diplomat at the imperial court in Vienna
Confessor to Kaiser Karl VI
Pater Vitus Georg Thönemann (1659 to 1740), the Paderborn diplomat
at the court of Kaiser Karl VI, was a descendant of an old Westphalian
patrician family. His father came from the strongly academic Thone
family in Warburg, called Thönemann or also Thönnemann;
he was Dr. juris utriusque Heinrich Thönemann, royal judge
in Corvey and Gograf to Höxter and councillor to the royal
bishop Bernhard von Galen of Münster. The great uncle of Heinrich
Thönemann was Johann VII Thöne, called Thonemann, who
is the ancestor of the Thonemann branch in Scherfede.
Joist I. Thöne,
called Thonemann, in his second marriage from 1556 was married to
Angela von Listingen (daughter of the Mayor Bernhard von Listingen
and his wife Angela Nabercord, widow of Herman Volmar, who died
in 1552). The couple had three children, Johann
VII, born in 1557, the founding father of the Scherfede
Thonemann branch and his brothers Christoph and Joachim Thöne
(born after 1557). Both are registered as councillors of the city
of Warburg. It is not known which of the two brothers married a
woman named Hencken or Heinken, who bore a son Georg Thöne,
who is expressly named as the grandson of Joist I Thöne.
In the case of the Warburgers descended from Georg, the spelling
varies from Thonemann to Tonnemann, Thönemann or Thönnemann.
Georg Thöne married a Catharina von Hoxar (before 1620), daughter
of Mayor Dietrich von Hoxar (1607 to 1619), died after 1653 and
his wife Anna von Geismar. Catharina had two brothers: Jodocus von
Hoxar, born 1608, died 1648, Canonikus in Fritzlar, and Martin von
Hoxar, born 1610, from 1641 to 1651 councillor and chamberlain in
From the marriage of Georg and Catharina, Heinrich Thönemann
was born in 1620 according to the baptism register of the Altstädter
Kirche in Warburg. He was called after the founder of the Warburg
grammar school, Heinrich Thöne. Georg must have died soon after
the birth of his son. Already in 1620 the parish registers bore
the remark: "Catharina uxor quondam Georgii Thöne".
The widow was listed after 1644 in the tax lists of the town of
While in the case of Joist I Thöne, called Thonemann, the name
Thone or Thöne mostly appears in the tax lists, he is called
Thonemann in the old documents – with the exception of Hardehausen
from the year 1672, where he was named with his brother Johann VI.
The Scherfede branch and the Nörder branches of the family
later only went by the name Thonemann, which was originally a pet
name. On the other hand, the brother of Joist I, Johann VI and his
sons Martin and Heinrich always called themselves Thöne.
Heinrich Tönnemann – also called Thönemann –
is outstanding in the family. He would also be honoured as a significant
personality within the Thonemann family, not only because he was
married five times, but because he became a very wealthy man. He
laid the foundation for a new, very considerable upswing of the
family by his cleverness, the good family relations and the many
connections to important personalities of Westphalia. He was the
first in a long series of academics in the Thonemann family. The
name Thöne is finally left behind and is presented as Thönnemann,
Tönnemann, Thönemann or Thonemann.
It is not known where Heinrich Thonemann studied; however he is
shown as doctor of jurisprudence and theology; in this capacity
he became councillor to bishop Bernhard von Galen in Münster,
who ruled the royal abbey in Corvey as Administrator. At the beginning
of the 1650s, Heinrich Thonemann married Maria Wiedenbrück,
daughter of the privy councillor Bernhard von Wiedenbrück.
The couple had five children. In 1654 he was involved in a witch
trial against a certain Catharina von Sudershausen from Vörden,
who was declared innocent and set free. On 20th May 1663 he was
inaugurated as judge and Gograf in Höxter. He called himself
Consilarius of the sovereign, whom he also represented in the state
parliament. It should be noted here that in former centuries only
aristocrats were appointed senior government officials; but at this
time more and more from the middle classes, who were well educated
having studied law at university, held these government offices.
