The Escape

Bonn around 1700
Bonn around 1700

[Rhineland, 1714]  After many years of fighting, the War of the Spanish succession (1701-14) was finally over. But large parts of the region lay in ruins, and many people suffered hardships or were prosecuted.

Elector-Archbishop Joseph Clemens of Cologne of the powerful Wittelsbach family, who had sided with King Louis XIV of France against Emperor Leopold I, had been pardoned. Now he was on his way back from his exile in France to his residence city Bonn.

Anton, a master-builder

It was no good news for Anton Tombach, a master-builder in the Elector-Archbishop’s service. On the contrary, he was facing a long prison sentence, if not worse.

For many years, he had enjoyed working for the Elector-Archbishop, and there was always plenty of work to do. In the years after the Nine Years War, rebuilding the many devastated places was all that mattered. For months, Bonn had been besieged and fired upon until it had finally capitulated. Now large parts of the city lay in ruins. In 1689, bands of soliders hat consquered Dollendorf, Königswinter and Rhöndorf, villages on the right bank. Then they had looted and burned them down. Anton’s young wife Lisbeth had lost her life.

Andreas, an orphan boy

In the Palatinate, whole areas lay in ruins, and many people cried for help. For Anton, it made no difference whose home he rebuilt; whether it was a Catholic, a Lutheran, or a Mennonite family – he helped wherever he could. In a Palatine village, he had met Andreas, a Mennonite orphan boy who was living with distant relatives. Overwhelmed by their desperate situation and spontaneous affection, Anton had taken Andreas with him. He had him baptized as a Catholic because otherwise the boy could not have stayed with him, but also made him familiar with the Mennonite faith.

Toy ships on Mirbesbach Creek

Now Andreas lived with Anton’s sister-in-law in Dollendorf, a village in the Duchy of Berg. There she ran a small country inn named Zum Fröhlichen Drachen, in English Merry Dragon Inn. After the tragic death of his wife, the boy gave Anton new courage. Often they went for a walk in the Seven Mountains. Up there in the hills, Anton would look for a piece of wood and carve a little toy boat from it. On their way back along the small Mirbesbach creek Andreas would put their toy boat on the water, and they would watch it float all the way down into the valley. Soon Andreas tried carving himself, and Anton quickly noticed how talented Andreas was, and how much he enjoyed wood working. Soon Andreas helped repair chairs in the inn, and was apprenticed to the Elector-Archbishop’s carpenter.

The prince-elector’s debauched paymaster

Yet, peace had not lasted for long. Only a few years later, the War of the Spanish Succession had broken out, and again the Elector-Archbishop of Cologne had sided with King Louis XIV of France. In 1703, Bonn had been bombed again. Anton had protested in impotent rage against his sovereign. “Why did you bring the enemy into our lands again?” he had shouted at him, “hasn’t there been enough suffering?” Now the Elector-Archbishop would soon be back in Bonn. Perhaps he had forgiven him, or at least was pragmatic enough to forget his master-builder’s outburst because he had plans for a new palace in Bonn.*

But with the Elector-Archbishop, his paymaster Precarius came back. He hated Anton, since this one had uncovered his embezzlement. With his henchmen, he set off to the Merry Dragon Inn to smash everything to pieces and to arrest Anton. Neighbors and the bailiff of Berg** sent for in all urgency could prevent the worst. Anton was devastated.

A brave, decent bailiff

The bailiff ordered his men to arrest Precarius and his cronies. Then Precarius yelled, his voice sharp and accusing, “Do you know whom you are protecting? A damn friend of heretics! This man has rebuilt their houses, and this boy comes from a family of heretics! Who helps heretics is damned himself!” Anton turned pale, and also the bailiff was concerned. After a while he said: “Anton, I know you, you are an honest man, but our sovereign here in the Duchy of Berg, the Prince-Elector Johann Wilhelm, is Catholic and does not tolerate other confessions. Go away with your boy to England or America, where there is tolerance in matters of religion. I’ll arrange for a safe passage across the border.”

“You let them go, just like that?” Precarius yelled, beside himself with rage. “Silence!” the bailiff shouted, his voice like thunder, “you want to be a man of God? You are a damn Pharisee! You and your cronies came to take what you thought was the law into your own hands, and here in my district I will not tolerate vigilant justice! Therefore, you will remain in custody until you have paid for the damage done here, and these two are long gone!”


Then he turned to Anton and Andreas, “Come with me, for tonight you are safe in my house. Tomorrow morning my coach will bring you to Düsseldorf, and there we will find a ship for you.” When they parted the next morning, the bailiff said strongly: “Anton, don’t let them cheat you out of this life. Find happiness!”

*   Elector-Archbishop of Cologne Joseph Clemens had Poppelsdorf Castle in Bonn built.
** The Duchy of Berg was organized in districts, and each district had bailiffs to maintain law and order.

The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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