Another passage at arms was required. The ensuing conflict was the greatest and most glorious ever fought, not only by the Hansa, but by Germany, upon the sea.
Continuing The Hanseatic League’s Story,
our selection from From the German Hansa: A Historical Sketch by Dr. Harry Denicke published in 1884. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Hanseatic League’s Story.
Parallel with this development was the formation of unions between inland towns, caused by the depredations of robber-knights; the menacing increase of power among the nobility; and by commercial motives of all kinds, as, for example, the necessity of preventing banished criminals and debtors from seeking an asylum in neighboring communities. Along the entire region from Esthland to Holland, both of which at that time belonged to the German crown, the municipalities united. In the far-western part of the German empire there was the municipal group of the Netherlands, among which such cities as Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Deventer belonged. Farther inland was the Rhenish-Westphalian group, consisting of Cologne, Dortmund, Munster, and others, which cities, though somewhat distant from the sea, nevertheless occupy a place of honor as pioneers of German marine commerce. Between these two western groups and those in the East there was a wide gap extending as far as the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser. At the entrance to these rivers, however, and along the borders of the Baltic were the great maritime communities, the chief members of the Hanseatic League, including the before-mentioned Wendish group and the cities of Bremen and Hamburg. Yet not these alone, although they were in some respects the most important. Inland, the municipal groups extended so as to embrace Berlin, then very unimportant, Perleberg, etc., in the Mark of Brandenburg, the Saxon cities of Magdeburg, Hanover, Luneburg, Goslar, Hildesheim, Brunswick, and others; in the far-eastern part of the empire the six rapidly growing cities of the Teutonic order, Kulm, Thorn, Dantzic, Elbing, Braunsberg, and Koenigsberg; and finally, in Livonia and Esthonia, Riga, Dorpat, Reval, and Pernau. Noteworthy was the treaty concluded in A.D. 1241, between Hamburg and Lubeck, whereby the former assumed control of the interests in the North Sea and the Elbe, while the latter safeguarded those of the Baltic. This treaty between Hamburg and Lubeck is sometimes regarded as the beginning of the Hanseatic League. It has here been sufficiently demonstrated, however, that the association was the result of a slow and gradual process, enforced by conditions, and that it did not originate in the mind of any particular statesman as a definite plan.
The two groups, the maritime and the inland municipal, had developed independently: it now remained to unite them; and from the union thus effected sprang the great institution of the German Hansa. The private associations, not excepting the Gothland Company, in view of the rapid extension of commerce and the consequent jealousy of foreign competitors, were no longer able to afford sufficient protection to the foreign trade — a condition which did not escape the statesmen of Lubeck, with their marked power of initiative and political sagacity.
Thus it came, during the last decades of the thirteenth century, that the private societies became more and more dependent upon the municipal unions, which, under the leadership of the free and centrally located city of Lubeck, now assumed the energetic guardianship of maritime commerce, by reason of which they were drawn from their hitherto isolated position and gradually became fused into an increasingly compact union.
Already at the close of the thirteenth century the young institution of the Hansa received its initiation in warfare in a conflict with the kingdom of Norway, which country was compelled to purchase peace at the price of new and greater concessions to the league. Soon thereafter, however, the steady progress of the Hansa met with a rebuff. Denmark, at that time the foremost power of the North, had for more than a century endeavored to obtain the supremacy of the Baltic, at the entrance to which it was so advantageously situated. At one time Lubeck was for an entire decade forced into a sort of vassalage to the energetic king Eric Menved of Denmark, although the relations to the sister-cities of the league, which had never been entirely severed, were subsequently restored and confirmed by new treaties. When finally, in A.D. 1361, the Danish king Waldemar Atterdag, inspired by rapacity and revenge, went so far as to fall upon the metropolis of the Baltic, the Swedish city of Wisby, in the midst of peace, and to annex it, thereby inflicting serious losses upon the resident Low-German merchants, Lubeck once more placed herself at the head of the Wendish cities and at the diet of Greifswald decreed war against the ruthless invader. But the expedition proved disastrous, owing chiefly to the tardiness of the kings of Sweden and Norway, who had been drawn into the alliance. Nevertheless, the unfortunate admiral of the Lubeck fleet, Johann Wittenborg, who also enjoyed the rank of burgomaster of the Hanseatic city, was put to the axe in the public market-place of Lubeck in expiation of his failure.
A doubtful peace was now concluded with the Danes, but was soon broken by their renewed plunderings of Hanseatic vessels and the obstacles placed by them upon traffic. Another passage at arms was required. The ensuing conflict was the greatest and most glorious ever fought, not only by the Hansa, but by Germany, upon the sea. In 1367 deputies from the Prussian, Wendish, and Netherlandish cities assembled in the city hall of Cologne and there prepared those memorable articles of confederation which decreed another war with King Waldemar of Denmark; stipulated the levying of a definite contingent of troops on the part of the contracting cities; provided for a duty on exports to defray the expenses of the campaign; and draughted letters of protest to the Pope, to Emperor Charles IV, and to many of the German princes. That auspicious day marks a turning-point in the history of the Hanseatic League, and was fraught with high importance to the whole German empire. The preliminary history of the Hansa here ends and its brilliant epoch begins. The warships of the cities and their army so thoroughly vanquished Denmark that, after two years of warfare, the Danish royal council and the representatives respectively of the municipalities, the nobility, and the clergy despatched a commission of thirty-two to Stralsund to sign a treaty, ostensibly in the name of their fugitive ruler — a treaty which may justly be said to mark the climax in the development of the power of the burghers of Germany.
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