On 22nd May 1664 the ruler in Corvey rewarded him and his sons,
Vitus Georg, Arnold, Bernhard, Hermann and Franz with a noble feudal
tenure in Höxter. After the death of his first wife he married
a von Loe, daughter of Alexander Maximilian von Loe from Holland,
who lived in Höxter. His third wife was a von Ketteler, daughter
of Goswin zu Merlsheim and Anna Elisabeth von Neuhoff, known as
Ley. The couple had three daughters. In his fourth marriage Heinrich
wedded Metta Theodora Meyer, daughter of the Hildesheimer Chancellor
Dr. of law Konrad Meyer and Theodora Wippermann.
After this wife had also died prematurely in 1687, Heinrich married
for the fifth and last time, on 8.8.1691, the widow Elisabeth Schilder
(Seuteantiy), née Blömer zu Albaxen. The Habsburgers
had the motto: "Others may go to war, you happy Austria, marry!"
This motto also applied to Heinrich Thonemann. "Tu felix Thönemann,
nube!" In this way he succeeded in making up for the great
damage inflicted on wealth of his family by the thirty Years War.
But more than this, he accumulated such a fortune and to left it
to his children as was unusual for the good Warburg circumstances:
just one of the sons, Mayor Franz Friedrich Thonemann in Warburg
was able to call 1,000 acres of landed property (1 acre = 0,25 ha)
his inheritance. This was a record in the family up to then.
At the age of 75 Heinrich Thönemann died on 16.3.1696 in Höxter.
of Vitus Georg Thönemann
Vitus Georg Thönemann became the best known of Heinrich‘s sons, indeed a man of international reputation. He was named after his grandfather Georg Thöne, called Thonemann. Vitus Georg was born in 1659, the date of baptism is known: 4.10.1659. After attending the Jesuit grammar school in Paderborn, he studied four semesters at the local university and finally did his doctorate to Magister Artium. The intelligent student attracted the attention of his teachers at an early stage. This led to his entry to the Jesuit order on 7.2.1677. His noviciate followed at the college in Trier, a further year‘s study of philosophy and the fine arts, in between also a position as a lecturer in Paderborn, studies in Münster and in the monastery at Geist as well as final examinations as professor of theology and philosophy in Paderborn with the citation "magna cum laude". Afterwards he taught poetry and rhetoric in Meppen and philosophy in Paderborn, where he also took the four vows on 20th February 1693.
Pater Vitus Georg Tönnemann SJ
Faculty of theology Paderborn, permanently on loan from Verein für Geschichte und Altertumskunde Westfalens, Abt. Paderborn e.V. (Association for the History and Archaeology of Westphalia, Dept. Paderborn), Inv. Nr. 81/977 (AV2), Height 85 cm, Width 68,5 cm. All copyrights are with the Association for the History and Archaeology of Westphalia, Dept. Paderborn.
(Enlargement by a click on the mouse)
He had proven his first great skill when he arranged a settlement
with the elector Friedrich von Brandenburg after a long and difficult
dispute of the Jesuits of Paderborn about the inherited control of
Büren by Moritz von Büren, the imperial chamber court president,
after his death. In the course of this he is supposed to have called
Pater Thönemann an extremely competent Jesuit.
With the in-born conciliatoriness of a man of the world, who had grown
up in the circles of senior government officials, he had moved on
the polished floor of the imperial court of Vienna with sureness,
admirable calmness, determination and perseverance, as the agreement
of the sovereign to a settlement as well as confirmation by the Pope
and the Kaiser had to be obtained. In Vienna he used every free hour
in order to get at the university the necessary knowledge in civil
and constitutional law and to acquaint himself with the intricate
ways of a world diplomacy. In volume 8 of the journal of the society
for history and antiquities on this protracted inheritance trial Rosenkranz
writes the following: "Without Thönemann‘s involvement,
Büren would hardly have become the site of a Jesuit college,
maybe the Jesuits there would not even have succeeded in saving Moritz‘s
inheritance out of the chaos of so many legal disputes and hostile
conspiracy. Therefore, even after his death, he enjoyed the honour
to be praised by the Jesuits as one of the greatest credits and pillars
of the society of Jesus."
