Salzburg Expulsion

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SALZBURG EXPULSION. On 11 November 1731 Leopold Anton von Firmian, the Catholic archbishop of Salzburg (reigned 17271744), ordered the expulsion of all Protestants from the archbishopric. Poor and landless Protestants were ordered to leave within the week; householding Protestants were given two months. The order affected more than twenty thousand peasants, mostly from the Pongau region (about thirty miles south of Salzburg)the largest religious deportation in early modern European history after the expulsion of Huguenots from France at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

For decades Protestantism had flourished almost unencumbered among the peasants in the alpine valleys south of Salzburg. Not long after his election as archbishop in 1727, Firmian tried to exert stronger administrative and pastoral control over the remoter regions of his see. His efforts provoked resistance, which became widely publicized throughout Germany with the publication, in June 1731 in Nuremberg, of a document purportedly stating the grievances of nineteen thousand oppressed Salzburg Protestants, a considerably larger number than Firmian had anticipated when he began his re-Catholicization campaign. The growing regional rebelliousness and the surprisingly large size of the Protestant minority prompted Firmian to turn to expulsion as a solution.

The first exiles left Salzburg at the end of November. They spent the winter wandering in southern Germany, unable to find a permanent home. When the bulk of the householders were expelled in April 1732, the king of Prussia offered his lands as a destination for the refugees. East Prussia was relatively unpopulated, and King Frederick William I (ruled 17131740) was happy to have immigrants to populate it. Prussia administered a convoy system to transport immigrants to their new homes. By 1734 twelve thousand refugees were settled in East Prussia.

One consequence of the expulsion was that Prussia solidified its identity as the political bulwark of German Protestantism, which it had first achieved by receiving Huguenot refugees in 1685. A massive outpouring of sermons and pamphlets by politically active Protestants drew attention to the plight of the emigrants as they made their way to Prussia. The expulsion was therefore a public relations disaster for political Catholicism in Germany. The "legend" of the Salzburg expulsion was as potent in the cultural clash between German Protestantism and Catholicism in the nineteenth century as it was in the eighteenth.

See also Frederick William I (Prussia) ; Nantes, Edict of ; Prussia ; Reformation, Catholic ; Reformation, Protestant .


Walker, Mack. The Salzburg Transaction: Expulsion and Redemption in Eighteenth-Century Germany. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.

John Theibault