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THE HANSEATIC CONFEDERATION.
XIV.-THE HANSEATIC CONFEDERATION, WITH SPECIAL
REFERENCE TO THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE
By ROBERT COLTMAN CLEPHAN. [Read on the 28th December, 1892, and 22nd February, 1893.]
PART I.-GENERAL SKETCH. It is impossible to deal intelligibly with the Hansa factories in England without an introductory sketch of the history, aims, and government of the League in general. The outline to-night must necessarily be brief. The subject is so interesting and so pregnant with vast issues bearing on the history and trading policy of medieval northern Europe, that it is a matter for astonishment that historians have too often rather shrunk from grappling with its subtle and somewhat obscure ramifications. Dynasties and wars form more concrete subjects for the historian, but trading aspirations have given the keynote and provided the sinews of war to many a scheme of empire, thus pulling the wires of history, so to speak, to an extent not always recognised.
The German and Lombard towns laid the foundation for future corporate greatness by strenuous efforts made to lighten the oppression of the feudal system, which existed nowhere more conspicuously than in medieval Germany. Cities organised themselves against aggression, and associated themselves together with others for mutual protection against the injustice and exactions of a rapacious nobility. The feudal lords, instead of protecting the third estate, harassed and oppressed it. Little by little the towns began to organise their resources with a view of at least mitigating the grievous disabilities under which they groaned. They contended for safety of person and goods against freebooters ; the clearance of robbers from the high seas and highways ; right to own land ; the substitution of regular tribunals instead of the barbarous trial by combat; or the test of hot iron, the
so-called "judgment of God’;' an equitable regulation of dues and taxes ; authorised weighing of goods ; machinery for the enforcement of debts ; municipal government; and many other reforms which we should now consider absolutely necessary for the most elementary condition of society. At times buying the protection of their liege lords, or setting one baron or princeling against another ; by slow degrees they achieved power, with freedom to organise their community, and pursue their commerce unfettered and unmolested. From the reign of the great Frederick Barbarossa, the so-styled holy Roman emperors were constantly engaged in wars in Italy and elsewhere, leaving Germany a perfect cockpit of faction. The cities, being frequently called upon for levies of men and money, gradually exacted privileges and monopolies in return, which, by and by, resulted in opulence, independence, and power, their alliance being eagerly sought after by powerful princes. Associated together they became irresistible, their citizens enjoying even wider immunities abroad than under their own rulers, and at length were a power to be reckoned with by the great states of Europe. Many of them became free cities of the empire, with most of the attributes of independent states. Eventually some eighty cities banded themselves together, forming a league powerful enough to dispose over fleets and armies, dethrone and set up kings; and to dictate their conditions more or less to all the northern sovereigns.
The political condition of northern Europe, and especially that of Scandinavia in the middle ages afforded this association, so remarkable for diplomatic astuteness, opportunities for pushing its protectionist and exclusive trading policy, which it used to the utmost, but which eventually rendered it intolerable. ORIGIN, MEANING, AND APPLICATION OF THE TERM HANSE
OR HANSA. The word Hansa or Hanse was in use in north-western Europe, particularly in England, from a very early period. It invariably indicated a merchants' guild or association.
The first mention I can find of the word in the middle ages occurs as early as 799, when the merchants' guild of Regensburg, in South
* Carry a bar of red-hot iron, or walk over a red-hot ploughshare.
Germany, is styled Hanse.' It is very rarely met with in old Teutonic records, but frequently crops up, after Domesday Book, in early English history ; and it was the use of the word in England that probably suggested its adoption by the early confederacies trading with the British Isles, and subsequently by the Hanseatic Bund. We find the term in an undated charter signed by Archbishop Thurstan (about 1120), granting to the citizens of Beverley, the same privileges as enjoyed by those of York : «Volo ut burgenses mei de Beverlaco habeant suam hanshus . .... King John conferred a charter on Dunwich in Norfolk which runs : ‘Concessimus etiam eis hansam et gildam mercatoriam . ... These examples may suffice—there are many others.
The origin of the word would seem to have been low German, probably the middle low German of the old dukedom of Saxony, or what is very similar, Anglo-Saxon, though it occurs in Bishop Ulfilas's Gothic translation of the bible, written about A.D. 350 : “Judas nam Hansa' (Judas took council); and the very early trading relations between the merchants of Cologne, ‘homines Imperatoris,' and Wisby on the island of Gothland, might point to a Gothic derivation.
I came across a report from the Edinburgh Review dated October, 1877, of a most interesting article entitled • Ulfilas, the Apostle of the Goths,' on which it is impossible to dwell this evening. The article is unsigned, but is, if I am not much mistaken, from the pen of our learned colleague Dr. Hodgkin.