Undoubtedly in recognition of this "immortal merit" –
singulariter de hoc collegio, cujus magnus benefactor extitit, immortaliter
mertio – in 1727 the son of his brother Arnold, the Paderborn
University professor Christoph Thönemann, was appointed rector
of the college in Büren. This splendid rococo construction was
being built then. At the same time Vitus Georg became better known
day by day to the court and people of power and influence also by
various legal treatises, which he published in German and Latin, and
the esteem his person enjoyed grew and grew. Thus he was also entrusted
with fighting against certain theological-legal theses. He was appointed
doctor of theology by the university of Vienna.
With the Kaiser
Due to the cleverness and reliability shown by the young diplomat,
it was no surprise that the attention of the imperial court was drawn
to Dr. Vitus Georg Thönemann. The German Kaiser Leopold I in
Vienna (1658 to 1705; born 9.6.1640, died 5.5.1705 in Vienna), who
was especially pleasantly touched by the upright and straight character
of the scholastic diplomat, took him into his service and made him
tutor and travel companion of Herzog Joseph of Lorraine (born on 26.7.1678
in Vienna, he ruled for only a short time from 1705 to 1711, died
on 17.4.1711). In this way, Pater Dr. Thönemann got to know the
Austrian inherited lands, Lombardy and Hungary. In this due to his
unconditional reliability and his tactful behaviour, he was also able
to win the full trust of his Kaiser to such an extent that in 1705
he sent him to Spain as confessor to Archduke Karl, King of Spain,
whose confessor Pater Andreas Pauer had died on 8.10.1704. Like Kaiser
Joseph I, his brother and successor, Kaiser Karl VI had Jesuits as
confessors from their youth on. In 1693 at the age of eight he received
Pater Andreas Pauer as instructor and confessor. After his death Pater
Vitus Georg Thönemann took his place.
It was a great mark of confidence of Kaiser Leopold I in Pater Thönemann
when he sent him to apply for a bride for Prince Karl to Schloß
Salzdahlum to the court of Duke Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel,
to get to know Princess Elisabeth Christiane von Braunschweig (later
mother of Kaiserin Maria Theresia). Besides the portrait of the princess,
Pater Vitus Georg was able to bring the reassuring information to
Spain that his canvassing for the Prince was successful. As this contract
was settled to the complete satisfaction of both sides (the engagement
of the young couple was celebrated in Barcelona on 1.8.1708), Pater
Thönemann accompanied his lord on all trips afterwards.
In this time due to his absolute honesty and correct fulfilment of
his duties he won with King Karl – meanwhile crowned Kaiser
– complete trust because the monarch realised immediately that
his confessor, as opposed to the courtly submissiveness of the other
court servants, did not woo favour and prestige and in no way tried
to exploit his generosity. A close relationship of confidence developed
between the monarch and his advisor. Back in Vienna – King Karl
took over government in 1711 after his imperial brother – Pater
Thönemann was made responsible for the pastoral care of the military
with the title of grandchaplain to the imperial troops. The total
pastoral care for the soldiers was newly organised, discipline was
enforced , independence of pastoral care for the army was introduced
(despite the resistance of the bishops) and finally an independent
imperial army episcopate was founded. Its occupancy was confirmed
by the respective popes.
Thus the imperial councillor Dr. theol. Vitus Georg Thönemann
had created a unique position of great significance for himself, not
by the favour of wealthy patrons, but by his own skill and merit,
and in total agreement with the Kaiser, who always used to call him
"our Thönemann" – in order to testify to his
favour in public. The imperial councillor gladly involved himself
for every just cause and was helpful to many applicants at the court;
with a sharp eye in the assessment of people and also the political
circumstances, he was quickly able to "separate the wheat from
"It is unbelievable with what circumspection he had to act and
indeed also acted so - in his exposed situation, in which he was exposed
to so many looks, and so much was said about him; no despondency let
him falter in the fulfilment of his duty and in his belief, he did
not gamble away the goodwill of the ruler by brusque behaviour, and
he punished slanderous accusations by his blameless conduct of life."
