Considering Seventeenth-Century Schutzgeld

The collection of Schutzgeld, or ‘protection money,’ had begun in the East Frisian city of Emden shortly after the city’s revolt against Count Edzard II in 1595. The first extant records date to 1601 and detail the amount owed by each Mennonite and Jewish household within the newly autonomous (and predominantly Calvinist) jurisdiction. (For a bit more on the earliest Schutzgeld records in Emden, please see my post from November 27, 2018.) But only a few registers of this particular tax remain for the city of Emden. We have documentation from the years 1601, 1602, 1626, 1638, 1737 and 1749. There are a few additional documents from the eighteenth century in which Schutzgeld was recorded from both across the county and within the city of Emden, but only compelled from Jews – a development that illustrates the increasingly disparate paths made for Mennonites and Jews in this area of the empire. But even with those additional accounts, we can see the records that remain are the exception rather than the rule. Today, I’ll examine the two sets of records from the mid-seventeenth century.

The 1626 Emden Schutzgeld records [Fig. 1] were clearly functional, as owed amounts were crossed out and replaced, red scratches along the edge denoted fulfilled obligations, and the slim bound booklet generally displayed marks of use and wear.1 The obligations were divided among 22 different geographic sections, named companies, each with a corresponding responsible captain. These captains were not Mennonites, but the leaders of the city or night watch – a communal obligation that this tax exempted Mennonites from performing. The numbers in these ‘companies’ varied from as few as one man or household (Dirck Simons, in Hindrich Busert’s company, who owed 3 Emden gulden) to as many as 19. There are 175 names overall, of which 19 were noted as Jews. Another 3 names were stricken from the record; as two of the three names stricken were widows owing only 1 gulden, it seems likely that these were either the recently dead or the benevolently omitted. Unlike the Schutzgeld records from a quarter-century before, however, none are here designated as ‘paupers’ and thus exempt from payment.

That leaves 153 paying Mennonite households, 9 of which were headed by widows and 3 of which appear to have been headed by underage sons. The density and prosperity of the Mennonite community in Emden held steady in the quarter century between 1602 and 1626. The total amount remitted by that Mennonite community came to 654 Gulden and 5 Schap – an amount figured through an informal sum on the back of the well-worn booklet itself.

The 1638 Schutzgeld records [Fig. 2], by contrast, are much cleaner and show no evidence of their use as a working document – but also include no amounts at all.2 There is no indication of amounts owed, the vagaries of collection, or indeed that money exchanged hands at all. This, then, is a list that named Mennonites and Jews, but shares little else in common with the list from just 12 years prior. This lack of consistency could perhaps be evidence for haphazard or even intermittent collection within the city of Emden, but it is more likely that this document represented a different stage in the process than the worn document of 1626. Additionally, the helpful numbering along the left edge of this document drops off in the middle of the second page, after ‘40,’ which confirms further that this is merely a draft of a later, more useable register.

There are 21 companies in the 1638 record, and a total of 176 names – almost no movement in the overall number of marginalized residents sharing this tax. However, the number of Jews has dropped significantly for such a small population, from 19 to 11. That leaves a modest increase in the number of Mennonite households, now at 165 and up from 153 in 1626. Of those 165 households, a steady number – 8 now, in comparison with the 1626 count of 9 – are widows. For the first time, a ‘doctor’ appears in the register: a ‘Doctor Eilde’ residing in the company of Captain Eggo Hermans. Without amounts, however, it’s hard to tell how prosperous this Mennonite doctor was – or indeed, whether the fortunes of the community had changed in aggregate.

Four captains’ names remain the same from the 1626 collection to that of 1638, a comparison that allow us to consider the nature of community change. The company of Viet Hindricks grew from 5 to 10 in those twelve years, and only two of the names remained the same: Nonne Aggen and Johan Jacobs ‘Flet,’ neither of whom appear in the index of the city archive. In Herman Gerrits’s company the growth was more modest, from 11 to 13, but a full seven of the names remained the same. This was perhaps a younger set of taxed households, and an area of the city with more Jewish inhabitants (4 were designated as Jews in both 1626 and 1638). The company of Jeldrich Taken grew from 7 to 12, with 4 names remaining the same. The number of Mennonites shrunk in the company of Johan Horstman, from 7 to 5, and there are two instances of family name matches but no individual persons who appear on both records.

These comparisons are more suggestive than anything. Twelve years represents perhaps half of a generation, and the 1638 records leave open the question of economic growth, prosperity, or burden. Schutzgeld was presumably a yearly tax, as it replaced watch service that was continuous for other male adults, but the lack of sources leaves confusing caesura in the historical record. What the remaining Schutzgeld sources continue to attest to, however, was the bureaucratic grouping of Mennonites and Jews together within the city of Emden. These religious minorities were nameable, even when the names given by governmental authorities were imprecise, and they were thus taxable. These were communities who continued to live and worship despite a lack of official toleration documents, and it is in this way that economic instruments must be read as crude (and inherently unstable) religious settlements. Informal toleration through taxation and through other one-time compulsory payments – for dikes, for military expenses, or just to balance the books; what older historiography has rightly labeled ‘extortion’ – provided both plausible cover and continuing threat for both Mennonites and Jews in early modern Emden.


  1. Stadtarchiv Emden, I. Reg. Nr. 415, 45-52.
  2. Stadtarchiv Emden, I. Reg. Nr. 415, 95-98 and 101-103.

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