom to emigrate out of the hereditary lands. He would not tolerate the presence of anyone on his lands who did not profess the Roman Catholic faith (1633). This would not change when Ferdinand was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III. In his Patent of July 12, 1637 he addressed the many peasants and townspeople who in spite of all of his warnings did not avail themselves of confession and communion. Many of them paid others to make confession for them and when they were questioned presented their confession certificate. In this way they attempted to postpone going into exile and emigrating. The greatest fear they had was the quartering of soldiers in their homes.
When the severity of the Counter Reformation was reduced for a time, they recovered their hidden Bibles, books of sermons., hymnbooks and devotional literature and supported and encouraged one another at secret gatherings. Many travelled secretly to Ortenburg in Lower Bavaria as well as Pressburg and Ödenburg in Hungary where they could not only join in Evangelical worship but have their children baptized and couples married, make confession and partake of Holy Communion, especially on festival days. On occasion they brought a Lutheran pastor to serve them clandestinely.
Their hope for a better time in the future for their Evangelical faith kept them honest. This hope shone brightly when Gustav Adolphus of Sweden defeated the Imperial Army under Tilley at Breitenfeld, Saxony (September 1631). As soon as the Saxons occupied the Bohemian capital of Prague, the peasants in the Hauseuchviertel rebelled in 1632 for the second time not just only for religious reasons but because of the bitter complaints over the heavy burdens imposed upon them and the oppression they had to endure. From the middle of August to the beginning of October the peasants battled against and were overcome by Bavarian and Imperial troops under the command of Tilley. Through the use of barbaric execution methods they hoped to put an end to any further thought of rebellion in the future.
A new “reformation” commission was set in motion and spread fear and terror in the land. Wherever the commission appeared larger groups of peasants simply abandoned their homes. Two hundred families did in Purstein and one hundred in Eschelberg and they sought refuge in the forests and caves. In Gramastetten the official took five oxen with him and declared he would return them when the owners submitted their certificates of confession. Others were put in prison or punished in some other way. In order to avoid conversion to Roman Catholicism many of the young men volunteered to serve in the army which led them into a life of misery.
The Peace of Prague in 1635 caused a new sense of hope once more which however could have no effect on the situation of the Evangelicals of Austria. The year 1648 would bring some relief as the Swedes and French armies stood at the bank of the Inn River seeking the support of the peasants but peace was declared and nothing came of the hopes of the peasants of Upper Austria. There was simply now way that the Emperor would tolerate any Evangelicals in his empire. Along with his Jesuit advisers he was prepared to carry out the Counter Reformation to the last man and woman. A Bavarian noble commented the following about the peasants in Upper Austria in 1641, “They wanted to obey and serve their noble masters and not to aid the enemy in any way if one could allow them their Evangelical preachers to return to the land; their souls sanctification was more important to them than anything. For they would refuse to accept the irreligious priests of Rome who were gluttons, drunkards and whoremasters.”
Some local scenes during the Counter Reformation:
The market town of Oberneukirchen was served by the monastery at Wilhering. They were Cistercians. A Roman Catholic priest was installed in the parish in 1625. But the Evangelical movement held sway for some time after. The Richter was fined 100 Thaler in 1636 because on festivals and most Sundays he read Lutheran sermons in public. In Oberwiessenbach which was also under the jurisdiction of the Wilhering monastery, the local priest complained that between 1646 and 1649 so many people were journeying to Ortenburg and Regensburg to attend Evangelical worship, while others were married there. Only nine or ten people attended mass on Sundays and festivals. The rest of the people assembled in various houses, where the Bible and books of sermons were read and explained. In 1660 there were still 511 so declared Lutherans in the parish. In the parish of Zwettl also related to the monastery at Wilhering all of the peasants and most of the townspeople were Lutherans in 1647.
The market town of Kirchdorf on the Krems River which was part of the estates of the bishop of Bamberg who had forced thirty townspeople to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1614. In the year 1626 a commission confiscated the Lutheran books of the local population. Whoever was not prepared to practice the Roman Catholic religion was arrested. Two years later the house of four of the townspeople who had escaped conversion were openly auctioned off. Obviously Protestantism was still secretly functioning. As late as 1640 a local dyer, Hans Hadl was punished for reading Lutheran books.