at the imperial court
In many things, whether it had to do with the right of the small positions,
top-political decisions, recognition of the illegitimate son of the
marquis from the aristocratic house Nesle-Mailly (niece of the archbishop
of Reims) or the return of principalities (e.g. Nassau-Dillenberg,
Hardamer, Siegen) to Catholicism, the imperial councillor Vitus Georg
Thönemann always appeared with the same steadfastness and justice
and encouraged no evil machinations. Political relations to dukes
and principalities were improved due to him and his clear manner in
confidential negotiations. "The Kaiser with his sensitive piety
had made a habit of the following: if a difficult legal dispute, in
which the legal position was completely undecided, was referred to
the highest court of appeal, then he took a look through the papers,
with an added hand-written note, in which he warned him, regardless
of political considerations to state his opinion, which seemed to
him to be right. He used to do this with the greatest precision, in
blameless execution, with knowledge and such great discretion so that
he moved the big things, but remained unknown as mover. In order to
keep his personal independence, he moved between the disputing parties,
without which no court state can be, exactly in the middle, so that
neither could assume he was fonder of them, and likewise nobody could
complain at being disadvantaged." (eulogy..)
According to his mission, Pater Vitus Georg undertook especially also
the needs and wishes of the church. "Almost no petition of Catholic
interest of any ecclesiastical position came to the imperial court
without turning to him as intercessor and mediator." Also the
papal chair in Rome first of all contacted the imperial councillor
and Pater in important matters. (e.g. Pope Clemens XI or Pope Benedict
Thus it came about that the imperial confessor became "the refuge
of bishops, monasteries and missions". It was also thanks to
him that the Paderborn Jesuits again got possession of Büren
and Falkenhagen. Therefore in his obituary the province of the Austrian
order and the monastery at Freiburg, which had lost lands in Alsace
in the wars with France praised him. "The mercy of the sovereign
remained undiminished for him, he liked him more and more, and as
often as he mentioned him, he spoke of him in no other way as of "his
Thönemann". The general opinion concerning his capability,
the worthiness of his behaviour, the bearing radiating earnestness,
his winning humanity, the weight of his words and his unpretentiousness,
all that brought him admiration in the whole court".
Kind-heartedness tolerance incorruptibility
It is said in a statement about his charity and kind-heartedness:
"Innumerable are those whom he again gave life lost by a court
judgement through his request to the kind Kaiser or whom he helped
in the struggle for reputation and honour. He helped nobles who got
into need by support, others whose fortune had been used up by legal
disputes dragging on for decades, he helped by expediting the court
case. He especially took widows and orphans under his wing. He used
to act like a father with them".
The spiritual greatness summoned up by this ingenious man in his religious
tolerance is really worthy of admiration. The scope of his view and
of his decision was far ahead of his time and contemporaries, by centuries.
For this tolerance was no empty talk, but an irrevocable decision
based on fact. An example of this: as the government of Saxony forced
the founder of the Herrenhuter community of brothers (a religious
community devoted to piety – evangelical brotherly church) Graf
Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (born on 26.5.1700 in Dresden, died
on 9.5.1760 in Herrenhut), "for the will of the cry of evangelical
theology" to leave the country with his brothers, he fled to
Mähren; from there he turned in his great need to the well-known
confessor to the Kaiser in Vienna; Thönemann arranged the matter,
took care of him and his people so well that Zinzendorf declared,
"he will keep an everlasting memory of him for this".
As a second example for an ecumenical attitude of Dr Vitus Georg Thönemann
may be the efforts the very foresighted man took in the interests
of religious peace: Archbishop Leopold of Salzburg, based on the decisions
of the Augsburg religious peace, forced his subjects who did not want
to profess to the same faith practised by him to leave the country.
This incident caused a stir in the whole of Europe. Pater Thönemann
did his utmost to prevent this evil order of the ruler. In Salzburg
he arranged for the emigrants to be granted what they were entitled
to according to imperial law. "The efforts in the interests of
the evangelical Salzburgers will also be a credit in the history of
our great relative" (Dr. Thöne).
