Hanoverian Wends of Lower Saxony

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Written by Peterski (aka Tomenable).

Hanoverian Wends (the Wendlanders)

They were a West Slavic ethnicity and a linguistic group, indigenous to the regions of Wendland (German: Hannoversches Wendland) and Drawehn, located to the west of the Elbe River, in the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (now the county of Lüchow-Dannenberg in Lower Saxony). They spoke a now extinct language known as Drevani Polabian (German: Dravänopolabisch), a variety of Western Polabian, distinct from Common Polabian or Eastern Polabian.

Early History

It is believed, that Hanoverian Wends (Hannoverschen Wenden) emerged mainly from an Early Medieval tribe known as Drevani (Drevanen), first mentioned in 1004 AD. The history of the Drevani until 1300, in the context of wider Polabian history, deserves a separate blog entry.

Late Middle Ages

At least until 1317, Wendland and the heavily wooded and hilly region of Drawehn remained untouched by the Ostsiedlung and isolated from the outside world due to their remoteness and poor conditions for agriculture. Most of the populace was rural and lived off fishing, beekeeping, hunting, animal husbandry (including pigs, cows and goats), as well as subsistence farming. Due to increasing trade with newly emerging cities, by the end of the 16th century money-goods economy gradually replaced barter. At the turns of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, in parts of Lower Saxony located west of the Elbe, Slavic was spoken in a compact area between Lauenburg an der Elbe, Boizenburg, Lübtheen, Dömitz, Lenze, Gartow, Wittenberge, Werben, Arendsee, Salzwedel, Brome, Uelzen and Lüneburg.[1] At that time, their neigbours east of the Elbe, between Hagenow (Mecklenburg) and Perleberg (Prignitz), were also Slavic-speakers, but - unlike Hanoverian Wends - they would soon become Germanized.[2]

Early Modern Period

As of 1600, Hanoverian Wends inhabited an area of ~350 square miles (~900 square km), including over 120 villages, as well as in several towns (but in towns they were usually a minority, outnumbered by Germans). Their population at that time can be estimated as around 15,000-20,000 people - about as numerous as Finnic-speaking Livs were at the time. Slavic-speaking population inhabited such villages as Belitz, Beutow, Jabel, Klennow, Kremlin, Mammoißel, Predöhlsau, Lensian, Reetze, Süthen, Volzendorf, Küsten, Trebel, Dolgow, Suhlendorf and many others.[3][4] Their settlements were often villages with distinct circular shape, the Rundling form, easy to distinguish from German villages founded during the Ostsiedlung. In the 18th century, economic prosperity in Wendland led to the increase of the number of blacksmith workshops, cooper workshops, wheelwright workshops and other enterprises. Flax started to be farmed, as well as potatoes introduced from the Americas. Sheep farming increased.

Map of Slavic-speaking area in Wendland ca. 1600:

During the 17th and 18th centuries - later than their German neighbours - Wendlanders started to convert to Lutheranism. That facilitated the process of Germanization and gradual disappearance of the distinct ethnic identity of Hanoverian Wends as well as their Slavic language. Numerous German loanwords appeared.[5]

The process of language shift started to take place.

The richest source of information on the Drawänopolabian language is the "Vocabularium Venedicum" of Christian Hennig von Jessen (1649-1719), who was the Lutheran pastor of Wustrow since 1679 until his death. He learned the language mainly from Johann Janieschge, a peasant from the village of Klennow.[6] Johann Parum Schultze (1677-1740) is the only Hanoverian Wend who speaks to us directly in the name of his people. He wrote memoirs of his life in the Wendland, as well as a Wendish-German dictionary, which was later published by J. H. Jungler (1758-1812), who was researching the language and culture of Wendland.


Throughout the 18th century, native Slavic (Wendish) speech in Wendland and Drawehn was already in full decline, being replaced by German.

It is not clear when did the Drawänopolabian get extinct. Emerentz Schultze, who died in Dolgau in October 1756, is said to be one of the last native speakers fully fluent in the language. But in 1798 in the village of Kremlin (north-west of Dolgau) died a man named Warratz, who had been capable of reciting the Lord's Prayer in Wendish. In 1832, "Neues vaterländisches Archiv" - a local newspaper - reported that some old peasants in the region could still speak Slavic.[1] Similar rumours appeared again in 1845, and then in the second half of the 19th century in the area of Salzwedel. Ethnographer F. Tetzner in 1902 learned from an old teacher, that in Küsten near Lüchow some Slavic phrases, sayings and sentences were still in use in everyday language. In the census of 1890 in Kreis Lüchow, 585 people still declared their ethnicity as Wendish.[7]

Norwegian scientist E. Westerlund, who came to Wendland in 1914 to research the language of local populace, found only German-speakers.


According to pastor Hennig von Jessen (1649-1719), they used to eat six meals a day: 1. pridubed (pre-lunch or breakfast), 2. vubod (lunch), 3. predjauzeinak (pre-dinner), 4. jauzeina (dinner), 5. pridcerek (afternoon snack) and 6. vicera (supper). Houses were usually made from clay, bricks, wood and with use of the half-timbered technology. Basketry, woodcarving and weaving were popular. Until 1870-1880 traditional folk costumes were in use as everyday casual outfits.[1]


When in the late 19th century V. Jagic asked prof. Zimmer from Greifswald about the living descendants of Hanoverian Wends, he replied (based on information he got in a letter from Mr. Knesebeck, a district administrative official in Kreis Lüchow), that they tend to have sharp facial features, usually dark hair, and are loquacious.[1]


In 1600, Hanoverian Wends numbered ca. 20,000 people (est.), down to 585 people in 1890 (census, self-identified). The number of their German descendants has to be much higher.

British Crown

Hanoverian Wends were subjects of several British kings, due to the fact that those kings were also rulers of the Electorate of Hanover.


  1. Fischer, Adam (1932). "Etnografja Słowiańska. Połabianie" (in Polish). Lvov-Warsaw: Książnica-Atlas. pp. 1–41.
  2. Sengebusch, Adam (2010). Wspomnienia o Słowianach Połabskich (in Polish). Artykuły własne p. 73.
  3. Liste der Siedlungen des Landkreises Lüchow-Dannenberg (
  4. Sengebusch, Adam (March 2011). "Wspomnienie o Słowianach Połabskich - Drzewianie". Koszalin7 (in Polish).
  5. Szydłowska-Cegłowa, Barbara (1962). "Material Folk Culture of the Polabian Tribe of Drzewianie (Draven Slavs) in the Light of Lexical Investigations". Lud (in English and Polish). 48-14: 639–641 – via Cyfrowa Etnografia.
  6. Stone, Gerald (2015). "Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs and Kashubs". New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Chapter 5. "From Pietism to Enlightenment, 1700–1800". ISBN 978-1472592095.
  7. Jagic, V.; et al. (1900). Archiv für slavische Philologie. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung. Volume 22, pp. 318–320.


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  • (in Polish)
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  1. frdfgcg's Avatar
    A good article.
  2. Roy's Avatar
    Wenedowie czy Wandale - który z tych dwóch to krasnale?