In Waldenfels, four families went into exile in 1636 and in 1637 four more families followed. These were normal departures others were not that fortunate.
Thomas Prändschuh left secretly in 1635 because he refused to convert to Roman Catholicism. His property was confiscated. There were many others who experienced the same kind of reprisal. Many people both men and women were fined for not participating in confession and communion. Others once again left secretly in spite of having “converted”. The vast majority of those who were fined for non-compliance were women.
With the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the end of the Thirty Years War the last hope of the Evangelicals in Austria was dashed. Only the nobles in Lower Austria saw a better situation for themselves; in Upper Austria that hope was futile. Ferdinand III walked in the footsteps of his father and as soon as the Peace of Westphalia went into effect he began to clean up on the Lutherans in the Upper Austria. His regulation went out on June 2, 1650 that all existing non-Roman Catholic subjects were to be sent packing; all nobles and landlords were ordered to expel all of their Lutheran subjects and auction off their property unless they sold it themselves. The infamous “reformation commissions” were re-instated and every community they entered the entire populace was told to report to them if they had not had not made confession or taken communion in the Roman manner. In 1652 and 1653 the commissions were at work in Hauseuchviertel, Eferding, Wels and V?cklbruck. As a result it became obvious that there were a large number of people who were “unbelievers” just as the Emperor had declared. In the Mühlviertel the Evangelical faith was practiced openly. The Emperor also complained about the good will of some of the converted nobles towards their dissident subjects. They still had an Evangelical consciousness despite their conversion.
Beginning on February 13, 1653 the commission met at Linz to carry out the severest measures yet ordered by Ferdinand III to finalize the work of the “reformation”. Wherever visitations were carried out all non-Roman Catholics were to be expelled without any further time limits whether they found buyers for their property or not. Any of those who returned were to be arrested and should be reported to the officials and the parish priest. All children who had attained their majority were allowed to emigrate with their parents. Those children who were minors will not be allowed to leave and would be raised as Roman Catholics. Persons who because of illness or age who cannot travel will not be included until direction is given by a higher source. The same was true of pregnant women and women following childbirth. Non-Roman Catholic wives of Roman Catholic husband would be tolerated at present but if they created trouble they would be punished. Non-Roman Catholic husbands and their wives were to be expelled even if she was Roman Catholic. Non-Roman Catholic servants were to be sent packing and those who kept them in their service would be punished. The officials had the responsibility to prevent the reading of Lutheran sermon books and hold secret assemblies. All non-Roman Catholic books were to be delivered to Linz. The government needed to support the priests and secular officials. All government officials and authorities must lead holy lives and with their families demonstrate their religious zeal in fulfilling their public religious duties.
As a result the last great emigration was set in motion. This was spread out for years, a decade in fact. In March 1643 the commission reported that in the Mühlviertel in Upper Austria there were 874 Roman Catholics. Of these 252 had “officially” become Roman Catholics and only 283 desired to emigrate and 339 persons remained in the land. This last group had the protection of some of the nobles and their officials who realized that hey could be punished for their efforts. But in the end they would have to decide on conversion or emigration because the nobles would have to give in at some point.
Although this was the final phase of the Counter Reformation it was not the last. There remained secret Protestants in the land regardless of their public posture.
As soon as Ferdinand II had put down the Bohemian rebellion and proceeded with all haste to carry out the Counter Reformation and followed the same procedures he had used in Upper Austria by targeting the townspeople of Lower Austria who were without any legal defence in terms of the Evangelical religion. He renewed his earlier severe Edicts that he had decreed in Vienna and other cities in which the townspeople as well as the peasants were forbidden to participate in any non-Roman Catholic worship in the face of severe punishments if they did so. In order to hinder the Evangelicals in Vienna from attending services in the vicinity where two Lutheran pastors served in Hernals and Ingerdorf, the two men were driven out of the communities. A further order was given that whoever did not take instruction in Roman Catholicism and convert in the next four months had to emigrate. This was the same pattern we saw in Upper Austria only it apparently was done a bit more slowly here in Lower Austria. But here again the townspeople and especially the industrial workers were the ones who chose to emigrate.
