Baltic Pirates

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    Hans Hellinger
    Hans Hellinger

    Found an academic article today with a lovely little excerpt about North Sea pirates encountered by a pair of Hanseatic merchant ships. Encountered and annihilated.

    “There used to hang in [the] Marienkirche (St Mary’s Church) in Lübeck, over the chair belonging to the Bergenfahrer, a banner that was captured in 1526 from pirates in Skjernsund, a natural harbour on the southernmost coast of Norway. Two Hanse ships, with skippers karsten Tode ‘the Old’ from Lübeck and Claus Went from Wismar, sailing from Bergen and seeking harbour in Skjernesund, became aware of a crayer [type of small ship] in a bay nearby.

    According to a contemporary account by Gert Korfmaker, the germans feared that it was a pirate ship, because of them said that this was a well-known pirates’ nest. But others said ‘May God have mercy on us, that is rather a Scotsman loading timber’. But pirates they were, and after some struggle, the Hansards managed to overcome the pirate ship, whosde captain was Marten Pechlin from the island of Fehmarn in the west Baltic; Pechlin himself was killed during the battle and the surviving pirates were thrown into the sea.”

    Hans Hellinger

    A bit more of this from the same article:

    “In the very same year (1526), a report by Hans Michelssøn to King Christian II, formerly of Denmark but at that time exiled in Brabant, states that one of his privateers, skipper Clement, lay with five ships in Skjernesund, two miles (22 km) northeast of Nesset (Lindesnes) ‘where he has erected two blockhouses at each side of the bay and closed the harbour with iron chains’, and that all bosmend and hoffmend (sailors and men or war) in Norway are coming to him.

    Marten Pechlin, too, was in the service or King Christian, and a sworn enemy of the Hanse. In just a few days, he is reported to have taken twelve Hanse ships which were on route to Sweden, and thrown 105 sailors over board. In 1526, as part of King Christian’s [of Denmark] campaign against his former kingdom and its Hanse allies, he plundered several churches and monasteries on the Norwegian coast. He pursued the then-common strategy of demanding a huge ransom for the ships he captured, and if the owners did not comply, Pechlin ‘sunk’ the ships. Te victorious Hansards [Hanseatic sailors] showed no mercy with the infamous privateer and his crew; of the eighty-man strong crew, only nineteen survived the battle near Skjernesund. Six were taken prisoner, summarily sentenced and thrown overboard. Another thirteen escaped in two boats; four of these were picked up by a ship from Rostock and drowned. Te others were later beheaded in Varberg in present-day Sweden by the only surviving crew member, who was freed for this purpose.

    What Gert Korfmaker and his companions discovered in 1526, was that a much-visited harbour had become infested with pirates. Here then, we have another scenario that may explain archaeological con-texts like the one we meet in Skjernesund – piracy, that is, and not trade – or rather both, since the first makes little sense without the second. Te intentional sinking of captured vessels may actually be what lies behind wrecks like the ones in Skjernesund, burnt or not.”

    And still a bit more on the fate of a crew who had been captured by the same group of pirates:

    ” Gert Korfmaker’s story furnishes us with several other possibilities: First, our Hanse skippers noticed a large hulk [type of larger ship], a certain ship type, in an inlet near Skjernesund. It had been seized by the pirates, demasted and left in shallow water; at high tide, she was filled with water.

    The ship’s crew stayed at a nearby arm, while its captain had gone home to Tønsberg to try and raise the ransom money demanded by Pechlin and his compatriots to release the vessel.
    Then, during the ensuing battle the pirates tried to steer a fire ship into the Hanse fleet.

    And, after their victory, the German merchants took everything of value, anchors, ropes and sails as well as cargo, and set the conquered pirates’ ship on fire. Each of these scenarios could explain wrecks like the one in Hundevika”

    Hans Hellinger

    [Much more here – this is basically a complete log of documented incidents of piracy in Southern Norway involving Hanseatic Germans, Livonians and Prussians, Danes and privateers in their employ, English, Scots, Dutch, Frisians, Norwegians and Swedes. Plenty of names (including of knights and famous pirates), ship names, ship cargoes, and some situational data (like that a given place was manned by 5 pirate ships supported by two block-houses). These may even tie into specific shipwrecks which is what the article is mainly trying to discuss. There is enough here to start working on a Baltic / North sea pirate adventure!!]

    “Piracy in Skjernesund and other places – the documentary evidence

    Apart from the references in the sagas, which mainly relate to the first decades of the thirteenth century, the documentary sources when they mention harbours and outports from the rest of our period are almost exclusively concerned with skirmishes and piracy. two of these sources dated to the early years of the four-teenth century, deal with English complaints against Norway. In 1307 the earl of Gloucester’s merchant, Tidemann de Lippa, complained to the king of England that on his way from Boston to Russia with a ship from Rostock laden with clothes and other goods, he was attacked in Hesnes harbour by officers in the service of the Norwegian king, who confiscated the cargo.

    Nine years later, King Edward wrote to King Haakon V on behalf of John de Bedford, burgher in Kingston on Hull, and whose ship, Godyer, on its way to Newcastle, had been driven to Selør, where the knight Snare Aslaksson, Frans-Arne H. Stylegar, Pål Nymoen and Gunnar Eikli
    drove away skipper and crew and confiscated both ship and cargo.

    Interestingly, the next and by far the most intensive phase of piracy began in 1397, and the Hanse played an important part. Tat year, William Squier from Hull’s ship was taken by men from Friesland; later on, the Frisians paid damage in the form of a captured ship from Zeeland laden with planks of pine. In Langesund harbour on their way home to England, Squier and his crew took onboard some men from Zeeland, who claimed that the ship belonged to them.