From a report of the British envoy to Vienna to Lord Townshand in
London of 17th December 1721 can be seen that there were only three
people at the imperial court who were totally inaccessible to bribery
(which was customary at the time), namely Prince Eugen von Sayoyen,
the court chamber President Graf Gundacker von Starhemberg and the
Kaiser‘s confessor, the Jesuit Thönemann. The statement
is indeed doubly honourable, on the one hand, to be mentioned in the
same breath with the leading general and statesman of the Austria
of the time, if not even of Europe, on the other, in a time of daily,
obvious and boundless corruption to stand like a steady rock in a
raging surf for right and justice. This was an exemplary person.
Vitus Georg was a person who was driven to work by an untiring zeal;
he seemed to feed on strain and to relax from it; in order not to
let the briefest moment slip away idly, he turned to his desk or to
prayer immediately after lunch without allowing himself a breather,
and he never refreshed his strength by a short nap. This was only
the external, official side of Pater Vitus Georg; his inner beauty,
the nobility of his pious soul will have been much more impressive.
"The higher the position he reached, the deeper the roots of
a real humility in him reached; he was never heard talking about the
favour of the sovereign or about matters which he had carried out
gloriously; when others began in this way, he broke the unwelcome
conversation off immediately and showed how foreign such vanity was
to him. There was nothing decorative or valuable in his room except
for the jewellery of pure poverty and of honest praise that his noble
visitors gave him, who could not express enough surprise at the excellent
modesty of this pious courtier." (eulogy)
"The following is really worthy of mention: during all the years
he had to spend at the court in Laxenburg, where all the joys of spring
were sacrificed, he did not get away from the house once in order
to take part in the royal falcon hunt or to go for a walk in the nearby
woods in the evening. In the city he behaved himself in the same way;
although the court coach was always at hand, he only used it to go
to the court and to the houses of the lords and ministers, never to
go out of the city in order to go for a walk or to breathe fresh air,
thus it was that although he had lived such a long time in Vienna,
he remained almost a stranger there. He barred himself even more from
going to theatre performances, although he was invited by the Kaiser
himself, which were staged in Vienna in the grandest fashion, and
he never attended one; in this way he avoided the temptations of the
wealthy life and did not deprive useful activities of useful hours."
The relationship of
the Kaiser to Pater Vitus Georg
Is it surprising that in the case of such honourable behaviour that
the Kaiser and his whole family were truly fond of this great man
of honour? Moreover there was also total harmony in theological and
religious questions. The Kaiser attended the holy mass of the priest
– for more than thirty years – and received the sacraments
only from his hand. Vitus Georg should have been promoted to the highest
ecclesiastical positions of honour, but Kaiser Karl could not part
from him. The priest in his modesty refused all high honours and awards.
On the day of his golden jubilee as a priest, which was held two years
late because Vitus Georg so strictly refused it, but finally the Kaiser
commanded it, the whole royal family celebrated with him in the court
chapel of Laxenburg. Numerous guests of honour, including Cardinal
Sigismund von Kollowitsch from Hungary and the Venetian envoy took
part. After the celebration Vitus gave all those present the priestly
blessing – and it is reported – Kaiser Karl and Father
Thönemann faced each other silently for a time, moved and with
tears in their eyes.
Pater Vitus Georg Thönemann presented his home
church, the Nikolai-Kirche in Höxter with a valuable
monstrance. There is a dove at the top of the monstrance,
on the left of the showcase Christ ascending to Heaven
and on the right Mary with the infant Jesus and below
God the Father.
In the base there are four medals with Nikolaus, Franz
Xaverius, Ignatius of Loyola and Vitus. The bottom of
the base bears the following engraving:
VITVS GEORGIVS TÖNNEMAN SOCIETATIS IESV SACERDOS DEDIT ECCLESIAE AD S · NICOLAVM HVXARIAE · SINT ILLIVS MEMORES IN OMNI BENEDICTIONE SPIRITVALI
The letters in the Latin inscription are of different
sizes. The bigger letters also indicate numbers. They
have to be added up in order to establish the year the
monstrance was made.
(Photo: Rainer Ante 2001)
(Enlargement by a click on the mouse)
At the royal lunch attended by the Kaiser and all the highest officials
of the court, Durius, the imperial chamberlain and attendant of the
private treasury of the Kaiser, handed a golden commemorative coin
over to the surprised and perplexed Vitus Georg. It was decorated
with numerous diamonds and the picture of the Kaiser; with sincere
words he passed on the thanks of his majesty for the loyal services.
