Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Eighteenth-Century Anabaptists in the Margravate of Baden and Neighboring Territories

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Eighteenth-Century Anabaptists in the Margravate of Baden and Neighboring Territories

Article excerpt

Abstract: Throughout the eighteenth century, Anabaptist tenants farmed a number of large impartible estates in the margravate of Baden-Durlach, a small principality in the upper Rhine Valley. Their management of these estates, which belonged to the margrave himself, local noble families or wealthy townspeople and villagers, won Anabaptist leaseholders a reputation for skillful and productive farming, and early in the century the government abandoned its hostile attitude in favor of the fiscal exploitation of the Anabaptist presence. Numerous credit and business ties between Anabaptist farmers and neighboring townspeople and villagers testify to their integration into the regional market economy. When Emperor Joseph II's policy of religious toleration allowed Anabaptists to lease estates in the Catholic outer Austrian parts of the upper Rhine valley after 1780, they repeatedly encountered opposition from ecclesiastical corporations and local peasants. An analysis of these conflicts reveals, however, that they were motivated primarily by competition for local influence and scarce economic resources rather than religious prejudice.

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In 1715 margrave Karl Wilhelm, ruler of the principality of Baden-Durlach, issued a general ordinance (Lands-Ordnung) for his territories. A typical document of the early modern police state, the Baden-Durlach ordinance of 1715 attempted to govern the subjects' behavior and regulate religious, economic and social life. In a section on Anabaptists and Schwenckfelders, the ordinance specified that the goal of the "Christian authorities" was to "eradicate all such false, damned sects as much as possible and plant the truth in their stead" (alle dergleichen irrige/ verdammte Secten/ so viel moglich/ ausszurotten/ und an derselben statt die Warheit zu pflantzen). The text identified three different kinds of sectarians. Those in the first category, consisting of religious leaders and teachers, were to be banished from the principality without mercy. Those in the second category--stubborn sectarians who refused to yield to religious instruction and disobeyed the public authorities--were to be admonished, obliged to attend Lutheran Sunday worship, and visited by the pastors; if these efforts to "reform" them all proved fruitless, these people should be expelled as well. The third category consisted of "simple-minded" persons who erred in matters of religious doctrine but had not yet been baptized and might still be brought to see the "truth." Like the others, they were to be admonished, instructed, threatened--and banished as a last resort. (1) While this normative text suggests that Anabaptists were unwelcome in the margrave's territories in the upper Rhine valley, Anabaptists were already living there by 1715, and the second decade of the eighteenth century actually became a crucial period for the consolidation and expansion of Anabaptist communities in the area. (2) Although the number of Anabaptists in Baden-Durlach remained much smaller than in the Alsace or the Palatinate, the margravate did become a significant center of eighteenth-century Anabaptism in the German southwest. By the end of the century, Anabaptists from Baden had started to move into neighboring Catholic territories in the jurisdiction of outer Austria. (3)

So far, however, historians have paid relatively little attention to their presence in this region, and many estates on which they settled have completely escaped scholarly notice. (4) This essay will fill this historiographical gap by tracing the spread of Anabaptist settlement in the margravate of Baden-Durlach and adjacent territories in the eighteenth century, examining the economic and social characteristics of their communities, and analyzing their relationship with other subjects in the villages and small towns of the area.

The setting of this study is the right bank of the upper Rhine valley, an area extending for roughly 130 miles between the Rhine river and the Black Forest mountains from the towns of Karlsruhe and Pforzheim in the north to the Swiss border in the south. …

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