    The year after in Langesund, the pirates Gödeke Michels and Klaus Störtebeker [these two are Victual Brothers Captains] with confederates of the Hanse took a crayer, called the Peter and belonging to Tomas Motte of Cley.

    In 1399, the English complain at the congress in the Hague that men from Hamburg had taken oil and other goods belonging to Lynn merchants in Egersund. Then, in 1401, English complained at the congress in the Hague that two men from Lübeck, masters of a ship from Bergen equipped for war, had taken goods from a ship from Zierikzee in NyHellesund, carrying merchandise belonging to a Lynn merchant.

    That same year men from Wismar and Rostock took a ship from West-Stow in Zeeland, which belonged to John Hughson of Yarmouth and which was laden with hides o oxen and sheep, butter, timber, whetstones etc., in Langesund.

    Over the next few years, there were similar incidents on an almost regular basis. Consequently, in 1403, the city council of Stralsund complained that the English took a ship belonging to a man from Stralsund at Selør.

    In 1405, the crew of a Danzig ship took goods belonging to merchants in Lynn in Selør harbour, and men from Wismar took a ship from Yarmouth, belonging to William Oxney, and laden with salt, cloth, and salmon, also in Selør harbour.

    In 1406, thirteen Hanse ships were cap-tured by Frisians in Skjernesund. That same year, a hundred fishermen from Cromer and Blakeney were killed by Germans from Bergen in Wynforde, that is Kvinesford in Vest-Agder.

    In 1407, Hamburg complained at the congress in the Hague that Englishmen from Lynn, Yarborough, and Blakeney had captured a ship of theirs in Hesnes harbour.

    Then, two years later, the skipper Johan Rudemann on his way to Sluis in Flanders with cargo belonging to Hanse merchants, had lain in Skjernesund with his hulk together with several other ships, when pirates from Friesland seized both ship and cargo and took it to France.

    Perhaps the latter episode during this rather intensive phase occurred in 1412, when Klaus Belckow from Danzig’s ship, laden with beer, flour and malt and destined for Bergen, was captured by Scots by Cape Lindesnes, and Klaus and three others left behind in a boat, while the remaining sailors were taken to Aberdeen.

    In the following years, there were a few more incidents, but it seems that they did not occur as oten as in the preceding period. In 1418, a ship from Newcastle and its cargo was seized in Skjernesund by men in the service of the duke of Schleswig, with two more episodes to follow in 1424 and 1427, in Lista and Skjernesund respectively. In the latter, Peter Michels from Wismar took from two Prussian merchants butter, pelts, and silver.

    The next mention is in 1454, when Hanseatic merchants complain to King Christian I that Norwegians, Olav Nilsson, the king’s governor in Bergen, and Nyelsz Peterssen had taken several laden ships in Skjernesund, while Clawes Ghysen had taken eleven ships in Selør.

    A few years before, in 1450, King Christian I had stayed in Skjernesund on his way from Trondheim, where he had been crowned king of Norway, to Denmark.

    In 1484, two new episodes occurred, when Jurgen Henke’s ship was wrecked near Lista, laden with her-ring, and he and his crew were attacked by the king’s subjects, who took most of the cargo and fishing equipment, and men in the service of Junker Jakobs of Oldenburg took a
    hulk belonging to Tewes Smyt from Wismar, laden with flour, beer etc. at Ny-Hellesund.

    Another ‘phase’ of piracy began in 1511, when Danzig burghers complained that three of their ships were taken by Auslieger (guard ships) from Lübeck at Flekkerøy on their way back to Danzig.

    The year after the Scots took three ships belonging to Mathies Kegebeyu and Werkentyn, and on route to Bergen, in Skjernesund, while in 1516 Jens Olefszen in Varberg and other burghers complained that their ships and cargoes were captured in the harbours of Selør and Merdø by Cordt Konningk and Clauwes Toden.

    Then there are the events in the 1520s, when the deposed king, Christian II tried to regain the throne through privateering on the coast of southern Norway. In 1525, the royal governor Vincents Lunge wrote to archbishop Olav that the caravel Peter van Höll, which traitors had stolen from the king, lay in Skjernesund, and the year after, as already mentioned, Hans Michelsson informed King Christian II that skipper Clement lay with five ships in Skjernesund, where he had erected two blockhouses and closed the harbour with iron chains.

    In 1527, Vincents Lunge wrote to archbishop Olav about skirmishes with King Christian II’s privateers in Hesnes and Egersund.

    Again, in 1531 King Christian declared to the people of Norway that he had come to Hesnes harbour with a large number of men with the intention of freeing the country from the usurpers, and the same year he wrote a letter to the Danish nobility from Skjernesund.

    It is obvious that the time around 1400 stands out, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the cluster of shipwrecks dated to this period is related to similar events as those mentioned in the cited documents. This idea is strengthened by the fact that a number of the dated wrecks are indeed situated in the very same harbours mentioned in the contemporary written sources (Langesund, Ny-Hellesund, Skjernesund, Selør). Indeed, in some cases we may actually be able to iner what specific events led to the ships’ demise. Tere is an argument, for instance, that the dendro-dated Wreck 3 in Skjernesund is directly related to the event in 1406. The wrecked ship was built in 1389 in northern Poland.

    The incident seventeen years later involved thirteen ships from the Wendish towns Elbing, Danzig and Reval. It is also necessary to mention the dendrodated wreck from Flekkerøy (Fig. 6, no. 11), which was also built in northern Poland, in 1508 or shortly thereafter. This could be one o the three Danzig ships which were taken by Auslieger from Lübeck at Flekkerøy in 1511.

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