Title


CHAPTER V

Hermannstadt/Sibiu
"Hermannstadt/Sibiu"

A RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW.

Hermannstadt was called "the red town" by the Turks, from the colour of its brick walls. And many a time did the infidels visit it; on one occasion, A.D. 1438, besieging the place with 70,000 men, when their Sultan Amurad was killed by an arrow sent from one of the towers. Like all the Saxon towns, - and this is one of their especial characteristics,-it was surrounded by a wall : a necessary precaution at a time when the land was never safe for an hour from the invasions and forays of various Eastern hordes.

At the end of the High Street, the view is open; and there the Fogaraser mountain-range is seen, forming a bold background. It is a fine feature in the landscape, and is the more imposing as it rises at once from the broad plain on which Hermannstadt stands. For about one hundred miles this chain extends towards Kronstadt, -the whole distance bordering fertile fields, with hardly an undulation from one end to the other. The mountains have a peculiar formation. Vast buttresses are ranged along their side, at pretty equal intervals,- huge boulders of rock which, jutting out, go sloping downwards in an elliptical form to the plain. These are covered with wood, so that between each is a deep glen, winding its way gradually upward amid gloomy shade.

The town was built between 1141 and 1161 ; and the province called by its name included, at that time, nearly the whole of the Saxon territory, with the exception of Mediasch and Kronstadt and Schelk. The colonists had rights assured them, which gave them a position in the land as exceptional as it was enviable; and our own Magna Charta was not a surer safeguard against abuse of power than the charter which these immigrants demanded and obtained. The system of self-government was complete, handicraftsmen throve, guilds were formed, trade flourished, and the citizens grew rich. The workers in gold and silver already had a name, and their wares, wrought with much cunning, were prized in the neighbouring lands. The mere lists of the church vestments and the costly chalices, censers, candlesticks, show what wealth had beets accumulated. In 1453, King Ladislaus V. granted to Hermannstadt the privilege of sealing with red wax,--a high distinction, which shows, at all events, the importance of the town. Fortifications now were built, arms were provided, and the place became a stronghold. It and Kronstadt were said to be the bulwarks of Christianity. The town, with its many picturesque towers, must indeed have presented a stately sight; and when the gates were closed, the bastions manned by their several guilds, well-appointed and in full harness, the cross-bowmen and others with matching, posted along the battlements, stores in abundance being within the walls,-we may easily understand how many a foe expended all his strength against the place in vain.

The jealousy with which the Saxons guarded their Rights of citizenship against encroachment is a marked feature in their history. No Hungarian was allowed to possess land or a dwelling on Saxon ground. Every attempt to do so was resisted pertinaciously and at once. Even if by will, house or land had been left to a Hungarian, it was sold, and the money handed over to him ; but on Saxon soil he was allowed to have no footing. In such wise did this handful of strangers exclude every element which might possibly interfere with their peculiar political life. They feared, and justly, that a beginning once made, there would soon be a preponderance in their administration of aims and interests different from their own; and they determined that, under no pretext whatever, should such beginning ever take place.

How unflinching their opposition, is shown by the continued defeat of the Hungarian nobility in all their attempts, to obtain citizenship among them. And bold indeed must have been the front they showed,-these German immigrants, tillers of the soil, traders, and workers at the loom and various handicrafts,-to have opposed successfully sovereign and minister, and the highest authorities of the Church; a powerful nobility, too, proud of its position, and unaccustomed to give way to a plebeian will. Yet this, more than once, these men did; they fought their own battle, and won it; and, moreover, unaided and alone. Their civic struggles against oppressive rule remind us of the resistance which their brothers in the Low Countries showed when their liberties were threatened. And what is so striking, as being in contrast to a marked characteristic of the Germans of later times, they seem to have had no awe of, no undue respect for, mere rank or delegated authority. Prince or peer, it was alike to them when their privileges were endangered.

There are numerous instances, in the history' of the town, of gracious acts on the part of the Hungarian kings towards the inhabitants of Hermannstadt, when they came forward with characteristic munificence to help them after war, fire, or pestilence. But still the citizens were mistrustful; and no matter how great the goodwill shown them by their princes, they leaned always with more affection and attachment towards the German (Austrian) dynasty. Thus, in the feud (1527) between Ferdinand and Zápoyla for the throne of Hungary, Hermannstadt took side of the Emperor, and, when all Transylvania was subjugated, still held out to the last. It was only after a seven years' siege that it opened its gates to the victor.

The same mistrust of the stranger which we find in those early times, is still inherent in the Saxon peasant of to-day. The interest you show, in what belongs to him and his mode of life, he views with suspicion. He meets you and your inquiries with reserve. And it is assuredly remarkable, that a quality originally called forth and strengthened by peculiarity of position should be inherited, and still exist after so many centuries, when circumstances render it no longer needful.