The Roman Catholic nobles who had Lutherans on their estates and territories were very much involved in dealing with them. This was especially true of those who took over the estates of the Lutheran nobles who had chosen to leave Lower Austria. But even those nobles who had remained loyal to the Emperor who had been promised a guarantee of religious freedom to them in 1620 were now the target of his new decrees. Ferdinand needed time to think that over if he “broke” his word to the nobles and knights. But his Jesuit confessor, Lamarmain and the Papal Legate Coraffa were able to assuage the Emperor’s conscience by pointing out that his former decree allowed the nobles to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession and low and behold they decided all of the nobles in Lower Austria were Calvinists and it did not apply to them. There were a few followers of Calvin among the nobles but the overwhelming majority of the nobles were Lutherans and preachers in the castle chapels were Lutherans as well. Immediately, on September 14, 1627 a general Mandate was addressed to the Lower Austrian estates, to banish all Lutheran pastors and teachers and replace them with Roman Catholics. In 1628 there was a second Mandate whereby all vassals, subjects and inhabitants were to refrain from reading non-Roman Catholic and were ordered to participate in Roman Catholic religious activities. The nobles as well were to refrain from having Lutheran worship in their castles as well as reading books of Lutheran sermons and not to travel outside of Lower Austria for the purposes of baptisms or marriages. All of these things were strictly prohibited. But in spite of that during the times of persecution which followed there were still Lutheran pastors at work under the aegis of the Lutheran minded nobility. In the market town of Gresten on the holdings of Count Zinzendorf there was a pastor serving there as late as 1642. His successor, a Benedictine monk reported that only 340 households were Roman Catholic and the rest were Lutherans in 1643. There is a strong suspicion that Lutherans from Upper Austria resettled in Lower Austria or Hungary while others travelled to Hungary to commune there.
The Evangelicals who remained in Lower Austria in spite of hindrances put in their way and the laws forbidding them to have any ministry other than that of a Roman Catholic priest were able to commune at the Lutheran Church in Weiswsenkirchberg. In 1643 large numbers of cattle herders from Arlesbach, Rappottenstein, Wiesenfeld, Griesbach, Rohrhof, Lembach and other areas of the Waldviertel sold their cattle in this area just outside of Lower Austria and used the opportunity to commune at Weissenkirchberg according to the Lutheran manner. The same occurred again the next year and along with the cattle herders others joined them including a sixty year old widow from Arlesbach what had not been able to commune as a Lutheran for several years. Some of them decided not to return home and resettled there. The Lower Austria Lutherans also loved to run off to Hungary where the Archduke Ferdinand of Lower Austria was also the King of Hungary who had to tolerate the Protestants because of their right to do so. As a result the Protestants of Lower Austria had options during the Thirty Years War. Even around Vienna itself there were numerous Lutherans. In 1644 there were 187 known Lutherans living in Väsendorf while in Ingersdorf of its 800 inhabitants, 700 of them were still Lutherans. This was due to the efforts of the local Lutheran nobles and estate owners against whom the most repressive actions had not yet been taken.
The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 gave the Protestants in various lands including the Lutheran nobles in Silesia and Lower Austria. The following concessions were made: no one could be forced to up their property and emigrate because of their allegiance to the Augsburg Confession and were given the right to attend Lutheran worship in other lands. If anyone wanted to emigrate of his own free will he was permitted to do so and sell his property. There were also other lightening of the rules of emigration. But the nobles in effect faced some rather paltry concessions in Lower Austria. None of the nobles were allowed to engage Evangelical pastors or teachers in their castles as formerly and no such services could be held in castle chapels or anywhere else. Their subjects had no rights in terms of religious freedom and not even the castle personnel. It was a concession only to the nobles and their families. With this shrinking of their former rights the nobles recognized that Lutheranism was slowly being put to death and had no future in Lower Austria. And that is what happened. It was not the children of the Lutherans who went “over to Rome”, it would be their grandchildren. Only a few, like Count Zinzendorf who moved to Gresten was able to maintain his family’s Lutheran faith as late as 1700.
