1572: Johann Sylvan, Antitrinitarian

Add comment December 23rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Antitrinitarian Calvinist Johann Sylvan lost his head in a Heidelberg market.

Sylvan — or Johannes Slyvanus — was a pastor and theologian in the service of Calvinist Elector Frederick III.

Frederick’s own Calvinist scruples were theoretically anathema in a Holy Roman Empire whose writ of tolerance did not extend past Lutheranism.

But Sylvan gravitated towards a circle of reformers whose concept of the divine left orthodox Calvinism far behind — “a group of ministers within the Palatine church, who were not only prepared to deny the eternal divinity of Christ, but secretly aspired to promote a further reformation of received doctrine with a view to restoring the pristine monotheism of the faith,” according to this pdf volume, The Heidelberg Antitrinitarians.

This rejection of the long-canonical Christian mystery of threefold godhead formed a recurring subtheme of Europe’s Reformations, its exponents — like Michael Servetus — forever prone to martyrdoms administered by any respectable sect.

This proved to be the case for Sylvan as well; given his dubious theological position within the empire, Elector Frederick might have felt it politically necessary to come down hard on these radicals.

Still, while Sylvan was made the example, others in his Antitrinitarian circle lived to expound their heresies in other lands. Matthias Vehe fled to Transylvania — where a Unitarian Church was founded in 1568, protected by a sympathetic prince — and then to other fellow-travelers in Poland. Adam Neuser also escaped, later converting to Islam and defecting to Ottoman Istanbul, an event that did a lot of lifting for anti-Anti-trinitarian propagandists.

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1812: Hölzerlips, Blood Court prey

1 comment July 31st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1812, the German bandit Hölzerlips — that’s just “Philip of the Woods”, despite what your dirty mind was thinking — was beheaded with three compatriots at Heidelberg.

They were part of a gang of six vagrant souls (the other two were spared on account of youth) who, finding everything displaced in the time of the Napoleonic wars, made their daily bread robbing around the Spessart in southern Germany.

In this capacity they racked up at least 15 known incidents of highway robbery, going so far as to kill a Swiss merchant on the road in 1811.

Captured shortly thereafter, Heidelberg grandees considered them (in)famous enough to merit a staged Blutgericht (“Blood Court”) followed by beheading this date, a spectacle that drew 30,000 gawking spectators in its day.


Friedrich Rottmann: Blutgericht über Hölzerlips Bande, 1812

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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