In 1520 some o£ Luther's writings found their way hither, brought home by merchants who had visited the Leipsic fair. The now doctrines gained many followers, and none were more zealous in their support than two influential citizens, Markus Pempflinger and George Hecht. The former was the life and soul of the opposition to Zápoyla's claims during the seven years' siege; he was a man true as steel and of indomitable courage, and it was his brave example that kept up the hearts of his fellow-citizens while awaiting the succour which they so long looked for in vain. The events of this period (1500-1560) show what active minds and a firm will are able to accomplish. It was, however, a rude time; and we have instances of popular fury leading to wild and savage deeds.

As soon as quiet was restored, great was the activity in ordering whatever related to the common weal, -in reforming municipal laws, ordering trade, re-organizing the already important guilds. In 1554, the old Codex being found insufficient, Honduras published his `Compendium Juris Civilis,' and this became later the code of the Transylvanian Saxons, after having been solemnly recognized as such by the King of Poland and the Prince of Transylvania.

The schools were improved; teachers from abroad were summoned and liberally paid. Physicians from Paris and Italy were sent for; and there was progress and improvement befitting the chief town of an independent realm.

Though Hermannstadt was more than once nearly burnt down, and though, in 1556, it suffered from the plague, wise heads and industrious hands soon repaired all disasters. To ensure improvement, it was ordered that a clergyman should only be permitted to buy houses of wood, so that he might be induced to rebuild them of stone. The town grew in wealth and importance, despite many fearful visitations. The learned men called thither received 100 gold florins a year, with 25 measures of corn and 400 gallons of wine, and the physicians 150 florins, and the rest also in kind,--a munificent payment for that time. How rich the merchants were is evident, from the fact which has come down to us that Gabriel Báthori deprived a Hermannstadt burgher of his goods to the amount of 75,000 florins, on his way home from Prague. Seven years later, the same man had again 8000 florins' worth of his wares confiscated, on account of his treasonable practices. In 1610, Báthori levied a fine of 50,000 florins on the town, to be paid the same day, and a few mouths later, another of double the sum. And yet, in 1670, the townspeople gave their church an organ which cost 6193 florins, 1000 florins of which was contributed by a single citizen, -sufficient proof of the busy industry that was here at work. That trade throve was, however, not surprising, for neither in the country nor in the adjoining lands was any competition. Even what we term art-manufacture seems to have flourished here, for as early as 1545 Isabella, daughter of the king of Poland, writes to Hermannstadt to order several thousand glazed tiles of the size and pattern sent, for the floors of her castle at Karlsburg.

Thus, while their king were moneyless, which it seems they nearly always were, the citizens of Hermannstadt were, as we say, "making money," Thrift and industry characterized them, as much as their opposites distinguished the Hungarian nobility among whom they dwelt. In the character of these, indeed, it has ever been a marked feature that they are unable to husband their property, and to keep out of debt. And it is now only after sad experience has taught them a hard lesson, that some of them -I speak here of Transylvania- manage their estates well and carefully, introducing improvements both in culture and machinery, attending themselves to the management, and, in short, superintending all as actively as the country-gentleman in England is accustomed to do.

Transylvania was too rich and lovely a possession not to be coveted by those who had a chance of winning it. Now it is under the Porte, and now under a Polish king. At one time a Hungarian prince is ruler, at another it is a Turkish province, till at last, in 1691, the principality becomes a part of Austria, and the so-called "Leopold Diploma," or charter, is signed by the Emperor.

In all these changes Hermannstadt, as the town of greatest importance, suffered most. The tyrant Báthori was used to say, "He who will make himself master of Transylvania must have the keys of Hermannstadt in his pocket;" and accordingly it was hither that each new competitor for the sovereignty came, as to a stronghold and a sure source of wealth,

That in such troubled times a town should progress as Hermannstadt had done, may seem remarkable; but far more striking in its history is, I think, the unwearied watchfulness of its citizens in repelling encroachments on their liberties. It deserves to be better known, for in no time or country has a little band of men shown a braver spirit in battling for their rights. Even after the reign of the bloodthirsty Báthori, when weakened in every way, physically, morally, and financially,-still at the very mention of a proposal to evade their municipal laws they turned at once to resist. Faint as they were, humiliated and broken, that word aroused them, and the memory of what they had already endured from the presence of their Nero and his garrison made them strong. They declared they would sacrifice all-life and property-to maintain their chartered rights; and their words were so resolute and fierce that their prince again gave way. The code laid down in 1583 was still maintained, and remained in full vigour when Transylvania became a province of Austria; and it was only then, when the double eagle was planted on the mountains which separated civilization on one side from barbarism on the other, that the land was preserved from the constant ravages which had desolated it hitherto. Till 1853 the Saxons were governed by the laws they themselves had made. All their rights. liberties, and immunities were guaranteed by the diploma of Leopold; in it, Austria promised to respect them, and she kept her word.

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38




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