During the 17th and 18th century, many people left Germany for England looking for religious freedom. This was one of the most unusual migrations ever seen during this time. They became known as the ‘Poor Palatines’ due to their destitution, they left their homes in Germany during the middle of winter at the end of 1708.
These migrants were farmers whose lands had been repeatedly devastated during the wars which were ravaging Central Europe at the time. Could you blame them? If someone kept knocking down your Lego creation over and over again, you’d move too. Anyway, their new elector, a determined Catholic, had ambitions to convert his overwhelmingly Protestant peasantry. So now the farmers are not only facing rebuilding after wars but also a leader who wants them all to convert to the faith he follows. By the summer of 1709 there were around 13,000 Germans crowding London’s eastern slums.
Not all were in the slums though, some were lodged in the wharves and warehouses at the docks both in Bermondsey and Southwark, thousands more were sent to an official refugee camp where there were a thousand army tents pitched in Blackheath. This enormous tent village became a bit of a tourist attraction. Their lives here were very basic but they were content, some made simple toys of small value which they sold to those who came to see them, their food was very basic consisting of brown bread, cheap cuts of meat and some roots and herbs and they were very cheerful and thankful for this food. Every Sunday, great numbers of them would go to church in the Savoy.
There were some people who were all for accommodating these migrants and so it was that they were given land in deserted areas such as New Forest. Trouble then started when the number of migrants then multiplied and the general attitude in England changed to one of hostility. It was seen that these migrants rather chose to beg than to work and so they were accused of being a breeding disease.
Queen Anne had a bit of a solution for this and saw to it that land speculators who had obtained land patents in the colonies then sent agents to the Palatines with offers of 40 acres of land, paid transportation to the colonies, and maintenance. Some 3,000 took up this offer and made their way to North America were they then settled into Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Many of those who remained were transported to Ireland where they settled in well in places such as the Rathkeale area of County Limerick. So if you have ancestors from this county, there is every chance they could have been German.
Remember how I said in my previous post that Germans were also involved in the royal family. Heres how it came to be that by the 18th century, Britain was ruled by Germans, this lasted for more than a century. The first of the Hanoverians was George I, who spoke no English, next after him was George II who only spoke German at home and then George III who declared ‘Oh!, My heart will never forget, that it pulses with German blood”. Having this German blood in the royal family encouraged more German settlers, from aristocratic members of the King’s inner circle to businessmen, bankers, scholars and artists.