The Imperial government now took up the struggle against all of the Lutheran population just as severely as it had in Upper Austria. With the establishment of another “reform” commission in 1652 the same repressive measures were acted upon. In the Waldviertel (North of the Danube) where the greatest opposition to Ferdinand II was heftiest and where new Roman Catholic nobles replaced the former Lutheran nobles they went out of their way to re-catholicize the country. At the order of the Emperor tThe new incumbent in Rosenberg, Joachim Windhag along with the Abbot of Altenberg carried out “visits” in the parishes of the Waldviertel from 1652 to 1654 involving 140 parish churches and 58 filial congregations and reported that were approximately 77,000 Roman Catholics and 22,000 “recent converts”. Their methods of conversion had not changed much since Upper Austria: fines, hangings, imprisonment, starvation and public whippings. It wasn’t their fault that the Counter Reformation moved along slowly. In 1652 in Vites there still 484 Lutherans in addition to 556 Roman Catholics. In the church records of 1654 and 1655 there are death entries indicating that the individual was Lutheran.
South of the Danube Windhag had a new partner in crime, the Abbot Gabriel of Seitenstetten. This commission appeared in 1659 for the first time and it was on the estates of Count Zinzendorf in and around Gresten and began with a preaching mission. But all of their efforts proved futile because the Zinzendorfs refused to participate in any way and as a result their subjects and peasants were just as stubborn. The next step was punishments. The priest in Gresten could not provide the commission a list of the non-Roman Catholics because at Easter most of the people simply disappeared into the forest and even those who remained at home were hostile to any attempts to get them to come to mass and commune. In the long run such passive resistance did not help. Whoever refused to convert would soon have to leave the land. After 1660 the church records of Gresten indicate a decline in the Lutheran population as was the case in all of Lower Austria at that time. The Waldviertel provided countless exiles and emigrants who left for the German principalities and in effect took the steel industry with them and Lower Austria experienced a major economic decline. Many of the exiles settled in Franconia, especially those from Rappottenstein estates.
It was Ferdinand II and III’s express policy that none of their subjects could live in the Empire without embracing Roman Catholicism. Apparently they had achieved this goal at the conclusion of the Counter Reformation with only a few Lutheran nobles living in Lower Austria. But it only appeared that way. There were many who had emigrated and many others who had converted outwardly. In addition there were some who were allowed to remain in the land even though they professed themselves to be Lutherans. They were the Lutheran wives of Roman Catholic husbands as well as many elderly who could not face the rigours of emigration. Poor people who owned nothing who could not be punished through fines and confiscation. All of these died out in time. What remained was a large number of “clandestine secret Protestants”. They attempted to spread and maintain their faith secretly since an open profession of faith was not possible for them. So the old custom of “stepping out” of the land to Lutheran areas to worship, confess and commune became standard practice for many.
For those in Upper Austria that meant the Duchy or Ortenburg in the middle of Bavaria and the royal town of Regensburg on the Danube. From Lower Austria it meant neighbouring Hungary. These journeys were not only filled with difficulties there were also countless spies in the land especially on the borders. In 1630 the new official in Fankenburg arrested thirteen such returning Lutherans and had them jailed. So the only other alternative was the reading of Evangelical books, the Bible, catechism and books of sermons. But that also involved danger. There were always search parties that scoured the land searching in every nook and cranny of people’s houses for forbidden books. Whenever they found books they were confiscated and burned and the owner was fined or jailed for possessing them. Many of the Evangelicals became very proficient in hiding their books. The built niches in the walls, false floors and ceilings. Some buried their books in their gardens, forests or out in the fields. It became a test of ingenuity to come up with a new hiding place. When a woman was taken by surprise while reading her Bible as she was baking bread she put it into the bake oven. The Bible survived but was somewhat scorched.
