Hans Lenz was born on January 24, 1602 in the small village of Schnait, (Weinstadt) Germany to Johannes Lenz and Margarethe Vetterle.
Schait was a small village alongside the Rems River, nestled between hillside vineyards with a central church built about 1570, and maybe 40 houses. This drawing from 1685 in Andreas Kieser’s forest register book shows Schnait, with the Protestant church as its heart.
While Schnait looks peaceful and idyllic, a lot transpired in the years between 1602 and 1685.
Truthfully, Hans was lucky to have been born at all. In 1595, the plague swept through the region. Had either of his parents perished, Hans would never have existed.
Plague and warfare were a constant threat, not to mention dysentery and various illnesses that swept half the children away from their parents, and that’s in good times.
Hans was the firstborn child of his parents, arriving the year after their marriage. He probably had several siblings, but we don’t know who they were.
We know little about Schnait in the years between 1602 and 1618, but it’s likely that Hans was confirmed in the church when he was 12 or 13 years old, in about 1614 or 1615.
The minister who confirmed Hans was probably his future father-in-law.
In 1618, the 30 Years’ War began, which was both dynastic and religious, and would devastate Germany over the next three decades.
This region, marked with a red star on the 30 Years’ War Depopulation map above, saw massive declines in population. All locations in this part of Germany saw population reductions greater than 66%. Some villages were entirely burned and abandoned, their residents murdered.
It’s difficult to refer to anyone who lived in Germany during this time as fortunate, but comparatively, Hans Lenz was.
Hans Lenz was a baker.
Schnait was not burned to the ground during the war, so it’s possible that the “old bake house,” shown below, is the original baker’s home.
The baker was only located just a few steps from the church at Haldenstrasse 7. Perhaps people stopped and picked up baked goods on their way to and from church.
A village only needed one baker, and a baker’s oven would have been very specialized and expensive to construct. This was most likely where Hans either lived or apprenticed.
Generally, sons apprenticed with their father and stepped into their professions as adults. Of course, given the surrounding vineyards, everyone was involved in the wine culture.
What goes better with wine than bread!
Today, vineyards growing specialty grapes still surround Schnait which remains a small village. This satellite image only shows a total of about 2-3 miles across. The ancient vineyards follow the contours of the hillsides.
As an adult, Hans Lenz relocated to Beutelsbach, just a mile or so to the north. Perhaps they needed a baker. Those two villages were very closely associated.
Prior to 1570, Schnait was too small to have its own church so all of the Schnait residents attended church in neighboring Beutelsbach, just a short walk up the road.
Historian Martin Goll lives in Beutelsbach and also descends from the Lenz family. His primary language is German, and his correspondence is translated into English. I’m extremely grateful for his in-depth research on these families and the history of both villages.
Martin tells us that Hans Lenz “was one of the rich people in this time. He married the daughter of the reverend. Usually, a Reverend belonged to the upper class. It was impossible to marry in[to] such a family, if you have not been a member of an upper class family. So, Hans Lenz must have [had] parents which were coming from the upper class.”
But all was not peaceful in the Rems Valley.
In 1626, when Hans was 24, another epidemic broke out before the Battle of Nordlingen, pictured above, which occurred about 55 miles away on September 6th and was catastrophic for the Protestants.
After the battle, Beutelsbach became an army camp for the fortified town of Schorndorf.
By the time Hans married, in 1627, everyone was probably sick and tired of warfare.
In 1627, Hans was 25 years old and married Agnes Eyb, the daughter of the local reverend in Schnait. They were probably married by her father, or her brother who became the pastor after their father died.
Their only surviving child, George Lenz (1627-1663), was born later that year.
At some point, the young couple moved up the road to Beutelsbach, perhaps shortly after their marriage.
Perhaps the bakery protected the family, at least to some extent, for a little while.
Soldiers routinely raided farms and homesteads, but they might not have been so willing to burn the bakery. Everyone needs to eat.
However, their good fortune did not last.
In 1634, Beutelsbach was plundered and set on fire. Anyone who resisted was killed.
Martin tells us that “Agnes Eyb died during the 30 Years’ War. She left Beutelsbach before she died and went to Schnait, where her brother was the reverend at this time. She died in Schnait three days after she arrived, because she was injured when the house in Beutelsbach was burned.”
At the time Agnes died, her brother, Mathias Jacob Eyb was the pastor in Schnait and writes of his sister’s death in the Book of the Dead, “Young Hans Lenz’s wife, Agnes, died, who had been my dear sister, on December 9, 1634 and then was buried on the 10th.”
War is Hell.
Hans and Agnes had moved to Beutelsbach – and their home burned when the soldiers torched the town. People could probably see Beutelsbach burning for miles in every direction. It would serve as a warning to anyone else who considered resisting.
Unfortunately, we have almost no information about their children, with one exception. Martin reports that “The only son of the pastor’s daughter, George Lenz, becomes a surgeon in Beutelsbach, which was almost an academic degree by the standards of the time.”
Surgeons were the barbers of the day, plus they “bled” people as needed.
Given that Hans and Agnes were married from sometime in 1627 until her death on December 9, 1634, it’s likely that they had either 3 or 4 children. I can’t help but wonder if those children died when the town burned too, or had they already perished? Was Agnes pregnant or did she have a babe in arms when her home was set aflame? Was it burned at night when people were sleeping? Did she make the “mistake” of resisting, or was she simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
How did Hans survive? Maybe he was gone, or fighting. Or did they, along with other residents, seek shelter inside the church walls?
Who took Agnes to her brother’s in Schnait?