That the name was not confined to German unions is clearly shown by the fact of the Flemish federation of twenty-four towns associated together for trading purposes in England, styling itself • The London Hansa,' and curiously enough the ‘London Merchant Adventurers' at one time called their association by this very name also.
HISTORIC SUMMARY. The Hansa Bund sprang out of the early Teutonic trade with England, which dates back to Roman times. The League of the cities of Westphalia, and those of the Rhine generally, with its Friesland and Flemish allies, led by Cologne, was clearly the prototype for the association of Baltic cities, with Lübeck at its head ; and eager was the rivalry and competition of the two confederacies until they merged together in the Hansa, with Lübeck as its acknowledged queen. The Hanseatic Bund was thus clearly a development of the earlier Teutonic unions. The city of Lübeck was engaged in trade with Denmark before the dawn of the thirteenth century, and took part in a campaign against the celebrated Waldemar Seir ; and the crushing victory of Bornhoved in 1227 was largely contributed to by the Lübeck contingent. The Danes were also beaten in Livonia and Courland, and their last stronghold, the castle of Reval, taken. The foothold then obtained resulted in the establishment of German factories at Reval, Dorpat, and Riga, but the position was lost again in 1238, when the treaty of that year gave Reval back to Denmark. The German influence soon after regained predominance, and these stations were re-established, by and by to be incorporated in the Bund. The victory of Bornhoved wrung concessions from Denmark for the herring fishery in the Baltic, and the possession of this trade clearly marked out Lübeck for the leadership of the Wendish cities, which union formed the nucleus for the future Hanseatic Confederation. Already at this period the little herring had begun to play an important part in the history of Europe ; it was the loadstone that specially attracted the Germans to Baltic waters.
It is impossible within the limits of a short paper to give more than a mere outline of the dynastic history, so to speak, of the League. Anyone wishing to pursue the subject in this direction, would be amply repaid by a perusal of Miss Zimmern's charming book, published in England. For what may be described as the archaeological and commercial sides of the question, I have freely availed myself of the labours of Dr. Lappenberg, and the writers of a series of papers published by a society styling itself • Verein für Hansische Geschichte,' whose field of operations covered most of the towns and factories, beginning 1870 and extending over the following decade.
The oldest records of the Baltic League are to be found in the laws and compacts of the old Wendish towns of Lübeck, Rostock, and Wismar, dated 1259, “Lübische Recht' (Lübeck laws) they are called ; they are written in Latin, but a German version dated 1240 lying in the town archives of Kiel, points to a still earlier origin. The co-operation of these towns, together with Gadebusch, Stralsund
Elbing, Kiel, Greifswald, and Hamburg goes still further back, and these common laws may be regarded as the corporate foundation of the Hanseatic League, which, however, did not adopt the designation before the middle of the fourteenth century, ‘Hanse der Deutchen,' when the two sections united and the League became formally constituted.
There is an agreement of a slightly earlier date between Hamburg and Lübeck, but this concerns merely the mutual protection of the highway between the two cities.?
The first of these Wendish compacts provides for a common action against pirates and robbers, but there is no special mention of commercial union ; while the second, dated 1265, decrees in addition that the necessary expenses be subscribed by all. The first document expressly states that it is compiled for all merchants using the *Lübische Recht,' zum Nutzen aller Kaufleute, die daes Lübische Recht gebrauchen,' runs the later high German translation. Provision is made that all bad citizens be banished their towns, carrying away no property save and except apron and knife,' and the cities contract not to harbour the criminals of each other. Bigamy incurs the penalty of death by the axe, but this punishment was soon found too drastic, and but a little later was commuted to a fine of ten marks, later still increased to forty marks ; two-thirds to go to the town treasury, remainder to judge or court, and the offender to hand over half his property to the woman he first married.
Shipwrecked goods (Strandgut) and prizes taken in war to be delivered to the Rath of the League, or their agents, for realisation for revenue purposes. Offenders against this article to be mulcted ten marks, or in default, banishment from the allied cities.
Common action is arranged for in cases of disputes between the cities and their liege lords, with the saving clause that only money, not men, be subscribed by the cities not primarily interested.
The punishment of whipping on the seat was inflicted for fraud, bribery, and minor offences. 'Qui falsa et nequam emptione seu
2 Disraeli, in his Curiosities of Literature ( Feudal Customs '), says: There was a time when the German lords reckoned amongst their privileges that of robbing on the highways of their territory ; which ended in raising up the famous Hanseatic Union to protect their commerce against rapine and avaricious exactions of toll.'