Also the general of the order of the Jesuits wished luck and blessing
to this honourable distinction, "whereby the Kaiser wanted the
whole world to know how highly he appreciated your spiritual services
over so many years. About the valuable commemorative coin, which he
hung around your Grace, you cannot use for any other purpose than
what the Kaiser determined, namely for your family, which I give you
total permission to do". Unfortunately this valuable piece is
no longer available.
The End of Pater
Vitus Georg crucifix to the Kaiser
On 14 th March 1740 Kaiser Karl VI, visited the aged priest, dying
of bronchial catarrh, alone in order to take leave of his trusted
servant who had stood at his side in such an exemplary way for 34
years. Sitting in the poor cell on the bed of the patient, the Kaiser
spoke with the beloved priest for over an hour.
On his departure the priest – with death approaching - gave
his kind and beloved sovereign a present of his crucifix in his memory,
which the Kaiser took with great emotion as a last memory out of the
hand of the doomed person like a valuable present. Seven months later
on his deathbed the Kaiser clutched this crucifix until his last gasp.
The Kaiser is supposed to have said to Pater Vitus Georg on his departure
that he would follow him into eternity quite soon. Three hours after
this conversation with the Kaiser, the patient choked on his deadly
phlegm and returned his gentle soul to his maker. Thus Pater Thönemann
ended his wise life on 14.3.1740 with a wise death.
On his return to the court, the Kaiser confirmed that if the loss
of a person had ever hurt him deeply it was the loss of this man.
Pater Vitus Georg was ceremoniously buried in the tomb of the Profeßhaus
(house of the novices) in Vienna. Kaiser Karl VI died on 20th October
1740 at the age of 56 after a 30-year reign. With him the male line
of the glorious Habsburg family was extinguished.
The procurator of the province of the Austrian order Pater Michael
Bliemel wrote on 16.3.1740 to the procurator of all Germany:
"Yesterday we lost a great credit and pillar of society, Pater
Vitus Thönemann, a man of immortal merit in connection with the
church, the whole society and our province, whose death is lamented
by everybody but by nobody more than by the Kaiser."
Without question our relative was suited to this high position with
the Kaiser in Vienna – like no other. His innate kindness, his
universal education, connected with his immense energy and straightness,
on top of that his reliability, coupled with absolute faithfulness
and incorruptibility, were the clear signs for the suitability of
this distinguished personality. Due to his origins and upbringing,
any arrogance, exaggerated opinion of himself and favouritism were
totally foreign to him. He loved simplicity and modesty, was happy
with his simple and busy life. The general of the order had to warn
him repeatedly not to endanger his health through overly strict fasting.
This superior of the order also had to keep him from leaving the imperial
court with its underhanded intrigues, as such behaviour did not correspond
to his nature, his deep piety and broad-minded tolerance.
Nikolai Church in Höxter, the former parish church, received as a present from Pater Thönemann a valuable keepsake, a magnificent chalice and a monstrance. These beautifully worked splendid rococo specimens are an expression of the great goldsmiths‘ art of the time.
This handmade chalice was likewise left to Nikolai
Church in Höxter by Pater Vitus Georg. The chalice
has three pictures: crucifixion group – Anthony
with the child Jesus – Vitus.
The engraved writing on the bottom of the base says:
REVERENDVS P · VITVS GEORGIVS TÖNNEMAN E SOCIETATEIESV FIERI FECIT ORENT PRO E D
The letters in the Latin inscription are of different sizes. The bigger letters also indicate numbers. They have to be added up in order to establish the year the chalice was made.
(Photo: Rainer Ante 2001)
(Enlargement by a click on the mouse)
Current research projects
The order had a portrait of this great Jesuit painted for the college
From Vienna Pater Vitus Georg made the Jesuit residence in Büren
a donation of 1,000 gold guilders (Herrschaft Büren, file 705
state archives Münster).
He was a good example for us all.
Should such personalities not live in our times too, who are a model
for our children?
We need them very much.
For current research projects and further information see
*= inserted by Ralf A. H. Thonemann, Duesseldorf (Germany)