Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"The Forgotten Saxons"
Wm. C Leonhardt, August 1994, Vol.6 No.2, Pages 13-14
At our meeting on March 20, 1994, in Brantford, Mr. William C. Leonhardt delivered a very interesting lecture on "another type of loyalism", the story of the Saxon people of northern Germany. Many of the descendants of the Saxon tribes settled in early colonial America. During the American revolution, many fought under the "Royal Standard". We are pleased to offer this shorter version of Mr. Leonhardt's address.
The story of the "Forgotten Saxons" had its beginnings in what is today, northern Germany. Rome was never able to defeat the Saxon tribes. For the fourth century on, Roman power in western Europe decayed and the Saxons
expanded into Britain and established some non-permanent settlements along the coast of Gaul. In A.D. 772, Charlemagne, in reprisal for Saxon raids along the Rhine Valley, initiated a campaign against them. On two occasions, after defeating the Saxons in battle, he proved to be a generous victor. Charlemagne launched a massive military assault to begin the final conquest of the Saxon people. After their third defeat, they rebelled again and Charlemagne responded by beheading 4500 Saxon prisoners and uprooting one third of the population. They were moved to the coast of the English Channel, Flanders, the Sauer and Moselle Valleys, near the Seine River and Dunkerque. Large members crossed the English Channel to join their Saxon compatriots in England.
After five hundred years, a large number of the Saxons in Franconia had not been assimilated into the feudal system. In 1141, King Geysea of Hungary was looking for settlers to help the Magyars bolster the defence of his eastern borders. The Saxons, who were nominally a free people, heard about his proposal. They considered his offer for free land, the promise of better treatment and the chance to control their own destiny. Some of them decided to accept his invitation and migrate.
They built their wagons; filled them with their possessions; hitched up their oxen and made a one-hundred day overland trek to what is today, Transylvania. Many did not survive the journey, falling prey to robber skills and rebuilt their reputations as fearsome fighters.
The land they found was indeed rich and fertile. the Saxons began to clear the land and laid out villages in a format reminiscent of the Saxon villages in England. The parallels in Saxon history did not end with village design. In England, the year 1215 saw the signing of the Magna Carta. After a series of bloody battles in Transylvania, the Golden Charter was signed in 1224. Under the Golden Charter, the Saxons won the right to elect their own judges, magistrates and clergy. They answered directly to the king and later to the emperor.
The next five hundred years saw the Saxons fighting the Tatars, the Mongols, the Huns, the Turks and other forces seeking to penetrate Europe. During these wars, they suffered heavy losses. Many villages were left empty. The people either perished in battle or were carried off as slaves. The Saxons bought their land many times over, with their blood. As the need for constant warfare receded, their fate moved from the battlefield to the political arena and to circumstances, which eventually led to their downfall.
The first of these events was the Reformation. Under the influence of the teachings of Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), the Saxons became Lutheran. In a climate where the Austrians remained or returned to Catholicism, the Hungarian nobility played on the religious differences to undermine the Saxon nation. The Saxons were safe, only as long as the need to protect the frontiers exceeded the urge to "burn Protestants".
The downfall of the Saxon nation was accelerated in 1867 when the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph, permitted the annexation of Transylvania by Hungary. The Saxons lost control of their lands and could not hold any political office unless they became "Hungarian". The inevitable loss of their heritage was stayed by putting their institutions under the control of the Lutheran Church in Transylvania. Fortunately, the exodus to various parts of the British Empire and the United States increased dramatically.
The end of the First World War brought the third major event that signalled the beginning of the end. When Transylvania was transferred to Rumania, all plots of land larger than six acres were confiscated. Church lands, used to finance the schools and other institutions, were also seized. Another mass migration followed as the Saxons went overseas to earn the money to buy back the land from the new owners. They were readily accepted in the countries that constituted the British Empire and the United States. The new arrivals received support from their relatives who had preceded them. They came to love their news lands and never returned to Transylvania.
The exodus of the majority of the remaining Saxons occurred in two stages. When the Soviet Army overran Rumania, some of the Saxons remaining in Transylvania, successfully fled to the West.
Efforts to return them to certain death under the Stalinist-style Rumanian regime, were prevented by the informal intervention of the British government, Sir Winston Churchill and the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches. Like the Saxons who had left before them, they found new homes in the British Commonwealth and the United States.
Some of the Saxons, who could not escape, died in slave labours camps in the former Soviet Union. Many of those who survived were quietly rescued through the intervention of the British government and never returned to Rumania. A number were "purchased" from the Rumanian government by West Germany. The collapse of the Soviet Empire allowed the rest, who wished to leave to come to the west. Approximately 25,000 Saxons still remain. Most of them are the elderly who want to be buried with their loved ones. Were the Saxons really forgotten? Not really! Every time they were sorely pressed in their efforts to maintain their culture and their beliefs, they were given a gateway to the British Empire and Commonwealth and to the United States. Over the preceding two centuries, their numbers in Transylvania have decreased markedly. They have found new homes in the lands where the spirit and democratic principles of their revered Golden Charter, still prevail.