Nearly everyone in Schnait and Beutelsbach was related, probably many times over. They would have watched Beutelsbach burn in horror, wondering if the soldiers would burn Schnait next.
A peasant begs for mercy in front of his burning farm; by the 1630s, being caught in the open by soldiers from either side was tantamount to a death sentence.
After Beutelsbach was plundered and burned, the next challenge was famine and plague, which spread easily because people were hungry and ate anything, down to and including sawdust and acorns, which proved fatal.
I can’t even imagine the level of desperation.
Martin’s research indicates that even with the horrors of war, Beutelsbach and Schnait fared better than most. By 1650, the population of Schnait had only declined by about one-third, and in neighboring Beutelsbach, by about half.
Let that sink in for a minute. They were the lucky ones because “only one-third” and “only half” of the residents perished.
By comparison, about one-third survived in neighboring towns, meaning two-thirds died. Both Schorndorf and Waiblingen were burned completely, with the exception of a few houses that somehow escaped, with a maximum of 20% of the population surviving.
It was a horrific time.
Martin says that there were no Beutelsbach church records that survived between 1620 and 1646, having been stolen or destroyed by the soldiers.
In 1634, when Agnes died of her burns, Hans Lenz would have been left with his surviving small child, who was 6 or 7 years old, to raise, and a bakery to rebuild, but mostly, he had to find a way to simply survive.
Update: The next paragraph is incorrect. Katharina’s birth surname was NOT Lenz. I am leaving the original text in case others find the same erroneous information. I am working with Martin Goll to publish the correct information in Katherina’s own article.
The next year, in 1635, Hans Lenz married Katharina Lenz (Note update – her surname is not Lenz,) also from Schnait.
For the first decade of their marriage, from 1635 to 1645, Hans and Katharina had no children that survived, which might well have been related to the ongoing war.
Martin tells us that Hans had another problem too. His bakery was repeatedly pillaged. It’s unclear whether Hans was able to come up with enough money to prevent his bakery from being burned or if that’s what happened in 1634 when Agnes died. He must have passionately hated the soldiers.
In order to avoid the torch, community assets had to be handed over to soldiers, and if that was not enough, the local authorities had to confiscate tangible private assets.
According to Martin, “In Beutelsbach, the man in charge was the custodian Johann Jakob Schmierer (1593-1660). He demanded this money, violently and brutally if necessary. Apparently, he was also thinking of himself and his own advantage. Because of this, Hans Lenz had trouble with soldiers in the quarters who claimed that Schmierer had sold them wine but had not delivered the amount paid to Lenz. This information shows that Hans was not only a baker but also ran a wine trade. The monastery custodian “ruled” the wine in the monastery cellar. He probably had Hans Lenz as his “negotiator” and got him into trouble by delivering too little, so the soldiers certainly had the upper hand.”
Soldiers always have the upper hand.
The Thirty Years’ War is considered to be the most destructive war in European history. While many civilians didn’t perish in direct warfare, they were by far the most frequent victims, with 4.5 to 8 million deaths, mostly from the effects of the war. Another source places the reduction of the population of the Holy Roman Empire by 7 million people, but that may also include those who left. People died from military action (3%), starvation (12%), bubonic plague (64%), typhus (4%), and dysentery (5%), plus unrecorded causes of death.
Hans would survive to see the end of the Thirty Years’ War, in 1648, and live another 19 years beyond.
Hans would have been 46 years old when the Peace of Westphalia treaties were signed in Munster after weeks of negotiation.
The difference in dress between the nobles who were both the instigators and beneficiaries of the war, and the people living in the countryside is telling.
Here’s the Dutch envoy arriving in Munster for negotiations. Contrast that to the farmer begging for his life and the houses of villagers burning, leaving them with nothing if they survived.
The residents of Schnait and Beutelsbach, along with the rest of Germany, must have rejoiced as soon as the word reached their ears. The horror was finally over. Hans had lived his entire adult life either amidst the fighting or fearing it. Soldiers quartered in his village and business, his home was pillaged several times and burned at least once, and his wife perished. Who knows how many family members he lost, directly or indirectly, in addition to his first wife.
In some way, Hans was able to acquire several vineyards. Martin speculated that perhaps Katharina’s parents were wealthy and the vineyards escaped destruction during the war, stating, “Hans was able to rebuild his property which was damaged during the 30 Years’ War. When he died, he owned 5 houses and 10 wine yards, much more than the average.”
Hans’ only son with Katharina, Hans Lenz (1645-1725), would build upon that fortune. In addition to his father’s houses and vineyards, the son built a new house and died with more than 1500 liters of wine in the cellar and a net worth of almost 15,000 guilders.
Martin marked Hans’ property on the Beutelsbach map, above, in red.
The lower buildings still exist today.
From 1650-1659, Hans was listed as a bread examiner, viewer, or inspector on the list of citizens. Who knew there was such a thing?!
Hans Lenz died on Christmas Eve, 1667 in Beutelsbach.
In the German tradition, the family would have gathered to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, either at home or at church, or both. I wonder if Hans had been ill, or if he died suddenly, either at home during the festivities or in church during the services.
Perhaps Krampus, the Christmas demon, visited and stole Hans away!
Hans was 65 years old and left three living children from his marriage with Katherina. His son George had already died four years earlier. It’s unknown whether or not Katharina was still living.
If Hans was buried at the traditional time, his funeral service would have been held on Christmas Day, and he would have been buried inside the walled churchyard, just a few feet away from his home at 17 Stiftstrasse and the bakery he rebuilt after the war.
Perhaps Hans is resting within the very walls that saved him.
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