In these and many other ways the Evangelicals sought to keep their faith alive despite persecution. But it was only an emergency measure that could help for a short or somewhat longer time. It was a fire that could easily be extinguished. The children could perhaps keep the flame alive but the grandchildren and great grandchildren had to grow up in the midst of constant exposure to the Roman Catholic cult in all its forms and were taught religion by priests in their schools and the priests worked hard at making them lose any sense of an Evangelical identity and become good Catholics. For instance in the Waldvierel one of the areas of strength of the Lutheran movement the local populace had totally lost its memory of its past within one hundred years of when Evangelical children were brought here to be raised as Roman Catholics by the local population. The only exception was Gallneukirchen.
But this was not the case everywhere. There were whole communities and whole districts where the Evangelical flame never went out. They faced the rage and zeal of their persecutors whenever their religious position became known through the discovery of Evangelical books or through their behaviour. In the Alpine lands this seldom happened because the Evangelical confession was held most loyally by these people. The search for Lutheran books continued throughout the period of the persecution. In Attergau in 1717/1718 there were 175 books found scattered among 123 households. In addition to the forbidden books there were also forbidden foods, such as meat on fast days. A fine would be charged and the meat was taken away.
In 1712 there were seventy persons made up of whole families including infants from the Salzkammergut who emigrated to Nürnberg for the sake of their Lutheran faith. (The author then deals with emigration of the Salzburg Lutherans in 1737). A large group of salt miners and forest workers appealed to the Emperor Charles VI to grant them freedom of religion to practice their Evangelical faith. Such an idea was treated as treason by the Royal Court in Vienna. When the Emperor asked for the number of Lutherans involved he was astounded to hear that there were 1,200 of them. He told them they were free to leave because it would be futile to attempt to convert them. He reneged on his promise to let them leave freely and permitted only an emigration to Hungary and Transylvania. This led to uprisings that Imperial troops had to put down. Whoever was prepared to become Roman Catholic could remain in Austria and those too stubborn to convert were taken by force onto ships and transported to Transylvania. This involved 362 persons. But even now Lutheranism was still not wiped out in the Salzkammergut.
Much greater, extensive and ruthless was the persecution of the Protestants during the reign of Maria Theresia. She never rescinded any of he restrictions and regulations against them that she had inherited as a Habsburg. In effect they had no rights. They were not eligible to hold office, citizenship or master tradesmen. The “reformation” commissions were still in effect and they used preaching missions and used secular power for the sake of the purity and unity of the Roman Catholic faith and its monopoly in religious matters in her Empire. Her religious Patent of 1778 left the old regulations in effect so that the possession of Lutheran books could lead to arrest and hard labour, stiff necked heretics were shipped off to Transylvania and royal estates in Hungary. These emigrations still occurred in the 1770s and included Protestants from Inner Austria and Moravia. Only through the efforts of Joseph II were the stricter efforts restrained. The Empress’ religious persecution lasted from 1748-1780. She set a fine of three Gulden on every Evangelical book that was found and the informer received one third. She appointed a commission to deal with and punish the “irreligious” as well as forming a mission corps to trace and find any Lutherans. All suspects were harshly interrogated and if the person would not affirm the teachings of the Roman Catholic church was arrested, transported to Linz, and kept in prison until a large group was assembled and then were sent to Transylvania. There were 206 persons who were deported between 1752 and1762 who came from Traunkirchen and Puchheim carred out by the Jesuits. Heartbreaking scenes took place as the transports left when the children were dragged away from their parents and handed over to officials to see that they would be raised as Roman Catholics.
The deportees were well received in Transylvania as their own letters attest. But this was only true for some of them. That was only because those who were settled among the Transylvania Saxons were welcomed and supported by them and who were Lutherans themselves. The Emperor did not want to lose his “emigrants” to the German principalities and as a result forced them to resettle in the far flung regions of Transylvania. Because all of Hungary separated them from their former homeland they were effectively cut off. The centre for this emigration was at Linz.
How many emigrants/exiles there were is still difficult to determine. Dr. Doblinger in Graz estimates that there were 30,000 to 40,000 emigrants but that has shown to be far too low. Austrian researcher Czerny estimates that were well over 100,000 Austrians who were forced to turn their backs on their homeland. This estimate again is too low because wives and children were not included. Froschel estimates that there were 150,000 exiles in Franconia alone but again admits it is too low. The most realistic figure is probably 300,000.